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The Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror: Fifth Annual Collection, ed. by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling

I read this collection in late 1991, but just recently, when I was flipping back through my Daytimer looking for some other information, I discovered that I had written notes on the stories. For some reason, I had thought that Rita Mae Brown’s book on writing was the first entry in my reading diary, but instead, this is the initiating volume.

David Morrell, “The Beautiful Uncut Hair of Graves” — True horror is the things that humans do to each other in real life, that’s why novels like Thomas Harris’s The Silence of the Lambs and stories like Joe R. Lansdale’s “Night They Missed the Horror Show” are so much stronger and more powerful than any supernatural story. Here, Morrell tells of a horror from the past, a mystery that is like an onion. Peeling off layer after layer, discovering the onion is more rotten as you get deeper into it. The story is told from the second person perspective, and works.

Nancy Springer, “In Carnation” — Nicely written, but the story is all tell. Instead of showing you who these creatures are, Springer does a little action that “shows” nothing, then tells you what you were supposed to have seen. The cat point-of-view is entirely too silly; the situation absurd. Only Springer’s command of language rescues this story from the waste heap.

Fred Chappell, “The Somewhere Doors” — A fantasy written by a writer about a writer trying to choose fantasy or reality. Oh, boy. There’s a term for this in the Turkey City Lexicon. The prose is even a bit purple at times; the “SF” drawn out. Definitely not a favorite story of mine.

Kathe Koja, “Angels in Love” — More like it! Nicely presented tale of sexual lust from a poor white trash point-of-view. The sentence fragments help the mood; the counterpoint of night time masturbation against the cold stark store daytime is great. Smooth, with a great ending.

Midori Snyder, “Vivian” — An “alternate” Robin Hood tale, using, as far as I can tell, all the bits from the original tale and adding the spin of the Hunt and the spirit of the forest. Not bad, but not to my taste, either.

K.W. Jeter, “True Love” — Jeter could probably lay claim to Lansdale’s short story throne, given a few more stories like this one and “The First Time.” Dark, ugly tales that, although they may have fantastic elements, are truly about human experience.

A.R. Morlan, “The Second Most Beautiful Woman in the World” — Previously read. Mixed feelings. Descriptions nice, story well done, but as a not-so-great admirer of Georgia O’Keefe, it didn’t draw me in. It’s funny how stories like this, with a possibly limited audience, is supposed to appeal widely.

Ellen Kushner, “The Swordsman Whose Name Was Not Death” — Why do I like this Windling selection and none of the previous ones? Because in the “Sword” stories, Kushner is pretty much creating from whole cloth, rather than reworking some tired legend. She’s also very ambiguous, rather than the trite endings of traditional modern high fantasy.

Robert Holdstock and Garry Kilworth, “The Ragthorn” — Like Robert Holdstock’s Mythago Wood, a slow starting story but with a startlingly good premise and excellent research/description. The ending was a let down, but I’m talking here the last page of a novella. Christian/ Pagan/Indiana Jones/Cthulhu mix that comes out just fine.

Patrick McGrath, “The Smell” — Nicely done short straight out of Edgar Allan Poe’s notebook, done with a modernity that Poe would have affected had he written today. A nothing tale, in some ways, though; not really illuminating, or enlightening. The unexplained remains inexplicable. Too ambiguous?

Steve Rasnic Tem and Melanie Tem, “The Tenth Scholar” — Hmm. Not my kind of story. Why? The ending left me with a “so what?” The most interesting character is Dracula, not this street bum. Hard to say.

Jessica Amanda Salmonson, “Fisher Death (poem)” and “Walk in Sable (poem)” — The second I like more than the first. Both have little rhythm to them, at least to me.

Norman Partridge, “The Cut Man” — Nicely done story. Yes, a deal with the devil, but put into an unfamiliar milieu and ambiguous in parts. The striking similarity between boxing and its attendant point with devilish deals adds a whole new meaning. Very well done.

Karl Edward Wagner, “The Kind Men Like” — Disturbing, which means good in some ways. As always for Wagner, well done.

Alison Fell, “Queen Christina and the Windsurfer” — So far, my favorite of Windling’s picks, I think. The modernization of the gods, and the character of Poseidon’s daughter and her desire help this story to work. The ending, however, was disappointing.

S.P. Somtow, “Chui Chai” — Now here’s an “ultimate” story with something new. Excellent short piece that covers some disturbing ground–without being disgusting. For “non-real” horror, excellent.

Jane Yolen, “Mama Gone” — Well done young adult tale mixing the Southern Gothic and supernatural.

Pat Murphy, “Peter” — Okay. I always like Pat’s stories. However, this one didn’t put me over the edge because I’ve read a few other Peter Pan grows up (or not, in this case) stories. Very well done, however.

Charles de Lint, “Our Lady of the Harbour” — I believe de Lint had a story that was in last year’s collection that was also a mixture of modern fairy tale and folk music. God, does this mix really raise my gorge. And it’s not badly written; as the editors say, “the majority of our readers won’t be interested.” I can only say that this type of story doesn’t get a majority of my interest.

Stephen Gallagher, “The Visitors’ Book” — Bleah. Set up well, yet reaching nowhere. Could have been something about fear for children (a la Pet Seminary), but blocks itself with the maguffin of the title and purposeless ambiguity.

Steve Rasnic Tem, “At the End of the Day” — Bleah again. Poetry disguised as prose. Truly shapeless, purposeless.

Nina Katerli, “The Monster” — Metaphorical fantasy with a touch of whimsy–okay, I like it. My type of fun, yet with a point, story. The best Windling selection so far? Yes, I think so.

Lisa Mason, “Hummers” — Fantasy about cancer and AIDS and dying and the Egyptian Book of the Dead. Gardner Dozois’ perfect story. And very well, if so, because it does speak to people.

James Powell, “Santa’s Way” — Excellent humor piece mixing fantasy and detective about Santa being shot by his mistress. Cute, cute.

Dennis Etchison, “Call Home” — Well done short story about wrong numbers and little lost girls. The kind of story Rod Serling would have liked if he had been doing a more perverse Twilight Zone.

Grant Morrison, “The Braille Encyclopedia” — A little bit like Clive Barker from The Books of Blood. However, not as ultimately satisfying; perhaps a reject from The Books of Blood.

[Finished 31 Jan 1992.]


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