Tuesday, January 30, 2018

2016 Best SF/F Short Fiction Guides

Completing our analysis of the best science fiction and fantasy short fiction from 2016, we turn our attention to 15 SF/F short fiction guides, which is what we're calling our extended idea of "reviewer" but which consists of 5 awards, 5 "year's best" anthologies, and 5 prolific reviewers that guide readers to a few dozen of the best stories out of over 800 surveyed. Remember that in this context "best" just means "most-recommended by sources Rocket Stack Rank tracks."

Using the scores for 887 stories from the 2016 Best SF/F Short Fiction article and grouping the stories by guide, we show the top guides by average score in 2016, then offer suggestions on how to use this information to guide your reading.

Top five guides by average score:
  • Score 088; Stories 09; Avg Score 9.8Sturgeon
  • Score 037; Stories 05; Avg Score 7.4Eugie
  • Score 122; Stories 18; Avg Score 6.8Hugo
  • Score 113; Stories 19; Avg Score 5.9Nebula
  • Score 174; Stories 30; Avg Score 5.8Locus
  • Click here for a sortable table of all 15 guides
Not surprisingly, all five awards have higher average scores than any and all "year's best" anthologies and reviewers. More interesting is that the award scores happen to be in reverse chronological order by date when the finalists are announced (except for the Locus Award, though it's a subset of the Locus Recommended Reading List that does come out first). Perhaps the earlier award finalist lists influence the later awards.

This chart summarizes the Guides table and shows the average score per guide as well as by guide type.
The dark blue bars are the same for GDozois and RHorton because they're anthologists AND reviewers.
The "year's best" anthologies form the next, lower cluster of average scores. Their tables of contents tend to be announced before any of the award finalists so they don't benefit from knowing what's really popular, but a bigger impact on their average score is probably the number of stories included, which are 2-8 times as many as the finalists of any award.

The recommendations from monthly reviewers form the lowest cluster of average scores. Their "year's best" recommendations number about the same as the anthologists but the stories are chosen near the time of publication and the reviewers don't have the benefit of assessing a year's worth of stories at the end to pick the best.

Bear in mind that this scoring scheme tends to work against guides that recommend larger numbers of stories because there is more consistency at the top.

As with our earlier reports on the Best Short SFF of 2016, perhaps the most surprising result is how strongly the guides are correlated with each other. Random would give everyone a score of 1.3, but that's clearly not the case. Although reviewers have their differences, there seems to be an underlying shared concept of what excellence looks like, and it is the same notion of excellence that SF/F awards recognize.

Guides to Reading SF/F Short Fiction

The whole point of following one or more guides is to save time and effort and still read most of the best stories. As we saw in our first article about the Best Science-Fiction and Fantasy Short Fiction of 2016, 20% of the stories get 67% of the recommendations (and the bottom 40% get none), so useful guides can save a lot of time for busy people. The fifteen different guides we follow come out at different times of the year, though, so there are several different strategies you can use, depending on what sort of reader you are.

Not everyone has the same taste, and it's possible that you'll find none of the guides appeals to you. In that case, your best bet is to find a magazine that publishes stories you like. Effectively, the editor of that magazine becomes your guide. That might well be a magazine that few or none of our guides look at.

If you want to read with 1 guide who reviews every story in a publication, just track your favorite monthly reviewer. The average story recommended by the average reviewer has a score of 2.4, which is more likely to be popular than a random story (average score of 1.3). When picking a reviewer, you should note the breadth of their publication coverage, especially if you're interested in paid magazines or anthologies whose stories make up more than half the annual word count of SF/F short fiction and 58% of the award finalists (28 out of 48 unique stories across 5 awards). Of course, nothing stops you from following multiple reviewers if you want to.

If you want to read with 6 guides (in 2018) who review every story in a publication, come to RSR where our monthly ratings post is updated at the start of each month with last month's recommendations from five other prolific reviewers so you can see where they agree and disagree (SFRevu, GDozois, RHorton, JMcGregor, CPayseur). If you read infrequently or if you binge read and don't need current stories, RSR has a Year-To-Date page as well as pages for 2016 and 2015 with over 700 stories that scored 2 or more.

If you want to read with 10 guides, come to RSR at the end of the year for our annual Hugo Awards page that has recommendations sorted by score from 6 monthly guides plus 4 of the "year's best" anthologies (GDozois, RHorton, JStrahan, NClarke). The average score of "year's best" stories is 3.7, which is a strong indicator of quality.

If you want to read with 16 guides (in 2018) or just want to avoid fear of missing out, come to RSR in the summer for our annual Best SF/F Short Fiction series which completes the Hugo Awards page by including finalists for 5 awards (stories with an average score of 6.6) and the BASFF anthology.

Guides Table

  • Click on a table header to sort that column.
  • Click on a guide to see their recommended stories.
  • Each guide's score does not include itself as a recommender, otherwise the average score would begin at 2 rather than 0 and not be directly comparable to average scores by story, author or publication.
  • The RHorton* and JStrahan* rows include novellas and novelettes which were left out of the RHorton+2 and JStrahan+2 anthologies due to size but were considered worthy by the editors.
  • The GDozois and RHorton rows are the same in the Anthology and Reviewer sections because they're both "year's best" anthologists AND reviewers.

101. Award815346.6
202. Anthology1595953.7
303. Reviewer1784232.4

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