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A Concentrated Dose of the Best Our Field Has to Offer: Jonathan Strahan’s Best Short Novels 2004-2007

Saturday, January 9th, 2016 | Posted by John ONeill

Best Short Novels 2004-small Best Short Novels 2005-small Best Short Novels 2006-small Best Short Novels 2007-small

Jonathan Strahan is one of the most accomplished and acclaimed editors in the genre. He’s edited the annual Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year since 2007, as well as some of our most highly regarded original anthologies — including the Infinity series (Engineering Infinity, Edge of Infinity, etc) and the Fearsome books (Fearsome Journeys and Fearsome Magics), all for Solaris. He’s also edited (with Terry Dowling) one of my favorite ongoing series, the five volumes in the monumental Early Jack Vance from Subterranean Press.

But the work that truly made me a Strahan fan was a brief (four volume) series he did exclusively for the Science Fiction Book Club, Best Short Novels. I’d been a member of the SFBC since the age of twelve but, after leaving Canada for grad school in 1987 and moving around after that, I’d let my membership lapse. I received plenty of invites to rejoin after settling here in St. Charles, but it was Strahan’s first volume in the series, Best Short Novels: 2004, that finally enticed me to do it. I’ve never regretted it.

Best Short Novels collected (almost) exclusively novellas — and fabulous novellas at that, from the top practitioners in the field. I’ve said before that I think that some of the finest science fiction and fantasy is written at novella length. SF and fantasy frequently draw on detailed, intricate worldbuilding, and it’s tough to do that in a short story.

There are a goodly number of novellas published in this industry every year. Sadly, most Best of the Year collections include (by necessity) a sparse number. Those books have a limited word count after all, and including that 30,000-word novella, even if it’s a masterpiece, means cutting 6-10 short stories out of the Table of Contents. So every year a disproportionate number of novellas — including many award-winning pieces — get ignored.

In Springdale Town-smallBest Short Novels remedied that. It introduced me to new writers doing really serious work, and some fabulous new SF and fantasy series — including Kage Baker’s Mars, Stephen Baxter’s Xeelee, the Laundry stories of Charles Stross, and many others. Sealing the deal for me, every volume also reprinted at least one PS Publishing novella, a fantastic series of limited-edition hardcovers that were always out of my price range.

The first volume released was Best Short Novels 2004. The Science Fiction Book Club made a fuss about it, and I know several people (including me) who joined just to get a copy. It included a Mars tale by Kage Baker, Robert Freeman Wexler’s In Springdale Town, and several major award winners and nominees. Here’s the complete TOC.

Introduction by Jonathan Strahan
“The Empress of Mars” by Kage Baker (Asimov’s, July 2003) — Hugo & Nebula nom; Sturgeon Award winner
“The Green Leopard Plague” by Walter Jon Williams (Asimov’s, October-November 2003) — Nebula Award winner
In Springdale Town by Robert Freeman Wexler (PS Publishing)
“The Swastika Bomb” by John Meaney (Live Without a Net, July 2003)
“Jailwise” by Lucius Shepard (Sci Fiction, June 4, 2003)
“Just Like the Ones We Used to Know” by Connie Willis (Asimov’s, December 2003) — Hugo & Nebula nom
“Greetings” by Terry Bisson (Sci Fiction, September 3, 2003)
“Awake in the Night” by John C. Wright (Eternal Love, July 2003)
“Off on a Starship” by William Barton (Asimov’s, September 2003)

Best Short Novels: 2004 was published by the SFBC in May 2004. It is 585 pages, priced at $11.99 in hardcover. The cover is by Les Edwards.

It was republished two years later by iBooks, as Modern Greats of Science Fiction: Nine Novellas of Distinction (January 2006), with a cover by Les Munoz.

Modern Greats of Science Fiction Nine Novellas of Distinction-small Modern Greats of Science Fiction Nine Novellas of Distinction-back-small

Best Short Novels 2005 included a Mayflower II, a Xeelee tale by Stephen Baxter originally published in an expensive limited edition hardcover from PS Publishing, a Hugo-award winning Laundry tale by Charles Stross, and the usual assortment of major award nominees.

Mayflower II PS Publishing

Here’s the complete TOC.

