09 January 2012

The Best Science Fiction of 1987?

Donald A. Wollheim presents
The 1988 Annual World's Best SF

For some reason, I've always been a bit suspicious of "year's best" sci-fi anthologies.  So much so, in fact, that I am fairly certain that I have never actually read one.  I can't really explain or justify this.  Is the cynic in me simply unable to believe that there were ten truly worthy sci-fi stories published in one year?  Especially if that year is 1987?  That doesn't really make any sense now that I think about it.  Anyway, a couple years ago, I ended up getting a set of year's best anthologies for 1983, 1987, 1989, 1998, and 2000 basically for free.  So, here I am, ready to give the science fiction of 1987 a try.

I'm going to try an arbitrary metric this time out: thumbs up means the story feels like it belongs in a "year's best" book, thumbs down means it most definitely does not, and thumbs sideways means I'm essentially neutral on the issue.

"The Pardoner's Tale" by Robert Silverberg
In the future, aliens have taken over the world, occupying the cities.  Our main character is a pardoner, who hacks the systems to let people get out of the cities, in exchange for tons of money.  He's a bit of a smug protagonist, but this was a decent little story, with a few good ideas.  Thumbs sideways.

"Rachel in Love" by Pat Murphy
A man transplants the brain of his dead daughter into a chimpanzee, but when he himself dies, she's left alone in the world.  An okay presmise livened by very immersive writing-- Murphy explores the perspective of Rachel better than I would have thought possible.  The only thing more confusing than being a teenager is being a teenager in a body you clearly weren't made for.  Sad and depressing, but in the right ways.  The ending is great.  Thumbs sideways.

"America" by Orson Scott Card
There's a frame story here about a collapsing America in the far future, being invaded by long-dispossessed inhabitants of Latin America.  This isn't so interesting.  It frames, however, an essentially not-sf tale about a boy goes to a remote native village in Brazil with his father on medical missionary work.  I liked this story a lot, even if the story occasionally did dance into essentializing the natives as possessors of "magical" truths.  I was intrigued enough that I'd like to read Folk of the Fringe, which collects all of Card's stories set in this millieu.  Thumbs up.

"Crying in the Rain" by Tanith Lee
Yet another postapocalyptic story.  I would say that we weren't very positive about the future in 1987, but by all accounts, we're not very positive now, either.  A haunting story about what a mother has to do to give her daughter a better life in this bleak future.  Thumbs up.

"The Sun Spider" by Lucius Shepard
This was, without a doubt, my favorite story in the book.  There's a complex relationship between a strange scientist and his wife, some interesting sci-fi stuff, great worldbuilding, lyrical writing.  I was not expecting something this good when I picked up the book, and certainly not from an author I've never even heard of.  Wollheim's introduction indicates that Shepard usually writes about "near-future wars in backwards lands," which is disappointing, as I'd love to read more gorgeous space stuff from here.  Thumbs up, for sure.

"Angel" by Pat Cadigan
I never even figured out what was going on here.  I'm sure I could have, but nothing made me care enough to want to.  Thumbs down. 

"Forever Yours, Anna" by Kate Wilhelm
A handwriting expert named Gordon has to find a woman named Anna, wanted in connection with an experiment gone wrong.  It has a very neat idea, but does not do much with it.  Thumbs sideways. 

"Second Going" by James Tiptree, Jr.
Aliens come to the Earth, but turn out to be rather different than anyone expected.  Their telepathy gives them extraordinary abilities to prevent problems, but what proves really intriguing is their gods.  A pretty good story, borderline, but ultimately thumbs sideways. 

"Dinosaurs" by Walter Jon Williams
This was my other favorite story in the book, about humans of the future who have subdivided their functions into different specializations-- and are utterly unable to communicate fully with members of species who haven't.  Humanity's terraformers are destroying the planets of intelligent races, but because the terraformers weren't designed with human intelligence, there's no good way to get them to stop.  So naturally those intelligent races declare war... but it's a war they can never win.  Great ideas, and great writing.  Thumbs up. 

"All Fall Down" by Don Sakers
Apparently I read this story but I don't remember a thing about it.  Thumbs down.

That's not that bad.  Only two stories that I flat out didn't like.  There were perhaps more thumbs sideways stories than one might wish (four), but that's equaled by the number of very good stories, two of which I thought were excellent.  I look forward to discovering what the best sci-fi stories of 1989 were whenever I get there.

There's no table of contents in this book, by the way.  Who does that?  Also, Wollheim writes little paragraph-long introductions to each story.  He needs to not do that.  When they aren't disposable, they give away parts of the story!

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