Keeping up with short (science) fiction

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One area in which I have a difficult time keeping up is short science fiction. I subscribe to all of the major magazines (and a few of the smaller ones as well) and yet during the course of the year, I don’t really read many of the stories in those magazines because I simply don’t have the time to sift through them all. I probably read 10 or 15 total, and those ones I do read are either by writers I admire or that I know personally. This doesn’t allow me to be introduced to newer writers, or writers with which I don’t have much reading experience.  But what can I do? It’s hard enough just to keep up with regular reading, my writing, family life, to say nothing of my day job.

Two years ago, around this time, we headed down to Florida for vacation. I brought with me David G. Hartwell‘s The Hard SF Renaissance and I had a blast reading that book while relaxing on the beach in Florida. It was almost idyllic in its delight. That, plus the fact that I am refocusing my goals on my own short fiction, gave me the idea to start a new tradition. Much as I reserve the month of April to reread Isaac Asimov’s autobiographies, I am going to reserve the month of December to read two of the most recent Year’s Best volumes.  The volumes I’ve chosen are The Year’s Best Science Fiction edited by Gardner Dozois, and The Year’s Best SF edited by David G. Hartwell.  Of course, it means that I am reading the stories from 2009 at the end of 2010 (and at the end of 2011, I’ll be catching up on the stories for 2010), but at least it will expose me to what two of the most influential editors in the field think is the “best” science fiction of years.

Why both volumes?

I’ve found by reading other anthologies that I have a strong preference for the type of stories that Hartwell picks for his Year’s Best series. They suit my tastes for the kind of stuff that I enjoy reading. Dozois and I don’t always agree on what makes an enjoyable story, but I respect his opinion in the field and I think I can learn a lot by reading his selections–which tend to be what I would call more “literary” science fiction.

Last night, I started reading Dozois’ The Years Best Science Fiction, 27th Annual Edition, which covers 2009. He writes a remarkable introduction that covers all aspects of the health of the field of science fiction. And while I’ve only gotten through the first story so far, I must say that I am impressed by that first selection, “Utriusque Cosmi” by Robert Charles Wilson. When I finish Dozois’ book, I’ll turn to Hartwell’s book. And since I’ll be in Florida again, I look forward to the delight that I experienced the last December I was there.

As I read these stories, I am not just reading for entertainment. I’m trying to understand why they were picked. I’m looking at the techniques the authors used and trying to determine if those techniques were successful. I’m trying to understand what worked and what didn’t work. In short, I’m using these hand-picked examples to try to make myself into a better short story writer.

We’ll see how things go.