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the genre's premiere review magazine for short SF & Fantasy since 1993

The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror 2006: 19th Annual Collection, edited by Ellen Datlow et al.

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"Walpurgis Afternoon" by Delia Sherman
"The Mushroom Duchess" by Deborah Roggie
"An Incident at Agate Beach" by Marly Youmans
"Among the Tombs" by Reggie Oliver
"American Morons" by Glen Hirshberg
Image"Shallaballah" by Mark Samuels
"Denial" by Bruce Sterling
"Northwest Passage" by Barbara Roden
"Proboscis" by Laird Barron
"Kronia" by Elizabeth Hand
"Follow Me Light" by Elizabeth Bear
"Boatman's Holiday" by Jeffrey Ford
"The Horse of a Different Color (That You Rode In On)" by Howard Waldrop
"Where Angels Come In" by Adam L.C. Neville
"Twilight States" by Albert E. Cowdrey
"The Last Ten Years in the Life of Hero Kai" by Geoff Ryman
"The Souls of Drowning Mountain" by Jack Cady
"The Last One" by Robert Coover
"The Ball Room" by China Miéville, Emma Bircham, & Max Schäfer
"Vacation" by Daniel Wallace
"Cruel Sistah" by Nisi Shawl
"Ding-Dong-Bell" by Jay Russell
"A Case Study of Emergency Room Procedure and Risk Management by Hospital Staff Members in the Urban Facility" by Stacey Richter
"The Scribble Mind" by Jeffrey Ford
"Scarecrow" by Tom Brennan
"Going the Jerusalem Mile" by Chaz Brenchley
"Boman" by Pentti Holappa
"The Machine of a Religious Man" by Ralph Robert Moore
"Hot Potting" by Chuck Palahniuk
"My Father's Mask" by Joe Hill
"The Guggenheim Lovers" by Isabel Allende
"A Statement in the Case" by Theodora Goss
"The Pavement Artist" by Dave Hutchinson
"The Gypsies in the Wood" by Kim Newman

Tangent's examination of The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror 2006: 19th Annual Collection, edited by Ellen Datlow, Gavin J. Grant, & Kelly Link, is a team effort, comprised of both old and new reviews.  Linked story titles will take you to the review we did of the publication in which stories previously appeared. Reviews without a link are new.

"Walpurgis Afternoon" [is] a wish-fulfillment fantasy by Delia Sherman. We find Evie as a suburban housewife, justifying her existence by writing a weekly garden column for the local paper and pretending that her teenaged daughter needs someone to slice her apple when she comes home from school. Then one morning she wakes up to discover that a couple of witches have moved into the house next door—where there had been only a vacant lot the day before. But it’s a liberal suburb. They can cope with witches. And no one there would actually use the W-word.

And of course witches have the best gardens, with fresh fruit out-of-season any time they want it, and they bake the best pies, and wear the coolest clothes, and throw the very best parties for the most special people, and don’t have to worry about any zoning laws, either. And of course, the most special people are all witches, too. Don’t you wish you were a witch? Well, maybe you are. (Reviewed by Lois Tilton.)

Deborah Roggie’s "The Mushroom Duchess" is a somewhat more-traditional fantasy, in which a duchess—who obviously has a great love, appreciation for, and knowledge of mushrooms—takes a grave dislike to her son’s new wife. The obvious thing would be for the duchess to poison young Gracinet, but instead she marshals her formidable talents—and fungal friends—in a plot to alienate her daughter-in-law. Of course, in keeping with tradition, Gracinet discovers her mother-in-law’s work and turns the table (literally).  It’s really the twist added by the mushrooms, and the duchess’s use of them to do something other than simply kill Gracinet, that prevents this story from being fairly mundane fantasy. Instead, while not exceptional, it’s entertaining, light reading. (Reviewed by Matthew Nadelhaft.)

Marley Youmans tells a slipstream fantasy in “An Incident at Agate Beach.”  Marsha and Jim are newlyweds vacationing at Agate Beach.  While Jim rock hunts most of the day, Marsha sits on the beach with her laptop where she meets and grows fond of an odd little boy who visits her daily.  He seems to be wise beyond his years, and though she has no proof, he appears to live in the ocean.  After their vacation, Marsha and Jim go back to the city where Jim is killed in a car accident.  After trying to cope with her grief for a few months, Marsha returns to Agate Beach and finds the little boy again.

