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.]


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