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Off On A Tangent: F&SF Style
by Dave Truesdale

SFWA Nebula Apathy Slights Original Anthologies:
Or Why I Like the Hugos

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America recently released their preliminary nominations ballot for 2008. One of the more glaring omissions among the list of 24 stories in the short fiction categories was the lack of nominees from 2007's crop of original anthologies. (Actually, there were 25 stories listed in the short fiction categories, but since one of the stories has just been published in 2008 it is patently ineligible. Whoever was responsible for reading the list and checking it twice either wasn't aware of his organization's nominating rules, made a simple error by overlooking it, or both. Either way, someone screwed the pooch by allowing this story to appear on the 2008 preliminary ballot.)

Of the 24 legitimate stories on the preliminary ballot, a mere 5 came from original anthologies, and since two saw print in one anthology, there were a paltry 5 selections from 4 original anthologies, in a year that saw somewhere in the neighborhood of 12-15 major original anthologies (depending on how one counts and defines "major"). Two-thousand-and-seven was actually a bumper year for original anthologies, rife with excellent material of all lengths and varieties: short stories, novelettes, novellas, science fiction, fantasy, and anthologies combining both genres.

To aid in rectifying this abysmal case of neglect (more about this later), below is a Recommended Reading List culled from 12 of the major science fiction and fantasy original anthologies to appear in 2007 (along with 3 others worthy of passing interest). Due to circumstances beyond my control I didn't see, or receive, copies of what some might consider "major" original anthologies as well. They appeared from small presses (and at least one with a print run in the hundreds). Therefore, no mention is made of disLOCATIONS, Visual Journeys, Ruins Extraterrestrial, and Ruins Terra (the latter trio from Hallie Rille Books).

Be that as it may, there were 244 original science fiction/fantasy/horror stories published in the anthologies listed below, 98% of which have been overlooked by Active SFWA Members (i.e. those eligible to nominate and vote). What can be the reason for this? Laziness, apathy, financial burden ("I can't afford the books"), lack of time ("I have a day job, kids to attend to when I'm home, with only a little time left over in the evening to write")? Or even perhaps, "Well, since SFWA has the rolling eligibility rule, I can nominate stories I haven't read this year, next year. After all, SFWA wants to be fair, so I'll have the time." Right. I'd be rich every time I heard someone say they would do something when they got A Round Tuit (an actual small round token given out at many of those inspirational business gatherings, meant to get employees all jazzed about the company they work for and to foster camaraderie and a sense of family; spare me).

Those current members of SFWA, or those who have been members but now forego the pleasure, have heard it all, your humble columnist among the latter (I did my time in the snake pit as SFWA Bulletin editor somewhere around the turn of the last century). But it's a matter of priorities when all is said and done, isn't it? Either one cares enough about the awards issued in SFWA's name (and which thereby ostensibly represents to the Outer World the Very Best SF has to offer) or one doesn't. Give up that six-pack or three per month and buy (and read!) an anthology (After all, isn't competing for the buyers' beer money what we ask of them?). Give up a movie or two per month and buy (and read!) an anthology. For those who can't afford the booze or movies but are otherwise financially impaired, give up that wonderfully enlightening evening watching American Yodel or Shuffling With the Clubfooted Stars, go to the library, check out (and read!) an anthology. It's simply a matter of priorities if you want to do anything badly enough. It can be done.

To the list.

Remember that the stories below come only from original anthologies seeing print in 2007. No magazines, either print or online, are considered; nor are single author collections containing one or more original stories. This is a selection from original anthologies only, of what I consider to be those stories worthy of a Recommended Reading List. Following each anthology's list of stories I will comment briefly when I have anything to say. Following this, I will cull the top stories from all 15 anthologies into a much smaller list, which could be considered a Best of the Year list for anthologies. And from this Best of the Year list, I will winnow even further to the cream of the crop as dictated by my own criteria and taste.

Of 244 possible stories, the Recommended Reading List will show 95 stories, or 39% of the overall number. Of these 95, I have chosen 36 to represent my Best of the Year, or 38% of the Recommended List. Of these 36 I have chosen 13 to represent the cream of the crop, my personal favorites for a wide variety of personal reasons. This represents 36% of the Best of the Year stories. The final 13 stories of the possible 244 translates into the top 5%, for those who like numbers. This is just the way the numbers shook out; I had no preconceived number for anything in mind when compiling each ever-narrower list.

