The genre is lousy with year's best anthologies.
In addition to the old reliables edited by Datlow/Link/Grant and Gardner Dozois and Stephen Jones, we have recently seen new compendiums edited by Robert Silverberg & Karen Haber, Jonathan Strahan, and Rich Horton, among others. Several posts ago I mentioned reading Strahan's inaugural Year's Best Fantasy and Science Fiction
and enjoying it. I couldn't help but notice, though, that there was a lot of crossover with the posted table of contents
for the upcoming Year's Best Fantasy & Horror
. I haven't seen or heard about the TOC for Year's Best Science Fiction
, but I bet there's a healthy overlap. You can't really expect anything less: the genre is fairly narrow, and the best short stories tend to identify themselves pretty readily. Variances in editorial taste will guarantee that each antho will have its share of unique stories, but we come fairly quickly to a point of diminishing returns. Unless you're truly a hardcore genre enthusiast, it just doesn't pay to get each anthology (and if you're that hardcore, you're probably already reading the magazines and web sites they're drawn from, anyway). Me, I stick with the Datlow/Link/Grant anthology because not only are the stories reliably good, they have a bigger word count, which means I get more of them. Plus, I dig those massive, unwieldy summaries. I'll get the Dozois antho because really, that's all the science fiction I need for the year, thank you. I just don't dig science fiction enough to read more.
So why should anybody be excited about Best American Fantasy
, with series editor Matthew Cheney and first-volume editors Jeff and Ann VanderMeer?
Because this one is different. In this anthology, it seems that the editors have taken it as a mandate to ignore entirely marketplace-inspired definitions of the word "fantasy" and to drop their lines into a deeper ocean. Glance at the table of contents and you'll see names like Ramola D, Robin Hemley, and Peter LaSalle. (Who?
) You'll also see Kevin Brockmeier and Brian Evenson, as well as friendly, familiar names like Geoffrey Landis and Kelly Link. But I'll bet most hardcore genre-reading, magazine-subscribing loyalists haven't read even half the stories in this book. I know I haven't. And I don't know about you, but that really
Jeff has taken flack from some quarters for his overt efforts to knock down some of the barriers between genre fiction and mainstream fiction. I know many were dismayed, for instance, when the World Fantasy Award was given to Haruki Murakami. (update: Jeff just sent me an email informing me that the voting on this particular award was unanimous, and that he wasn't even the novel's chief advocate. That's me, jumping to conclusions.)
The appropriateness of that is open for debate, but the fact remains that SF (used here in an inclusive sense, encompassing fantasy and horror too) is going through a change, perhaps as significant as that brought about by New Wave writers like Harlan Ellison and Thomas Disch. I have a sense that a lot of writers -- and, I hope, readers too -- are less patient with the boundaries as we've known them, and are more open to broader interpretations of the genre.
There are those who react strongly against this trend; there were those who reacted against the New Wave as well. If SF was going through its adolescence then, experimenting with sex, drugs, and adult language, then perhaps now it's older, just a little more mature, and ready to leave home at last.
This is one year's best I'm definitely adding to my shelf. You can read comments from Cheney and VanderMeers One and Two on the book's webpage