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The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror: Seventh Annual Collection, ed. by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, St. Martin’s, 1994, ISBN 0-312-11103-7, $26.95, 524pp.
  • Ursula K. Le Guin, “The Poacher”–For some reason, I have a knee-jerk reaction to seeing LeGuin’s name on a story. I think I developed this about the time of her story “Buffalo Gals Won’t You Come Out Tonight,” which I hated but which the world seemed to love. I also did not care much for her The Left Hand of Darkness, but, on the other side of the ledger, I counted the Earthsea books some of the finest (ranking with Narnia and Tolkien). So I approach a new Le Guin story with a fair amount of trepidation, which is all to underscore the statement that I really liked this one. The title character is an ancillary one to a classic fairy tale, kind of like an in-betweener to use a term from animation. Almost science fictional in its use of a “what if” plot, the story does not necessarily make a moral point, but it does flesh out an old, old story in a modern manner.
  • Terry Bisson, “England Underway”–A cute story, quaint actually, about that great ship of state, Great Britain. Bisson has a deft hand with the extraordinary made ordinary, and this is another fine example.
  • Lisa Goldstein, “The Woman in the Painting”–Okay, but the indefinable nature of the woman means that the mystery of the story remains unsolved which means that you have to then get the “point” of the story from the characters. Add to that its epistolary structure, and I feel it just didn’t do the job.
  • Terry Dowling, “The Daemon Street Ghost-Trap”–An old-fashioned horror tale, and a refreshing change after all the teeth and gore of recent years. Nice build-up, with the suspense slowly building until the fatal last sentence.
  • Daina Chaviano, “Memo for Freud” (poem)–I’m glad that Datlow and Windling include poetry in these volumes, even though most of it (like this one) leaves me cold. It’s those special onus that don’t that make it worthwhile.
  • Nancy A. Collins, “The Sunday-Go-To-Meeting Jaw”–Collins tries her head at a Faulkner story. While not a total failure, its tie to horror seems tenuous for its inclusion in a best of the year volume.
  • Adam Corbin Fusco, “Breath”–Taking as its plot inception the old wives tale about a cat being able to steal a baby’s breath, I read this with a fear that the horror would be too predictable. Sure enough, there comes that scene where the cat stalks the main character who can’t move and I feared the worse, and that is when the surprise came. What a nice turnaround.
  • Jane Yolen, “Knives” (poem)–I liked what Yolen was trying to do here, but it did not seem clear enough to me.
  • Carol Emshwiller, “Mrs. Jones”–A nicely told tale of two spinster sisters and how their rivalry is interrupted by the arrival of something new. The ending is a little open, and on the whole there may be a subtext that I’m only slightly catching. Very interesting though.
  • John Coyne, “Snow Man”–I truly disliked this story about a Peace Corps worker in Africa. I realize the writing dictum is show, don’t tell, but I really needed Coyne to tell me why the hell his lead character was such an asshole, because that’s all he was showing me.
  • Thomas M. Disch, “One Night, or Scheherazade’s Bare Minimum”–Cute little story about a resourceful modern woman, kidnapped for harem duty, following through with trying to entertain her captor to save her head. Of course, this is unrealistic, but Disch is playing it for satire, and on that level it succeeds.
  • Charles de Lint, “Dead Man’s Shoes”–Fairly predictable tale from de Lint’s fantasy town of Newford. Workmanlike, nothing special.
  • Fred Chappell, “The Lodger”–A witty little tale of bad poets and an unlikely possession. Dryly amusing.
  • Elizabeth Hand, “The Erl-King”–Slow fantasy/horror tale of young women, a strange rock star, and a painting that brings them together. Somewhat reminiscent of George R.R. Martin’s The Armageddon Rag in how the music references seem detailed enough to be real.
  • Osamu Dazai, “The Chrysanthemum Spirit”–Wonderful folk tale-like story of a proud man and a couple he meets with real green thumbs. Better than a fairy tale because the characters are multi-dimensional.
  • Mary Ellis, “Angel”–This story tries too hard. Ellis pulls at all the strings, yet the story is too light to warrant such heavy lifting.
