It has become a kind of year end ritual, at least for the last 3 years or so, for me to pick up a big anthology or two and spend time reading stories. It started with David G. Hartwell’s The Hard SF Renaissance, which I read 3 years ago at this time and absolutely loved.
In the time since, I’ve picked up one or two of Gardner Dozois’ Year’s Best anthologies, but I’d found that where Hartwell and Dozois didn’t overlap in their choices, I tended to like Hartwell’s picks more. That has changed, but to explain, I’ll need to provide a little background.
I started reading science fiction when I was 8 or 9 years old. The first science fiction book I think I read was Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle In Time. Sometime in the early 80s I also recall obtaining a copy of Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, but I don’t recall the stories in it. My interest waxed and waned, but by the time I was in 7th grade, I read science fiction and fantasy almost exclusively. The problem was that I read almost nothing but Piers Anthony, having discovered his books accidentally at the library. My first Anthony book was not a Xanth book, but instead a novel called Race Against Time, which was a kind of Philip K. Dick-esque thing. It wasn’t until college until my reading reall broadened beyond Anthony and furthermore, broadened from novels into short fiction. Much of that change came when I discovered SCIENCE FICTION AGE magazine (because I saw Piers Anthony’s name on the cover.)
Since then, I’ve read many of the classic novels of science fiction. I’ve read many current (last 10 years or so) novels and stories. I’ve read lots of stories from the Golden Age. But what was missing in my reading was short science fiction from 1980-1992 or so. It was during these years that many writers whom I’ve since met (and with some of whom, become friends) started publishing their stories.
Having read a lot more short fiction, I came to the end of this year with a different perspective and I realized that Dozois’ picks didn’t always resonate with me because I didn’t have the background for the era in which many of them were picked. A lot of that context has been filled in. And so I’ve spent large parts of my vacation these last eight days or so reading stories from all over Dozois’s series of Year’s Best books. And slowly, I’ve been catching up on things that I missed in the 1980s and early 1990s and finding gems among them.
And I have to say: I love it. I love skimming through the contents of the books. I recognize most of the names, of course, and occasionally I recognize a title that I know I should have read but haven’t. I pick and choose whatever suits my fancy, often guided by Dozois’ brief description of the story. It has been a blast. Crazy as it might seem, until this weekend, I hadn’t read a single story by Michael Swanwick or John Kessel or James Patrick Kelly. This has now been corrected. But there are also great stories by Robert Silverberg, Nancy Kress, Connie Willis, Hal Clement, Frederik Pohl and lots of others whose stories I managed to miss because I was so narrow-focused in those dozen years or so. I am finally catching up and it has been great.
It’s fun not to have to commit to the entire book, too. I’ll read two or three stories that look interesting in one volume, then flip to another and read two or three more. And the more I read, the more I am impressed not only by Dozois’ taste in good stories, but with the writers who created the stories in the first place.
Would that I could be like them!