Star Songs for an Ageing Primate, or My Personal Top 5 Anthologies

Someone in Time: Tales of Time-Crossed Romance
Someone in Time: Tales of Time-Crossed Romance (Solaris, May 2022)

I love anthologies. A lot. I could go on and on about them — the different types of anthologies, the editors, the stories. That’s why I edited Someone in Time:Tales of Time-Crossed Romance for Solaris Books, and fifty or so others along the way.

I have passionate thoughts on year’s best anthologies, on David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer’s classic sprawling academic anthologies, Jack Dann and Gardner Dozois’s Magic Tales series, and so, so many others. You should find and read Gardner Dozois and Susan Casper’s Ripper! and Jack Dann and Jeanne Van Buren’s In the Fields of Fire, be surprised by Martin Greenberg’s The Further Adventures of Batman and In Honor of the King. Definitely find both of Sheree Renée Thomas’s classic Dark Matter books, Nalo Hopkinson’s Mojo: Conjure Stories, Nicola Griffith and Stephen Pagel’s Bending the Landscape series, Pamela Sargent’s Women of Wonder, and Ursula K. Le Guin and Brian Atteberry’s The Norton Book of Science Fiction. There’s a universe to discover.

But, these are my personal top 5 anthologies. The ones that I encountered at a time when they could make a mark on me. I was born in the 1960s, started reading in the early 1970s, and really found my feet as an SF reader in the 1980s. Books from those times drive me, they made an impact that nothing else really can, simply for autobiographical reasons.

That means that my personal list looks a little old-fashioned and backwards looking, perhaps. It doesn’t, for example,  include the brilliant work from Ann VanderMeer and Jeff VanderMeer on their huge and essential Big Books or Nisi Shawl’s New Suns or so many, many more, but it is my bookshelf and you might find something here worth reading if it happens that you already have not.

5. Dangerous Visions, Harlan Ellison (1967)

Most serious lists of anthologies put Dangerous Visions at #1 or maybe #2, but this is my list and while Dangerous Visions came out in 1967 and rocked the science fiction world, it felt more like assigned reading by the time I picked it up in the late 1980s. In all truth, I’d probably read its best stories elsewhere — Fritz Leiber’s “Gonna Roll the Bones”, Samuel R. Delaney’s “Aye, and Gomorrah”, Philip José Farmer’s “Riders of the Purple Wage” and so many others — but I was still swept up by Ellison’s call-to-arms editing and his yell-at-the-top-of-his-lungs introductions. His reputation has deservedly taken a hit in recent years, but that doesn’t alter the impact of what is probably the most famous anthology in the history of the field, or reduce the quality of the storytelling to be found here. Essential.

4. The Science Fiction Hall of Fame Vol 1: 1929-1964, Robert Silverberg (1970)

It might be an oversimplification to compare Ellison’s brash and brassy editorial approach to the personality of its editor, but it feels right and the same holds true here. Robert Silverberg, always cool and cerebral and already a respected editor by the end of the 1960s, was asked by the Science Fiction Writers of America (as it then was) to fill a gap for them. The Nebula Awards covered work from 1965 going forwards. What of the work that came before? Silverberg polled the members of SFWA, asking them to name the very best pre-1965 stories, and then winnowed their list down to 26 stories published between 1934 and 1963. Although the selection process was cerebral, the book (which I don’t believe has ever been out of print) is not. The stories here are simply some of the greatest and most famous in the history of the field – “Mars is Heaven!”, “The Cold Equations”, “Flowers for Algernon”, “A Rose for Ecclesiastes” and so many more. I first read the book in 1985, some fifteen years after it appeared, and it was still a revelation. I’d come across a few of the stories before but for many of them, this was my first exposure. Silverberg’s The Science Fiction Hall of Fame is as essential as Dangerous Visions, but is it’s exact opposite – a reprint anthology looking to the past balanced against an all-original collection of stories howling for the future.

