Sunday, January 21, 2007

Year's Best SF 11

I'm probably about a year behind, which is typical for me, but I'd like to call readers' attention to Year's Best SF 11 (Eos, New York:2006), edited by David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer, collecting some of the strongest sf stories of 2005. See our Quote of the Week above.

Many of the stories in this collection have a religious bent. Hannu Rajaniemi's story "Deus ex Homine" continues an idea prevalent in sf, perhaps beginning with Isaac Asimov's "The Last Question," if not earlier, that human beings may be able to create God by constructing a godlike computer. In Rajaniemi's story, the creation of FISH, a quantum computer with the ability to manipulate spacetime, has serious unintended consequences. This is a distopic version of a concept called the Technological Singularity, a notion I'll discuss at greater length in an upcoming essay on Charles Stross's Glasshouse and Accelerando, two new novels from a hot new author.

Also in this collection is Daryl Gregory's thoughtful and fantastic "Second Person, Present Tense," which is about a drug that destroys a person's self identity. The main character is a young, enthusiastic Evangelical Christian who ODs on the drug and comes back as a not-very-pious Buddhist. Possibly, this is an allegory of our society, which has dismantled its Christian foundations and reconstructed itself as a disordered and immoral culture with an affection for watered-down eastern traditions. Gregory's exploration of why this young girl took the drug in the first place is presented in tantalizing hints, but it seems to boil down to one thing: yearning for sexual liberation. This not exactly the major reason Western culture has abandoned its Christian roots, but it is a good summary of why it continues to reject them.

Presenting Christianity more positively is Ken MacLeod's "A Case of Consilience." MacLeod is a champion of the revitalization of space opera, and this story features a Presbyterian reverend trying to bring Christianity to a race of sentient fungi. In spite of the seemingly overwhelming obstacles confronting MacLeod's protagonist, his mission is surprisingly fruitful.

I've not yet finished the collection. When I have, I will try to present a cohesive discussion of my impression of these best stories of 2005, particularly discussing their religious outlook, probably focusing on Gregory's "Second Person, Present Tense," probably criticizing its morality and philosophy while praising its artistic qualities. In the meantime, I recommend the collection as a must for all interested in what's going on in sf. The stories are elegant and thoughtful and worth a long look.

As an added note on book reviews--this blog is just getting up and running, but in the near future we should be an Amazon associate, and so we will be able to present images and purchasing information with all reviews. We eagerly await this addition to the site. In the meantime, books mentioned above include links to purchasing info.
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