Year's Best SF 5 Edited by David G.Hartwell
Beginning in the mid nineties and running at least to the present, David Hartwell produces the alternative "year's best" anthologies. The primary series is of course the similarly titled one edited by Gardner Dozois. In some years the Hartwell selection is at least as good as the generally larger Dozois version. In the fifth year of his endeavours though he missed the mark and this book is not so good. Certainly it is not up to the standards of some of the earlier anthologies.

Of course, there are some good stories in here. A competent editor could hardly gather together 25 tales and disappoint with them all but the truth is that less than a dozen of them are better than average for current SF and that hardly counts as "year's best" even if you take into account the fact that there is no overlap with Gardner Dozois' book which presumably gets first choice with the authors.

I think that the best story here is Steven Baxter's "Huddle" which tells of a future Earth stricken in an ice age and populated by people genetically engineered to survive the bitterly cold conditions. Perhaps it is a sign of the times but all of the best stories here deal with the alteration of humans in order to deal with the pressures of life in the future. Terry Bisson's "Macs" introduces the ides of creating clones of criminals just so that they may be killed by the families of their victims while Curt Wohleber's "100 Candles" and Tom Purdom's "Fossil Games" are set in futures in which it is normal for people to be extensively altered and those who have no, or few, alterations feel increasingly excluded from their worlds.

If you are the kind of fan who just cannot get enough short SF then this is worth getting as you will find some interesting stories but otherwise, you might as well give this a miss and hope for a better effort next year.

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rating
Five out of ten.
For diehard fans only.
Detailed contents.
Ryman, Geoff: "Everywhere"
A streetsmart kid from the Northeast of England talks about his family and his life in a near future setting. But what was it for? 3/10

Malartre, Elizabeth: "Evolution Never Sleeps"
The night of the killer Chipmunks. This was a poor idea why it was made into a B movie in the fifties so why dig it up again? 4/10

Robinson, Kim Stanley: "Sexual Dimorphism"
Women are from Dolphins and men are from Orang Utangs. According to a scientist on Mars. Good stories are from better ideas than this. According to jpoc. 4/10

Reed, Robert: "Game of the Century"
A loophole in the law allows a small number of parents to create genetically engineered children. The children are all signed up to play for one of two college football teams and, after a year in which they destroy all opposition, they meet up for their final showdown. It's a neat idea and the story is well told but I was left feeling that it was too shallow to be great. 6/10

Bishop, Michael: "Secrets of the Alien Reliquary"
A short poem about a collection of objects assembled by aliens who find them sexually arousing. The poem's brevity is its greatest merit. 2/10

Zettel, Sarah: "Kinds of Strangers"
A spaceship suffers a failure that leaves it stranded far from Earth and, with no hope of return, it seems that the crew will all have breakdowns and kill themselves. Then one man claims to have received a message from an alien suggesting a way out involving a passing comet. Is it a real message or a false hope invented by the captain to keep them sane? Is the idea workable? Will the crew hold together long enough to effect the escape? 6/10

Doctorow, Cory: "Visit the Sins"
In the future, people can opt for a treatment that will allow them to switch off and enter a coma when things become too boring. The trouble is that many of these people find it harder and harder to generated the enthusiasm for spells of consciousness. One man visits the nursing home where his thus afflicted grandfather lives. In the course of his visit, he learns more about himself and his family than he bargained for. I had the feeling that this was a great idea but the realisation was lacking. 6/10

Egan, Greg: "Border Guards"
Thousands of years in the future, humankind has become a race of super-intelligent immortals. With little to do over the millennia, people spend their time in weird parallel worlds playing games such as quantum soccer or studying. One group of gamers encounters one of the original developers of the technology that makes their lives possible. Her thousands of years are great burden to her and her new friends want to help but can they connect with her? 6/10

Bisson, Terry: "Macs"
Condemned criminals are cloned and the families of their victims are able, required even, to kill the clones themselves. One day a man starts to take an interest in the fate of the clones of one particular killer presumed to be Timothy MacVeigh. 7/10

Lawson, Chris "Written in Blood"
A Muslim scientist develops a way to encode text in DNA introns. He develops a retrovirus that will incorporate the full text of the Koran into a person's bone marrow DNA so that they carry the words in the white cells of their blood. It was an interesting idea but the story itself was uninteresting. 5/10

