Last month I had a look back at one of my favorite Best of the Year series, Jonathan Strahan’s Best Short Novels, a delightful four-volume set collecting the best novellas of 2004-07 and published exclusively through the Science Fiction Book Club. SFBC did many exclusives, but that was the one that got me to excitedly rejoin the club for the first time in over a decade.
It was a great time to be a member. In addition to the Strahan volumes, Andrew Wheeler at SFBC also commissioned some of the top editors in the field, including Gardner Dozois, Mike Resnick, Marvin Kaye and Strahan, to produce eight original themed anthologies, each containing 6-7 new novellas by writers like Robert Silverberg, Peter F. Hamilton, Robert Reed, Nancy Kress, Greg Egan, Jack McDevitt, Alan Dean Foster, Julie E. Czerneda, Charles Stross, Stephen Baxter, Cory Doctorow, Walter Jon Williams, and many others. Each anthology was offered exclusively through the club, which means many fans never even knew they existed.
Each anthology was themed, like Gardner’s collection of far-future tales One Million A.D. Marvin Kaye’s Forbidden Planets looked at visits to strange and hostile worlds, Mike Resnick’s Down these Dark Spaceways and Alien Crimes contained science fiction mysteries, and Strahan’s Godlike Machines gathered tales of future eras where machines ruled. They were a lot of fun, and I snapped each one up as it arrived.
[Click the images for bigger versions.]
The series was presumably the brainchild of Andrew Wheeler at SFBC, who credited Jonathan Strahan with convincing him to first take a chance on novella-only anthologies with the Best Short Novels series:
I really can’t take the credit for it — it was Jonathan Strahan’s idea to begin with (and I think he tried to pitch it to other publishers before me). I just happened to be the guy willing to take a chance on it.
All eight books in the series were published in hardcover between 2004 and 2010. They were:
Between Worlds, edited by Robert Silverberg (404 pages, $12.99, August 2004) — cover by Donato Giancola
Down these Dark Spaceways, edited by Mike Resnick (432 pages, $12.99, May 2005) — cover by Donato Giancola
One Million A.D., edited by Gardner Dozois (399 pages, $13.99, December 2005) — cover by Bob Eggleton
Forbidden Planets, edited by Marvin Kaye (332 pages, $13.99, May 2006) — cover by Stephen Hickman
Escape from Earth, edited by Gardner Dozois & Jack Dann (428 pages, $13.99, August 2006) — cover by Nicholas Jainschigg
Alien Crimes, edited by Mike Resnick (495 pages, $14.99, April 2007) — cover by Donato Giancola
Galactic Empires, edited by Gardner Dozois (417 pages, $14.99, February 2008) — cover by Vincent Di Fate
Godlike Machines, edited by Jonathan Strahan (492 pages, $14.99, September 2010) — cover by Andrew Jones
Most were never reprinted in paperback. Fortunately, new copies of many in the series are still available online (through eBay and other online sellers) for fairly reasonable prices.
The series opened with Robert Silverberg’s Between Worlds, described as futuristic SF with characters ‘between worlds’ both physically and emotionally. This volume is not always included in lists of the SFBC original anthology series (for example, it doesn’t make the Wikipedia list), which makes me think it may have been the prototype for the entire series. Nonetheless, it suits the profile — six never-before published novellas from top names in the field — so we’re including it here.
Between Worlds contains a Xeelee novella by Stephen Baxter, and a story set in the world of Walter Jon Williams’ Dread Empire’s Fall. The complete table of contents is:
Distant Realms of Space and Time by Robert Silverberg
“Between Worlds” by Stephen Baxter
“The Wreck of the Godspeed” by James Patrick Kelly
“Shiva in Shadow” by Nancy Kress
“The Colonel Returns to the Stars” by Robert Silverberg
“Keepsakes” by Mike Resnick
“Investments” by Walter Jon Williams
Two novellas in this collection (“Shiva in Shadow” and “Investments”) were reprinted in Dozois’ Year’s Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Second Annual Collection. “The Wreck of the Godspeed” later appeared in Rich Horton’s Space Opera anthology.
