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Best American Fantasy

Best American Fantasy
is the newest in a seemingly endless parade of Best Ofs being produced in our little genre. And, with the noted exception of Year's Best Fantasy & Horror, it's the only one you need (in fact, I think the two books should be bundled and sold together). There are a couple of reasons for this. For one thing, it actually culls fiction from an entire calendar year -- not all the Best Ofs do. For example, The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, published by Night Shade Books, has a publisher's deadline of November 5; the first draft is already complete, with two and a half months remaining in the year. The second -- and by far the more important -- reason is that the editors have applied a different aesthetic in making this compilation. Whereas all of the others Best Ofs mimic the efforts of YBFH, resulting in an absurd amount of overlap between volumes and rendering most of the books redundant at the very point of conception, Best American Fantasy consciously looks beyond the provincial walls of the fantasy/science fiction genre and pulls stories from the tangled frontier of quarterly literary journals and obscure -- and sometimes not so obscure -- mainstream outposts.

There's been a lot of talk over the last few years about how our genre is dying. While it's true that many of our short fiction markets are facing plummeting sales figures and that perhaps the only real consumers of short stories are other writers, it is inarguably also true that fantasy -- not the genre, per se, but the literary device -- is enjoying a robust health in modern American fiction, is in fact a tool being used even by writers who disdain our genre. The editors of Best American Fantasy acknowledge this, and pursue that fiction for inclusion in their anthology. They do this to the exclusion of short stories published in our own magazines (for the most part). I don't know if the editors would say that, but regardless of the intent it's become true in practice. The result is an anthology which will infuriate the purists who lament the intrusion of mainstream sensibilities into our stories about spaceships and fairies: that is, concern with characters over ideas, and a belief that awareness of and attention to language are hallmarks of craftsmanship, not airs of pretension.

Not all of the stories work, in my estimation, but then that's anthologies for you. Some of them are too experimental for my tastes, seeming to succeed as exercises in craft rather than explorations of character. But that's my bias. I dislike experimentalism as a rule, and prefer stories that concern themselves first and foremost with the conflicts of the heart. And there are more than enough of them in this book to satisfy my traditionalist outlook. What I loved about nearly all of these stories, however, was the prose: often vigorous, metaphorical, exuberant; I had the sense that these writers gave a damn about language. This is fantasy with blood in its veins.

The book's chief value comes as a response to the glut of the more generic Best Ofs. It's an excellent companion piece to The Year's Best Fantasy & Horror, which is still the best of the "in-house" compilations. (To be fair, I must acknowledge that the editors of that anthology -- Ellen Datlow, Kelly Link, and Gavin Grant -- also range afield in their selections; but, necessarily, not to the same extent.) If you're at all interested in or concerned about the state of the genre today, its place in the larger conversation of American literature, it's absolutely essential. 

Matthew Cheney is the series editor, while the VanderMeers are serving as anthology editors for the first two years. It remains to be seen whether or not successive editors will apply the same far-reaching aesthetic in their own compilations, but I hope that they do. We don't need more iterations of the same book, and neither does the genre, if it's to remain vibrant and healthy. We need this.

 We need this.


( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
Oct. 11th, 2007 11:36 am (UTC)
Thanks, Chris. I didn't get into the stories themselves, and I feel I should. I'm re-reading some of them now, and will likely write about them afterwards.
Oct. 11th, 2007 02:33 pm (UTC)
I agree that this is one of the smartest discussions of Years Best anthologies that I've heard.

With all the talking that's been going on about the "state of the short story" and whatnot, I've been doing a lot of thinking about my own writing and where it fits in the grand spectrum of things, etc.

My tastes are, if anything, even more traditional than yours, in some ways. I'm a fan of the older-fashioned, pulpy, bump-in-the-night school of horror fiction. But I do agree that there's room for that sort of fiction to absorb something of style and vigor and characterization without losing itself in the process. And if too many of the stories I read are too concerned with the one over the other (again, for my tastes), there are certainly plenty that are excellent examples of a successful mix of the two.

I've got Best American Fantasy sitting on my shelf from the library. I'll bump it up the list a bit and let you know what I think when I've gotten it read.
Oct. 11th, 2007 03:27 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the nod, Nathan.
And yes, it's a very intelligent post on the subject.
Oct. 11th, 2007 11:47 pm (UTC)
Thanks, Ellen. And I'll continue reading the YBFHs for as long as you guys produce them!
Oct. 11th, 2007 11:51 pm (UTC)
Probably until the publisher pulls the plug or I get really really tired ;-)
Oct. 11th, 2007 11:46 pm (UTC)
You won't be sorry. There's some great stuff in there!
Oct. 12th, 2007 08:48 am (UTC)
I'm actually writing my review of this book right now, and you took all the words out of my mouth. Thanks a heap, pal. :)

in fact, I think the two books should be bundled and sold together

Ditto this; they complement each other really well.
Oct. 12th, 2007 12:41 pm (UTC)
Heh, sorry. :)

Yeah, YBFH and BAF are the must-buys for me. I'll still pick up some of the others from time to time -- I like Strahan's book because it has some SF, and I don't usually pick up the Dozois antho -- but these two are the only guarantees.
Apr. 13th, 2011 10:08 am (UTC)
Looking forward to get involved
Hey - I am definitely glad to find this. great job!
Apr. 14th, 2011 11:46 am (UTC)
Can't wait to make a contribution
Hey - I am certainly happy to discover this. cool job!
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )