The Year’s Best Sci-Fi edited by Gardner Dozois (2011)

The Year's Best Science Fiction: Twenty-ninth Annual CollectionThe Year’s Best Science Fiction: Twenty-ninth Annual Collection by Gardner R. Dozois
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

What a difference five years makes. Unlike The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2016, TYBSF2011 has very few LGBTQ characters. Many of the stories have no female characters, to say nothing of passing the Bechdel test. This isn’t to say that the stories aren’t varied and engaging – they are – or that the writing isn’t good – it is, although the proofreading leaves something to be desired – just that the breadth of people you meet while reading this book isn’t as broad as it could have been. Beyond that, and the sub-par proofreading, I have no complaints. I’ve included a rating for each story. It is, of course, a completely objective evaluation of that particular story and not in the slightest my utterly subjective opinion.

The Choice by Paul McAuley: an alien ship crash lands on the shore of an England transformed by climate change, with unforeseen consequences. Mentions of murder and child abuse. Fails the Bechdel test. 3/5

A Soldier of the City by David Moles: Spacefaring civilizations war with each other when a breach of the unwritten rules of engagement causes their gods to enter the fray. Bombings and war violence; fails the Bechdel test. 2/5

The Beancounter’s Cat by Damien Broderick: Adopting a strange stray cat triggers a chain of events leading to the end of the world. Passes the Bechdel test! Irritating mentions of breast size irrelevant to the story as a whole. 2.5/5

Dolly by Elizabeth Bear: A robot murder-mystery; a whydunit rather than whodunit with elements of homage to Isaac Asimov. Content warnings for graphic, violent murder and mentions of sexual assault. Passes the Bechdel test. 4/5

Martian Heart by John Barnes: A tragic romance about the hidden problems of colonizing a new planet. 4/5

Earth Hour by Ken MacLeod: Political and business intrigue spills over into assassinations as multi-billion dollar corporations vie for control of the developments that will hand them the future on a silver platter. Content warnings for graphic descriptions of violence. Fails the Bechdel test. 3.5/5

Laika’s Ghost by Karl Schroeder: Unexpected developments in the nuclear arms race create opportunities for the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics Online, and disturbing challenges for people working against nuclear terrorism. 3.5/5

The Dala Horse by Michael Swanwick: A story that starts out as fairy tale and morphs into a sci-fi journey centered around a little girl, a troll, and an unusual toy horse. 3/5

The Way it Works Out and All by Peter S Beagle: an homage to a work by Avram Davidson featuring interconnected subspace tunnels populated by eerie, malevolent beings. 3/5

The Ice Owl by Carolyn Ives Gilman: A teenager makes an unexpected discovery relating to a genocide that happened 141 years ago on another planet, and which she witnessed. Content warnings for genocide, lynching and disturbing language around transgender characters. 3.5/5 (would have been four stars, but I didn’t like the resolution)(Actually, that holds true for a lot of these stories)

The Copenhagen Interpretation by Paul Cornell: Set in an alternate future 19th century Europe, spy Jonathan Hamilton bumps into an old girlfriend and almost unleashes World War III. Content warnings for torture and violence. 3/5

The Invasion of Venus by Stephen Baxter: The question of whether we are the only intelligent life is incontrovertibly answered as Earth witnesses a cosmic battle between forces which ignore us completely. 3/5

Digging by Ian McDonald: A terraforming project on a future Mars stretches over decades. Passes the Bechdel test. 3/5

Ascension Day by Alastair Reynolds: A ship docked for almost a century finally leaves the planet for further interstellar trading. Fails the Bechdel test. 2/5

After the Apocalypse by Maureen F McHugh: A scarily plausible glimpse at a future America where the apocalypse has crept in an inch at a time. Passes the Bechdel test. 2/5

Silently and Very Fast by Catherynne M Valente: Valente weaves a fairy tale/sci-fi mash up exploring what it means to be human, and where the dividing line between human and machine rests. Content warnings for violence and incest. Passes the Bechdel test. 4/5

A Long Way Home by Jay Lake: This single character story focuses on an immortal who resurfaces from exploring a cave system to discover that he is the only person left alive on the whole planet, with no idea of what happened. Content warnings for child abuse and some tragic deaths. 3/5

The Incredible Exploding Man by Dave Hutchinson: Hutchinson melds comic book superheros and science fiction, with a dash of Large Hadron Collider (this time built in Sioux Crossing) disaster setting everything off. No female characters. 3.5/5

What We Found by Geoff Ryman: Scientists make the unusual discovery that repeating experiments to replicate the results causes those effects to decrease until they are no better than chance. This is interwoven with the narrator`s depressing childhood, surrounded by physically and emotionally abusive relatives. Further content warnings for toxic depictions of mental illness and cross-dressing. Passes the Bechdel test. 2/5

A Response from EST17 by Tom Purdom: The first contact scenario is flipped on its head here as competing probes from Earth enter negotiations with an alien civilization which has the answers to all of humanity’s problems, but with a heavy price. Fails the Bechdel test. 3/5

The Cold Step Beyond by Ian R MacLeod: This future civilization sends out bioengineered warriors to defeat monsters on other planets, when our warrior faces one that isn’t as it seems. Passes the Bechdel test, majority female characters. Content warnings for blood, violence, and the death of a child. 3/5

A Militant Peace by David Klecha and Tobias S Buckell: Set in North Korea, nations join forces for an ingenious, non-violent invasion. Passes the Bechdel test, majority of non-white characters. Content warnings for war-related violence and bombings. 4.5/5

The Ants of Flanders by Robert Reed: Take World War I and turn the competing soldiers into aliens, set their battle on Earth, and make humanity into ants on the battleground. Fails the Bechdel test. 2/5

The Vicar of Mars by Gwyneth Jones: An alien vicar on colonized Mars comes across a potential parishoner with some unusual issues in this creepy space ghost story. 4.5/5

The Smell of Orange Groves by Lavie Tidhar: Tel Aviv hosts this story with a twist on immortality: memories passed down like genes. Majority POC, fails the Bechdel test. 3/5

The Iron Shirts by Michael F Flynn: An alternate history 13th century Ireland, with complicated political intrigues and a complicated cast. Fails the Bechdel test. I should have made a chart to keep track of all the characters. 3/5

Cody by Pat Cadigan: Science discovers how to send information encoding in the DNA of human messengers, and how to intercept those messages. Fails the Bechdel test, content warnings for kidnapping and non-consensual medical procedures. 3/5

For I Have Lain Me Down on the Stone of Loneliness and I`ll Not Be Back Again by Michael Swanwick: Future Ireland is still embattled, and an American tourist exploring his Irish roots before emigrating to a space colony winds up sucked into the fray. Fails the Bechdel test. 2/5

Ghostweight by Yoon Ha Lee: Her desperate quest for vengeance puts this young woman and her accompanying ghost in life-threatening positions. Majority female characters. Content warnings for war-related violence. 4.5/5

Digital Rites by Jim Hawkins: The simultaneous deaths of famous actors all belonging to one studio turn out to be foul play in this fast-paced cross between a police procedural and sci-fi thriller. Content warnings for graphic deaths, murder, and kidnapping. Also had unnecessary discussions of breasts, while still failing the Bechdel test. 4/5

The Boneless One by Alec Nevala-Lee: Scientists on a billionaire`s yacht attempting to apply genome sequencing to the microbial contents of the ocean expose themselves to something with disturbing consequences. Passes the Bechdel test. Content warnings for violence, murder, self-harm, and gore. 4.5/5

Dying Young by Peter M Ball: Sci-fi, spaghetti western, and fantasy all mush together here in a pitiful western town pinned under the thumb of a malicious doctor. No female characters. Content warnings for violence and gore. 3/5

Canterbury Hollow by Chris Lawson: As a dying sun destroys a planet and forces the inhabitants into over-crowded cave systems, requiring them to implement a lottery system to keep the population under control, two citizens fall in love. Content warnings for suicide. 3.5/5

The Vorkuta Event by Ken MacLeod: A Lovecraftian tale set in Cold War Russia, where we learn the possible future is much more disturbing than we think. No female characters. 3/5

The Man Who Bridged the Mist by Kij Johnson: My favourite story in this anthology, a bridge-builder comes to an alien world to link towns divided by a strange and dangerous river. Passes the Bechdel test. 5/5

Many of these stories I wish had been longer, and I would be happy to read full-length novels with the same plot. But many of them were perfectly packaged and I am delighted to have read them.


2 thoughts on “The Year’s Best Sci-Fi edited by Gardner Dozois (2011)

  1. Valente’s Silently and Very Fast is a favorite of mine.

    The issue I have with these “best of” collections is I get burned out on short themed stories after about 6 stories. It takes me forever to read these types of collections because I’ll randomly read 4 or 5 stories, and then do that again 4 or 6 weeks later. so yeah, takes me forever.


    1. I enjoy them if there’s enough closure at the end of the story, but often it seems like the author has just quit writing and called the story done. Those ones irritate me to no end, and many of the first stories in this collection (in my humble opinion) fit that description. The later ones were better. I can definitely see not finishing a collection like this for a couple of months though.


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