"The Year's Best Science Fiction" (20th Annual Collection) edited by Gardiner Dozois (2002)
The 21st annual collection has already been reviewed here. This anthology is just as big, and features many of the same authors.
This book came out at the same time as Sam Raimi's Spider-Man. There's a long discussion of that movie in the introduction, and it's amusing to read the author's reflections on a possible superhero movie fad in the context of (only) Spider-Man, the first two X-men films, and Tim Burton's Batman.
1. "Breathmoss" by Ian R. Macleod
Islamic lesbians on another planet. Really, that's the entire premise. Beautifully written, but aside from puberty very little happens. The description of the "gateways" near the end flies in the face of Relativity, and dampened my enthusiasm for the story. Not so much science fiction as fantasy.
2. "The Most Famous Little Girl in the World" by Nancy Kress
Two women find themselves at odds after one of them is abducted by aliens during their childhood. I'm not entirely sure what the author was trying to get at with this story. Her entry in the following year's anthology was much better.
3. "The Passenger" by Paul J. McAuley
"Hard sci-fi" story about salvage workers who find a small girl aboard a damaged spaceship. There's an ambiguity about this one that I really liked. Hopefully I can track down some of the author's novels.
4. "The Political Officer" by Charles Coleman Finlay
Political intrigue inside a wormhole. Reminded me of Frank Herbert's Dragon in the Sea, and also his ConSentiency series. Masterfully written story by an author new (at the time) to the genre.
5. "Lambing Season" by Molly Gloss
Kind of a Western with an alien visitation thrown in. Not very good.
6. "Coelacanths" by Robert Reed
No idea what this one's supposed to be about. But it's very weird, and as far as I'm concerned that's a mark in its favor.
7. "Presence" by Maureen F. McHugh
Genuinely moving story about an elderly couple and a temporary cure for Alzheimer's. One of the best stories I've read in a long time.
8. "Halo" by Charles Stross
Generations and cultures clash in the midst of a "smart solar system." The ending is bungled, although the story is full of interesting ideas. I'd be curious to know what the author does with longer narratives. Would his novels be as overwhelmingly dense? Or would his ideas find fuller realization in a longer format?
9. "In Paradise" by Bruce Sterling
Love story set in a surveillance state. As of 2017 this story isn't quite so science fiction-y, but it's both well-written and entertaining.
10. "The Old Cosmonaut and the Construction Worker Dream of Mars" by Ian McDonald
Quantum computing, AI, and the colonization of Mars. There is a point beyond which a wealth of details make a good story tedious, and this story passes far beyond that point. I'm also doubtful that the VR setup featured in the story would work given the distances involved. Even at light speed, transmissions in either direction would take about 3 minutes at closest approach.
11. "Stories for Men" by John Kessel
Quite possibly the best story in this collection. The battle of the sexes continues in a matriarchal lunar colony. This one owes a lot to Fight Club (one of the characters is even named Tyler Durden), but the author puts his own spin on the quest for manhood. Much better than Kessel's entry in the 21st annual collection.
This one also brought John Varley to mind, but it's more subtle than any of Varley's stories.
12. "To Become a Warrior" by Chris Beckett
Not really a science fiction story, but still a solid tale of a young man falling in with the wrong crowd.
13. "The Clear Blue Seas of Luna" by Gregory Benford
Incredibly pretentious story about the terraforming of the moon. Could have done with less poetry. Apparently this author was a "big deal" in 2002, despite the fact that I'd never heard of him. Is his novel Timescape any good? If I come across it I suppose I'll give it a go.
14. "V.A.O." by Geoff Ryman
Cyberpunk story featuring a group of elderly hackers trying to solve a series of crimes. Very good, though a bit dated now.
15. "Winters are Hard" by Steven Popkes
A "modified" Montanan goes to live among wolves in a newly created nature reserve. I liked this one a lot, and there's a truly weird plot development about halfway through.
It seems to me that this is the kind of story that would have made a younger Frank Herbert proud. A concern for ecology, morally ambiguous characters, and body modification. All the ingredients are there.
16. "At the Money" by Richard Wadholm
Forgettable story about Hispanic stock traders in the future. Half of it's concerned with market fluctuations, and the other half is concerned with made-up commodities. According to the short intro the author is/was from Seattle, and this was one of his first published stories.
17. "Agent Provocateur" by Alexander Irvine
Well-written entry about the Butterfly Effect, but not really science fiction.
18. "Singleton" by Greg Egan
Damned if this isn't the hardest "hard sci-fi" I've ever read. Quantum computers, the "Many Worlds interpretation," and artificial intelligence. It's not a bad story, but the couple that give birth to the "Singleton" are a bit hard to relate to. What they do is so far removed from natural childbirth (and child rearing) that one wonders how they could get through the average day without suffering some kind of existential breakdown.
19. "Slow Life" by Michael Swanwick
Three astronauts discover a sentient lifeform on Titan. More conventional than any other story here, but still very good.
20. "A Flock of Birds" by James Van Pelt
A man watches birds during the post-apocalypse. Would he really have that much difficulty identifying that one bird? No, not if he knew birds.
21. "The Potter of Bones" by Eleanor Arnason
Furry, four-breasted space lesbians learn about Evolution. It's terrible!
22. "The Whisper of Disks" by John Meaney
Decent story which, given the short bio that precedes it, is largely autobiographical. Interesting up until the very end, but the various story threads don't come together the way they ought to.
23."The Hotel at Harlan's Landing" by Kage Baker
Forgettable story about angels doing battle for the fate of mankind. Brought to mind a number of bad movies and equally bad TV shows.
24. "The Millennium Party" by Walter Jon Williams
3-page long story about people who have brains that are the working equivalent of thumb drives. About as memorable as story #23 above.
25. "Turquoise Days" by Alastair Reynolds
Humankind comes to terms with an alien life form on another planet. Reminded me a lot of Frank Herbert and Bill Ransom's The Jesus Incident, although this story has at its center a certain dichotomy between good and evil that, in my opinion, weakens the narrative.
And no, not every science fiction concept has been done better - and earlier - by Frank Herbert! I'm sure that other authors have done similar things. It's just that Herbert is the one that kept popping into my head.