The next in the series was Down these Dark Spaceways, edited by Mike Resnick, a collection of noir fiction that blended SF and mystery. Here’s the description from the inside flap.
They used to say that no one could blend mystery and science fiction, but that theory was dashed decades ago with the publication of Alfred Bester’s The Demolished Man and Isaac Asimov’s The Caves of Steel. Since then, the two fields have crossbred, producing sf mysteries in every style, from locked-room to noir. We at the SFBC especially love the Chandler-esque tales, whose hard-bitten sleuths stalk crime down the dark alleys of space. So we jumped at Mike Resnick’s suggestion that we do a book called Down these Dark Spaceways, featuring six original novellas exclusive to the Club. These stories have never been published anywhere else, and each one is written by a top-notch writer who shares our passion for a good sf mystery.
Down these Dark Spaceways contains a Great Ship tale by Robert Reed (who was to be the most prolific contributor to this series, with a total of five novellas, four in the Great Ship universe), a Skolian story by Catherine Asaro, and a Jake Masters novella by editor Mike Resnick. Here’s the TOC.
Introduction by Mike Resnick
“Guardian Angel” by Mike Resnick
“In the Quake Zone” by David Gerrold
“The City of Cries” by Catherine Asaro
“Camouflage” by Robert Reed
“The Big Downtown” by Jack McDevitt
“Identity Theft” by Robert J. Sawyer
Next up was One Million A.D., edited by Gardner Dozois (2005), which contained a New Springtime tale by Robert Silverberg and a House of Suns novella by Alastair Reynolds. It has never appeared in paperback, but it was reprinted in a digital edition by Baen nine years later, in September 2014 (cover at right; artist unknown).
Here’s the book description from the inside jacket flap:
A million years from now… It’s a span of time so staggeringly huge that it’s hard for the human mind to grasp. Even within science fiction, to conjure up a convincing portrait of what humanity might be like in such a remote future calls for a breadth of vision and literary skill rare among writers.
And here’s the TOC.
Exploring the Far Future by Gardner Dozois
“Good Mountain” by Robert Reed
“A Piece of the Great World” by Robert Silverberg
“Mirror Image” by Nancy Kress
“Thousandth Night” by Alastair Reynolds
“Missile Gap” by Charles Stross
“Riding the Crocodile” by Greg Egan
One of my favorites anthologies in the series was Forbidden Planets, edited by Marvin Kaye. It contained a Commonwealth novella by Alan Dean Foster, and another Great Ship story by Reed. Here’s the Table of Contents.
The Fantastic Power of “No-No” by Marvin Kaye
“Mid-Death” by Alan Dean Foster
“Walking Star” by Allen Steele
“JQ211F, and Holding” by Nancy Kress
“Rococo” by Robert Reed
“Kaminsky at War” by Jack McDevitt
“No Place Like Home” by Julie E. Czerneda
The last four in the series were some of the most interesting, in my opinion. Here they are.
The fifth in the series was Escape from Earth, edited by Gardner Dozois & Jack Dann (2006), with a brand new Mars novella by Kage Baker and six other stories.
Introduction by Gardner Dozois and Jack Dann
“Escape from Earth” by Allen Steele
“Where the Golden Apples Grow” by Kage Baker [Mars]
“Derelict” by Geoffrey A. Landis
“Space Boy” by Orson Scott Card
“Incarnation Day” by Walter Jon Williams
“Combat Shopping” by Elizabeth Moon
“The Mars Girl” by Joe Haldeman
Escape From Earth also is the only one of the set to have a paperback edition. It was re-released from Firebird in November 2008, with a cover by Stephan Martiniere (at right).
Alien Crimes was a return to Mike Resnick’s blend of SF and noir mystery. Here’s the description:
From H.G. Wells to Rod Serling, from Ray Bradbury to The X-Files, stories of the unexplained have long piqued our curiosity. Whether its about extraterrestrials or strange science, science fiction readers have something in common with enthusiasts of mystery and crime fictionan innate desire to know.
