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This is one installment of a prestigious annual anthology of fantastic and "horror" genre writing—mostly fiction, with a smattering of poetry and an essay. The over 50 selections represent both established names in the field and relatively less known authors, and the structure of the book is typical of "year's best" collections. This is one installment of a prestigious annual anthology of fantastic and "horror" genre writing—mostly fiction, with a smattering of poetry and an essay. The over 50 selections represent both established names in the field and relatively less known authors, and the structure of the book is typical of "year's best" collections.


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This is one installment of a prestigious annual anthology of fantastic and "horror" genre writing—mostly fiction, with a smattering of poetry and an essay. The over 50 selections represent both established names in the field and relatively less known authors, and the structure of the book is typical of "year's best" collections. This is one installment of a prestigious annual anthology of fantastic and "horror" genre writing—mostly fiction, with a smattering of poetry and an essay. The over 50 selections represent both established names in the field and relatively less known authors, and the structure of the book is typical of "year's best" collections.

30 review for The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror: Eighth Annual Collection

  1. 5 out of 5

    Werner

    Note, May 14, 2020: When I read short story collections intermittently over a long period of time, my reactions are similarly written piecemeal, while they're fresh in my mind. That gives the reviews a choppy, and often repetitive, quality. Recently, I had to condense and rearrange one of these into a unified whole because of Goodreads' length limit; and I was so pleased with the result that I decided to give every one of these a similar edit! Accordingly, I've now edited this one. Usually, I don Note, May 14, 2020: When I read short story collections intermittently over a long period of time, my reactions are similarly written piecemeal, while they're fresh in my mind. That gives the reviews a choppy, and often repetitive, quality. Recently, I had to condense and rearrange one of these into a unified whole because of Goodreads' length limit; and I was so pleased with the result that I decided to give every one of these a similar edit! Accordingly, I've now edited this one. Usually, I don't review books I didn't finish. However, I think I read or skimmed enough of the selections in this 542-page anthology to provide worthwhile information about it. Of several annual "year's best" genre collections, editors Datlow and Windling's annual summation of the related, supernatural/magic-based fields of fantasy and "horror" enjoys one of the best reputations among literary critics (a group I seldom agree with). Modern writers who want to be considered "literary" by the critics, of course, don't sully themselves with "genre fiction." But surrealism is a staple technique for this group, and some speculative-fiction genre editors will claim works in that vein; and certainly writers in this club also produce work that could at times be called fantastic and horrific (though devoid of any features like appealing characters, optimism, moral vision, and, usually, coherent plotting and resolution, which might brand it as disgustingly plebian). Tempted, probably, by the Lorelei-song of Literary Respectability, Datlow and Windling evidently collect quite a few stories in this vein. This volume was my only exposure to the series; I picked it up at a yard sale. Obviously, the overviews of 1994 developments in each genre, and of the treatments of both in the media and in comics in 1994, as well as the list of obituaries of genre writers dying in that year, are primarily of interest to very serious students of the field, who read each of these annual overviews as they come out and can set the trends in that context. I admittedly didn't read any of these. (However, I did do enough skimming to tell that they're detailed and substantial.) Out of 53 selections by 51 contributors (Jane Yolan and A. R. Morlan are represented twice) 47 are short stories, making up the bulk of the material here; there is one essay, and five poems. These "odd" forms, being easy to comment on as a group, were among the first selections I read (as usual with anthologies, I didn't read this one in order). Swanwick's essay, cast in the extended metaphor of a voyage through uncharted waters, is a creative and