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WesternSFA
Year's Best SF 18
Edited by David Hartwell
Tor, 2013, QPB $15.99, 415pp
Release Date: December 10, 2013
If you do not already know that anthologies make some of the finest reading, here is a perfect opportunity to see what brilliant people you share the planet with.

For the past decade or so, SF has tended toward grim, bleak, dystopic stuff. Hardly surprising, when you consider the grim, bleak, dystopic stuff happening all over, underground, on the surface, and in outer space. But over the last 18 months, a sense of ironic humor has reasserted itself, along with the love of word-smithing, and some of the best stories of 2012 have found their way into this collection. Here are some highlights:

Megan Lindholm usually writes under another name these days, so it was cool to see this name again, starting things off with “Old Paint”, in which an old family car has a life of its own. It’s a generational story with snazzy hard SF details that feels simultaneously poignant and liberating.

Robert Reed had me laughing in shocked admiration within the first paragraph of “Prayer.” Again, really cool tech, and a split narrator perspective that’s futuristic cyberpunk. The two narrators are a 14-year-old girl and a cognitive gun, and the evolving question is: in a war between the U.S. and Canada fought over religion and oil, are they on the same side, or not?

“The Battle of Candle Arc” is a masterpiece example of the Art of war, and Yoon Hu Lee introduces each frisson of alarm and ambiguity perfectly.

Three of the stories are linked because they are reprinted from the Palencar Project: “Dormanna” by Gene Wolfe, “The Woman Who Shook the World Tree” by Michael Swannick, and Gregory Benford’s “The Sigma Structure Symphony,” which is a fantastic story about decoding SETI messages.

And John Barnes is represented by “Swift As a Dream and Fleeting As a Sigh”, about an AI who has to fill the billions of nanoseconds of processing time that fill the interstices of its interactions with humans.

One of the outstanding features of many of these stories is the ability of the authors to get outside the limits of their biology. They really are thinking in new ways. I can’t think of a better gift to give anyone who loves to read, or who is interested in technology, or neuroscience, or history, or psychology. Any R&D companies looking for SF to mine for ideas: here’s the mother lode. ~~ Chris R. Paige

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