Longtime sci-fi and fantasy readers speak with reverence for a time in which the truly dedicated reader could consume the entirety of what was published in the genre—at least in the U.S.—in a given year. Today’s, that’s just not possible. SF/F magazines like Clarkesworld, Asimov’s, Lightspeed, Uncanny, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and a dozen others publish hundreds of stories each year, far more than any one person can read.
That’s where the many different “year’s best” anthologies comes in, as the top editors in the business cherry pick the most striking stories of the year—or, at least, the stories they find to be the most striking, as each editor (and this, each anthology) reflects their personal taste as much as it does the overall excellence of that year’s writing.
The mark of a truly fantastic short story? It will likely appear in more than one (or two, or three) of the volumes listed below.
The biggest name in the annual anthology game is Gardner Dozois, whose The Year’s Best Science Fiction series spans more than three decades. Dozois began working in the science fiction world in the early 1970s, and took over the Best Science Fiction Stories of the Year series from the legendary Lester del Rey, serving as editor between 1977 and 1981.
In 1984, Dozois launched his own series, published by St. Martin’s Press, and has assembled a new installment every year since (volume 33 lands in July). Nearly as valuable as the stories is the editor’s in-depth summary of the year’s biggest happenings in the genre space. It’s become an indispensable collection for any science fiction fan.
Long history aside, Dozois’s anthology is far from the only game in town. If you’re seeking a series that spans both sides of the spectrum, Jonathan Strahan’s The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, first published by Night Shade Books and now by Solaris, is another safe bet. Now in its 10th year, Strahan’s series benefits from his wide-ranging grasp of genre fiction, honed over his long career as a reviewer for Locus.
Another indispensable anthology comes from Rich Horton’s, whose Best Science Fiction & Fantasy was first published by Prime Books in 2009. This isn’t the only anthology from the publisher; Prime also puts out Paula Guran’s The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror and The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy Novellas, which focus on stories that don’t typically get featured in the SFF best-of anthologies, such as horror fiction and longer works.
Recently, two new year’s best lines have been launched. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has published its Best American series for over a century, covering poetry, short stories, mystery stories, sports writing, and, most recently, The Best American Science Fiction & Fantasy, edited by John Joseph Adams and a guest editor. Adams co-edited the first volume with Joe Hill, and this year, he’ll be joined by Karen Joy Fowler. The Best American series differs slightly in that it focuses solely on short SFF published in the U.S..
Finally, a new anthology series begins this year, edited by Neil Clarke: The Best Science Fiction of the Year, published by Night Shade. Clarke, editor of Clarkesworld, focuses on more than just short stories; novelettes and novellas are also fair game, allowing him to captures a wide range of the best stories published each year. Night Shade also publishes Best Horror of the Year, edited by Ellen Datlow, which covers the best short fiction coming from the horror world.
Several specialty publishers also publish their own sub-genre collections. ChiZine recently began releasing Year’s Best Weird Fiction with a rotating selection of editors (Michael Blumlein and Lairrd Barron for the first volume, and Kathe Koja for the second). Baen has its own laser-focused year’s best, edited by David Afsharirad: Year’s Best Military SF & Space Opera.
If you’re interested in genre commentary, Speculative Fiction: The Year’s Best Online Reviews, Essays and Commentary anthology focuses on the nonfiction writing that pops up each year across the blogosphere.
Finally, we’d be remiss to leave out a mention of the Year’s Best SF series, edited by the late David Hartwell. Hartwell was one of the genre’s best known editors, and began the series in 1996 with HarperCollins’ Eos. It ran yearly through 2013, with eighteen installments in all.
With so many stories published each year, these books provide a wide and comprehensive coverage of the best of the speculative fiction field.