Best of the Best : 20 Years of the Year's Best Science Fiction
by Gardner Dozois, ed.
Review by Ernest Lilley
St. Martin's Griffin Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 031233656x
Date: 09 February, 2005 List Price $19.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Damon Knight famously (at least among SF readers) defined Science Fiction as "...what we point to when we say it." There are other definitions, of course, and you can peruse a collection of 52 contributed by various authors at Definitions of Science Fiction - compiled and converted to HTML by Neyir Cenk G?k?e.
Like any SF Fundamentalist, I think it's illuminating to go back to the beginning to see where we've come from, and quote seminal editor Hugo Gernsback's definition: By "scientification,"... I mean the Jules Verne, H. G. Wells, and Edgar Allan Poe type of story---a charming romance intermingled with scientific fact and prophetic vision.
Fun though that was, it's not really so. As anyone who has read the Year's Best SF Collection can tell you, the proper definition of SF is: What Gardner Dozois is pointing at when he says it.
Or at the very least, what good SF is.
Unfortunately, Neyir's site doesn't list Gardner's own definition, an oversight someone should correct, but if you want to approach it from the inferential aspect...there would be no better exercise than to pick up a copy of the misnamed Best of the Best: 20 Years of the Year's Best Science Fiction and read it cover to cover. More than once. This admonition is important, because the first time through you'll inevitably get lost in the stories and miss the context, even if you've read them all before.
Providing context is Gardner's other luminary talent. While the Year's Best SF is always required reading for anyone who likes the genre, his forwards are even more so for anyone who would like to understand it. Fittingly then, Robert Silverberg's forward to this volume is an important stop for readers of the book. So is Gardner's own, and between them they provide much setting and detail about the evolution of the series and how this volume came about. One note that bears repeating is that it was (then) Bluejay editor Jim Frenkel, who encouraged Gardner to resurrect the YBSF after its first publisher (Dutton) died, and that he championed the idea of a big fat book of stories, which the then (I'm told) slender Dozois was opposed to on the grounds that people wanted something less expensive. He's right in a way. There's only room in this town for one massive tome...but we can all be grateful that he's at its helm.
In the end, I think that Gardner could hardly quibble with Gernsback's definition of SF. Indeed, it would be hard to come up with a more fitting description of these stories, and Gardner's definition of SF, by inference then?charming romances intermingled with scientific fact and prophetic vision.
Recommended (make that required) reading.