As with any such list (or stories found in any of the Best of the Year collections), some will agree with the selections and others will not. This is expected and is perfectly reasonable. But the main point, the overriding purpose of this exercise, is to reveal that virtually an entire area of science fiction and fantasy publishing has been all but ignored by SFWA Nebula voters, and in a year where a virtual explosion of top-flight original material has been offered the SF/F lover. To be blunt about it, this is shameful and embarrassing. Since the Nebula list is already set by virtue of the preliminary nominations, I offer the stories and comments below as an aid, a guide for this year's Hugo voters. I have unbounded faith that the Hugo voters, the fans who actually read as much SF/F as they can each year and make no excuses when they can't, will not be forced to limit their worthy selections.

For those of you whose stories made this year's preliminary Nebula list, I am happy for you and wish every one of you the best of luck. You've made it, you've got a shot at the brass ring and should be proud to have been nominated, even at the preliminary level. I wish to take nothing from the preliminary nod given your work. I am more concerned, however, with those who may have lost their shot at the brass ring this year because of a glaring oversight on the part of myopic nominators. It is, in this case, the victims of this egregious oversight I am more concerned about than I am those of you who made the preliminary cut. And remember this: next year it could be you on the outside looking in, while the best thing you've ever written remains hidden, unnoticed on some bookstore or library shelf, or on some end table neglected and unread under a stack of newspapers, bills, or old TV Guides. And by the time any Nebula voters get A Round Tuit—to your story, that is—even with SFWA's broken and exploited "rolling eligibility" rule, your 15 minutes might just have vanished in the flush of new stories capturing the voters' short attention spans. If you think I overstate the case, consider this: from this year's preliminary list of 24 stories, only 7 are from 2006. And how many of these 7 are from original anthologies? Zero.

A final word: I found it interesting that of the 12 major original anthologies listed below, 5 are strictly SF (Fast Forward 1, The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction, Future Weapons of War, Alien Crimes, and The New Space Opera); 4 are strictly Fantasy (Wizards, The Coyote Road, Fantasy, and The Solaris Book of New Fantasy); and 3 offer stories from both genres (Logorrhea, Writers of the Future XXIII, and Eclipse One). About as equally split as you can get. There's a little something for everyone.

Recommended Reading List, 2007 Original Anthologies

SF– Science Fiction, F– Fantasy, H– Horror, DF– Dark Fantasy

Fast Forward 1, ed. Lou Anders, Pyr, Feb., 2007 (21 stories)

Short Stories:
• "The Something-Dreaming Game" by Elizabeth Bear SF
• "p dolce" by Louise Marley SF
• "The Girl Hero's Mirror Says He's Not the One" by Justina Robson SF

Novelettes:
• "Wikiworld" by Paul Di Filippo SF
• "Solomon's Choice" by Mike Resnick & Nancy Kress SF
• "YFL-500" by Robert Charles Wilson SF

Novellas:
• "Sideways from Now" by John Meaney SF

Commentary: Lou Anders is one of my favorite "new" editors. This book follows on the heels of his previous pair of highly acclaimed original anthologies Live Without a Net (2003) and Futureshocks (2006), the latter showcasing last year's Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award for Best Short Fiction of the Year winner; Robert Charles Wilson's novelette "The Cartesian Theater." Freshness and originality have been the hallmarks of these anthologies, and they are all top-shelf reads. While the current volume remains highly entertaining and exhibits the characteristics of the previous books, I came away with the feeling that in some indefinable manner this book, taken as a whole, didn't quite match the level of the previous books. With exceptions, of course. Don't get me wrong; this is an interesting and worthwhile anthology with a few obvious highlights, but for some reason I came away from it feeling that that truly great story we always look for was absent. That said, this remains one of the best original anthologies of 2007 and I eagerly await editor Anders's next effort.

The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction, ed. George Mann, Solaris, Feb., 2007 (16 stories)

Short Stories:
• "Last Contact" by Stephen Baxter SF
• "Personal Jesus" by Paul Di Filippo SF
• "The Wedding Party" by Simon Ings SF/H
• "C-Rock City" by Jay Lake & Greg van Eekhout SF
• "A Distillation of Grace" by Adam Roberts SF

Novelettes:
• "The Farewell Party" by Eric Brown SF
• "Jellyfish" by Mike Resnick & David Gerrold SF

Commentary: Another original anthology with both new and established voices giving us some of their best stuff. Kudos to editor Mann for the diversity of themes and subject matter. A rewarding read, with several standouts. Stephen Baxter's "Last Contact" and the chilling "The Wedding Party" by Simon Ings perhaps the most memorable. I wouldn't be surprised to see the Ings in a Best of the Year horror collection, although the horrific elements derive from solidly science-fictional tropes. Set during escape from one war-torn European country to the next, using medical technology to borrow cleverly from the Frankenstein monster theme (the bizarre purpose of which I won't reveal here), this story's one you won't want to miss.