3. The Year’s Best Science Fiction: First Annual Collection, Garden Dozois (1984)

I am a child of the 1980s, SF-wise. Yes, I encountered my first SF when I was seven years old (Heinlein’s Citizen of the Galaxy) and read SF for years (with only a brief but deliberate pause around 1982) but in 1984 I dove into SF and the SF field and have never really emerged from it since. One of the key guides for my journey was Gardner Dozois. He was yet to take the helm at Asimov’s when he started editing The Year’s Best Science Fiction for Bluejay. He said of the series that the volumes should be able to be handed to someone in a small town in the middle of nowhere and give them an idea of what SF was like and what was happening right then, and he nailed it with the first book. From the icy perfection of Tom Kidd’s cover (illustrating a Shaper Mechanist story from Bruce Sterling) it’s a sprawling, expansive, inclusive book in literary terms. It contains some of the best hard SF ever published (see Greg Bear’s “Hardfought” as an example) alongside the brilliant eclecticism of Howard Waldrop and R.A. Lafferty. It is a smorgasbord and set the template for many of his future projects. Dozois was always literate but loved core SF, engaged and smart, but embraced the loopiness of genre at its best. I found my copy of this, which I still have, in a small bookstore in Subiaco, Western Australia. It is very close to my favourite anthology of all time, but not quite…

2. Modern Classics of Fantasy, Gardner Dozois (1997)

Gardner Dozois has two books on this list. Of course, he does. He probably influenced my reading and editing more than any other editor I know. We were friends, co-edited two books together, and I was his editor at Locus for years, so we overlapped. In the early 1990s, Gardner assembled a big book of SF stories for a British publisher, which was reprinted in the US as Modern Classics of Science Fiction. It did well enough that the publisher had him edit this book, a stunning collection of 32 stories that is as breathtaking today as it was when it came out a quarter-century ago. There are no bad stories here – only marginally less interesting ones. The book starts in the mid-’50s with a Manly Wade Wellman yarn, but has so many of my favourite stories that I could just about list the whole table of contents for you — James P.  Blaylock’s “Paper Dragons”, Lucius Shepard’s “The Man Who Painted the Dragon Griaule”, Gene Wolfe’s “A Cabin on the Coast”, and Avram Davidson’s “Manatee Girl, Won’t You Come Out Tonight” are worth the price of admission alone. I think if Gardner were to have edited another of these today it would have been much more diverse. The book’s table of contents, like most of the ones here, is far too white and far too male, but there is wonder here anyway. I read it when it came out, wolfing through the pages, and could sit down with it again today, happily. Brilliant stuff.

1. Light Years and Dark: Science Fiction and Fantasy of and for Our Time, Michael Bishop (1984)

There was a small bookstore that opened up not too far from where I lived that specialised in science fiction. The first or second time I visited, just before Christmas in 1984, I came across a couple of books that were completely unknown to me and one that intrigued me. Michael Bishop’s Light Years and Dark has a murky blue, grey, and brown cover from my recollection, which can’t have helped its commercial chances, but it drew my eye for some reason. I kept coming back to it, despite not knowing many of the writers listed on its table of contents. I took it home and fell into a wonderland of rich, strange, sometimes experimental stories. Here is where I read George Alec Effinger (“Terrific Park”!), Kate Wilhelm (“Strangeness, Charm and Spin”), Gene Wolfe, Jack Dann, Michael Swanwick, John Kessel, M. John Harrison and so many, many others for the first time. Here was, literally, the world of SF at that time, in one place. I simply cannot overstate how much I loved this wonderful, diverse book, which felt like a breath of fresh air as I read it in early 1985 and still seems like one today. I can hardly imagine it being published now and am amazed it was back then. Bishop is a marvellous writer, but he’s also an incredible editor. This one takes a lot of searching to find, but it’s worth it. I hope it comes back into print one day, but regardless of that, it remains my personal #1.

Episode 595: The Coode Street Advent Calendar: Sam J. Miller

bbm.jpegThe Coode Street Advent Calendar rolls into the fifth day, and this time Gary takes a little time to chat with the wonderful Sam J. Miller about his new novella, Kid Wolf and Kraken Boy, and his short story collection, Boys, Beasts & Men. There’s also, no doubt, some holiday chat with books and such being recommended.

As always, our thanks to Sam and we hope you enjoy the episode!