Saturday, March 26, 2005

The Best of the Best: 20 Years of the Year's Best Science Fiction edited by Gardner Dozois (book review)

Year’s Best Science Fiction is perhaps one of the most-awaited science-fiction anthology every year. Like most anthologies, one doesn’t really expect to like all the stories in an anthology, but there’s a good number of gems in the anthologies compiled by Gardner Dozois. Then Best of the Best comes out, and it’s perhaps one of the most ambitious undertakings of Dozois.

The way I go through anthologies is by taking note of the stories I really liked and those that I really disliked. Perhaps midway through the anthology, I stopped taking note of the former. Because it was too many. Despite spanning two decades of fiction, Best of the Best is really just that: good science-fiction short stories. While there are a couple of the stories that I wasn’t impressed, that’s more due to personal taste than an actual weakness in writing style or technique. This anthology is a good representation of what we can expect from the science-fiction community.

Of course having said that, the strongest point of Best of the Best is its range and is actually represents the various sub-genres or styles of science-fiction. I mean on one end of the spectrum, you get stories that make you go “that was science-fiction?” On the other, you also get hard-science stories that is littered with jargon and crosses the boundary of theoretical science. If you’re a fan of a particular niche in science-fiction, you might want to pass on this anthology if you’re looking for bang for your buck. There’s three dozen short stories present and each one tries to be a representative of its time and writer’s style. No particular sub-genre really dominates the anthology, but that doesn’t mean the stories aren’t good. They’re great, in fact, but obviously, some stories won’t appeal as much to you since they’re not necessarily the type that you’re looking for or are used to.

The only thing that surprised me was the length of the anthology. It was nearly 700 pages and that didn’t seem enough. It could have been longer. But I guess along with expanding your content would be the question who else to include. Perhaps another “weakness” of Best of the Best is the fact that each writer is only allowed one story. So rather than a real hierarchy of which stories are really on top, the anthology is more of a “Best of Science-Fiction Writers” featuring a sample work of each individual author. Not that I’m complaining about that.

Was the anthology worth it? Considering I’m not really a person who’s collected Dozois’s anthology for the past 20 years, Best of the Best is a steal. But if you’ve been following the science-fiction field for more than a decade, the anthology might not be exactly the most optimum choice for you. Rather, Best of the Best is a good chance for other people to be enthralled in the body of work science-fiction manages to encompass. Or if you’re a new science-fiction fan, it’s simply a great anthology.

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