Besides beach reading, summer also seems to be the season for publishing a slew of "best of" science fiction, fantasy and horror anthologies.
This is great news for you, the discerning or time-crunched reader who must closely discriminate what you read. You don't have time to read everything, so how do you find just the good stuff? The good news is, with a science fiction "best of" anthology, editors have already done the hard work of culling the best for you!
Read SF Signal's picks for July in the best SF and fantasy.
Here are the answers to some commonly asked questions to help guide you through finding the best genre fiction to read.
What SF/F/H "best of" anthologies are available?
Great question! Before you can know which stories have been deemed the best, you have to know where those stories have been collected. I've dispensed my minions to seek out information about this year's crop of "best of" anthologies, the results of which you can read in this handy, alphabetically organized-by-title list:
- The Best Horror of the Year Volume 4 edited by Ellen Datlow (Night Shade)
- The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year Volume 6 edited by Jonathan Strahan (Night Shade)
- The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror 23 edited by Stephen Jones (Running Press)
- The Year's Best Dark Fantasy & Horror 2012 Edition edited by Paula Guran (Prime Books)
- The Year's Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2012 Edition edited by Rich Horton (Prime Books)
- The Year's Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Ninth Annual Collection by Gardner Dozois (St. Martin's Griffin)
- The Year's Top Ten Tales of Science Fiction 4 edited by Allan Kaster (Audio CD)
- Wilde Stories 2012: The Year's Best Gay Speculative Fiction edited by Steve Berman (Lethe Press)
- Year's Best SF 17 by David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer (Harper Voyager)
Whoa! That's a lot of anthologies! How do I choose among them?
Well, it helps to know what your particular interests are. If you prefer science fiction and dislike fantasy, then steer toward a sf-specific anthology. If you like horror, look for an anthology with "horror" in the title. That wasn't hard was it?
Who says there stories are the best?
The anthology's respective editors do, that's who. And believe me, they are qualified to do so. These are folks who religiously read short fiction and can tell good stories from bad ones. That said, the selections are subject to the individual taste of the editor as well as how much they contribute to the editor's vision for the anthology.
How do editors squeeze down the huge list of all fiction published in any given year into a selection small enough to fit in a single book.
They hired my minions. I kid! An editor's job of culling fiction isn't easy. Each editor has their own selection process (see previous question) and not everything they like can reasonable be included due to space limitations, rights issues, story balance and more. Some anthologies thankfully include a list of "Honorable Mentions" that didn't make the cut but are still worth checking out.
I don't want to read the same story more than once. Why do some stories appear in multiple anthologies?
While you may think that there is a secret publishing cabal of editors who sit in a star chamber and coordinate these anthologies to prevent story overlap, you would be incorrect. (I, on the other hand, actually have a chamber shaped like a star in which my minions shower me with compliments on a daily basis.) Each editor has their own vision and goal for their anthology and pick individual stories to shape it that way. Sometimes they choose the same stories. Consider that affirmation and verification that a story is good enough to be considered "the best.”
If that's the case, why isn't there more story overlap? In fact, why aren't they identical?
Consider what you're implying—that quality of art is objective. Do we really need to have that discussion? Everyone has his or her own take on the quality of a piece of fiction. Chances are, you may disagree with an editor that any given a story is absolutely the "best." That's OK. What you can be sure of is that all the stories will be well written, entertaining and/or expand your reading horizons. Consider, too, that the beauty of short fiction anthologies and collections are a great way to experience the diversity of the genre and discover new writers. At the very least, anthologies are springboards to new authors and experiences, and that's a pretty good deal.
Do you really have minions?
No, I totally made that part up. Or did I...?
John DeNardo is the editor of SF Signal, a Hugo-nominated group science-fiction and fantasy blog featuring news, reviews and interviews. He also like bagels.