Musings on Anthologies

A model for future anthologies.

Anthologies seem to be a dime a dozen. You have Asimov’s, Analog, Clarkesworld, and Strange Horizons. You have Beneath Ceaseless Skies and you have Uncanny. And then there are magazines like Cirsova who cater to a completely different clientele than those others.

However, I started thinking about how short fiction doesn’t pay and how it is said that no one can make any appreciable amount of money on it, but this isn’t about the economics of short fiction — Dean Wesley Smith is more knowledgable than I on that topic. Instead, I thought about how the average anthology is structured, and how that can be improved. The conclusion I came to? Anthologies would be better if all were set in the same world, then used as a jumping-off point for novels set in that world.

Let’s look at our typical anthology. It is usually centered around a theme or genre, like “stories written by women” or “heroic science fiction and fantasy.” The editors gather a number of stories that fit with the theme, but are otherwise unconnected. Then, they publish the book. When they publish the next anthology, the new stories are unconnected to the previous ones and are often written by different authors. Thus, the stories in the collection are hit-or-miss, and they fade away after the one shot.

However, the anthology God, Robot does things differently.

Although the stories in God, Robot are written by different authors, they not only have a common theme, but take place in a common world. It follows the history of AI’s embrace of religion, and the stories build off of one another to show how things changed with time. Rather than a bunch of disconnected stories, it was a single, unified story about a world’s — and a galaxy’s — social evolution. One could easily see a novel or a series of novels written in that world, and the author wouldn’t have to do a whole lot of worldbuilding in-story, since the major concepts would have been covered in the first book.

This is an additional benefit of God, Robot-style anthologies: they make worldbuilding interesting to the reader. The tendency to get caught up in the weeds of a fictional world’s history can now be put to a constructive purpose, and it frees up space when writing sequels since you can assume the reader read the first book. This is an idea whose time has come, an idea I believe can revitalize short fiction.

I’m surprised more anthologies don’t attempt this.

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6 Responses to Musings on Anthologies

  1. JD Cowan says:

    I’m writing my short stories in this way. I have two different sets of stories I’m eventually planning on cobbling together into themed collections. No idea how the final product will be, but it does help give good ideas on what types of stories to write and focus on.

  2. Orvan Taurus says:

    Hrmm, that would make it easier to avoid the ones I’d not care for, knowing it was all more of the same, in some way.

  3. Mary says:

    It’s hard to let your artistry run free when it’s hitting the constraints that others have laid out.

    And what happens in a shared world when people’s stories can’t both be true?

    It’s produced a certain degenerating effect on shared world anthologies, even without the revenge effect of wanting to get back at authors who used characters you created in ways you don’t approve of. (Which, I have heard, is a big thing.)

    • Rawle Nyanzi says:

      That is a good point, which is why I focused more on the worldbuilding aspect than individual characters when theorizing about this. As for stories contradicting each other, the editor will just have to make that call.

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