(ibooks, $7.99, paperback, 368 pages, February 2002; ISBN: 0743434986.)
Robert Silverberg once edited some of science fiction'smost provocative anthologies. In the 1970s, he helmed New Dimensions, a series that published stories that pushed the boundaries of the genre and explored topical questions with intelligence and daring, testifying to the pertinence and scope of science fiction. In the early 1990s, he and coeditor Karen Haber took over the similar Universe series, continuing briefly that tradition of literary and political engagement.
Now, Silverberg has become an agent of nostalgia. His monthly column in Asimov's magazine is mostly a forum for reminiscing about the fiction of his youth. For him, science fiction is no longer a potent tool to deal with the present and the future, but rather an old-fashioned idiom good for telling old-fashioned stories.
Compiled by Silverberg and Haber, Science Fiction: The Best of 2001 showcases this retrograde vision of science fiction, one that Silverberg shares with many established editors, critics, and writers, who, like Silverberg, have become interested less in what science fiction can be and more in what it once was.
This "year's best" anthology gathers stories from only five sources, all major American publications, resulting in a narrow and stilted view of a field rich with smaller, and adventurous, specialty presses.
This book gives the impression that science fiction is written and read almost exclusively by those who yearn for stories of a time gone by. Sadly, for many influential people in the genre, that's what science fiction is. They overlook, as does this book, most of what is still exciting, vibrant, and cutting edge in science fiction. And so science fiction becomes more nostalgic all the time, dying slowly by feeding upon itself and by ignoring its own new voices and radical visions.
Claude Lalumière's Fantastic Fiction
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© Claude Lalumière 10 August 2002, 12 April 2003