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The Mammoth Book Of Best New SF 21 edited by Gardner Dozois

01/04/2009. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts

Buy The Mammoth Book Of Best New SF 21 in the USA - or Buy The Mammoth Book Of Best New SF 21 in the UK

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pub: Constable Robinson. 714 page enlarged paperback. Price: 9.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-84529-828-9.

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Oddly, we never got a copy of this book from St. Martin's Press this time around and even had a delay from Constable Robinson, although I've been told its nothing to do with SFCrowsnest not being mentioned in the summary of SF websites again. I'm beginning to treat that as more like a badge of honour for non-conformists. Makes you wonder how many others don't get a mention, doesn't it?

It'll no doubt confirm that both Stephen Hunt and myself are also immortal as we're never unlikely to appear in a certain SF trade magazine's obituary column. I like immortality myself. Lasts such a long time.

As with any anthology, not all stories are for all people and its like digging around in a lucky dip to find the ones that appeal to you. Logistically, it makes sense to read them all because how else are you going to discover some new authors you haven't read before? Oddly, it wasn't until I was about a quarter of a way into the book that some of the material was hitting the mark for me.

Greg Egan's 'Glory' about an alien visitor to a world posing as a native but having to disclose what she was on a first contact mission while investigating some archaeological digs kept my attention. So, oddly, did Neal Asher's 'Alien Archaeology' where there is a chase for stolen artefacts. I still think Asher needs to work on the emotional content of his characters but it held my interest.

Robert Silverberg's 'Against The Current' has a time traveller and his car spuriously travelling back into the past at irregular intervals. Not sure what's causing it, he ends up enjoying the ride.

The cream of the crop must surely be 'The Merchant And The Alchemist's Gate' by Ted Chiang. Not only is it told from an Islamic point of view but is set in the Middle East where a shop owner owns a couple portals allowing people to travel forward and back in time. Skilfully written, Chiang knocks on the head the problems of meeting yourself at different times and causality being fulfilled. The fact that such things are carried out because it is so leaves it to the reader to gather and understand the evidence which makes it such a delight.

Justin Stanchfield's 'Beyond The Wall' also takes an uncontrollable time travel theme when investigators on Saturn's moon, Titan, find a derelict spaceship with their own captain frozen on board next to a known alien fuelling station. A little bizarre at the ending but certainly engrossing.

Oddly enough, so it Bruce Sterling's 'Kiosk' taking a mid-European setting and how an ordinary community there deals with a small shop having a fabricator device that can manufacture smallest objects. If anything, its how Sterling handles the people on their own terms that makes them more interesting than the fabricator plot device.

There's an interesting oddity in Vandana Singh's story 'Of Love And Other Monsters' in that she uses a term from my own 'Psi-Kicks' stories where she describes people who can't be mind-read as blanks. Without me realising it, one of my terms appears to have been absorbed into the SF nomenclature although she really ought to have asked permission to use my precise terminology. Her story is set in India and Arun, her male mind-reader, has been instructed to avoid a more powerful mind-reader and we follow his life.

Pat Cadigan's 'Nothing Personal' is described in the introductory notes as a cyberpunk story although it seems more in line with alternative worlds and the problems of what to do when your offspring has medical problems linked into a detective story. Although a little predictable towards the end, the characterisation makes this scenario interesting.

Nancy Kress is one author who never fails to impress me and her 'Laws Of Survival' made for delightful reading. A woman is trapped on a limited artificial intelligence controlled spaceship where she has to train dogs to its satisfaction without getting herself killed in the process. Nicely played out and a definite page-turner.

Ted Kosmatka's 'The Prophet Of Flores' shows an alternative reality where the belief in creationism over-ruled evolution until evidence of a sub-species of man comes to light. A reminder that Science Fiction is at its best when looking at the consequences of possible scenarios.

As much as I like Robert Reed's material, I would question as to whether 'Roxie', a story about a dog, would actually qualify as Science Fiction. Then again, Gregory Benford's 'Dark Heaven' is essentially a detective story with SF undertones with the alien Centauri barely getting a peep in let alone any effects of an alien culture on mankind. Saying that, I like Benford's ideas here for what caused people to think they saw UFOs in the skies for so many years.

Looking at the above, I've commented on ten of the thirty-two stories in this volume. I've been discussing with my other reviewers that if you can like or tolerate a quarter of an anthology's contents then there must surely be a big enough scattershot to cover everyone's tastes so just under a third here, isn't too bad.

GF Willmetts

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