Future Weapons of War, ed. Joe Haldeman & Martin H. Greenberg, Baen, March, 2007 (12 stories)

Novelettes:
• "The Looking Glass War" by Brendan DuBois SF
• "The Weapon" by William H. Keith SF
• "Craters" by Kristine Kathryn Rusch SF
• "Rocket Boy" by Paul J. McCauley SF
• "Casualty" by Brian Stableford SF

Commentary: A surprisingly varied look at what the title implies, several from angles one might not suspect. Brendan DuBois takes a non-standard look at cyber-warfare where the Chinese conquer America without firing a shot or shutting down our computer systems with an EMP or anything else so crude or prosaic. They actually want us to stare at our computer screens, and therein lies the possible horror as it plays on our psychological weaknesses; proving that a clever attack from within bears more fruit than a crude assault with military hardware. Kristine Kathryn Rusch turns in one of the best stories of the year from any publication; it is told from the viewpoint of a journalist in war-ravaged Iraq who uncovers a secret weapon as deadly as it is achingly inhumane. "Craters" is a chilling story that will stick in your mind for a long, long time, try as you might to rid yourself of it. Quite simply unforgettable.

Alien Crimes, ed. Mike Resnick, SFBC, April, 2007 (6 stories)

Novellas:
• "Dark Heaven" by Gregory Benford SF
• "Nothing Personal" by Pat Cadigan SF
• "The End of the World" by Kristine Kathryn Rusch SF
• "Hoxbomb" by Harry Turtledove SF

Commentary: "The End of the World" is a remarkable novella, and though quite long, the rewards justify the length, and then some. Torture, mass murder, prejudice, a stranded and hunted young girl who is sheltered by a kindly stranger who risks all, a haunted, century's-old hotel, and shapeshifting aliens come to live among us in peace are all elements of this elegantly told mystery seamlessly woven into this moving, and even skin-crawling creepy, story. Though one can hope that its length will not prohibit its inclusion in the various Best Of roundups this year, this seems an unfortunate certainty. Pat Cadigan's "Nothing Personal" is anchored steadfastly in SF trappings, but uses them quite effectively to tell the sad story of child traffickers across alternate timelines, and the authorities who must track them down before more innocents and their families are disrupted, or end in the ultimate disaster. Well done. I enjoyed reading these longer stories, the novella format allowing for more detailed worlds, storylines, backgrounds, and explorations of theme. An overall solid and entertaining read, with the Rusch and Cadigan the standouts.

Logorrhea, ed. John Klima, Bantam Spectra, May, 2007 (21 stories, 2 reprint)

Short Stories:
• "Singing of Mount Abora" by Theodora Goss F
• "Vivisepulture" by David Prill H
• "Appoggiatura" by Jeff VanderMeer F
• "The Smaragdine Knot" by Marly Youmans F

Novelettes:
• "The Cambist and Lord Iron: A Fairy Tale of Economics" by Daniel Abraham DF
• "Crossing the Seven" by Jay Lake SF
• "From Around Here" by Tim Pratt DF/H

Commentary: This anthology sports a unique theme, one with a lot of promise and opportunity for its writers. Editor John Klima's clever idea was to have writers pen their fictions around any of the 70+ years' worth of Scripps National Spelling Bee award-winning words. They were to choose a word and build a story around it. I have written about this anthology at some length in a past F&SF column, so suffice it to say that a fair number of these stories are quite good, taken individually. Taken as a whole, however, there is an untoward emphasis on the dark and gloomy, as well as a preoccupation with death in a wide variety of guises. There are science fiction, fantasy, horror, and mainstream stories here, with precious little true SF. Above all else, the writers tend to focus on stylish language, explorations of character, and tend toward the small end of the cosmic scale. Another critic has cited, with some exasperation, that many of the stories are written in the first person, which by fiat limits the viewpoint, the scope of the stories to that of the narrator. This, coupled with the gloomy, depressing nature of many of the pieces, tends to wear on the reader by virtue of the sheer repetition of mood. If this is your cup of tea, then Logorrhea was written for you. Reading a few stories at a time and then setting the book aside periodically might be the way to go for the remainder of you.