I call this a slipstream fantasy because the fantastic element is greatly downplayed.  The writing has a surreal quality that makes the mundane magical.  For those looking for a fast-paced plot-driven story, this is not it, but for the patient reader, the rewards are great.  Youmans’s prose is simply lovely.  I thought it overly long and drawn-out at times, but much of the story’s effect comes from its leisurely pace as the author weaves images together to create a mysterious mood of sorrow and loss.  Recommended, especially for aficionados of literary fantasy. (Reviewed by Marshall Payne.)

“Among the Tombs” is from English writer Reggie Oliver and accordingly has an English setting.  Framed with an after-dinner drink at the annual Diocesan Clergy Retreat, Father Humphreys tells a tale in true ghost story fashion.  Years ago, he met a strange man named Harry Mason, a convict at a halfway house run by the saintly Meriel Deane, a woman considered a bit “potty” later in life.  Humphreys becomes friends with her and thereby concerned about this convict, Mason, that she’s helping.  An odd, educated fellow with a Hapsburg grin, it turns out that Mason is possessed, and Meriel Deane is using the doctrine of substitution to take some of his supernatural affliction upon herself.  The Book of Mark, Chapter 5, is mentioned where Jesus meets the man possessed by devil(s) Legion among the tombs and casts these out into the Gadarene swine, so when this figures into the story later, I wasn’t surprised.  This was an interesting tale.  Nothing really horrific happens, but the priest’s narrative is fused with an eerie quality that makes it a noteworthy horror story. (Reviewed by Marshall Payne.)

"American Morons" by Glen Hirshberg is the kind of story that stays in your mind long after you read it, despite its simplicity. The terror develops in the background, building in the essence of Italy.  Two Americans argue constantly about American politics while their car is broken down on a highway in Rome. The horror builds off-screen, always seen out of the corner of the eye and never straight on.  At first, it feels like a copout of sorts, like the writer is pulling away before the money shot.  But this terror hides in your mind, stays in the architecture of your thoughts.  You keep going back to it—not to the characters, but to the little things they observe and pay no attention to.
 
It's a short piece, but anything longer wouldn't have worked as well. And even though there are a lot of films and short stories playing upon the American tourist being tortured in Europe motif (Turistas, Hostel, etc.), "American Morons" works so well because of how oblivious the main characters are to their surroundings.

This is the sort of story you can savor and return to over and over again, delighting in the subtle symbols that the writer hangs in your mind. (Reviewed by Paul Jessup.)

"Shallaballah" by Mark Samuels is an intense examination of the lengths one will go through for the allures of fame and the people that will take advantage of these fame-seekers just for the hell of it. That's the premise behind Samuel's fantastic morality play, and he milks it for every ounce of terror and creepiness possible.

Sogol's once beautiful and famous face has been mangled and scarred. He knows, and we know, his Hollywood career is over. Desperate to get back in the business, Sogol hires the services of the enigmatic Mr. Punch. He's told to arrive at a deserted building, where his body becomes the possession of Mr. Punch. What atrocities will the reader discover with Sogol? What are these bizarre narrative interludes? To give away anything would be a disservice to the tight thriller Samuels has created. This is a must read for any fan of horror and definitely marks Mark Samuel as someone to watch. (Reviewed by Jason Sizemore.)

Bruce Sterling’s "Denial" is a fable set in a Balkan-like nation, a mixing-board for the world's major religions.  Since it's a fable by Bruce Sterling, expect no homilies or consolation.  A village is flooded, and the protagonist spends the story trying to convince his wife that she drowned.  But the drowned wife is so much more agreeable than the version he knew... Sterling, as usual, is incisive and funny, with a twist I should have seen coming but didn't.  Like his sf and nonfiction, this story bristles with interest in practical matters: it really is a big deal to lose your toolkit in a country where you can't replace them at Home Depot. (Reviewed by Thomas Marcinko.)

Barbara Roden
’s “Northwest Passage” takes places in backwoods British Columbia in a cabin where sixty-three-year-old widow, Peggy, lives during the summer.  One day, two young men, Jack and Robert, camping a mile or so away, introduce themselves.  Jack is a friendly enough fellow, but Robert is moody and brusque.  Then Jack goes missing, and Robert is beside himself with worry.  Roden does know how to amp up the suspense, but this story was a little short on ideas for my taste.  Jack moves through the story talking about the hills having eyes and mentioning the movie by that name, but the MacGuffin here is pretty vague.  Also, at 13,000 words, I thought it way too long.  The exposition about Peggy's dead husband was unnecessary, and the dialogue with the boys could’ve been trimmed.  I’m sure some readers like tales where the setup and suspense are dragged out, but I felt manipulated.  A skillfully told tale, but in the end, it arrived nowhere important. (Reviewed by Marshall Payne.)

