The Mammoth Book of Best New SF 11 edited by Gardner Dozois

Robinson, 1998, 668pp, £8.99
reviewed in Foundation 76, Summer 1999
 

Judith Merril was one of science fiction’s proselytisers. She believed that science fiction could, and should, partake of the qualities of the mainstream, and that the mainstream would benefit from exposure to science fiction. It was one of those periods when science fiction was emerging from its ghetto and the writers in, for example, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, were showing a new awareness of literary style. The annual anthology series that she edited from the late Fifties into the mid-Sixties was therefore a deliberate bringing together of work from a wide variety of sources, from genre magazines to The Saturday Evening Post and The New Yorker. It was an agenda that few who have followed in her wake have maintained, though Brian Aldiss and Harry Harrison could be similarly eclectic, and Donald Wollheim had an awareness of non-English language science fiction rare in such annual anthologies. The best of the best of the year anthology series, however, was that edited by Terry Carr, who rarely showed much interest in work from beyond the increasingly fuzzy borders of science fiction, but who conscientiously worked to present and promote what he believed was the best fiction in the field. Stories, therefore, that did not meet his high standards or suit his particular tastes (and Carr clearly had a taste for the more literary end of the genre) were rigorously excluded from the anthology.

A number of other anthologists have followed on Carr’s path, among them Lester Del Rey who edited a short-lived year’s best series in the mid-Seventies. Following his death, the series was briefly continued by a young writer and editor, Gardner Dozois, who immediately doubled the size of what had previously been slim volumes. Dozois clearly developed a taste for the enterprise because, not too long after that series folded, he returned with another, The Year’s Best Science Fiction, which has quickly come to dominate the field as an overwhelming compendium of stories that lie safely within the genre’s confines. This series has now reached its fifteenth annual collection (volume eleven in the UK’s horribly renamed edition, since Robinson were slow to pick up on the series in the first place).

For several years both the American and the British covers have proclaimed, almost as if it were a subtitle for the book, ‘More than 250,000 words of fantastic fiction’. Therein lies my major problem with this anthology: never mind the quality, feel the width. Dozois clearly does not have Merril’s proselytising instincts. Off-hand I cannot think of a single story in any of these collections that has been gathered from a non-genre source; they are in fact most usually first published in the magazine Asimov’s Science Fiction which Dozois also edits. Nor is there much if any attempt to present these stories for a non-genre audience. Similarly, although he is increasingly picking up stories from Britain and, more recently, from Australia, this anthology is exclusively anglophone; there is absolutely no awareness of non-English language science fiction. It is, therefore, a representation of the middle ground of science fiction, unadventurous in its approach to the genre and safely familiar in its contents and structure. This is not necessarily a bad thing if, as the titles of both the American and British editions predicate, this truly is a representation of what is best within the genre, an establishment and maintenance of standards, an encouragement by example. Unfortunately that is precisely what such a vast overview cannot do. There are no readily identifiable standards followed in the compilation of the book. It is not even clearly the record of one man’s taste since the work ranges from fine literature to crude prose, from delicate examinations of character to simple-minded adventure.

One of the first things that any regular reader of the series will notice is how familiar each successive volume appears. Of the twenty-nine authors represented here, at least twenty-one have appeared in previous volumes, sometimes with alarming regularity (‘[Robert Reed’s] stories have appeared in our Ninth, Tenth, Eleventh, Twelfth, Thirteenth, and Fourteenth Annual Collections’). One author, Elisabeth Malartre, is included here with her debut sale, but that story is a collaboration with Gregory Benford who is a fairly regular contributor. That ratio, twenty-one out of twenty-nine, is actually surprisingly low compared to recent volumes, though it might be explained by a greater than usual number of British and Australian authors (Paul J. McAuley, Greg Egan, Stephen Baxter, Peter F. Hamilton, Alastair Reynolds, Gwyneth Jones, Brian Stableford, Ian R. MacLeod, Simon Ings, Ian McDonald, Sean Williams and Simon Brown — though of these McAuley, Egan, Baxter, Jones, Stableford, MacLeod and McDonald have all been here before). The familiarity actually begins, though, before one even gets to the stories, since each volume opens with a long ramble from the editor (fifty-eight pages in the UK edition) which consists, as always, of a seemingly interminable list of the nuts and bolts of science fiction publishing during the year — so many magazines appeared, so many anthologies, so many collections, films, books, television programmes, etc., etc., etc., each one named. There is little worth in any of this (except, perhaps, to an obsessive bibliographer, who would probably have all the information better presented elsewhere), since the straightforward recitation of titles is accompanied by little that might pass as opinion, and what opinion there is seems rather suspect. He begins, as I have seen him begin on other occasions, by stating that dire prognostications for the state of science fiction are unjustified, then proceeds to justify such prognostications with a litany of magazines that have failed, lists that have been reduced, financial straits that are becoming ever more dire. If he does not suspect that such dismal facts and figures can be read as a warning for the state of the genre, how much are we able to trust his judgement on anything?

