Communicator (communicator) wrote,

Story-by-story review of 'Fantasy: the best of the year'

Here's a story-by-story run-through of 'Fantasy, best of the year 2006'. This is an American anthology, and I think the worst stories are the ones which attempt to render 'old Europe' style society (with one excellent exception). The high class stories in this bunch are ambiguous, oblique, and leave a great deal unsaid. The worst ones reveal all, with the conservatism and pedanticism which was my prejudiced expectation of fantasy as a genre. Most of these authors are new to me.

coalescent points to this review by Nic Clarke on Strange Horizons, which makes the same points (I think).

Pip and the Fairies by Theodora Goss

A high quality American short story, New Yorker type, about a woman returning to the childhood home where her mother wrote about the fairies. It's also about how writers turn dreams into cash. Just enough fantastic, just enough restraint.

Comber by Gene Wolfe

.. who has probably never written a bad story, although his politics and theology are not mine. An ethical dilemma in a world a bit like the modern US and a bit like 'Perelandra'. Seems to me to be about American foreign policy, with Wolfe having passed the crest of the neocon wave.

Three Urban Folk Tales by Eric Schaller

A three-way meditation on the relations between rats, cities, and love stories. Very readable.

Wax by Elizabeth Bear

Introducing a female 'Irene Adler' type magician/detective in a parallel Victorian gothic New York where the US is still part of the British Empire. The plot resolution was a bit perfunctory, but the universe and characters are good fun and seem to have been set up for a satisfying run of stories yet to be.

The Emperor of Gondwanaland by Paul Di Filippo

In the afternotes he says he started with the title. Of course he did, it's a great title. The story IMHO doesn't live up to it, but it's quite lush and enjoyable - a meditation on the tension between the imagination and the strictures of economics. A lot of that in this anthology. Those are our modern times.

Commcomm by George Saunders

An unsettling story about a man who lives with his parents' ghosts, which is more complex than it at first appears. The moral standing of each of the characters undergoes a refraction, and it ends on a generous note I think. Religious societies are more comfy with the notion of arbitrary damnation than I ever will be, though.

Five Ways Jane Austen never died by Samantha Henderson

Check out the fanfiction-style structure and premise. Saving Jane Austen must be right up there with killing Hitler as the 'time travel daydream'. As you can tell from the title itself, it doesn't always work out that way.

Fancy bread by Gregory Feeley

'Oh, tell me where is fancy bred, or in the heart or in the head'. An excellent story, one of the best in the anthology. The first page is about Jack and the Beanstalk and from then on there are no fantastic elements at all, as Jack travels 17th century Europe, running from starvation. The market grinds people into bread.

Sunbird by Neil Gaiman

The first dud in the book I thought. Some people like a story where the main character is called 'Zebediah T Crawcrustle' but whimsy puts me off. A band of epicures sets out to eat every endangered and fantastic beast.

The secret of broken tickers by Joe Murphy

There are two excellent stories in this anthology about a teenage girl growing up in a macabre isolated family, coming into contact for the first time with the outside world, mediated by her older brother. This one is set in more or less contemporary America. Very well written, its great strength is that it leaves a lot unsaid and unexplained.

On the blindside by Sonya Taaffe

I couldn't read it, though I will try again. From a rainy urban alley a woman passes through a wall to visit her old lover/mentor (I didn't read enough to find out if he was her Vampire sire) to tell him she is marrying a straight. It's the same premise as 'Kill Bill'. Nothing wrong with that, it was just written in an overly writerly poetic style for me to concentrate on ('Newspaper rustled like the black and white ghosts of the leaves and she felt colder inside than the dying wind' etc. Some will like this, I find it too dense.)

Jane by Marc Laidlaw

This is the second story about a teenage girl growing up in a macabre isolated family etc... In this one even less was explained, and the family was even darker. A recurrent image in it is a barbed and crossed-out question mark. Possibly my favourite story in the anthology.

Is there life after rehab by Pat Cadigan

The first story in the anthology that I actively disliked. You can read it online here if you want to check if you agree. I thought it was a lazy collocation of vampire cliche, and too many adverbs.

Two hearts by Peter S Beagle

Oh dear, a second dreadful story and this anthology is kind of losing its grip on me. It started fairly well, with another young girl in peril, but quickly degenerated into the tiredest safest most twee knight and wizards style yawnfest.

Super-villains by Michael Canfield

Perhaps the last two duds have broken the grip of the book on my imagination, but I lost interest in this story too. Like with 'On the blindside' I'm going to go back and try again, because I think the fault may be in me. Superheroes and villains reunite on the occasion of some jewel heist.

Empty Places by Richard Parks

No. I'm losing it. Even the fact that the big mercenary hero is called Jayn didn't save this story. I did read it through but Oh dear. For example, several paragraphs on their choice of route, like the sort of person who tells you why he took the A443 to avoid the Basingstoke bypass. 'The Pilgrim's Way was jointly maintained and patrolled by the kingdoms of Wylandia and Morushe and was the main route of commerce between the two kingdoms. The Serpent's Path was little more than a mountain trail. It has watch towers and a beacon system at either end in the event that any armed group attempted to use it to catch either kingdom unaware but otherwise it was left alone. It was easy enough for two men travelling lightly to slip past the watch undetected... ' enough already! There's about a page on this choice of route and why it was appropriate. What is this need to explain every reason, to invoke and then resolve any moral tension? Empty space is just what this story doesn't have.

Invisible by Steve Rasnic Tem

Brilliant. Perhaps the best story in the book. It took me by surprise because I had lost faith by this point. It has the same premise as 'The Glamour' by Christopher Priest. I wonder whether Tem has read that? It's a famous book in the UK, but this story seems to approach the theme innocent of its similarity. I thought it was hugely affecting in any case. Very touching portrayal of a family slipping away from society.

By the light of tomorrow's sun by Holly Phillips

Chilling story about a man returning to a small coastal town where the land is wearing away, and other world is coming through. Plenty is left unexplained, hence the story works. It's a rule that is demonstrated so clearly in this anthology.

The gist hunter by Matthew Hughes

Set in a Victorian gothic future, apparently well visited by Hughes in six short stories and a novel. I liked it. At the very start the hero's Internet connection (more or less) gets turned into a ferret by a demon. This could have been mere whimsy but I thought the milieu was gloomy and well thought out enough to make the story work.

  • Phew what a scorcher

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