How Science Fiction Was Saved by Solaris and Jonathan Strahan

Wednesday, July 4th, 2018 | Posted by Todd McAulty

Infinity's End edited by Jonathan Strahan-smallA few years ago Black Gate asked “Is the Original SF and Fantasy Paperback Anthology Series Dead?” Those were dark, dark days, and I don’t like to think of them.

They’re over now. Science fiction was rescued from a barren wasteland of paperback sameness by the one publisher who had a decent shot: Solaris. They did it by taking a chance on a paperback anthology series that has become one of the most acclaimed and celebrated of the past few decades: Jonathan Strahan’s Infinity Project, which comes to a triumphant end this month with Infinity’s End, certain to be one of the most talked-about books of the year.

You see, years ago original anthology series like Damon Knight’s Orbit, Terry Carr’s Universe and Robert Silverberg’s New Dimensions were the very centre of science fiction, providing a prestigious and high-paying market for short fiction. They showcased the top names as well as up-and-coming talent. I could plunk down my three bucks at W.H. Smith in Halifax, Nova Scotia, knowing that the slender paperbacks I excitedly carried home would introduce me to half a dozen new writers.

Those books sold well, but publishers were savvy enough to know that it wasn’t just about the bottom line. When I read stories like Ursula K. Le Guin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” (from New Dimensions 3, 1974), Howard Waldrop’s “The Ugly Chickens” (Universe 10, 1981), or Isaac Asimov’s “The Bicentennial Man” (Stellar 2, 1977), I immediately began haunting book store stacks for books by Le Guin, Waldrop, and Asimov. There’s no reader as observant or loyal as a science fiction fan, and paperback anthologies, cheap and plentiful, were the perfect way to get authors in front of hungry new readers.

The economics of publishing gradually changed over the decades, of course, and those changes eventually wiped out the original paperback series. DAW’s long-running “paperback magazine,” the monthly anthology edited by Martin Greenberg and his associates at Tekno Books, was the last of them, and when Marty passed away in 2011, DAW killed it, too. Old timers like me shook their heads, muttering “No one reads short stories any more.” True or false, that grumpy sentiment became conventional wisdom in American publishing. No one would take a chance on something as provably dead as anthologies. That meant fewer readers finding new writers, and fewer sales for those writers. The field slowly withered without a prestige anthology series, and it looked like it would do so forever.

Until Solaris, and Strahan.

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Future Treasures: The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Volume Twelve, edited by Jonathan Strahan

Wednesday, April 11th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year Volume Twelve-smallI recently discovered the Coode Street Podcast, hosted by editor Jonathan Strahan and Chicago Tribune critic Gary K. Wolfe, and have been thoroughly enjoying it. They discuss a wide variety of topics of interest to SF and fantasy readers every week — everything from the Hugo nominations, the best debuts of the year, art in science fiction, Ursula K. Le Guin, conventions, upcoming releases, and so much more — and they’re both so articulate and knowledgeable, and so darn enthusiastic, that you can’t help coming away from each hour-long conversation with a lengthy list of brand new books you just have to check out.

I feel the same way about Jonathan Strahan’s annual Best Science Fiction of the Year. The latest volume makes it an even dozen, and each one has helped me discover a handful of delightful new authors. It’s a book I cherish every year, and this one — with stories by Samuel R. Delany, Yoon Ha Lee, Caroline M. Yoachim, Rich Larson, Indrapramit Das, Charlie Jane Anders, Linda Nagata, Theodora Goss, Greg Egan, Mary Robinette Kowal, Scott Lynch, Maureen McHugh, Alastair Reynolds, Karl Schroeder, Kai Ashante Wilson, and our very own C.S.E. Cooney — looks even more stellar than most.

It arrives in trade paperback from Solaris next week. Here’s the Table of Contents.

“The Mocking Tower,” Daniel Abraham (The Book of Swords)
“Don’t Press Charges and I Won’t Sue,” Charlie Jane Anders (Boston Review)
“Probably Still the Chosen One,” Kelly Barnhill (Lightspeed)
“My English Name,” R. S. Benedict (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction)
“Zen and the Art of Starship Maintenance,” Tobias Buckell (Cosmic Powers)
“Though She Be But Little,” C.S.E. Cooney (Uncanny)
“The Moon is Not a Battlefield,” Indrapramit Das (Infinity Wars)
“The Hermit of Houston,” Samuel R. Delany (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction)
“The Discrete Charm of the Turing Machine,” Greg Egan (Asimov’s Science Fiction)
“Crispin’s Model,” Max Gladstone (Tor.com)
“Come See the Living Dryad,” Theodora Goss (Tor.com)

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Future Treasures: Infinity Wars, edited by Jonathan Strahan

Wednesday, August 23rd, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

Infinity Wars Jonathan Strahan-smallInfinity Wars is the sixth volume in what Jonathan Strahan calls The Infinity Project, a series of science fiction anthologies from Solaris that include Reach For Infinity (2014), Meeting Infinity (2015), and one of the most acclaimed anthologies of last year, Bridging Infinity (2016). Jonathan says he’s “already pushing ahead on the seventh.”

