Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror

Won't be updating for the rest of the week but in the meantime, hopefully this news/feature will last you until next week.

Last Monday, Gavin Grant announced that there won't be a release this year of The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror--at least the current form as we know it.

James A. Owen summarizes my feelings with this statement: "That's sort of an end of an era right there."

For me, there are several reasons why the anthology holds a very special place in the community.

As a fan, it was the de-facto fantasy/horror anthology to purchase. If you wanted a summation of the previous year's best short stories, this was the book to get. "Best Of" reprint anthologies had a boom in recent years but The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror consistently delivered for more than two decades and easily became an icon in itself. Again, the book had several things going for it. First, let's talk about the selections. It covers a vast field, not just fiction and poetry but both fantasy and horror. But what personally appealed to me was the fact that this was a book that strove to expand its horizons, challenging our notions of what is genre, as well as covering a diverse scope.

Second is the format.
The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror is composed of three sections. It starts off with a summation of the industry and this section has expanded over the years, covering not just the conventions and publishers but other forms of media as well such as movies and comics. This in itself could have been a scholarly paper on its own, and the only thing that comes close in recent years is Rich Horton's summation of the various genre publications.

The second section is what we typically expect of most anthologies: the stories themselves. Again, when it comes to The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror, I think the strength of this part is that it crossed conventions and featured a diverse set of stories. By itself, I think the anthology would have been successful but this is only one-third of the book.

The last section is the Honorable Mentions list. As a reader, this is a great place to discover terrific short stories and authors, especially the not-so-famous ones. This is a definite treasure trove when it comes to recommended reading. As a writer however, getting into the Honorables Mention list is truly an honor (short of actually getting included in the anthology). It was a goal to aspire to and is as rewarding as winning a Hugo or Nebula (that might be an exaggeration so your mileage may vary). I mean when the 2008 edition got released, the first thing that authors/editors/publishers started posting on their blogs was how this and that story got cited in the book.

Now combine all three and you have an indispensable tome, at least as far as content is concerned. Each of the sections could have been a mini-publication of its own yet here it is in one convenient package.

Of course that's not the only reason why
The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror is the icon that it is. Jeff Vandermeer has a blog entry on anthologies and part of the charm of the book is its reputation and the publisher backing it. I do think it's a valid question to ask "But if you move an institution to an indie press, is it still an institution?"

Giving Credit Where It's Due

The names of the editors are usually associated with the anthology but here are some of the people which I believe tend to be overlooked.

There's no better place to start than Jim Fenkel. Terri Windling states: "It's Jim Frenkel who deserves the credit for producing two decades of YBF&H. The anthology was his idea and his baby from the start. It was Jim who picked the editorial team." John Klima adds "As much as Ellen, Gavin, Kelly, and formerly Terri Windling, drove the contents of the anthology and gave readers hundreds of thousands of words of excellent reading, it was Jim Frenkel, working as the packager, who got the whole thing organized and put together."

Then there's Tom Canty which actually gave the book a distinctive look and feel. To quote Windling, "You have to be as old as we are to remember how radical Tom's delicate, Pre-Raphaelite-inspired art looked on genre covers back then, when muscle-bound, half-naked swordsmen were still the norm."

And of course there are the editors both path and present: Ellen Datlow, Gavin Grant, Kelly Link, and Terri Windling. The direction and stewardship of the anthology was pretty much in their hands and a lot of people associate the book with their names and vice versa--justly so.

What Happens Next?

It's a question on a lot of people's minds and it's certainly possible to port over the anthology to a different publisher (it's interesting to note that the contract with St. Martin's Press was one year at a time ).

Currently, Ellen Datlow tentatively has two upcoming horror anthologies with Night Shade Books. The book will be around 125,000-words long when it comes to the fiction side, possibly more depending on the length of Datlow's introduction (the Horror summation part). While the anthology ain't The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror, this is easily the successor to the horror half. (Of course this also means that if Fenkel and Datlow does attempt to resurrect the book, the latter won't be available until her work with Night Shade Books is completed.)

What isn't clear right now is the actual cause of the anthology's discontinuation. "For the record though, the recession has nothing to do with the end of the series (as at least a couple of postings have said) and secondly the series was not dumped by St Martin's. The leavetaking from St Martin's was a mutual parting of the ways --it's just that other complexities made reselling the antho elsewhere difficult, if not impossible," says Ellen Datlow in Elizabeth Hand's blog.

As for me, well, I do feel it's definitely the end of an era, but not necessarily the end of the genre. There's a lot of anthologies coming out and while they may not be The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror, it's also diversifying itself in a way that the said anthology couldn't. I can easily imagine Horton stepping up to the plate as far as summaries are concerned, should he be interested in doing so, and we're seeing the resurgence of anthologists such as the Vandermeers, Jonathan Strahan, and hopefully more from the duo that is David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer.

1 comment:

L. Clarke said...

G,day I love science fiction horror novels and movies. I am an avid pc game enthusiast and think the new games movement is almost an art genre.
I have written a book called Doom Of The Shem.
Doom Of The Shem is a science fiction novel that incorporates the horror of military action with the unavoidable hostilities that occur when an alien species invade a planet in search of food. The barbarity of war is brought to light by the work achieved by the nurses and medical personnel of the planets inhabitants. While a full blown military action story emerges from an ensuing war that involves the whole planet. It is especially centered on a squad of the planets army forces, who fight the alien invaders.