Jan 14 2009 9:51am

A Year Without a Year's Best?

It’s been burning around the Internet for almost a whole day, so this is almost old news. I first saw, via Jonathan Strahan’s blog, the announcement that there will be no Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror volume this year. He references a notice put up at the blog for Small Beer Press, which hadn’t updated in my reader yet, so I went to the website to look.

Gavin Grant and Kelly Link (the brains behind Small Beer Press and the editors for the fantasy portion of the anthology) are disappointed, and not just because they had already done a lot of work looking at material from last year, but because people looked forward to the book coming out and it won’t this year. They do say that they had already seen a lot of great work from 2008, and that they will post on their blog recommendations from last year’s work.

On the horror side of things, Ellen Datlow announced that she is working out a two-book deal with Night Shade Books for a Year’s Best Horror anthology. There is no corresponding fantasy anthology that’s been announced.

Like many people, I am sad to see this anthology go by the wayside. In addition to enjoying the anthology as a fan, I cut my publishing teeth working with Jim Frenkel on this anthology way back in 1993 and 1994. As much as Ellen, Gavin, Kelly, and formerly Terri Windling, drove the contents of the anthology and gave readers hundreds of thousands of words of excellent reading, it was Jim Frenkel, working as the packager, who got the whole thing organized and put together.

Jeff VanderMeer provides some thoughtful insight as to what this might mean to the remainder of the year’s best anthologies, or anthologies in general really, that are out there. I won’t go into Jeff’s discussion here, as I think he does a great job in his post and rehashing it here is doing a disservice to him. I will quote Jeff: “But the fact is—any clinical dissection of the situation aside—we’ve just lost a venerable flagship anthology that had an excellent reputation. And we lost it primarily because not enough people were buying it, for whatever reason.”

There are still a lot of year’s best anthologies out there, and I’ve felt a while now that there are too many. Part of what made Year’s Best Science Fiction and Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror so great is that they were the only game in town. Yes, they had great editors with an eye for great stories; you wouldn’t keep reading the things if the contents stunk. But you didn’t have to decide which year’s best your book-buying dollars went to.

If you wanted to get a collection of the previous year’s best science fiction stories, you went and bought The Years’ Best Science Fiction. Now you also have The Year’s Best SF, The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Science Fiction: The Best of the Year, and so on. Can you afford more than one, and if not, which do you choose? If you decide to try a new one, does that mean you skip the one you’ve been buying for decades? It doesn’t help things that the sales a house like St. Martin’s Press needs are completely different from the sales someone like Night Shade Books or Prime needs. The current economic state doesn’t help either. Clearly the sales numbers they had weren’t strong enough to justify putting out another volume.

I like anthologies. You might even say I have an unhealthy fascination with them. I own at least 79 of them, and will get more. Losing a longstanding series is painful to me. Particularly one to which I have a personal connection. I’m glad to see Ellen pick up and continue working. And I know that Gavin and Kelly are busy with things. We’ll see if a year’s best fantasy anthology pops up anywhere.

[Photo from flickr user The Consumerist; licensed for commercial use.]

Samantha Brandt
1. Talia
bleepity bleep bleep. What a calamity. :/ I wonder if it was another victim of the economy.. in which case what bad news next..

*doom, gloom*

Spherical Time
2. Spherical Time
I have a couple of those as well, although not nearly as many as Mr. Klima. They were pretty good, although I tend to prefer author specific anthologies.
Joe Sherry
3. jsherry
I wasn't as concerned about the loss because i hadn't read any of this series, but the more I think about it, this was a respected anthology series. I can't argue with that, and it's one I always considered before not reading it.

Are there many Year's Best Fantasy anthologies? I know of Rich Horton's and Strahan has the SFF anthology, and I'm sure I'm missing something, but those are the only two which come to mind.