Wizards, ed. Jack Dann & Gardner Dozois, Berkley, May, 2007 (18 stories)

Short Stories:
• "Barrens Dance" by Peter S. Beagle F
• "The Magikkers" by Terry Dowling F
• "The Manticore Spell" by Jeffrey Ford F
• "Zinder" by Tanith Lee F

Novelettes:
• "A Diorama of the Infernal Regions, or The Devil's Ninth Question" by Andy Duncan F
• "Winter's Wife" by Elizabeth Hand F
• "The Stranger's Hands" by Tad Williams F
• "The Magic Animal" by Gene Wolfe F

Commentary: This is perhaps the best original fantasy anthology of the year, and one of the three best original anthologies overall (science fiction or fantasy) if the percentage of stories chosen for this list is any marker. As a percentage of stories in each book, I find I have selected more from Wizards, The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction, and The New Space Opera, than any other (with the possible exception of Alien Crimes, which had only 6 long novellas from which I chose 4). Story themes run from the more or less traditional to the wildly unpredictable and inventive, with the technical sophistication of the writing uniformly high. Truly unfettered imagination is also present and gratefully received—a major plus for this reader. The Duncan and Wolfe stories are of award caliber, and I'll include as one of the standouts a personal favorite, Jeffrey Ford's "The Manticore Spell" (I'm a sucker for a wistful love story, and this one is a surprisingly clever one, touching also on species extinction for its ostensible raison d'Ítre). More important, I suspect, is that each story is a fully realized story. No set-ups without a payoff. No beautifully written scene or two, or vignettes the author fell in love with, but had no real story to hang them on. The stories here are extremely well crafted. They are inventive and creative. A few are true gems. This is an impressive book and I highly recommend it to fantasy lovers of all ages.

The New Space Opera, ed. Gardner Dozois & Jonathan Strahan, HarperCollins/Eos, June, 2007 (18 stories)

Short Stories:
• "Blessed by an Angel" by Peter F. Hamilton SF
• "Saving Tiamaat" by Gwyneth Jones SF
• "Art of War" by Nancy Kress SF
• "Who's Afraid of Wolf 359?" by Ken MacLeod SF

Novelettes:
• "The Valley of the Gardens" by Tony Daniel SF
• "Glory" by Greg Egan SF
• "Dividing the Sustain" by James Patrick Kelly SF
• "Winning Peace" by Paul J. McAuley SF
• "Hatch" by Robert Reed SF
• "The Emperor and the Maula" by Robert Silverberg SF
• "Send Them Flowers" by Walter Jon Williams SF

Novellas:
• "Minla's Flowers" by Alastair Reynolds SF
• "Muse of Fire" by Dan Simmons SF

Commentary: In my estimation this is the best SF original anthology of the year. As with Logorrhea, I have written extensively about this one in a previous F&SF column, so will keep specific story remarks here short. There are so many superlative stories here that every reader, reviewer, or critic will have a different clutch of favorites, or "bests," and each will be correct. This is how good this book is, for if there are so many different favorites selected from so many different sets of eyes, then there must be something here for almost every lover of the space opera story—21st century style. The stories range from the "rascals on the run" stripe ("Send Them Flowers"), to the edges of the cosmos with the fate of humankind at stake ("Muse of Fire"), with all manner of stories in between, from the sensitive, human-oriented sort with the ever-present galactic backdrop narrowed to warfare on a single planet, which then narrows the focus even further with its bittersweet tale of the plight of a single young woman whose once-bright soul has withered into a very dark place ("Minla's Flowers"), to several tales where the wildly inventive use of advanced physics or mathematical concepts and cosmological theories on the cutting edge are tossed around, mixed and matched so brilliantly that they take the reader to glittering, mind-expanding realms truly undreamed of.

I read recently a critic who thoroughly panned many of the stories in this book, the only negative review I have seen thus far out of many. This reviewer is entitled to his opinion of course, and his perspective made for an interesting, thoughtful read. I shan't endeavor to counter one of his major criticisms here, but offer that his cynical deconstruction of several of the stories might have sprung from what the late Clifford D. Simak spoke of when referring to authors who went back and endlessly polished their stories.

Simak offered this advice to writers: "I think this business of going back and polishing until the damn thing shines is defeating what you're trying to do. Your narrative flow is interrupted, your feeling of character and situation is interrupted as you become so concerned with words as such, that you lose touch with the rest of it.

"I also think it's dangerous to try to analyze yourself and what you're doing in your work, because then you reduce your work to a sort of ethnological matrix, and you leave whatever old creativity you had hanging out."
—interview with Dave Truesdale, Tangent #2, May, 1975

Granted that Simak was speaking to the writing process and not to the machinery of criticism, his insight, in general terms, can nevertheless be transferred to the critic who, instead of going back and "polishing until the damn thing shines," instead analyzes and over-analyzes until what he is analyzing "lose(s) touch with the rest of it." This is not to say that any work should be closed to honest criticism, quite the contrary. It's just that now and again the critic works up a conceptual theory and then frames his criticism of a work around it, sometimes losing sight of what is actually on the written page. Lest we find ourselves in the tall grass (i.e. further detailed, academic, literary crit-speak), I'll leave my observation for others to parse on their own.

