Ellen Datlow &
Terri Windling, editors,
The Year's Best
Fantasy & Horror,
13th annual collection

(St. Martin's Press, 2000)

Thirteen must be a lucky number for Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling; their 13th annual compilation of The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror is their best yet -- and if you're familiar with these annual anthologies, that's saying a lot.

As always, the collection kicks off with bibliographic overviews from the editors which summarize the best in fantasy and horror from 1999 in an eclectic range of categories and formats. These summaries are an avid reader's dream, both for the new books they introduce and for the sense of satisfaction from discovering well-loved titles included on the lists. Windling also includes music in her section, and her recommendations are supplemented by those of Ottawa-based mythic fiction author Charles de Lint.

The overviews are followed by Edward Bryant's summary of "Fantasy and Horror in the Media: 1999" and Seth Johnson's essay on "Comics 1999." To James Frankel falls the somber task of compiling the obituaries for 1999.

The 48 stories and poems by 42 authors (some have more than one entry) are proof of Windling's statement in her introduction that in 1999, "[s]hort fiction was as strong as ever." It is difficult to choose which stories to cover in the span of a review; each one deserves mention. The cohesion of the collection is impressive; the stories and poems mesh together while each retains its distinct character and evokes distinct emotions and reactions. The result is that the reader is wholly absorbed in the pieces. Certainly, arranging an anthology is an art, and Datlow and Windling have mastered it well.

Ursula Le Guin starts off with "Darkrose and Diamond," a tale set in Earthsea which recognizes that which is essential. In this story, a young man finds that he can please no one unless he pleases his heart. Ian Macleod's "The Chop Girl" provides a grim contrast with its story about a woman in the WAAF during World War II who seems to have an unfortunate effect on men. This story is one of four in the collection which is a nominee for the World Fantasy Award for short fiction.

"The Wedding at Esperanza" by Linnet Taylor is a marvelous piece of magic realism crafted with a sure hand, while Kim Newman's "You Don't Have to Be Mad" is a funky, fun and pointed piece with a shivery dark undercurrent. "The Anatomy of a Mermaid" by Mary Sharratt is a poignant and shimmering story about the friendship between a poor seamstress and a young prostitute; the "magic" of the story is as delicate as the rosy lining of a conch shell.

Another World Fantasy Award nominee, Eleanor Arnason's "The Grammarian's Five Daughters," uses the device of the daughters spreading parts of speech to areas deprived of them to create a clever tale which is anchored with resonant meaning. The other two World Fantasy Award nominees are equally delicious: "The Parwat Ruby" by Delia Sherman is a Victorian tale about an inheritance, a magnificent ruby, and plenty of intrigue while Paul J. McAuley's "Naming the Dead" is an account of an unusual kind of detective -- one who can see and communicate with ghosts.

"At Reparata" by Jeffrey Ford is another poignant tale about a land of outcasts and their struggle to hold their kingdom together, with an ending that is unexpected and revealing. Offerings from Susanna Clarke always promise a delight, and "The Duke of Wellington Misplaces His Horse" set in Neil Gaiman's Stardust village, Wall, is no exception. Equally delightful is Charles de Lint's Pixel Pixies, a charming tale about what happens when an old-fashioned hob faces off with cyber-pixies.

It is impossible to encompass a collection of this scope in a brief review; the stories mentioned above are a mere sample of the treasures awaiting the reader in this collection.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]

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