I've mainly focused on Strahan's anthology series from Night Shade.
Tomasz Galazka
4. tetrix
Aw, bleepity bleep bleep indeed. Although it's not as if I could claim having put a fair share of effort keeping the series afloat, as I have bought most of the volumes second-hand, it is a blow.
F&SF Mag turning bi-monthly... now this... hell, what else will this January bring?!
Dennis Howard
5. Dennis_Howard
You think 79 is a lot? Are you unfamiliar with normal fannish book accumulation habits? Plus it used to feel like Roger Elwood alone was producing 79 anthologies every year.

About losing a favorite anthology series, I know how that feels. I still miss Terry Carr's Best of the Year series. I bought that every year as soon as it came out.
piaw na
6. piaw
I used to buy Year's Science Fiction. Then I got a subscription to Asimov's and found I was paying for the same stories twice. Then I went to Kindle for most of my reading and found none of those anthologies available (except for Horton's, which I bought). The combination of those two factors just became too much for me to deal with.
Spherical Time
7. Diatryma
I think that the flood of Best anthologies had something to do with it; I can impulse-buy an eight-dollar anthology without guilt, but YBF&H is a *purchase*. It's more expensive and physically larger. I would think that before stopping the entire anthology, the publisher would try to scale it down-- remove the pages of honorable mentions and the significant amount of non-story text. I would rather have a three-quarters scaled-back anthology than none at all.
Justin Adair
8. Hobbyns
This is sad news indeed. I feel a little guilty now as, since time immemorial I've always borrowed this tome from the library whenever it came out and bored right through it. I've never actually bought one. Here's hoping it comes back around, and I'll have to rethink my buying habits to support my favorites in the industry.
Fred Coppersmith
9. FCoppersmith
Scaled-down, I'm not sure it would have been YBF&H. I know the summations and honorable mentions were a large part of what I loved about it each year. (I was thrilled when I merited even a brief mention in last year's Fantasy summation.) I've only been a steady purchaser of the book for the past few years, from the time that Grant and Link took over for Terri Windling, but it's always been an invaluable yearly go-to guide, and many were the copies I checked out of my local library. Other best-of-year anthologies have their good points -- including a lower price -- but I don't think any are as inclusive or definitive as YBF&H. I'm hoping, while this may be the end of the series, it's not necessarily the end.
Jonathan Strahan
10. jstrahan
The announcement that The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror (originally The Year's Best Fantasy) was to be discontinued was a sad one. It does raise one or two points of interest, that I think are worth mentioning.

The first is that it was an institution. Twenty one years, a shelf full of awards, and tons of hard-earned and well-deserved respect, yet sales had been falling for some years. The decision to discontinue the series shows that if we value something we need to support it. I've read a lot of very sincere comments around the web mourning the passing of the series, but did we all buy the book each year?

The second is that fantasy volumes seem to be under close scrutiny right now. The fantasy half of the YBFH seems unlikely to get picked up, and there are whispers that the Hartwell/Cramer Year's Best Fantasy is under review at Tachyon too. It seems to me that part of the reason for this is that, while short SF is like novel-length SF, quite often short fantasy is unlike novel-length fantasy. I suspect the audience for short fantasy fiction, generally, is smaller than for short SF. That and fantasy is a fuzzier set, so it's harder to attract those readers who are interested.

In terms of year's bests, I think we're fairly stable for now. The SF volumes - especially the Dozois and Hartwell/Cramer - appear very healthy. Steve Jones' horror book is doing well, as is my own Best SF/F. I am confident Ellen's new horror series will be successful, and I also understand the Horton books @ Prime are doing well. As to where we'll be in five years - I don't know. I do know that if you like something you should support it. Otherwise it will disappear, however unlikely that might seem today.
John Klima
11. john_klima
@5 when most of the people I know own fewer than 20 books, 79 anthologies is a lot. I realize among the readers of 79 anthologies may not be very many, but I'd be curious to hear how many people own.

@10 Jonathan, thank you for bringing those points up. I know that I bought the book every year, but I'm only one person. It's the type of thing where you don't lend support because it is such a institution and you assume someone is supporting it.

