Unlike the volumes I read last year in my survey of classic science fiction, this doesn’t come with an exhaustive historical or critical essay as an introduction. Instead we get a celebratory foreword from Robert Silverberg and a brief preface from Dozois that focuses on thanks and giving credit where it’s due.
This is a bit frustrating for me, as it leaves me with nothing to leverage against. Instead, then, let’s take a trip down memory lane.
This volume begins in 1984, when I was seventeen years old. At that time, my favourite writers were probably Michael Moorcock, Isaac Asimov, Harry Harrison and Ray Bradbury. I was just on the verge of discovering Philip K Dick and Kurt Vonnegut and then the cyberpunks, starting with William Gibson then Bruce Sterling, Rudy Rucker and Greg Egan. In my later teens I started reading Interzone regularly and the American magazines occasionally and of course I began writing myself.
It takes us through to the year 2005, when I was probably just coming off the peak of reviewing for The Zone and related publications. I started writing for Tony when I first came over to the UK in 1995, just eleven years into the 30 year time line – or 339 out of 655 pages – of this anthology. I must have written hundreds of reviews and dipped my toe a little in fandom. Around this time I developed a passion for Jack Vance and got involved with the Vance Integral Edition for a little while, and it was probably the peak of my second hand bookshop habit, too, before the internet killed all the fun in that.
By 2005, I was beginning to get frustrated with SF in general. It was starting to get a bit stale and stifling for me, I’m not sure why. Maybe it was the rise of a new generation and what looked to me like the repetition of the old arguments, given a freshen up with the latest pop critic and academic language. In the meantime SF and fantasy media exploded across the mainstream. The days when we looked back on Arnie’s Conan as the best swords and sorcery movie ever – with The Sword and the Sorceror a distant second place – were long gone, even by 2005.
The mainstream of SF began, I suppose, in 1977, with the release of Star Wars, seven years before this volume opens. Back in those days, being a science fiction fan was still an occupation for weirdos and outsiders, and it was only with the rise of cyberpunk that SF and technology became cool.
By the mid-90s the cyber-cool movement was probably at its height. But at the same time the fantasy genres were on the rise: heroic fantasy, super-heroes and the urban fantasy in comics and books, starting with Ann Rice and Sandman in the 80s and going through Hellblazer, Anita Blake and True Blood. Within a few years they eclipsed science fiction completely.
I’m going to be interested to see if I can trace this pattern through this volume. I’ve read at least half a dozen of the Dozois volumes (which is maybe less than a man of my self-certified erudition should have) so I must have read some of these stories before, that was true of the golden age collections, too. The difference, I suppose, is that I lived through these times and remember the context and era of these stories myself. That may bring a different perspective.