Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror (18th Annual Collection), The (Book)

Edited by Ellen Datlow, Gavin J. Grant, and Kelly Link

Published by St. Martin’s Press

605 Pages

Why would anyone have the brass to put the title Year’s Best on anything? When it’s just that damned good. If you want to read the cream of the crop without wading through the crap, this is the volume to pick up as editors Datlow, Grant, and Link have done all the leg work and come up with the stories that will chill, terrify, and mystify better than any other.

As with past editions, this book begins with a retrospective of the happenings in the various genres over the last year. Included are almost every event imaginable in the realm of publishing, comic books, movies, music, and any other related item one could think of. Beyond simply listing events, many entries contain comments as to the state of the various industries and how a particular work impacted them. At around 125 pages, this nearly exhaustive section will let readers know what to look for if they missed anything.

Past the Roman numerals lie the meat of the matter: The best stories and poems dedicated to horror and fantasy that the year 2004 had to offer. Contained in the pages are works by authors such as Peter Straub, Bentley Little, Douglas Clegg, Theodora Goss, and a host of others whose names are either well-known or obscure. The themes of the stories are varied, moving from classic horror to purely revolting (but excellently written) prose to cultural fantasy. What does not vary, however, is that each author knows his/her business.

Choosing the most impressive story from this volume is an exercise in futility. They’re all very good; otherwise, they wouldn’t be here. There are, however, a few stories that rise at least a few breaths above the others. Standouts in this forty-four-piece collection include Douglas Clegg’s “The Skin of the World,” Richard Mueller’s “And the Sea Shall Give Up Its Dead,” and “We Find Things Old” by Bentley Little. Also, some lesser-known names show that they belong next to the greats with stories such as Tina Rath’s haunting tale “A Trick of the Dark” and Melanie Fazi’s “The Cajun Knot.”

Though the sheer weight of the volume makes it difficult to carry around, it deserves a place on any book shelf as the stories within were well chosen. It allows readers to peruse the entire year, its trends and triumphs for the genres.

5 out of 5

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