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The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror, Thirteenth Annual Collection
edited by Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling
St Martin's Griffin, 514 pages


Thomas Canty
The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror, Thirteenth 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.

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

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Nick Gevers

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Like its predecessors, this volume casts the widest possible net for the best short fiction of the year, ransacking for their treasure prosperous genre magazines and obscure literary quarterlies, well-publicized anthologies and the smallest of small press chapbooks; and like its predecessors, the 13th Datlow/Windling annual is consequently superb. After over a hundred closely-printed pages of intensive summary and discussion of the state of the Horror and Fantasy fields in 1999, the editors present a very well-considered five hundred pages of novelettes, short stories, and poems (and one essay); and any critic's estimate of the best of the Best is bound to be arbitrarily subjective in the face of such consistently excellent variety. But a ranking must be attempted...

So: with the above qualification, the most rewarding tales in the Thirteenth Annual Collection can be ventured as follows. Gene Wolfe's "The Tree Is My Hat" is a masterfully formulated exercise in perceptual Horror, detailing how, on a Polynesian island, a man's private hallucinations converge with those of the people around him, to terrible yet amusing effect; Tim Lebbon's "White," the longest piece here, is equally striking and innovative, making the siege of an English country house by monstrous wraiths into a savage allegory of the decline and fall of the world itself. "At Reparata" by Jeffrey Ford is an inspired conflation of High Fantasy and psychoanalysis, a paradox-riddled account of how a king who patronizes the criminal and the mad goes mad himself, and must be cured by the magic of demolition; and Thomas Wharton's three-page "The Paper-thin Garden" elaborates Coleridge's "Kubla Khan" into something stranger, and perhaps more significant, than it already is. The witty neatness of Eleanor Arnason's "The Grammarian's Five Daughters" is a marvel, its fairy tale form acting as a (slightly smug) conspectus of the basic functions of language; and the hauntedness of modern Britain finds compellingly strange expression twice over, in the perverse lyrical nostalgia of Ian R. MacLeod's World War II tale "The Chop Girl" and in Paul J. McAuley's "Naming the Dead," a sally into the nightmare-saturated streets of London already so well memorialized by Peter Ackroyd. These stories are magnificent, finely written and perfectly achieved.

In a slightly lower bracket, but still dazzling to the mind's eye, is a set of stories clustering around the notion that evil is best presented in its own (self-damning) terms. Thus "Keepsakes and Treasures: A Love Story" by Neil Gaiman, whose casually murderous narrator remakes himself in a sudden final epiphany; and "What You Make It" by Michael Marshall Smith, which anatomizes with shattering ambiguity a hood's rape of Disneyland; and "The Emperor's Old Bones" by Gemma Files, a study in how immortality is acquired through the (literal) sacrifice of others. In a different but similarly impressive vein, Steven Millhauser in "The Disappearance of Elaine Coleman" and Steve Rasnic Tem in "Halloween Street" discuss, the one quietly and the other vividly, the very real horror of figurative invisibility; "Shatsi" by Pete Crowther is an indication of how someone frantically compensating for such invisibility might simply disappear anyway. Meanwhile, another entry by Michael Marshall Smith, "Welcome," celebrates the hollow joy of vanishing from this drab drab world. Insanity is given a merry spin by Kim Newman in "You Don't Have To Be Mad," a spoof period piece as funny as any of his work, only (somehow) featuring (for once) no vampires. And there is the terror of identity (or archetype) exchange in Neil Gaiman's "Harlequin Valentine," and Denise Lee's boldly lurid take on syphilis in "Sailing the Painted Ocean."

Passing quickly over a whole category of stories best dubbed worthy, and thus quite worthwhile -- tales like Jan Hodgman's quaint "Tanuki," and Elizabeth Birmingham's contemporarily mystical "Falling Away," and Juan Goytisolo's magical realist fable "The Stork Men," and Patricia McKillip's wry retelling of a fairy tale cliché in "Toad" -- there remains the sad duty of identifying a few curious blots on the genre escutcheons otherwise so ably polished by Datlow and Windling in this book. Ursula K. Le Guin's "Darkrose and Diamond" might seem like a dream come true, another new Earthsea Tale following "Dragonfly" (1998), but it is limp and ordinary, a dull tale of young love not much enlivened by its fantastic setting. In Suzanna Clarke's "The Duke of Wellington Misplaces His Horse," Clarke archly (fatally so) misplaces her no doubt real talent as a writer. And Delia Sherman does not come off well in "The Parwat Ruby," a piece trading very heavily on cute Anthony-Trollopisms, commodities best left at the creative door. So there are a few failures here, a few lapses of editorial judgement; but although glaring, they are few.

The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror: Thirteenth Annual Collection is a trove of riches, an anthology of record in the true sense of the term. The elegant brevity of its many offerings is in telling contrast with the bloated novels that infest the two genres; it is the one item now emanating from them that simply must be read.

Copyright © 2000 Nick Gevers

Since completing a Ph.D. on uses of history in SF, Nick Gevers has become a moderately prolific reviewer and interviewer in the field of speculative fiction. He has published in INTERZONE, NOVA EXPRESS, the NEW YORK REVIEW OF SF, and GALAXIES; much of his work is available at INFINITY PLUS, of which he is Associate Editor. He lives in Cape Town, South Africa.


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