The Year’s Best Science Fiction

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Annual story collections are a long-standing tradition in science fiction: Most readers have neither the time nor the inclination to wade through dozens of publications to find new favorites, and so rely on the taste and judgment of an editor to cull the year’s best. In the field of science fiction, collections edited by Terry Carr or Isaac Asimov or Ben Bova or Harlan Ellison come to have a certain flavor, and readers soon drift toward those editors reflecting their personal tastes--underscoring the phenomenon that, in the four or five volumes of year’s best, one rarely finds the same stories repeated.

Gardner Dozois’ selections reflect his taste for strong prose styles and wide-ranging subject matter, with less emphasis on traditional structure or “hard,” technically oriented, subject matter. Readers who do not like the telling to get in the way of the tale will not enjoy this collection, but the pyrotechnic prose of the Bill Gibson/Michael Swanwick entry “Dogfight” and the lyricism of John Crowley’s “Snow” provide a good cross section of current stylistic trends among contemporary writers.

These are young writers as well: Of twenty-four stories, only four are by established names in the genre--Robert Silverberg, James Tiptree, Jr., Joe Haldeman, and Fredrik Pohl--while the rest are by writers who have sharpened their talents in the last decade. Among the best stories, in addition to “Dogfight” and “Snow,” are “Dinner in Audoghast,” by Bruce Sterling, and the wacky “Magazine Section,” by R.A. Lafferty.

The collection gets high marks for both variety and quality, though an argument can be made against the selection of two Lucius Shepard stories in the limited space. Shepard, one of Dozois’ personal favorites is first rate, but there were dozens of other first-rate candidates in the past year who could have benefited from the exposure.