Monday, June 06, 2005

[Book Review] The Best of Fantasy 2004 edited by Karen Haber and Jonathan Strahan (2005)

No Doubt the Best

Every year, several fantasy anthologies are published. In this, The Best of Fantasy 2004 is not unique. Of course the selection of stories depends upon the editors, and the best advice I can give any reader is to find an editor whose tastes are more or less aligned with yours. Once you do that, the anthology will seldom disappoint. Of course Karen Haber and Jonathan Strahan are strangers to me. But I thought that I might as well give them both a shot. To my shot, not only did I like most of the stories in this anthology, I liked every one of them.

Forbidden Brides of the Faceless Slaves in the Nameless House of the Night of Dread Desire is a concept story by Neil Gaiman. To be honest, some of Gaiman’s stories are either hit or misses for me. In this case, it was a good hit, at least in the fact that it is a concept story rather than some complex thing that explains the meaning of life. In this story, Gaiman narrates the life of a writer who lives in a world where fantasy is juxtaposed with reality. Of course the writer contends with writing realistic fiction, a joke on the reader’s part because what he is writing is fantasy to us.

Michael Swanwick follows up with The Word that Sings the Scythe, a sequel actually to a short story he had written the other year. No prior knowledge is necessary though, and it’s a quaint story with something more on the edges of gray rather than black and white. The story has a particularly nice twist in the end.

Gene Wolfe’s The Little Stranger was okay, although perhaps it’s not exactly the story I’d nominate as the best read in the book. It’s an interesting format, and how things turned out is amusing, but other than that, it’s a story that can easily belong to another anthology and not just one in the realm of fantasy.

Last year, Kelly Link disappointed me with her short story. She more than makes up for it though with The Faery Handbag. Lovely story and it’s really interesting to see reality and seriousness blended with a touch of fantasy, but the fantastical element is crucial to the story. Perhaps what’s more intriguing is the narrator herself, and how she reacts to the events happening around her.

Peter S. Beagle, of The Last Unicorn fame, comes up with an equally outstanding short story, Quarry. It actually reminds me of those Japanese folk tales and would similarly make a great comic or cartoon adaptation. The flow is lovely and the story will probably be one of my favorites in the book.

I have never heard of Deborah Roggie but her story, The Enchanted Trousseau is a fascinating story. The tale has lots of magic but it’s that of a different kind. I mean if Ursula le Guin had actually written it, I wouldn’t have noticed the difference. It’s feminist yet wonderfully written.

Just to illustrate how anthologies overlap, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice by Robert Silverberg is a love story I’ve already read previously in another anthology. And one that I enjoyed. The same goes for Tim Power’s Pat Moore and the endless numbers of Pat Moore’s in the world, as well as Elizabeth Lynn’s oriental epic The Silver Dragon.

The Annals of Eelink-Ok by Jeffrey Ford, for me, was mediocre. Nice, but honestly not the most memorable one for me.

Last is The Angel’s Daughter by Jay Lake which is told in fairy tale fashion. It also shows you that a story doesn’t need to be long in order to be beautiful. My only complaint though is how the story ended, and it’s a trick that I’ve seen used before. Still, it was a good read for me.

It truly surprised me when I finished reading this anthology, because I clearly liked all of the stories, or at the very least, I wasn’t disappointed. Of course that’s not to say that everyone will like reading this book, but rather it’s an anthology that was catered to my preference more than anything else.