Ellen Datlow, Kelly Link, & Gavin J. Grant, editors, Year's Best Fantasy and Horror, Volume 17 (St. Martin's Press, 2004)
Since its inception, the Year's Best Fantasy and Horror has been a Great Big Deal for readers of fantasy and horror. I remember checking out Volume 1 from my local library when I was in college, and being floored by the number of quality stories collected in one volume. Terri Windling and Ellen Datlow have become legends in the field of editing, well known for their superior choices for this series. In fact, getting into YBFH is a stated goal for every single writer of my acquaintance.
Terri Windling has retired from Year's Best Fantasy and Horror, with Kelly Link and Gavin Grant of Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet (and both grand writers in their own right) taking over the fantasy section of the anthology. Over the past year, much buzz in the fantasy community has centered on the passing of the torch: will it be as good? How different will their choices be? It Just Won't Be The Same Without Terri. Is this The End?
#17 begins with the summation of worthy works from 2003; the number of books mentioned which we've reviewed here at Green Man is quite gratifying. The summation is always one of my favorite parts of the anthology, because no matter how carefully I watch the trades for new releases, there's always something I miss that I'll find out about in that section. [Note to self: get review copies of Peter Dickinson's Tears of the Salamander, and the anthology Erotic Fantastic: the Best of Circlet Press 1992 - 2002, and that new book by...]
Charles Vess hits on Comics and Graphic Novels for 2003, and Joan D. Vinge produces a special section discussing Manga and Anime, genres whose time has come in YBFH. Our Film Editor should be especially interested in Edward Bryant's summation of Media of the Fantastic 2003, covering films and television; I'll be rereading the anime section in more depth later, and I'll hit the Media section again later for eclectic items which belong in our new Treasure Trove reviews section. Charles de Lint's essay on Music of the Fantastic covers the basics of the genre and mentions quite a few must-have CDs and sets. And of course, the annual obituaries, written up by James Frenkel -- I always, always end up crying when I read this section.
So, to the stories. Year's Best Fantasy and Horror is, of course, a very subjective volume, and nobody is ever going to agree with every choice. There are a few stories here that I would not have included, given some of the stories listed in Honorable Mentions which could have replaced them. Overall, though, the quality here is just as exciting as last year, and the year before, and the year before that...yes indeed, the show can and will go on.
A few highlights I advise readers not to miss:
At the Mouth of the River of Bees, Kij Johnson's lyrical story of love and loss and letting go, the perfect choice of opening story for the anthology
Why I Became A Plumber, a delightful mermaid story from Sara Maitland
Laird Barron's utterly creepy tale of a special government project, Old Virginia
King Dragon, an amazing and truly riveting tale from Michael Swanwick, about a sort of dragon not previously familiar to me
Mr. Sly Stops For a Cup of Joe, an entirely horrifying yet completely satisfying serial killer piece from Scott Emerson Bull
Paolu Bacigalupi's The Fluted Girl, which gave me shivers
The Man Who Did Nothing, a very instructive and chilling story by Karen Traviss
There are also selections from Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Thomas Ligotti, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Theodora Goss, Steve Rasnic Tem, Karen Joy Fowler...you'll probably find at least one of your favorites in this year's edition, just as you probably have each year previously.
There are, of course, the requisite Holocaust related horror story, more than one serial killer tale, and a couple of afterlife fantasies (both lovely). There seem to be quite a few less radically feminist men-are-evil stories out there in the past couple of years, and I don't remember there being one in this anthology, which is quite a relief.
I don't think I can point to a radical difference between the Windling edited volumes and this maiden effort from Link and Grant; at most, I can say there's a bit of a different feel to it. Perhaps there are a few more "realistic" fantasies, and a few less of the ethereal and mythic tales that I associate with Terri Windling. No matter; the Seventeenth Edition of Year's Best Fantasy and Horror is definitely a success. If I have any quibbles with it at all, it's a small pet peeve of my own; Datlow includes one of Kelly Link's tales in the anthology. Call it my Miss Manners upbringing, but I always cringe when I see any sort of "best of" anthology which includes work by one or more of the editors. It's a good story, I just feel that editors should step back and avoid lauding their own work. But that's a tiny blot on an otherwise superb experience.
To answer the buzz: will it be as good? Yes. How different will their choices be? Subtly so, but not in a negative sense. It Just Won't Be The Same Without Terri: no, no it won't. How could it be? Why would you want it to be? The world spins, things change. Is this The End? Good heavens, I certainly hope not. I know far too many people waiting to be picked for Volumes 18, and 19, and 20...
I don't think that Kelly and Gavin need have any worries about taking charge of the spirited, ever changing creature that is Year's Best Fantasy and Horror. And Ellen, as always, is spot on. Bravo.