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New Treasures: Ann and Jeff Vandermeer’s The Big Book of Science Fiction

Monday, August 8th, 2016 | Posted by John ONeill

The Big Book of Science Fiction-smallHow big is The Big Book of Science Fiction? An informal survey shows that it’s quite likely the biggest book every covered at Black Gate — bigger than Otto Penzler’s The Vampire Archives and The Big Book of Adventure Stories, and even bigger than Ann and Jeff Vandermeer’s previous record-holder, the 1152-page The Weird. It is 1,216 pages in two columns, weighing in at a staggering 750,000 words.

But as I keep telling Alice, size isn’t everything. The Big Book of Science Fiction has been receiving accolades since the day it was published, Here’s a snippet from one of my favorite reviews, from Brit Mandelo at Tor.com.

A stunning and satisfying retrospective… This is a complex and fantastic project — one I think they’ve succeeded admirably at to make an academically useful and pleasurably readable collection… Each piece in the collection is preceded by a brief write-up of the author, their life’s work, and their story in the context of the world and genre alike. While each introduction is short, the inclusion of them enhances the stories immensely…

There are classics here — for example, Leslie F. Stone’s “The Conquest of Gola” — that I’ve seen in most of these types of collections, but there are also new classics, stories that seem strikingly necessary to a rich understanding of the field but have not been previously collected or acknowledged as part of the canon. To balance those two urges is a high end goal, and to my eye, the VanderMeer duo have succeeded… I couldn’t ask for more, truly. It’s diverse, wide-ranging, engaging, and fun; the stories are introduced well, juxtaposed better, and the overall effect is one of dizzying complexity and depth.

The Big Book of Science Fiction was published by Vintage on July 12, 2016. It is 1,216 pages, priced at $25 in trade paperback and $12.99 for the digital edition. See the complete table of contents here.

11 Comments »

  1. Looks dandy indeed, but every time I see something labeled the “ultimate” anything, I think of what Dallas Cowboys running back Duane Thomas said a long time ago – “If the Super Bowl is the ultimate game, why do they play it again next year?”

    Comment by Thomas Parker - August 8, 2016 11:00 pm

  2. Indeed!

    Comment by John ONeill - August 8, 2016 11:18 pm

  3. Just looking at the table of contents, the focus seems similar to their The Weird: an attempt to cover the major works of the field plus including some lesser known works of yesteryear that the Vandermeers believe deserve more attention. Many of these are usually non-Anglo authors.

    I was very impressed and highly enjoyed their The Weird. I might try my hands on this some day in the far future.

    Comment by James McGlothlin - August 9, 2016 12:39 am

  4. You wouldn’t believe it possible, but at approximately a million words and roughly 130 complete stories, SENSE OF WONDER, edited by Leigh Ronald Grossman, is substantially bigger. The VanderMeers have made a greater impact, though.

    http://wildsidepress.com/sense-of-wonder-a-century-of-science-fiction-edited-by-leigh-grossman-trade-pb/

    Comment by dolphintornsea - August 9, 2016 3:51 am

  5. I’ve been reading science fiction for a very long time, and I’ve read just about everything in the collection, at one time or another. This is a doorstop of a book, and it’s only the more recent (since 1960) things that I might want to re-read, so for me it’s not worth either the cost nor the shelf space.

    Comment by R.K. Robinson - August 9, 2016 11:20 am

  6. > I was very impressed and highly enjoyed their The Weird. I might try my hands on this some day in the far future.

    James,

    You did a great job for us with your review of THE WEIRD. Let us know if you decide to tackle THE BIG BOOK OF SCIENCE FICTION!

    Comment by John ONeill - August 9, 2016 12:18 pm

  7. > You wouldn’t believe it possible, but at approximately a million words and roughly 130 complete
    > stories, SENSE OF WONDER, edited by Leigh Ronald Grossman, is substantially bigger.

    Dolphin,

    SENSE OF WONDER is a huge book, and no mistake. I’d have to get a copy in my hot little hands to let you know if I believe that claim of a million words, though… it’s 224 pages shorter, for one thing, and I don’t know if it’s laid out with single or double columns.

    I should probably just buy a copy and compare them side-to-side. Maybe I can judge them by weight?

    Comment by John ONeill - August 9, 2016 12:23 pm

  8. > for me it’s not worth either the cost nor the shelf space.

    R.K,

    Well, I got my copy through Amazon for just $14.88…. about the cost of two issues of Fantasy & Science Fiction magazine. Even if I only end up reading 20 stories or so, it still seems like a magnificent bargain to me!

    Comment by John ONeill - August 9, 2016 12:25 pm

  9. From the Amazon reviews, it sounds like Sense of Wonder uses a similar layout to, and font size as, the Compact OED. If I get it it’d be the eBook version.

    Just eyeballing the two tables of contents, I don’t see a lot of overlap — several authors who appear in both, but I only found two examples where both anthologies featured the same story. (n.b. Not an exhaustive comparison.) Tempting to get both of them and set my Goodreads goal for 2017 to 2 books.

    Comment by Joe H. - August 9, 2016 12:42 pm

  10. John, I have no intention of acquiring SENSE OF WONDER – I do know that more than one person complained that the print is so small that it’s difficult to read. And remember, there is a huge amount of additional material besides the stories: articles and extracts from novels. The VanderMeers chose mainly short works, but the Grossman book has approximately 18 complete novellas! Gardner Dozois said in his summation of that year (2011) that it was probably the biggest anthology ever. Even ISFDB hasn’t indexed it yet.

    Comment by dolphintornsea - August 9, 2016 12:43 pm

  11. This is no more than a thumb suck, but my candidates for the four hugest anthologies ever (all relatively recent) are:

    2001: The Prentice Hall Anthology of Science Fiction and Fantasy, edited by Garyn G. Roberts.

    2008: Science Fiction: Stories and Contexts, edited by Heather Masri (this one has two editions: complete and abridged).

    2011: Sense of Wonder, edited by Leigh Ronald Grossman.

    2016: The Big Book of Science Fiction, edited by Ann & Jeff VanderMeer.

    Of these, the VanderMeer anthology appears to be the most valuable addition to the field, mainly because they commissioned a large number of translations of classic works that have not previously appeared in English (as well as new translations of previously translated works).

    The volume that seems to capture the largest number of well known classic stories in one volume is the Masri (based on a very simple test, namely the number of overlaps with The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, plus Hugo and Nebula award winners), while the Grossman appears to be the biggest.

    But the VanderMeer book is the one I’d most like to own.

    Comment by dolphintornsea - August 9, 2016 1:09 pm


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