Year’s Bests and My Recommendations

Edit (2017-01-30): This post discusses only a few, mostly print, items and the webzine picture is much different and more complete. Please see Reading the 2016 “Best” Stories (Part 1), (Part 2), and (Part 3/Conclusion) for that.

The contents of three of the four main “year’s bests” have been announced (awaiting only the Clarke) which enables me to compare my recommendations with their anthology picks. I’ve read very little of this year’s short fiction, so there’s not much I’m familiar with, but there are some pieces I know. It would give me pause if my recommendations were identical because part of the fun is people having unique points of view. But it would also give me pause if every year’s best editor agreed that some one story was great and I didn’t. It wouldn’t necessarily cause me to change my opinion, of course, but would cause me to at least rethink it. This year neither extreme occurred.

Of the three stories I recommended from Bridging Infinity, Strahan (the editor of the original anthology, itself) picks the one I thought might have been best (Ken Liu’s “Seven Birthdays”) and Dozois picks the one I thought was probably second best (Pat Murphy and Paul Doherty’s “Cold Comfort”). However, no one picked my third favorite (Benford & Niven’s “Mice Among Elephants”), with Dozois picking Alastair Reynolds’ “Sixteen Questions” instead. I did note that the Reynolds was an artsier story and might appeal to some folks based on that and that the Benford/Niven did have a significant flaw but was a lot of fun. The only other stories appearing from that anthology were Horton‘s picks of Charlie Jane Anders’ “Rager in Space” which, aside from the first paragraph, I didn’t like and Karin Lowachee’s “Ozymandias” which I liked okay but which only made the edge of “good work” and didn’t seem like year’s best material to me. (But then I didn’t recommend any of the three stories I was familiar with from Horton’s picks – his other being Cat Rambo’s “Red in Tooth and Cog” from the March/April F&SF, about which I said, “[t]his story is relatively long for its content and features a rather overwrought end sequence and unsurprising conclusion but the depiction of the ‘teeth and cogs’ is quite imaginative and entertaining.”)

Dozois also picked a couple of stories from the two issues of Asimov’s I read. From December, we both recommend/pick Karl Bunker’s “They Have All One Breath” which was all I recommended from the issue. There is a rather pointed irony regarding the January issue, though: I recommended only Ted Kosmatka’s “Chasing Ivory” from that issue. (Dozois does pick a Kosmatka, by the way, but a different one.) Dozois picked Ian McHugh’s “The Baby Eaters,” about which I specifically said, “[b]asically, it is the familiar bio/sociological tale of a human trade agent on an alien world who suffers culture shock…. All in all, high-grade magazine filler: probably not likely to be in a Year’s Best or win any awards, but a good read.”

So I’m content with the overlaps and, even with the oddity of the McHugh, I’m also good with the discrepancies. Picking the fun and concrete Benford/Niven over the artsier and ethereal Reynolds is actually par for my course.

Edit (2016-12-23): I missed a couple that I’d reviewed from the April Clarkesworld: Dozois and Strahan picked “Touring with the Alien” by Carolyn Ives Gilman and Horton picked “The Bridge of Dreams” by Gregory Feeley. As can be seen in the review, I grappled with “Touring” as a serious, quality story but saw some problems and just didn’t click with it, so couldn’t recommend it. But I get what they saw in it and it was easily the best story in the issue. “Bridge,” though, was just not Year’s Best material, in my opinion.