Side Quest

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you know that I sent myself on a magazine quest to find the best SFF magazine, and ultimately subscribe to it.  When I began my quest, I thought I’d review a dozen magazines.  I’ve already reviewed 32 magazines here, and I’ve discovered so many others that I’m looking for an arbitrary stopping point to round one of the quest (there will be rounds two and three, where I read additional issues of the top magazines, to determine the ultimate winner).

I’ve considered 40 as a stopping point, because I once read an anthology with something about forty days and forty nights of water, and the same collection had some people wandering around in a desert for forty years.  Now, if I could just remember the title….

I’ve also considered 42 as a stopping point.  As many science fiction fans will recognize from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, 42 was a supercomputer’s answer when asked to solve all the mysteries of the universe.  Leave me a comment and let me know where you think I should stop.

While the magazine quest wraps up, I’ve also sent myself on a side quest.  For those of you who aren’t gamers, a side quest is a mission which isn’t necessary to complete/win the game, but which can be fun and/or give you something which makes the primary quest easier.

For my side quest, I decided that rather than choosing the best magazine myself, I could let other people do the work for me, cherry-picking the best stories from many different magazines:

2011a 2011b 2011c

I chose collections of stories published in 2011.  Why 2011?  Because for me, it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.  It was the year I married my wonderful wife, and also the year we moved to Catfish City.  I was so busy that year, I’m pretty sure I didn’t read any SFF short stories, so everything in these collections should be new to me.

The collections are fairly long, containing 35, 31, and 29 stories.  I’ll try to keep my reviews of the individual stories short, and break the side-quest posts into manageable chunks of 10 stories or so.

Looking at the titles in each collection, it becomes obvious how subjective “best” is.  Roughly two-thirds of the stories in each collection are not found in the other two collections, and there is only one story found in all three.

Taking this idea further, I decided to look at the Novellas, Novelettes, and Short Stories nominated for the Hugo (2012) and Nebula (2011) awards, and see how much overlap there was.  Only 50% of the Hugo nominees made it into one of these collections, and only 35% of the Nebula nominees.

The story that was in all three collections also won the Hugo and Nebula for best Novella, so there is perfect agreement on that one, at least.  I’m tempted to spill the beans on what I thought of it, but I think I’ll save that for a future side-quest post.

Are you shocked by the lack of objectivity in “best” story collections?  Let me know in the comments below.


  1. Not only am I shocked, I am appalled, I am horrified, I am scandalized by your lack of objectivity.
    Ha, take that Shakespeare actors!

    Honestly, I will be of no help whatsoever to you in this endeavor. Magazines and me aren’t a thing. Heck, even a collection of short stories aren’t my thing anymore.

    1. I’ve finished most of the magazine reading for the quest, and there are very few whose issues I’ll consider in the future.

      I still have quite a few anthologies I’m planning to read, once I finish out these “best of” collections.

      1. Do you like short stories overall better anyway? I know that I’m much more of a sprawling epic kind of guy [whether sf or fantasy] and will almost always choose a doorstopper over a short story.

        1. Short stories were my introduction to sci-fi, and have been my preferred format in the past. I am put off a bit by the length that publishers are requiring for novels these days.

          I have read some long series of books with the same settings and characters, but I want each book to have a resolution at the end. When I read book 1, and the ending is just a lead-in to book 2, I drop the series right away.

          I think I’d greatly prefer four separate 200-page novels, each covering a different character, to a 800-page novel jumping among four POVs. But, I guess that’s just me….

          1. Sounds like you’d have a tough time in this day and age and how the publishing game works. You are definitely not the target audience any more.

            1. Yeah, I’ve noticed that the big publishing houses aren’t putting out a lot these days that’s of interest to me. I recently did an analysis of publishers vs the star ratings I gave their books, and I’ll be making a post out of that eventually.

            2. That sounds cool.

  2. I’m looking forward to it. I’m a short story lover myself. Judging one story against another is subjective. I’m not surprised at all by the results coming out different at different publishers.

    1. I’m a bit surprised at the limited overlap between these collections and the Hugo and Nebula nominees. These editors said “meh” to half the stories voted in by the Worldcon fans, and 65% of those voted in by the SFWA authors.

      Interesting that you mentioned publishers, it would be interesting to see if these books gave preference to authors who were releasing novels with the house that put out the collection. I don’t think I have time for that kind of analysis right now, though.

      1. I would expect nothing less from the publishers.

  3. I’m not too surprised. Picking the “best” of anything is going to be subjective, especially when we’re talking about creative works.

    Actually I wonder if there might be a contractual thing involved too. Maybe if one of those anthologies already bought a certain story, it’s harder for the others to buy it too. I don’t know enough about the business side of things to be sure, but it wouldn’t surprise me if that were a factor.

    1. I wouldn’t think there would be any contractual issues, since these stories are all reprints by definition. But, your comments now have me wondering how close in time these collections are published. It could be that the second one looks at the stories in the first one, and doesn’t want too much overlap so it can distinguish itself.

      1. Interesting. I hadn’t thought about that, but it makes sense.

  4. The idea that one collection would have bought the rights to a story, so the second one wouldn’t be able to get it, makes sense. So does the notion of choosing different stories in order for a collection to distinguish itself. Equally convincing, of course, is the possibility that this is nothing more than subjectivity at work.

    A combination of all three factors, though, would make the most sense to me.

    As to the question of numbers, both 40 and 42 sound good. Unless you wish to carry on until you’ve read 2,011 anthologies.

    1. I’m pretty sure I’ll keep it in the 40s!

  5. […] is the first post in my Side Quest, where I read collections of the “best” sci-fi/fantasy stories from 2011. […]

  6. […] are such a big deal at Thanksgiving, I thought I’d use today to wrap up the first of my side quests.  I’ve already covered the first ten stories in this collection, then ten more and ten […]

  7. […] I’d heard the author’s name quite a bit in the past few years, mostly for translating another sci-fi author’s work from Chinese, so I decided to look into other work he’s done.  It turns out he wrote the first story ever to win the Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy Awards, The Paper Menagerie.  That was in 2011, a year when I didn’t read much sci-fi. […]

  8. […] are plenty of additional SFF magazines/websites/podcasts out there, so I could keep going, but my side quest contributed heavily to this stopping point.   The vast majority of my side quest readings were […]

  9. […] year, I announced my side quest to read several “best of” collections and see whether any of them were worth reading […]

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