06 September 2004

WorldCon Panel: The Best Stories of the Year

I've been doing a terrible job of posting from the convention, since most of my time has been taken up with walking between events and sitting around chatting with people. (The best WorldCon blogging I've seen -- and, granted, I haven't had time to look around mich, is at the official blog, though Cheryl Morgan has also been trying to keep up.) However, I've decided that I will make one substantive post from the con before I leave, so here it is, provided the battery on my computer doesn't run out too quickly...

I attended (and took notes at) the a panel on the best stories of the year (so far), moderated by Jonathan Strahan and attended by Gavin Grant, Kathryn Cramer, and Ellen Datlow, all of whom are editors of one "Best of the Year" anthology or another. Gardner Dozois was scheduled to be there, but he was in a car accident shortly before the con and is at home recovering. (Word has it that though he got hurt quite a bit, Dozois is doing okay.)

Much of the talk was about the deadlines the editors face. Jonathan Strahan's is the worst: he and Karen Haber have to deliver their book to the publisher on November 1. How do they turn in a "Best of the Year" book before the year has ended? The benevolence of editors and publishers who send them work before it has been published. (Actually, all the editors rely on this, but none so much as Jonathan.)

The general consensus was that this has been a pretty good year for fantasy, but not as strong a year for horror and science fiction. (And the stuff that comes in between ... well, since none of the books are specifically devoted to that, it's hard to say. My own sense, since it is an area I'm interested in, is that this year has not been as strong as last, but that last year was a tremendous year for short fiction of all sorts and all definitions.)

The editors talked about the differences between their books. Kathryn Cramer said she and David Hartwell are "the hardcore enforcers of genre boundaries. We love Zoran Zivkovic," she said "but we've only been able to take one of his stories over the years." Jonathan Strahan suggested that Dozois's collection is less a "Best of the Year" than a "Science Fiction Yearbook", a book that tries to show what happened over the year through representative examples, and with a comprehensive summary. Ellen Datlow said she tries to put in stories that are on the edges of the genre definitions of "horror", that appear in places such as Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine and Esquire. "I'm trying to broaden readers' minds," she said, "but not pedantically." Gavin Grant said his and Kelly Link's part of that same book, the part devoted to fantasy, aims to be "a snapshot of the year". (He also said he's happy to do fantasy, because though he reads a lot of science fiction, "A lot of modern SF stories could have been written in 1950, so what's the point?") Jonathan Strahan said his and Haber's book is primarily meant to be a good read, because they have the least amount of space and the shortest lead time.

What stories have been good this year? Not too many specific titles were listed, though everyone mentioned "The Voluntary State" by Christopher Rowe. (Gavin even said that Kelly spent a long time doing a line-by-line reading of the story to justify including it in the fantasy section of their book, even though the story is overtly science fiction!) The other name that received unanimous support was that of M. Rickert. Other writers named (at least the ones I had a chance to write down): Dale Bailey, Benjamin Rosenbaum, Douglas Lain, Sarah Monette, Naomi Kritzer, Theodora Goss, Jeffrey Ford, Kelly Link (not by Gavin, her husband, but by all the others), John Farris, Jay Russell, Laird Barron, Rudi Dornemann, Paolo Bacigalupi, and John Aegard.

Also, all agreed that Realms of Fantasy Magazine is underrated because of the horrible ads inside and the painful covers, but that it's an excellent market.

And then the time ran out.

I'll note here, since I don't know when I'll get a chance otherwise, that you should not subscribe to Argosy, because a third issue is highly unlikely to appear. The reasons are many and horrifying, but I will leave it to someplace like Locus to tell the tale.

Speaking of Locus and Jonathan Strahan, Jonathan asked me yesterday to do some reviewing for Locus. I said yes.

And while I'm speaking of people, let me mention my roommate Scott William Carter, who has sold to places such as Analog and Weird Tales, and who is an intelligent and wonderfully friendly guy. It would have been a much duller convention if he hadn't been here to prod me to go to parties and such. (My other roommate was Jeff VanderMeer, but I already talk about him all the time. Go give Scott some attention.)

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