insightful exploration of what he calls "hard fantasy," that is, works that are (when written, at least) sui generis, really unique in style, subject matter or approach. He has an eclectic and broad definition of fantasy, and his taste runs more to the surreal and experimental than mine does. Many of the works he profiles are new to me, and I'm not tempted to read most of them. But his discussion is really educational and fascinating in itself, and written in a style as pleasurable to read as any work of fiction! Poetry, by definition, often communicates in a non-linear, intuitive way, characterized by much simile and metaphor, or symbolic imagery. This is especially true of poetry that's surreal, as are three poems here. But even surreal poetry is supposed to communicate; if the surreal quality of the imagery confuses communication rather than enhances it, the poem fails artistically. For me, that was true of "The Village of the Mermaids." On the other hand, "The Stone Woman" by Native American writer Linda Weasel Head and Darrell Schweitzer's "He Unwraps Himself," though their imagery is surreal, are clearly metaphors for understandable realities that they succeed in making real and immediate. Yolen's "Marchen" and Rachel Wetzsteon's "Bottom's Dream" are both basically accessible and well crafted, but both are closely related to other literary works that form a context for understanding them; in the latter case, if you haven't read or seen A Midsummer Night's Dream performed, you'll have some trouble understanding the poem. Turning to the stories, I started with most of the writers some of whose work I've previously read and liked (excluding the ones whose work I'd sampled before and disliked). Ray Bradbury's "Unterseeboot Doktor" is not his best work; it's (for me) the fictional equivalent of Bradley's poem above, a work that flops because it's so surreal that it ultimately fails to communicate. Stephen King's "The Man in the Black Suit" is as well-written as any of his tales I've read, masterful in its "you-are-there" evocation of the early 20th century in his home state of Maine, and genuinely horrifying and scary. (Structurally, it has much in common with Dan Simmon's "Iverson's Pits," another story I recently read; both have octogenarian narrators looking back to 1913-14, when as boys of nine or ten they encountered the supernatural and radical evil --here, the ultimate evil of Satan himself.) But King manages both to trivialize the Devil and give him too much credit. The real one has more profound purposes than simply eating humans like a ghoul, nor would a nine-year- old kid be apt to physically outrun him, even with "luck;" and the story itself will not bear the tacked-on weight of its "existential despair/cosmic horror" moral, any more than most stories with that theme successfully do. Neil Gaiman's "Snow, Glass, Apples," one of two stories I read here that re-vision specific traditional fairy tales, is like Tanith Lee's "Red as Blood" (1979) a reinterpretation of Snow White as a vampire story, with the princess as a child/teen vampire and the stepmother on the side of good. But where Lee powerfully depicts the triumph of redemption, Gaiman's stylistic and technical skill (which, based on this story, is considerable) is used to create a very dark portrait of the triumph of evil. (This story also has a much more pervasive eroticism than Lee's --and unlike hers, most of the eroticism here is decidedly warped.) For me, it disgusted rather than pleased. But Charles de Lint's "Coyote Stories" and Tarr's "Mending Souls" are masterpieces! The latter, with its skillful use of the Coyote motif, could give Bradbury lessons on how to use surrealism (like pepper in a stew, it's best applied with a shaker, not a ladle); and it's a poignant, heartbreaking but hopeful evocation of the modern urban Native American experience and a socially-constructive message that speaks to it from the heart of cultural tradition. This is a work that gives the lie to the canard that writers (and readers) of one race can't possibly understand the problems or culture of another. And Tarr's tale is a gem, set mostly in early 1800s Ireland, written in perfect Irish diction, and making wonderful, creative use of Irish folkloric elements. Nancy Kress' "Words Like Pale Stones," a new look at the Rumplestilskin tale, is as stylistically sumptuous and emotionally evocative as the Gaiman story (and not Pollyanna-ish in its optimism --the story's resolution comes with painful cost), but it moves in a different and vastly more wholesome atmosphere. (Previously, I'd read some of Kress' SF short fiction; this work suggests that she's