YEAR'S BEST FANTASY
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
In 1996, David Hartwell joined Gardner Dozois in collecting what he felt were the best science fiction stories of the previous year. While Dozois published a thick trade paperback filled with novellas and stories which have covered the entire range of speculative fiction, Hartwell has focused his smaller books on what could be considered hard science fiction at shorter lengths. With his tastes in science fiction firmly established before the public after six outings, Hartwell has elected to turn his attention to science fiction’s sister-genre, fantasy, with the first installment of the Year’s Best Fantasy, co-edited with frequent partner Kathryn Cramer. The result is a book as different from Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling’s The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror as Hartwell’s science fiction anthologies are from Dozois’s The Year’s Best Science Fiction.
While acknowledging fantasy’s more literary practitioners (and including a story by, for instance, Gene Wolfe doesn’t let Hartwell ignore that branch), Hartwell’s focus seems to be more on the traditional elements of fantasy fiction. Although sword and sorcery has recently been relegated, it sometimes seems, to between the covers of massive tomes, Hartwell is able to include stories set in George R.R. Martin’s “Song of Ice and Fire” realm and Terry Goodkind’s “Wizard’s First Rule” series to provide the sense of the great fantasy epics which have been appearing in stores for the last several years, although Goodkind’s tale was originally published in 1998.
Sword and sorcery is only one subgenre of fantasy, however, and Hartwell seems to want to be as inclusive of the traditional styles of fantasy as possible. Constantine Storm’s “The Face of Sekt” is a story which looks at the mixture of politics and religion in ancient times. The story serves as a cautionary tale, not to those politicians who wish to mix religion into politics, but those religious members who want to mix the two.
Several stories, such as Nicola Griffith’s “A Troll’s Story,” Brian Stableford’s “Chantarelle,” Naomi Kritzer’s “The Golem,” and Greg Costikyan’s “And Still She Sleeps” have their roots in folklore and fairy tales. While the latter term frequently conjures up images of Disneyesque fables, as any reader of Ellen Datlow and Terry Windling’s long-running fairy tales series know, these stories can be as dark in tone and outcome as anything written by H.P. Lovecraft.
Lovecraft serves as the inspiration for Don Webb’s “The Prophecies of Newfane Asylum,” one of three included stories which was originally published in the more science fictionally oriented Interzone. Webb has written a period piece which combines the glamour of the regency period with the sinister atmosphere of Lovecraft’s nineteenth-century New England. Interzone is also represented by Sarah Singleton’s “Ebb Tide” and Zoran Zivkovic’s “The Window.”
Many of the stories included in Year’s Best Fantasy will be readily available to genre readers, however not all are. The year 2000 seems to have been a good year for fantasy readers who needed to fly. Although not included, Harlan Ellison’s “Incognita, Inc.” was originally published in the United Airlines in-flight magazine (and later reprinted in Realms of Fantasy), while Scott Bradford’s “The Devil Disinvests,” which is included here, was originally published in the Swissair magazine (and later in F&SF). Both of those stories take clichés of the field and look at them in a refreshing light.
Just as David Hartwell presented his own vision of science fiction with his annual collection six years ago, so, too, does he take a look at fantasy and present a vision of the field which adheres to the traditional forms and concepts of the field. His impression of fantasy fiction seems to be more inclusive than his vision of science fiction (for the purposes of these anthologies), but it remains a vision which is recognizable to the literature which has grown out of the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien, L. Sprague de Camp, Unknown and Weird Tales.
|John Sullivan||Everything Changes|
|Nicola Griffith||A Troll Story|
|Storm Constantine||The Face of Sekt|
|George R.R. Martin||Path of the Dragon|
|Michael Swanwick||The Raggle Taggle Gypsy-O|
|Sarah Singleton||Ebb Tide|
|Joel Lane||The Hunger of the Leaves|
|Nalo Hopkinson||Greedy Choke Puppy|
|Naomi Kritzer||The Golem|
|Scott Bradfield||The Devil Disinvents|
|Simon Brown and Alison Tokley||A Serpent in Eden|
|Kain Massin||Wrong Dreaming|
|Sherwood Smith||Mom and Dad at the Home Front|
|Renee Bennett||The Fey|
|Richard Parks||Golden Bell, Seven and the Marquis of Zeng|
|Charles de Lint||Making a Noise in This World|
|Robert Sheckley||Magic, Maples and Maryanne|
|Don Webb||The Prophecies at Newfane Asylum|
|Zoran Zivkovic||The Window|
|Greg Costikyan||And Still She Sleeps|
|Gene Wolfe||The Walking Sticks|
|Terry Goodkind||Debt of Bones|
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