All said and done, The New Space Opera is a terrific read and a must for your shelves. I can hardly wait for the next volume.

The Coyote Road, ed. Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling, Viking, July, 2007 (26 stories)

Short Stories:
• "Wagers of Gold Mountain" by Steve Berman F
• "The Other Labyrinth" by Jedediah Berry F
• "The Dreaming Wind" by Jeffrey Ford F
• "The Listeners" by Nina Kiriki Hoffman F
• "Honored Guest" by Ellen Kushner F
• "The Fortune-Teller" by Patricia A. McKillip F
• "The Fiddler of Bayou Teche" by Delia Sherman F
• "The Chamber Music of Animals" by Katherine Vaz F

Novelettes:


• "The Evolution of Trickster Stories Among the Dogs of North Park After the Change" by Kij Johnson F
• "The Constable of Abal" by Kelly Link F

Commentary: There are two companion volumes to the current one: The Green Man (World Fantasy Award winner) and The Faery Reel (World Fantasy Award finalist). They set a high standard, one which this otherwise worthwhile volume fails to achieve. As you can see, there are quite a number of stories I liked enough to place on this list. Two of which, I now see, have made this year's Nebula award preliminary ballot (the Johnson and Sherman), and another, Jeffrey Ford's "The Dreaming Wind," I count as one of my personal favorites for the entire year. On the whole, however, I came away with the impression that this one felt a little "light" compared to its predecessors. A solid, well-crafted, fairly interesting collection of tales devoted to the many interpretations, legends, and incarnations of the Trickster theme . . . precious few wowed me. It's probably just my personal taste at work here, but some of the tales stretch just what precisely constitutes a trickster story, bends them so far that they could easily be seen as straight fantasy tales, or in at least one case a mainstream piece. Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling are excellent editors and in many of their past collaborations they have set the bar so high that even a slight but perceptible dip in consistency is noticeable. By any other standard other than their own as reference, this would probably be acclaimed as one of the best of the year. Unfortunately (and this is difficult for me to say), The Coyote Road, Trickster Tales left me rather disappointed.

I've been troubled over my assessment of this anthology, why it failed to impress me the way its companion volumes did, and the only possible hint or clue I've been able to come up with stems from an interview I conducted with William Tenn many years ago. It has to do with restrictions placed on the artist and whether they aid or detract from any artist's best work. For context, I'm thinking about why I liked Wizards so much more than The Coyote Road. Both are theme anthologies, but the focus of the former is so much tighter than the latter. (See the introduction to The Coyote Road and how trickster stories can cover so much more ground, which leads some of the stories to stray all over the place.) Granted that the editors of both anthologies prefer different basic ideas of story and this could be why I preferred one over the other. But there just might be something to what Tenn postulates as well. See what you think.

William Tenn: "I have four hundred theories and most of them are heavily weighted with bullshit. But this one I feel is almost exactly true. The trouble with science fiction is that you can write about everything: time, space, all of the future, all of the past, all of the universe, any kind of creature imaginable. That's too big. It provides no focus for the artist. An artist needs, in order to function, some narrowing of focus. Usually, in the history of art, the narrower the focus in which the artist is forced to work, the greater the art. Give talented artists this limitation . . . and they produce."

Tangent: Is it possible for the artist to limit himself, to narrow his own focus?

Tenn: "No. I don't know why, but . . . it doesn't work out that way. Nothing artificial ever works. It's something you have to recognize as being real. You must accept it in order for it to work. I don't fully understand this. I don't want to go on with it because I'm just giving you the briefest statement here.

"But, the very largeness, the looseness, all of that in science fiction is one of its most damaging, difficult characteristics, I have come to believe. And I'm a guy who's highly defensive when anyone tries to restrict me, and tells me what I can write about and what I can't. Nonetheless, there are some restrictions that can destroy. Look at the socialist-realism in the Soviet Union. Highly restricted, highly focused, and they produce nothing."

Tangent: This is an argument against what you've been saying, isn't it?

Tenn: "True, true. Sure. But, well, I can say this: socialist-realism doesn't have a tradition. And the socialists don't have patrons around who care, and you need that."

Tangent: Couldn't you view science fiction as going through a transitional stage, where things will, in time, become defined, more focused, with trends and traditions established?

