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Best American Fantasy by Jeff VanderMeer & Ann VanderMeer (Editors)
Edited by Jeff VanderMeer & Ann VanderMeer
Review by Colleen Cahill
Prime Books Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780809562800
Date: 01 June 2007 List Price $14.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Book Website / Show Official Info /

Fantasy anthologies, past and future, exist by the dozens. Today many focus on literature from genre sources, but Prime Books is taking a slightly different tack, with a bow to the Judith Merril best-of series that took stories from just about any publication. Using only the limits of "fantasy" and "American" (the latter meaning U.S. and Canadian authors), editors Ann and Jeff VanderMeer have gathered 29 short stories from both print and online publications for the first edition of Best American Fantasy. Some authors in the collection, such as Elizabeth Hand and Geoffrey A. Landis, are well-known in this field, while others could be new to you, as they were to me. Titles taken from Fantasy & Science Fiction or Strange Horizons are not surprising, while others are not so expected, such as Mississippi Review and Harper's. This collection has done a good job of investigating as many sources as possible.

A wide range of subjects in such a volume is a given: Sumanth Prabhaker's "A Hard Truth About Waste Management", the darkly humorous story of the pitfalls of flushing everything down the toilet, sits next to Kevin Brockmeier's "A Fable with Slips of White Paper Spilling from the Pockets", which follows a man who buys God's overcoat from a thrift store. The choice of fantasy topics is wide open and the editors have chosen works not just for their superb writing but also because the themes are original. Take "A Troop [sic] of Baboons" by Tyler Smith, which combines the unusual pairing of mischievous primates with world literature. Not that traditional fantasy tropes are ignored, such as in Gina Ochsner's "Song of the Selkie", but the first sentence shows this is not going to be the same old tale:

    Having swallowed too many bones, the sea had a bad case of indigestion.
With a title like "Pieces of Scheherazade", we would expect Nicole Kornher-Stace's work to be about that heroine, and it is, but only after she has transformed into something new and very unconventional.

I was eager to read the stories of authors I knew, such as Kelly Link's "Origin Story" that begins in an Oz theme park but intertwines plenty of other fairy tales, old and new, in her own unique style. The unusual is the norm in this volume, as demonstrated by Sarah Monette's "Draco Campestris", which combines dragons and a surreal museum. It was interesting to me to find several new authors I had not read before, such as Austin Bunn, who presents a lyric nautical tale of a voyage to India that goes astray and finds the fourth corner of the world in "The Ledge". All the stories in this collection are standouts, both in their excellent writing and in their fantastic themes: from Ramola D's "The Next Corpse Collector" to Robin Hemley's "The Warehouse of Saints", the subject of each piece is intriguing and, as these two titles show, not the run-of-the-mill fantasy works.

The efforts to be as universal as possible in their search for stories has paid off in this work and the VanderMeers are to be congratulated. As series editor Matthew Cheney states, these stories are "ones that held our interest even after we had read them again and again". These are all works that fit that bill admirably and by that standard, this collection certainly is the Best American Fantasy.

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