A Final Gift from Gardner: The Very Best of the Best: 35 Years of The Year’s Best Science Fiction edited by Gardner Dozois

Wednesday, July 3rd, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

The Very Best of the Best 35 Years of The Year's Best Science Fiction-small The Very Best of the Best 35 Years of The Year's Best Science Fiction-back-small

We lost Gardner Dozois, one of the greatest editors the SF field has ever seen, in May of last year. As devastating as that was, many of us took some solace in the fact that he had a handful of very exciting books still in the pipeline, and we’d have the opportunity to celebrate and remember him a few times yet.

The first of those, the 35th and final volume in his legendary Year’s Best anthology series, was published last July, and the monumental The Book of Magic (companion to The Book of Swords) arrived in October. The third and final book from Gardner, The Very Best of the Best, was published by St. Martins’ in February. It’s a massive tome, with a Hwarhath novella by Eleanor Arnason, an India 2047 novella by Ian McDonald, a Mars novella from Kage Baker, a novella by Robert Reed, a Quiet War novelette by Paul J. McAuley, and stories by Yoon Ha Lee, Peter Watts, Nancy Kress, Rich Larson, Maureen F. McHugh, Charles Stross, Eleanor Arnason, Michael Swanwick, Carrie Vaughn, Lavie Tidhar, James S. A. Corey, Stephen Baxter, Alastair Reynolds, Greg Egan, and many others.

While the subtitle is 35 Years of The Year’s Best Science Fiction, implying that the stories are selected from all 35 years of Gardner’s Year’s Best, that’s not true. The earliest tale is from 2002, and the most recent from 2017, meaning it’s really a retrospective looking back at the fifteen years between 2002-2017. It’s a rather idiosyncratic book, neglecting many of the most acclaimed stories from those years in favor of the authors and tales that Gardner loved best. Nonetheless, it is one final gift from Gardner, and if this truly is his final book, it’s a magnificent capstone to his career.

I owe a pretty big debt to Gardner — and not just because (for reasons unknown to me) he included me in the acknowledgments of his Year’s Best anthologies for over a decade. He edited some of the best science fiction I’ve ever read, and discovered, promoted and championed many of my favorite writers — and helped me discover many, many more.

Here’s the complete Table of Contents for The Very Best of the Best.

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Future Treasures: The Book of Magic, edited by Gardner Dozois

Wednesday, October 3rd, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

The-Book-of-Magic-Gardner-Dozois-smallerWe lost Gardner Dozois unexpectedly in May of this year. Certainly there were bigger names, but somehow Gardner always seemed to be the heart of science fiction to me. Fan, historian, gifted writer and brilliant editor — indeed, perhaps the greatest editor science fiction has ever seen — Gardner had his finger on the pulse of the field better than anyone I knew.

It was a terrible blow to lose him. But I took some consolation in the fact that his career was not over — not yet, anyway. He still had three major books in the pipeline. The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirty-Fifth Annual Collection appeared in July; the final volume in what may be the greatest anthology series in genre history. And The Very Best of the Best: 35 Years of The Year’s Best Science Fiction, a fitting cap to an amazing career, will arrive in February of next year.

But the one I’m really looking forward to is The Book of Magic, a big 576-page hardcover collecting brand new fiction from many of the top fantasy writers we have. It’s a companion book to his 2017 sword & sorcery anthology The Book of Swords, and it arrives from Bantam in two weeks. Here’s the description.

A new anthology celebrating the witches and sorcerers of epic fantasy — featuring stories by George R. R. Martin, Scott Lynch, Megan Lindholm, and many others!

Hot on the heels of Gardner Dozois’s acclaimed anthology The Book of Swords comes this companion volume devoted to magic. How could it be otherwise? For every Frodo, there is a Gandalf… and a Saruman. For every Dorothy, a Glinda… and a Wicked Witch of the West. What would Harry Potter be without Albus Dumbledore… and Severus Snape? Figures of wisdom and power, possessing arcane, often forbidden knowledge, wizards and sorcerers are shaped — or misshaped — by the potent magic they seek to wield. Yet though their abilities may be godlike, these men and women remain human — some might say all too human. Such is their curse. And their glory.

In these pages, seventeen of today’s top fantasy writers — including award-winners Elizabeth Bear, John Crowley, Kate Elliott, K. J. Parker, Tim Powers, and Liz Williams — cast wondrous spells that thrillingly evoke the mysterious, awesome, and at times downright terrifying worlds where magic reigns supreme: worlds as far away as forever, and as near as next door.