Well, if he truly believes that the twenty-eight stories which follow this ‘Summation’ (Greg Egan is represented twice, two stories are collaborations) are indeed the best science fiction of the year, I am not sure I trust his judgement on fiction. Which is not to say that there are not good stories here; there are, including a couple which I suspect are about as good as science fiction gets, but there is an awful lot here that could not by any stretch of the imagination be considered among the best of anything, and one or two which I personally think should never have seen the light of day.

What these volumes do increasingly look like is an assembly of stories driven by a desire not to set or meet standards (the word ‘best’ in the title is misleading) but to cover all angles. There is always some wide-screen baroque, there is always some near-future exploration, there is always something quirky, there is always something character-led, there is always something adventure-led … Whether anything that falls within these and other categories could be described as ‘best’ is secondary to how well they represent the range of what is being written in science fiction today. How else explain the inclusion of something like ‘The Masque of Agamemnon’ by Sean Williams and Simon Brown? Unmanned exploration vessels controlled by barely intelligent nanomachines finally return from their mission, with the nanomachines having somehow convinced themselves that they are the Achaean war fleet and the peaceful planet in their path is in fact Troy. The premise is ludicrous; anything of interest in the dull cardboard that passes for character is due more to Homer than it is to Williams or Brown, while the resolution is fudged in one too brief and totally unconvincing paragraph. The only good thing I can say about this story is that it is short, at least in comparison to Peter F. Hamilton’s ‘Escape Route’, which reads as if it could have been written by his namesake, Edmond Hamilton, except that Edmond Hamilton would probably have been more inventive and less prolix. This tale of space adventurers exploring a mysterious alien artefact and using it to stage a daring escape from the bad guys achieves nothing fresh with its hoary old material and monotonous, uninvolving prose; it is the sort of science fiction that makes you think that not only did the New Wave never happen, but Heinlein never happened either. And while Williams and Brown seem to have an inkling that their story is actually very silly, Hamilton treats his with deadly seriousness. Mind you, so does Robert Reed whose novelette, ‘Marrow’, operates on the principle that the bigger your big dumb object the less you have to bother with tiresome irrelevancies such as intelligence, style, character, sense, even story. Let’s see; you have a space ship the size of Jupiter (constructed, of course, by mysterious aliens who have long since disappeared), you have a crew that is, to all intents and purposes, immortal (the same cast of characters act out a story that covers a little under 5,000 years), you have, in the very heart of this spaceship and never before discovered, an entire, Earth-sized planet which is still going through the intense volcanic stage of its birth. Given all this magnitude, you also have a nefarious plot to take over the space ship, a plot of such dimensions that it requires five thousand years for all its intricate strands to come together, and yet a plot which, once revealed, can be defeated by one person in less than five minutes. I thought one of the primary demands of science fiction was supposed to be suspension of disbelief.