every bit as able with fantasy.) The stories by writers new to me were definitely a mixed bag. Charles Grant's "Sometimes, in the Rain" was the biggest disappointment, since I'd heard a lot of good things about his work. This is an extremely dark, depressing tale of dead-ended lives, toxic family relationships, infidelity and malice that survives death, unrelieved by any optimism of any kind, and marred by gratuitous profanity. A. R. Morlan's first story here and Nicholas Royle's "The Big Game" both came across as too disgustingly obscene to finish --the first one because of an unremitting, every-sentence wallow in coarse smuttiness that grated like sandpaper, and Royle's because of a subject matter dealing with violent, sadistic sex abuse. And Ian McDonald's "Blue Motel" finally descended into that territory as well --a particular disappointment, because it started off well as a clever and even witty riff on Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho. Most of the surrealist stories were flops: "The Brothers" by Joyce Carol Oates (whose win-loss record for short fiction, in my estimation, is now 0-3; I'm discerning a pattern here); the ones by Jonathan Carroll and Nicholson Baker, both of which signally fail to achieve the "willing suspension of disbelief" that's essential for fiction if it's to succeed; Pagan Kennedy's "Elvis's [sic] Bathroom," which is redolent with moral and physical grunginess, and Leroy Quintana's "La Promesa." If Quintana were an Anglo, his demeaning and stereotypical portrayal of Hispanics would be called racist; and he probably holds the distinction of being the worst prose stylist of his generation (he's the king of the overused parenthetical phrase). While not this bad, David Garnett's "A Friend Indeed" (which I did read through) is marred by a completely implausible ending that doesn't ring psychologically true. If one takes it as veering into surrealism at the end (which might constitute its only claim to be "horror;" surrealism, of course, can now be passed off as any genre that offers a marketing prospect), then it doesn't ring artistically true --the abrupt abandonment of the completely realistic unfolding of almost the entire story comes across as a fraud or gyp perpetrated on the reader. I did skim Cuban-American writer Margarita Engle's story, and understand (and even sympathize with!) what she's trying to do with this particular exercise in surrealism, and how she's trying to do it; it just doesn't work for me personally. (To me, the maid's tales to the fifteen sisters, instead of being exciting, transformative, alluring, liberating, seductive, subversive, etc, etc., were just tedious, boring and pointless verbiage that I was glad to not wade through.) Emily Newland's "Who Will Love the River God?" (which isn't surreal) draws, apparently, on folklore about "waterbabies;" but since the author presupposes an acquaintance with that lore that I don't have, the story lost a good deal for me, and the sexual aspect of it was handled in such a way as to be a major turnoff. (I'm also not a fan of cop-out endings, that simply leave the protagonist with an unresolved choice.) On the other hand, while McKillip's "Transmutations" was a slow starter, in the sense that it drops you into the action en medias res and makes you deduce a full understanding of the setting and situation for yourself, that effort is worth it: this is a really engaging story that deals, in a very winsome way, with a fundamental philosophical issue. Jane Yolen's "De Natura Unicorni" is an excellent medieval-flavored fantasy --and to my surprise (having read her "Scientific Creationism"), explicit Christian symbolism is the very heart of this story. A highlight of the volume was Gregory Feeley's "Aweary of the Sun" (Shakespeare buffs will recognize the Macbeth allusion). Set in the theatrical world of London in 1613 (which it brings to perfect life) it furnishes an imaginative gloss on obviously well-researched actual events. Textured, nuanced, filled with complex and vital characters who practically walk off the page, it's a masterpiece. The only quibble one might make here is that it isn't clearly supernatural fiction, except for being published in a supernatural venue (the only way that plotted, well-written descriptive historical short fiction can see print nowadays --unless it's a mystery!). One character is a self-described witch, and the viewpoint character believes her, but nothing in that premise or its outworking ere departs from what could plausibly have happened in the "Burning Times;" there's no indication that her powers are real. (But with a story this good, who cares?)

