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The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror: Tenth Annual Collection
edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling
St. Martin's Press, 624 pages.
Reviewed by Lucy A. Snyder
Thomas Canty's cover for this anthology features a lush illustration of a pensive
fairytale princess seated at a woodland banquet table -- a table laden with tasty
tidbits such as a plate of eyeballs, a dish of infant's skulls, and the severed
head and hand of Prince Charming.
This illustration presents a good metaphor for the entire collection.
The forty-odd stories spread out like a vast buffet of painstakingly
refined gourmet dishes and exotic sweetmeats (and not a single bit of
cheese or corn to be found anywhere). Datlow and Windling have brought
out literary treats from publications ranging from The Iowa Review
to OMNI to Off Limits: Tales of Alien Sex. All the
selections in this volume are finely crafted works from talented
writers. This is just the sort of book you should drag out if you
ever run across a friend, enemy, or relative who sniffs, "Well, horror's
certainly not real literature."
But will this book be pleasing to your mental palate?
In the end, it's a matter of personal taste. The emphasis here is on beautiful
writing and striking imagery; plot and storytelling are a secondary concern. If
you are a regular reader of literary magazines, or if you have enjoyed the
fruits of previous Datlow/Windling editing partnerships, then you will no
doubt enjoy this collection.
Conversely, if you read fiction because you hunger for good
stories, then you may find this to be a mixed bag.
Some stories certainly entralled me from start to finish, such
as "The Reason For Not Going To The Ball (A Letter to Cinderella
from Her Stepmother)," "The Secret Shih Tan," "Never Seen By
Waking Eyes," "Crow Girls," "Walking the Dog," "The Witches of
Junket," "...Warmer" and "The Ladies of Grace Adieu." Some stories
are touching and melancholy, others are intense and geniunely
disturbing (I admit I couldn't quite finish "Ursus Triad, Later"). Regardless
of your personal taste, a good portion of these stories are bound to
keep your brain churning long after you've closed to the book, and
in my mind, that's what good fiction should do.
A few others, mainly the entries from literary magazines and the
magic realism pieces, are interesting but ultimately left me cold,
because in my Western SF-reading eyes, their plots are just too
thin. It seemed to me that Neil Gaiman's exceedingly raw poem,
"Eaten (Scenes From A Moving Picture)" is a much better realized
story than some of these. In many cases, I was left wondering,
"Why is this fantasy/horror? Why is this even considered a story?"
If you're a writer, asking yourself (and answering) these sorts of
questions are important, both because they help you define your own
taste and because they help you learn the mechanics of the modern short story.
And, of course, you'll get a very good feel for what two of
the top editors in the horror/fantasy genre like in a story.
So, if you have any ambitions of selling a story in these genres,
you should get this book. If you know a budding fantasy writer
over the age of sixteen who hasn't gotten past Tolkein and
Dragonlance books, you should by all means buy them
this book, lock them in their house with it, and not let them
out 'til they've read it. Someday, an editor will want to thank you.