Header Notes

I was just reading Adrienne Martini’s review (in the Baltimore City Paper) of The New Space Opera edited by Jonathan Strahan & Gardner Dozois, which is generally positive, but ends with a negative comment about the anthology’s header notes:

While a large percentage of this collection is full of space opera goodness, Dozois and Strahan’s introductions do them no favors. Instead of interstitial bits of text that help place the writer or the tale in some sort of context, the editors have merely crafted extra long bibliographies. Dozois, who edited Asimov’s magazine for 20 years as well as more than a dozen other anthologies, and Strahan, former book reviewer for Locus magazine and an Australia-based anthology editor, have been in the field long enough to have some opinions. It’s a shame that they only provide details that you could easily find out for yourself, rather than their thoughts on any given tale. It’s also a shame that they used the same line of description–enough ideas packed into this short story “to fuel many another author’s eight-hundred-page novel”–for both Kelly’s and McDonald’s stories. That may be true, of course, but it makes the stories in question feel redundant rather than as vital and “new” as they are.

That got me thinking about what the essential ingredients to good header notes are. As it happens, I haven’t written the header notes to Wastelands yet, so this topic is of great interest to me. Any thoughts?