Review of Year’s Best SF 1989

Our editor-in-chief, Argentinian SF writer Gustavo Bondoni gives us his take on what, to him, is nearly a modern book: The 1989 Annual World’s Best SF, edited by Donald A. Wollheim.  Due to our shock at the fact that he has managed to move beyond the 17th century, we are unable to write any further comments.

1989 Annual World's Best SF Edited by Donald A. Wollheim

When most readers think of the science fiction genre, there are a few names that come to mind almost immediately: Isaac Asimov. Arthur C. Clarke and Robert Heinlein are probably the first three.  Well-read modern readers of the non-fan persuasion will likely also add Frank Herbert to the list.  Readers of this blog, of course, are probably more interested in HG Wells, Jules Verne, Aldous Huxley and George Orwell.  I would add Mary Shelley (and we’ll soon have an article about her seminal work here) to that list, of course, but she always gets lumped in among the horror writers despite clearly being an SF author.

What these names have in common is that the youngest among them wrote their best work in the 1960s… Dune was written 50 years ago this year.  It’s a sobering thought.

I believe that if one stops a random reader in a random book store anywhere in the world, the chances are that they will not be able to name a single adult SF author active after 1980.  Again, I’m not counting the hard core genre fans here, nor am I counting Young Adult or Fantasy authors.

The reasons for this have been covered elsewhere, and can be summarized in the fact that the SF genre has moved away from being the literature of ideas to a pseudo-intellectual playground where PC zealots rule the postmodern roost*.  It is understandable that many people avoid the genre altogether.

But it’s also unfortunate, because there is still a lot of excellent fiction being produced, even if it has to claw its way past mountains of preachy political correctness.  So, as a public service, whenever I read a piece of science fiction deserving of mention, I’ll post a review here.

The book I’m focused on today isn’t particularly new, but it does fall after the imaginary cutoff date of 1980, so we’ll give it a shot.  Donald Wollheim is probably best remembered today for founding the Daw imprint, but before that, he was a notable editor on the SF scene.  His credentials were sufficient that any Year’s best antho that he edited was taken seriously by the genre.  The 1989 edition was no exception.

This one includes a number of stories by big genre names that might not be recognizable outside the SF world, such as David Brin, Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Frederick Pohl, and most of the stories are entertaining… but there is one that, despite (or perhaps because of) being a romp simply stands out from the rest in a huge way.  That story is “Peaches for Mad Molly” by Steven Gould.  It tells a story of people who live on futuristic arcology-like highrises.  Of course, these particular characters live on the outside of the buildings, which makes them outcasts from a mainstream society which they feel has gone wrong.  The action, emotion and adventure all comment on the central scientific advances proposed, which is what science fiction was supposed to be all about.

The rest of the stories are interesting on a different level: some do hold the reader’s interest in the same way as the Gould, while others begin to foreshadow the descent of SF to today’s boring confusion (the Rusch, in particular foreshadows today’s uninteresting themes, but does so much better than most of today’s writers manage).  The late eighties time of transition is deeply important from a scholarly point of view (and also as the time when the writers of earlier eras such as Pohl were giving us the last of their magic).  The Golden Age truly closed at around this time.

An interesting read, certainly, but not a timeless classic.

*If you don’t believe me just google “2015 Hugo Award Controversy” for an example of a recent reaction against the silliness.

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