Ellen Datlow, Kelly Link, and Gavin Grant, The Year's Best Fantasy
and Horror -- Nineteenth Annual Collection (St. Martin's Press, 2006)
I realized the other day that Green Man Review is but a few years younger than The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror, as our first reviews went up some thirteen years ago. (The first review? Apparently it was of an Oysterband album. Or perhaps a Fairport Convention concert.) Certainly YBFH has become the gold standard, as Jack Merry noted in his review of The Year's Best Fantasy: 'No, this didn't come just now as a review copy. This is a retro review of the first volume of a series that is without doubt the best of its kind ever done. The Green Man library has a full set in hardcover of this series, but you'd better have deep pockets if you want to collect 'em for yourself — a copy on the American Book Exchange will cost you at least fifty quid in the true first edition. Our Editor-in-Chief says it took him ten years and lots of dickering to assemble his personal set. Me, I'll just read the ones here.' Jack was a bit low -- a copy in good condition will now set you back about seventy-five quid ($150)!
Now it's nineteen years later and, despite changes in some editors as time went along with Terri Windling leaving and Kelly Link and Gavin Grant coming on board, it remains as impressive as it ever was. As i've know I've said before, this is the anthology to pick up every year if you want to read the best short fiction from the previous year and get overviews of the best fiction, non-fiction, films and video, animie, and music that was released in that year. Where else can you read Ellen Datlow offering her opinions on horror, Charles Vess' thoughts on the best graphic novels, Charles de Lint's ruminations on the best folk and world music, Edward Bryant on what is the best (and worse) in fantasy and horror in the media, Joan Vinge on the year in anime and animation, and, of course, Link and Gavin offering their thoughts on the year in fantasy. I've said it before and I'll repeat it here -- all of these essays should be on the web as a much needed resource for all lovers of these genres!
The strength of the YBFH collections has always been their ability to find the very best in short fiction in the fields of fantasy and horror. After the departure of Windling, Datlow, Grant and Link have continued that tradition, and this edition certainly measures up nicely against the previous editions. If anything, Grant and Link have a more eclectic sense of who should be included than Windling. (I won't name names here but I swear I could predict without seeing the new edition of YBFH that certain authors would have a story among her selections every year. And they did. Without fail. Year after year. Not so after three editions with these choosers!) I don't know about you, but I don't see enough short fiction each year to have a feel for what's the very best which has been published. Novels I see by the hundreds, single author collections, quite a few, but much of the really interesting short fiction appears in publications, both digital and hardcopy, that one never, ever would be expected to know about unless one was assembling an anthology like this.
Please don't read The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror -- Nineteenth Annual Collection all in one sitting, as the best way to appreciate these stories is a few, very few, at a time. If you manage to do that, there's any a fine evenings reading pleasure to be had herein. Now I always skim through the fiction to see what's really tasty -- as it was, I found the perfect appetizer in a poem by Theodora Goss, 'Nymphs Finding the Head of Orpheus', followed by her chilling tale, 'A Statement in the Case', that concerns a store in Russia and its terrible secret; after that, I went on to read the Elizabeths -- Elizabeth Hand's story, 'Kronia', a concise tale that shows even she can write a tight tale when need be (her usual style is as ornate as that of master stylist Patricia McKillip) and Elizabeth Bear's 'Follow Me Light', a fantasy of an odd love affair which is both more and less than it appears to be. (Her first full-length work of fantasy, Blood & Iron, a Novel of The Promethean Age, is reviewed elsewhere in Green Man.) Do read Joe Hill's 'My Father's Mask', as he's every bit as fine a writer as his father, Stephen King -- it'll be interesting to see what he does when he starts writing novels.
Hmmm. . . . What else tickled my fancy? Oh, Kim Newman's 'The Gypsies in the Woods', a dark fantasy of Victorian detectives and things that go bump in the night in a most unpleasant manner; Delia Sherman, author of Changeling, a YA novel also reviewed elsewhere in Green Man, offers up 'Walpurgis Afternoon', a charmingly odd tale of what happens to Lucy Jordan style housewife when overnight the vacant lot next door becomes a house with real witches inhabiting it; and a bittersweet piece of horror from the late Jack Cady, The Souls of Drowning Mountain'.
You will, no doubt, find your own favorites here. This edition will join the previous eighteen editions in a honored place in our personal library, and a second copy will find a home in the Green Man library but knowing our reviewers, I doubt it will spend much time actually being on the shelves there as I'm sure that someone will have it out for their reading pleasure. Now I can't wait to see what The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror -- The Twentieth Annual Collection will be like as it's should be a damn fine anniversary edition!