L. Ron Hubbard, Author, Algis Budrys, Editor . Galaxy Press $7.99 (548p) ISBN 978-1-59212-165-6

The 19th installment in Hubbard's annual contest series contains more top-notch stories than last year's volume and is likely to satisfy science fiction and fantasy aficionados looking for fresh ideas and new twists on old conventions. Luc Reid's marvelous "A Ship That Bends" imagines a world that is literally flat, where seafarers try to maneuver around the edge and onto the other side. Joel Best's "Numbers," in which the essence of life can be boiled down to a single equation, has the detached, bleak feel of a Kubrick nightmare as well as the magnetism of one. Ken Liu's"Gossamer," an elegant twist on the first contact story, asks: what if we finally meet another life form, but have no idea how to communicate with them? The clear winner, however, is Jay Lake's "Into the Gardens of Sweet Night," a quirky meditation on personal freedom and responsibility that follows a cosmos-trotting pug named Wiggles as it leads a young boy on a surreal journey to the supposedly mythical Garden of the title; think William Burroughs meets Men in Black. Some stories are too long-winded—like Brandon Butler's vampire tale "A Few Days North of Vienna"—and Hubbard's essay on the nature of suspense meanders. Still, this engaging, if over-packed, volume should be required reading for aspiring sci-fi and fantasy writers. (Sept.)