Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Me & Mr. Mann: FF1 and Solaris

Strange Horizons reviewer David Soyka does an interesting thing, which is that he has just written a dual review of both my own Fast Forward 1: Future Fiction from the Cutting Edge and the George Mann edited anthology, The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction 2007, also the first in a new, unthemed SF-only series.

Soyka starts out setting the stage, quoting Christopher Priest's criterion for good science fiction and then saying:

"What with the various yearly 'best of' collections, on top of those calling themselves paraspheres, new wave fabulists, new weird, post-cyberpunk, slipstream, and even, god help us, interstitial fictions, what's an editor to do to distinguish his or her particular anthology on the crowded shelves of what we used to just call science fiction and fantasy? You can't just put together a bunch of stories you think are really cool. There's got to be either a theme (e.g., alien sex, feminism, award winners) or a declaration of some movement (see above) in which the editor's selections herald some brave new genre."

He stops short of saying it outright, though seems to intimate that amid all of the splintering/blurring of the field noted above, a return to "core SF" could constitute a movement in itself. In the recent PW article, one of the unused quotes from the thousand three hundred plus words I sent them, was the notion that Fast Forward and The Solaris Book, along with the planned Eclipse series edited by Jonathan Strahan (forthcoming from Night Shade Books) suggested that "with the continuing decline in sales of the digest magazines, this resurgence of SF anthologies as a source for original science fiction short stories is definitely worth noting."

I was also glad to see Soyka's comment that, "The poems add a nicely different pacing if you read the stories in sequence, which I tend to do because I always assume there's some editorial intention for story placement." Almost no one I know reads anthologies in order, yet the structure of the book is something I agonize over. Like the now-lost art of a good mix tape, everthing is right where it needs to be in relation to everything else!

Soyka points out that the two anthologies share five authors (Tony Ballantyne, Stephen Baxter, Paul Di Fillipo, Mary A. Turzillo, and Mike Resnick). That, along with certain shared sensibilities, does lend justification to comparing and contrasting these offerings from me and Mr. Mann. In fact, when I read The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction for myself, I was struck by the similarities in our tastes. With one or two exceptions (I don't care for "creepy" as much as George does), it felt almost like "a Lou anthology." Plus, I really like George so I don't mind sharing review space with him! Fortunately, we both come off well in the end.

Which I wasn't sure we were going to! Soyka seems to front-load his criticisms, making me almost surprised when I got to his final paragraph, where he says, "Both collections are worthwhile additions to your shelves, particularly since both comprise original work. They also both succeed, regardless of differently articulated philosophical approach, in Conklin's aspiration, to 'offer a selective survey of the almost incredibly rich vein of ideas that the science fiction imagination habitually explores; and that is all it is intended to do. If it encourages you to further reading in this exciting field—why, so much the better' (Thirteen Great Stories of Science Fiction pp. 8-9). But if I had to choose between the two, I'd favor Fast Forward over Solaris because there are more stories that consistently satisfy Priest's second criterion: they make us think about our life in new ways. Put another way, the windows open more frequently to more diverse and interesting views."

Hey, I don't mind winning by a neck - it gives me something to tease George about when I see him at BEA - but really, why choose between the two when you can read both! That way everybody wins, right? And I wouldn't mind seeing some more joint reviews like this. After all, Mr. Mann and I both plan subsequent volumes. And hopefully, as Conklin says a good anthology should, both these works will encourage further reading in this exciting field.


Anonymous said...

I'm one of those crazy people who reads anthologies in order. Mostly because if I don't, I'll never finish the book. :) Plus, I view anthologies like albums: while it's not always the case, there's a reason for the order, and sometimes the best way to experience the album/anthology is to read it from beginning to end.

But that's me. I'm kind of weird like that. :)

Lou Anders said...

Particularly important to me is the placement of the first, last, and (for some reason) third stories in the book. They are the scaffolding I hang the rest on. Once I lay that down, I try to mix according to various criteria (theme, length, tone, etc...) I pay a lot of attention to how stories follow each other, just like songs on a mix. Finally, you need to make sure your name authors are peppered throughout, that you haven't put all the women in a cluster (if you have fewer than the men - there's a subject!), that there are upbeat points amid the more dour ones, etc... It becomes a bit of a shell game as you refine it.

Anonymous said...

I'm of the opinion that we've entered a new golden age of SF, and nearly every new book that comes my way provides further evidence of this.

I just finished reading Strahan's best of the year anthology (holy cow--"Pol Pot's Beautiful Daughter"! Having lived in Cambodia from 1999 to 2003, I have to say it might be the best representation of the country in fiction) and I'm about 3/4ths of the way through Fast Forward, and they made me happy to be a science fiction reader.

Lou Anders said...

I haven't read "Pol Pot's Beautiful Daughter" yet, but Ryman's "The Unconquered Country" is one of my favorite novellas of all time. Utterly magnificent and brutal. I find myself invoking it in conversations about the uniquely powerful things SF&F can accomplish.

(Obviously, glad you are enjoying FF1)