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Editor's Choice: Short Fiction Reviews
by David A. Truesdale

Dave Truesdale has been reading science fiction and fantasy for forty years. For the past four years he has edited TANGENT: The Only Science Fiction & Fantasy Short Fiction Review Magazine. It was runner-up for the 1997 Hugo Award. The intent of this column is to present reviews of selected short fiction that strike Dave's interest as his reading for Tangent continues. If you would like to read more short fiction reviews, try Tangent as it reviews every original story in all American, Canadian, British, and Australian professional SF & F magazines (as well as many others).

For more of David's opinions, we've put together a table of contents for other Editor's Choice columns.

Magazines
For information on the contents of an issue or for subscription details, you can try the following sites:
Asimov's Science Fiction
Analog Science Fiction and Fact
The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction
On Spec
Cemetery Dance
Interzone
OMNI
Talebones
Tomorrow SF
The Golden Age of Best SF Collections: A Chronicle

Click on any of the covers below for a larger image.


Merril #4 Once upon a time there was a true Golden Age of Best of the Year collections. Though there was at least some activity before its heyday (most notably the early annual Judith Merril collections -- 1956-1968), the Golden Age of Best of the Year collections took place and peaked between the years of 1972 through 1981.

Beginning where the ground-breaking Judith Merril left off, combining their seemingly disparate points of view (witness their quite different personal fictions), close friends Harry Harrison and Brian Aldiss nevertheless co-edited the successful The Year's Best Science Fiction from 1968-1976 (Berkley).


Wollheim and Carr #1 Wollheim #1 While at Ace Books, Donald A. Wollheim (DAW) and Terry Carr co-edited a Year's Best SF from 1965 to 1971, at which time both left Ace. From 1965-1967 the genre was blessed with two SF Bests, and including the first volume of the Harrison/Aldiss, three from 1965-1968.

Wollheim launched DAW Books in 1972 and immediately began the new Annual World's Best SF 1972 (as a new incarnation of his Ace series, which renders the dating chronology somewhat confusing), along with The Year's Best Horror Stories series, edited at first by Richard Davis, then Gerald W. Page, and then from 1980 until his death in 1994, Karl Edward Wagner, at which time the series folded.


del Rey #1 Carter #1 With Dutton still the original hardcover publisher from the Wollheim/Carr days, Ace continued as the paperback reprint publisher after Wollheim and Carr's departure in 1971, with 1973 seeing their Best Science Fiction Stories of the Year edited now by Lester del Rey. Gardner Dozois then inherited the series beginning with the 1977 volume (and which, after changing paperback reprinters with Dozois' second year at the helm -- from Ace to Dell -- ran until 1981).


Carr #1 Carr Novellas #1 Like Wollheim, fresh from his departure at Ace, in 1972 Terry Carr also began his The Best Science Fiction of the Year (Ballantine Books, later under Ballantine's new Del Rey imprint in 1978) which enjoyed a highly popular, continuous run until his untimely death in 1987. In 1975 DAW launched The Year's Best Fantasy Stories edited by Lin Carter (series editor from 1975-1980), which from 1981-88 was then edited by an old friend from fandom's early days in the mid-1940's, Arthur W. Saha. It was discontinued in 1988, approximately the same time Wollheim (due to ill health) stepped down from the company he began, and which is worthy of historical note as the very first all science fiction and fantasy professional book line. Don Wollheim unfortunately passed away in 1990. Meanwhile, also in 1978, under the Berkley imprint, Terry Carr launched the short-lived (four issues to 1981) Year's Finest Fantasy volumes, and in 1979 the even shorter-lived (two issues to 1980) The Best Science Fiction Novellas of the Year collections from Del Rey.

So in that truly golden year of 1972 the science fiction community enjoyed four Best SF collections and one Best Horror collection.