And here’s the stellar table of contents, including sixteen all new stories and a reprint novelette by George R. R. Martin.

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Vintage Treasures: Jack Dann & Gardner Dozois’ 40-Volume Reprint Library

Sunday, June 24th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

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The impending release of Gardner Dozois’ 35th and final Year’s Best anthology next month brings us to the end of an era. Hard as it is to believe, after his final books are released in the next few months, there will be no more magazines, stories or anthologies from one of the most gifted editors the field has ever seen.

Many readers are unaware that, as prolific as Gardner was as a magazine and Year’s Best editor — 17 years at the helm of Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, and 35 years as the editor of the annual Year’s Best Science Fiction — his greatest contribution to the field, at least in terms of raw numbers, was as an editor of standalone anthologies. He produced many dozens, including 21 volumes collecting stories from Asimov’s, such as Isaac Asimov’s Detectives (1998) and Isaac Asimov’s Halloween (2001), most co-edited with Sheila Williams.

But his most fruitful partnership was with Jack Dann, which whom he co-edited some 40 themed science fiction and fantasy anthologies between 1976 and 2009, almost all paperback originals with Ace Books. These included 22 volumes in the Exclamatory Series, called that because the anthologies had one-word titles with an exclamation point, like Magicats! (1984), Bestiary! (1985), and Invaders! (1993), and an additional 18 themed reprint volumes, such as Armageddons (1999), Aliens Among Us (2000), and A.I.s (2004).

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The End of an Era: The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirty-Fifth Annual Collection, edited by Gardner Dozois

Saturday, June 23rd, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

The Year’s Best Science Fiction Thirty-Fifth Annual Collection-small The Year’s Best Science Fiction Thirty-Fifth Annual Collection-back-small

We lost Gardner Dozois last month. It was a terrible blow to the field. I’ve seen plenty of somber discussion among fans about whether or not Gardner was the finest editor science fiction has ever seen, and there’s no doubt in my mind he’s in the running.

Gardner devoted his entire career to science fiction, and his accomplishments were extraordinary. He won the Hugo Award for Best Professional Editor 15 times during his 19-year tenure at Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine. Nineteen years is an amazing run, but it’s barely half the 35 years he spent as editor of The Year’s Best Science Fiction, the de facto SF yearbook. I read the sixth volume in 1989 and I’ve looked forward to every one ever since.

The last volume will be published in less than two week, and its publication is bittersweet. It’s not the final book we’ll have from Gardner. His huge fantasy anthology The Book of Magic — with brand new stories by George R.R. Martin, John Crowley, Tim Powers, Scott Lynch, Eleanor Arnason, Garth Nix, Ysabeau Wilce, Liz Williams, Kate Elliott, and many others — is coming in October, and The Very Best of the Best: 35 Years of The Year’s Best Science Fiction is scheduled to be published in February. But the arrival of the final Dozois Year’s Best is very definitely the end of an era.

There will never be another editor like him. Cherish this book while you can.

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Gardner Dozois, July 23, 1947 – May 27, 2018

Sunday, May 27th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Gardner Dozois

Yesterday I learned that Gardner Dozois had been hospitalized for a massive infection. Before I left the house today I checked Facebook and other sources to see if there was any news. When I checked again an hour ago, I was devastated to learn that he had passed away.

While he was a fiction writer of considerable note, Gardner made his true reputation as an editor. I first took notice of his name when he took over the editorial reins at my favorite fiction magazine, Asimov’s Science Fiction, in 1985. During his 17-year tenure he won the Hugo Award for Best Professional Editor 15 times, from 1988 until he retired in 2004. While I was in grad school I faithfully read his annual Year’s Best Science Fiction volumes, starting with the sixth in 1989. The Thirty-Fifth volume will be published by St. Martin’s Press on July 3. He’s published nearly a hundred other anthologies, including some of my favorites, including The Good Old Stuff, Modern Classics of Fantasy, and The New Space Opera, edited with Jonathan Strahan.

As Gardner’s Year’s Best volumes got larger and larger (surpassing 800 pages by 2002) so too did his Annual Summations, a critical look at the year in science fiction books, art, movies and culture. They were required reading for anyone who wanted to keep up with the field, especially in the pre-internet era. In many ways Gardner Dozois was the living, breathing, heart of science fiction, the passionate spokesman, champion, writer and dealmaker who was known both for his depth of knowledge and his impeccable taste.

