The Wesleyan Antho of SF: Spotlight on 1990s–2000s

Jeff VanderMeer • August 31st, 2010 @ 1:14 pm • Book Reviews

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I just received a copy of The Wesleyan Anthology of Science Fiction (Arthur B. Evans, ed.; Istvan Csicsery-Ronay, Jr., ed.; Joan Gordon, ed.; Veronica Hollinger, ed.; Rob Latham, ed.; Carol McGuirk, ed.).

It looks like a worthy enough volume, and I certainly understand that there are space constraints and other constraints that act upon editors compiling a collection of stories–if I didn’t know it before, I know it now from co-editing The Weird with my wife, Ann.

That said, here’s the selection from 1990 to the present, the last 20 years of SF:

John Kessel, “Invaders” (1990)
Gene Wolfe, “Useful Phrases” (1992)
Greg Egan, “Closer” (1992)
James Patrick Kelly, “Think Like a Dinosaur” (1995)
Geoff Ryman, “Everywhere” (1999)
Charles Stross, “Rogue Farm” (2003)
Ted Chiang, “Exhalation” (2008)

Of these, I’ve read the Chiang (awesome) and the Ryman (also quite good). I think I read the Kelly a long time ago, but don’t recall the specifics.

But I guess my point is…are these seven stories really the epitome of the last two decades of science fiction (as opposed to fantasy)? I don’t mean to call into question the quality of these selections–what I mean is, what’s missing? What else should be there? Why is there nothing between 2003 and 2008, for example? Was nothing worthy published?

These questions I open up to you, dear readers, in the context of (1) I have no stake in these proceedings, in that I can count the number of SF short stories I’ve written on one hand and (2) I find the selections from 1980 to 1989 stimulating (Misha!!!! Memory: SF Eye! Airfish!)

Anyway, what thinks thou? And here’s the full TOC:

• Nathaniel Hawthorne, “Rappaccini’s Daughter” (1844)
• Jules Verne, from Journey to the Center of the Earth (1864)
• H. G. Wells, “The Star” (1897)
• E. M. Forster, “The Machine Stops” (1909)
• Edmond Hamilton, “The Man Who Evolved” (1931)
• Leslie F. Stone, “The Conquest of Gola” (1931)
• C. L. Moore, “Shambleau” (1933)
• Stanley Weinbaum, “A Martian Odyssey” (1934)
• Isaac Asimov, “Reason” (1941)
• Clifford D. Simak, “Desertion” (1944)
• Theodore Sturgeon, “Thunder and Roses” (1947)
• Judith Merril, “That Only a Mother” (1948)
• Fritz Leiber, “Coming Attraction” (1950)
• Ray Bradbury, “There Will Come Soft Rains” (1950)
• Arthur C. Clarke, “The Sentinel” (1951)
• Robert Sheckley, “Specialist” (1953)
• William Tenn, “The Liberation of Earth” (1953)
• Alfred Bester, “Fondly Fahrenheit” (1954)
• Avram Davidson, “The Golem” (1955)
• Cordwainer Smith, “The Game of Rat and Dragon” (1955)
• Robert A. Heinlein, “ ‘All You Zombies—’” (1959)
• J. G. Ballard, “The Cage of Sand” (1962)
• R. A. Lafferty, “Slow Tuesday Night” (1965)
• Harlan Ellison, “‘Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman” (1965)
• Frederik Pohl, “Day Million” (1966)
• Philip K. Dick, “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” (1966)
• Samuel R. Delany, “Aye, and Gomorrah . . .” (1967)
• Pamela Zoline, “The Heat Death of the Universe” (1967)
• Robert Silverberg, “Passengers” (1968)
• Brian Aldiss, “Super-Toys Last All Summer Long” (1969)
• Ursula K. Le Guin, “Nine Lives” (1969)
• Frank Herbert, “Seed Stock” (1970)
• Stanislaw Lem, “The Seventh Voyage,” from The Star Diaries (1971)
• Joanna Russ, “When It Changed” (1972)
• James Tiptree Jr., “And I Awoke and Found Me Here on the Cold Hill’s Side” (1972)
• John Varley, “Air Raid” (1977)
• Carol Emshwiller, “Abominable” (1980)
• William Gibson, “Burning Chrome” (1982)
• Octavia E. Butler, “Speech Sounds” (1983)
• Nancy Kress, “Out of All Them Bright Stars” (1985)
• Pat Cadigan, “Pretty Boy Crossover” (1986)
• Kate Wilhelm, “Forever Yours, Anna” (1987)
• Bruce Sterling, “We See Things Differently” (1989)
• Misha Nogha, “Chippoke Na Gomi” (1989)
• Eileen Gunn, “Computer Friendly” (1989)
• John Kessel, “Invaders” (1990)
• Gene Wolfe, “Useful Phrases” (1992)
• Greg Egan, “Closer” (1992)
• James Patrick Kelly, “Think Like a Dinosaur” (1995)
• Geoff Ryman, “Everywhere” (1999)
• Charles Stross, “Rogue Farm” (2003)
• Ted Chiang, “Exhalation” (2008)

