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WesternSFA
Year's Best SF 17
edited by David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer
Harper Voyager, 2012, $7.99, 488pp
Release Date: May 29, 2012
A good anthology is the literary equivalent of the twelve days of Christmas: there is such delicious anticipation, such skill in presentation, and such variety in celebration! Certainly I mark my calendar for the release dates of the next books by my known favorite authors and pester the stores for weeks in advance, asking, “Is it here yet?” I am happy because I know what to expect in the way of style, characters, and storyline continuity from my favorites; with anthologies, it is a very different joy: the delight of encountering the utterly unexpected.

Hartwell and Cramer have done a bang up job of gathering together stories that are as diverse as the patrons of the 12 holy days of Yule: some funny, some mystical, others verging on terrifying. All 23 authors are well established, and each is a fountain of original ideas. Ken MacLeod’s genre-reflexive story is of a con man who gets outed by an SF writer. Elizabeth Bear takes a look at where robotics is heading and how artificial intelligence might react to certain human impositions. Ken Liu writes a wonderful tale of inventiveness that has been virtually freed of all constraints, and how there can still be nostalgia for constraints, and for the chance to measure oneself against them.

Neil Gaiman’s “And Weep Like Alexander” is definitely one I’ll share with my students this year; it is wicked funny. The aptly named Mercurio D. Rivera contributed my other favorite, “Tethered” a multi-layered, nuanced tale that is part of his Wergen continuum. The central premise of these stories is that the alien Wergens are benighted by biochemistry: they can’t help falling in love with any human they meet in the worst case of pheromone based co-dependence ever. This is a fascinating concept!

Bruce Sterling’s “The Master of the Aviary” wittily shows how ‘the more things chance, the more they stay the same’ as futuristic politics bear a harsh resemblance to historical ones – and to current events. And Yoon Ha Lee’ “A Vector Alphabet of Interstellar Travel” is mathematical and mythical, a short story version of The Phantom Tollbooth for grown ups.

Hopefully these few, brief descriptions are enough to whet your appetite for the whole. ~~ Chris R. Paige

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