Short science fiction and short fiction editors

[Friends who don’t care about s.f., skip this post and get five minutes of your life back.]

I’m halfway through Gardner Dozois’ The Best of the Best: 20 Years of the Year’s Best Science Fiction and I’ve made an interesting discovery.  First, some background:

  1. Short fiction is my favorite form, whether reading or writing.
  2. I read s.f. because I love it, because I am a fan first and a writer second.  Some friends (and fellow writers) have warned me that becoming a professional writer (albeit only one professional sale) can spoil the reading.  So far that hasn’t happened to me.
  3. When I read short fiction these days, I feel like I am learning my craft from a hundred different teachers, all showing me what to do or what not to do.  I may not like a particular writer’s story or approach and so I try and learn from that, just as I try to learn from a writer that I think hits a home run.
  4. I am fairly well-read when it comes to short fiction from the 1940s, 1950s, and certain writers from the 1970s.  The gaping holes have been the 1980s and 1990s.  I’ve been spending my time back in the 40s and 50s and haven’t had time for the 80s and 90s.

My discovery:  Gardner Dozois and David G. Hartwell have very different tastes when it comes to science fiction, and my tastes tend to generally fall in the David G. Hartwell category, while my sympathies are in the Dozois category.

Prior to this book, I read David Hartwell and Kathryn Kramer’s The Hard SF Renaissance.  There is only one story shared between the two books, even though a good portion of each book is dedicated to the 1990s.  (The one story?  Greg Egan’s "Wangs Carpets.")  That was one clue.  Another clue is that the stories in the current book, many of them award-winning stories, many nominated, are a much softer science fiction than I would have imagined (some bordering on fantasy).  The focus on the stories is clearly more literary, something I would have expected in the 1960s but not quite what I expected for the 1980s and 1990s.  The stories that Garner Dozois considers the "best of the best" are good stories, but they are not necessarily the stories that I would consider the best of the best.

Now, as I said, I have done a woeful lack of reading of short s.f. in the 1980s and 1990s.  I am trying to make up for that now.  (I am slowly collecting all of the Year’s Best Science Fiction volumes, in reverse order and hope to get through them in my lifetime.)  That means that many stories that have been considered "classics" for some time now, are new to me.  Oh, I’ve heard of them, of course, I’ve just never read them.  Nancy Kress’s "Beggars in Spain" is one brilliant example of a "classic" that I recently read for the first time, and which blew me away.  Nevertheless, I find the varying tastes of short fiction editors fascinating.

I’m sure this is well-known to those of you who’ve read extensively in these years.  Stories in Hartwell’s books tend to be of a harder science nature.  That is not to say that Dozois’ books don’t contain hard s.f. or that Hartwell’s are exclusively hard s.f.  But as I said, my tastes tend more toward Hartwell’s than toward Dozois.  As editor of ASIMOV’S, Gardner won many, many best editor awards and rightly so, I imagine.  Perhaps some of my opinion is skewed by the fact that as a s.f. fan, my literary adolescence was spent in the 1940s and 1950s with Asimov and Heinlein and de Camp and Del Rey and Simak and Wiliamson and Bester and others.  I really enjoy the kind of stories that appear in Hartwell’s books, but I can also appreciate the stories that Dozois chooses.  So I got to wondering, is there anyone out there who has a kind of near-perfect amalgam of styles in story choice.

And it came to me that, yes, I think there is.

Back when scottedelman  was editing SCIENCE FICTION AGE, the stories that appeared in the magazine seemed to me (in reflection) to be a near-perfect meld of David Hartwell-esque hard-s.f. stories (Steven Baxter’s "Gossamer", Robert Reed’s "Morrow") and Gardner Dozois softer, more literary styled stories (Martha Soukup’s "In Defense of Social Contracts", shunn ‘s "Two Paths in the Forest Toulemonde")  I think that’s what made the magazine produce the highest quality short science fiction from 1993 to 2000.

Today, I almost always read stories out of ANALOG.  There are names that I look for in ASIMOV’S, I always read the editorials and Robert Silverberg’s "Reflections" column, but I often don’t read many of the stories.  I read very little out of F&SF, although my subscription is and will be current as long as the magazine is being printed.  I don’t yet have enough of a read Sheila William’s tastes to make a judgment, although I have enjoyed many of the stories that have appeared in ASIMOV’S since she took over.

I’m rambling now, I know, but I’m curious, is this Hartwell/Dozois dichotomy a "known thing" in fandom, and I’m just late to the party?  Has there every been an anthology of stories edited by both together?  Just curious.

People often wonder if short s.f. is dead or dying.  Things ebb and flow.  Like gas prices there are ups and downs.  I don’t think it’s dying.  But if I were asked what I think could be done to save short science fiction, I could do no better than suggest a hybrid of Hartwell and Dozois–in other words, a Scott Edelman.  Bring back a magazine like SCIENCE FICTION AGE and you’ve got everything you need to "save" science fiction.  (The problem is, I don’t think it would work without Scott and he’s got himself all busied up writing excellent stories rather than editing them.)


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