Ellen Datlow &
Terri Windling, editors,
The Year's Best
Fantasy & Horror,
11th annual collection

(St. Martin's Press, 1998)

The Year's Best Fantasy & Horror anthologies are an annual treat for those of us who enjoy these genres. Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling scour a world's worth of magazines and anthologies, and always bring us an excellent and broad selection. I'm a fast reader, and it always takes me a week or two of heavy reading to finish them cover-to-cover. The annual summaries of developments in these genres in various media are always interesting and informative. I have a complete set of the YBFH published to date, and every year get the new edition as soon as I can.

That said, though, I didn't enjoy the eleventh edition as much as usual. I stopped reading it about a third of the way through, and didn't pick it up again for months. I was put off by a series of stories, one after another, that just didn't get or keep my interest; I'd catch myself paging through each of them to see how much longer it was. When this happened several times in a row, I began another book and only returned to the anthology recently. I'm glad I gave it another chance, because I loved many of the stories in the last half of the book!

The common element in the sequence of stories I didn't like wasn't theme, but the authors' approaches. There are certain styles of "literary" or "experimental" fiction that bore me; while I don't need or like having every little thing spelled out for me, I also don't like work that's so oblique I can't figure out what's going on, or so much a mood piece that nothing at all seems to be happening (although there was such a story, involving a frog, that I enjoyed...).

Most of the stories were good, though, so please don't be discouraged by the above comments, or by running into that stretch yourself if you share my taste!

I don't read horror regularly, but several stories here were quite satisfyingly creepy -- with "The Crawl" by Stephen Laws probably the creepiest. Peter Beagle's "The Last Song of Sirit Byar" brought tears to my eyes yet again, as did Charles de Lint's "Wild Horses;" I'd read both several times before and they lost none of their power with rereading. Many of the "magical realism" stories were excellent; one involved Mexican wrestling, a world I know nothing about ("El Castillo de la Perseverancia" by Howard Waldrop); others were "Marina's Fragrance" by Mayra Santos-Febres and P. D. Cacek's "Dust Motes," set in a library. These are just a few of the wonderful stories here!

I do wish there had been more humor; I know I read several excellent and funny stories in 1997 (the year covered by the anthology), and a couple of them would have leavened some of the more experimental pieces. I also hope that in future years the editors will distribute the more literary offerings throughout the book. Although I suppose there are advantages to having them concentrated toward the beginning (like vegetables?), I know from experience it can put one off, and maybe let one miss stories they'd enjoy (like dessert?).

Thomas Cantry's cover is gorgeous and lush, with more interesting detail appearing the more closely one examines it. The text is a good size. Laid out well for extended reading -- important in such a long book! I do have one quibble with the internal design: the authors' names are set in a Germanic blackletter font that is hard to read, especially the capitals; I think I caught at least one name misspelled, probably because the font is difficult to decipher. The banners had room for only one author's name, so co-authors got bumped below; a more legible font and a larger -- or no -- banner would be nice. I bought the eleventh edition in hardcover, but think I'll get the twelfth in trade paperback; the additional weight made it harder to hold one-handed when the cat objected to being a bookrest (the other hand being required to scratch the cat, of course). Dustcovers are a bit of a nuisance; left on, they get rumpled, but removed the actual cover is exposed and white dirties rapidly, although the texture makes it more resistant.

Readers who like fantasy and horror will find some great stories in this book, and likely discover a new author or two to enjoy -- one of the best aspects of anthologies, I think!

[ by Amanda Fisher ]

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