Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Best of the Best

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.

8 comments:

Erin Underwood said...

I vote for a new book called "The Best of All" edited by Nancy Kress. :-) The titles you identified are some of my favorites, too. I would love a single golden tome with all of those stories included.

gdtownshende said...

If you put together such an anthology, I'd ante up for a copy.

P.F. said...

If you edit it, they will come ...

Seriously, I'd buy two copies.

I also have the urge to have all the best goodies in one book - but such a book doesn't, and probably cannot, exist.

The most definitive anthology ever put together is THE SCIENCE FICTION HALL OF FAME, VOLUME 1, but it is immediately obvious why that one is not the right choice for Nancy's students. The stories are simply too dated (however much we love them) and aren't representative of SF today.

A book which has a slightly higher count of stories (that is, higher than THE BEST OF THE BEST) I rate really highly, is Gardner's MODERN CLASSICS OF SCIENCE FICTION. The stories are also older but they hold up beautifully.

Another reasonable choice would be Brian Aldiss's A SCIENCE FICTION OMNIBUS, which has two good things going for it: One, it came out last year in a relatively economical Penguin edition; Two, it has John Crowley's "Great Work of Time". 'Nuff said!

Amy Sisson said...

This is where I'm hoping Anthology Builder will come in -- but it can only be so good as the stories that authors have agreed to make available. I am putting together my personal dream anthology, but I have not been able to reach Ted Chiang, which is too bad, because it can't really be my dream anthology without "Story of Your Life".

Nick A said...

Dozois collaborated on a really good novel, published this year, titled _Hunters Run_. It's a good read.

bluesman miike Lindner said...

Well, we can all bitch and moan about how the Universe doesn't understand our sweet little selves, but if we're talkin' sf anthologies, has anything =ever= come =close= to DANGEROUS VISIONS? Mercy!

gdtownshende said...

nick a, I'd agree with you on that one. I read Hunter's Run earlier this year, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Mark said...

Yep. Just like iTunes, pay for a story, download it into one's eBook, subdivide into theme anthologies. I can't wait. Or is it already a done deal?