Laird Barron's "Proboscis" is, as the title might suggest to others who, like me, find insect biology interesting but ultimately kind of creepy, a nifty horror tale.  Our first person narrator is part of a team who travels around videotaping crime scenes; sometimes the perpetrators get caught, as happens early on: the target is s a serial killer, accompanied by a young girl, who delights in teenage female victims.  The guys are there to see him get nailed, though it isn't easy; meanwhile the narrator is regretting his lack of skills as husband, and especially as parent of a daughter.  He calls home from time to time, and you think you know where the story is going, but it takes a serious sidestep when he figures out there's something bizarre about these murders—and  the murderers.  Join him on an extremely wild ride, right to the very last line.  (Reviewed by Sherwood Smith.)

"Kronia" is from the always interesting Elizabeth Hand. Here, she writes a short story presented in a similarly disjointed narrative manner as the groundbreaking and cult short film, La Jetée. Hand describes a series of brief encounters, longer meetings, and potential (or did they really happen?) what-ifs between a man and a woman. It's a nice story to cultivate thoughts about predestination, reality, and, of course, love. A recommended read. (Reviewed by Jason Sizemore.)

Elizabeth Bear's short story, "Follow Me Light," is a beautiful, haunting, modern-day fairy tale.  Isaac Gilman, Pinky to all, is a talented lawyer, but horribly crippled and hideous.  He has a mysterious past, and an aura which glitters with "electric blue fireflies."  Maria Delprado is the lawyer and psychic who loves him, who sees the beauty and the pain in him, and becomes embroiled in a story as old as the sea.  Pinky introduces her to a world of primeval mythology, a brother's feud, and the value and power of love.   

Bear's prose is redolent of treacherous waves—the siren call of the ocean—all framed within the burning desert wasteland of Las Vegas.  She casts a spell of wonder and beauty with her deft pen (keyboard), which left this reader enthralled.  I only wish there could have been more to explore, more to share with these fully realized characters, within Bear's magical world. (Reviewed by Eugie Foster.)

Jeffrey Ford's "Boatman's Holiday" is a stunningly strange and beautiful tale. Charon, the boatman of the Greek legends who assists the dead in their crossing, is due for a holiday. He is going to visit the legendary island, Oondeshai, where the only escape in hell is possible. An escaped sinner had created this island while he was still alive.

Along with intensely visceral imagery of hell and more lyrical descriptions of Charon's journey, the philosophical themes of the story are challenging, and quite deep. Do we create our own hell? Is the memory of the life lost, or forgetting who we used to be the greater punishment? The complex interplay of the profane and the divine, the gripping prose, and the intensely sympathetic protagonist make for a memorable story. (Reviewed by E. Sedia.)

In "The Horse of a Different Color (That You Rode In On)" by Howard Waldrop, it's Penn and Teller meets H.P. Lovecraft (almost) in this strange anecdote from the dying days of vaudeville.  Told in the format of a Q and A interview, this is the story of Manny Marks (formally Marx), youngest of the Marx Brothers, being interviewed by one Barry Winstead, who is conducting research for a book on the death of vaudeville.  After telling Winstead briefly how he got his start, Manny goes into detail about some of the other acts he played with in those days, chiefly a strange duo known as Dybbuk & Wing, who did a dancing skeleton act and a horse suit act called the Ham Nag.  When not onstage, the duo spent the rest of their time reading strange old books filled with arcane lore and writing letters.  It seems Dybbuk & Wing were onto something strange involving T.S. Eliot's "The Waste Land," a feud between the Catholics and the Freemasons, and the Holy Grail(?)

This isn't an earth-shattering tale, and not one of Waldrop's best, but it  is a fun blending of historical fact and conspiracy theory, and a nice glimpse at the bygone days of vaudeville. (Reviewed by James Palmer.)

Adam L. G. Nevill tells a haunted house story in “Where Angels Come in.”  Lying in his convalescence bed, a young boy whose body is numb on one side tells of how he became that way.  A few months back, he and his young friend, Pickering, climbed the wall and entered the mysterious white house on the hill.  When things (children, pets, etc.) turn up missing in the town, this is the likeliest place they go.  Nevill is an experienced horror writer of credible talent, but I found myself skimming to get to the end.  I won’t describe the horrible things he piles up, one on top of the other, once the boys are in the house.  Nevill wrote this as an homage to British ghost story writer M. R. James (1882-1936). If you enjoy these sorts of tales, check it out. (Reviewed by Marshall Payne.)

