The Very Best of the Best: 35 Years of the Year's Best Science Fiction

The Very Best of the Best: 35 Years of the Year’s Best Science Fiction
Edited by Gardner Dozois
St. Martin’s Griffin, 2019

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For any editor as prolific and hard-working as the legendary Gardner Dozois, there will likely come a book like his latest, The Very Best of the Best, an anthology you don’t live to see in bookstores. Dozois died last year, and he was so hard-working there will probably be a few of these posthumous anthologies. Last year saw The Book of Magic, and this winter appears The Very Best of the Best, a big, typically generous collection of science fiction stories culled from a wide variety of sources from 2003 to 2017. This volume follows 2005’s The Best of the Best and 2007’s The Best of the Best, Volume 2, and it contains 38 stories (roughly a third from Asimov’s Science Fiction).

There are very well-known names in this Table of Contents. Kage Baker, Nancy Kress, Robert Reed, Alastair Reynolds, Lavie Tidhar, Ken Liu, Elizabeth Bear, John Barnes, Stephen Baxter … many of these names are familiar not only to readers of SFF periodicals but also to readers of earlier Dozois anthologies - and that’s part of the whole point of reading a collection as much for its editor as for its contents. Any reader who’s followed periodical-published science fiction in the last ten years could pull together a Table of Contents as long as the one Dozois assembles here in The Very Best of the Best; the main attraction of this volume is the opportunity it affords to walk around in this particular editorial vision, offered with an appealing sense of perspective:

Over the entire span of the series, from 1984 to 2017, we’ve reprinted more than six hundred stories, from authors from all around the world, reprinted from magazines, anthologies, electronic magazines, novella chapbooks, and podcasts. I hope that you’ve enjoyed and will enjoy some of them. If you do, the credit goes to the authors who wrote them, and the editors who were shrewd enough to buy them in the first place. They did the real work. All I’ve done, over the years, is to offer you a chance to read the stories that I myself enjoyed.

The Very Best of the Best comes to readers without the long, definitive, argument-starting omnium gatherum industry-wide Introductory essay that opened Dozois’ Year’s Best Science Fiction since the first entry back in 1984. The science fiction world might not see such an essay again, but it now has this one last hefty volume of wonders as a reminder of a great editor now gone.

—Steve Donoghue was a founding editor of Open Letters Monthly. His book criticism has appeared in the Boston Globe, the Wall Street Journal, The Spectator, and the American Conservative. He writes regularly for the National, the Washington Post, the Vineyard Gazette, and the Christian Science Monitor. His website is