Yesterday I posted about Gardner Dozois releasing the table of contents for his Year's Best Science Fiction 27. This was preceded by the list for Jonathan Strahan's The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of the Year: Volume 4 and Rich Horton's The Year's Best Science Fiction and Fantasy 2010 (the TOC for all of these can be found in this thread on the Asimov's forum). The last of the big 4 anthologies, David Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer's Year's Best SF, has not yet released a TOC.
There are some great stories listed. For example, "Eros, Philia, Agape" by Rachel Swirsky (Tor.com) and "Before My Last Breath" by Robert Reed (Asimov's) are fighting for my last nominating spot in the Nebula Award short story category. But that said, I'm disappointed so many of the stories I loved the most in 2009 were overlooked by these three anthologies.
For example, "Sinner, Baker, Fabulist, Priest; Red Mask, Black Mask, Gentleman, Beast" by Eugie Foster, originally published in Interzone and reprinted in Apex Magazine, is without a doubt one of the top SF stories of the year (and according to people like Rusty at BestScienceFictionStories.com, one of the best modern SF stories, a view I'd agree with). I've read this story multiple times because it is so great, and have heard the same from other readers.
Other overlooked stories include "Greetings from Kampala" by Angela Ambroz and "The Shangri-La Affair" by Lavie Tidhar (both from Strange Horizons), "From the Lost Diary of TreeFrog7" by Nnedi Okorafor (Clarkesworld), "The Killing Streets" by Colin Harvey and "By Starlight" by Rebecca J. Payne (both from Interzone), and "The Art of the Dragon" by Sean McMullen (F&SF).
Thankfully Lavie will appear in Gardner's anthology with the equally great "The Integrity of the Chain" (from Fantasy), which will be his well-deserved debut in a year's best anthology. And as I mentioned, Hartwell and Cramer have yet to announce their selections, which are always good. But so far, I feel the riskier stories were overlooked precisely because they are not your standard SF tales.
For example, I really liked "Black Swan" by Bruce Sterling when it was originally published in Interzone. This is a solid SF tale of multiple dimensions, alternate history, and quantum mechanics, which is well written (as is everything written by Sterling) with characters the reader instantly relates to. When I read the story, I instantly knew it would make some of the year's best anthologies, and it did.
How did I know this? Because it was a safe choice. The story explores subjects which challenge the reader without ever making them feel uncomfortable. And that is why I believe so many of these overlooked stories were not chosen. They disturb the reader. They diverge too much from accepted SF conventions by mixing personal and social issues with more traditional SF themes. They challenge the frontiers which separate SF from fantasy (as if theoretical science itself isn't also mounting such an assault).
In fact, the biggest complaint SF critics seem to have with stories like Eugie Foster's great "Sinner, Baker, Fabulist, Priest..." is that they aren't truly science fiction. Well, I call BS on that. If
"The Motorman's Coat" by John Kessel (F&SF) (see update below) is SF enough to be chosen for one of these anthologies, then "Sinner, Baker, Fabulist, Priest..." definitely fits the mold. These are SF stories for a world where the frontiers of scientific possibility are almost philosophical in nature.
In the end, I'll still buy these anthologies because they contain a number of stories I haven't had the opportunity to read. It's also always fascinating to read the stories that someone else considers the best of the year. But even as I read these books, it'll be sad to know some of the best stories of 2010 won't be reprinted within.
UPDATE: BlueTyson rightly pointed out "The Motorman's Coat" by John Kessel is in an anthology containing SF & fantasy, so my mistake on that. But other selected stories flirt between fantasy and SF and other genres, or deal with subjects which stretch the bounds of scientific possibility (such as faster than light spaceships or time travel, which in my book are both pure fantasy and in no way SF). So my overall point remains.