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Year's Best Fantasy & Horror, 12th Annual Collection
edited by Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling
St. Martin's Press, 624 pages

Year's Best Fantasy & Horror, 12th 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

Terri Windling
Terri Windling is a five-time World Fantasy Award winner, a consulting fantasy editor at Tor, the author of The Wood Wife (winner of the Mythopoeic Award) and other fiction, and writes a popular folklore column for Realms of Fantasy magazine.

Terri Windling Website
ISFDB Bibliography

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 and Horror: 10th Annual Collection
SF Site Review: Fairy Tale Anthologies

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Charlene Brusso

In fantasy literature, like most other genres, novels usually get the bulk of the attention. With good reason, of course: It's much easier to keep up with new books than it is to try and read every short story, novelette and novella published in a given year. Thankfully we have brave and tireless editors like Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling who can do the sorting for us and come up with a final tally of the past year's notable fantasy short stories.

While you may not always agree with a given choice, you can't help but find challenging, entertaining stories in each Year's Best Fantasy & Horror collection. Both editors read works published outside as well as within the genre -- an important point to make, especially as the literary mainstream finds itself more and more attracted to fantasy. No matter how you disguise a story with labels like "gothic", "magical realism", "mythic realism," etc., it's still easily recognizable as a genuine fantasy story to those of us here in the spec fiction ghetto.

This is the 12th volume in the series, and it continues to uphold the high standards of the previous editions. Windling selects the fantasy stories, works steeped in mythic imagery and magic, while Datlow gives us dark tales of night-bound creatures and normalcy gone wrong. Like life, both horror and fantasy fiction can run the gamut of humour to romance to tragedy, and you can find examples of all of those here.

The anthology opens strongly with "Travels with the Snow Queen," the 1998 Tiptree-winning short story by Kelly Link. A street-wise blend of fairy tale and new-fangled empowerment, Link's masterful second-person POV story portrays a young woman on a journey to find a missing lover in wry, frequently lyrical language. This one begs to be read aloud, though you'll find yourself halted by laughter more than once along the way.

Susanna Clark's "Mrs. Mabb" likewise turns familiar territory -- Jane Austen's mild mannered English countryside -- on its ear in her tale of magical sense and sensibility. Delia Sherman's bawdy "The Fairy Cony-Catcher" gives a decidedly different spin to the usual tale of mortal versus Mabb's Court, while Steven Millhauser's "Clair de Lune" manages to be both a baseball story and a midsummer's eve tale of fairy and mortal.

Steve Duffy's "Running Dogs" is the first horror story in the collection, and pretty much sets the tone for those which follow, with its dark, brooding atmosphere and unfathomable evil. "Due West," by Australian writer Rick Kennett, echoes the mood when a newcomer to a small town is haunted by images of an infamous multiple murder which occurred years ago. Norman Partridge's "Blackbirds" tells a fairly traditional tale where horror is only recognized by the young.

Bruce Glassco's "Taking Loup" is a skillful blend of SF and dark fantasy. This near-future story turns the tables on gender stereotypes with a world where drug-induced female lycanthropy gives the typical single guy plenty to worry about.

Another Australian writer, Sara Douglass, follows with "The Evil Within," a wrenchingly bleak story of demonic threat in a small medieval village. How much faith would you have in a Church whose best solution for fighting demons is to breed their own? Jane Yolen's revenge story "Become a Warrior" also focuses on the losses and gains of fixing one's heart and soul on a noble goal.

Michael Marshall Smith's "A Place To Stay" takes us to demons of a decidedly different sort, with a man whose business trip to New Orleans turns into a time-tripping trap. The author is a five-time British Fantasy Award winner and it's easy to see why in this smoothly written story. Mary Rosenblum's "The Rainmaker" is likewise a seemingly effortless tale, though her themes -- faith and belief crossed by black human nature -- are different territory indeed.

Often older stories become the springboard for new work, such as Mark W. Tiedeman's "Psyche," where painter accepts a commission from a man named Van Helsing, to paint a portrait from a certain dead count's head. Ellen Kushner reprises her "fantasy of manners" novel Swordspoint in "The Death of The Duke," while Patricia McKillip's "Oak Hill" tells a tale of being lost and found, set in the shared universe of Terri Windling's Bordertown. John Kessel's "Every Angel Is Terrifying" is a tour de force follow-up to Flannery O'Connor's infamous "A Good Man Is Hard To Find." Lest we forget the Great Old Ones, Cthulhu gets his plug in Neil Gaiman's sly charmer, "Shoggoth's Old Peculiar," and Karen Joy Fowler's "The Travails" is a roundhouse punch from Lemuel Gulliver's wife to her ever-travelling husband.