At first, I didn’t know what to make of "Twilight States" by Albert E. Cowdrey.  I was entertained, the story is certainly well written, but I’m not sure I enjoyed it.  

The protagonist, Milton, is the owner of Sun and Moon Metaphysical Books.  He has a complicated past that is tied up with a story in a rare issue of a World War II fantasy magazine.  When Erasmus Bloch, who happens to be Milton’s deceased older brother’s ex-psychiatrist, comes looking for that very magazine, Milton’s careful equilibrium is destroyed.

The story-within-a-story is effectively handled, leaving the reader with an unnerving sense of foreboding.  Milton, as a narrator, shifts from being unreliable to reliable, making it difficult to get a fix on his motivations, but Cowdrey pulls it off.  I was really won over, and the fact that I didn’t like it at first made me like it all the more at the end. (Reviewed by Aimee Poynter.)

Geoff Ryman’s historical fable "The Last Ten Years in the Life of Hero Kai" is the clear highlight of the F&SF December [2005] issue. This tale is a meditation on the ways of heroism, on revolution and war, on kingship and enlightenment. While there is too much of the fantastic to call it historical fiction, the situation echoes the sad history of nineteenth-century Cambodia, reduced to a vassal state by its more powerful neighbors Siam and Vietnam, while at the same time the forces of Western imperialism were poised to overtake the entire region.

In Ryman’s version of events, the monk Kai has mastered the Ten Rules of Heroism, which recall the maxims of Sun Tzu, or perhaps the Sayings of Mao Tse-Tung—another notable revolutionary leader in Asian history. The Ten Rules are:

1. Heroism consists of action
2. Do not act until necessary
3. You will know that the action is right if everything happens swiftly
4. Do whatever is necessary
5. Heroism is revealed not by victory but by defeat
6. You will have to lie to others, but never lie to yourself
7. Organized retreat is a form of advance
8. Become evil to do good
9. Then do good to earn merit and undo harm
10. Heroism is completed by inaction

Each of these rules is exemplified in one of the last ten years of the hero’s life. In the beginning, “Kai starts each day with his exercises. He stands on tiptoe on the furthest leaf of the highest branch of the tallest mango tree in the region. He holds two swords and engages himself in fast and furious swordplay. He walks on his hands for a whole day.

"Yet he takes no action.”

But the Kingdom of Kambu is very badly ruled. “Our army is controlled by our enemies. Our wealth pours out to them and when they want more, they just take it. The King’s magic makes girls pretty, fields abundant, and rainfall regular. It holds back disease and the ravages of age.

"The Neighbors make the magic of war.”

The fatal thought enters Kai’s mind: “If only the King were strong. If only the Sons of Kambu stood up as one against the Neighbors. If only there were ten of me.” He decides to take action. He decides to be a hero. The fate of the Kingdom is forever changed.

Many readers will inevitably be reminded of Zang Yimou’s wuxia film Hero. The two works explore similar themes: the cost of rebellion, the burden of kingship, the eternal tension between ends and means, intentions and consequences. In both there is splendid, fantastic imagery. Ryman’s version is more enigmatic; there is more irony, and no romance. But in both we can hear the whisper of history’s great Tempter, urging us to go forth and do great deeds. (Reviewed by Lois Tilton.)

Jack Cady constructs a fascinating account of Appalachia Kentucky in the 1950s in "The Souls of Drowning Mountain." It was around the period of time when the Federal Government thought it was time the "hillbillies" caught up with the rest of the Western world. The attention to detail Cady gives to the people of the times and the community's culture are remarkable and right on the money (as this reviewer is from the same town "The Souls of Drowning Mountain" is set). In fact, the historical accuracy delivered more impact to me than the actual story, a set piece about a group of ghosts/zombies back to torment their tormentors. (Reviewed by Jason Sizemore.)

According to the small blurb by Kelly Link and Gavin Grant which precedes this story, "The Last One" by Robert Coover is a "joyful reworking of Bluebeard." I wouldn't call this a joyful story. It's another dark morality tale if anything else, but it was a joy to read.

