Certainly Not “The Best”

I recently read an anthology of “best science fiction” from 2016, published in 2017 and co-edited by a respected editor with whom I’ve previously worked. I’m not revealing more because the purpose of this critique is to point out a disturbing trend in short fiction in at least one part of the F&SF field.

To say that I was appalled would have been an understatement. The anthology might better have been entitled “Best Horror Science Fiction,” except that I have the feeling that the stories likely weren’t horrifying enough to be considered horror these days.

Add to that the fact that virtually none of the stories really had any real science in them, and only one of them even had an SF setting, except that story was essentially a ghost/horror story. Most were what I’d classify as extraordinarily improbable fantasy takes on reality, including several with monsters, none of which monsters were even remotely scientifically possible.

Then there were the stories that had the plot line of “repetition in hopes of a better ending is futile.”

An additional problem for me was that all but one, possibly two, of the stories were “ugly,” and, out of all the stories, only one could have been considered even remotely upbeat. There was also only a single story that could be called clever or polished, yet all of them were reprints of works published elsewhere.

Now, I don’t have a problem with the occasional “ugly” story, or downbeat and gloomy stories, and certainly not with fantasy, but I do have a problem with an anthology marketed as “best science fiction” that essentially has no science fiction, is largely comprised of horror stories, and offers the message that only gloom, doom, and despair are “excellent.”

Unhappily, this particular anthology doesn’t stand alone, although it is by far the most extreme version of “only grubby negativism represents excellence” that I’ve so far seen. I’m certainly no Pollyanna, and I’ve written some grim futures, but one can write “dark” well, and not crudely, as Shakespeare definitely demonstrated, and human history has always been a mixture of elegance and crudity, excellence and slipshod incompetence, kindness and depravity, and the conflict of many more opposing forces. Wallowing in crude depravity and ugliness, while ignoring the other side, and all the other aspects of life and the universe, and calling such dark stories “the best” is both inaccurate and a disservice to readers and the field.

Obviously, the editor has gone over to the dark side of modern mainstream fiction, and I hate to see that in the F&SF field, especially in these times.

3 thoughts on “Certainly Not “The Best””

  1. R. Hamilton says:

    Alas, that probably wouldn’t exist without an audience for it.

    I wonder what that audience would be; those who think that depressing and gritty is somehow preferable or more plausible; or those who, not accepting that they can’t have _everything_ their way, would favor darkness instead?

  2. I suspect I would agree with your assessment of the anthology. Even allowing for differences in taste, it doesn’t sound as though the title matched the contents.

    One thing I try to do is to support stories that I like. I review the books I read. I vote for awards. (Currently I’m reading the Nebula-nominated short fiction so that I can vote by the March 31st deadline.)

    N.B. I appreciate your occasional comments on what you’ve been reading.

    To those reading this who are eligible to vote for the coming Hugo Awards, “The Mongrel Mage” by one L. E. Modesitt, Jr. was a very fine book 🙂

  3. I find that American Small Press publishers tend to put out more upbeat stories of the kind I grew up reading. I’m thinking of Perihelion SF, Alban Lake Publishing and Nomadic Delirium Press but I’m sure there are others. The British SF scene is steeped in misery and negativity.

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