Wolfe, Gene: "Has Anybody Seen Junie Moon?"
A slightly dim circus strongman teams up with a woman obsessed with with the hunt for a strange moon. She disappears and her helper is left to wander the Earth looking for her or for her Moon. 4/10

Sawyer, Robert J.: "The Blue Planet"
The Martians want the people from Earth to visit in person and not just to keep sending up unmanned probes. So, they resort to destroying incoming vessels in order to send a message. This story was probably sponsored by NASA to draw attention away from their own blunders. 4/10

Lee, Mary Soon: "Lifework"
A woman is placed under a court order to attend relationship therapy. In this case, the problem is that she is reluctant to sue her partner for separation. In the end, she is shown filmed proof of his infidelity and she agrees to the inevitable. I bet that this story would have been considered thought provoking had it been written thirty years earlier. 4/10

Lerner, Fred: "Rosetta Stone"
Mankind discovers an abandoned city on the moon. Mysterious aliens have left before their base was discovered. The only thing that they have left behind is their library. One man is called upon to make sense of the alien's choice of mankind's books. 5/10

Aldiss, Brian: "An Apollo Asteroid"
In the future, the moon has been colonised and people can move up there by means of a series of wormholes. One day, the moon is struck by an asteroid which, together with the strange force of a dream shared by one man and his psychiatrist, knocks it into another dimension. 4/10

Wohleber, Curt: "100 Candles"
One of the last mostly normal people, a popular singer celebrating her 100th birthday, confronts her children and friends who have turned to assorted forms of enhancements, uploading or cloning. It is hard for the old and new forms to come to terms with each other and when the singer confesses that she killed her cancer ridden husband in order to prevent him from being uploaded into a computer, she sets the scene for her own death. 7/10

Nordley, G.David: "Democritus' Violin"
College students use their science department's matter replicator to make a copy of a hated music teacher's Stradivarius. They want to make a switch and make a fool of him but something goes wrong. A bit juvenile really. 4/10

Purdom, Tom: "Fossil Games"
In the future, people are born with serious genetic manipulation and then fitted with brain boosting implants and give drugs to make them smarter. They also achieve virtual immortality. One result is that, every generation, people become a lot smarter. The problem is that once you reach an age of more tan sixty, you find that you are surrounded by people so much smarter than you that you cannot even have a conversation because they keep inventing new and more expressive languages. The solution for the old folks is to hollow out an asteroid and, using it as a spacecraft, head off in search of a new world. One such venture finds a dead planet full of old fossils and a dispute arises as to whether or not to report this back to Earth. 7/10

Beckett, Chris: "Valour"
A Cambridge based scientist visiting friends in Germany gets into trouble when he heads off alone to a bar and gets drunk. Also, some aliens are broadcasting messages about their own systems of philosophy. 4/10

Baxter, Stephen: "Huddle"
In the distant future, a collision with a celestial body causes a new, long lasting ice age on Earth. People are genetically engineered to help them survive the cold. One such person thinks that there must be more to life than just trying to stay alive on the ice. He sets out to explore and discovers that the world is changing. 7/10

Stableford, Brian M.: "Ashes and Tombstones"
Set in a post eco-crash world which is finally returning to space travel after almost 200 years. The staff of the new space programme want to involve the last man alive who took part in the earlier launches. He is 280 years old and has a dark secret that means that he is reluctant to take part. 5/10

Swanwick, Michael: "Ancient Engines"
An encounter in a bar between an android who hopes to live for ever and a man who hopes to design an android which actually can live for ever. 6/10

Suga, Hiroe: "Freckled Figure"
Translated from the Japanese original, this tale is about three friends who win a prize to design figures for an animated movie. The figures are semi-autonomous and fitted with AI abilities. They take on a life of their own. 6/10

Malzberg, Barry N.: "Shiva"
A trainee time traveller from the 23rd century heads back to the past to try and change history. He fails to convince de Gaulle, Pol Pot, Kennedy and Einstein to change their lives. It was all a bit facile for my taste. 4/10

Sussex, Lucy: "The Queen of Erewhon"
In a post crash world, some societies are organised around the principal of polyandry. Lesbians and women who desire just one single partner are social outcasts. 5/10