Whenever I get to the end of an anthology, I can't help but take a moment to think about the placement of the tales within the collection. Prior to being a short fiction writer myself, I'm not sure if I ever really thought about it all that much before, but after selling my first story and becoming all the more aware as a reader, I've been more attentive.
The opening and the closing stories have, I think, some of the toughest jobs in the collections. The opening tale serves as a tease - if you've got someone who has picked up the book at random and is deciding whether or not to give it a go, that first story is likely the one that is now your diplomat. And the last story is the one closing the reader's opinion on the whole shebang, and leaving that final thought or tone in their mind.
In neither case do I mean to say those stories are the "best." I've heard them referred to as "anchor" stories by some editors, and I've been lucky enough to be the first tale in a couple of collections, though I've yet to round out a collection as the final story. In all the cases where I've gotten to "go first" I think I can honestly say my stories weren't the strongest in the collection, nor were they the ones that took the theme of the collection and went to the most unique place. In a way, I think it was the opposite of the latter that made them right to lead off - they explained or represented the theme, but maybe stayed within a safer range of the theme and maybe had a chance of pleasing a wider audience.
Anyway, all that to say I'm at the end of a collection today, and it made me stop and think about story placement.
"Observation Post," by Mike Resnick
Beyond the Sun closes with this fantastic - and damned funny - story about an imminent alien invasion force and a single alien observer who is watching us to see what sort of resistance to expect when they assault us and take our planet. They send an asteroid from the belt toward Earth and wait to see our reaction to that, as well - and it makes a great test of our planet's firepower.
Then the observer starts his journey through our culture, and soon realizes that all is not as it seems on this placid little blue and green marble.
Fans of Science Fiction pop culture will have a blast reading this story, where the observer discovers reason after reason to worry about invading Earth (there are Kirks who seem unbeatable in space-battles!) and the asteroid's uninterrupted journey toward the Earth makes the alien more and more convinced that something is just plain off about these Terran people.
It was a great way to close off an anthology that I truly enjoyed, and I'll be looking for more work from this editor and the authors he gathered. Bravo to all concerned.
When's the next one?