The Year’s Best
Selected by Science Fiction Writers of America
Isaac Asimov has provided a lively and provocative introduction to this all-star volume, as well as individual introductions to the stories. He has selected five Nebula Award runners-up to go along with the three winners to make this one of the most star-studded anthologies Ever.
I am very fond of this anthology and am strongly tempted to rate it higher for the Asimov fan, but the fact is that there is very little of the Good Doctor about it. The job of editing the annual “Nebula Award Stories” anthology belonged to the President of the Science Fiction Writers of America, and the contents consist of the nominees for the short fiction awards. (The Nebulas are the “professional” equivalent of the Hugo. Each year, the fans attending the annual world sf convention nominate and vote on the Hugos, and the members of the SFWA—think of it as Asimov’s union—nominate and vote on the Nebulas.) Unlike The Hugo Winners and its sibling anthologies, the “Nebula Award Stories” series comes out once annually, and unlike The Hugo Winners and its siblings, Asimov doesn’t provide any introductions to any of the stories. More’s the pity.
Nor does Asimov himself have any story in the collection, although The Gods Themselves won the Nebula that year for best novel. Still, this is a superlative collection consisting of eight stories each of which is unbelievably good and several of which are unforgettable. Among the latter category is the first story in the book, Arthur C. Clarke’s “Meeting With Medusa,” Joanna Russ’s seminal (if I may use that term) “When It Changed” and Poul Anderson’s moving “Goat Song".
This is not to slight the other stories, however. I tend to dislike Gene Wolfe’s “Fifth Head of Cerebus,” but the fact is that it’s a marvelous piece of craftsmanship. Harlan Ellison’s “On the Downhill Side” is sf only by an enormous stretch, but is nonetheless haunting and beautiful. Fred Pohl’s “Shaffery Among the Immortals” is both funny and tragic, and Robert Silverberg’s “What We Went to See at the End of the World” is one of science fiction’s best satiric pieces ever. That leaves “Patron of the Arts” by William Rotsler, the only story in the anthology not by a “big name” author and perhaps the weakest in the collection—not that it’s weak by any means, however, but it seems to pale a bit because of the company it keeps. To say that a story like this is the weakest in a book is to praise the book highly indeed.
This I would rate as a definite sine qua non for the dedicated sf fan. The dedicated Asimov fan might choose to neglect it, but I think they would be the poorer for doing so.