There is enough evidence from these stories alone that Dozois has no real feeling for the old fashioned sf adventure, a suspicion reinforced by the pretty dreadful state of the planetary adventures included here. When not out swashing buckles in deepest space, science fiction adopted a more serious tone as it wandered among the planets of our solar system, constricting its stories within what we know of the nature of these worlds. Judging from the number of times this type of story crops up in this collection it would still seem to play a significant part in contemporary science fiction, yet to judge from these same stories there is, in fact, little new to be said. ‘Crossing Chao Meng Fu’ by G. David Nordley is better written than the typical Analog story (though that is not necessarily saying much) and Nordley shows a dim awareness of the need for character, but do we really need a story about an ill-matched group of people trekking across a plain on the dark side of Mercury, falling into a crevasse, then showing all-round competence, strength of character and unexpected heroism to get themselves out? It may not be as irredeemably old-fashioned as Hamilton’s effort, but it is hardly cutting-edge. Nor is ‘A Cold, Dry Cradle’ by Gregory Benford and Elisabeth Malartre, indeed the unbelievable amount of clunking info-dump which fills up so much of this story is something I thought even the technologically-obsessed strand of science fiction had outgrown. The fact that it develops out of the signs of Martian life supposedly found in a meteorite in the Antarctic makes this story seem up to date, but the authors still manage to make something drearily hackneyed out of it all. There is something hackneyed, too, in Stephen Baxter’s ‘Moon Six’ which is, at first glance, a rather uninspired trawl through different ways the moon might have been conquered, as the protagonist finds himself propelled through a selection of alternate realities, but which turns into yet another way for Baxter to destroy the Earth. In among all this there are occasional neat ideas, and Baxter is quite effective at describing how the protagonist makes a life for himself in a world which never went to the moon, but at the end of it all one is left feeling that there is simply no point to the story. Even so, none of these stories is quite as bad as the identikit sf perpetrated by Paul J. McAuley and Alastair Reynolds. A spy is despatched to a moon of one of the outer planets in the system, where a female scientist, for reasons of her own, is prepared to hand over undefined secrets. Contact is made, some gratuitous mayhem ensues, the secrets are handed over, the spy begins his escape, only to realise he has been double-crossed. The spy dies. That plot outline, with virtually no variation, describes both Paul McAuley’s ‘Second Skin’ and Alastair Reynolds’s ‘A Spy in Europa’; the McAuley is slightly the better written, the Reynolds is more lumbering, but the presence of two near-identical stories in the same anthology must raise the question of how much Dozois thinks about, or is even aware of, the contents of the anthology he is putting together.

Space adventure, of course, has commonly presented science fiction with a gallery of weird and generally threatening aliens. Ever since Arthur C. Clarke’s Rendezvous with Rama and Frederik Pohl’s Gateway, however, writers have learned that aliens who are not actually on stage can be far more satisfying —both Hamilton and Reed have tried to follow this lesson. But aliens remain a potent symbol in the literature, usually now in Earth-bound stories in which their alienness is intended to cast a satirical, ironic or revealing light upon our selves and our society. This pattern is found in three of the stories gathered here. It is at its weakest in ‘Frost Painting’ by Carolyn Ives Gilman, where the aliens remain unseen except for a shimmering light, and where the focus is upon a relationship between two lesbians, simply because the story originally appeared in an anthology of homosexual science fiction though the sexuality of the characters otherwise has no importance in either the nature of the story or the way it is told. The fact that the characters’ sexuality is imposed upon the story rather than belonging organically within it shows how artificial this tale is. Robert Silverberg’s ‘Beauty in the Night’ is much better, since the focus of the story upon the relationship between an illegitimate boy and his abusive father is integral to the structure of the story as a whole. We are in a near-future Britain when the arrival of enigmatic aliens has brought about a devastating economic collapse. The father is a quisling member of one of the resistance groups, but the aliens seem impervious to all attack until the boy manages to kill one by way of exacting revenge upon his father. The story flirts dangerously with cliché throughout its length, from the violence of the father-son relationship to the climactic notion of killing the thing you love, though mostly it manages to rise above this. I don’t imagine Bill Johnson really minds whether he falls into cliché or not so long as he tells a good tale, and his ‘We Will Drink a Fish Together’ is a good tale, though whether, despite its Hugo Award, it can be considered one of the best stories of the year must remain open to debate. This is yet another visitation by enigmatic aliens — aliens are always enigmatic these days — this time intent on trade rather than world domination. Our hero is a bodyguard who has saved one of the aliens from assassination, but just when he might exploit the personal relationship that develops as a result, he chooses to return home to a remote corner of the American West for the funeral of his tribal elder. The alien follows him, and of course discovers more in common with the hard-drinking, tribally-loyal Indians of this tiny community than with the super-smooth diplomats of Washington. The alien is pure cliché, and is really irrelevant to the real strength of this story which is Johnson’s evocation of community.

