At first glance The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror may seem like a pretentious title, especially given the sheer size of the tome. Looking more like a literary textbook, it might seem to some to be off-putting. However, looking past the two-inch thick spine toward the cover, one sees things that might settle the fears or at least make the tome seem less fearsome. Stories by Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, Karen Joy Fowler lay inside, waiting to thrill and engross readers. And by the book’s end it becomes clear that calling it “The Year’s Best” is no boast. It is a simple fact.
The first section of the book, some 155 pages worth, are not, in fact, short stories or poetry at all but are mostly well-written essays on the events of horror and fantasy for the past year. Included in this portion are sections on publishing news, awards, notable novels, first novels, movies, collections, anthologies, and television as well as many other topics. Included in this volume is a section on Anime and Manga as well as comics and graphic novels. While the subject may seem academic and wholly uninteresting to the casual reader, true fantasy and horror fans will find a wealth of information with which they are sure to be enthralled. There are even sections on art and music as well as obituaries of luminaries lost over the past year.
Once done with the first 155 pages, the stories begin. Each of the stories in this volume begins with a brief biography of the author, letting curious readers know where they can find more by their favorite hitherto-unknown author. Sitting beside the likes of Stephen King and Ursula K. LeGuin are names that readers might not be so familiar with. The stories chosen from these voices, however, prove that they are worthy to stand beside the giants.
To choose favorites from this massive collection would be very much like trying to pick a favorite brush stroke in a masterpiece. Each story comes together in its own way, with its own voice, giving the reader a veritable smorgasbord to choose from. While all the stories may not be to everyone’s taste, there is at least one story in this book for every reader.
Particular attention must be paid Neil Gaiman’s “A Study in Emerald,” Laird Barron’s “Old Virginia,” and Dale Bailey’s “Hunger: A Confession.” Horror poetry is a tricky thing to pull off, and included in this collection are some of the best. “Bone,” by Steve Rasnic Tem proves that it can be done and with an unsettling edge that will convert many.
Overall, The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror is just that, a collection that lives up to its name. With as many twists and turns as one could ask for, it is a welcome part of any reader’s collection.
The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror
(Seventeenth Annual Collection)
Edited by Ellen Datlow, Kelly Link, and Gavin J. Grant
St. Martin’s Press, 2004
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