Introduction by Jonathan Strahan
“Men Are Trouble” by James Patrick Kelly (Asimov’s SF, June 2004) — Nebula nomination
Mayflower II by Stephen Baxter (PS Publishing) — BSFA winner
“Sergeant Chip” by Bradley Denton (F&SF, September 2004) — Hugo nom, Sturgeon Award winner
“The Garden: A Hwarhath Science Fictional Romance” by Eleanor Arnason (Synergy SF: New Science Fiction, Sept 2004)
“Under the Flag of Night” by Ian McDowell (Asimov’s Science Fiction, March 2004)
“Shadow Twin” by Gardner Dozois and George R. R. Martin and Daniel Abraham (Sci Fiction, June 9, 2004)
“The Concrete Jungle” by Charles Stross (The Atrocity Archives, May 2004) — Hugo Award winner
“The Gorgon in the Cupboard” by Patricia A. McKillip (To Weave a Web of Magic, July 2004)
“The Fear Gun” by Judith Berman (Asimov’s SF, July 2004)
“Arabian Wine” by Gregory Feeley (Asimov’s SF, April-May 2004)

Best Short Novels: 2005 was published by the SFBC in June 2005. It is 604 pages, priced at $11.99 in hardcover. The cover is by Larry Price.

Fishin' with Grandma Matchie-smallThe third volume included an India 2047 tale from Ian McDonald, a Henghis Hapthorn story from Matthew Hughes, a Lost Continent of Atlantis tale from Harry Turtledove, and Fishin’ with Grandma Matchie by Steven Erikson, from PS Publishing.

Introduction by Jonathan Strahan
“The Little Goddess” by Ian McDonald (Asimov’s SF, June 2005) — Hugo nomination
“The Gist Hunter” by Matthew Hughes (F&SF, June 2005)
“Human Readable” by Cory Doctorow (Future Washington, October 2005)
“Audubon in Atlantis” by Harry Turtledove (Analog, December 2005)
“Magic for Beginners” by Kelly Link (Magic for Beginners, July 2005) — Nebula and BSFA Award winner
Fishin’ with Grandma Matchie by Steven Erikson (PS Publishing)
“The Policeman’s Daughter” by Wil McCarthy (Analog, June 2005)
“Inside Job” by Connie Willis (Asimov’s Science Fiction, January 2005) — Hugo Award winner
“The Cosmology of the Wider World” by Jeffrey Ford (The Cosmology of the Wider World, October 2005)

Best Short Novels: 2006 was published by the SFBC in June 2006. It is 587 pages, priced at $12.99 in hardcover. The cover is by Les Edwards.

All good things must come to an end, alas. The final volume, Best Short Novels: 2007, closed the series with a bang. It included one of Kage Baker’s last Mars stories, and the opening tale in Chris Roberson’s steampunk Celestial Empire series.

Introduction by Jonathan Strahan
“Where the Golden Apples Grow” by Kage Baker (Escape from Earth, August 2006)
“A Billion Eves” by Robert Reed (Asimov’s Science Fiction, October-November 2006) — Hugo Award winner
The Voyage of Night Shining White by Chris Roberson (PS Publishing)
Julian: A Christmas Story by Robert Charles Wilson (PS Publishing) — Hugo nomination
“The Lineaments of Gratified Desire” by Ysabeau S. Wilce (F&SF, July 2006) — World Fantasy Award nom
“Lord Weary’s Empire” by Michael Swanwick (Asimov’s Science Fiction, December 2006) — Hugo nomination
“After the Siege” by Cory Doctorow (Overclocked: Stories of the Future Present, January 2007) — Locus Award winner
“Botch Town” by Jeffrey Ford (The Empire of Ice Cream, April 2006) — World Fantasy Award winner

Best Short Novels: 2007 was published by the SFBC in May 2007. It is 538 pages, priced at $11.99 in hardcover. The cover is by Stephan Martiniere. It was republished in paperback by Prime Books in September 2007, with a cover by Bob Eggleton (below).

Best Short Novels 2007 UK

The Year's Best Science Fiction & Fantasy Novellas 2015-smallI really miss this series. The four years it was being published, there was a one-stop shop for everyone who wanted to stay on top of the best in novella-length SF and fantasy. Yes, other Best of the Year series — including Strahan’s own — have continued, but they include (at most) one or two novellas per year. Much of the best this genre produces every year is written at novella length, and the vast majority of it is ignored.

