Reading ‘The Mammoth Book Of Best New SF 26’, as with previous volumes, I still have to wonder what the criteria is for ‘best’, especially as this year it is Analog that was given the short end of the stick and appears to have nothing worthy of printing. Do writers take turns in giving the wrong mags the worse material?
Considering also that three authors, Paul McAuley, Lavie Tidhar and Robert Reed, have two stories each makes me think what was second best that others weren’t allowed to shine a little as well. Things aren’t helped by several stories being practically novelette-size as well. It’s enough to make me wonder why St. Martin’s Press, who source the material that Constable-Robinson reprints in the UK, don’t do two books so short stories and novelettes get their own books and a wider spread of authors. Certainly, the novelettes didn’t warm me to getting into the material and it wasn’t until Andy Duncan’s ‘Close Encounters’ that I found some interesting ideas with a novel twist. An old abductee is interviewed for a TV feature and discovers things aren’t quite what they appear.
I thought initially that Michael Bishop’s ‘Twenty Lights To “The Land Of Snow”’ was a turn for the better. Buddhists with their Dalai Lama in the future are off to colonise a distant planet and have to spend a few years each in hibernation on the trip. However, the Dalai Lama dies, no one is quite sure how and even murder is suspected. It is deemed that a girl, Greta Bryn Brasswell, carries his spirit and she is looked after until her teens when the tests are carried out with only one other contender, a teen boy called Jetsun Trimon, being the only other possibility. Bishop does wonders with Greta’s growing to adulthood but he loses a beat with the selection and the wind-down at the end. It’s not as though I want a murder mystery but I’ve read Bishop’s work in the past and he shouldn’t have missed those beats in what would have otherwise been a fine story.
Robert Reed’s ‘Katabasis’, set in his ‘Great Ship’ reality should have been better than it was. The plot wouldn’t have been out of place in a terrestrial setting. A safari across a dangerous terrain with a known fatality rate is the plot. Thing is, anyone who ‘dies’ can be restored to life later, so you have to wonder what the point is in doing such extreme adventures let alone writing about it.
‘Nightside On Callisto’ by Linda Nagata jumps back to pre-Asimov days with rogue robots that would probably work as a film but lacks an internal logic. The same could also be said of Lavie Tidhar’s ‘Under The Eaves’ with lovey-dovey cyborgs. I do wonder if robots with organic parts deserve a different name. How about Orgcybs to tell them apart??
It wasn’t until Christopher Barzak’s ‘Invisible Men’ who takes a different angle looking at the ‘source’ of HG Wells’ story that I thought would be better than it was. Mostly because although written in first person, it took a while to realise it was a woman and Barzak didn’t not match her vocal inflection to her thoughts until near the end. A proper re-write would have undoubtedly have sorted this out
I do think that the font size could do with being a little larger and save readers from requiring better eyesight.
I spread my reading of this anthology out over a greater part of a month just in case I was reading too fast looking for the good material but, well and truly, the standard isn’t that impressive and the lack of quotes on the cover from over SF sources also speaks for itself. Editor Gardner Dozois appears to be going for recognised names to parade on the cover rather than quality material and each successive year it is showing too much in reduced quality. There wasn’t even been any real gems in his selection and, if I was a novice SF writer, I would see the material here as a turn-off than as a means to instil greater interest in our subject. For the SF authors who let their material be used here and hopefully reading this review, you people really do need to buck your ideas up and be innovative rather than just making the word count up. Once upon a time, I might have been happy to have been seen in this book myself but I’m kind of glad I’ve been overlooked.
(pub: Constable-Robinson. 720 page small enlarged paperback. Price: £ 9.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-4721-0601-8)
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