[Unless things change, this is probably the closest I'm getting to a "best of" list this year (well, except this one).]
I should probably explain that, amongst other things, I am a terrible anthology reader. Seriously. Awful. I read a ton as a kid - mostly stuff that had titles like BEST NEBULA 29 and GRAND MASTER SCIENCE SPACE LASERS. Things I could get for a dime at a library sale and, 9 times out of 10, contained "Harrison Bergeron".
When I grew up and started buying books that cost more than a stick of gum, I fell into the horrible habit of "cherry-picking": I would buy anthologies because of a specific author, read that author's story, ignore the rest.
Now, I'm more willing to work at it. I'll get an anthology and try really hard to read the whole thing, but once I tune out of one story, I find it incredibly difficult to re-engage. It is a bit like music: I put iTunes on random and, generally speaking, am very content with the results. But once a dud track gets over the emotional barrier of hitting the skip button, I'll ruthlessly keep pressing it until I find the perfect one. When you start fussy mindset, it is tough to snap out of.
So - and aware that I'm standing in the middle of a shiny glass house - what makes a great anthology for me? Simply this: I want a compelling reason to read every story. That could come from a fantastic theme - something so utterly captivating that I'll read any take on it. Or it could be incredible quality - stories that are all so brilliant that I never even consider hitting fast forward. Or, best of all, a combination of the two: a theme that's explored as a journey from start to finish, with incredible stories that also feel like they're part of a holistic experience.
With no further ado or parsing of terms, here are four great anthologies from 2013:
We See a Different Frontier (Edited by Fabio Fernandes and Djibril al-Ayad) - I got to review this at length here, but, needless to say, I'm a big fan. One of the major themes of the anthology is that these are perspectives that challenge the science fictional 'status quo', a theme that is a) right up my street and b) inherently linked to wanting to read every story. In every tale in We See a Different Frontier, anything can happen - and that sense of adventure and excitement alone is worth its placement on this list. (Also, J.Y. Yang's "Old Domes".)
Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives (Edited by Sarah Weinman) - Meanwhile, Sarah Weinman makes the case for reprint anthologies as an art form. Troubled Daughters collects fourteen tales of 'domestic suspense' (a genre that she explores in the introduction, in individual forewords and on a companion website), from female crime writers. A simply brilliant piece of work (and, weirdly, a really excellent present for the holidays and whatnot). Remarkably, this crime anthology also contains one of the year's best SF reprints: Margaret Millar's "The People Across the Canyon", a wonderfully twisted tale that reads like the best of Ray Bradbury.
Glitter and Mayhem (Edited by John Klima, Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas) - I... don't Kickstart often, but occasionally it the crowd-funded primordial goo spits up niche anthologies that are niches that I niche and I'm like, "ah, that's why this exists". And, yes, discopunk (?!) is so silly that I had to get on board. I'm glad I did. The stories in this were bonkers enough that I didn't like all of them (in fact, a few I really didn't like), but it also produced two of my favourite short stories of the year: the unclassifiable "Such & Such Said to So & So" by Maria Dahvana Headley (a bit like falling into an old Felix the Cat cartoon and hitting King Rat on the way down) and the Afrofuturistic space opera "The Electric Spanking of the War Babies" by Maurice Broaddus & Kyle S. Johnson.
World War Cthulhu (Edited by Jonathan Oliver) - Lovecraftian monsters and the Third Reich! I think this went slightly under the radar because it was published by Cubicle 7, but it isn't tie-in fiction as much as, well... Lovecraftian monstesr and the Third Reich. And check out the contributor list: Sarah Lotz, Lavie Tidhar, Gaie Sebold, James Lovegrove, Rebecca Levene, Jonathan Green, Archie Black... a collection of some of my favourite short story authors, writing on tentacle-beasts-that-eat-Nazis.
And a few that are very much worth mentioning:
Fearsome Journeys (Edited by Jonathan Strahan): At least one shaggy dog tale [not my thing] and a few that rely on knowing/caring about a pre-existing setting [also not my thing]. Still, worth it for Scott Lynch's story alone - he delivers an outstanding lesson on how to write short fantasy, as he establishes a world, the characters, a complex magic system, the historical background, a conflict and its resolution in the space of one short story. Plus, KJ Parker on dragons, in a thoroughly Parkery way - a surprisingly wistful piece that maintains the author's high standards of ambiguity and inventiveness.
[Random musing - although there have been plenty of epic and sword-and-sorcery type fantasy anthologies this year, of those I tried, the only one I like at all is Fearsome Journeys. Is that just me? Or are crime & SF are better genre 'tools" for writing short fiction that's self-contained and resolves? (Two things that fantasy often struggles to do in small spaces.)]
Something Wicked: Volume 2 (Edited by Joe Vaz and Vianne Venter): Always my favourite SF/F/H magazine and now my favourite SF/F/H magazine-turned-anthology-series.
Terra Nova (Edited by Mariano Villarreal): Six exceptional stories, finally translated to English - plus a very useful round-up of the Spanish SF scene (historical and contemporary). My favourite: Lola Robles' "Deirdre", a slightly heart-rending ... romance?... about made-to-order robots.
After the Apocalypse (Edited by Paula Guran): Admittedly, I'm biased - this anthology of contemporary reprints contains two Jurassic stories. But that's just why I picked it up: once I read it, I was surprised how well Ms. Guran managed to uncover twenty very different looks on a well-worn topic, but one that still very much interests me.
Mothership: Tales from Afrofuturism and Beyond: An exceptional showcase of authors from around the world, and a mixture of original and reprint stories. I'm glad that Lauren Beukes' "Unathi Battles the Black Hairballs" has been re-released after its initial publication in Home Away (2010). [Incidentally, also highly recommended] I'm equally glad to find new stories like Lisa Allen-Agostini's twisty "A Fine Specimen".
Plus one random bonus from the distant past:
Nelson Algren's Book of Lonesome Monsters (1962) (Edited by Nelson Algren) - Ok, granted, the contributors include Thomas Pynchon and Saul Bellow, so this is a piranha amongst guppies, but still, that Algren fellow know a bit about wordification. Lonesome Monsters is kind of astounding, a work from that wonderful late-50s/early-60s period where noir/literary/speculative/whatever all coalesced into an experimental goo of spine-chilling and bizarre fiction. Granted, several of the entries are a little too odd for me, and, for the most part, actual "plot" has gone by the wayside... but this is a fascinating collection of razor sharp literary desolation. Algren's own introduction might be the best part.