The success of the project is a huge vindication for Solaris, who took a chance on the ambitious series just when it was starting to look like the original SF and fantasy paperback anthology was dead. Infinity Wars arrives in trade paperback next month. Here’s the description.

Conflict is Eternal

We have always fought. Tales of soldiers and war go back to the very roots of our history, to the beginnings of the places we call home. And science and technology have always been inextricably linked with the deadly art of war, whether through Da Vinci’s infamous machineries of war or the Manhattan Project’s world-ending bombs or distant starships fighting unknowable opponents.

Oppenheimer once wrote that “the atomic bomb made the prospect of future war unendurable. It has led us up those last few steps to the mountain pass; and beyond there is a different country.” But unendurable or not, future always comes. War was integral to science faction at its birth and remains so today, whether on the page or on the screen.

Infinity Wars asks one question: what would Oppenheimer’s different country be like? Who would fight it? Because at the end of it all, it always come down to a soldier alone, risking life and limb to achieve a goal that may never really make sense at all. How would those soldiers feel? What would they experience?

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Future Treasures: The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Volume Eleven edited by Jonathan Strahan

Friday, April 7th, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year Volume Eleven Strahan-smallHoly cats, have we started the Best of the Year season already? How did that sneak up on me?

However it happened, I take great pleasure in cataloging the new additions to some of my favorite anthologies every year. Jonathan Strahan is one of the top editors in the field, and his ongoing Infinity anthology series (Meeting Infinity, Bridging Infinity, etc.) has produced some of the most acclaimed short SF of the past decade. Strahan has been editing The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year for eleven straight years, the first seven with Night Shade, and the last three with Solaris, and he shows no sign of stopping. It’s a book I cherish every year, and Volume 11 — with fiction by Amal El-Mohtar, Paolo Bacigalupi, Aliette de Bodard, N.K. Jemisin, Rich Larson, Yoon Ha Lee, Ken Liu, Ian R. MacLeod, Paul McAuley, Geoff Ryman, Delia Sherman, Lavie Tidhar, Catherynne M Valente, Genevieve Valentine, and many others — is no exception.

It arrives in trade paperback in two weeks. Here’s the Table of Contents.

“Two’s Company,” Joe Abercrombie (Tor.com, Jan 16, 2016)
“The Art of Space Travel,” Nina Allan (Tor.com)
“Seasons of Glass and Iron,” Amal El-Mohtar (The Starlit Wood)
“Mika Model,” Paolo Bacigalupi (Slate)
“A Salvaging of Ghosts,” Aliette de Bodard (Beneath Ceaseless Skies, 01/03/16)
“Laws of Night and Silk,” Seth Dickinson (Beneath Ceaseless Skies, 26 May 2016)
“Touring with the Alien,” Carolyn Ives Gilman (Clarkesworld 115, 4/16)
“Red as Blood and White as Bone,” Theodora Goss (Tor.com)

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Jonathan Strahan on the Best Short Novels of 2016

Wednesday, November 30th, 2016 | Posted by John ONeill

the-best-story-i-can-manage-robert-shearman-smallJonathan Strahan used to edit a marvelous anthology series for the Science Fiction Book Club called Best Short Novels. He published four volumes, from 2004-2007. On his Coode Street website yesterday, Jonathan published “An Imaginary List” of his picks for a 2016 volume.

I was pondering what I’d put into my old Best Short Novels series, if I was still editing it for someone today. After a bit of reflection I came up with the following list. I wasn’t restricted to Hugo length requirements, so one story is actually a long novelette, but this list would still come close to 200,000 words which is about right for the old series.

Here’s his selections for the ten best short novels of 2016, including five entries from the new Tor.com novella line, two from collections, and one each from Asimov’s SF and F&SF.