Of course, we don’t actually need little green men to evoke alienness. Most of the rest of the stories in this collection manage to do so to one degree or another without invoking strange visitors, unless you count the strangeness of some humans. There were, for instance, aliens aplenty in the curious lands visited by Lemuel Gulliver and which Dean Swift used to provide a savage satire on his times. Now, in what is undoubtedly one of the best stories in this collection, ‘Gulliver at Home’, John Kessel considers those who stayed at home, who kept family and home together in the face of his absences, rumoured death and apparent madness. It is a subtle and effective story about the cost of imagination, and if nothing else it shows how much can be achieved by the still popular technique of re-examining characters from fiction and history, though it has to be said that Kessel achieves far more than either of the other practitioners of this arcane art represented in this volume. William Sanders imagines William Shakespeare swept up among the Cherokee Indians of 16th century New England. The way that Hamlet is recast to suit the society and the mores of the Indians is cleverly done, and the response of the audience to this unfamiliar drama is telling, but one still has to ask what this particular story is trying to do. I, for one, cannot come up with an answer; it is a pleasing, light-weight entertainment but nothing more than that. Much the same is true of Howard Waldrop’s ‘Heart of Whitenesse’, though being by Waldrop it is a far more complex work and reaches for its inspiration far more widely and with more abandon than any other contemporary writer is likely even to contemplate. In this instance, there is a triple play on the central character, Christopher Marlowe. On one level he is the playwright who is a government spy, here sent on a mission to investigate the Doctor Faustus who was also the subject of one of his most famous plays. On another level, familiar from a great many other games with this notion, he is Marlowe the dry, witty, ever-competent gumshoe as invented by Raymond Chandler (‘Down these mean cobbled lanes a man must go’ the story begins in perhaps too blatant a fashion). On yet a third level he is Marlowe setting out for a fateful meeting upriver, as Joseph Conrad created the pattern, though in this instance the river is the Thames, frozen solid in one of those mini ice-ages which actually came about a century later than the supposed setting of this story. This is a rich collision of literary co-incidences, typical grist to Waldrop’s mill, though in this instance I don’t think he really explores the ideas fully enough to do justice to them.

There are plenty of other ways of presenting the alien within us. One might, for instance, consider some form of artificial man. Full metal-jacketed robots seem to have fallen out of favour since Asimov’s day. The preference now is for beings which are, in all outward respects, indistinguishable from ourselves, because if they are apparently indistinguishable it allows authors to ask the big question: what is it that in fact distinguishes us as humans. Increasingly, the answer is: not much, particularly when authors tip the balance the way both James Patrick Kelly and Brian Stableford do by making the artificial beings into children. Kelly’s ‘Itsy Bitsy Spider’ raises a potentially interesting notion when a daughter visits her estranged father to discover he comforts himself in his increasingly befuddled old age with a robotic equivalent of her younger self, though this idea is so smothered in sentiment that it never really gets anywhere. The issue considered in Stableford’s ‘The Pipes of Pan’, in which newly immortal people comfort themselves with artificial children, only for the children to begin achieving self-awareness, is of less interest, but because it resolutely eschews sentiment it makes for a stronger and better story.

Stableford’s story touches upon but fails to develop another form of the alien within. If mortality is what defines us, then immortality will change us absolutely. Ever since Dr Frankenstein made his creature, science fiction has been fascinated with the notion of cheating death, and it continues to be a potent image throughout the genre. Sometimes it is dealt with rather trivially, as in Simon Ings’s brusquely effective but ultimately rather superficial thriller, ‘Open Veins’. Usually, however, it is taken at a more measured pace, as in the two very different treatments of grief in this collection, ‘Lethe’ by Walter Jon Williams and ‘Nevermore’ by Ian R. MacLeod. Actually, Williams’s pace isn’t so much measured as nearly static. This is a sprawling novelette bowed down under the weight of its own supposed significance. Nanotechnology, specifically the ability to download and reassemble at will everything that goes to make a person, physical and mental, has all but banished death except under very rare circumstances. Most people have several ‘sibs’, versions of themselves, though life experiences make these very different people. Even so, if a couple is in love in one bodily form, then their sibs will generally be in love also. At least, that is the case with Davout and Katrin; until one Katrin is killed in a freak accident which means she cannot be reconstituted, and her Davout must face a grief that is otherwise unknown in this world. The characters are likeable, the future is richly imagined, but somehow the focus seems too narrow, as if a big story is being played out on too small a stage. MacLeod’s brilliant story is much better, presenting a world in which both living and dead inhabit a virtual reality so extensive, so everyday, that it is simply called ‘reality’ (which means, significantly, that they have to invent a new word for the quotidian reality that we would recognise: ‘foreal’). The hero is a painter starving in a garret in a foreal Paris that is decaying all around him, while his recently dead wife continues to inhabit a brightly attractive virtual reality: the story tells, in wonderfully gritty and convincing terms, of his struggle to come to terms with both grief and the different realities.

