Ellen Datlow, Gavin Link, and Kelly Grant (Editor), The Year's Best
Fantasy & Horror: Twentieth Annual Edition
(St. Martin's Press, 2007)

It was twenty years ago today, that
Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play
They've been going in and out of style
But they're guaranteed to raise a smile.
So may I introduce to you
The act you've known for all these years,
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.

And it was twenty years ago that the quintessential annual anthology that looks at the year's best fantasy and horror was first released -- The Year's Best Fantasy & Horror, and like Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band which still plays as often as it can, it has just gotten better over the decades. So let us look at the latest edition of what is definitely most interesting, anthology that I've had the pleasure to read down the years. Now let's grab a few pints of Guinness properly served by one of the barkeeps in the Green Man Pub, as this anthology is worth hoisting a pint (or perhaps two) to! Comfy? Good. Now let's get started. . . .

As I said last year in reviewing the previous edition, this is the anthology to pick up every year if you want to read the best short fiction from the previous year and get overviews of the best fiction, non-fiction, films and video, anime and music that was released in that year. Where else can you read Ellen Datlow offering her opinions on horror, Charles Vess' thoughts on the best graphic novels, Charles de Lint's ruminations on the best folk and world music, Edward Bryant on what is the best (and worst) in fantasy and horror in the media, Joan Vinge on the year in anime and animation, and, of course, Link and Gavin offering their thoughts on the year in fantasy. I've said it before and I'll repeat it here -- all of these essays should be on the Web as a much needed resource for all lovers of these genres!

(Since I wrote that, Charles de Lint has started putting his music commentary up on his site. His 'Music: Review Column' for the Eighteenth Annual Edition is here, and his column for the next year is thisaway. Go read them now -- they're really are essential reading for any music lover. One can only hope the rest of these essays make it to the 'Net someday soon.)

As I write this review in early July, I've had the galley for a month or so as St. Martin's sent it along earlier than I had expected. (Keep in mind that we see hundreds of galleys and books every month so we do lose track of what's headed to us and when it should be here. Bless publicists that actually don't need nudging from us to send review material along!) After catching up on review material that needed reviewing now, I sat down late one afternoon to start reading this impressive volume which is, as is usual, just over six hundred pages in length. Setting aside a hundred and thirty pages or so of commentary, that's a generous four hundred and seventy pages of really great fiction. All inside the usual great wrap-around art by Tom Canty who has done every cover of this series. (Gary Turner of Golden Gryphon Press talked with Tom for this special edition. You can find their conversation over here.) I'll admit that I didn't like the sparse artwork of this and the previous edition as well as the ornate art that existed up to the Eighteenth Edition, but the editors all believe it's a change for the better. So be it.

Another pint? I thought so. The front matter always astounds me. So much possible reading / listening / viewing, so little time relatively speaking. Of course, I always look to see if they include works Green Man staff had thought was really great. . . . Ahhh, there's. . . . And after that, I look to see what I should have noticed but didn't. Oh, I see so and so released a new novel. . . .

As regards the fiction offerings, I have long considered the best way to review collections and anthologies. Do I review everything offered up to the reader? Or do I do a selection of the best offerings? In general, I prefer the latter approach. So what did I like? Oh, most everything here, but a few really were great -- Ellen Klages' 'In the House of the Seven Librarians', which was originally in Firebirds Rising, is a must read, as is Delia Sherman's 'La Fee Verte' from Salon Fantastique. And you should not overlook a choice piece of poetry, Nathalie Anderson's Tell', which can be found on The Journal of Mythic Arts here. And let's not forget 'Drowning Palmer' from All Hallows, which redeems Sarah Monette, a writer whose long fiction bores me silly, is perfect here. (I don't like Stephen King in novel form either, but enjoy his short fiction quite a bit.)

Now these selections were all chosen by Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant of Small Beer Press fame, so what did I like by horror and dark fantasy meister Ellen Datlow? Start off with 'Journey into the Kingdom' by M. Rickert from the May F&SF -- you'll see why her short-fiction collection, Map of Dreams, recently won the Crawford Award for best first fantasy book of the year; Stephen Graham Jones's Raphael from horror zine Cemetery Dance is a chilling tale indeed; and Tim Pratt's 'Cup and Table' is an oddly moving story. The poetry pick in her selections is 'Ballade', a William Hope Hodgson piece from The Lost Poetry collection.

May there be another twenty years of The Year's Best Fantasy & Horror!

[Cat Eldridge]