  2. 4 out of 5

    Brent Soderstrum

    Wow, this collection of short stories that allegedly was the best from 1994 was bad. I had trouble even finishing the book. Most of the short stories had no point. I guess if they had been good the author would have used them to write novels. I bought the book to read Stephen King's The Man in the Black Suit. Yet even Stephen King's selection was pointless. There are a few jewels in this mound of trash such as: Young Woman in a Garden by Delia Sherman and The Sloan Men by David Nickle but not ma Wow, this collection of short stories that allegedly was the best from 1994 was bad. I had trouble even finishing the book. Most of the short stories had no point. I guess if they had been good the author would have used them to write novels. I bought the book to read Stephen King's The Man in the Black Suit. Yet even Stephen King's selection was pointless. There are a few jewels in this mound of trash such as: Young Woman in a Garden by Delia Sherman and The Sloan Men by David Nickle but not many. Don't waste your time.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Redsteve

    I suppose that I should have taken as an indication of how underwhelmed I was by this book, that I didn't remember reading it 6 years ago, and, in fact, only about half of the stories seemed familiar. Nothing in the collection really grabbed me. I enjoyed this less than the 6th Annual (1992) that I read earlier this year. I give this collection a very low 3 (and that's being charitable). I suppose that I should have taken as an indication of how underwhelmed I was by this book, that I didn't remember reading it 6 years ago, and, in fact, only about half of the stories seemed familiar. Nothing in the collection really grabbed me. I enjoyed this less than the 6th Annual (1992) that I read earlier this year. I give this collection a very low 3 (and that's being charitable).

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jaimie

    As with most books of collected short stories by various authors, there were some worthwhile tales but a lot of the material was lacklustre. Ironically, as I’m not generally a fan of horror novels (unless it’s vampires not of the Twilight variety) I enjoyed many more of the stories chosen by Ellen Datlow, who takes charge of selecting the year’s best horror publications, than I did of the set picked by Terri Windling. Stephen King’s short stories, for example, are always surprisingly enjoyable, As with most books of collected short stories by various authors, there were some worthwhile tales but a lot of the material was lacklustre. Ironically, as I’m not generally a fan of horror novels (unless it’s vampires not of the Twilight variety) I enjoyed many more of the stories chosen by Ellen Datlow, who takes charge of selecting the year’s best horror publications, than I did of the set picked by Terri Windling. Stephen King’s short stories, for example, are always surprisingly enjoyable, even though I am not a fan of his slow burn horror style full length novels. Maybe his style is just more palatable to me in short stories, where I can enjoy his concise storytelling style in a small dose without having to really consider the longer arcs of character development and drawn out midwestern settings. Out of this collection, there weren’t any authors who I really felt compelled to explore more of, which was kind of the point in reading the collection, but that’s okay - we’ll try another year and see if we fare any better.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Courtney Cantrell

    I really wanted to like this collection, especially considering some of the big names among the contributing authors. But I had a hard time getting through this anthology. Spec fic is my jam, but many of these stories barely qualified -- and a *great* many weren't written in a very engaging way. I'd be curious to read the final edition, published in 2008, to see if what was considered "best" changed over the course of 14 years. Maybe readers in the mid-'90s simply had different expectations. Ther I really wanted to like this collection, especially considering some of the big names among the contributing authors. But I had a hard time getting through this anthology. Spec fic is my jam, but many of these stories barely qualified -- and a *great* many weren't written in a very engaging way. I'd be curious to read the final edition, published in 2008, to see if what was considered "best" changed over the course of 14 years. Maybe readers in the mid-'90s simply had different expectations. There were some definite diamonds in the rough in this collection: Nicholson Baker, Jane Yolen, Ray Bradbury, Stephen King, Neil Gaiman. Some of the usual suspects, in other words. They encourage me to give this anthology 3 stars instead of 2.

