The Mammoth Book of Science Fiction (book, Gardner Dozois, ed. 2009)


A review of an anthology, from Death Ray 16.

FIVE STARS

Gardner Dozois (editor)/ Robinson

Yet another stupendous collection of extinct pachyderm-like proportions.

We’re always happy to hear one of Gardner Dozois’ Best New SF volumes thumping onto our desks. It’s the usual collection of SF excellence, topped and tailed by Dozois’ exhaustive essays and lists regarding the current state of the genre. That’s only bonus material though; the book’s meat is an astounding array of the very best SF, this time all from 2007.

It’s easy to slather superlatives over a review of every new edition of Mammoth… My only probably with the book is that of pacing. The volume – 714 pages long – is front-weighted with science-heavy SF, for example, Ken McLeod’s “Lighting Out”. This of his usual quality, but his AI-rich future is a mite head-bending without the involving plot and deep characterisation that goes into his books. There are two stories on Terraforming cosying up together – “An Ocean is a Snowflake, Four Billion Miles Away” (by John Barnes), concerns Mars and is laboriously porridge-like in its lecture on change. “Of Late I Dream of Venus” (James Van Pelt) is a more rounded affair, the transformation of Earth’s hot twin accompanied by that of its characters. Both dwell lovingly on the mechanics of planetary adaptation.

It’s not until toward the end that humanist SF emerges from the odd appearance to take centre stage. The softer end of SF is more to my personal preference, though I’ll happy consume both. However, layering the two types rather than letting them separate out like oil and water would make it an easier meal. Even so, be warned, this is a massive read, better dipped in and out of rather than consumed all at once. I ate a whole tinned treacle pudding the other day, the lead like sensation in my tummy mirrored that which I experienced in my brain after bashing through the yearly Mammoth… in short order.

Favourites include: “The Mists of Time” (Tom Purdom), “Tideline” (Elizabeth Bear) and Alien “Archeology” (Neal Asher). These, though, are simply personal preferences, they are all excellent.

We lack a sense of energy in beginning of this collection, a sense of oomph and peril, old-fashioned adventure to offset and amplify the worthiness of the initial stories. But it soon picks up. I recommend that you read them in whatever order you fancy. That solves the problem nicely.

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