The Mammoth Book of Best New SF 21, edited by Gardner Dozois (Part 2)

The Mammoth Book of Best New SF 21, edited by Gardner Dozois (Part 2)

More stories from the anthology, following on from the first instalment posted on 18th September.

Glory by Greg Egan. Set in a far galactic future. Embodied virtual facsimilies of two explorers are sent to a newly discovered planet to find out what a previous alien civilisation had learned about advanced mathematics. But the current inhabitants have a war to fight.

Against the Current by Robert Silverberg. A man from the present day suffers a sudden reversal and watches in dismay as history rapidly rewinds before his eyes. More of a psychological mood piece than a story with a clear plot or purpose.

Alien Archeology by Neal Asher. A retired secret agent discovers an artifact of great value from an extinct alien race, only to have it violently taken from him. The star-hopping chase for restitution and revenge involves murky dealings in the galactic underworld, rogue AIs and the uneasy threat of what exactly it was that destroyed all previous galactic civilisations. A modern version of traditional SF by a rising star in the genre, densely-packed and fast-moving; the kind of writing that you have to read twice to make sure you've grasped it all. An unusual aspect is that the story is at first told from the villain's viewpoint (in the third person) before switching to the hero's (in the first person). One of the highlights of the anthology so far.

The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate by Ted Chiang. A merchant in long-ago Baghdad tells a fantastic tale to the Caliph, concerning a gate through which people can travel twenty years into the future - or into the past. He recounts the varied fortunes of those who have used the gate, including himself. More of an Arabian Nights tale than conventional SF but a fascinating read. An intriguing contrast with the author's award-winning Exhalation, reviewed in this blog on 15 May 2009, which demonstrates the remarkable versatility of this master story-teller.

Beyond the Wall by Justin Stanchfield. Another complete contrast, as if to illustrate the vast range of modern SF. An enormous alien structure has been discovered on Titan and is promptly put out of bounds while countries try to decide what to do about it. A group of wardens tasked with protecting it from illegal explorers are compelled to enter it and find their hold on reality slipping as they experience alternate futures. An unsettling tale.

Kiosk by Bruce Sterling. A real oddity this one; a man living in eastern Europe after yet another major economic crisis makes use of a "fabrikator" - a machine which spins 3D models of anything it can scan - to start an economic revolution.

Last Contact by Stephen Baxter. I've commented before about the fundamental optimism of many of the stories in this collection, but here's a tale from the opposite end of the spectrum. Near-future astrophysicists discover that the Universe is unravelling, right down to the atomic level - and the Earth has just few months of existence left. This poignant story follows a middle-aged woman, the mother of one of the scientists who made the discovery, as she copes in mundane ways with the inescapable fact of impending annihilation.

The Sledge-Maker's Daughter by Alastair Reynolds. I'd read this one before and was sure I'd blogged about it, but I can find no reference so my memory must be at fault (again). Another one on the pessimistic side as far as human civilisation is concerned. A girl lives in a post-industrial Tyneside with a medieval level of technology, but discovers that the folk tales of winged men falling from the sky have substance, and that there is a lot going on behind the scenes. An intriguing tale, with a setting which would justify a full-length novel - which I would buy.

Half-way through the anthology - more later.

(This entry is cross-posted from my science-fiction & fantasy blog.)