Tuesday, 22 April 2014

The best science fiction and fantasy of the year volume 8

edited by Jonathan Strahan

 
The celebrated series comes to Solaris
I was lucky enough to get a review copy & get an interview with editor Jonathan Strahan:
 
 

For anyone who hasn't come across the best SF&F before can you describe it?
 
It’s a sampler of the very best short fiction published every year. We have limited time and there is more and more short fiction being published every day. How do we possibly keep up or find a reliable place to find a great read? The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year is supposed to be the answer to that question. Two hundred thousand words of the best stories I can find that were first published in the year just gone. At to what’s the “best”, there’s no agreed metric – just what really made an impression on me. It’s an annual, a cream of the crop that gives you one reader’s view of science fiction and fantasy for a given year.
 
I guess the obvious question is - how do you choose the stories?
 
Carefully? Jokes aside, there are a range of considerations. The first is that the story sticks in my mind. I read a lot of stories and take notes throughout the year. When the time comes to choose stories I look over the list and see which ones I remember. If I remember any details six months later then it’s likely something special.  I then make a list and try to find a balance between science fiction and fantasy, between traditional and cutting edge, and so forth. The goal is to edit a book that’s a real sampler for the year so variety is important. I also want the book as a whole to be a version of the year in miniature, so I look for a final mix stories that feel reflective of the year I’ve just read
 
As well as this excellent collection you have an impressive list of other anthologies you've edited, what's coming up next? What are you currently working on?
 
I’ve been busy. Next up is Reach for Infinity. It’s hard SF anthology collecting stories set in the time when humanity is trying (and possibly failing) to get off Earth, but before we settle or leave the Solar System.  Right after that is Fearsome Magics, a dark fantasy anthology collecting stories that give a dark spin on magic. It’s a real sampler kind of book, which I love.   Those are both done and will be out this year. 
 
I’m working on two books at the moment.  Meeting Infinity is the fourth ‘Infinity’ anthology and will give us a look at how humanity must change to accommodate the challenges of our future.  I’m also working on The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year: Volume 9, the follow up to this book. I’m excited about it. Domenic Harman is working on a great cover for it now.
 
You started this back in 2007 & it seems that more and more stories are published per year, is choosing stories getting more difficult due to volume or easier due to experience?
 
It gets harder and harder.  I actually started editing ‘Best of the Year’ annuals back in 1996 in Australia, and have been doing one series or another consistently since 2003. With more and more stories being published, it takes more and more time to find them and to read and sort them. That means there’s also an awareness that there are stories inevitably being missed, so I spend a lot of time searching and researching, reading reviews and so on and so forth.  So I spend a lot of time guessing and second-guessing myself.  But it does get done, which is the main thing.
 
You mention in the introduction that you want to choose stories that "I believe are definitely SF or fantasy in some way" and that you didn't think Karen Joy Fowler's "The science of herself" isn't really SF at all. Can you elaborate please, what is your criteria for a story being SF&F?
 
I don’t have any criteria, other than I guess there must be a clear fictional element to the work and it must have either a speculative elements that turns on a matter of science or a non-realistic element that can be interpreted as fantasy.
 
In the case of Karen’s story, which is spectacular, it’s basically a loosely fictionalized essay of real events. As much as I wanted to include it, there were no real science fictional or fantastical elements. For my money, though it’s one of the best stories of the year.
 
What are the stories that you wished you could have included but couldn't for lack of space, time and other reasons, apart from Caitlin R Keirnan's that you mention in the introduction?
 
I think some things best remain behind the curtain. There are many reasons why a story does not or cannot make the final book, and I try to focus on the stories that have made it.  That said, I did love Caitlin’s “Black Helicopters” and wish I could have fit it into the book. The only reason I didn’t is length. I would encourage everyone to seek it out, if they can.
 
Talking about length, do you think there an ideal length for a short story? For example as well as longer pieces there are no flash fiction stories included, is that a conscious choice?
 
I have never really responded to flash fiction, though I have no in principle objection to it.   I don’t think there’s an ideal length for fiction generally, or for short stories, other than ensuring the story has the space it requires to unfold.  I would say SF seems to suit the novella form well, which gives writers the room to explore an idea and build a world without padding it out too much.
 
This may be like choosing favorite children but are there any stories in the book that you think really stand out?
 
Yes.
 
I ask all my writer interviewees this question, and I think it will be interesting to get an editors answer. In one sentence what is your best piece of advice for new writers?
 
Read widely and listen to your peers, but always write what you want.


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Bristol Book Blog Review
 
There is an impressive list of writers collected together in this volume. It reads like a who's who of SF&F. It's a fairly eclectic mix and as with all such anthologies I found there were both hits and misses. Gladly though I found more hits than misses and that's probably due to the care and attention with which the stories have been chosen. There are a few oustandingly good stories - I really liked Yoon Ha Lee's Effigy nights (fighting a war with books), K J Parker's The Sun and I (How to create a religion) and Karen Tidbeck's Sing but it's hard to single out separate stories from the more than 20 in here. I reckon no matter your tastes you'll find something to like in here and thoroughly recommend it.
 
Overall - impressive collection of shorts
 
I ran a small competition to give away a couple of copies of the book in return for a 50 word review and the winner's are:
 
Ian MillsteadFlowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes.
 
I wish I’d written this but Keyes got there before I was born. Why is it so good? I could tell you, but like Buddha’s enlightenment, it really only works if you find out for yourself. Go and read it. Now.
 
Meg Kingston - By His Bootstraps by Robert A. Heinlein

I fell in love with this time travel story on first reading –and immediately reread it to check it hung together properly. As the title says, the hero travels through time to pull himself up by his bootstraps; then does it again. And again. And…

Copies will come to you guys once I've passed your details on to Solaris.

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