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Editorial, or Once More into the Future!

Five years. It passes in a flash. Five years ago, in the middle of Western Australia’s mild July winter, I sat down to write an introduction for the first volume of the Eclipse anthology series. It started what has proven to be one of the richest and most exciting editorial experiences of my career. Why? Because Eclipse was always about the best in short fiction and a genuine love of the short story.

It all started in 2006 with a long series of discussions with Jason Williams of Night Shade Books. We both share a deep love of science fiction and the short story, and a respect and admiration for the great anthologies of the 1960s and 1970s. I was already editing the Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, but it seemed to both of us that there was a place for a bold new anthology series, one that recalled the work of the late, great Terry Carr who was, alongside Damon Knight, one of the best anthologists ever to work in science fiction. Through the 1970s and 1980s he edited two of the great SF anthology series: his ‘Best Science Fiction of the Year’ and Universe. Universe was a truly brilliant series that first appeared in 1971 and ran for seventeen volumes. It collected a broad variety of stories written by some of the best short story writers the field has seen, such as Robert Silverberg, Harlan Ellison, R.A. Lafferty, and Gene Wolfe, and had featured some of the greatest stories of the past 30 years. Each volume was short, tightly edited and had a real breadth to it. That was something that I wanted to emulate: variety without sprawl, respected well-known writers and exciting newcomers, and both science fiction AND fantasy.

That’s why originally Eclipse was going to be called Universe. It seemed like a fitting tribute, and an appropriate statement of intent. But on reflection it seemed we needed something different, something new. A different time called for a different approach and a new name. So, we put out a call to readers for a name. Suggestions poured in: many were odd or dissonant in some way, some almost fit, but none were quite right. Some were too science fictional, some too fantastical, and some just didn’t suggest much at all. And then, when I was about ready to give up, former Interzone editor Jetse de Vries suggested Eclipse. It got a varied reaction, but I knew it fit because this was what went through my mind when I heard it:

An eclipse is a rare and unusual event. If you look at photos taken of the sun during a lunar eclipse you’ll see a strange, dark eldritch thing. The eclipsed sun becomes a weird black negative image of itself, and the landscapes it shines down upon are equally transformed. It seemed to me that wonderful things could happen under the strange skies of an eclipse. I was also struck by the fact that eclipses happen regularly. It seemed a perfect metaphor for a new science fiction/fantasy anthology series: a book published regularly that was filled with stories where strange and wonderful things happened, where reality was eclipsed for a little while with something magical and new.

And then I began to assemble Eclipse One. I put out a call for new and strange stories, and they came in from Peter S. Beagle (surely THE Eclipse writer), Maureen McHugh, Andy Duncan, Garth Nix, Ellen Klages, Gwyneth Jones and others. There was fantasy and science fiction and something else. I was delighted with the book, and it came out to strong reviews and made awards ballots.

So, with thanks to Jetse, welcome to the first volume of Eclipse. This is not a science fiction anthology. Nor is it a fantasy anthology. It’s both and it’s more. It’s a space where you can encounter rocket ships and rayguns, zombies and zeppelins: pretty much anything you can imagine. Most of all, it’s somewhere you will find great stories. It does not have an agenda or a plan. There is no test of genre purity that it can pass or fail. There’s only the test that every reader applies to any work that they encounter, and hopefully we’ll pass one that every time.

I had barely had time to finish Eclipse One, when I was compiling the sophomore volume of Eclipse. This was, for me, to be the proof of the concept. The follow-up. And from the mix of stories to the cover, it was perfect, I thought. Great stories by Ted Chiang, which went on to win the Hugo Award, Karl Schroeder, Peter S. Beagle (with maybe my own favorite Eclipse story), Daryl Gregory, and writers who were becoming part of the Eclipse stable, like Jeffrey Ford. It proved, though, to be the most controversial Eclipse of all, and the most controversial book I’ve ever edited.

Why? I think because I’d focused too much on what an editor wanted to do with his dream project, and not enough upon how readers would respond to it. I wouldn’t change Eclipse Two, but the discussions around it to do with inclusiveness and gender equity changed me as an editor forever, and that led directly to the World Fantasy Award-nominated Eclipse Three, possibly the best of the Eclipses and the one that I’m happiest with as a book overall. I consciously reached out to more writers, telling them about my dream for Eclipse and inviting them to be part of it. And they responded with a host of wonderful stories from Karen Joy Fowler, Ellen Klages, Nnedi Okorafor, Caitlín R. Kiernan, Maureen McHugh, Ellen Kushner and others.

I remember sitting down to write the introduction to that book in the winter of 2009 and being both incredibly pleased and fulfilled and a little scared. Here was the ultimate statement of Eclipse, what I’d aimed for when I started out. How would I follow it? Well, I did, and Eclipse Four expanded the Eclipse stable with brilliant, award-nominated, and wonderfully reviewed stories by Caitlín R. Kiernan, Kij Johnson, Rachel Swirsky, Nalo Hopkinson, and Jeffrey Ford. When it was finished I knew that Eclipse was here to stay, an ongoing part of my editorial life.

And then life intervened. Or business. I started to assemble Eclipse Five when it became clear that I needed to reimagine and reinvent Eclipse from its very foundations. The four Eclipse anthologies had been hugely satisfying and were evolving into an important regular part of the science fiction and fantasy short fiction calendar, but short fiction was moving elsewhere, online, and we needed to follow. Pioneers of online science fiction and fantasy, like Ellen Datlow with Event Horizon and then SciFiction, Strange Horizons, then Subterranean, Clarkesworld, Tor.com and many, many more proved that readers wanted to read their short fiction electronically, where it could be accessed easily. We realized that we needed to follow those readers, because ultimately that’s what Eclipse is about: not an editor following his dream, or a publisher supporting it, but about getting the best short stories to readers.

And so Eclipse Online was born. It’s not complete or done yet. The format is fluid. We’ve taken the dream of Eclipse – that idea of the rare and unusual, the strange and eldritch – and we’ve stripped it down and rebuilt it for a new decade. Now we’re taking it out for a spin. There may be things added to it in the coming months, and things removed, but at its core there will be at least two new stories every month, the best I can find by the most exciting writers in the field. I’m thrilled to open with stories from the brilliant K.J. Parker and Christopher Rowe, and have more lined up to follow. I hope they both become part of the Eclipse family and hope many of the writers who’ve been part of Eclipse will appear here soon.

Since this is the first Eclipse Online, I’d hark back to something I said in Eclipse One. Every anthology is a community. So is every magazine. This community is every writer who has ever contributed a story, every reader who has ever picked up a story and enjoyed it, and every reader to come. It’s also the team at Night Shade – Jason Williams, Jeremy Lassen and the entire Night Shade posse – and it’s you. Enjoy this month’s fantastic stories and be sure to check in regularly for more!

Jonathan Strahan

Perth, Western Australia

October 2012

Read The Contrary Gardener by Christopher Rowe here.