The ZONE genre worldwide books movies
the science fiction
fantasy horror &
mystery website
 
 
home  articles  profiles  interviews  essays  books  movies  competitions  guidelines  issues  links  archives  contributors  email

Fantasy: The Best Of 2001
edited by Robert Silverberg and Karen Haber
iBooks paperback £5.99

review by Patrick Hudson

It's probably verging on blasphemy to say so, but short fiction magazines are a drag. With reading time limited, combined with the vagaries of personal taste and the ratio of chaff to wheat in even the best magazines it can become a chore to read even a single short fiction magazine a month. A best of the year anthology, then, is a great opportunity for those of us who don't keep up with the short fiction mags to keep in touch with what's going on in the world of short fiction.
   Silverberg and Haber offer 11 stories published during 2001, which they consider the best and, not surprisingly, there are some excellent stories here. The anthology opens strongly with The Bones Of The Earth by Ursula Le Guin, a story of her Earthsea setting, first seen in the trilogy of classic juvenile novels published between 1968 and 1972 and since expanded several times as it has outgrown its original readership. This story recounts the last days of an old wizard, Dulse, as he helps his now grown-up apprentice Oggion prevent an earthquake from destroying their mountain home. It is very much a character piece, as the wizard ponders the events of his life, from his own apprenticeship, through maturity and his taking on of Oggion many years before. Dulse's growing awareness of the danger presented by the quake and his gradual realisation of what must be done to prevent it give the story a gentle forward momentum, and Le Guin's perceptive and sympathetic view of humanity make the characters vital and interesting.
   The next story, Ledgermain by Jack O'Donell, continues the sombre tone established by Le Guin. It is the final epistle of an unnamed narrator who becomes obsessed with reading after a mysterious encounter with an old man and a strange book on a train. It's quite obvious early on that the narrator is on the train to 'Bradbury country', with its fascination with books and stories; father figures passing on supernatural wisdom; and the autumnal world of good manners and long train journeys. As with much of Bradbury's work, this story's quest for a lost moment of golden youth is heavy with nostalgia, but the narrator's doomed search in second-hand bookshops throughout the world for the elusive, dimly remembered book will strike a chord with many.
   The Lady Of The Winds is one of the last published stories by Poul Anderson, who died in 2000. The main character is a roguish bard seeking love affairs, money and adventure in a fairly straightforward swords 'n' sorcery world. This is a 'character' story in the old style, and reads as though there should be further adventures of Cappen Vara. The overwhelming impression is light and a little bit old fashioned when compared with the previous stories, with their dark, character-led narratives. Still, it is told with brio, the main character is an entertaining rogue, and there is punch line that coincided nicely with my holiday in a certain Italian city.
   The longest story in the anthology is Lucius Shephard's Eternity and Afterwards, the story of a small time hood's attempt to buy his prostitute girlfriend off of a mystical crime lord in Russia's post-Glasnost mafia. From a gritty, angry description of crime and misery in contemporary Russia, it develops into a surreal, psychological study of the knight's quest through a tangled fairyland of money, violence and sleaze. For me, it couldn't help but evoke the sort of surreal SF films made by Tarkovsky, Goddard and Truffaut. Maybe it was just the foreign names. It is perhaps a trifle longer than necessary, and the dark comedia d'ell arte of Faustian bargains and the death of the spirit can be fatiguing, but it is beautifully written and undeniably powerful.
   Tastes vary, but my personal favourite from this collection is Hell Is The Absence Of God by Ted Chiang, the story of three characters searching for meaning in a world where God is demonstrably real and Angels periodically visit Earth to bring miracle cures and salvation. The characters explore the outer limits of a world where everyone knows whether they go to Heaven or Hell when they die. The story neatly explores this premise without being either a religious or anti-religious tract. Instead, Chiang accepts the rules as natural and immutable as the laws of physics and shows how the characters deal with the events of their lives with this knowledge. It is a terrific story, thought provoking, touching and utterly ruthless about teasing out the implications of its premise.
   The six shorter stories that make up the remaining two-thirds of this shortish (421 pages) collection provide generally good support. Particuarly worth mentioning are The Mould Of Form by Rosemary Edghill, and Wolves Till The World Goes Down by Greg van Eeckhout, both interesting interpretations of very different legends.
   This anthology is neither too literary nor too commercial for the occasional reader of fantasy, and the strength of the best stories will impress even the most jaded fantasy enthusiast. If I have a quibble, it is that the editors did not go far afield for their material - readers of The Magazine Of Fantasy & Science Fiction, in particular, will find most of the material here familiar. For those of us, however, who don't generally read short fiction, it's a welcome reminder of the variety and quality of the short fantasy that is being written now.
Fantasy: The Best Of 2001
Buy books at:
Amazon.co.uk
Amazon.com

related item -
Science Fiction:
The Best Of 2001


home  articles  profiles  interviews  essays  books  movies  competitions  guidelines  issues  links  archives  contributors  email
copyright © 2001 - 2002 Pigasus Press