1) Fantasy: The Best of the Year, 2006 edition, edited by Rich Horton
2) Science Fiction: The Best of the Year, 2006 edition, edited by Rich Horton
Before I start, I was amused by the difference between the cover illustrations of these two books:
One might be forgiven for thinking that whoever chose the pictures believes that fantasy is for girls and science fiction for boys.
Anyway. I don’t blame Rich Horton for this. I know him on-line as one of the people I most enjoy debating with in my increasingly rare appearances on rec.arts.sf.written, and he has served up two cracking anthologies of stories here – far less overlap with the other “Best of Year” collections than they have with each other, and almost all new to me (apart from two Hugo nominees and one or two that I remembered from Interzone). He has also eschewed the tendency of other editors to introduce each story individually, instead opting for brief word about each of them in an introduction to the whole book, which makes the whole thing feel more unified.
Having said that I liked them all, the SF volume had a slightly wider variation in quality. I loved Joe Haldeman’s very short “Heartwired”, Susan Palwick’s “The Fate of Mice” (a tribute to “Flowers for Algernon”) and Daniel Kaysen’s social networking story “The Jenna Set”. But I am still making up my mind about Alastair Reynolds’ “Understanding Time and Space” – work of genius, or hotch-potch of ingredients from Stapledon, Bradbury and Baxter with the ghost of Elton John as an extra? I guess the fact that I am still thinking about it says something.
In the fantasy volume, I was struck by how few of the stories took the standard sword-and-sorcery milieu as their setting, far more of them belonging to what might be called the urban fantasy sub-genre. In the former category, I thought at first that “Empty Places” by Richard Parks was going to be a run-of-the-mill wizard-hires-thief story, and wondered what it was doing in the collection; but I was converted by the punchline. In the second category, I really liked re-reading Paul Di Filippo’s “The Emperor of Gondwanaland”. The other standout story was Neil Gaiman’s “Sunbird” (though I found myself wishing it was illustrated).
I think I will continue to get all of the “Best of Year” anthologies, because I am such a completist, but if Rich continues with this experiment I shall be particularly looking forward to his volumes in future years.