With my not being much of a horror fan, you wouldn’t think I’d get much out of The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror #20, edited by Ellen Datlow, Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant, since half of it hails from a genre that I really don’t have any interest in. However, I really enjoyed last year’s edition – in fact, the horror stories were actually more interesting than the fantasy ones. Sadly, this year the stories aren’t quite as gripping, though I can’t point to any that I didn’t enjoy at least somewhat. It helps that quite a few of them are from one of my favorite anthologies from last year, Salon Fantastique (and thankfully, none of the bad ones from that collection are included here).
As usual, the book begins with the state of the genre, written by all of the authors; Datlow covers the horror side admirably, while the other two editors handle fantasy. There’s also a round up of media (by Edward Bryant), comics and graphic novels (by Jeff VanderMeer), music (Charles de Lint) and the past year’s obituaries (by James Frenkel). This is a really nice overview of the year that was (2006, in this case), with all of these articles highlighting entries that you may have missed and wish to pick up.
Then we get to the stories. As usual, each story has a brief introduction by the editor(s) who picked it, so you can tell right away whether it falls into the horror or fantasy genre - though admittedly some of the lines are a bit mixed. Just because the story was originally published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction doesn’t mean that Datlow won’t pick it for her list.
“The Night Whiskey” by Jeffrey Ford (from Salon Fantastique) is the first standout story in this volume, and also one of my favorites from that book as well. The story is about a drink so potent that it leaves people drunk enough to meet up with the dead for a night. It’s only consumed once a year by a select (but different) group of people every year. But what happens when one of this year’s drinkers brings the dead back with him? This story is powerful and emotional, yet also very quiet. Ford’s prose is as good as ever, immersing the reader in this little town that he’s created and the characters who are trying to deal with a truly abnormal situation. One of my favorites in the original anthology, it’s also near the top this time as well.
“Femaville 29” by Paul Di Filippo (also from Salon Fantastique) is another standout in both collections. A tsunami has hit the East Coast of the United States (it’s not exactly clear where), and Parrish Hedges is not having a good time of it. He’s a cop on administrative leave (in the aftermath of the tsunami, he shot a kid who he thought had a gun). Now he’s just a resident of one of the evacuation cities set up by FEMA to help the locals get back on their feet. The children there are industriously creating a city out of the mud, dirt, and whatever else they can find. But is this just children trying to deal with the aftereffects of the tsunami? Or do they offer Parrish (and all of the others) a chance to truly move on? This is a fascinating concept, and Di Filippo’s writing is, as always, excellent. His characterization of Parrish, his new-found lover, and the woman’s daughter (who seems to be one of the ringleaders of this group) is wonderful.
While there aren’t any truly awful stories in this collection (nor should there be, in a “Best of” collection!), there are a few that just didn’t do anything for me. Sadly, there are more of those this year than last. I didn’t really care for “Another Word for Map is Faith” by Christopher Rowe when I read it in the original magazine, and a second read here didn’t help me at all. A bunch of biblical geographers are on a field trip to "correct" the way the land lies in an area of the Southwest. Apparently, some of the local geography is slightly different than the way it "should" be, and they have to correct it. When they stumble upon a lake and small village that shouldn’t be there, they have to decide whether to try and “correct” it, because the job may just be too big for them. Sadly, none of the characters worked for me, more caricatures than anything else despite Rowe’s attempts to give them humanity.
For the most part, though, The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror 2007: 20th Annual Collection is an excellent read, full of “more than 250,000 words of the finest fantasy and horror.” Unless you have a complete aversion to one of the genres, you’ll probably find something in here that you like. If I can like a horror story, some of you non-fans of fantasy can give one our stories a try. Who knows? It may just grab you and suck you in.