In our last post in this series, we bemoaned how the science fiction pendulum has swung all the way from being a genre best suited as entertainment to being a showcase for postmodernist and politicized literary experimentation. We illustrated this final point by reviewing a pair of Gardner Dozois Year’s Best collections.
Either end of the pendulum represents a sad state of affairs, so it was nice to be able to end the piece on a positive note, noting that the latest one I’d read when the piece was written showed a bit of a return to balance (I’ve since read another, and this trend looks to be continuing, but I’ll have to do a complete piece on that one later).
However, although Gardner Dozois is the best measuring stick for the current state of the genre, and the tastemaker for the more academic side of the SFF world, he is not the only person putting together Year’s Best collections.
David G. Hartwell’s (1941-2016) long-running series of Year’s Best Books is the one I’d recommend for people who like a little more balance between fun in SF and the ever-present identity politics of the genre. They are also a place where people who still think of Science Fiction as the “literature of ideas” can find solace in a world where much of the widely-recognized SF has become character-based to the point where the science fiction is almost secondary. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but a change of pace is welcome.
The two most recent Hartwell’s I’ve read are number 6 and number 16. Number 16 was co-edited by Kathryn Cramer. As these are annual, there are 10 years between them… and other than the names active in each (there’s a Waldrop story in number 6!) there is very little difference in the tone of the stories. They are both well-written and fun, without espousing one political view over the other (compare that to Dozois, who goes from slightly left-leaning to extremely left-leaning and then dials it back somewhat in the same time period), which is refreshing in these polarized times.
The death of David Hartwell is, to me, a terrible blow to science fiction. Not only because of his even keel in selecting the best stories regardless of political preference as the genre navigates strange philosophical waters, but also because he was the founder of the New York Review of Science Fiction (where I’ve published a couple or articles but, sadly, they were published after Hartwell’s death). He, and this series, will be sorely missed.
I wish Cramer had continued the series (I assume she is as good as Hartwell at choosing great stories), but sadly, I can’t find any beyond #18, which is already some years old.
Here at Classically Educated, we promise to scour the Year’s Best shelves to see if we can find another series which keeps this particular flame alive. In times where political fanatics poison everything from daily life to Facebook feeds, finding someone who leaves politics aside (to the point where I can’t tell whether Hartwell leaned left or right, which, to me is a sign of greatness in a writer or editor) when editing an anthology is a refreshing breath of fresh air.
Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine novelist and short story writer. He writes in many genres, so if you prefer a good supernatural love story to straight science fiction you might enjoy Pacific Wind.