Of course, with their nanotechnology and their virtual reality, Williams and MacLeod are both using ammunition previously deployed by the cyberpunks, as do several other writers here, though only David Marusek’s ‘Getting to Know You’, with its artificial intelligence able to assume and pre-empt the personality of its owner and a virtual reality hospice ward, comes close to actually being cyberpunk. Others, typified by Nancy Kress with the wonderfully titled ‘Steamship Soldier on the Information Front’, display how science fiction has gone beyond cyberpunk, absorbing its tropes and concerns and using them to pursue other ideas. Kress, for instance, gives her protagonist a full arsenal of cyberpunk devices, but portrays him running hard just to stay in one place as the wave-front of new ideas and developments sweeps past him. What MacLeod and Marusek and Kress are presenting is what we might term post-humanity, the way that the nature of humanity is being changed or is open to change by all the developments in cybernetics, genetic engineering, information technology, medical science that are potential in our world. The single overwhelming question being asked is how much we can stay the same when so much of what we are — from our bodies to our minds, from our physical shape to our memories — is open not only to change but to manipulation? It is not a new question — Mary Shelley was asking exactly the same question in Frankenstein, as was Robert Louis Stevenson in Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde — but it is a question that seems to have acquired a new urgency in contemporary science fiction, and that urgency has generated more daring, more challenging and often better writing than the science fiction that blindly follows old patterns. This is not inevitably the case: Alan Brennert raises such questions in ‘Echoes’ in which a child of genetic manipulation sees ghosts of all the other people she might have been. It is an emotional tale but not really a great one. Michael Swanwick considers what it is like to be human as we know it today when some people have achieved a higher level while others have devolved in ‘The Wisdom of Old Earth’, but all he has produced is an old fashioned story of class differences which achieves neither interesting insights nor dramatic involvement.

Post-humanity is an interesting device for exploring moral and intellectual questions about our identity and our nature, but we must be careful with the notion. Simply to raise the idea of a humanity somehow changed by the future is not necessarily a consideration of post-humanity; if it were, post-human fiction and science fiction in general would be all but indistinguishable. Kress considers mankind on the threshold of our next intellectual leap; Marusek, Brennert, Stableford and Kelly consider man made different by his technological or medical skills; Williams and MacLeod consider man made different by the abolition of death. These are very different types of fiction to be lumped together under the one purview. But most science fiction presents humankind in different circumstances without itself being different; that is what all the space adventures and planetary adventures are doing. Such differences might be in the past, as they are in Kessel’s story, or in the future as in ‘Winter Fire’ by Geoffrey A. Landis — though this story of a girl in the near future living through the siege of Salzburg contains nothing other than a few decorative flounces that could not have been present in a story of the siege of Sarajevo in the near past. It is perfectly possible to raise and examine the same issues of morality and identity in a story of a human in different circumstances as it is in a story of a different human, and that is what the best science fiction has always been able to do. In this collection, therefore, it is worth noting that the stories which most powerfully examine our nature do so without needing to step into the realm of the post-human.

The post-human, of course, is something that Greg Egan seems to have made peculiarly his own, though the two stories he has in this volume are both about changing one man rather than humankind. (Other than ensuring the magic of his name on the cover, it is hard to see why Dozois should bother to include two stories by Egan. One, ‘Reasons to be Cheerful’, is typically inventive, humane and symptomatic of Egan at his best, but the other, ‘Yeyuka’, is laboured, pedestrian, and about as dull as Egan can be.) Both stories take medicine as their theme. In ‘Yeyuka’ medical and computer science have combined to provide diagnostic tests which protect the people of the Western world from virtually all diseases, but this protection doesn’t extend to the impoverished Third World where a new cancer rages. A surgeon volunteers to go to Africa to help treat the disease where he discovers, surprise surprise, that though treatment for the disease exists there isn’t the commercial will to develop it. Other than the fact that half of this story is pure info-dump, and the rest is too prone to sentiment to allow a proper plot to develop, it is a satire in which the target is too diffuse, too ill-defined to allow the attack to hit  home with any force. ‘Reasons to be Cheerful’ is a much tighter, more controlled piece of work. Its protagonist suffers from a rare brain cancer, but the cancer has also caused a chemical imbalance which makes him perpetually cheerful in all circumstances. The revolutionary treatment which cures the cancer also destroys the chemicals that make him cheerful, suddenly, and without any prospect of remittance, he is incapable of feeling any joy. Later, another revolutionary treatment allows him to feel happiness again, but in an artificial form that he controls. Thus, through the three stages of a life described with far more humanity than is often the case with Egan, we are presented with very pertinent issues about the way our emotions define us.