Tenn: "Well, it could. I keep looking for it and it never happens. What happens is that it narrows outside of the things that make it science fiction. It becomes—and I'm using terms very loosely here—it becomes cutesy, artsy, little magazineish, it becomes cultish, it goes back to fantasy. It moves away from the quality that is science fiction, I firmly believe. And that is: a form which is fundamentally derived from the scientific and industrial revolutions, and the kind of thought that has come out since then. But the other answer to your question is that I'm not sure that it can. I think that by the very nature of the beast science fiction can't really develop focus."
Tangent #3, Sept., 1975

I felt it necessary to include a little extra, and a bit off topic, in order to give context for Mr. Tenn's remarks. But it is his core idea of the artist needing restrictions, a focus, that warrants examination in light of the more focused theme of Wizards set against the wider opportunities afforded the writer when confronted with the theme of the trickster. Could Mr. Tenn's theory have anything to do with my preference for one themed anthology over the other, even as a minor component? I truthfully don't know, but wanted to throw the idea out as an interesting possibility.

Fantasy, ed. Sean Wallace & Paul G. Tremblay, Prime Books, July, 2007 (11 stories)

Short Stories:
• "Bone Mother" by Maura McHugh F

Commentary: This one-shot effort is meant as a sampler of what can be found in the print magazine of the same name (which has now gone from print to an online version only). What can I say? The technical level of writing was professional, but nothing really excited me in any meaningful way, except for the story listed above. Billed as "edgy, modern and sophisticated," these stories simply weren't my cup of tea. To oversimplify: style over substance.

Writers of the Future, Vol. XXIII, ed. Algis Budrys, Galaxy Press, Aug., 2007 (13 stories)

Short Stories:
• "Pilgrimage" by Karl Bunker SF

Novelettes:
• "The Phlogiston Age" by Corey Brown F
• "The Frozen Sky" by Jeff Carlson SF
• "By the Waters of the Ganga" by Stephen Gaskell F/SF
• "The Sun God at Dawn, Rising from a Lotus Blossom" by Andrea Kail SF
• "The Gas Drinkers" by Edward Sevcik SF
• "Primetime" by Douglas Texter SF
• "Ripping Carovella" by Kim Zimring SF

Commentary: It's always a delight to read this annual anthology. You never know what you're going to get, but you can count on energy, imagination, a surprisingly high level of technical skill beyond what one might expect from newcomers, and a pleasant mix of science fiction and fantasy. And best of all, there are the surprise gems that seem to top off each year's offerings. It is no surprise then to see the Andrea Kail novelette on this year's preliminary Nebula ballot. Several others deserve a serious look as well. An added bonus are the illustrations accompanying each story by the winners in the quarterly illustrators category, something which no other original anthology chooses to do (or has the dough for). A hefty book full of varied riches, SF and Fantasy lovers are in for a treat.

Eclipse One, ed. Jonathan Strahan, Night Shade Books, Nov. 2007 (15 stories)

Short Stories:
• "The Last and Only or, Mr. Moscowitz Becomes French" by Peter S. Beagle F
• "Electric Rains" by Kathleen Ann Goonan SF

Novelettes:
• "Toother" by Terry Dowling H

Commentary: I had high hopes for this first of what promises to be an exciting new anthology series. The lineup is stellar, with some of the hottest names in the field. While the technical level of expertise is of course beyond reproach, once again I felt let down. There is more fantasy than I would have expected from the subtitle of the book "New Science Fiction and Fantasy," but perhaps this is just the way this first volume shook out and next year we will see more true SF. I enjoy variety and found some interesting ideas here and there, but too many of the stories (as a general observation) for my taste were slight, leaned toward the style over substance end of the spectrum, or both, and were of the relatively more subdued type of fantasy. By this I mean that many of the tales were rich in detail, background, and color, but weren't really saying much of anything important. A perfect example of the style over substance story, which featured a seductive and well rendered scenario but then petered out and failed to deliver as a story, was Margo Lanagan's short "She-Creatures." A tale of (alien? sorcerous? "[t]he women, the bitches, the witches"?) abduction rife with erotic overtones goes nowhere, explains nothing, and ends with the village-farmer-cum-nighttime-smuggler-of-kegs frustrated when his wife won't believe what he saw. We are given one well rendered scene to tickle our fancy, but that's it. Literarily put, big whoop.

The one story leaving images I won't soon forget is Terry Dowling's horror story "Toother." Think Hannibal Lector with a tooth fetish.

