Anthologies are the under-appreciated heroes of fiction. In an increasingly time-poor world, short stories are something you can start while at the bus stop, lose yourself in during the trip to work, and hit that gut-wrenching concluding twist before you’re in the door.
The following are five books that convinced me anthologies have a special place in speculative fiction. They made me put down other novels and discover new worlds or revisit old favourites from new angles. Each of the following fantastic anthologies has influenced Grimdark Magazine’s Kickstarter project—in one way or another.
So, set aside that door-stopper threatening to plunder weeks of your undivided commute attention, and pick up one of these brilliant anthologies!
Blackguards: Tales of Assassins, Mercenaries, and Rogues, edited by J.M. Martin
For me, the Reddit Stabby Award-winning Blackguards started my love of the Kickstarter anthology. The cheeky Kickstarter marketing campaign grabbed my attention, and who doesn’t love discovering new grimdark worlds, cunning anti-heroes, and gripping stories?
From the foreward by Glen Cook to the last page, Blackguards is spectacular, hitting every sonorous grimdark note from the blackest humor to the downright horrible. Peter Orullian’s A Length of Cherrywood was the pick of the bunch for me. It was dark, brutal, horrible, but had that little ray of light in it to keep you reading.
Soon after reviewing Blackguards on the GdM blog, I began planning how my team and I could put together something just as magnificently sinister.
Dangerous Women, edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois
If Blackguards kick-started my love of the SFF anthology, Dangerous Women sent it into overdrive. George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois have edited nine anthologies together and as you might expect, they do a damned good job of it. Dangerous Women provided an adjustment to my perception of the genre and broadened my own personal horizons—there are a stack of bad-arse women in there!
Joe Abercrombie’s short story Some Desperado hit the ball out of the park, with Red Country protagonist Shy South featuring as a woman on the run. It’s gritty, full of action and delivered with Abercrombie’s trademark wit and dark humour.
Dangerous Women is filled with brilliant authors writing about powerful heroines and absolutely nailing it—a synergy of compelling feminine fiction.
Rogues, edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois
I’ll be honest—Rogues had me at “a brand new A Game of Thrones tale.” I’d just caught up on the series and was thirsting for more. That it featured a full cast of fantasy all-stars was an added bonus. The sheer ability Martin and Dozios have to involve top-of-the-line authors is amazing. Call it cachet.
Rogues was nominated for the World Fantasy Award in 2015 and like Dangerous Women, it’s a prime example of an anthology done perfectly. In addition to bringing life to new worlds and characters, these 21 original stories revisit a variety of familiar, beloved characters like Bast from Patrick Rothfuss’s immensely popular Kingkiller Chronicle and the Marquis de Carabas from Neil Gaiman’s incredibly successful debut novel Neverwhere in addition to a new Game of Thrones story. Similar to Blackguards, the stories all focus on morally grey characters treading the fine line between heroism and villainy, just like the knaves we love at Grimdark Magazine. Did I mention the new Game of Thrones story?
Unfettered: Tales by Masters of Fantasy, edited by Shawn Speakman
Unfettered is a favorite of mine both for the incredible list of authors Shawn managed to cram into this anthology and for the reason behind its existence. Shawn was diagnosed in 2011 with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, racking up an incredible amount of debt very quickly. He needed help, so his mate, Terry Brooks, donated a short story for Shawn to sell to start mitigating that debt. Shawn asked the same of his other writer friends, and Unfettered was born, featuring stories by some of the biggest names in SFF.
At a hefty 518-pages of top shelf short fiction spanning a wide variety of fantasy subgenres, Unfettered is an anthology that should not be missed. Carrie Vaughan’s Game of Chance stayed with me from Unfettered—a sad tale of finding happiness in focussing on the small details while others bash their heads against the large.
His medical debt now paid, Shawn will donate the proceeds from Unfettered and its follow up—Unfettered II is due in November 2016—to his new charity, Grim Oak Shield, which helps other writers and artists in similar situations to his own. Unfettered is a feel-good anthology: I felt good buying it, reading it, and now recommending it. You will, too.
The Best Horror of the Year – Volume Eight, edited by Ellen Datlow
“Best of” anthologies are absolute gems for new and established readers in any genre. There are plenty of them out there compiled by some incredible editors, so you’re certainly spoilt for choice. In my opinion, though, you just can’t have a list of recommended speculative anthologies without including an Ellen Datlow anthology. It’s. Not. Possible.
The line-up in The Best Horror of the Year–Volume Eight is absolutely stupendous, featuring the most frighteningly talented authors in horror fiction. Datlow has trawled through hundreds of submissions by publishers and authors in the darkest depths of the genre and picked the gold standard. This one’s only just come out, so to be completely honest I’m taking a bit of a punt on it, but even if you’re not a horror fan, with the quality of authors in The Best Horror of the Year – Volume Eight, you’re bound to find something you like, and, as an editor, there are few better to look up to than Datlow. I expect this volume will leave you dying for more.
Now that I’ve spilled my guts about my favourites, which anthologies really gripped you by the throat and wouldn’t let go?
Adrian Collins is the Sydney based founder of Grimdark Magazine. He loves reading about anti-heroes and seeing a story from the perspective of the villain across all genres, especially SFF. Grimdark Magazine’s Kickstarter, Evil is a Matter of Perspective: An Anthology of Antagonists, is currently live. Say g’day over on Twitter @AdrianGdMag and Facebook.