Terri Windling and Ellen Datlow, editors, Year's Best
Fantasy and Horror, Volume 2
(St. Martin's Press, 1989)

With this second installment of the long running anthology series, Windling and Datlow hit their stride, putting together a well-rounded collection that readers can dive into at any point, which is how I approached it. I'd had this volume on my shelf for many years, but somehow never managed to actually read it. So when Cat said he wanted to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Year's Best anthologies, I decided it was time to break out the volumes I owned, starting with this one

Second Annual Collection was a fine introduction to authors I had heard of, but never read before, such as the late John M. Ford, who had two offerings, the delightful poem, "Winter Solstice, Camelot Station," which any fan of Arthurian legend should get a kick out of, and the gritty, photography-centric "Preflash." I very much enjoyed the volume's opening story, Lisa Goldstein's "Death is Different," about a mythical, moving land, where, indeed, death is very different, and not necessarily a hindrance to life. Gene Wolfe was also a first for me,  with a surrealistic Arabian Nights-tinged story, "The Tale of the Rose and the Nightingale (and What Came of it)."  Dan Simmon's "Two Minutes Forty-Five Seconds," drawn loosely from the Challenger explosion is a powerful few pages.

And I have to mention . . . Joe R. Lansdale, who I think I could just as happily gone through life not having read. Datlow's intro did warn that his stories can be vicious and offensive, and while I'm not easily shocked, "Night They Missed the Horror Show," pushed just all the wrong buttons. But if you're into reading about humanity's vulgar potential for inflicting horrific acts upon itself and every living thing around it, maybe this one's for you. Not my cup of tea, but at least now I know.

Even though "horror" isn't officially in the title yet, there's horror and dark fantasy here in spades. There's the aforementioned Lansdale story. And Tanith Lee's lush "The Devil's Rose," which brings a whole new meaning to "dance with the devil." M. John Harrison's "The Great God Pan" never really explains what the characters stirred up when they were young, but given their current state, it seems they should've left well enough alone. Greg Egan's "Scatter My Ashes" is a down right disturbing portrait of a survival of a serial killer's attack, when faced with that killer -- or someone like him -- years later. And Ian Watson's "Dead Bodies," features the creepiest bit of, uh, wall-mounted taxidermy serving as a metaphor for the inert human bodies around it living a mockery of life.

Lest you think the entire volume is dark, there are moments of hope, beauty and whimsy too. There's Jane Yolen's lyrical ode to one boy's emotional survival, "The Boy Who Drew Unicorns." And although Charles Delint's " The Soft Whisper of Midnight Snow" isn't one of his very best, it's a solid story of a woman finding the joy in drawing she'd lost after being jilted -- the path back to her art having been opened by a wintry spirit guide. Patricia C. Wrede's "The Princess, the Cat and the Unicorn" is a humorous take on the usual questing princess fairy tale, featuring one headstrong princess, a talking cat and one very demanding unicorn. And one could only hope to hang with Daniel Pinkwater's "Wempires," as they seem downright entertaining, not at all like the usual bloodsuckers of legend. And Joan Aiken's "Clem's Dream" was a marvelous tale of a boy who travels far to reclaim his precious dream from the tooth fairy, but is generous enough to share it with her until he needs it back. Very sweet and good-natured.

There's far, far more between the covers -- featuring, as always, a gorgeous Thomas Canty image, this time a vampire supping upon a maiden fair -- plus the usual roundup of the state of the union in fantasy, horror, film, honorable mentions and obituaries for 1988.

[April Gutierrez]