I was struck this past year how many notable short works were parts of ongoing series, not so much as sequels to earlier works as further explorations of their authors' fictional universes, in the way Heinlein, Niven, and Varley have done in past decades. A prominent example in 2000 was Alastair Reynolds, whoís been publishing short work at least since 1990 but who finally made a big splash in 2000 with his novel Revelation Space and several short works set in the same future history. The best of these was "Great Wall of Mars" (from the debut issue of Spectrum SF), a tale about a hive society on Mars that provides a bridge from some earlier Reynoldsí stories and those that break out into intergalactic space. Others in the same future history this past year were "Merlinís Gun" (Asimovís 5/00) and "Hideaway" (Interzone 7/00).
Stephen Baxter returned to his roots in 2000 with several stories in his Xeelee universe and the aftermath of life on Earth after super-aliens called Qax abandon it. Both "Cadre Siblings" (Interzone 3/00) and Reality Dust (one of four hard SF novella-length books published in 2000 by PS Publishing) are set early on in this Qax aftermath, while two other Xeelee stories concern humanityís contact with spherical aliens manipulating the laws of physics. These are "Silver Ghost" (Asimovís 9/00) and Baxterís best story this year, "On the Orion Line" (Asimovís 10-11/00), a suspenseful survival-in-space tale that addresses everything from humanityís expansionist imperative to how changes in the basic physical constants would affect the survivability of human or any other beings.
Peter F. Hamilton is yet another British hard SF writer, and writer of massive novels, who produced admirable short works in 2000. "The Suspect Genome" (Interzone 6/00) and Watching Trees Grow (PS Publishing) are both clever hard SF murder mysteries; the former weaves three plot strands together in a case involving property rights, telepathy, and a device that reconstructs a personís appearance from a DNA sample, while the latter is set in an alternate history where long-lived families derived from Roman stock have the time to pursue an unsolved murder through centuries of accelerated technological development.
And Paul J. McAuley (yet another Brit!) further explored the aftermath of his "Quiet War" between Earth and the outer satellites in Making History (PS Publishing), a sophisticated tale about a love triangle and the great man theory of history. Other McAuley stories in 2000 included "Interstitial" (Asimovís 7/00), about cosmological discoveries made in the aftermath of a lunar war, and two stories about exploration, "Reef" (Skylife), a tale about lifeforms inside a distant asteroid that focuses on the varying motivations of scientists and those who sponsor them, and "The Rift" (Vanishing Acts), perhaps McAuleyís best story this year, which brings a similar range of perspectives to a Lost World tale set deep in the Amazon jungle.
Steven Utley (not a Brit!) has for several years been writing stories set in a Paleozoic past accessible via time gate, stories distinctive for their literary focus on character and meaning rather than on spectacle or plot. Four of them appeared in 2000, including "The Real World" (Sci Fiction 9/6/00), about a returned visitor from the Paleozoic attending a Hollywood party; "Chain of Life" (Asimovís 10-11/00); "Cloud by Van Gogh" (F&SF 12/00); and "The Despoblado" (Sci Fiction 11/22/00), a Heart of Darkness tale about the various reasons people choose to isolate themselves in such a remote, desolate past.
Of course, not all short fiction writers are engaged in writing series. Michael Swanwick has written a lot of short fiction in recent years, with every story distinctly unrelated to every other, and this yearís "The Raggle Taggle Gypsy-O" (an original story in his collection Tales of Old Earth) is one of his most unusual, a dazzling blend of fantasy and SF, genre and myth, about two people fleeing through time from those who would control time, and how certain people are archetypes, their existence made necessary through repetition in story and song.
Ursula K. Le Guinís "The Birthday of the World" (F&SF 6/00) is an exquisite anthropological SF tale about a culture that identifies the union of its leaders with "God" and what happens when this cultureís worldview is shattered by visiting aliens (presumably humans). Two similarly flavored, shorter stories in 2000 by Le Guin were "The Royals of Hegn" (Asimovís 2/00), about a society in which everyone is royalty and is obsessed with the few who are commoners, and "The Flyers of Gy" (Sci Fiction 11/8/00), about how a society treats its minority who grow wings.
Andy Duncan solidified his status as one of SF and fantasyís most distinctive voices with three stories this year, two of them originals in his collection Beluthatchie and Other Stories. "Lincoln in Frogmore" evoked the secret presence of President Lincoln in a small southern town, while "Fennemanís Mouth" was a sly speculation on the near future entertainment industry, about a TV show that recreates urban legend bloopers. Duncanís best story in 2000 was "The Pottawatomie Giant" (Sci Fiction 11/1/00), a moving tale that uses a simple fantasy device to explore the life of Jess Willard, one-time heavyweight champ of the world.
Another distinctive fantasy voice is Jeffrey Ford, whose "The Fantasy Writerís Assistant" (F&SF 2/00) is an ingenious variation on the common claim by writers that their characters take on lives of their own.
The fourth novella-length book published by PS Publishing (after the three already mentioned) was Ian McDonaldís Tendeléoís Story, and of the four itís the least hard SF but the most evocative and the most emotionally satisfying. Set in McDonaldís Chaga universe, setting for a couple previous novels, it describes how a young girlís life is affected when alien spores force her family to evacuate their village.
Another moving, beautifully told novella in 2000 was Lucius Shepardís "Radiant Green Star" (Asimovís 8/00), set in 21st century Vietnam, a psychological mystery about a boy who grows up with a circus and moves toward an inevitable confrontation with the father who abandoned him in his youth.
John Kesselís "The Juniper Tree" (SF Age 1/00) is a complex and passionate story set in a utopian lunar society where a father and daughter from Earth try to adjust to a matriarchal society where relationships are open and sex very casual.
In contrast to these stories were several high-concept tales that stress intellect over emotion. Greg Eganís "Oracle" (Asimovís 7/00) pits stand-ins for Alan Turing and C.S. Lewis in a debate about faith vs. reality, while Brian Stablefordís "Snowball in Hell" (Analog 12/00) builds a plausible argument that thereís very little difference between humans and other animals. Charles Strossís "Antibodies" (Interzone 7/00) begins with the solution to an esoteric problem in mathematics and quickly builds to a suspenseful tale about outsiders interfering with humanityís worldline to avert its self-destruction through the attainment of AI and the resultant "singularity". And Ted Chiangís "Seventy-two Letters" (Vanishing Acts) is a remarkable alternate history, or more correctly alternate-science-history, set in a 19th century in which various medieval scientific theories - such as the doctrine of preformation, which supposed that fetuses existed fully formed inside the sperm or eggs of their parents - are real.
Since my reading this past year was not as extensive as usual, and that there were therefore surely great stories published that I didnít read, this yearís final list isnít a "Top 10 Stories of 2000" but ratherÖ
8 Top Stories of 2000
- Stephen Baxter, "On the Orion Line" (Asimovís)
- Ted Chiang, "Seventy-two Letters" (Vanishing Acts)
- John Kessel, "The Juniper Tree" (SF Age)
- Ursula K. Le Guin, "The Birthday of the World" (F&SF)
- Ian McDonald, Tendeléoís Story (PS Publishing)
- Alastair Reynolds, "Great Wall of Mars" (Spectrum SF)
- Lucius Shepard, "Radiant Green Star" (Asimovís)
- Michael Swanwick, "The Raggle Taggle Gypsy-O" (Tales of Old Earth)
Mark R. Kelly