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Future Treasures: The Book of Swords, edited by Gardner Dozois

Thursday, October 5th, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

The Book of Swords-smallA while back Gardner Dozois asked if I wanted a review copy of his upcoming “Sword & Sorcery” anthology, The Book of Swords.

Now, Gardner does not do small anthologies — neither in the physical sense, nor in the sense of their impact on the field. If the premier anthologist in the SF community was putting his time and energy into a collection of original sword & sorcery tales, then clearly the genre still has some life in it.

It wasn’t that long ago that I thought the era of big-budget (or even modest-budget) S&S anthologies was long over. What’s changed? The global phenomena that is GRRM’s Game of Thrones, that’s what’s changed. I don’t consider GoT to be sword & sorcery… but there’s no denying that publishers (and film producers) are a lot more interested in adventure fantasy all of a sudden. If the results are anything like The Book of Swords, I’m all for it.

The Book of Swords arrives next week in hardcover from Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire publisher Bantam Books, with sixteen brand new stories by Lavie Tidhar, Robin Hobb, Ken Liu, Matthew Hughes, Walter Jon Williams, C. J. Cherryh, Garth Nix, Ellen Kushner, Scott Lynch — and, yes, a brand new Song of Ice and Fire story from George R. R. Martin.

Fantasy fiction has produced some of the most unforgettable heroes ever conjured onto the page: Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian, Michael Moorcock’s Elric of Melniboné, Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. Classic characters like these made sword and sorcery a storytelling sensation, a cornerstone of fantasy fiction — and an inspiration for a new generation of writers, spinning their own outsize tales of magic and swashbuckling adventure.

Now, in The Book of Swords, acclaimed editor and bestselling author Gardner Dozois presents an all-new anthology of original epic tales by a stellar cast of award-winning modern masters — many of them set in their authors’ best-loved worlds. Join today’s finest tellers of fantastic tales, including George R. R. Martin, K. J. Parker, Robin Hobb, Scott Lynch, Ken Liu, C. J. Cherryh, Daniel Abraham, Lavie Tidhar, Ellen Kushner, and more on action-packed journeys into the outer realms of dark enchantment and intrepid derring-do, featuring a stunning assortment of fearless swordsmen and warrior women who face down danger and death at every turn with courage, cunning, and cold steel.

Here’s the complete Table of Contents.

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A Book That Makes You Yearn to be Stranded on a Desert Island: Modern Classics of Fantasy edited by Gardner Dozois

Sunday, July 9th, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

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Like most of you folks, I used to have more reading time. Like, a ton more reading time. Whole summer vacations just lazing around with my feet on the furniture and my nose in an epic fantasy. Nowadays I’m lucky to negotiate a three-day weekend and, believe me, that kind of reading time is much too precious to devote to a single author. Yes, reading vacations still tend to be devoted to big books — I haven’t broken that habit– but these days more often than not they’re thick anthologies that let me sample a wide range of writers. And usually anthologies curated by an editor who’s earned my trust.

That’s why I’m so partial to Gardner Dozois. He’s got great taste, for one thing. For another, he produces big books, the kind you can plan a vacation around. One of my favorites is his massive survey anthology Modern Classics of Fantasy, which is the kind of book that makes you wish you could be stranded on a desert island. Sure, I’d probably go hungry and miss the internet. But if it meant I finally had 15 uninterrupted hours to read this thing cover to cover, it’d totally be worth it.

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Future Treasures: The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirty-Fourth Annual Collection edited by Gardner Dozois

Saturday, July 1st, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

The Year's Best Science Fiction Thirty Fourth Annual Collection Dozois-smallI look forward to Gardner’s Year’s Best volume every year. It was the first science fiction Year’s Best I read regularly — starting way back in 1989, with the Sixth Annual volume, while I was in grad school. And while I didn’t always make time to read every volume cover to cover, year after year, I always read Gardner’s summation, the indispensable annual report card that captures all the relevant news, industry trends, hot books, overlooked gems, and of course Gardner’s cranky observations and ruminations on the future of the field.

A few years ago I noticed that Gardner lists my name in the “Acknowledgements” section every year, and that he has every year since 2004. I’m not sure why. But I’m always surprised and delighted to see it.

