Visions of Paradise

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Anthologies and magazines

The past few years I have been compiling critics’ lists of the best f&sf books published during the previous year and ranking the works in order of how many lists they have made. In 2007 the top two vote-getters were Ian McDonald’s Brasyl and Patrick Ruthfuss’s The Name of the Wind. I have not finished compiling the 2008 books because lists are still being published on the internet, but there is no doubt the top two vote-getters by an overwhelming choice will be Neal Stephenson’s Anathem and Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother.

The only Stephenson book I read was Crytonomicom, which I enjoyed a lot, but I shied away from his massive Baroque Trilogy because of its 3,000 page length. Anathem is short by comparison, barely 900 pages, so I’ll read it and, if it is nearly as good as many critics claim it is, I’ll take a serious look at the Baroque Trilogy.

Cory Doctorow is on the cutting edge of technology, and his fiction tends to be near-future techno stuff, but the few stories of his I’ve read in anthologies–with titles such as “I, Row-Boat” and “When Sysadmins Ruled the World”–were actually very enjoyable, so maybe Little Brother is good reading. Ironically, it was published as a young adult book, but no review has indicated there is anything juvenile about it except the youthful protagonists.


I have always enjoyed reading original anthologies. The 70s were the Golden Age of anthologies, both series such as Damon Knight’s Orbit, Terry Carr’s Universe and Robert Silverberg’s New Dimensions, and also numerous collections of original novellas, many edited by Silverberg (Chains of the Sea, The Crystal Ship, The Day The Sun Stood Still, Three For Tomorrow, The Threads of Time, Triax, etc.). The current decade has seen a revival of such anthologies, including a series of annual one-shots edited by Peter Crowther (Forbidden Planets, Moon Shot, Mars Probe, etc.), another series of original anthologies, mostly published by the SF Book Club (Between Worlds, Forbidden Planets, One Million A.D.), and three original annual series (The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction, edited by George Mann, Flash Forward, edited by Lou Anders and Eclipse, edited by Jonathan Strahan).

I have most of the original anthologies listed above, and I have enjoyed nearly all of them. Currently I am reading Eclipse 2 and so far it is very good as well. Ted Chiang’s “Exhalation” was a typical Chiang story (which means very high-quality), and Karl Schroeder’s “Hero” was a good introduction to his Virga series. I don’t need to read much further to recommend the book, since upcoming are stories by such superstars as Stephen Baxter, Nancy Kress, Peter Beagle and Alastair Reynolds, but I’ll review the entire book as soon as I finish it.


Being a lover of history, I have sought out magazines devoted to history for many years. None of them have really satisfied my history craving though. History Magazine has no depth, too many very short articles, and lots of overview. Natural History is interesting, but it is primarily a science magazine which I grew tired of after a few years of reading it. Smithsonian has some fascinating history, but mingled with other articles which are not history-related at all. I’ve never read BBC History Magazine, but it does look fascinating and I might pick up an issue someday.

But the magazine which I do enjoy reading a lot is Archaeology Magazine. Granted its focus is as much on the discovery of history as on the history itself, but I enjoy its breadth of topics and its blending of past and present. The article I am reading currently discusses how the attempt by the Italians to build a subway system in Naples is being delayed interminably by the constant discovery of ancient ruins beneath the city, as well as discussion of the history being uncovered there. Good stuff.


  • I too enjoy the anthologies and collections. The latest addition to my library is Stephen Baxter's Vacuum Diagrams.

    I meant to ask you before, have you read any of Mike Ashley's histories of the science fiction magazines? I just received a copy of Gateways to Forever.

    By Blogger Jim Black, At 8:56 PM  

  • No, I haven't. I'd like to know how you react to GATEWAYS TO FOREVER since I have a major interest in the history of sf with at least two dozen books myself (many of them used as research material for my book WHO SHAPED SCIENCE FICTION?).

    By Blogger adamosf, At 4:48 AM  

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