10 Responses to “The Wesleyan Antho of SF: Spotlight on 1990s–2000s”

  1. Joshua Kidd says:

    This is tangential to your actual post… “Think Like a Dinosaur” is a very good and very memorable story about the ethics of teleportation. However, I can never remember the actual story when I hear the title. I had to look it up when I saw it mentioned in this post. “What did happen in ‘Think Like a Dinosaur’? I remember liking it.”

  2. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    Tangents are fine! I’m gonna have to re-read the story.

  3. Alec Johnson says:

    And there was me expecting a collection of Methodist science fiction stories…

    I’m far from knowledgeable about short sci-fi from the 1990s and 2000s, but I can see why they might want to stay fairly minimalist when it comes to recent years. Some of the older ones must have more or less picked themselves, as obvious classics, or at least obvious authors to try to pick a tale from. With an anthology like this that aspires to be a greatest hits of the genre over such a long period, I imagine they’ll be trying to make sure their selections will be ones that stand the test of time.

    No idea whether they’ll have succeeded, but being highly selective from recent years seems like a sensible policy. And 2003-2008 doesn’t seem like such a long gap in the context of the 150-odd years they’re covering.

  4. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    I dunno. We chose the opposite approach for The Weird. We decided to just go for it.

    Jeff

  5. Alec Johnson says:

    And that’s partly what makes the anthology of weird sound decidedly snazzy. Personally, I prefer anthologies where I don’t know many of the texts, so as someone who already has a rough grounding in science fiction, I’m unlikely to go for a primer-style anthology like this Wesley one. In fact I’d probably prefer one that was more focuse don recent years, where I’m more ignorant. However, I’d still see it as a pretty solid collection of tales, and I can see why they might prefer to take a more ‘classic’ approach to their selection.

    I’d guess (and maybe I’m talking absolute tosh here), that people likely to pick up the weird anthology will already be reasonably immersed in genre fiction of various kinds, and might be looking for odd new corners to investigate. The Wesley gang’s intended market appears to be quite different (they do say things like ‘for classroom use’), and that might be responsible for their different attitude towards selection.

    Or maybe you’re just more naturally adventurous!

  6. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    Alec: Well, we’ve got the writers you might expect in there–no one’s not going to know Bloch, Murakami, Chabon, Lovecraft, Butler, etc.–but we decided for the past 20 years not to shy away from selecting stuff but to have as much or more, proportionally, than from the prior decades. I’m not saying this SF antho has, but it does seem like sparse pickings from the past 20.

    Jeff

  7. Larry says:

    It’s an anthology that I would read, but not one that I would hope to contain pleasant surprises for me. I’ve read several of those writers, obviously, and some of the earlier works have some beautiful moments, but on the whole, it feels constrained, not be the number of works from recent decades, but in the types of stories chosen. It is perhaps the epitome of a “safe” anthology.

  8. Eric Schaller says:

    I think it a bit strange to include “Think Like a Dinosaur” but not “The Cold Equations”, which TLAD riffs off of. For my money, Kelly’s “Mr Boy” is his true SF masterpiece and would have been my preference.

  9. Bernie Goodman says:

    No Swanwick? Really? And Kelly’s Think Like A Dinosaur riffs on Budry’s Rogue Moon as much as the “Cold Equations.” & ultimately, while historically important, “Cold Equations” is not that good.

  10. Mary Day says:

    I notice from your list that most of these are not comtemporary so basically this seems to be a list of your favorite science fiction of all time. Given that it does have many excellent choices that I recognize, although, I have not read most of them so can’t comment on the list as a whole.

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