  6. 5 out of 5

    The rockabilly werewolf from Mars

    (This review is primarily for the horror portion of the book, as I didn't read all of the fantasy stories) Unfortunately, this is one of the weaker volumes in the series, which probably comes more from the overall state of horror fiction in the mid-90s than from editorial tastes. I consider the period from roughly 1993/1994 or so (the end of the Dell/Abyss and Zebra horror lines) to sometime in the mid-2000s to be something of a dark age in the history of horror fiction, and the selection of stor (This review is primarily for the horror portion of the book, as I didn't read all of the fantasy stories) Unfortunately, this is one of the weaker volumes in the series, which probably comes more from the overall state of horror fiction in the mid-90s than from editorial tastes. I consider the period from roughly 1993/1994 or so (the end of the Dell/Abyss and Zebra horror lines) to sometime in the mid-2000s to be something of a dark age in the history of horror fiction, and the selection of stories here more or less reflect that. Although there are some quite good stories here, particularly Charles L. Grant's atmospheric ghost story; Jack Ketchum's bleak and nihilistic The Box, where the narrator's children are driven to commit suicide by starvation by the contents of a mysterious box; David Nickle's story of a woman who married a man who isn't exactly human, and her attempts to escape him (a sequence towards the end of the story set in the root cellar of an abandoned house contains perhaps the most effective imagery in the book); Gaiman's dark variation on an old folktale; Spencer's tale of vaguely lovecraftian weirdness at a seaside hotel; and Tem's story of a family who's already difficult situation is exacerbated by the large number of combs which start appearing around them. I also thought that the pieces by Oates, Clegg, Morlan, Smith, Bailey, Royle (more dark science fiction of the J. G. Ballard variety than horror), McDonald and King were pretty good, although none of them were outstanding; I've read better stories by most of them. Of the others, there were a few that were fine but forgettable, while others were outright awful, and others still seemed to stretch the definition of horror by their inclusion here. For example, A Fear Of Dead Things was probably the worst story in the book, its rather clichéd and predictable plot (psychiatrist starts taking on his patient's neuroses, people die) sums up the problem with a lot of non-supernatural horror, namely, the fact that most of it isn't remotely scary, or even conceptually interesting. Similarly, Is That Them reads basically like a mainstream literary short story of the sort that might be published in the New Yorker or a university literary magazine, telling of dysfunctional family's visit to some relatives until the sudden violence at the ending; unfortunately, this wasn't enough to make it qualify as horror in my view, merely a particularly dark litfic piece, which didn't interest me much. Subsoil almost had a decent start but was too goofy. And if anyone knows where the horror in Winter Bodies is, tell me, because I didn't see any when I read it; decent prose, sure, but no real horror. On the fantasy side of things, I only read a few random stories, but I remember the pieces by Carroll, Kennedy, Sherman, Millhauser, de Lint, and Bradbury as being solid, enjoyable stories; I may or may not go back to read the rest at a later date.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Glen Engel-Cox

    Jill and I were having a discussion about reading preferences. She likes big thick books, typically, and I profess that I don't, although the books I name as my favorites all tend to be fairly hefty ones (The Gold Bug Variations, Possession, and Stand on Zanzibar, to name three). What I do like, that J has virtually stopped reading except in special cases, is short stories. Thinking about this, what I decided was my attraction in a story was a strong beginning and strong end, something you get a Jill and I were having a discussion about reading preferences. She likes big thick books, typically, and I profess that I don't, although the books I name as my favorites all tend to be fairly hefty ones (The Gold Bug Variations, Possession, and Stand on Zanzibar, to name three). What I do like, that J has virtually stopped reading except in special cases, is short stories. Thinking about this, what I decided was my attraction in a story was a strong beginning and strong end, something you get a lot more of with short stories (where, in certain cases, are just beginnings and ends), yet can also be found in certain books. It's not that I don't like the middles of stories, but I'm a structuralist, and if a story starts off strong and finds a way to tie it up all together at the end, I've found what I'm looking for. It also explains why I don't tend to like "mainstream" fiction all that much, which is often just about the characters, i.e., the middle, and which the structure of beginning and end matters little. So the publication of these large volumes of short stories is a regular purchase for me, enabling me to forego the magazines, which--to read in the kind of breadth and width brought to this collection by editors Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling--would be ruinously expensive. I tend to like Datlow's picks better than Windling, that is, if the initials on the introductions indicate which woman picked which story for the volume, and I think that's because my tastes have always been more in line with Datlow. While both editors try to break free of the genre for at least a portion of their selections, Windling seems to have a certain stable of writers whom she can't stop from including--Jane Yolen and Charles de Lint come to mind--that I have never found as strong as she does. The highlights in this volume include Stephen King's "The Man in the Black Suit," a Faulkner-influenced meet the devil tale that benefits from King's ability to write colloquially; Neil Gaiman's "Snow, Glass, Apples" which is like Gregory Maquire'sWicked in its ability to reframe a couple of well-known fairy tales so that the reader discovers that history is written by the winners; William Browning Spencer's "The Ocean and All Its Devices," wherein the Cthulhu mythos is reinvigorated; David Garnett's "A Friend Indeed," one of the best twist-in-the-tail stories that I've read in a while; and "Superman's Diary" by B. Brandon Barker, where Clark Kent finally wins the day. I liked some of the others, which tended to have great beginnings but weren't able to end to my satisfaction, including Bradley Denton's "A Conflagration Artist," Ian McDonald's "Blue Motel" and Jack Womack's "That Old School Tie." While I'm glad the editors include poetry, once again I wasn't impressed with the selections.

