Year’s bests…
I’m only too well aware that talking about reviews of your own books – responding to them in any way, really – is a tricky and, for the most part, ill-advised business.

That said, the couple of responses to Science Fiction: Best of 2003 that I’ve seen have, for the most part, been very positive . There’s a thread over at Night Shade that discussed the book, there will be a review in the July issue of Locus, and now Mark Watson over at Best SF has posted a review. All of which is very welcome, and quite flattering.

Interestingly, the observations about the book tend to be pretty consistent. Most say that it reads well and is entertaining, but have a consistent batch of criticisms:

  1. The book is poorly proofread. I can’t really comment on this because the copyediting/proofreading was all done after I’d finished my part on the book, and I haven’t re-read it.
  2. The book lacks interstitial material (story notes etc). (I think this is what Watson means by ‘having the least amount of editing done to an anthology’.) While there are reasons for this, they’re really beside the point. It was a real disappointment for Karen and I that we couldn’t get that material in the book, as we both think it’s an essential part of a year’s best annual. I’ve looked back at the draft material we’d prepared and don’t see much value in posting it here, but we certainly intend to rectify this next year.
  3. Some of the stories don’t “fit”. A couple people have commented on the fact that some stories aren’t that good, or that they aren’t SF or aren’t SF enough. I certainly stand by the quality of all of the stories in the book, and was pleased to see so many nominated for major awards, but I do see the validity in the ‘not SF’ argument. A book that calls itself the year’s best SF, should contain something that resembles that. Certainly, one or two of the stories in the book are on the fringes. The one thing that I take comfort in is that opinion is near unanimous that those stories are amongst the very best in the book (and of the year), so it’s not such a big deal.

All of which brings me to, how is the experience of having done my third year’s best annual (and first international anthology) going to color doing the next two (we’re contracted for Science Fiction: Best of 2004 and Fantasy: Best of 2004)? It’s a good question, even if I had to ask it myself. I’m certainly doing everything I can to read more widely than last year, and I’m trying to be a lot more aware of what I think makes a story both a good story and good science fiction or fantasy. I’ve got a great deal of confidence in the choices that Karen and I make, but I’m always eager to refine them (and, unfortunately, there are always non-qualitative factors that affect decisions in a particular story). I’m also determined to fit the interstitial material into the book, and to get it right to. The other thing I’d like to achieve with these books is to persuade readers that we’re not labouring under some disadvantage in doing a shorter book. It seems to me that editors like Terry Carr and Don Wolheim did wonderful ‘year’s bests’ at about the length we’re working with. The big books are great, but there’s something to be said for economy.

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