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Best of the Rest 4
edited by Brian Youmans
Suddenly Press, 187 pages

Best of the Rest 4
Brian Youmans
Brian Youmans is a small-press publisher and editor. Starting in 1990, he has produced four Best of the Rest best of the year anthologies, focusing on speculative fiction published in the small press. He lives in Mountain View, California with his family.

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A review by Mario Guslandi

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I'm often wondering about "Year's Best" anthologies. Not only because, in many instances, I disagree on the editor's choices, but because, no matter how competent, honest and thorough the editor is, to examine all the published stories, scanning every magazine, book and web site, is a superhuman task. So "the year's best" is just the best (hopefully) of what the editor has actually read.

And the rest? Good question. By editing and publishing Best of the Rest, Brian Youmans attempts "to collect the best science fiction and fantasy stories from places where readers may not have seen them". Aptly subtitled "The Best Unknown Science Fiction and Fantasy of 2005" the present volume is the fourth in a series which so far, unfortunately, has suffered a very erratic publication schedule (the first volume has appeared in 1991, the third one in 2002).

Youmans' picks draw material mainly from small press magazines such as Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet, Abyss & Apex, On Spec etc. and from obscure collections or anthologies printed in very limited amounts by the independent presses. A commendable effort for which he must be highly praised.

Mind you, Youmans himself admits that the field is getting bigger and that, in spite of his commitment to reading, he was able to browse only a small percentage of the eligible stories.

Nevertheless, at a time when the authors of most of the stories included in the "Year's Best" anthologies come from a core list of no more than 15-20 usual suspects, I find it very refreshing and absolutely meritorious making available to a larger audience good fiction unjustly fated to sit forever in the deepest obscurity.

So now, to the stories. The selected tales are by writers such as Trevor J. Nickel, Gene Wolfe, Sandra McDonald, Deborah Fitchett, Constance Cooper, Eric Schaller, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Sarah Monette, E.N. Wilson, Holly Phillips, Lawrence M Schoen.

As in any anthology some stories are unimpressive and might have easily remained buried in their limbo forever, while others are well worth reading. One could say that the "best of the rest" is neither better nor worse than the more celebrated "Year's Best," but it gives a chance to stories which are as good as the next ones and contributes genre readers to focus their attention on the existence of excellent, quality magazines too often confined in a golden ghetto reserved to a restricted elite of connoisseurs.

But there's more. Best of the Rest 4 features four little gems that it would have been a crime to miss altogether.

Jay Lake's "Green" is the fascinating portrait of a young girls sold by her family and transferred in a different land where she learns to hate and fight against a mysterious, ageless master.

"A Good Hair Day in Anarchy" by Ken Scholes is a delightful, excellent western set in a parallel world featuring a young bounty killer trying to haunt down an aged gunslinger. Outstanding.

In Robert Weston's quite original "Mourning Sickness" the death of an old friend brings about a conspicuous sign of sorrow to a man facing for the first time the reality of loss and mourning.

Extremely entertaining storytelling can be enjoyed in "Bright Waters" by John Brown, a piece set in Colonial American time. War, romance and Indian magic are the simple ingredients of a cute yarn that just works.

I do hope Youmans will keep carrying on the laudable task of looking around for genre fiction ignored by the established literary circuits and, more importantly, that he will make this volume a regular, annual appointment.

Copyright © 2006 by Mario Guslandi

Mario Guslandi lives in Milan, Italy, and is a long-time fan of dark fiction. His book reviews have appeared on a number of genre websites such as The Alien Online, Infinity Plus, Necropsy, The Agony Column and Horrorwold.


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