While The Del Rey Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy is meant to be an unthemed anthology, that does not necessarily mean it is devoid of a unifying focus. Ellen Datlow's mark is evident in the book's selection of stories that are all heavyweights in their own right. They are all written in a serious manner and with a solid literary style to the point that the fantastical nature of the fiction tends to be subtle rather than overt. For example, opening stories such "The Elephant Ironclads" by John Stoddard and "Ardent Clouds" by Lucy Sussex reads like realist stories with heavy emphasis on character. Jeffrey Ford's "Daltharee", one of my favorite stories, breaks this rule as from the get-go, one gets the impression that this is a wild adventurous tale and Ford doesn't disappoint, whether it's through his creativity of never-ending miniature cities or his inclusion of pop sci-fi elements such as a shrinking ray. Another favorite is the subtle piece "Gladiolus Exposed" by Anna Tambour which is detailed and compelling. What makes it stand out however is the evident build-up and the ending which has just the right amount of ambiguity. Last but not least is "Prisoners of the Action" by Paul McAuley and Kim Newman as it manages to be both serious and funny without the latter being an impediment to the former.
I can honestly say that I loved every story in this anthology although they aren't necessarily stories that would have grabbed the attention of my teenage self. You won't get stereotypes of the genre here whether it's elves and sword & sorcery or spaceships and space opera. Instead, the writing and technique of the authors are what shines, weaving new stories from old assumptions and norms we take for granted. The Del Rey Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy is a good example of the possibilities of speculative fiction and features a hefty selection of well-written stories.
Rating: 4/5.Rating System:
1 - There are better ways to spend your time.
2 - Ho hum books, usually typical of its genre. Probably only recommendable to die-hard fans.
3 - A cut above the rest, usually with one or more elements that sets it apart from the norm.
4 - Highly recommended and is easily a pioneer of the genre.
5 - A classic or it will be.