Monday, January 28, 2013

Best SF of the Year, One That is Okay, & Some Old Favorites

Like many fans, I am torn over which “best science fiction of the year” collection(s) to read.  I find myself enjoying short stories more than the door-stopper novels.  That doesn’t mean the long novels are not good it just means that I prefer reading many different stories in the short fiction (novellas, novelettes, short stories) to reading one long novel.  There are exceptions.  “Dune” is one of my favorites and I have read it many times.  But if you look at the novels I mainly read, they are the length I enjoyed reading in the 70s and 80s when I was getting into science fiction.  Look at the length of the typical works of Isaac Asimov, Roger Zelazny, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Michael Moorcock, Jack Vance, E. C. Tubb, and others of that generation.  Even many of Frank Herbert’s novels are not 600 to 1000 pages long.  Take a look at the majority of the novels I am reviewing.  Most are older ones.  Does this mean I don’t want to read newer authors?  No.  I plan on reading books by Alastair Reynolds, Iain M. Banks, Peter F. Hamilton, Robert Sawyer, Eric Brown and others this year.  In the words of Peter David, “But I Digress…”.

Cover by Jack Gaughan

Getting back to the subject of “best of the year” collections, my favorite in the early days were the ones edited by Donald A. Wollheim and Terry Carr.  I plan on starting to re-read them with the first one this year.  Last year I took a good look at the current series.  I chose to buy two (the Gardner Dozois collection and the David Hartwell & Kathryn Cramer one).  From what I have read on other sites, the Dozois is generally considered the top series since it started.  Each year he includes a fascinating overview of the field.  So why did I pick up the Hartwell & Cramer book?  A friend of mine loved this series because it is more focused on traditional science fiction.  When I compared the two, there is very little overlap.  Part of my plan is to go back, read and review all of the Hartwell & Cramer collections.  It will take some time because last year’s edition is the seventeenth.  By reading these, it will give me a chance to read many of the newer authors I have not read or have read very little of.  Which leads me to the first story in last year’s collection…

Title:  The Best Science Fiction of the Year Three Author:  Ken MacLeod
First Publication:  Solaris Rising, 2011
Cover:  Pye Parr

I can easily see why Hartwell and Cramer led off the collection with this story.  MacLeod’s tale begins like modern story that is not science fiction.  It does not take long to get wrapped up in the story and find out why it is “The Best Science Fiction of the Year Three”.  I was impressed and will be looking for more of his fiction.  This led me to buy (on my Kindle) his omnibus “Fractions”.  It contains the first two books (“The Star Fraction” and “The Stone Canal”) of his “The Fall Revolution” series.  I can’t wait to read them.

Over the course of the next couple of weeks, I plan on reading more from this best of the year collection.

Title:  “Repent, Harlequin!” Said the Ticktockman
Author:  Harlan Ellison
First Publication:  Galaxy, December 1965
Cover:  Pederson

“Repent…” is one of the classic science fiction stories of the sixties.  Ellison taps into the same vein that gave birth to George Orwell’s “1984” for inspiration for this story.  The Ticktockman is in charge of making sure the world runs on schedule.  He can also punish criminals by taking time from their lives.  Then the masked man known only as the Harlequin dumps a large number of jelly beans on one of the main treadmill sidewalks and throws everything off schedule.

As I read this I could not help but think that this story must of inspired Alan Moore and David Lloyd when they created their graphic novel classic “V for Vendetta”.  It is one of my favorite graphic novels.

If you have not read this classic, hunt it down and read it.  It is worth the effort.

Title:  They Twinkled Like Stars
Author:  Philip Jose Farmer
First Publication:  Fantastic Universe, January 1954
Cover:  Joe Richards

I reviewed one of Farmer’s best short stories last year (“The Sliced-Crosswise Only on Tuesday World”).  Unfortunately this is not in the same class.  A young boy sees his father’s visitor without the visitor’s glasses.  What he sees stays with him the rest of his life.  The story progresses into the future to see the impact of the visitor.  Farmer did a professional job with the writing but the story never really clicked. 

Don’t bother with it unless you are a big fan of Philip Jose Farmer.  He has done many other stories that are better.

Title:  Blank!
Author:  Isaac Asimov
First Publication:  Infinity Science Fiction, June 1957
Cover:  Ed Emsh

As readers of this blog can tell, I am a big fan of the work of the “Good Doctor”.  This story was written as a challenge.  Three authors were given the title “Blank”.  One would write a story called “Blank”, another would write “Blank?”, and the third would write “Blank!”.  Asimov, not known for being shy, says his story was the best of the three.

“Blank!” is a short time travel story with a twist.  It is hard to discuss without ruining the surprise.  I’ll just say that it would have made a classic “Twilight Zone” episode.  As usual, Asimov wrote another good short story.

Title:  Does a Bee Care?
Author:  Isaac Asimov
First Publication:  Worlds of IF, June 1957
Cover:  Mel Hunter

Did mankind have help?  How did humanity come up with the big breakthroughs that advanced technology?  And why does the scientist working on America’s next rocket launch keep the man who doesn’t seem to do anything on staff?  This is more of an idea story than a character one but the idea is a big one.

Title:  Silly Asses
Author:  Isaac Asimov
First Publication:  Future Science Fiction, February 1958
Cover:  Emsh

One of the shortest stories I read in January is Asimov’s reaction to the nuclear weapon development going on in the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. at the time.  I loved this short story that ends with a twist.

I hope to get back to writing a regular “Short Story Sunday” column.  The future holds more of Isaac Asimov’s short fiction (the supply seems endless), more from the “Year’s Best SF:  Volume 17” edited by David Hartwell & Kathryn Cramer, more of Steven Utley’s “Ghost Seas” collection, and my re-read of the classic “Astounding:  The John W. Campbell Memorial Anthology” edited by Harry Harrison.

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