Year's Best SF by David G. Hartwell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The first of a distinguished series. While I enjoyed most of the stories, now that I sit down to write the review I realise that I don't remember many of them, and I only finished it the other day.
The novella Hot Times in Magma City by Robert Silverberg is one of the memorable ones. While the premise is unlikely - people in a recovery program acting as emergency responders, as part of their community service in a Los Angeles wracked with volcanic activity - it's a powerful story. Told from the viewpoint of the group's leader, it shows the addicts trying to pull themselves together as they meet the challenges of their task, and more or less succeeding.
"Downloading Midnight", by William Browning Spencer, an author I haven't encountered before as far as I remember, is a cyberpunk novelette with a noir feel. It suffers from one of the usual issues with cyberpunk - the difficulty of explaining why people in cyberspace are in any actual danger - but manages to handwave it adequately and tell a good human story.
"Coming of Age in Karhide", by Ursula K. Le Guin, is the only one in the volume I remember reading before (in the author's collected short fiction, I think). It's one of her mind-stretching ones, set in the same world as The Left Hand of Darkness (where people periodically change gender), and very much a "this is what it's like to grow up in this setting" piece rather than a strongly plotted, linear story. Such is Le Guin's mastery of style and ability to convey feeling that it works anyway.
The remaining story in the volume that I can remember without looking at the book is the novella The Ziggurat, by Gene Wolfe. I'm on record as saying that I seldom understand or like Wolfe's stories, but maybe I'm getting used to them; I didn't hate this, and I followed it pretty well. The problem I have with Wolfe, though, is that his characters always seem alienated from their emotions, and while they will act from emotional reasons, they never seem to express emotions clearly or have emotional self-insight. Also, their actions sometimes seem alien and creepy, partly because of this emotional disconnect; violence comes as if out of nowhere, or, as here, a man decides, seemingly unilaterally, that he and a woman who has been his enemy are going to have a relationship, despite the earlier death-dealing violence between her group and his. It's as if all his characters are somewhere on the autism spectrum, or as if I am (which I'm not) whenever I read a Wolfe story.
Since I picked this up for 99c, I wasn't disappointed, but later volumes had a higher proportion of memorable stories.
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