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The Year's Best Fantasy And Horror 18th Annual Collection
editors: Ellen Datlow, Kelly Link, and Gavin J Grant
St Martin's Griffin paperback $19.95
review by Mario Guslandi
Here it comes the 18th annual anthology by Datlow and friends, collecting what is supposedly the best horror and fantasy fiction appeared in 2004. As usual, it is a hefty volume (of 480 pages) including 44 contributions gathered from books and magazines published in the English language. For the horror and/ or fantasy fan, this is a must. The coverage of the books published in the various categories (novels, collections, anthologies, comics) as well as of the existing range of magazines and websites, devoted to either genre and the movies appearing on the big screen, is terrific and constitutes one of the main attractions of this annual volume. To the reader seeking information on the fantasy and horror scene there's no more exhaustive source. On the other hand, those who buy the book to read the year's best stories might end up being disappointed.
The decision on what is best and what is not relies heavily on the editors' taste. And taste, as everybody knows, is very subjective. Personally I've found four real standouts: Frances Oliver's Dancing On Air, a quiet, yet very unsettling, modern ghost story, by far the most striking piece in the volume; Water Babies by Simon Brown, an extraordinary mix of crime and horror; Jeffrey Ford's A Night In The Tropics, a superb tale about a cursed chess set, and Mélanie Fazi's The Cajun's Knot, originally written in French and translated in English by Brian Stableford. This is obviously too little for a book that claims to feature the year's best fiction. One could conclude that 2004 has been a poor year for fantasy and horror. Obviously we can't blame the editors who can only take their pick from what is available on the scene just as we can't give them the credit if in a given year there are so many other good stories. Incidentally, this is one of the reasons why Year's Best anthologies shouldn't be eligible for nomination for genre awards.
The fact is, 2004 has not been a bad year at all, but a good deal of what I consider the real good stuff is confined in the huge 'Honourable Mentions' section, namely the list of those stories which, although fairly interesting, in the editors' opinion were not good enough to make it among the year's best products. That list is always too long and its usefulness has been questioned by many... In the present volume, for instance, the whole table of contents of John Connolly's s excellent collection Nocturnes has been given an honourable mention but, oddly enough, none of the stories has been judged to deserve inclusion among the 'best'. Again, a matter of taste, I suppose.
To Datlow's credit I must add that, at least as regards the horror moiety of the book, she proves to be much more eclectic in her choices than her British counterpart, Stephen Jones, whose annual Best New Horror is the natural competitor of the present anthology. While Jones' selections are usually quite predictable, sticking to a bunch of usual suspects, the sources of Datlow's choices are more varied and so are the names of the selected authors.
In other words, this book does not necessarily offer you 'the best' but certainly provides an extensive overview of what is currently published under the labels of fantasy and horror.
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