A Comparison of Three SF Anthologies

I was recently on holidays for a few weeks, and while I was away I finished off a couple of SF anthologies: The Mammoth Book of Best New SF #23 edited by Gardner Dozois [2009] (confusingly this is the same book as The Year's Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Seventh Annual Collection), and Destinies Vol 1 No 2 edited by James Baen [1979]. A couple of months ago I also read L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future Volume XXIV edited by Algis Budrys [2008]. And I thought a comparison of the three collections might offer some interesting insight into the current SF marketplace.

The first thing I noticed was how many misses there where in Dozois' Best New SF. Out of 32 stories, there was one 5-star story (John C. Wright's "Twilight of the Gods"), six 4-star stories ("Mongoose" by Elizabeth Bear & Sarah Monette was the best of these, and almost made the 5-stars), eight 3-star stories, six 2-star stories, two 1-star stories, and nine stories I didn't finish (they where probably 1- & 2-star stories), and one of the 4-star stories, "Useless Things" by Maureen F. McHugh, was only debatably SF. This 17 out of 32 (53%) below average, and the majority of the rest being merely average.

In comparison Destinies' nine stories included: one 5-star story ("The Ways of Love" by Poul Anderson), five 4-star stories, two 3-star stories, and only one 1-star story, and that was a comedy story, and comedy doesn't age as well as other stories. This gives us 1 out of 9 (11%) below average.

While Writers of the Future's 13 stories include: six 4-star stories, five 3-star stories, one 2-star story, and one story I didn't finish, or 2 out of 13 (15%) below average.

Taste being what it is, we should expect every anthology to have a few works any one reader won't like, and different readers will likely disagree about which works they are, but the majority of the works being below average indicates a significant disconnect between the tastes of the reader and the anthologist.

Writers of the Future is a contest for unpublished authors, so we should expect them to be the clumsiest writers, and the worst works of these three anthologies, but they beat out the professional writers of Best New SF easily, even though Best New SF seems to be treated as representative of the market as a whole, not some small subset of it. This means that the best of the stories from the authors who've made it past the gatekeepers can't compete with the best of those who haven't. I'd suggest this reveals that I at least have significantly different tastes to the current gatekeepers of SF.

Categories: Books, Reviews
Date: 2015-08-31 08:25:28, 2 years and 54 days ago

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