The Solaris Book of New Fantasy, ed. George Mann, Solaris, Dec., 2007 (16 stories)

Short Stories:
• "Who Slays the Gyant, Wounds the Beast" by Mark Chadbourn F
• "Tornado of Sparks" by James Maxey F
• "The Song Her Heart Sang" by Steven Savile F

Novelettes:
• "The Wizard's Coming" by Juliet E. McKenna F
• "And Such Small Deer" by Chris Roberson F

Commentary: This is the fantasy bookend to the successful science fiction volume that appeared near the beginning of 2007. Again, I had high hopes for this book but found an extremely mixed bag. Obviously the stories above I found to be the best of the lot, and while good to very good on the sliding scale of personal taste, none really blew me away. Solid work, but not exemplary.

Jeff VanderMeer, an author whose work I usually appreciate and who turned in a quite good effort in Logorrhea ("Appoggiatura"), here seems to have phoned one in with his three short vignettes residing under the overall title "King Tales." Very minor stuff for VanderMeer, who usually sets himself much harder challenges and pulls them off with aplomb. Frankly, I have no idea what editor Mann was thinking when he bought Hal Duncan's execrable, self-indulgent, amateurish exercise in auctorial masturbation "The Prince of End Times." If there is a story (any real story, much less one worth telling and the effort required to read it) buried beneath this idiotic, libelous parody of New Wave stream-of-consciousness Gone Wild, then I missed it. I'd like to see a defense of this utterly worthless midden of merde without said defender resorting to a condescending attitude, making the unenlightened, uncultured souls who failed to appreciate it feel like the rubes the author must obviously feel we are. Someone left their tastebuds on the bedpost overnight. This is my pick for worst story of the year in any professional media, bar none.

DAW Anthologies: An Incomplete Selection—

Man vs. Machine, ed. John Helfers & Martin H. Greenberg, DAW, July, 2007 (15 stories)

Short Stories:
• "The Unplug War" by Brendan DuBois SF
• "Engines of Desire & Despair" by Russell Davis SF
• "Partnership" by William H. Keith SF
• "Transformation" by Stephen Leigh SF

Novelettes:
• "Moral Imperative" by Ed Gorman SF
• "The Historian's Apprentice" by S. Andrew Swann SF

Heroes in Training, ed. Martin H. Greenberg & Jim C. Hines, DAW, Sept., 2007 (13 stories)

Short Stories:
• "The Wizard's Legacy" by Michael A. Burstein F
• "Honor is a Game Mortals Play" by Eugie Foster F
• "Roomies" by Esther Friesner F
• "Drinker" by Michael Jasper F
• "Beneath the Skin" by James Lowder H

Novelettes:
• "Sir Apropos of Nothing, and the Adventure of the Receding Heir" by Peter David F

The Future We Wish We Had, ed. Martin H. Greenberg & Rebecca Lickiss, Dec., 2007 (16 stories)

Short Stories:
• "Good Old Days" by Kevin J. Anderson SF
• "A Small Skirmish in the Culture War" by Mike Resnick & James Patrick Kelly SF
• "Good Genes" by Kristine Kathryn Rusch SF
• "Cold Comfort" by Dean Wesley Smith SF

Novelettes:
• "A Rosé for Emily" by Esther M. Friesner SF

Commentary on all 3 volumes: DAW (through Martin H. Greenberg's Tekno Books) publishes one of these a month. Of the eight I saw I read three and skimmed the rest. Of these three probably the most solid was Man vs. Machine, though The Future We Wish We Had contained two stories I felt to be a cut above the rest, Dean Wesley Smith's "Cold Comfort," and the best piece in the book, Kristine Kathryn Rusch's "Good Genes." I find I'm liking more of Rusch's stuff with every story I read. She never fails to come through regardless of what project or market she is writing for, and it shows. She has turned in several award quality pieces this year (in both magazine and original anthology format), and hopefully readers will show their appreciation by a nomination here or there. She deserves it. Heroes in Training also featured a handful of interesting stories, with Eugie Foster's getting the nod for best written.

Best of the Year, 2007 Original Anthologies

Short Stories:
• "Last Contact" by Stephen Baxter (The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction) SF
• "Personal Jesus" by Paul Di Filippo (The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction) SF
• "The Wedding Party" by Simon Ings (The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction) SF/H
• "Vivisepulture" by David Prill (Logorrhea) H
• "Appoggiatura" by Jeff VanderMeer (Logorrhea) F
• "The Smaragdine Knot" by Marly Youmans (Logorrhea) F
• "The Manticore Spell" by Jeffrey Ford (Wizards) F
• "Zinder" by Tanith Lee (Wizards) F
• "Blessed by an Angel" by Peter F. Hamilton (The New Space Opera) SF
• "Art of War" by Nancy Kress (The New Space Opera) SF
• "Who's Afraid of Wolf 359?" by Ken MacLeod (The New Space Opera) SF
• "The Other Labyrinth" by Jedediah Berry (The Coyote Road) F
• "The Dreaming Wind" by Jeffrey Ford (The Coyote Road) F
• "Honored Guest" by Ellen Kushner (The Coyote Road) F
• "Electric Rains" by Kathleen Ann Goonan (Eclipse One) SF
• "A Small Skirmish in the Culture War" by Mike Resnick & James Patrick Kelly (The Future We Wish We Had) SF
• "Good Genes" by Kristine Kathryn Rusch (The Future We Wish We Had) SF