Gadrner’s Year’s Best Science Fiction is by far the largest and most comprehensive of the annual Year’s Best volumes. The Thirty-Fourth — thirty-fourth! — arrives in hardcover and trade paperback from St. Martin’s Press in ten days. Here’s a taste of Gardner’s Summation, in which he comments on an unwelcome trend I’ve noticed myself: the gradual disappearance of the mass-market paperback.

Like last year, 2016 was another relatively quiet year in the SF publishing world, although there were some changes down deep… One such effect that may eventually become noticeable to the average reader is the dwindling of mass-market paperback titles, once the most common way (at one point, almost the only way) for SF books to be published, from bookstores shelves. The publishing industry has been trying to find the right balance between traditional print publishing and the publishing of titles as e-books for a number of years now, and one area where publishers seem to be switching away from print publication to e-book only publication is in the mass-market paperback market niche. At least in the science fiction/fantasy publishing world, the number of mass-market paperbacks published was down for the eighth year in a row, hitting a new record low, down 11 percent since 2015. I think this may be a mistake, myself.

The Thirty-fourth volume of The Year’s Best Science Fiction contains 39 stories — more than 300,000 words of fiction — from Alastair Reynolds, David Gerrold, Carolyn Ives Gilman, Paul McAuley, Aliette de Bodard, Rich Larson, Geoff Ryman, Sam J. Miller, Shariann Lewit, Gregory Benford, Nina Allan, James Patrick Kelly, Ken Liu, Eleanor Arnsason, Paolo Bacigalupi, Charlie Jane Anders, and many others. I was especially pleased to see contributions from Black Gate authors Derek Kȕsken and Bill Johnson.

Here’s the complete TOC.

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New Treasures: The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirty-Third Annual Collection, edited by Gardner Dozois

Saturday, September 17th, 2016 | Posted by John ONeill

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When my copy of The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirty-Third Annual Collection arrived last week, I was pleased (and a little flattered) to see this quote on the back.

There are roughly ten Year’s Best volumes currently being published in the speculative fiction market, but they all bow before Gardner Dozois’ The Year’s Best Science Fiction… To read Gardner’s The Year’s Best Science Fiction every year is to get the pulse of the entire industry. All the new writers, literary movements, shake­ups, and happenings in the field ― it’s all there at your fingertips. ― Black Gate

That’s taken from my article on last year’s volume, The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirty-Second Annual Collection.

I’ve covered eight Best of the Year anthologies so far this year, from editors like Rich Horton, Jonathan Strahan, Neil Clarke, and John Joseph Adams. But the gold standard remains Gardner Dozois’ massive The Year’s Best Science Fiction, now in its 33rd annual volume.

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Gardner Dozois on the New Sword & Sorcery

Monday, March 14th, 2016 | Posted by John ONeill

Spaghetti western town-smallOn Facebook yesterday editor Gardner Dozois theorized that the essential influence on modern Sword & Sorcery, which differentiates it from the classic pulp S&S of Robert E. Howard and Fritz Leiber, may be the Spaghetti Western.

While we’re talking about fantasy, I’ve been reading a lot of what’s being called “the New Sword & Sorcery” lately, stuff by people like Joe Abercrombie, Scott Lynch, K.J. Parker, Daniel Abraham, and it struck me what the one essential influence was that aesthetically separates the New Sword & Sorcery from the Old Sword & Sorcery, since both have sword-wielding adventurers, monsters, and evil magicians: it’s the Spaghetti Western. Clearly Spaghetti Westerns have had a big influence on the TONE of this new work. Gone are the gorgeous, jewel-encrusted temples stuffed with huge snakes and giant idols with jeweled eyes and slinky sinister priestesses in jeweled bikinis where Conan used to hang out. Instead, the most common setting seems to be a remote jerkwater village, either parched and sun-blasted or drizzling and half-buried in mud, extremely poor and mean, swarming with flies, packed with venal, dull-eyed, illiterate peasants who are barely smarter than morons, if they are, and who have no power or influence in the wider world, and certainly no money, and who stare blankly and slack-jawed at our heroes as they enter town, either kicking up clouds of dust at every step or splashing muddy water.

You know this place. Think of every degraded village in every Spaghetti Western you’ve ever seen.

Read his comment (and the fascinating discussion thread with folks like Eleanor Arnason, Joe Bonadonna, Scott Oden, Elizabeth Lynn, Christopher Fowler, Darrell Schweitzer, Lisa Tuttle, and others) here.


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