The Dream Quest of Vellitt Boe, Kij Johnson (Tor)
The Ballad of Black Tom, Victor LaValle (Tor)
Every Heart A Doorway, Seanan McGuire (Tor)
This Census-taker, China Mieville (Del Rey)
“The Charge and the Storm,” An Owomoyela (Asimov’s)
The Devil You Know, K.J. Parker (Tor)
The Iron Tactician, Alastair Reynolds (Newcon)
The Best Story I Can Manage, Robert Shearman (Five Storeys High)
“The Vanishing Kind,” Lavie Tidhar (F&SF)
A Taste of Honey, Kai Ashante Wilson (Tor)

We discussed Jonathan’s Best Short Novels series in a feature earlier this year, and we covered the latest from Tor.com here.

See Jonthan’s complete post here.


Future Treasures: Bridging Infinity, edited by Jonathan Strahan

Saturday, October 22nd, 2016 | Posted by John ONeill

bridging-infinity-smallJonathan Strahan’s Infinity books have gradually earned a reputation as the finest ongoing anthology series in the genre — and perhaps, one of the finest in the history of the genre. In my June article The Most Successful Anthology of 2015, I pointed out that over half of the contents of the fourth book in the series had been selected for Year’s Best volumes. If that’s not a record, it has to be close.  In just two weeks the fifth volume in the series, Bridging Infinity, arrives in trade paperback from Solaris, and I am very much looking forward to it.

BUILDING TOWARDS TOMORROW

Sense of wonder is the lifeblood of science fiction. When we encounter something on a truly staggering scale – metal spheres wrapped around stars, planets rebuilt and repurposed, landscapes re-engineered, starships bigger than worlds – the only response we have is reverence, admiration, and possibly fear at something that is grand, sublime, and extremely powerful.

Bridging Infinity puts humanity at the heart of that experience, as builder, as engineer, as adventurer, reimagining and rebuilding the world, the solar system, the galaxy and possibly the entire universe in some of the best science fiction stories you will experience.

Bridging Infinity continues the award-winning Infinity Project series of anthologies with new stories from Alastair Reynolds, Pat Cadigan, Stephen Baxter, Charlie Jane Anders, Tobias S.Buckell, Karen Lord, Karin Lowachee, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Gregory Benford, Larry Liven, Robert Reed, Pamela Sargent, Allen Steele, Pat Murphy, Paul Doherty, An Owomoyela, Thoraiya Dyer and Ken Liu.

The previous volumes in the series are:

Engineering Infinity (2010)
Edge of Infinity (2012)
Reach For Infinity (2014)
Meeting Infinity (2015)

And here’s the complete Table of Contents.

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Distinctive Visions of Earth After Climate Change: Drowned Worlds, edited by Jonathan Strahan

Monday, October 10th, 2016 | Posted by John ONeill

drowned-worlds-front-small drowned-worlds-back-small

Reading reviews frequently helps heighten my anticipation for a book. That’s certainly the case with Jonathan Strahan’s acclaimed new anthology Drowned Worlds, a collection of SF tales which looks at the future of Earth after the full effects of climate change.

The book includes all-new fiction from Ken Liu, Kim Stanley Robinson, Christopher Rowe, Kathleen Ann Goonan, Charlie Jane Anders, Jeffrey Ford, Rachel Swirsky, Lavie Tidhar, Catherynne M. Valente, and many others. It’s been getting some terrific reviews, from places like Tor.com, Locus Online, and other fine institutions. Here’s a few samples, starting with author James Lovegrove in the Financial Times.

Taking its cue — as well as its title — from JG Ballard’s 1962 debut novel The Drowned World, the book offers 15 memorable, distinctive visions of Earth after climate change has exerted its grip. Sea levels have risen, and deserts have spread. People live aboard rafts, amid ruins, on other planets. The Anthropocene era has done its apocalyptic worst. There is nevertheless, a thin silvery thread of hope — humankind, through its adaptability and ingenuity, endures.

And here a snippet from Gary K. Wolfe’s lengthy review at Locus Online.

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Future Treasures: Drowned Worlds: Tales from the Anthropocene and Beyond, edited by Jonathan Strahan

Wednesday, July 6th, 2016 | Posted by John ONeill

Drowned Worlds Jonathan Strahan-smallJonathan Strahan has edited some extremely impressive anthologies. In fact, we assessed his recent Meeting Infinity as the most successful anthology of 2016 (using our own highly subjective yardstick, of course.) His latest, Drowned Worlds, contains all-original fiction by some of the biggest names in SF, including Kim Stanley Robinson, Ken Liu, Paul McAuley, Kathleen Ann Goonan, Rachel Swirsky, Charlie Jane Anders, Lavie Tidhar, Jeffrey Ford, and James Morrow, and it promises to be just as interesting. On his Coode Street blog, Jonathan summarizes it thusly:

I think it’s sharp, pointed, timely and sometimes satirical. I think it’s about who we are when faced with disaster, and not about disaster. I think it makes for good reading.

