Monday, November 17, 2008

Book/Magazine Review: The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror 2008 Twenty-First Annual Collection edited by Ellen Datlow and Kelly Link & Gavin J. Grant

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

For me, The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror (YBFH) has been this two-headed beast. On one hand, it's an eagerly anticipated book by people involved in the industry, usually for the summation at the front of the book and the honorable mentions list at the back. The various editors are quite thorough and detailed when it comes to this part. The other aspect is, of course, the story/poetry selection and what will likely attract the casual reader.

So, how does it actually fare? Well, with regards to the first part, there were no disappointments. Whether it's covering some of the highlights of the previous year (and alas, the obituaries) to the various media (comics, movies, and music) in which either fantasy or horror plays a part, the book has it covered. The writing is functional and achieves what it sets out to do.

With regards to the stories and poems, it's a welcome ensemble. I wouldn't say that every story struck me with amazement but there's certainly a lot of noteworthy and terrific stories. Staples from the previous year such as Daniel Abraham's "The Cambist and Lord Iron: A Fairy Tale of Economics" and Ted Chiang's "The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate" are included (and I think I've praised them enough in previous blog entries and reviews) so that should satisfy even the most critical of readers. There's also terrific work from the likes of Karen Joy Fowler, Nathan Ballingrud, Delia Sherman, Catherynne M. Valente, Joyce Carol Oates, Garth Nix, Terry Dowling, and Kij Johnson to name a few. Having said that, here are my top three stories.

While the anthology opened with a strong and effective piece from Abraham, it is followed by an equally impressive story, "Vampires in the Lemon Grove" by Karen Russell, for entirely different reasons. From the magic-realism elements to the setting details, this is a wonderfully-written piece that not only reinvents vampires for a literary readership but creates powerful images combined with character tension. This was certainly a real gem that could have been easily overlooked by the genre community.

This isn't the first time I encountered Elizabeth Hand's "Winter's Wife" but it's a story that satiates even upon multiple re-readings. Hands attention to detail and characterization rises to the forefront as she creates several larger than life characters that matter to the very human narrator. The build-up is slow, steady, and consistent, making the reading endeavor seamless and pleasant.

Rounding up YBFH is "Closet Dreams" by Lisa Tuttle. The author ensnares you with the illusion of the narrative that slowly builds up on the horror. What I particularly liked about this story is that it's a difficult piece to pull off yet Tuttle succeeds in doing so. It's certainly a refreshing read and dares to be different.

The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror isn't my perfect anthology but it's certainly a terrific one and manages to accomplish so many things in just one book. Stories from Abraham, Chiang, and Russel already pays for the book in my opinion, while the nonfiction section is invaluable. Definitely a must-buy for any serious fantasy/horror fan.

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