fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsfantasy book reviews Ellen Datlow The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror 2007The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror 2008

For me, The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror 2008 has been a two-headed beast. On one hand, it’s an eagerly anticipated book by people involved in the industry, usually for the summation at the front of the book and the honorable mentions list at the back. The various editors are quite thorough and detailed when it comes to this part. The other aspect is, of course, the story/poetry selection, which is what will likely attract the casual reader.

So, how does it actually fare? Well, with regards to the first aspect, there are no disappointments. When covering the highlights of the previous year (and alas, the obituaries) and the various media (comics, movies, and music) in which either fantasy or horror plays a part, the book has it covered. The writing is functional and achieves what it sets out to do.

With regard to the stories and poems, this is a welcome ensemble. I wouldn’t say that every story struck me with amazement, but there are certainly a lot of noteworthy and terrific stories. Staples from the previous year such as Daniel Abraham‘s “The Cambist and Lord Iron: A Fairy Tale of Economics” and Ted Chiang‘s “The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate” are included and should satisfy even the most critical of readers. There’s also terrific work from the likes of Karen Joy Fowler, Nathan Ballingrud, Delia Sherman, Catherynne M. Valente, Joyce Carol Oates, Garth Nix, Terry Dowling, and Kij Johnson, to name a few. Having said that, here are my top three stories.

While the anthology opened with a strong and effective piece from Abraham, it is followed by “Vampires in the Lemon Grove” by Karen Russell, which is equally impressive and for entirely different reasons. From the magic-realism elements to the setting details, this is a wonderfully-written piece that not only reinvents vampires for a literary readership but also combines powerful images with character tension. This is certainly a real gem that could have been easily overlooked by the genre community.

This isn’t the first time I encountered Elizabeth Hand‘s “Winter’s Wife” but it’s a story that satiates even upon multiple re-readings. Hand’s attention to detail and characterization rises to the forefront as she creates several larger than life characters that matter to the very human narrator. The build-up is slow, steady, and consistent, making the reading endeavor seamless and pleasant.

Rounding up The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror 2008 is “Closet Dreams” by Lisa Tuttle. The author ensnares you with the illusion of the narrative that slowly builds up the horror. What I particularly liked about this story is that it’s a difficult piece to pull off, yet Tuttle succeeds in doing so. It’s a refreshing read that dares to be different.

The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror 2008 isn’t a perfect anthology but it’s certainly a terrific one and manages to accomplish so many things in just one book. Stories from Abraham, Chiang, and Russell are worth the price of admission all by themselves, while the nonfiction section is invaluable. Definitely a must-buy for any serious fantasy/horror fan.

FanLit thanks Charles Tan from Bibliophile Stalker for contributing this guest review.