Fortunately, this year Prime Books and Paula Guran, another talented editor, launched a new anthology series: The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy Novellas: 2015. It was my favorite anthology from last year, and I understand there will be another this year. I hope it has a very long life.

Since all four books were distributed exclusively in hardcover by the Science Fiction Club, and only two were reprinted in paperback, this series can be a little hard to come by. Many readers have never even heard of it, and here are no digital editions. Copies show up on eBay from time to time, and Amazon.com has a listing for all four volumes. It’s well worth tracking them down.

We’ve covered several of Jonathan Strahan’s projects recently. Here’s a few highlights:

The Early Jack Vance, Volume 1: Hard Luck Diggings, edited by Terry Dowling and Jonathan Strahan
The Early Jack Vance, Volume 2: Dream Castles, edited by Terry Dowling and Jonathan Strahan
The Early Jack Vance, Volume 3: Magic Highways, edited by Terry Dowling and Jonathan Strahan
The Early Jack Vance, Volume 4: Minding the Stars, edited by Terry Dowling and Jonathan Strahan
The Early Jack Vance, Volume 5: Grand Crusades, edited by Terry Dowling and Jonathan Strahan
Engineering Infinity, edited by Jonathan Strahan
Reach For Infinity, edited by Jonathan Strahan
Meeting Infinity, edited by Jonathan Strahan
Fearsome Magics: The New Solaris Book of Fantasy, edited by Jonathan Strahan
Fearsome Journeys: The Solaris Book of Fantasy, edited by Jonathan Strahan
The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year Volume 6, edited by Jonathan Strahan
The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year Volume 7, edited by Jonathan Strahan
The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year Volume 8, edited by Jonathan Strahan
The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year Volume 9, edited by Jonathan Strahan
Swords and Dark Magic, edited by Jonathan Strahan & Lou Anders

See all of our recent Vintage Treasures here.

4 Comments »

  1. Wow, these books by Jonathan Strahan really do have solid work in them. More items to add to my TBR list.

    The novella (“short novel”) is such a good length for speculative fiction, as you mention, Mr. O’Neill. Compare the Science Fiction Hall of Fame anthologies, the pre-Nebula “winners”, and I think that Volume 2 (the novella volume) has it all over the first volume of short stories.

    Comment by Eugene R. - January 9, 2016 11:57 pm

  2. Eugene,

    Good Point! Volume 2, which contains only novellas, was so big it had to be split into two (massive) volumes. It contains only stories written before 1965. And what stories! Here’s the contents:

    Poul Anderson “Call Me Joe” 1957
    John W. Campbell “Who Goes There?” 1938
    Lester del Rey “Nerves” 1942
    Robert A. Heinlein “Universe” 1941
    Cyril M. Kornbluth “The Marching Morons” 1951
    Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore “Vintage Season” 1946
    Eric Frank Russell “…And Then There Were None” 1951
    Cordwainer Smith “The Ballad of Lost C’Mell” 1962
    Theodore Sturgeon “Baby Is Three” 1952
    H.G. Wells “The Time Machine” 1895
    Jack Williamson “With Folded Hands” 1947
    Isaac Asimov “The Martian Way” 1952
    James Blish “Earthman Come Home” 1953
    Algis Budrys “Rogue Moon” 1960
    Theodore Cogswell “The Spectre General” 1952
    E.M. Forster “The Machine Stops” 1909
    Frederik Pohl “The Midas Plague” 1954
    James H. Schmitz “The Witches of Karres” 1949
    T. L. Sherred “E for Effort” 1947
    Wilmar H. Shiras “In Hiding” 1948
    Clifford D. Simak “The Big Front Yard” 1958
    Jack Vance “The Moon Moth” 1961

    Comment by John ONeill - January 10, 2016 11:19 am

  3. Great summaries, John. I was unaware of these, as I let my SFBC membership lapse some time ago. All four are now heading my way via Amazon.

    Comment by jeffreycrogers - January 11, 2016 1:03 am

  4. Great news, Jeffrey. Glad we could help you discover them.

    I hope you enjoy them as much as I did. Drop by after they arrive to let us know what you think!

    Comment by John ONeill - January 11, 2016 12:04 pm


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