Ellen Datlow &
Terri Windling, editors,
The Year's Best
Fantasy & Horror,
12th annual collection

(St. Martin's Press, 1999)

I always look forward to the annual publication of the The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror, a splendid collection of the best short stories in both genres for the previous year, carefully selected and compiled by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling. The thick volume with its intricate and intriguing Thomas Canty cover brims with the promise of meeting favorite authors and encountering new ones as I read my way through it. Although the format is essentially the same from volume to volume, the "mix" always varies, and some volumes speak more to me than others. I am pleased to report that the 12th annual collection, covering works published in 1998, is such a volume.

The bibliographic essays at the beginning would be worth the price of the book alone. Summarizing fantasy (Windling), horror (Datlow), "Horror and Fantasy in the Media" (Edward Bryant) and comics (Seth Johnson), they built my "to read" lists for months. Windling's fantasy summation also includes a section on music with contributions from Charles de Lint and Ellen Kushner. A summary of obituaries and a list of stories which earned an honorable mention (and their sources) rounds out the book.

Of course, though, it is the stories which I anticipate eagerly. I resist the temptation to read my favorite authors first; instead, I read the stories straight through from beginning to end. My experience (and expectation) with any anthology edited by Datlow and Windling is that much consideration and care has gone into the arrangement, and I am not disappointed here.

The twelfth collection contains 46 stories and poems from 45 authors. (Kelly Link has two stories, one of which "fell through the cracks" between publishing years.) The stories represent a broad variety of approaches in horror and fantasy writing by authors ranging from the well-known to the newly emerging. While it is not possible to detail all of the stories, some of the highlights follow.

Stephen King's "That Feeling You Can Only Say What It Is in French" slowly chills the blood as the story unfolds, while "Shoggoth's Old Peculiar" by Neil Gaiman ripples with understated horrific humor. Susanna Clarke's "Mrs. Mabb" is a delightful historical fantasy while Lisa Goldstein's "The Fantasma of Q______" tells the story of a paranormal quest which becomes an obsession.

Jane Yolen tells us how to "Become a Warrior" by following the path of the grimly determined young heroine. "The Bird Chick" in Sylvia Brownrigg's quirky short story is a heroine of a different feather, while everything is not what it seems in Delia Sherman's deliciously ribald "The Faerie Cony-catcher."

In "Twa Corbies" by Charles de Lint, young artist Jilly Coppercorn and an elderly widow share a magical moment in the middle of the night, and a teen-aged girl finds magic while living on the edge in Bordertown in Patricia McKillip's "Oak Hill."

These are only a few of the stories in the volume, and the overall quality is consistently high. The balance of fantasy and horror is particularly finely tuned, with smooth transitions from one story and mood to the next. I found that once I began reading, it was most difficult to stop.

If you've never encountered the kind of treasures that The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror contains, then get your hands on it and see for yourself. As for me, I'm waiting (not so) patiently for the 13th annual collection!

[ by Donna Scanlon ]

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