It seems strange to be writing this but, as far as new short fiction goes, 2005 is almost over. I’ve read most everything published by the various print magazines, finished all of the anthologies and collections that I’ve been able to get hold of, and am reading the still-to-be-published online fiction as quickly as I can get my hands on it.
If all goes to plan, Karen and I will be turning in the final manuscripts for Science Fiction: Best of 2005 and Fantasy: Best of 2005 the week after I get back from World Fantasy in mid-November. And, with that in mind, pretty much the number one SF priority for the next few weeks is writing notes for the stories we’ve picked, and doing the introductions for the two books.
To add to that ‘end of the year’ kind of feeling, I have just completed a very rough first pass at the Locus Short Fiction Recommended Reading List, and Rich Horton has started to post his always essential Annual Magazine Summaries on his newsgroup (I don’t know if that link will remain stable, so check them out ASAP).
With all of that happening, I’ve been working out what I think of 2005, the year in short fiction. All in all, I think it was another good year. The original anthologies were perhaps, on average, not quite as good as last year. We were lucky to get a good mainstream SF anthology like Peter Crowther’s Constellations, but we sorely missed a strong mainstream fantasy book like Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling’s The Faery Reel or Al Sarrantonio’s Flights.. Were I forced to pick, I’d suggest that the best anthology of 2005 was actually a magazine. With outstanding stories by Paolo Bacigalupi, Peter S. Beagle, Esther M. Friesner, Elizabeth Hand, and Jeffrey Ford (amongst others), the October/November issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction was the best anniversary issue in some years, and as good a gathering of stories as were published anywhere during 2005. I’d also recommend Peter Crowther’s Constellations, Marvin Kaye’s The Fair Folk, Deb Layne & Jay Lake’s Polyphony 5, and Andrew J Wilson & Neil Williamson’s Nova Scotia: New Scottish Speculative Fiction.
It was an extraordinary year for single author story collections. It seemed like every second book review I read declared this or that collection the ‘short story collection of the year’. Given that the most of the collections published were quite different from one another, it was actually very difficult to make that call. Still, if pushed, I couldn’t go past these books:
Magic for Beginners, Kelly Link;
20th Century Ghosts, Joe Hill;
Harrowing the Dragon, Patricia A. McKillip; and
In the Palace of Repose, Holly Phillips.
I’d also strongly recommend Gene Wolfe’s Starwater Strains, Matthew Hughes’ The Gist Hunter, Robert Reed’s The Cuckoo’s Boys, and Maureen McHugh’s Mothers and Other Monsters.
I was disappointed that, the Robert Reed collection aside, there wasn’t a really strong SF collection published this year. The short story is integral to SF, and I hope someone will collect the recent short work from Wil McCarthy, Stephen Baxter, Ian MacDonald, Alastair Reynolds, Charles Stross and others into book form. To grind a personal axe, a collection from McDonald in particular, is long overdue.
There were several excellent retrospectives published during the year. The most fascinating (and frustrating) was Centipede Press’s Two-Handed Engine, which collected 30-plus stories by Henry Kuttner & C.L. Moore. Availability was very limited, so we can only hope someone will reprint it in a more accessible edition. While I’d also recommend Robert Sheckley’s The Masque of Mañana, my vote for the best retrospective of the year goes to Leigh Brackett’s Sea Kings of Mars: And Other Worldly Stories, from the Gollancz Fantasy Masterworks Series. Important enough to attract an amazon reader’s review from Michael Moorcock, it did everything I think a good retrospective should. It reprinted an important body of work in an intelligently compiled edition that was widely enough available that anyone could get a copy. It was, potentially, a book that could find new readers for Brackett’s work, and that is worthwhile indeed.