The best…

I’ve not done this before, so I hope the person involved doesn’t mind, but I received a comment from Jim Henry, which I’m moving up here because I want to respond here on the main blog. Commenter Jim Henry wrote:

In spite of many years of buying every Jack Vance book I can afford used or new, I haven’t had the opportunity to read much of his short fiction yet, except the pieces collected in the Pocket Books Best of Jack Vance. I would suggest, though, that you mostly avoid the longer works and those that have been reprinted most frequently over the years, giving preference to those that have never been reprinted or haven’t been reprinted in many decades. For instance, “The Last Castle” and “The Dragon Masters” have been reprinted in paperback several times, and both appeared in the massive The Hugo Winners anthology that SFBC kept in print for so long that used copies are easy to find.

I would also suggest you avoid the short works that were incorporated into fix-up novels (e.g. most of the Dying Earth material) except for one or two representative pieces, perhaps notable for the degree of difference between the magazine and book versions.

What do you put into a collection of work and what do you leave out? There is a view, neatly stated in Jim’s comment, that you should not reprint the most famous, the most readily available work by an artist in an anthology, collection, or whatever. The underpinning argument, from a publishers perspective often goes like this: if you reprint “xxx”, which has been reprinted twenty-five galumpty times, then the dedicated fans who’ve bought everything else won’t buy it. If, however, you include this never before seen item from said creator’s garden shed, then all of the fans will buy it. The problem with this is it leads directly to buying Led Zeppelin’s Greatest Hits without “Stairway to Heaven”, Queen’s Greatest Hits without “Bohemian Rhapsody”, and The Best of the Beatles without “Hey Jude”. This doesn’t strike me as entirely reasonable. It also doesn’t strike me as entirely honest. If I buy Led Zeppelin’s Greatest Hits it better have “Stairway” on it. Similarly, if I buy a best of Harlan Ellison it better have “Jeffty is Five” in it, no matter how often it’s been anthologised. And, for Jack Vance, that really does mean you pretty much have to include “The Last Castle”, “The Dragon Masters”, and “The Moon Moth”. Yes, they’ve been widely available. Yes, they’ve been often reprinted. But, without them, this wouldn’t be the best of Jack Vance, a real treasury.