New Skies by Patrick Nielsen Hayden (editor). Subtitled “An Anthology of Today’s Science Fiction,” this is… well, figure it out.
“Today’s,” in this case, is somewhat metaphorical– some of these stories date from last century, after all (the oldest is Phillip K. Dick’s “The Alien Mind” from 1981– but they have a similar sort of outlook. These aren’t shiny, happy, gadget stories from the Golden Age, where everybody lives in spotless space stations, but they’re not ostentatiously gloomy “New Wave” stories, either. They have a dark core to them– only a handful don’t involve death in some way, and most of those have a vague threat of death hanging just off-stage– but there’s also a certain humor to them. They’re not humor stories (though Will Shetterly’s “Brian and the Aliens” has a Good Omens feel to it), but they’re frequently funny, and they manage to be dark and “edgy” without being gloomy.
Normally, when commenting on an anthology, I’d rattle off the titles of the best stories in the collection. Here’s that would involve typing in almost the entire table of contents, so I’ll mention the ones that didn’t work well for me, which would be “Serpents’ Teeth” by Spider Robinson and “Arthur Sternbach Brings the Curveball to Mars” by Kim Stanley Robinson (which was actually fine, but pretty slight). The rest of the stories are really excellent.
Of course, this shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who has read the Starlight anthologies. PNH may have the most consistently excellent taste in stories of any editor in SF (Gardner Dozois is pretty good, too, but he publishes some stuff that seems weird just for the sake of being weird). Patrick is one of those people who’s smart enough that when I don’t like something he recommends, I figure it must be my fault.
And the follow-up anthology, New Magics, collecting fantasy stories, just arrived from Amazon.
(Originally posted to The Library of Babel.)