Here’s the publisher’s take:

Last call for the Gone World…

We live in a time of change. The Anthropocene Age – the time when human-induced climate change radically reshapes the world – is upon us. Sea water is flooding the streets of Florida, island nations are rapidly disappearing beneath the waves, the polar icecaps are a fraction of what they once were, and distant, exotic places like Australia are slowly baking in the sun.

Drowned Worlds asks fifteen of the top science fiction and fantasy writers working today to look to the future, to ask how will we survive? Do we face a period of dramatic transition and then a new technology-influenced golden age, or a long, slow decline? Swim the drowned streets of Boston, see Venice disappear beneath the waves, meet a woman who’s turned herself into a reef, traverse the floating garbage cities of the Pacific, search for the elf stones of Antarctica, or spend time in the new, dark Dust Bowl of the American mid-west. See the future for what it is: challenging, exciting, filled with adventure, and more than a little disturbing.

Whether here on Earth or elsewhere in our universe, Drowned Worlds give us a glimpse of a new future, one filled with romance and adventure, all while the oceans rise…

Here’s the complete Table of Contents.

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The Most Successful Anthology of 2015: Meeting Infinity, edited by Jonathan Strahan

Friday, June 3rd, 2016 | Posted by John ONeill

Meeting Infinity-smallIt’s beginning to look as if Jonathan Strahan’s Meeting Infinity is the most successful SF anthology of 2015… at least if you use story reprints as your yardstick (which I kinda do).

Let’s examine the evidence. Rich Horton reprinted two stories from Meeting Infinity for his Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy:

“My Last Bringback” by John Barnes
“Drones” by Simon Ings

Neil Clarke reprinted a whopping four for his Best Science Fiction of the Year, Volume 1, more than any other source except Asimov’s SF. Of course, they were a different four.

“In Blue Lily’s Wake” by Aliette de Bodard
“Outsider” by An Owomeyla
“Cocoons” by Nancy Kress
“The Cold Inequalities” by Yoon Ha Lee

Meanwhile Gardner Dozois picked a completely different set of three tales, for the upcoming 33rd volume of his Year’s Best Science Fiction

“The Falls: A Luna Story,” by Ian McDonald
“Emergence,” by Gwyneth Jones
“Rates of Change,” by James S.A. Corey

That’s a darned impressive hit rate… over 50% of the Table of Contents selected for Best of the Year volumes. I’m sure there’s an historical precedent if you look hard enough, but I can’t remember one. And I tried.

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Future Treasures: The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year: Volume Ten, edited by Jonathan Strahan

Tuesday, May 10th, 2016 | Posted by John ONeill

The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year Volume Ten-smallHoly cats… Jonathan Strahan’s up to Volume Ten already? My oh my, how times flies.

Well, you know what the imminent arrival of the newest volume of The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year means. That’s right — the Best of the Year season is upon us. Strahan kicks it off, as usual, but in the next 3-4 months we’ll see a dozen more from Gardner Dozois, Rich Horton, Paula Guran (two volumes!), Ellen Datlow, Neil Clarke, John Joseph Adams, and many others. (Have a look at the 17 volumes we covered last year here and here.)

You don’t need that many Best of the Year anthologies. But you definitely need Jonathan’s — his taste is impeccable, and this volume is one of the very best of the lot. Here’s a peek at the table of contents… 27 short stories from Kai Ashante Wilson, Vonda McIntyre, Robert Reed, Alastair Reynolds, Kim Stanley Robinson, Genevieve Valentine, Kelly Link, Anne Leckie, Jeffrey Ford, and many others. Here’s the complete TOC.

1. “City of Ash,” Paolo Bacigalupi
2. “The Heart’s Filthy Lesson,” Elizabeth Bear
3. “The Machine Starts,” Greg Bear
4. “The Winter Wraith,” Jeffrey Ford
5. “Black Dog,” Neil Gaiman
6. “Jamaica Ginger,” Nalo Hopkinson & Nisi Shawl
7. “Drones,” Simon Ings
8. “Emergence,” Gwyneth Jones

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