Exclusive Interview: The Best Science Fiction Of The Year, Volume 3 Editor Neil Clarke

I’ve long thought the best way to discover new writers is through anthologies. It is thanks to the poetry collection Please Excuse This Poem: 100 New Poets For The Next Generation, for instance, that I now know about Kate Litterer [Ghostly Boo], Dorothea Lasky [Awe], and Erin Belieu [Slant Six], among others. Which is why I’m excited for the new sci-fi anthology, The Best Science Fiction Of The Year, Volume 3 (paperback, Kindle), which was edited by Clarkesworld and Forever Magazine editor Neil Clarke. In the following email interview, Clarke and I talk about what exactly this anthology includes, how he decides what to include, and why it’s not called The Best Science Fiction Of 2017.

Neil Clarke The Best Science Fiction Of The Year Volume 3

This might seem like an obvious question, but what exactly is The Best Science Fiction Of The Year, Volume 3? Is it short stories? Novellas? A survey of everything sci-fi, including video games and movies? And is it all subgenres of science fiction, or just one or a couple?

The Best Science Fiction Of The Year, Volume 3 is an anthology that includes short stories, novelettes, and novellas. I try not to go down the rabbit hole of specifically defining science fiction, but I do work within a standard framework. When the series was first envisioned, we briefly considered including fantasy, but ultimately decided that a more focused project would be better.

Aside from having different stories, what makes The Best Science Fiction Of The Year, Volume 3 different from The Best Science Fiction Of The Year, Volume 1 and Volume 2, which you also edited?

The stories are part of the formula for an annual series like this. In addition to those, you’ll also find a recommended reading list — great stories that didn’t make the final cut — and an introduction that serves as an overview for the state of short fiction that year. It might include things like what new author stood out from the crowd, the best anthology published that year, and observations about the industry. While there’s a formula, no two years are the same.

When you started editing this series, did you look at any other similar collections for ideas of what to do? Or, for that matter, what not to do?

I’ve been reading anthologies since I was ten and had edited Clarkesworld Magazine for nearly a decade before taking on this series. There are differences, but a lot of the things I learned there mapped pretty well to this. Things like how to effectively sequence an anthology and balance stories against one-another.

In deciding what to include in The Best Science Fiction Of The Year, Volume 3, are there any things that get a story nixed automatically? For instance, do you not include stories if they’ve already been in someone else’s Best Science Fiction collection or an author’s own short story compilation?

It’s really as straightforward as picking the stories I like the best. Narrowing it down is the hard part. I try to limit it to one story from each author, but sometimes someone has a particularly good year and they get two. Since most of the “year’s best” editors are working on the same timetable, we’re largely in the dark when it comes to what the others are up to. Overlap is expected, but there’s enough variety and we each come at things from a slightly different angle. For example, some of them include fantasy.

The only time a story I like gets nixed is when it’s not available due for reprinting. That can because the current publisher has exclusive rights to the story and isn’t willing to make an exception for “year’s best” anthologies — most do, but there are few that don’t — or because the author doesn’t want it reprinted for some reason. In either case, the story ends up in the recommended reading list and I pick something else.

In assembling The Best Science Fiction Of The Year, Volume 3, how often did you find yourself having to choose between two or three stories that mined similar territories?

That can happen, but it generally hasn’t been a problem for me. If they are good, they’ve each managed to make the story their own. In that case, if they are two of the best stories that year, I’d take both but run them at opposite ends of the anthology. Three would be harder, but I haven’t had it happen yet.

Have you ever been in a situation where you’ve gotten so many good stories that fall into a similar category or style that it prompted you to pitch Night Shade [who published this anthology] on the idea of doing another book, something like, The Best Comedic Science Fiction Of The Year or The Best Alien Invasion Stories Of The Year?

More likely, I’d suggest doing those as a one-off theme anthology that pulls from the last ten or twenty years rather than making it an annual series. Fads come and go, so you can’t count on something like that to generate enough quality stories over a long period of time. Some of those on-off anthologies do well enough that you’ll get a second, but rarely a third or more.

Are there any stories in The Best Science Fiction Of The Year, Volume 3 that stand out because they bend or combine their genres in new ways, or maybe even push the boundaries of sci-fi to the point where you debated whether it even belonged in this collection?

One of the things I like about science fiction is that it is constantly moving forward and building on what came before. I’m fine with pushing the boundaries and accept that some people are not. I never go into these things assuming everyone will agree with me. I just trust my instincts and go.

Also, is there a reason why it’s called The Best Science Fiction Of The Year, Volume 3 as opposed to The Best Science Fiction Of The Year: 2017 or just The Best Science Fiction Of 2017?

It’s more of a personal preference than anything else. I don’t like the confusion that comes with having the year on the title. Is it the best stories from 2017 or is 2017 the year it was published? It’s not always clear or consistent.

Neil Clarke The Best Science Fiction Of The Year Volume 3

Finally, if someone enjoys The Best Science Fiction Of The Year, Volume 3, what not-edited by you short story compilation would you recommend they read next and why?

You know, I’m not really clear on what someone who likes The Best Science Fiction Of The Year would like to read outside of the genre, instead let me recommend the best science fiction anthology I read last year, Extrasolar, which was editedby Nick Gevers. It’s published in the UK, but you can find copies in ebook and hardcover on Amazon.


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