Sometimes a story isn't surprising for its content so much as where the editors gleaned it from. Lisa Goldstein's "The Fantasma of Q___" goes about its storytelling in a predictable, workmanlike fashion, but it was probably a revelation to the mainstream readers of Ms. magazine! Then there's "That Feeling, You Can Only Say What It Is In French," Stephen King's story from that staid old monument of WASPy literary respectability, The New Yorker. Mood and memory combine neatly in this story of lost dreams and deja vu, building tension to a genuinely nasty end.

Folk tales are also present here in theme and subject in good number. The closing scenes of Beowulf are the backdrop to Marisa de los Santos' haunting poem "Wiglaf." Catherine Savage Brosman's "Kokopelli" dances with that (possibly over-) famous figure from Native American mythos, while "Wile E. Coyote's Lament" by Larry Fontenot draws on a somewhat newer folk tale. "Great Sedna" by Lawrence Osgood retells a dark Inuit legend of how the world came to be. Ralph Salisbury's "Hoopa, The White Deer Dance," deals with the problem or being forced to choose between two worlds. Carol Ann Duffy's "Mrs. Beast" speaks to all the "animal brides" of folklore with a slyly bitter tone, which Japanese writer Kurahasi Yumiko's "The House Of The Black Cat" makes up in voice for what this "cat bride" story lacks in novelty. Genealogical research turns up a dangerous family connection to an old figure from local legend in Christopher Haiman's "Jackdaw Jack." Ilan Stavan's Hispanic ghost story "Blimunda" shows "a ghost can be allowed to generate fear, but it shouldn't take away one's livelihood."

Modern situations can also pave the way to new kinds of horror, demonstrated by Terry Lamsley's "Suburban Blight," which gives us toxic waste-spawned monsters wreaking havoc around a quiet English suburb. Dennis Etchison's "Inside The Cackle Factory" never quite gets rolling past predictability, but still manages to deliver some hearty blows to the world of TV ratings and demographic analysis. "Mr. Clubb And Mr. Cuff," by Peter Straub, is a black comedy about a businessman who can't help becoming dangerously involved when he hires two semi-civilized thugs to punish his wife for having an affair. Michael Blumlein's "Revenge" is a bizarre mix of Latin magical realism and modern sensibilities, with a simple man stumbling into a sew change operation to appease his dead daughter's spirit. "Jenny Come To Play" by Terry Dowling, delivers a twisty story of murder, misplaced memory, and separated Siamese twins, in spite of the convenient vat of acid at the end.

Then there are the stories which come out of nowhere and don't fit any of the previous categories -- like Sylvia Brownrigg's "The Bird Chick" or Nick DiChario's "Carp Man," and Charles de Lint's "Twa Corbies," each about people and animals and mixes of same. For more surreal thoughts, Ray Vukcevich's "By The Time We Get To Uranus" walks a fine line between SF and fantasy, with characters who slowly grow silvery suits over their skin and eventually are whisked off into space.

Famed Argentinian fantasist Jorge Luis Borges made the book posthumously with the first English publication of "The Rose of Paracelsus." The story is notable not merely for its powerful imagery, but also because its themes -- faith & knowledge, honour & resurrection -- are at the core of much of Borges' writing.

Another story likely to linger in memory is Judy Budnitz's "Hershel," about the village baby-maker. "Nothing could compare to the sight of a new baby fresh from the oven," she writes, and you don't often find stories comparable to this one. Unless maybe you count Kelly Link's other story in this collection (she's the only author with two here), "The Specialist's Hat," complete with ghostly babysitter, precocious twins, and a gloomy old Victorian house with an attic so big you could ride a bicycle in it.

The famous author of Booker Prize winning fantasy novel Possession, A.S. Byatt provides the anchor story here, simply titled "Cold." The story is anything but, however, detailing the complicated romance of a princess born for the cold and her prince, whose marvellous glassworks are made from the sands of his desert kingdom.

Whew! That's it: more than 40 stories and poems (though not all poems were covered in this review). All in all, a big, bountiful collection, with a few stories you may have run across over the past year, and many, many more you haven't -- but probably should.

Copyright © 1999 Charlene Brusso

Charlene's sixth grade teacher told her she would burn her eyes out before she was 30 if she kept reading and writing so much. Fortunately he was wrong. Her work has also appeared in Aboriginal SF, Amazing Stories, Dark Regions, MZB's Fantasy Magazine, and other genre magazines.

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