  • Graham Masterton, “The Taking of Mr. Bill”–The Peter Pan resurgence continues, but unfortunately it has fallen into the hands of schlockmeister Masterton. This has everything that I dislike in horror in it–meaningless, yet so steeped in what it takes as emotion.
  • Gabriel Garcia Marquez, “The Saint”–A great story, with strange yet utterly believable characters and a fantastic element that works. The twist here, rather than a sudden shift that leaves one groaning, comes organically through the understanding of what you learn from the narrator.
  • Bruce McAllister, “Cottage”–A revisionistic look at Santa Claus. What? Was there a Holiday Fantastic this year edited by Greenberg and Waugh? Maybe I’ve just read too many of these things for me to be able to take them as seriously as this one wants me to.
  • Steve Rasnic Tem, “Doodles”–Feedback loop tale where the end explains the beginning. Sometimes dangerous, because a story like this depends on the feedback twist. Tem manages the problem deftly, and it is short enough.
  • Dan Simmons, “Dying in Bangkok”–Grotesquely detailed story of vampires and revenge. I could tell you the mechanism of the revenge, and you would be amazed that a writer of Simmons’ caliber would use a plot device so hackneyed, but that shows you that plot is nothing when there’s this much talent on the line. On the other hand, it sure does not have the power of something truly original, like his own “Entropy’s Bed at Midnight.”
  • Patricia A. McKillip, “The Snow Queen”–Hans Christian Anderson goes to Melrose Place. Better than some of the other revisionistic stories in this book.
  • Neil Gaiman, “Troll-Bridge”–A nicely done bit of modernizing the Billy Goats Gruff story, by recognizing the traditional metaphors as children (for goats) and emotionless men (for trolls). The ending is a little strange, but I liked what went before enough to come away with a good feeling for this one.
  • Rafik Schami, “The Storyteller”–A neat twist wherein the story tells of the storyteller, rather than the other way around. A little slow in the middle, but a wonderful last line.
  • Rosario Ferre, “Rice and Milk”–I didn’t get it. Yes, I know it was a fairy tale, but what motivated the actions? Milk seemed understandable, but Rice was a real loony.
  • Robert Devereaux, “Ridi Bobo”–This was about the strangest story I’ve read in quite a while. Horrific and undeniably weird. What if clowns were people. Well, that sounds funny. Maybe it should be, what if all people were clowns, and things went by clown logic, but a horrifyingly realistic clown logic. Strange. But very, very good.
  • Ellen Kushner, “Playing with Fire”–It was a joy to return to Kushner’s Swordspoint world, complete with the style that she used therein of “things not said.” It doesn’t flow quite as well in a short story as a novel, so here’s wishing for the expansion on this story.
  • Michael Marshall Smith, “Later”–The opening is a great shocker–sudden and abrupt, like the beginning to that execrable The Horse Whisperer. The ending here, while bizarre, just doesn’t live up to that beginning, much like Evan’s novel, I hear.
  • Sherman Alexie, “Distances”–I really enjoyed Smoke Signals, the movie made from Alexie’s The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, so I was happy to stumble across this story here. It didn’t excite me that much, although it was short and concise. Maybe I just need him in a longer form?
  • Nancy Holder, “Crash Cart”–Excellent story, based on a usage of an item that many of use view positively (it saves lives), but can also be seen in a negative light. The twist ending was organic and did not seem manipulative at all. The main character’s discovery of something about himself was eerie and evocative. Likely the best story in this collection.
  • Ian McDonald, “Some Strange Desire”–Okay for a vampire story. It’s so hard to do anything new with the theme, which really needs a stake thumped in you-know-where.
  • Dennis Etchison, “The Dog Park”–Forgoing gore or shock, Etchison moves for the Ramsay Campbell territory with this quiet horror story of things just not going right. The Hollywood details are interesting, but the rest of it seemed forced.
  • E.R. Stewart, “Wooden Druthers”–Nice use of language and setting. Recalls for me some of Stephen King’s work in Night Shift, which is fairly high praise. I think the reason is that Stewart is able to capture the dialogue of the people very well.
