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August 2003
© 2003 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu
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The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror by Ellen Datlow (ed) and Terri Windling (ed)
Griffin HCVR: ISBN 0312314256 PubDate: 08/03/01
Review by Laurie J. Marks

672 pgs. List price $ 20
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Datlow and Windling are one of those editorial teams that keep coming up with compelling , not to be missed collections. For the 16th annual F&H collection they've gathered authors James Blaylock, Jeffrey Ford, Elizabeth Hand and many others for a treat for all who delight in the fantastic. - ed

With over 50 selections, including poetry and essays, spanning 500 pages and 250,000 words, this collection can't be accused of failing to be comprehensive. Yet, when I was merely glancing through the table of contents, it was the careful selectivity of this anthology that first started my heart palpitating. I started by reading Karen Joy Fowler's "What I Didn't See," a story I first heard rumors of at Wiscon. Apparently, Fowler's story created a stir on it publication, in part because reviewers insisted it was not science fiction, a pigeonholing problem that editor Terri Windling resolved by declaring the story interstitial, meaning that it inhabits the spaces between genres. Yet the title, a reference to James D. Tiptree/Alice Sheldon's "The Women Men Don't See," alerts the reader that this story is engaged in a conversation with its science fiction antecedents. A familiarity both with the Tiptree story and with Alice Sheldon's parentage definitely enhance the reader's experience. For example, two days after I first read Fowler's story, I woke up at dawn to birdsong and the startled realization that Beverly had gone to live with the gorillas just as the women in the Tiptree story had gone to live with the aliens, and for much the same reason.

The inclusion of this rich, complex, intelligent story suggests a great deal about the anthology as a whole. The perceptiveness of its editors leads to a rich, intertextuality - not just between an individual story and its predecessors, as with the Fowler story, but also between the stories in the anthology. For example, by sheer serendipity I next chose to read China Miéville's "Details," which was originally printed in an anthology of tributes to H.P. Lovecraft's horror fiction. Like Fowler's story, Mieville's tale also addresses the theme of seeing and not seeing. The mature woman in Fowler's story declares that she has not seen something that the men in her safari saw perfectly clearly. The mature woman in Miéville's story has seen "the devil in the details," and is now desperately trying to avoid seeing the devil again, by attempting to see nothing at all. The immature young man in Mieville's story eventually becomes able to see the pattern in the details (the cracks in a wall), but he sees not the 'devil" but the woman, who herself has become "details."

The Fowler and Miéville story resonate with each other, both in the similarity of theme, and in the difference of how these two authors portray perception as gendered. Several days after reading these two stories, I am still mulling over the contrasts: the woman in Fowler's story is hustled away from a massacre that the men participate in; the young man in Miéville's story is shut outside the closed world of Mrs. Miller, and also the closed world of his own mother, who gives him mysterious, unexplained tasks that can only be fulfilled by rote. These two stories were by different editors and were originally published in far separate venues, and without the serendipity of their inclusion in this volume I would never have read them one after the other.

Yet a third story then takes up the conversation with "What I Didn't See." "The Green Man," by Christopher Fowler (no relation to Karen), is another man and woman vs. the gorilla tale (though in this case it's a macaque). A similar sexual situation is resolved very differently by these two authors, but Christopher Fowler's story, rather than recalling Tiptree, brings another science fiction classic to mind: King Kong. The women's secret, risky choice in "What I Didn't See" is replaced by no choice at all in "The Green Man," as the husband's possessive jealousy turns out to be not so paranoid after all. Like the others, this is a wonderfully written story that delivers its reader to the very dangerous veranda in the rain forest. And the author's portrayal of Josh's misguided masculinity (not very different from that of the macaque) almost allows me to forgive the author for the hapless (though rational and intellectual) woman sleeping in her underwear while the beast approaches.

This is only three of fifty stories, but I hope my musings help to reveal why this collection is well worth the price. The reader may create her own anthology as she reads this one, sorting the stories into her own categories (interstitial being one of them, of course). I strongly recommend this heady experience.

© 2003 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu
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