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The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror: Seventeenth Annual Collection
edited by Ellen Datlow, Kelly Link, and Gavin J. Grant
St. Martin's Griffin, 564 pages

The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror: Seventeenth Annual Collection
Ellen Datlow
Ellen Datlow was the fiction editor of OMNI from 1981 until it folded in 1998. She now works as the fiction editor of SCIFI.COM. Her well-deserved reputation as an editor for both this series and for the Fairy Tale Anthologies series (both with Terri Windling) has garnered her numerous awards.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Green Man
SF Site Review: The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror, 14th Annual Collection
SF Site Review: Year's Best Fantasy & Horror, 13th Annual Collection
SF Site Review: Black Heart, Ivory Bones
SF Site Review: Year's Best Fantasy & Horror, 12th Annual Collection
SF Site Review: Silver Birch, Blood Moon
SF Site Review: Black Swan, White Raven
SF Site Review: Year's Best Fantasy & Horror, 11th Annual Collection
SF Site Review: Year's Best Fantasy & Horror: 10th Annual Collection
SF Site Review: Fairy Tale Anthologies

Kelly Link
Kelly Link's work includes appearances in The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror, the 'zine Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet and the collection A Wolf at the Door (edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling). She won the World Fantasy Award for her story "The Specialist's Hat" and the James Tiptree Jr. Award for "Travels with the Snow Queen."

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Trampoline
SF Site Review: 4 Stories
Jelly Ink
Small Beer Press

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Chris Przybyszewski

The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror is a stunning anthology of short fiction from a variety of authors both well known (Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, Ursula K. Le Guin) and the not so well known (everyone else).

The anthology also offers summation on the facets of fantasy and horror, presented by the editors. Of particular interest are the Media of the Fantastic: 2003; Comics and Graphic Novels: 2003; and Music of the Fantastic: 2003. Clearly, the editors wish to make inclusive the various mediums by which artists in this modern day work. Artists work best in a community, and publications like this can draw the various elements together, forging new alliances that lead to creation.

The stories themselves are a testament to such things, and run the gamut of fantasy and horror possibilities. I'm not such a horror fan, but these stories are a good balance of 'new horror,' which emphasizes suspense over gore, and characterization over visceral elucidation. In the fantasy department, the editors concentrated their attention to the 'speculative fiction' of the world. There are stories of swords and sorceries (see below), but stories with a concentration on characters stuck in odd situations seem to be prevalent.

While smaller publications (e.g., Argosy, The 3rd Alternative) are represented, the editors do place an emphasis on big-name publications. Many of the stories originated in the most prestigious of the sci-fi/ fantasy journals such as SCI FICTION, The Magazine of Science Fiction & Fantasy, and Asimov's Science Fiction. Other stories come from mainstream sources such as Esquire, The New Yorker, and the Paris Review.

Whatever the original journals, all the stories are good. Shelly Jackson's "Husband" shows a world in which the citizens live in a hive social construct. One of the best eaters, the narrator of this story, must decide that balance between creating a husband for herself (it involves killing the male and wearing its skin) and dedicating her life to the mastication of the hive's food.

Jackson could have concentrated on the multiple grotesques inherent in this story. But she realized that these were only strange things to the human reader, and not abnormal for the narrator of the story. The result is a subdued offering that focuses on the personal sacrifice of the narrator. While some authors might have played up the whole 'she's wearing dead skin' angle, Jackson accepts it as the norm of this world and moves her character forward.

Neil Gaiman shows the same restraint in his reverse Sherlock Holmes short story, "A Study in Emerald." Gaiman creates an alternate universe in which "Her Majesty" is now an alien life form, and her shrewd detective is not Sherlock, but rather his arch-nemesis Moriarty. Gaiman creates a wonderful switch that keeps the original characters true to themselves (Moriarty is still evil, if you were wondering), while creating new circumstances to which those characters must react. His method is to write the story solely through the eyes of one narrator, an ex-soldier who has seen his share of horror. This narrator is not one to exaggerate or embellish. His "just the facts" style helps the unsure reader through the unfamiliar climate of the story. The writing in this short story is a case of the virtuoso artist (Gaiman) experimenting with his voice and his talent. The experiment is not a failure.

A third example is of the good old fashioned sword and sorcery variety. In Michael Swanwick's "Dragon King," a young village boy finds himself in the thralls of a gigantic techno-dragon whose power overwhelms his small populace. The boy must decide to either protect his life of servitude (which means comfort and personal power), or to stand against the dragon's will for the good of his people. Swanwick moves away from the fantasy standard in which a character's inherent 'goodness' shines through at all points. This main character is an addict, a murderer, and a general asshole. His road to redemption is a long one, and Swanwick does not make it clear if traveling that road will be sufficient at the end of the day. Also unique is Swanwick's interest in his main character's dragon-induced drug addiction.

In this review's final example, the editors give nod to fantasy's non-Americans and to Philippine writer Dean Francis Alfar, whose "L'Aquilone du Estrellas" (The Kite of Stars) reads with the knowing sadness of Paulo Coehlo's The Alchemist and with the magic of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude. Happily, Alfar's story of an obsessed woman trying to get the attention of the local astronomer is less convoluted and easy to follow than Marquez's story. At the same time, Alfar writes a more emotionally complicated story than Coehlo presents in his short novel.

The editors know a good story when they see one. The editors are also smart enough to not allow silly words like 'genre' and 'audience' stop them from picking some of the best far-fetched fiction this side of the International Date Line. The mix of well known and not so well known, of mainstream and of industry specific, creates a keeper of an anthology.

Copyright © 2005 Chris Przybyszewski

Chris learned to read from books of fantasy and science fiction, in that order. And any time he can find a graphic novel that inspires, that's good too.

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