I tried to address your second point in writing my post, but couldn't wrap my words around in as clear a way as you have.
Jonathan Strahan
12. jstrahan
Blue Tyson
13. BlueTyson

Yes, the summaries are really good. As for inclusive - speaking of fantasy, and as Jonathan suggests in 10, I don't think that is necessarily the case.

It would certainly appear to me to favour the contemporary sort of fantasy, often, over the sort of stuff that gets into novels (e.g. how many mentions of stories such as you might find in Black Gate, or the various urban fantasy/paranormal romance type books that are fantasy enough to be considered?) e.g. how much looks like Steven Erikson or Laurell K. Hamilton as opposed to Charles de Lint or Jeffrey Ford.

Also perhaps a tendency to favour doing many, many short stories (let alone poetry!) over longer work, which will also cut out some examples of the above. Perhaps shooting yourself in the foot a bit because that isn't the sort of stories that the fantasy editors it has had prefer. Not many magazines take on such work (and some explicity say no thanks in their instructions, too) which limits the pool of stories like that too, I suppose.

The horror range seems more varied (and of course some of the selections are fantasy works too, depending on how you define that).

Looking at it historically, lots of science fiction anthologies and magazines, nowhere near as many of the fantasy only variety.

Terry Carr's YB fantasy series was brief compared to the SF, too.

So 10. is likely right in there just being less interest in fantasy stories, period.


John, 79 would appear to be surprisingly few for something interested in editing/publishing/commentating, certainly.
Kathryn Cramer
14. KathrynCramer
There have been periods in the past when there were multiple year's bests, and in general it is a basically healthy situation. I am confident that Gavin and Kelly will eventually find someone who wants to do a YB fantasy with them, now that they are free of the constraint of having to find a publisher who can do a book as massive as the St. Martin's volume. The timing of the cancellation is terrible. Perhaps their first volume when they find a new publisher can cover 2008 & 2009 so they don't lose all that work reading for 2008.

While having many year's bests is healthy, the US economy is not, and neither are the big book chains. And one of the killer features of this situation is volatility, especially in prices of things like gasoline. Should it cost $1.50 a gallon or $4.50 a gallon? So costing out a book is very difficult just now, since the costs and distribution environment of the book are much harder to calculate.
Spherical Time
15. David G. Hartwell
Just to clarify, on the subject of the Hartwell/Cramer Year's Best Fantasy: we have a contract with, their first book contract as a publisher separate from Tor. They bought it in September, and have elaborate plans for success. It is up to them to announce them, and though the primary plan is electronic, we are told that there will also be physical books available. Permission forms are starting to go out this week.

Blue Tyson
16. BlueTyson
That is good news then. (Also less petrol! :) )
Pablo Defendini
17. pablodefendini
Yes. Plans. We has them, and they are elaborate. ::rubs hands together::
Irene Gallo
18. Irene
Eventually someone will spoil season four on me by telling me Pablo is the final cylon.
David de Beer
19. daviddebeer
It seems to me that part of the reason for this is that, while short SF is like novel-length SF, quite often short fantasy is unlike novel-length fantasy.

I suspect you might be right, and let's bear in mind that many of the short SF writers are also the short Fantasy writers. At least it feels to me that there's a lot of overlap in the shorts genres with the same writers hopping genre fences, but much less so in the novels.
That might be significant, or it might be coincidental, but I do know it's not unusual to see big names in SF writing shorts and novels both whereas the biggest names of Fantasy are seldom seen in shorter venues.

I like the Hartwell&Cramer Year's Best Fantasy so I'm certainly hopeful it will continue. Although I'm not nuts about the idea of it being primarily electronic.

Ellen Datlow and Nightshade feel like a good fit to me, that should be worth checking out when it comes.
David de Beer
20. daviddebeer
aargh, my first paragraph was meant to be a quote from Strahan @10, but the italics got lost.
Theodric the Obscure
21. TXHermes
This was the only anthology I bought. Each year would introduce me to stuff I would have never read otherwise. But it did more than just broaden my imagination, my tastes, my capacity for enjoyment. It also introduced me to new authors I pursued outside of its pages in stories and novels. A sad loss.

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