Good as ‘Reasons to be Cheerful’ is, however, it achieves neither the humane insight, the lyrical prose nor the sheer power of the two best stories in this collection, two of the best science fiction stories I have read in many a year. ‘Balinese Dancer’ by Gwyneth Jones is an object lesson in how to create a story, how to build the tale up so everything dovetails, everything depends on everything else. Nothing — barely even a comma — could be removed from this story without sending the whole edifice tumbling down, but with everything in place it is stunning. You see what is happening in the macroscopic world reflected in some way in the personal world of the characters. Lessons learned in one sphere echo lessons pertaining to the other; our perceptions of the one sphere shape and colour our perceptions of the other. The author might focus upon the microscopic world of the characters, but there is a wide world around them and we know about that world through what we learn about the characters. A couple and their child are touring France by car and stay at a grotty campsite where they discover what might have been a murder. So much for the plot. Far more interesting is all the peripheral stuff we learn about the parlous state of their relationship, and the way that society is breaking down around them, and the way their personal troubles are connected with the woman’s commitment to the job she has recently lost, and the way the woman’s work may actually have been one of the triggers behind the social decay. Everything connects. Nothing is resolved, but we don’t need that because understanding the connections is far more important and far more satisfying than understanding what happens next.

‘Balinese Dancer’ is as near perfect a story as you are likely to find in a long time, but Ian McDonald matches it in ‘After Kerry’, which could be the best thing he has ever written. There is a science fictional device here, it enters the story almost in passing, a device that can rewrite our memories. But this isn’t what the story is about. The story is about Ireland a few years from now, a post-Catholic Ireland as McDonald calls it, an Ireland that has become a home to all manner of cults and fashions and ideas. But even that is not what it is really about; it is about living in that Ireland, about what it is when all the terrible old certainties have been removed and you are faced with a sudden freedom that is quite terrifying. It is about a family dominated by a horrible, horrible mother; a mother you cannot quite hate, because McDonald makes you understand that her life must have been dreadful, yet still a mother who twists and distorts and undermines the lives of all those around her. Going back to what I said about Gwyneth Jones, on the macroscopic level the mother is Ireland. She is a mother who damages her children to such an extent that one of them flees from home, even re-writes her memory in order never to have anything to do with anyone in her family ever again. Then the mother dies. And Stephen, the disappointment of the family, the one who has never lived up to his own expectations let alone anyone else’s, the one who dreams but cannot make his dreams come true, the one who finds himself lumbered with all the family dirty work, Stephen is dispatched to find Kerry, to tell her that mother is dead, to say everything is all right now and she can come back home. His quest becomes a journey through new possibilities, shocks to the system, underminings of old certainties. And in the end he does find Kerry, Kerry with a new name and new memories and a new life, and it tells him something about his own memories, his own life. It tells him something about his new Ireland — though McDonald is not so crass as to spell that out. This is one from the heart, and it goes straight to the heart.

These are fine stories; not just good science fiction, but good fiction. But are these two enough to redeem the collection? Do two stories that must stand up as the best of science fiction justify a collection that calls itself the year’s best? No, they don’t, they cannot. There are here good examples of science fiction. Picking them out — those by Jones and McDonald, of course, along with MacLeod, Kessel, Kress, Johnson, Egan’s ‘Reasons to be Cheerful’, and stretching the point only a little the stories by Silverberg, Sanders, Brennert, Marusek, Stableford, Williams and just possibly Waldrop — you are left with a collection of good science fiction, a collection that might indeed justify being called the best of the year. More significantly, you’d be left with a collection about the length of those edited by the far more discriminating Terry Carr. It is Dozois’s lack of discrimination, his lack of any clear and definable sense of what ‘best science fiction’ actually means, which undermines this overweight collection year after year.