Saturday, February 12, 2005

 

First best thoughts

Ever since I heard it was coming, I decided I needed The Best of the Best, Gardner Dozois' selection from the first 20 Year's Best Science Fiction anthologies he edited. So here it is on the couch with me, 650+ pages of it. (To be more specific, 688 pages, 1.7 pounds, 9.2 x 6.2 x 1.8 inches.) And here in this post are some earlyish thoughts on BotB.

It's an amazing deal, and would be even at its list price of $20. I got it for $14 out of an Amazon gift certificate, and at that price it seems a steal. The 36 stories in it, each by a different author, span the years 1983-2002, 20 years during which I read little sf and less short sf. Not all the stories are new to me, but I'm starting with the ones that are. So, although the stories are in chronological order, my reading of them isn't.

I've read about a dozen of the stories so far. The two I've enjoyed the most are "Breathmoss" by Ian R MacLeod and "Stories of Your Life" by Ted Chiang. I come to each of these writers from a different direction. MacLeod is already a favorite, and I've written about another of his stories in a previous post.

Chiang, on the other hand, was a writer whose fiction had previously impressed me, but hadn't really got to me. In "Story of Your Life," as in other pieces by Chiang, there are interesting (to say the least) ideas. In his stuff I've previously read (e.g., "Hell is the Absence of God") the main characters, and the ways in which they are linked with the ideas, hadn't convinced me. But the first-person narrative voice of "Story" works well to tie together elements as varied as: linguistics; aliens; talking to one's daughter; and ways of experiencing the world.

Any collection of this nature lends itself to second-guessing, so here's some of mine. I won't get into the micro, the "How come Greg Egan is represented by 'Wang's Carpets' rather than by 'Reasons to Be Cheerful'?" sort of question. I'll focus on wider aspects of this fine anthology.

I'd have liked to see more longer pieces included. For example, Lucius Shepard is represented by the short story "Salvador," and a good one it is too. But he is widely considered to be a master of the novella form, and so the substitution of "The Scalehunter's Beautiful Daughter" (which I love) or "R&R" (which I've yet to read, but comes highly recommended) might have improved the volume.

Another writer I'd like to have seen given more space is... Gardner Dozois. I've enjoyed his summations at the start of each of the Year's Best Science Fiction anthologies. I'd have loved to read at the start of this volume his summation of the 20 years of sf covered. But he only gives himself 3 pages, which doesn't give him room to say much. However, he does comment on the "lack" of novellas, pointing to "practicial considerations of length."

In summary, I'm very glad to have this anthology. I'd have liked more longer pieces. I would have been willing to lose a little in author coverage (i.e. to have few than 36 authors/stories) in order to shift the balance this way. I would have liked a longer opening from the editor. I'd have been willing to lose the short (about half a page, sometimes a little more) introductions to each story in order to make room for a summation of the 20-year period. But the stories printed here, long, short, and in between, seem to give a very good account of the two decades.
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