Words, Words, Words

March 20, 2001

Some years I do an excellent job keeping up with short fiction and picking out the best stories, and some years my reading is a patchy hit and miss affair. This year I read a good percentage of short fiction, but not a great one, and with a week and a half before the deadline I don't expect to read much more. (I will try to read 2 1/2 more novels, though.) Below are my recommendations for other Hugo voters, along with a list of other stories I'm considering for my ballot.

Ted Chiang's novella "Seventy-Two Letters" (from the hardcover anthology Vanishing Acts) is the best of the year, an inventive look at an alternate-universe science of golem making and homunculi within sperm, with digressions into information theory, evolutionary biology, and social reform. Like all of his stories, this one deserves a place on the ballot.

Also considering: "The Suspect Genome" by Peter F. Hamilton (Interzone, June 2000)

I've noticed several interesting stories from Tom Purdom in the last couple years. The best of them, like "Romance in Extended Time" (Asimov's, March 2000), show people in future societies behaving in ways that are both very familiar and subtly different, affected by such innovations as extended lifespan and computer expert systems.

Also considering: "On The Orion Line" by Stephen Baxter (Asimov's, November), "Merlin's Gun" by Alastair Reynolds (Asimov's, May 2000), "The Reluctant Book" by Paul Di Filippo (SF Age, May 2000), "Saddle Point: The Children's Crusade" by Stephen Baxter (SF Age, March 2000), The Juniper Tree by John Kessel (SF Age, January 2000)

"Discovering Life" first appeared in the mass market paperback edition of Kim Stanley Robinson's collection The Martians. I commend both the collection and the story, about JPL scientists who confirm the existence of prehistoric microbial life on Mars, to your attention.

Susan Palwick's "Wood and Water" (F&SF, Feb. 2000) is a subtler retelling of the Cinderella legend than it may first appear. The cyclic structure of the tale is thought-provoking in itself, and the effort to assert free will over predestination, in the ability to make oneself into what one wills despite the force of past influences, lifts this above the usual fairy-tale twist.

Also considering: "Different Kinds of Darkness" by David Langford (F&SF, January 2000), "The Foster Child" by William Browning Spencer (F&SF, June 2000), "A History of the Human and Post-Human Species" by Geoffrey A. Landis (SF Age, January 2000)

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