Toward the mid to late 1970's and very early into the decade of the 1980's the field sported the Wollheim, Del Rey/Dozois, and Carr Best SF collections, the Davis/Page/Wagner Best Horror Series, the Carr Best SF Novellas collections, and (again) the Carr Year's Finest Fantasy volumes, as well as the Carter/Saha Year's Best Fantasy Stories. Not counting editorial changes in continuing series', this counts for seven individual, ongoing series in all three genre fields.

Alas...

The Dell Dozois Best SF ended in 1981. The Carr Finest Fantasy also folded in 1981, and his Best SF Novellas ceased publication the previous year, 1980. These changes meant that by 1982 only the Wollheim (DAW) and Carr (Del Rey) Best Of series' remained unbroken and alive on the SF front, the Saha Best Fantasy Stories for the fantasy crowd (DAW), and the Wagner Best Horror Series (DAW) for the horror fans.

From an initial total of five Best SF/Horror collections in 1972 (four of them SF(!) and one Horror --thanks to DAW), to seven Best Of collections running the gamut from SF, Fantasy, Horror, and even one Best SF novella collection (an unprecedented experiment from Terry Carr!) during the mid-70s to the very early 80s, by 1981 the Best Of books -- those we had come to eagerly await to point us to the best in their respective fields -- had gradually dwindled to four.


Dozois #1 It wasn't until 1984 (after a three year hiatus) that Gardner Dozois began editing the present incarnation of his The Year's Best Science Fiction (the first 3 were from Jim Frenkel's Bluejay Books and then from St. Martin's Press) so the field was once again fortunate to have three Best SF series from which to choose. But then Terry Carr died three years later in 1987, with Don Wollheim following in 1990, effectively cancelling both of their series. The horror crowd lost their only domestic (pure horror) Best series with Karl Edward Wagner's death in 1994. Though a terrible loss, horror fans still had somewhere to turn. Initiated in 1990 in the UK, Robinson publishing had begun The Best New Horror series, at first co-edited by Ramsey Campbell and Steven Jones, now edited solely by Steven Jones and simultaneously published in the US by Carroll & Graf.


Datlow & Windling #1 In the midst of this attrition St. Martin's Press, following the success of its The Year's Best Science Fiction gamble, began its highly and equally successful The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror, edited by Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling (1988). Its dual focus -- an unprecedented combination -- (Ellen Datlow on horror and Terri Windling on fantasy) has proven a commercial and critical success, continuing the popular (and historically valuable) format of individual, lengthy summations of each preceding year (which has hallmarked the Dozois Best SF, and makes his annual summation worth the price of admission in itself).


Hartwell #1 Given the history, from its Golden Age of "Best" collections in the 1970s, to the one-step-forward-and-two-steps-back and overlapping, hit-and-miss days of the 80s, by the time 1990 rolled around the science fiction field had but one remaining Best SF collection to look forward to, The Year's Best Science Fiction edited by Gardner Dozois. This state of affairs remained so for five years. Though an excellent voice, Gardner Dozois' is still a singular one. This situation changed in May of 1996 however, when HarperPrism and TOR books editor David Hartwell offered the first volume in its Year's Best SF, which is now, happily, in its third volume in 1998.

And there is more positive news in the offing. News has it that former Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction editor Kristine Kathryn Rusch will be editing a new Best SF collection (details unknown at this time).

My self-imposed mandate for this piece is not to compare and contrast the merits of the various Best Of volumes over the years, but merely to chronicle their history. They were, and are, all valuable as historic markers of where the genre has been, and is. Each and every one of them should be bought and read, for they give not only the "insider," but the casual buyer an absolutely great reading experience, and an invaluable introduction to the true best of written short science fiction. Each and every one of them is well worth your money.

{This is a substantially revised and expanded version of an article which appeared originally in Tangent #15, Summer 1996, as part of a larger editorial. Acknowledgment and thanks to Gordon Van Gelder for supplying facts and details missing from the original article.}

Copyright © 1998 by David A. Truesdale


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