These and more questions are the topics of "Year`s Best SF 17", edited David G. Hartwell & Kathryn Cramer, published in summer 2012 (amazon.com). The anthology harvests the Science Fiction year 2011 and collects 23 short stories from prominent authors and newcomers. I have been collecting this series of SF compilations since its beginnings because the row represents cutting edge Science Fiction.
This edition, the latest so far, displays a lot of strange, alien and thought inspiring ideas. The assembly has 3 favorites of mine. My number one is Gregory Benford´s "Mercies": In a near future a very wealthy man uses a self developed time machine to jump some years back in time where/when he shoots serial killers before they start their murderous run. There exists already a legion of time travel stories, but Benford found new ways to deal with the implications & paradoxes of moving back and forth in time. I like the author`s ideas and enjoy the style of the story. "Mercies" is a kind of philosophical thriller that combines science with entertainment: Raymond Chandler meets Heisenberg.
"Dolly" by Elizabeth Bear is another highlight of the collection. It´s about a female robot with an almost human like brain who is used as a high-tech sex toy. This android had killed a man. Now a detective wants to find out if this incident was murder or just an accident caused by a machine. The tale is an intelligent play of thoughts with questions that arose by the onset of artificial intelligence (AI). Maybe a view into the near future?
My 3rd favorite is "Thick Water" by Karen Heuler. Some scientists are exploring a strange alien world which seems to have a life of its own. Slowly they get influenced by this planet and start adapting to this environment. The plot is methodical & analytical with a creepy touch.
There are some other stories which I gave a "like":
"Six Months, Three Days" by Charlie Jane Anders is about a couple who can see the future, but she sees a different future than he. The cool & slick tale plays with paradoxes, probability theory, quantum physics and philosophical questions. The plot also is a speculation about how relationships could develop in the near future.
"Tethered" by Mercurio Rivera deals with very friendly aliens, who are addicted to humans and have just one goal: Pleasing them. Strange and a bit funny.
There are more interesting,stories, so the alternative history story "Our Candidate" by Robert Reed. The author describes the career of a dictator in a parallel world USA. It´s cynical written and delivers some political insights.
"Home Sweet Bi’Ome" by Pat MacEwan offers an fascinating view on the perspectives of bioengineering. We learn about a woman who lives in a house that is organically grown and has the same DNA as the owner with causes unpleasant results.
"The Nearest Thing" by Genevieve Valentine is about a company who produces artificial intelligent beings (AIs), that are "the nearest thing" to humans. There is not much of a plot, by the speculative thoughts about relationships between humans and AIs are interesting. I also liked the slick style.
"Altogether Elsewhere, Vast Herds of Reindeer" from Ken Liu reports about a teenager who lives in a world where humans had given up their bodies and exist as self created virtual realities. This is not my favorite life style but the story gives something to think about.
I finished reading 13 of the 25 stories. I consider this percentage as a solid value for an inexpensive anthology. The Kindle edition is at the moment offered for $6.99 on Amazon.com (amazon).