Monday, September 08, 2008

Book Review: Best American Fantasy edited by Ann & Jeff Vandermeer and Matthew Cheney

Every Monday, I'll be doing spoiler-free, bite-sized book reviews.

The first thing that stands out is that if I merely stuck to looking for fantasy stories from the usual sources, I probably wouldn't have come across many of the short stories in this anthology. And that I think is the strength of Best American Fantasy--that it reprints stories some genre readers were never aware of. That's not to say this doesn't have its fair share of "expected" stories but for the most part, it's been a real treat. The editors also reveal their favored style as the fiction not only leans towards the literary but on the adventurous side as well.

I did enjoy a good chunk of the stories and a few were challenging reads on my part (which I is why there were chosen). Having said that, there were a couple contenders when it comes to my top three stories. "Origin Story" by Kelly Link is a fantastic read. It takes on the tropes of comic book superheroes and appropriates it for her narrative; readers are dealt a one-two combo punch when it comes to characterization and drama.

This isn't the first time I encountered "First Kisses from Beyond the Grave" by Nik Houser but it stands up well upon re-reading. Houser incorporates both humor and horror into his story as well as making his protagonist a convincing teenager. This is one of the longer pieces in the book but I didn't notice because I was engrossed with the prose which seemed light and playful, easily concealing its layers of depth and gravity.

My third favorite is "A Fable with Slips of White Paper" by Kevin Brockmeier and while it is short, leaves a resonating emotion. Brockmeier maintains the tone and length of a fable yet adapting it with modern sensibilities. Perhaps the most difficult part in such a piece would be the ending yet Brockmeier manages to successfully pull it off without sounding didactic or cliche.

At the end of the book is a "Recommended Reading" list and this space is also where the editors make their processes transparent by revealing the publications they received and considered for the anthology. Best American Fantasy really stands out as it covers very different territory from other "best of" anthologies and one can't deny the quality of the stories included. Those looking for intelligent and literary reading will do well with this book.

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.

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