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The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror 2006: 19th Annual Collection by Ellen Datlow, Kelly Link, Gavin Grant
Review by Ernest Lilley
St. Martin's Press Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 0312356153
Date: 22 August, 2006 List Price $35.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

The annual retrospective that leads off this book is a book unto itself. I can't tell you have many pages it takes up, because it's numbered in Roman numerals and I refuse to figure out what CXXIII stands for. Oh, alright. That's one...twenty...three in Arabic numbers. It certainly covers the gamut, including another XX pages (nearly) at the end listing stories that almost made it into the anthology. About an M of them. The summation recaps written Fantasy and Horror, but goes on fearlessly to Media, Graphic Novels (the ship's sinking and you have room for a few more items in your duffel...which graphic novels do you take?), Anime and Manga, Music and Obituaries. Dear Ellen (et al) thank you for the obits. While its sad to note that we'll never see these folks again in the flesh, it's wonderful to reflect on what they've given us, and that they leave us with -- a rich legacy. Andre Norton, Will Eisner, Jack Chalker...and all the rest. Some of whom we'd missed along the way. Frank Gorshin? Off to solve the final riddle? Paul Cassidy, who put the "S" on Superman's cape? As you say in the book, "their work inspire us and entertain us and future generations."

Still, we didn't come to bury fantasy (and its dark sibling), but to praise it. And the nearly two dozen works (46, if my count is right) serve up a worthy tribute to the state of the art.

Delia Sherman's "Walpurgis Afternoon" made me wish Lesbian Witches would move in next door to my house too, even though I like my suburban neighbors. Deborah Roggie's "The Mushroom Duchess" made me even more wary of my mother-in-law, not to mention the mushrooms in my salad. Marly Younmans "An Incident at Agate Beach" left me disturbed, which is not really a state I seek out. Like a number of stories here, it centers around strange and no doubt ancient races that live alongside man and periodically cull, covet, or collect from our ranks, and I don't quite get the drive to write them. Or maybe I do.

Reggie Oliver's "Among the Tombs" is another fine, but disturbing tale, this time of possession. And Jennifer Chang's "Obedience, or The Lying Tale" (shorter than the preface that describes the author) like many of the poems, leaves me feeling uneasy and a bit dense. Thought they keep drawing me back. "American Morons", a bit of travel horror by Glen Hirshberg, makes one cringe a bit to be a Yank. Really, Glen, it's not that we're all like that...just that those are the ones that stand out. Really stand out. Again, Sarah Monette's poem "Night Train: Heading West." Is the woman playing solitaire creating the story the conductor is telling about his past lives? Is there more here I'm supposed to see, or less? Sigh. poems make my head hurt. That's a good thing though, I suppose.

I've always thought that Bruce Sterling was a writer of brilliant short stories and popular novels, an opinion which he fuels with "Denial," a wonderful little tale of death and marriage. Till death do us part. Ha. As Bruce points out, marriage is far tougher than that.

"Northwest Passage" by Barbara Roden is another one of those bogeymen tales that make me nervous. Beautifully written, and quite disturbing. Are we being warned about something real, or seeded with unreasoning fears? Who can tell? "Proboscis" (Laird Barron) and "Follow Me Light" follow this theme, and though the protagonists may get away, one wonders if they can really escape.

Many of these stories are short, some really short, a form I like quite well. "Kronia", by Elizabeth Hand is two and a half pages, and plays wonderfully with the fabric of story, not just through messing with linearity, but by mashing together the many possible paths of happenstance together to reveal, like the examination of multiple recipes, the true flavor of reality. This is a brilliant bit, which shows that what happens isn't the whole story. The whole story lies in what might have happened.

Jeffrey Ford, as near as I can tell, is the only author honored with more than one story in this collection. "Boatman's Holiday" featuring a trip with Charon, to say nothing about the master, and "The Scribble Mind" in which a mysterious cult holds a secret shown through a scribble, are both well deserve entry into these ranks. As does Howard Waldrop's "The Horse of a Different Color (That You Rode In On)", originally published both by the Washington Science Fiction Society as half a Waldrop chapbook, and by Ms. Datlow on the (sadly) now defunct SciFiction site. Two confessions though. First, I printed that chapbook with my own two hands in the dark of night at a lonely Kinkos. Second, I actually liked the other story better, "The King of Where I Go," and third (ok, I lied) I'd never read Waldrop until he was selected for WSFA's convention (Capclave) GoH. That they're side by side in this collection amusing, as Ford is next year's Capclave GoH.

Much more so than the Year's Best SF, I run across lots of names and stories that are totally new to me, and which I'm happy to put on my radar. There are some though that I'm delighted to recognize already, and more so if I haven't read a particular story. Geoff Ryman falls into the latter category, and his "The Last Ten Years in the Life of Hero Kai" is a treat from this very clever author. I highly recommend last year's novel Air, which received much critical acclaim and no few awards, and offers much to readers of SF, fantasy, and everyone interested in the clash of cultures.

There are stories that reframe the fairy tale brilliantly, like Stacey Richter's "A Case Study of Emergency Room Procedure and Risk Management by Hospital Staff Members in the Urban Facility." Ha. I'd like to see that as an "ER" episode. And there are stories that I can't quite see as either Fantasy or Horror. Dave Hutchinson's "The Pavement Artist" is an especially nice piece of work, but I can't quite figure out how it got into the collection. I guess it's horrific, and maybe its interstitial, but to me it seems like a better candidate for SF than either.

There are more, all excellent, that I haven't touched on, though I've probably said too much already. But that's the way it is with a collection like this. Hard to stop once you've started. A box of assorted candies that the author's names only give the barest hint to the taste beneath the chocolate. Each of these stories is well worth a place in the box, but be assured that it's a wide ranging assortment, and the intent is not always to leave a sweet taste in your mouth.

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