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The Mammoth Book Of Best New SF 24 edited by Gardner Dozois

1/10/2011. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts

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pub: Constable Robinson. 720 page enlarged paperback. Price: GBP 9.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-84901-373-4.

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It looks like it was a bad year for Analog last year with no material from them again. Then again, looking at the selection here as being the best that is on offer from the rest, then I have to say that there’s a lot of dull material and that there ought to be some serious question marks raised about the selection process. More so when two authors, Robert Reed (who tends to be normally an interesting writer) and Lavi Tidhar, get two stories apiece and yet neither get a mention on the cover, just the names that are deemed saleable. Maybe it’s just me but having a recognized name doesn’t mean that the material will be quality. I’d settle for some unknown writers who write great Science Fiction than the known names who don’t do much in the short form any more. Then again, the ‘Honourable Mentions’ list also seems shorter this year. If I was reading this as a novice writer, I would see this as an opportunity to get on the rung with doing the rounds of the magazine and small publishers who do anthologies with some short stories and see who bites. Editor Gardner Dozois lists a lot of their contact addresses in his Summation of the past year after all.

Usually, I’ve found it takes a few stories before I find some that I would deem good. Unusually, they started a little earlier this time with Allen M. Steele’s ‘The Emperor Of Mars’ with a very grounded story of a manual worker on Mars coming to terms with the grief of his family killed on Earth by fantasising himself into the classic works of SF Mars literature. It is written effectively not from his point of view but from that of his commanding officer so there are only glimpses to build the picture.

‘The Things’ by Peter Watts takes the alien perspective from the John Carpenter film, showing it less a monster and only a sentient alien wanting to survive once woken. Watts brings some interesting perspectives into this that should have you check the film again although it does raise the question as to why it didn’t incorporate MacReady.

A real page-turner is Eleanor Arnason’s ‘Mammoths of The Great Plains’, an alternative reality where the hairy elephants nearly survived until modern times as seen through the eyes of a Native American woman determined to save something of them so they might one day be resurrected. Arnason’s familiarity with the culture makes for some intense reading so make sure you have plenty of time to read the story in one sitting.

Steven Popkes’s novella ‘Jackie’s Boy’ is a post-apocalyptical story where an orphan boy becomes the assistant to a talking elephant who leaves her zoo in Saint Louise for Florida. Although the ending tends to fizzle out, I found this an evocative story that held my attention.

Stephen Baxter’s ‘Return To Titan’ is a bit convoluted with a scheme to manipulate people to an illegal invasion of one of Saturn’s moons which then goes wrong. None of the characters are particularly likeable to root for and the real star of the novella is Titan itself which makes it a useful read.

The rest, I hate to say, became a bit of a struggle. Not that they weren’t well-written but more a question of how much they were into our genre or not. With massive anthologies such as this, I learnt the lesson a long time ago that it made sense to read in sections over the month rather than let myself become dulled by reading collectively. This time, frankly, it didn’t help. This is a shame really because reading the ‘Best Of New SF’ is supposed to be a highlight of the year. Editor Gardner Dozois can only work with what is supplied but I really hope the editors of the other publications get a bit more into gear and remember that Science Fiction is supposed to inspire the imagination.

GF Willmetts

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