  • Jane Yolen, “Inscription”–This felt more like an exercise than a story, as if Yolen stumbled across the inscription on the grave and tried to fit a story to it.
  • Robert Westall, “In Camera”–Wonderful piece of work! The first person of the policewoman in relation to her boyfriend and his friends, the “thrill of the hunt,” and the final discovery of the truth–Westall always left me guessing wrong, but always for the correct reasons. Nice.
  • Daniel Hood, “The Wealth of Kingdoms (An Inflationary Tale)”– Cute twist on the fairy tale as seen by an economist. It’s light and fluffy, but it is supposed to be.
  • Nicholas Royle, “The Crucian Pit”–It took me the longest time to figure out that “crucian” was a type of fish. Anyway, the story was a little long for its plot, but there were some nice moments within it.
  • John Coyne, “The Ecology of Reptiles”–I despised Coyne’s earlier story in this collection, but this one is much better. Same setting–Peace Corps volunteers in Africa–but this time the motivations and interaction between the characters is much better detailed. Tricky ending almost fooled me. The ending was a little too much like Jason finishes off the volunteers, but it actually made sense given the beginning.
  • Thomas Tessier, “The Last Crossing”–Very disturbing story. Reminded me of Ruth Rendell. Live or Memorex, sane or insane? Psychological horror that leads to the physical kind, with the gore pretty much offstage.
  • Caila Rossi, “Small Adjustments”–I liked the idea, and some of the execution was really nice, but overall I just didn’t care for the point. Written well. This one’s a personal taste thing.
  • Roberta Lannes, “Precious”–It’s always dangerous to have to describe genitalia in a story, but Lannes holds up admirably. The ending was a bit of a let down, but the motivation of the lead character and his unique method of correction was that good side of squeamishness.
  • Harlan Ellison, “Susan”–The story for those of us who wanted to read Harlan’s love letters. Can’t say that I would want to repeat the experience.
  • Sara Paretsky, “Freud at Thirty Paces”–Humorous, with great incorporation of details, but a little flat for its length.
  • Geoffrey A. Landis, “If Angels Ate Apples” (poem)–Better to stick with the hard science, methinks.
  • John Crowley, “Exogamy”–Weird. Crowley is not one to make things plain, so read this with the mind attuned to making your own conclusions. I saw it as a man and a harpy, the extended metaphor escaped me, and the ending has me going “eh?”
  • Will Shetterly, “The Princess Who Kicked Butt”–I’m glad that Windling is including all this humorous fantasy. I liked this one the best, especially the “Fairy Who Was Good with Names.”
  • Miriam Grace Monfredo, “The Apprentice”–Other than the fact that I solved the mystery from the beginning, I liked this story. Unique method of describing a (unfortunately now) common theme from a child’s point of view.
  • O.V. de L. Milosz, “Alvyta (A Lithuanian Fairy Tale)”–Again, check plus for the multi-cultural diversity. Nice tale that contains a surprising moral.
  • Augustine Bruins Funnell, “The Pig Man”–Bizarre. Very, very strange. I’m not sure I liked it, per se, but it was unique enough and well executed.
  • A. R. Morlan, “Tattoo”–A little overlong in wrapping up the point, and it seemed a little too much like a “set up”–that is, the characters were doing things to meet the story, rather than evolving from the story–but I really liked the idea.
  • Patricia A. McKillip, “Lady of the Skulls”–A surprisingly understandable bit from McKillip, who usually loses me in her dense descriptive passages. Although I did not think it overly unique, it was accomplished.
  • Nancy Kress, “To Scale”–Twilight Zone-ish story of a boy who builds a world because he can’t stand to live in the real one. I think it wore its moral on its sleeve, and was overly long besides.
  • Danith McPherson, “Roar at the Heart of the World”–Nice kicker for the end. Wonderful, wonderful details of African culture and nice interplay between the young girl and the old natives. The images were rich and exact.

[Finished September 1998]


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