Book Review: The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year: Volume Thirteen Edited by Jonathan Strahan

And so we come to that time of year again, when anthologists bring out their “best of the year” volumes. I follow as many of them as I can, mainly because so much good fiction gets published in a calendar year that I can’t keep up with it. As I mentioned in a recent blog post on David Epstein’s new book Range, I read as much nonfiction as I do fiction, and even when I read fiction, I don’t stick only to one genre. I’m sure I miss a lot of great short stories in this way. After all, what I’m doing when I rely on “best of the year” volumes to get a sampling of the field is counting on the opinions of only a very few readers to recommend to me the finest works being published. When you see how little overlap there is in the selections of science fiction and fantasy “best of the year” books, you realize that what you’re reading is not the ultimate best by any means, because that in fact doesn’t exist. What you’re getting is a selection of the favorites of that particular editor, whose choices you may or may not agree with.

The science fiction and fantasy field has several yearly “best” volumes put out by various editors. For decades the far-and-away frontrunner has been editor Gardner Dozois and his immense yearly anthology of science fiction and news about the science fiction field. However, Dozois died recently, and last year’s volume was his final one. Jonathan Strahan, an editor based in Australia, has been putting out his “best” anthologies for thirteen years, and as he points out in the introduction, this is to be his last, at least with the current publisher. Evidently he’ll continue editing “best of the year” volumes, but with a new publishing house next year.

This anthology has Strahan’s favorites from 2018. There seems to be a fairly even mix of science fiction and fantasy, but in my opinion, for the most part at least, the science fiction stories tend to be stronger. Maybe that’s partially due to my general tendency to favor science fiction over fantasy, but I don’t think so. Some of my all-time favorite stories are fantasy, and I love writing fantasy stories as well, when the mood strikes. Anyway, one reason that I appreciate a mix of genres like this is that it gives me an opportunity to read stories outside my usual purview.

As usual with this type of anthology, there were some stories I thought were spot-on, while others were merely good, others okay, and others mediocre. There was only one story I couldn’t finish reading. I just didn’t get it; it wasn’t my cup of tea, so to speak. (And I wonder why I, a confirmed coffee-drinker, would use such a cliché!)

Often at this point I give you a listing of summaries of stories that in my opinion were the best in the book, but I think I’ll refrain from that this time. Why don’t you just pick up a copy of the book and choose your favorites for yourself. It’s very possible that your top choices would be very different from mine. It’s a small-scale example of the larger truth that I mentioned earlier: these stories are the favorites of one person who reads widely in the field specifically to be able to produce this anthology. Several editors do this, and each one highlights different stories.

In conclusion, though, there’s a lot of good writing here, and the book is well worth a read.

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