Year's Best SF 2 Edited by David G.Hartwell

Despite the cover proclaiming "All new outstanding stories", this is an anthology of 20 stories that appeared before in other books and magazines in the course of 1995 and 1996. That is a minor complaint though and the key judgement for a series such as this is how it compares to the benchmark annual anthologies produced by Gardner Dozois. The latter tends to pick up more awards and his anthologies are a lot fatter but this book is better than the typical Dozois "Year's best" collection. It is geared a little more toward mainstream SF which is for me at least a bonus.

The book opens with three very strong stories. David Wolverton's "After a Lean Winter" is set in Alaska during the Martian invasion of H.G.Wells' "War of the Worlds" and shows that there is still a fresh slant to be had on the Alien Invasion theme. "In the Upper Room" by Terry Bisson combines virtual reality, hacking and lingerie catalogues in a story that is both funny and tense. The last of the opening three stories, "Thinkertoy" by John Brunner gives a chilling view on what might happen if smart weapons technology is incorporated into children's toys.

Those are not the only good entries in this collection. Sterling's fascinating tale of future tech-anarchy "Bicycle Repairman", Stableford's "In the House of Mourning" and Wolfe's "Counting Cats in Zanzibar" are all tales that are not to be missed.

If you are a fan of short SF, you really should get a copy of this book to enjoy alonside the better known "Year's Best" anthologies from Gardner Dozios.

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Seven out of ten.
A worthwhile alternative to the Dozois books.
Detailed contents.
Wolverton, David. "After a Lean Winter"
This tale was originally written for an anthology of stories set during the events depicted in H.G.Wells' "War of the Worlds" and written in the styles of various of his contemporaries. In the style of Jack London, this story tells of one of the last of the Martian invaders to be left on the Earth. He is caught in Alaska by a trapper who brings him back to his friends. 8/10

Bisson, Terry. "In the Upper Room"
Deliberately told in the style of a Victoria's Secret Lingerie Catalogue this story is about a man who visits a virtual reality world in which he is able to pursue the scantily clad woman of his dreams. He discovers that he is not alone with her in the virtual world. A programmer turned hacker has been killed by the operators but has first managed to download her own persona into the machine. Very readable and funny. 7/10

Brunner, John. "Thinkertoy"
A man buys a smart robot construction set for his son. The boy, in trauma after the accident that killed his mother, has withdrawn from the world but shows a strong interest in the toys. His interest is not altruistic and his father finds out that he is in deep danger. 7/10

Benford, Gregory. "Zoomers"
In the future, arbitrage traders battle each other by flying around the skies of a simulation of the US. Such use of VR to help folks do their job is an interesting idea but here, the application is poorly conceived and the story is chaotically written. 3/10

Finch, Sheila. "Out of the Mouths"
Mankind is battling a strange alien race. They cannot even communicate with them and, in a bid to establish some sort of link, the guild of linguists puts a human baby together with an alien baby in the hope that they can grow up together and at least learn to speak to each other. The experimenters do finally get answers to their questions but they are not at all like the answers for which they were expecting or hoping. 7/10

Kelly, James Patrick. "Breakaway, Backdown"
Told in the style of a Bob Newhart monologue, this story takes the form of one half of a conversation between a former spacer and a shoe repairer. It sounds weird but the story works. It is interesting, funny and sad. 7/10

Meynard, Yves. "Tobacco Words"
This is set on a kind of interstellar service station where people provide services for space travellers. The main service provided is the confession of sins which are floating in space and which snare the minds of the astronauts. One day, some very strange sins start to turn up which do not even appear to be human sins. Soon after, some space travellers turn up who also appear to be non-human. 7/10

Russ, Joanna. "Invasion"
A spaceship is boarded and brought to near chaos by a small group of alien life forms. The creatures look a lot like small children but they are a lot smarter and more destructive. 5/10

Stableford, Brian. "In the House of Mourning"
Whores are given mutagenic viruses which turn their bodily secretions into psychotropic drugs. This story tells of the fate of those for whom the process went wrong. Now, this was a great tale. 8/10

Knight, Damon. "Life Edit"
Technology allows us to go back and edit our past. Even to resurrect people killed in the past. But how do those people feel about the fact that they only exist because they have been conjoured back from the dead and what will happen if one such person tries to edit the past at the point where they were killed? 6/10

Reed, Robert. "First Tuesday"
New developments in virtual reality and personality synthesis allow the president of the United States to spend an evening dining at the home of every family in the country. Through the analogue, the president gets to hear and say things to the people on a one to one basis. 6/10

Langford, David. "The Spear of the Sun"
Traditional SF on a spaceship but with the fictional character of Father Brown involved in an investigation into a murder. 7/10

Wolfe, Gene. "Counting Cats in Zanzibar"
A woman, responsible for the development of a form of genuine artificial consciousness flees in fear of what she has done. After a while, she is tracked down by an android which has been sent to bring her back. She comes up with a scheme to discredit the creature and its kind. 8/10

Sterling, Bruce. "Bicycle Repairman"
Bicycle Repairman is set in the author's "Deep Eddy" world and it follows Eddy's ex-room mate a couple of years after Eddy left for Europe. The plot is pretty thin but the story scores on its world picture and sheer readability. Lyle, the repairman receives a package destined for Eddie which contains a gadget that reveals the inner workings of government. The FEDs want to nail him but he is a resourceful guy and he has some tough friends too. There is a lot of interesting technology and characters. 8/10

Jones, Gwyneth. "Red Sonja and Lessingham in Dreamland"
Virtual sex, two people, one dream and it's a therapy session. An OK tale but not one that will stick in the mind.6/10

Steele, Allen. "Doblin's Lecture"
A serial killer, imprisoned for life, is given the job of performing public executions in order to convince those who witness them to live honest crime free lives. 5/10

Goonan, Kathleen Ann. "The Bride of Elvis"
Elvis came from another planet and was stranded on earth while his fellow travellers went off to search for parts to fix their interstellar drive. I think that somebody should coin a new name for this genre. Then all of this Elvis lit could be given an annual "Best Of" book of its own and the rest of us would not be bothered with this stuff. 4/10

Wilhelm, Kate. "Forget Luck"
A scientist becomes convinced that there is a special gene for self preservation. He tries to enlist the help of a former student in his research. The student does not want to get involved at first but then realises that he carries the gene himself. Then the FBI becomes interested in the work. 7/10

Willis, Connie. "Nonstop to Portales"
This story originally appeared in a collection of tales written as a tribute to SF author Jack Williamson. A travelling salesman arrives in Portales to look for a new job. He is bored and wants to take a tour of the sights. The only problem is that there appear to be no sights to see. Finally however, he comes across a tour bus which is taking what appear to be SF fans on a tour of Jack Williamson's house and other related locations. He manages to tag along but, over the course of the tour, he discovers that the tourists are not what they first seemed. Jack's fans from the future are travelling back in time. 7/10

Baxter, Stephen. "Columbiad"
A Wells/Verne synthesis. According to this tale, Verne's fictional cannon in Florida that fired a craft to the moon was real and he just dressed up the facts as fiction. One of the participants in the launch contacts H.G.Wells and gets him interested in the second launch which was made to Mars. 7/10