Gardner Dozois has selected my story "The Erdmann Nexus" for his 2008 Best of the Year. I am, naturally, pleased about this. But, once again, it isn't the story I considered the best one I wrote last year. Which raises the question: Is an author a good judge of his or her own work?
Sinclair Lewis, one of my favorites writers but currently out of academic fashion (despite having won the Nobel) thought his best novel was Arrowsmith. In fact, in his later years he said it was the only one he could "stand to own." History, however, remembers him more for Main Street and Babbit. Graham Greene dismissed his spy novels as "light, inconsequential entertainment" -- and literary history vastly disagrees. Even in the smaller pond of SF, I have heard writers (no names) say they think their best stories are ones that most readers would not agree with. Including me.
The deeper question here, of course, is: "Best by what standards"? And so we come back obsessively to the subject of several other of my blog entries. What makes an SF story "good"? Great characters? Surprising plot? High-concept idea? Pace? Eloquent writing? Important thematic implications? Ideally, a story would have all these attributes, but while that's a great standard to aim at, an editor must choose from the inevitably flawed stories in front of him. And a writer usually ends up concentrating on two or three attributes at the expense of the rest.
I'm unwilling to say that all standards are completely subjective, because that leads to the situation in which any story is as good as any other, as long as someone somewhere says it is. But actually defining those standards is another matter.