• St. Martin's Press
The Year's Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Sixth Annual Collection - edited by Gardner DozoisSee larger image
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The Year's Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Sixth Annual Collection

Awards: Locus Awards - Nominee

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Q&A with Author

Q. This is the 26th edition of The Year’s Best Science Fiction, is there one story or one author that stands out in your mind as being a favorite of yours or one that you’ll never forget?

A. This is a question I probably shouldn’t answer, since it’s like asking a parent to single out their favorite child, something sure to cause hard feelings among the other kids, but if you push me to it, I’ll admit that my favorite story in Best 26 is probably Ian McDonald’s ÒThe Tear.Ó I think this may be come to be seen as a classic in coming years, and it’s an amazing story, containing enough ideas and different settings and civilizations to have fueled many another author’s 600-page novel, or even trilogy. A lavish, extravagant feat of imagination.

Q. When you’re not reading science fiction, what are you reading?

A. There’s an hour or so before I go to sleep when I get to do pleasure reading rather than reading stuff I’m supposed to read professionally, and I must admit that I rarely read science fiction during that time, since I read it for a living all day. I often read mystery novels, Tony Hillerman, James Lee Burke, Len Deighton, and particularly historical mysteries such as those by Lindsey Davis, Steven Saylor, or Ellis Peters, especially the ones like those by Saylor and Davis that take place in Ancient Rome. When I’m not reading fiction, I will read books of natural history or science or archeology, especially those by David Attenborough, or travel narratives like those of Paul Theroux, Michael Palin, John McPhee, or Bill Bryson. Larry Gonick’s The Cartoon History of the Universe is another favorite.

Q. There seems to be a trend in the field of science fiction that favors dystopian novels and darker story lines over bright, shining future civilizations and uplifting plots. Do you agree with this assessment? And if so, why do you think that is?

A. I like a well-handled dystopian story as well as the next guy, but I think that the pendulum has swung a bit too far in that direction in recent years, to the point where gloom and despair and nihilism have practically become a default setting. Perhaps it’s because the real world around us has become rather dark in the last few decades, and because they themselves may be depressed, but too many writers accept the automatic and easy (and lazy) view that society and humankind are doomed, if not to total destruction than at least to bleak, gray, and depressing futures of the sort featuring a boot stamping forever on the human face. I’d like to see SF writers dig a little deeper beyond the automatic default settings, fire up their imaginations, and see if they can dream up some viable human futures, ones that people would actually want to live in. I think it may be important that they do so, since we can’t get to such a future until somebody has dreamed it first—much as the Space Program came into existence largely because SF writers like Heinlein and Clarke had dreamed about it so vividly that they inspired generations of scientists and astronauts to then actually make it a reality. I’d also like to see more science fiction that is fun, a joy to read rather than a bleak depressing slog, and that’s one of the reasons I like the subgenre of the New Space Opera, which often still is fun to read, telling stories full of action and color and of galactic scale and scope.

Q. Was there a particular science fiction story that you read as a child that influenced your career choice?

A There were many. Out of a very large number of contenders, I might mention Edgar Pangborn’s Davy and the short work of Cordwainer Smith, but there was also J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy (particularly my favorite volume, The Fellowship of the Ring), the so-called ÒjuvenileÓ novels (today we’d call them ÒYoung AdultÓ novels) of Robert A. Heinlein, Alfred Bester’s The Stars My Destination, the early novels of Samuel R. Delany, particularly his ÒTowers of ToronÓ trilogy, L. Sprague De Camp and Fletcher Pratt’s The Incomplete Enchanter, the Gray Mouser stories of Fritz Leiber, and many more, anything that had color and excitement and enchantment to it, qualities that my own life was sorely lacking. From when I was a young child, the one that sticks in my mind is Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Books.

Q. What excites you about the science fiction field today? Any cutting-edge trends or new authors that you foresee making a tremendous impact in the coming years?

A. What excites me about the science fiction field today is the same thing that has always excited me about it—its tremendous vitality and diversity. There are probably more good writers of various sorts writing more different kinds of science fiction today, across a tremendous spectrum of moods and concerns, than at any time in history. It’s a very vibrant field, with a lot of good work being done by a lot of excellent people. Every year, in spite of the size of my Best of the Year anthology, over 300,000 words of fiction, there are always stories that I want to use that I just don’t have room for, and always some very hard choices to make over what I’m going to have to regretfully cut out. If it was commercially feasible to do such a volume, I could probably produce a book twice the size with no particular difficulty without lowering the quality significantly. As for --trends, the subgenre of the New Space Opera that I mentioned above is now in its third generation, with a fourth coming along behind it, and no sign of slowing down. As for new authors, there are more good ones coming along than I’d have room to mention, many of them to be found in The Year’s Best Science Fiction, Twenty-Sixth Annual Collection. Among many others, I might mention Paolo Bacigalupi, Ted Kosmatka, Mary Rosenblum, Jay Lake, Daryl Gregory, Hannu Rajaniemi, Aliette de Bodard, Vandana Singh, Gord Seller, Mary Robinette Kowal, and Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette—but there are easily a dozen others that you could mention with equal justification. As I said, it’s a large, varied, and vibrant field.