Jonathan Strahan is quickly becoming one of the most prolific anthology editors in the SF field, next to Ellen Datlow and Gardner Dozois. In addition to a number of "best of year" anthologies, he also puts together an annual anthology of original stories. The fourth edition of the annual Eclipse anthology, while it has some excellent stories, also contains a few clunkers. Overall, it's a thoroughly average anthology.
The Eclipse anthologies are non-themed (no "sci-fi cats" or anything like that), giving Strahan a chance to just ask that good stories be submitted. I find themed anthologies annoying at times, so a book simply featuring some great stories in it is a godsend. Unfortunately, that means the book lacks focus at times, and the stories can be hit or miss (the stories can be either science fiction or fantasy, another plus).
Given all that, why is the anthology average? Because some standout stories are surrounded by a few unmemorable ones and then some that just didn't appeal to me at all. It would be easiest to illustrate this going story by story, but that would take much more than the space available. Suffice it to say that the first three stories simply didn't work for me, making the volume very hard to get into.
The fourth story, "Story Kit" by Kij Johnson, is exceptional - even more so because I really didn't like it at first. It seems to be a stream-of-consciousness bit, jumping all over the place, ostensibly about the writing process. It moves from ancient Rome to modern-day characters, making asides about story-writing theory and the like. I generally don't like those kinds of stories; they often seem pretentious, in a "look at me as I explore a theme" kind of way.
As I was reading the story, seeing the pain that the "author" is going through as she deals with the pain of a divorce by writing a tragic romantic story, it really started to move me. The emotions that Johnson brings to the character are raw, and the ending really affected me.
Another standout story in a much more light-hearted way is Eileen Gunn's "Thought Experiment." A man stuck in the dentist's chair for over an hour allows his brain to wander and comes up with a way to use mental ability to facilitate time travel. Basically, you can time travel in your head. Unfortunately, the man doesn't realize what effect his travels are having on the timestream.
The story has a bit of a twist ending, as well as an open-ended one. I found the concept fascinating, though, and the imagery of a man having a series of browser tabs open in his head with different time periods to "click on" is intriguing. Who knew that perfect teeth could trip you up as a time traveller? Gunn's prose is fun, and the story is a joy to read.
There are other strong stories in Eclipse Four as well, though too often in this book a story is rather forgettable. It may not be a chore to read, but afterward you realize it made no impact on you. That can be good or bad, depending on the type of story.
The strong stories in this edition not mentioned above are written by Michael Swanwick, Gwyneth Jones, Jeffrey Ford, and James Patrick Kelly. I wouldn't be surprised to see at least one of them showing up in a "best of" anthology next year.
In an anthology of fourteen stories, six strong stories is not a good success rate.
However, I can still recommend Eclipse Four since most of the other stories are at least worth experiencing once. It's just too bad that there aren't more excellent entries in it.