It's the end of the year-- and that means it's time to share my votes in the annual Asimov's readers poll and Analog's Anlab. Links are to my reviews where applicable; excerpts from many of the stories are available on Asimov's and Analog's respective websites.
1. The Spires of Denon by Kristine Kathryn Rusch (April/May)
2. Broken Windchimes by Kristine Kathryn Rusch (September)
3. Act One by Nancy Kress
Kristine Kathryn Rusch has had a busy year, it seems, writing one amazing novella after another for both Asimov's and Analog and quickly becoming a one of my favorite authors. Many of her stories tackle complex ethical issues-- for instance, "Broken Windchimes," in which aliens raise choirs of boy sopranos to be their musical slaves. Others, like "The Spires of Denon," ponder the ineffability of truly alien cultures by exploring bizarre artifacts. If she's written a bad story, I haven't read it. Nancy Kress is no slouch either, and this story about genetic engineering and the idea of "perfection" is a similarly-admirable ethical puzzle wrapped up in a corporate-espionage thriller.
1. The Armies of Elfland by Eileen Gunn and Michael Swanwick (April/May)
2. Blood Dauber by Ted Kosmatka and Michael Poore (October/November)
3. The Qualia Engine by Damien Broderick (August)
I loved Broderick's story of a group of second-generation mutant geniuses and Kosmatka and Poore's zoo-based exploration of forgiveness, trust, and mutant wasps. But Gunn and Swanwick's dark, dark, DARK fantasy, about some interdimensional "elves" that are as evil as you can imagine and then some, was a truly memorable reading experience. Honorable mention to "Sails the Morne" by Chris Willrich (June), about aliens who want to eat the Book of Kells, and "Soulmates" by Mike Resnick and Lezli Robyn (September), about a man who befriends a recently-self-aware robot.
1. The Consciousness Problem by Mary Robinette Kowal (August)
2. The Last Apostle by Michael Cassutt (July)
3. Before My Last Breath by Robert Reed (October/November)
Reed's story takes an archeologist's view of the birth of tradition in a dying alien culture. Cassutt's story of the last man to set foot on the moon (in the near future of an alternate universe) both lionizes and eulogizes the Apollo program. But Kowal's tale of love and cloning, which hits some pretty strong emotional chords, takes the prize. Honorable mention: "Five Thousand Miles From Birdland" by Robert R. Chase (January); "The Day Before the Day Before" by Steve Rasnic Tem (September).
1. The Silence of Rockets by G.O. Clark (February)
2. Edgar Allan Poe by Bryan D. Dietrich (October/November)
3. For Sale: One Moon-Base, Never Used by Esther M. Friesner (July)
The title of Friesner's poem alone is powerful; and Dietrich's humorous meditation on the world's mopiest action figure is bemused fun. But Clark's poem, which contrasts the otherworldly aspirations of space travel and the hope of life after death, is one of the few I've read in Asimov's that's really spoken to me: "...the sky once again become / a dusty concave shell, a / container of cast out prayers..."
Cover1. April/May by Paul Youll, illustrating "The Spires of Denon" by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
2. August by John Jude Palencar, originally created for The Drawing of the Three by Steven King
3. October/November by Dominic Harman
Harman's stoic space station and Palencar's otherworldly door are both nice, strong images. But Youll's illustration for my top-novella pick perfectly captures the sensawunda of Rusch's monumental alien artifact.
And there should be a special award for Norman Spinrad's essay "What Killed Tom Disch?", which was sort of a review of Disch's final novel, The Word of God, but was also much, much more. You can, and should, read it online.
Novella1. The Recovery Man's Bargain by Kristine Kathryn Rusch (January/February)
2. Gunfight on Farside by Adam-Troy Castro (April)
3. Where the Winds are All Asleep by Michael F. Flynn (October)
Flynn's tall tale about a quest for life a bit nearer the planet's core is a fun romp (told in part by a tipsy priest). It was a tough fight for the top two slots: I really loved Castro's Western-ish tale of a frontiersman on the moon who can't live up to his very Earpian legend. The evolving morality of Rusch's eponymous Recovery Man reminded me of Martin Buber, which is never a bad thing.
But it Does Move by Harry Turtledove (June)
2. The Chain by Stephen L. Burns (June)
3. Payback by Tom Ligon (July/August)
Ligon's sequel to last year's "El Dorado" made an at-first simplistic alien religion much more complex, which is only one reason why it's a good story. Burns' exploration of robot rights hit a couple liberation theology notes. And Turtledove's clever alternate history, in which Galileo's inquisitor was Cardinal Sigmund Freud, brought fictional light to an intriguing true story. Honorable mention to "Among the Tchi" by Adam-Troy Castro (May)-- about a nightmarish writers' group run by overcritical aliens, "Quickfeathers" by Alexis Glynn Latner (May), which explores the mythology of a birdlike alien race, and "Shallow Copy" by Jesse L. Watson (October), in which two kids accidentally create a virtual being.
Short story1. Solace by James van Pelt (June)
2. The Invasion by H.G. Stratmann (April)
3. After the First Death by Jerry Craven (March)
James van Pelt's "Solace" packs a lot into nine pages, creating an emotional link between two characters centuries apart using a candlestick and a passage of scripture.
1. From Token to Script: The Origin of Cuneiform by Henry Honken (March)
2. Rock! Bye-bye, Baby by Edward M. Lerner (November)
3. Neptune, Neptune, Neptune... but not Neptune by Kevin Walsh (January/February)
I don't have much to say about Analog's fact pieces this year, alas. I tend to prefer reading the more philosophical ones, and this year tended to the nuts and bolts.
Cover1. March by Jean-Pierre Normand
2. January/February by John Allemand, illustrating "Doctor Alien" by Rajnar Vajra
3. September by Alperium/Shutterstock.com
There have been more than a few computer-generated covers for the SF magazines in the past few years that I've hated, so it's nice to see one done right, as on the September issue. I love the weird aliens John Allemand creates for his interior illustrations, and I'm always happy to see his work on the cover. But the one that spoke to me the most was Normand's image of enormous floating structures in a retrofuturistic cityscape: it's like Frank R. Paul never left us.