  8. 5 out of 5

    John

    Sorry for virtually the same review on whole anthology set I own a trade sized paper back. I started this anthology with the 5th Annual and I loved it so much I started collecting the whole set by signing up for pre-orders with the book store. What sets this anthology apart from many others is that I always find two or three gems within its pages, many liked stories and very few I have to force myself through. More importantly, from those people I have noted who read these anthologies too, they say Sorry for virtually the same review on whole anthology set I own a trade sized paper back. I started this anthology with the 5th Annual and I loved it so much I started collecting the whole set by signing up for pre-orders with the book store. What sets this anthology apart from many others is that I always find two or three gems within its pages, many liked stories and very few I have to force myself through. More importantly, from those people I have noted who read these anthologies too, they say the same thing. I rated this whole anthology based on the variety of the stories within, how many people seem to report finding the same ratio of gems & well received stories. I am happy to own this whole anthology and keep them in excellent shape, no matter how many times I have read them.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Valissa

    "The advantage of being married a long time was that one could argue without the necessity of the other's actual, physical presence." William Browning Spencer "If Snow White and Eve both eat an apple and fall - down from grace - are they the same woman? If Paradise is over, what does she wake up into?" - "The Best Things In Life" L. Champagne "...Current fashionable quantum theory teaches us that an infinite of possible universes can collapse out of any quantum event. What I'm concerned with is wh "The advantage of being married a long time was that one could argue without the necessity of the other's actual, physical presence." William Browning Spencer "If Snow White and Eve both eat an apple and fall - down from grace - are they the same woman? If Paradise is over, what does she wake up into?" - "The Best Things In Life" L. Champagne "...Current fashionable quantum theory teaches us that an infinite of possible universes can collapse out of any quantum event. What I'm concerned with is why does it always happen to be the universe with the jam-side down? Thus I believe in quantum irony: Out of all possible universes, quantum collapse is configured toward poetic justice." --Ian McDonald

  10. 5 out of 5

    Cindywho

    just guessing at year

  11. 5 out of 5

    Kimber Hansen

    A large assortment or Twiligh Zone storis. Some strangly erotic, others gory and horrific. It took a while to get through but almost all stories were enjoyable.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Sean Harper

    Some of the best stories I've ever read, intermingled with some of the most pointless. Some of the best stories I've ever read, intermingled with some of the most pointless.

  13. 5 out of 5

    L.

    Outstanding, even by the standards of this series.

  14. 5 out of 5

    bluetyson

    The Year's Best Fantasy & Horror: Eighth Annual Collection by Ellen Datlow (1995) The Year's Best Fantasy & Horror: Eighth Annual Collection by Ellen Datlow (1995)

  15. 5 out of 5

    Ema

    Some are uniques. But I don't really connected with the poems. Some are uniques. But I don't really connected with the poems.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Ben

  17. 4 out of 5

    DFZ

  18. 5 out of 5

    Teresa

  19. 5 out of 5

    Sheila

  20. 5 out of 5

    Todd Maines

  21. 5 out of 5

    Amy Barry

  22. 5 out of 5

    Mickey

  23. 5 out of 5

    Connie

  24. 5 out of 5

    Robin

  25. 4 out of 5

    Leanora

  26. 5 out of 5

    David Gargaro

  27. 4 out of 5

    Lizroz

  28. 5 out of 5

    Turner

  29. 5 out of 5

    Darren

  30. 5 out of 5

    Luke Williams

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