Interview by Alexandra Pierce.
Jonathan Strahan is an award-winning editor, anthologist, and podcaster. Since 1997 he has has edited more than fifty anthologies including The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Infinity, New Space Opera, and Eclipse anthology series. He is the recipient of the World Fantasy Award, a three-time winner of the Locus Award, a four-time winner of the Aurealis Award, and an ten-time Hugo Award nominee. He is the reviews editor of Locus, and the co-host of The Coode Street Podcast. He lives in Perth, Western Australia with his wife and their two daughters.
Your new anthology of originals is Drowned Worlds, with authors confronting the prospect of, as the title suggests, Earth drowning. What led you to imagine such a theme for an anthology, and has it turned out like you expected?
Every book changes as you work on it, shifts and changes in your hands before you finally deliver it to the publisher. A lot of that has to do with communicating with authors and how they bring their own worldview to the challenge you’ve placed before them. Drowned Worlds is a good example of this. It started out simply as a book of stories that featured inundated landscapes. I’d recently read Paul McAuley’s story “The Choice”, which features a drowned England, and then picked up a copy of Ballard’s The Drowned World, which is hypnotic, powerful and crazy. I thought a book of stories in that space could be fun. That was my inspiration. It quickly became clear that the authors saw Drowned Worlds as a climate change challenge, and one story after another took us there. One even managed to do it by leaving the ‘drowning’ off camera, and showing us a parched landscape in a world where rising sea levels had radically changed everything. So it didn’t turn out at all like I expected. It didn’t even strictly hit the original theme, but I’m very happy with it. Why? I think it touches on a nerve, is timely, and shows what writers are focussed on right now. That’s a good thing.
You edited your tenth volume of the Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year for Solaris Books this year. What do you see as the main value of such an endeavour, and what sort of audience are you imagining when you put the table of contents together?
The first book I edited was a year’s best anthology. That was back in 1997, so I’ve been doing this for nearly twenty years. I think the essential value of ‘year’s best’ anthologies as a project remains unchanged. They serve as simple one-stop shops for readers, where readers can find some of the best stories of the year in a single book. Given the incredible variety of places where stories get published, I think that’s valuable. I think they serve as books of record. There always is a varying number of ‘year’s bests’ being published, but collectively they tend to provide a good record of what the field has been doing over time. You wouldn’t want to rely on a single series to give you that overview, but collectively they do a good job of recording the history of SF/F. I think they also stand as one reader’s record of the history of the field. Gardner Dozois’ nearly 40 year long library of SF, my own 20 year long one, and others give readers a picture of the field from one perspective, which is interesting. And finally they can be a tool for change over long periods of time. An editor, if lucky, can mount an argument over many years about what excellence is in SF/F and that can have an effect. And, perhaps less pretentiously, they are pretty good reading value. As to what sort of audience? Hmm. I suppose a blend of me (we can only read from our own perspective after all), and an idealised notion of a reader who is interested in the SF/F field who has a broad taste. I edit a best science fiction and fantasy. By it’s nature, it’s a book less interested in definitions, more willing to tolerate ambiguity and strangeness, and the reader I imagine wanting my books is a reader who considers that a good thing.
Bridging Infinity is planned for later this year (2016), and Infinity Wars for next year. You’ve edited original anthologies, best-ofs, and author collections, as well as short stories for various venues. Do you see yourself continuing to work across a variety of projects for the future? Are there authors you’d really like to collect, or themed anthologies you’re desperate to pitch?
I do. I can’t imagine just doing one thing, but editing original anthologies, year’s bests, single-author collections, reviews and so on helps to keep editing fresh and new for me. In terms of authors I’d like to collect, there are so many! From Keith Roberts and Howard Waldrop, to Margo Lanagan and Elizabeth Hand, there are many many short fiction writers I’d like to see properly collected and presented to readers. I’m hoping Geoff Ryman’s “100 African Writers” project will also see more new books coming from the many African nations that are producing great writers. As to anthologies, I don’t know. I’m actually thinking on that right now.
What Australian work have you loved recently?
I’ve read a few things I’ve really loved. Greg Egan’s “The Four Thousand, the Eight Hundred” is a really powerful piece of science fiction that came out last December and should in my opinion have won all sorts of awards. Sadly, it hasn’t so far. I really enjoyed Angela Slatter’s debut novel Vigil, and just finished Garth Nix’s latest Old Kingdom novel, Goldenhand, which was smart and funny and moving and absolutely wonderful. I also loved James Bradley’s terrific novel Clade. There has been other stuff, but those stand out.
Which author (living or dead) would you most like to sit next to on a long plane trip and why?
I don’t know. I’m tempted to say Garth Nix, because he’s already a good friend, or Sean Williams. Um. Robert Heinlein, I think. Why? Because he was so fundamental to me as a young reader and young person growing up. I’d love to have been able to sit down and talk to him about his worldview and his books. I think a good long flight – hopefully in First Class – would give me a chance to talk to him about those stories that I loved so much and to get a feeling for the person behind the stories.