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Sunday, September 19, 2010

Name This Column

by Bruce Bethke

On a matter of purest narcissism:
Assuming Rampant Loon Press keeps going, one of the things we're looking for is projects we can bring to market quickly and, quite frankly, cheaply, and one idea that keeps coming back up is a "Best of Bruce Bethke" anthology.

Except, good grief, that's a lame title.

I know, it can work. I have whole shelves full of such books: The Best of Hal Clement, The Best of Fritz Leiber, The Best of John W. Campbell, Jr., The Best of Lester Del Rey, The Best of Henry Kuttner, The Best of L. Sprague de Camp... One of my all-time favorites is The Best of Fredric Brown, and if you ever find a copy, I advise you to snap it up and read it cover-to-cover.

But to me, this title mostly smacks of defunct band at the tail-end of creative exhaustion with one more record due on their contract but too dysfunctional even to do a "live" album syndrome. (Except for The Best of El Roacho's Biggest Hits, which smacks of purest and most admirable chutzpah, because as far as I can tell it was their only record.) So what would be better title?

Beyond the Valley of the Cyberpunks? I kinda liked that one when I sold the idea to a publisher who subsequently went belly-up, but that was back in the 1990s, and honestly, it seems pretty dusty and shop-worn now. "[insert_name_here]" and Other Stories? Again, that seems to meet the old definition of an album: "the hit single and twelve tracks of [crap]."

Oh, and there's one more complication. I've already got the cover art I'd like to use. It's a wonderful illo Phil Foglio did ages ago for my story, "Jimi Plays Dead," and I not only bought the original art, I long ago negotiated the rights to use it for a chapbook that never happened, that was to be titled, More Stories About Sex, Drugs, and Rock 'n' Roll. (If I get access to a scanner, I'll post the image later.) But that title doesn't work now, because those particular stories were only a small part of my output, and then only during a certain phase. More Stories About Punks, 'Bots, and Rock 'n' Roll? It seems like a stretch.

Which brings us to the last question: what makes for a good single-author anthology, anyway? What do you like to see? Just the hit singles? Something you haven't seen before? As many stories as can possibly be fit into a book? Stories focusing on just one particular style or theme, or a good cross-section from the writer's entire career? And what about the writer's voice: do you like it when the writer includes a little something about the story? Do you prefer a big something; e.g., longer comments about what the writer thought he was trying to do when he wrote it and what it took to make the story publishable? Or are you happiest when the writer just shuts up and stays the heck out of the way of the stories?

Your thoughts, comments, and observations, s'il vous plait?

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