(9 SF short stories, 7 Fantasy, 1 Horror)

Novelettes:
• "YFL-500" by Robert Charles Wilson (Fast Forward 1) SF
• "The Farewell Party" by Eric Brown (The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction) SF
• "The Looking Glass War" by Brendan DuBois (Future Weapons of War) SF
• "Craters" by Kristine Kathryn Rusch (Future Weapons of War) SF
• "A Diorama of the Infernal Regions, or The Devil's Ninth Question" by Andy Duncan (Wizards) F
• "Winter's Wife" by Elizabeth Hand (Wizards) F
• "The Magic Animal" by Gene Wolfe (Wizards) F
• "The Valley of the Gardens" by Tony Daniel (The New Space Opera) SF
• "Glory" by Greg Egan (The New Space Opera) SF
• "The Emperor and the Maula" by Robert Silverberg (The New Space Opera) SF
• "The Evolution of Trickster Stories Among the Dogs of North Park After the Change" by Kij Johnson (The Coyote Road) F
• "The Constable of Abal" by Kelly Link (The Coyote Road) F
• "By the Waters of the Ganga" by Stephen Gaskell (WotF XXIII) F/SF
• "The Sun God at Dawn, Rising from a Lotus Blossom" by Andrea Kail (WotF XXIII) SF
• "Ripping Carovella" by Kim Zimring (WotF XXIII) SF

(10 SF stories, 4 Fantasy, 1 F/SF)

Novellas:
• "The End of the World" by Kristine Kathryn Rusch (Alien Crimes) SF
• "Hoxbomb" by Harry Turtledove (Alien Crimes) SF
• "Minla's Flowers" by Alastair Reynolds (The New Space Opera) SF
• "Muse of Fire" by Dan Simmons (The New Space Opera) SF

(4 SF stories)

Personal Favorites, 2007 Original Anthologies

Short Stories:
• "The Manticore Spell" by Jeffrey Ford (Wizards) F
• "The Dreaming Wind" by Jeffrey Ford (The Coyote Road) F

Novelettes:
• "The Valley of the Gardens" by Tony Daniel (The New Space Opera) SF
• "A Diorama of the Infernal Regions, or The Devil's Ninth Question" by Andy Duncan (Wizards) F
• "Glory" by Greg Egan (The New Space Opera) SF
• "By the Waters of the Ganga" by Stephen Gaskell (WotF XXIII) F/SF
• "The Constable of Abal" by Kelly Link (The Coyote Road) F
• "Craters" by Kristine Kathryn Rusch (Future Weapons of War) SF
• "The Magic Animal" by Gene Wolfe (Wizards) F
• "Ripping Carovella" by Kim Zimring (WotF XXIII) SF

Novellas:
• "Minla's Flowers" by Alastair Reynolds (The New Space Opera) SF
• "The End of the World" by Kristine Kathryn Rusch (Alien Crimes) SF
• "Muse of Fire" by Dan Simmons (The New Space Opera) SF

(7 SF stories, 5 Fantasy, 1 F/SF)
• The New Space Opera 4
• Wizards 3
• The Coyote Road 2
• Writers of the Future XXIII 2
• Future Weapons of War 1
• Alien Crimes 1

There you have it. 2007 was an excellent year for original anthologies. Go get'em, Hugo voters. Show the pros how it's done. Show them that at least one organization has pride and respect enough for the SF field to take its award process seriously. There are two fan organizations in the SF field; at least one of them doesn't masquerade as a professional one, and this is why I like the Hugos.

January 29, 2008

*†††† *†††† *

Dave Truesdale began the short fiction review magazine Tangent in 1993. Since then, it has been honored with 4 Hugo nominations and 1 World Fantasy Award nomination. For several years in the 1990s, he was deeply involved with the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award, and in 1998 was a World Fantasy Award judge. He edited the Bulletin of the Science Fiction Writers of America from 1999-2002. Tangent Online can be found at www.tangentonline.com.


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