With that in mind, the Club invited Nebula and five-time Hugo winner Mike Resnick to commission police procedurals with an SF twist. Resnicks challenge to his co-authors: Give me a science fiction mystery, make it novella length, play fair with the reader, and no genuflecting to the Hammett/Chandler school of writing.
The result, Alien Crimes, brings together six original novellas from six award-winning writers with stories equally diverse in both style and subject matter. This all-new SFBC Creation takes readers through wormholes; to undersea alien breeding grounds; to a hotel where the squishy walls may be more than they seem, and destinations beyond.
And here’s the TOC, including another Jake Masters tale by Resnick.
Introduction by Mike Resnick
“Nothing Personal” by Pat Cadigan
“A Locked-Planet Mystery”a by Mike Resnick
“Hoxbomb” by Harry Turtledove
“The End of the World” by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
“Dark Heaven” by Gregory Benford
“Womb of Every World” by Walter Jon Williams
How could there be seven themed SF volumes without at least one dedicated to space opera? Galactic Empires, edited by Gardner Dozois, filled that niche nicely, containing a Commonwealth Universe novella by Peter F. Hamilton, an Owner tale by Neal Asher, a Xeelee story from Stephen Baxter, and of course a Great Ship novella from Robert Reed.
Preface by Gardner Dozois
“The Demon Trap” by Peter F. Hamilton
“Owner Space” by Neal Asher
“The Man with the Golden Balloon” by Robert Reed
“The Six Directions of Space” by Alastair Reynolds
“The Seer and the Silverman” by Stephen Baxter
“The Tear” by Ian McDonald
Godlike Machines, edited by Jonathan Strahan, brought the series to a rousing close. Here’s the description.
Sentient. Intelligent. Extraordinary.
An SFBC Original Event.
In science fiction, nothing says sensawunda like a Big Dumb Object — a colossal, extremely powerful machine of unknown purpose and origin. It’s that feeling that editor Jonathan Strahan was after when he asked six of today’s finest authors to write for Godlike Machines. And they succeed brilliantly!
• Alastair Reynolds unlocks the secrets inside an alien spaceship — secrets that could change the world… if only a repressive regime would believe its last surviving explorer.
• Stephen Baxter sends wormwhole builders to Titan, but what they discover there may fuel their wildest dreams… or destroy them.
• Cory Doctorow turns the idea of godlike machines on its head with replicating machines that turn cities back into wilderness.
• Sean Williams leads a spacer agent through a subterranean Structure… and into space-time itself.
• Robert Reed–in a story about the ancient, Jupiter-sized Great Ship — looks at a strange passenger who has been on board far longer than seems possible.
• Greg Egan gives us an alien technology only he could imagine — a wandering world that’s inexplicably warm enough to support life.
Made from the pure stuff of SF, these unique, all-new adventures are nothing less than awesome!
Godlike Machines contained a new Xeelee tale by Stephen Baxter, and (naturally) a Great Ship novella by Reed.
Godlike Machines, Machinelike Gods, by Jonathan Strahan
“Troika” by Alastair Reynolds
“Return to Titan” by Stephen Baxter
“There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow / Now Is the Best Time of Your Life” by Cory Doctorow
“A Glimpse of the Marvellous Structure (and the Threat It Entails)” by Sean Williams
“Alone” by Robert Reed
“Hot Rock” by Greg Egan
For someone who loves SF novellas as much as I do, this entire series was a winner. The books were handsome and inexpensive, and a great way to introduce yourself to some of the top writers (and ongoing SF series) in the field.
Sadly, the series came to an end five years after it started. I suspect it had something to do with changes going on inside the Science Fiction Book Club; Andrew Wheeler, who commissioned the series, left the SFBC at around the same time in a restructuring, and that brought the era of original anthologies to an end. I’m still a member, but I miss the days when SFBC was a publisher in addition to being a low-cost repackager and distributor.
See all of our recent Vintage Treasures here.