05 May 2014

The Best Science Fiction of 1989?

Hardcover, 254 pages
Published 1990 (contents: 1989)

Acquired March 2008
Reread April 2014
The 1990 Annual World's Best SF
edited by Donald A. Wollheim with Arthur W. Saha

Like last time, I'll be evaluating the stories in this book on the basis of their seeming worthiness of being in a "year's best" anthology: 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.

"Alphas" by Gregory Benford
Aliens come to Venus, and I don't even know what they do because it was so ridiculously boring. There are multiple charts and diagrams. Thumbs down.

"The Magic Bullet" by Brian Stableford
Something about mice that live forever-- long-winded and dull. Brian Stableford, I liked  Scientific Romance in Britain, 1880-1950, and based on this, please stick to criticism. Thumbs down.

"North of the Abyss" by Brian W. Aldiss
Some guy discovers the Egyptian gods are real or something? Third story in a row where I struggled to even care about the basic elements of the story. Second story in a row where the author would be better off writing more criticism. Thumbs down.

"Chiprunner" by Robert Silverberg
Just when you're starting to think that 1989 was a completely awful year for science fiction, this story-- about a psychiatrist trying to stop a kid from losing himself in computers-- comes along. Not amazing, but interesting enough. Thumbs sideways.

"Abe Lincoln in McDonald's" by James Morrow
Abraham Lincoln travels to the future to see what it will be like if he compromises with the Confederacy. This was fun, but somewhat disturbing at times. The title scene alone would be enough, but Morrow balances the comedy with some nightmares. Thumbs up.

"Death Ship" by Barrington J. Bayley
Some kinda dystopian regime invents a train that goes to the future, kinda. I didn't entirely get it, but it was disturbing and evocative and the ending felt real. Thumbs up.

"In Translation" by Lisa Tuttle
In the future, aliens live in camps around the Earth, and they employ translators an go-betweens. A lonely guy tries to find sexual solace with them, only to discover that nothing is not that straightforward, but especially not sex. Ambiguous but powerful, and the best story in the book. Thumbs up.

"A Sleep and a Forgetting" by Robert Silverberg (again)
Scientists build a machine that can communicate with people in the past, and our hero makes contact with Genghis Khan... kinda. An interesting premise, but I dislike invention stories that spend most of their time establishing the invention, rather than getting on with the implications. Give me the transformed society, not the transforming. Thumbs sideways.

"Not Without Honor" by Judith Moffett
Aliens make contact with a Mars base, trying to find the host of The Mickey Mouse Club because there's a crisis with the kids on their home planet. Kinda goofy, but delightful and sometimes even heart-warming without being too saccharine. Thumbs up.

"Dogwalker" by Orson Scott Card
A fun tale of an adult trapped in a kid's body who can figure out your password by learning enough about you. Entertaining, but not quite "year's best" material, I don't think. Thumbs sideways.

"Surrender" by Lucius Shepard
I wanted to like this story, given how interesting Shepard's story in the 1988 volume was, but this one never really grabbed me, though it has its moments (particularly the sex scene and the ending). Thumbs sideways.

"War Fever" by J. G. Ballard
A clever story of war in the Middle East, where U.N. peacekeepers intervene and a smart protagonist figures out how to stop it all... only for there to be a twist... and then another twist. Good stuff. Thumbs up.

So: twelve stories, five thumbs up-- marginally a better hit rate than the 1988 volume (4/10). There were also more thumbs downs than last time, and they were unfortunately clustered at the book's beginning. I think we have to conclude, thanks to this highly scientific methodology, that 1989's science fiction was slightly not as good as 1987's.

This was the last volume of Wollheim's Annual World's Best SF series, but at some point I'll be looping back to the 1984 volume, and I also have a few volumes of the Dozois's Year's Best Science Fiction to look at.

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