I hope all of my readers in the USA had a great Thanksgiving. Mine was almost identical to last year’s semi-traditional Thanksgiving. The last relatives I had in this area have moved away, and my wife and I couldn’t travel for various reasons, but especially since she recently took a job at a retailer, so she (of course) had to work today and tomorrow.
Since side dishes are such a big deal at Thanksgiving, I thought I’d use today to wrap up the first of my side quests. I’ve already covered the first ten stories in this collection, then ten more and ten more. I’ll cover the last five stories here, then have some final thoughts on the collection overall.
The Boneless One by Alec Nevala-Lee. Who is committing the murders on an ocean-research vessel?
Dying Young by Peter Ball. This engaging story is mostly a western, although there’s a dragon, clones, and cyborgs.
Canterbury Hollow by Chris Lawson. A space colony which can’t support all its population chooses some of its members to die, although the method chosen isn’t specified. Two of the chosen live out their last days.
The Vorkuta Event by Ken MacLeod. This story was described as Lovecraft-inspired, and it lived up to that in many respects, by having a creepy setting (Soviet-era Siberian labor camp) and a ponderous writing style. Unfortunately, the big, dangerous, mysterious thing at the end was anticlimactic.
The Man Who Bridged the Mist by Kij Johnson. I was expecting something spectacular from this story. It is the only work that made it into all three of my side quest readings, and it also won both the Hugo and Nebula awards. It turned out to be one of my least-favorite in the collection.
The editor’s intro to this story describes it as “long”. Think of the adjectives he could have used to describe a story: exciting, innovative, entertaining, thought-provoking. No, he chose “long”. At least he was being honest. There’s a section where the main character has flashbacks to his college love interest, which has no bearing on the rest of the story. An editor really needed to take a meat cleaver to this one.
The story is about a bridge being built. There are no real plot twists. A bridge gets built, that’s it. The only fantastic element to the story is that the river being bridged is made of mist. At first I was thinking, OK, this is a sci-fi scenario where there’s a dense, poisonous gas that people need to cross. But then, it turns out people are taking wooden ferry boats over the mist carrying passengers and cattle and cargo. So, it’s pure fantasy, and there’s no excuse for it being in a collection called “The Year’s Best Science Fiction”.
Even for the other collections I read, which included both science fiction and fantasy, I don’t think this was a good choice. The fantasy element has almost no impact on the story. You could rewrite it as a historical fiction about the building of the Golden Gate Bridge, and the only thing you’d need to change would be a few technical details about bridge construction.
It took me a long time to read this collection, not because it has many stories, but because I kept putting it away, saying “I can’t take any more.” At least once, I considered giving up on reading fiction, forever. That’s a powerful anti-endorsement of this work.
I thought I had read a couple of the collections from this series back in the eighties, and don’t remember hating them. Maybe I actually read some other series. Maybe my tastes, or the editor’s tastes, have changed. Maybe I was in school back then, and anything seemed good when compared to my assigned readings: the work of Shakespeare, in a form of English that hasn’t been spoken in hundreds of years, and the work of Faulkner, in a form of English that hasn’t ever been spoken.
It turns out that the editor of this collection, Gardner Dozois, was the editor of Asimov’s magazine for twenty years. I don’t remember reading any issues that he edited, but comparing my side quest reading to my negative review of an issue of Asimov’s from 2015, it’s possible the magazine has actually gone downhill since he left.
My final thought on this collection: while reading, I got the impression that stories weren’t chosen on their own merit. Instead, I felt the popularity and reputation of the author might have been the determining factor. Every intro to a story bragged about the author’s awards and/or long list of novels they had written. Are the best stories only being written in nursing homes? I doubt it.