Anthology gives overview of year's science fiction

December 22, 1991|By James Cox

THE YEAR'S BEST SCIENCE FICTION: EIGHTH ANNUAL COLLECTION.

Edited by Gardner Dozois.

St. Martin's.

624 pages. $27.95.

For the last seven years, the annual collection edited by Gardner Dozois has been one of the better buys in science fiction. The eighth edition of "The Year's Best Science Fiction," covering short works published in 1990, remains a good value, if not quite up to the earlier standard.

Out of place here are two stories of pure fantasy and one of generic horror. A few of the remaining science fiction pieces fall prey to providing atmosphere so thick it won't support life. But some exceptional selections are included.

"Past Magic" is the best story in the collection. Ian R. MacLeod weaves the sad tale of people in the future who go to extreme dTC lengths to re-create the past as they wish it had been, rather than accept it as it was.

Two of the more intriguing stories deal with the theme of extreme wealth. "Mr. Boy," by James Patrick Kelly, is the first-person account of the belated coming of age of an obscenely rich young man whose growth is repeatedly stunted to maintain the body of a child. While this at first appears to be weirdness for its own sake, under the futuristic trappings lies a solid portrait of the psychology of self-loathing.

Greg Egan's "The Caress" examines the irresponsible use of wealth from the point of view of a victim -- a cop who stumbles upon a creature fabricated with the head of a woman and the body of a leopard. The policeman is manipulated from his cells on up to fulfill a mysterious and obscure artistic vision.

Charles Sheffield's "A Braver Thing" asks the question: Does humanity have the right to inflict itself on the universe before we have proven we can survive ourselves? In Connie Willis' "Cibola," a harried journalist simultaneously researches a crackpot feature about Coronado's search for the Seven Cities of gold and an expose about the overdevelopment of modern Denver.

In the tradition of Melville and Conrad, Robert Silverberg weighs in with a chilling tale of pathos on the high seas in "Hot Sky," in which the water and profit represented by a captured iceberg are measured against a boatload of lives.

"The Hemingway Hoax" -- a rare comic entry -- suggests that stiff-necked machismo crosses all universes and times. Joe Haldeman recounts the efforts of the Spacio-Temporal Adjustment Board (STAB) to eradicate short stories fraudulently attributed to Papa Hemingway and to kill their academic author -- over and over again.

Not only does this volume provide an overview of the market, it also is a reliable barometer of new as well as established writers. The Dozois collection can save many hours of slack-jawed browsing through the glitzy glut of new science fiction.

Mr. Cox is a writer living in Baltimore.

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