I am preparing my lectures for my SF class at the University of Leipzig, including reading through all the fiction I will teach. This includes Gardner Dozois's anthology The Best of the Best, which features stories chosen from twenty years of his Best of Year collections, from 1983 to 2003. There was no one anthology I could have chosen that contained all the stories I would like to present to my German students, but this one has a wide selection.
Even so -- and even as I'm enjoying reading these stories, some for the first time and some for the second, third, or even fourth -- I'm dissatisfied. In his Introduction, Gardner points out a few limitations on his selection process. He couldn't include too many novellas, or there wouldn't be space for as many stories. More significantly, he didn't want to pick stories that were so widely anthologized that everyone had already read them and so nobody would buy this book. That's completely reasonable. Nonetheless, THOSE are the stories I want all in one place for teaching purposes.
For instance, the anthology includes Ursula K. LeGuin's "Coming of Age in Karhide." Now, I am the most enthusiastic LeGuin fan on the planet. I think she walks on water. If I get reincarnated, I want to be Ursula LeGuin. Her work astonishes, delights, and moves me. Nonetheless, the story included here is "Coming of Age in Karhide," which is more a monographic gloss on The Left Hand of Darkness than a story in its own right. Why can't I have "Nine Lives" or "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" or "Betrayals" or "Pathways of Desire"? From Howard Waldrop I want not "Flying Saucer Rock and Roll" but rather 'The Ugly Chickens." From Jim Kelly I want "Thank Like a Dinosaur." From Mike Resnick, "For I Have Touched the Sky."
On the other hand, and not to be cranky (I did, after all, choose this anthology), some stories are just what I want: John Crowley's "Snow," David Marusek's "The Wedding Album," Ted Chiang's "Story of Your Life," Pat Cadigan's "Roadside Rescue." I will enjoy teaching this anthology. But I still wish there were one huge, glorious volume that brought together everything I like best. On the other hand, I'd have to edit it, and that's a task that, having done it once (a Nebula Awards volume), I am not anxious to repeat. It takes the same skills as teaching the eighth grade -- stamina, patience with the recalcitrant, and an infinite ability to withstand cranky carping like this post. Gardner possesses those admirable qualities. I, alas, do not. So -- I'm grateful this book exists.
Even though, in that same Introduction, Gardner points out that the "young Turks" of 1983 -- including yours truly -- are now "gray and wrinkled and sagging." Thanks, Gardner.