Ellen Datlow, Kelly Link
& Gavin J. Grant, editors,
The Year's Best Fantasy & Horror,
18th annual edition

(St. Martin's, 2005)

It feels almost redundant to review Ellen Datlow's The Year's Best Fantasy & Horror this year. After 18 collections, readers should know to expect nothing less than truth in advertising: the best short fantasy and horror of the year, collected in a single volume sized for days of reading or a quick moment of home defense.

This year might give people pause, since Terri Windling has stepped down as editor for the fantasy portion of the book. Those concerned can stop worrying. New co-editors Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant bring fresh eyes to the collection without sacrificing any of the discernment or variety that's made the previous compilations so essential.

The poetry selections this year are few but powerful. R.T. Smith's dreamlike reminder of "Horton's Store" captures the impermanence of the fantastic. Theodora Goss's "The Changeling" captures the depth of an ancient folk legend in two quick stanzas. The longer stories range from China Mieville's frighteningly mundane "Reports of Certain Events in London" to the traditionally patterned, modern elegance of Elizabeth A. Lynn's "Silver Dragon."

As for the horror side of the compilation, Datlow seems to have developed a psychic awareness of the best stories in the field. Terry Dowling's "Clownette" in particular has kept me from sleeping in the dark for a full week. Whether because horror is growing more subtle or fantasy had a very dark year, there are several stories that are impossible to divide between the two genres, like Lucy Sussex's haunting "Frozen Charlottes" and Simon Brown's cryptic "Water Babies." Subtle or gory, The Year's Best Fantasy & Horror is bound to have something that will stir your nightmares.

The editors of the collection do more than just winnow through a few selections and proof their copy. They provide the wide-ranging vistas that should be found in a book daring to label itself the best, especially in fantasy; a chance for readers to experience new writers, explore new worlds and ideas, and discover overlooked treasures from the past year.

The hefty collection of recommendations and reviews found in the introductory "Summations" of the book deserves its own recognition. Much more than a mere overview of the fantastic in 2004, it represents an intelligent guide to the best ongoing sources of fantasy and horror fiction. There's no medium snobbery here; equal attention and room are used to point out the best in television, movies and, much to my delight, comics, anime and manga. And even devoted short fiction fans will likely find a new addiction or two in the long list of genre magazines. The detailed record of runner-up stories provides a fine starting point for finding new favorite authors. It's enough to thrill any reader's heart and destroy any reader's budget plans.

All these wonderful resources are a more prosaic way of continuing the exploration begun by the stories of the collection. By its variety of story, unity of spirit and depth of research, The Year's Best Fantasy & Horror is more than a look back at past triumphs. It's an invitation to further flights of fantasy and a promise of the many new joys to be discovered.

by Sarah Meador
26 November 2005

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