Every year, The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy series collects some of the best examples of the genre, highlighting some of our greatest writers. This year’s anthology was guest edited by selected by Outlander author Diana Gabaldon and series editor John Joseph Adams. They’re joined by authors Charlie Jane Anders, Deji Bryce Olukotun, Rebecca Roanhorse, and moderator, author Alvaro Zinos-Amaro, for a conversation about the anthology, and that state of SFF. Watch the whole panel and check out highlights from the conversation below!
The panel covered the ethos behind the series before hopping between each author to talk about their stories in more depth:
- My name is Diana Gabaldon, it rhymes with “bad to the bone”.
- Adams describes the overall process: “I’m trying to read every SFFH stories that meets the requirements, in the neighborhood of several thousand stories each year. I do all that gathering, read and reread them, and then whittle it down to 80. Then those are passed on to the Guest Editor. There are always lots of great stories that can’t make it into the top 80.”
- The stories are stripped of author and publication history, so the guest editor is only judging the text.
- Past anthology editors have included: Joe Hill, Karen Joy Fowler, N.K. Jemisin, Charles Yu, and Carmen Maria Machado.
- Zinos-Amaro asked Adams whether the editorial vision comes first, or the stories? The guest editors are chosen independently. But Adams tries not to think about what the guest editor might like while he’s reading.
- Gabaldon loved reading for the anthology: “Being able to hear that many different voices and have that momentary connection with another mind—it’s a treat!”
- Olukotun is a fellow at Arizona State Center for Science and the Imagination. He was commissioned to write a story for them, and it ended up being published in Lightspeed, where it received a light editorial touch despite its length, which he apologized for to Gabaldon. Most of the editorial work was in checking the accuracy of the science. The original kernel of the story was to explore the culture of the Aztecs.
- Roanhorse’s story, “A Brief Lesson in Native American Astronomy”, appeared in Navah Wolfe and Domimic Parisien anthology Mythic Dream, where the charge was to take an existing myth and change it in some way. The story takes a Corn Maiden tale and reimagined it into the future: “Often what I do is working to make sure Natives are represented in the future.
- Olukotun used his background in judging perfumes to tell “Between the Dark and the Dark”, his story of space cannibalism.
- Anders’ story, “The Bookstore at the End of America”, appeared in The People’s Future of the United States, edited by Adams and Victor LaValle, and is set in the future where the US has split in two, and centers on the bookstore that sits on the border between “America” and “California”—but as always in Anders work, it’s the human element, a story between the mother who own the bookstore, and her daughter who has to choose between the two countries, that fuels the tension.
- On a final note, all the authors expressed excitement for the future of the short story, with Olukotun specifically noting the amazing influx of work from African and Black authors he’s been seeing, and Anders suggesting that everyone take a short story break once a day rather than doomscrolling.
The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2020 is out November 3rd from Mariner Books!