- Libby Graham
Summer of Sci-Fi & Fantasy: Volume One
--An Interview with Editor Dustin Bilyk--
A new arena for sci-fi and fantasy short fiction
Summer of Sci-Fi & Fantasy is a collection of twenty-three short stories set to be released on June 1, 2022. This anthology started as a Kickstarter—headed by Dustin Bilyk—and was supported by 134 backers. It’s the first in what is to be become an annual collection of short-form speculative work from both up-and-coming and established authors.
The themes and concepts explored in this anthology are expansive. Content ranges from explosive battles between fishers and dinosaurs in the anthology’s opening “Baryonyx Crossing,” by Kevin M. Folliard to soft, technology-focused sci-fi à la Black Mirror in “Babybox,” by Simone Martel. We follow a deer-headed truffle shop owner in “M. Lane’s Memory Emporium,” by Elyse Russell and a spacefaring linguist with severe debt in “The Art of Failure,” by Robert Dawson.
I’ve always been a huge proponent of short speculative fiction, and I’ll jump at any chance to read it. And, with a project like this, the passion for the work is palpable. I sat down (at my desk in my apartment) to chat with Dustin (through my laptop screen) about the project.
LG (that's me): We’re all nerds here. What is it that made you fall into this world of science fiction and fantasy?
DB: I’ve been a fantasy and science fiction nut since I was just a kid. Some of my earliest recollections are of my father telling me the story of The Hobbit from memory. This was before I could read, but his descriptions of Smaug and the tiny hobbits and boisterous dwarves had my mind reeling with possibilities.
In elementary school, I also became obsessed with the idea of exploration. This, paired with my love of fantasy, is what eventually made me put pencil to paper, and I started writing stories about different worlds and strange creatures. And I haven’t really stopped since.
LG: A project like this must have been bubbling in your mind for years. What was the spark that finally made you dive in and bring it to life?
DB: If I’m being completely honest, the Covid pandemic. I live alone with my funny little Frug (Frenchie/Pug), Bilbo, and we got a little bored; conversation dried up.
Now, while I do work with editing clients on the regular and that keeps me pretty busy, I still had time on my hands. So, I decided I would take a shot at doing something I’d been dreaming of ever since I picked up the Dangerous Women anthology (edited by George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois) back in 2013. That book introduced to me my favourite author, Joe Abercrombie, and ever since I wanted to pay that gift forward by compiling a collection of stories from great authors that other readers could fall in love with.
That ended up being the whole mission behind this short story collection: to introduce some incredible authors to the world, with the hope that readers would find at least one new writer to become obsessed with (like I did with Abercrombie).
Short fiction can be like watching an author’s own personal movie trailer. It gives you just a taste, and if you’re interest is piqued, you damn well better get out there and see what else that writer has on offer!
LG: I can only imagine how overwhelming it must have been to sift through hundreds and hundreds of submissions for this anthology. What went into your thought process when choosing which pieces to go with? Were you mostly thinking about audience, did you rely on gut instinct?
DB: The slush pile experience is an interesting one. We received nearly four hundred submissions, and there were probably forty to fifty stories that truly deserved to be in Summer of Sci-Fi & Fantasy. My initial plan was to land on only fifteen stories, but my editing team agreed that we just couldn’t cut any more. We received so much quality, and I was floored (and excited) by this.
But back to the slush pile experience. I’ve been editing for ten years now, and I’ve developed an eye for what I would consider “strong” writing, so it was quite easy to sift through the pile and cut it down into a manageable chunk. I narrowed the group down to about one hundred, and read each of these stories several times, painstakingly rating them and narrowing the competition alongside my team. Once we started to get a feel for what the anthology was going to look like, we landed on twenty-three, and we’re so happy with our choices. I couldn’t have done it alone and would in particular like to commend Jessica Kelly for righting my ship on many an occasion. This isn’t something you can do alone.
I should mention that we did not take into consideration author credentials or past publication history. We went with the best stories, and while some of those authors are award-winners, we also chose several stories by authors who were previously unpublished, which is so exciting for me. I hope that by choosing their story, those authors have the affirmation they need to keep writing.
Because writing is a tough slog, and it’s so rare to be commended for your work. We need validation too!
LG: You might not be allowed to say this because of your role as absolutely-100%-objective editor, but do you have a favourite piece from the collection?
DB: Ugh, this is a tough question. I truly do love all the stories, or they wouldn’t be in the collection. But if I could reframe that question a bit to “which story will stick with you for the rest of your life?” I would probably have to say “The Door in the Tree,” by Mike Morgan. I will never look at trees the same again…
Also, I should note that I specifically chased down Edward Willett for his story “Je Me Souviens.” It’s a reprint, but I was so intent on featuring it in Summer of Sci-Fi & Fantasy, because I knew it would perfectly end off this anthology. It’s truly one of the best short stories I’ve ever read.
LG: When you tackle this project again for Volume Two, do you have any new expectations, and are you going to make any changes to your approach?
DB: We Kickstarted Volume One and raised over $6000 (CAD), which is something I am incredibly proud of. Our expectations for Volume Two are to reach even higher than that for the Kickstarter and continue to pay our contributing authors more for their stories. That was the entire goal of the Kickstarter in the first place.
As for approach, that’s something I’m going to have to think on. I would like to cut down on the time sink that went into slush pile reading and choosing stories, but I also don’t want to limit the amount of stories we receive in the submission window. What I loved about this anthology was that we didn’t focus on a theme like most other publications. We kept it pretty general (to sci-fi and fantasy of course), and in doing so we received such a wild array of stories. Not a single story in this book reads or feels like the other, and this diversity in storytelling I think is what really sets this anthology apart from others.
But because we accept all fantasy and sci-fi, we’re once again going to get a ridiculous amount of submissions for Volume Two. I don’t know how to combat that at this time. I think it’s just part of the job I signed up for.
It’s a good thing I love it!
Summer of Sci-fi & Fantasy: Volume One will be released June 1, 2022.
You can find Dustin at his website and on Twitter.