We're introduced to a rather arrogant nobleman and his obedient, loving bride. They make love. They play lovers' games. Many words are dedicated to showing the joys of their relationship. Then things take a dark turn as we discover the nobleman has a "blue" room that is forbidden to all but him. All his other brides are dead by his own blade due to their curiosity. But this new bride, she doesn't care for the blue room. She only wants to play in her nursery. As time goes on, the nobleman becomes obsessed by what type of games the bride is playing. Is she cheating on him? Or perhaps engaging in some other manner of unseemly conduct? The tables are turned. Coover shows a skilled hand pulling off an O. Henry style ending that would have been mismanaged by a lesser skilled writer. (Reviewed by Jason Sizemore.)

"The Ball Room," co-written by China Miéville, Emma Bircham, & Max Schäfer, takes the concept of a classic English ghost story and places it in the milieu of a children's playpen, where all those tiny, plastic balls are set to cushion a youngster's fall.  The story does build tension well and leaves some haunting images, but in the end, it failed on the whole as a ghost story.  Mostly because Miéville can't help but thrust in a socialist comment on capitalism, but also because the story itself brought nothing really new or interesting to the genre.
 
As an English ghost story, it doesn't make any comments on the genre as a whole, nor does it scare too well.  As I said, some images stand out and some parts are fairly creepy, but as a whole, it is the least interesting of all the horror stories accepted for this anthology. A good classic tale when there is nothing else to read, but nothing to get worked up over. And definitely not anything frightening enough to keep you up at night. (Reviewed by Paul Jessup).

Daniel Wallace
tells a tale of paranoia in “Vacation.”  Told in the second person, you arrive in Aristea for a vacation, eventually lose your luggage, and are lured to a building by your cabdriver, whereupon things get even worse.  Throughout, you are convinced that your best friend, back in the States, is sleeping with your wife and that everyone knows about it and is laughing behind your back.  I usually don’t have a problem with second-person narratives, but its use in this story greatly annoyed.  I’m sure that’s what the author meant to do, to make the reader uncomfortable.  Perhaps other readers enjoy this sort of reading experience.  I don’t and felt manipulated from the opening “you.” (Reviewed by Marshall Payne.)

Nisi Shawl's horror fantasy, "Cruel Sistah," is rather slight. Set in the Northwest about three decades ago, Shawl does manage to present a complete story of a murder, a haunting, and a comeuppance, but it is difficult not to want "more." More words. More meat. Though the characters are sketched in, the setting is established, and two incidents get full scenes—the murder and the homemade construction of a banjo—"Cruel Sistah" felt like an outline rather than a story, or a vignette meant to eventually work its way into something fully fleshed. (Reviewed by Dave Smeds.)

Jay Russell
serves up a gory bloodfest in “Ding-Dong-Bell.”  Johnny, called the Boy Detective, follows his older brother, George, and his friend, Lenny, to a house where he witnesses a horrible occurrence through the window.  The two older boys have tied Lenny’s Aunt Clara to a bed and are doing more appalling things to her than rape.  Of course, the Boy Detective is caught, brought inside, and forced to fornicate with the aunt so he’ll feel guilty and keep his mouth shut.  Then they mutilate the woman and, “Ding-Dong-Bell,” toss her down a well.  Ashamed, the Boy Detective grows up to be the Director of the FBI and hunts George and Lenny, who have become notorious serial killers.  And everyone knows that the FBI always gets their man.  I’m ambivalent about this one.  On one hand, Russell’s depiction of gore and wickedness does show how depraved the human mind can become, but on the other, I’m wondering if this was all really necessary.  I wasn’t offended by it, though; I was bored.  I know horror is a broad field, but this tale had no supernatural element, so I wouldn’t call it speculative fiction.  It’s a crime story and out of place in this anthology.  But if gratuitous sex and violence are your thing, this will probably ring your bell. (Reviewed by Marshall Payne.)

Stacey Richter delivers a funny, if a bit forgettable, bit of experimental fiction in her story "A Case Study of Emergency Room Procedure and Risk Management by Hospital Staff Members in the Urban Facility." A woman akin to a fairy princess enters an urban emergency room. She's injured and requires an extended stay to heal. During this time, the staff all become drawn to the mysterious woman and discovers that she might be the victim of spouse abuse. When her evil prince comes to take his quarry, the hospital staff decides to make a stand for the princess. Engaging and charming, the story delivers the entertainment, but it goes down predictable pathways and probably would have been better if not presented in the "report" style. (Reviewed by Jason Sizemore.)

"The Scribble Mind"
 by Jeffrey Ford is the story of a woman obsessed with a pattern and its implications. Pat is a graduate student studying art. He is just settling in for the semester when he runs into Esme, a girl he knew in high school. She, too, is an art grad student. And, as they know each other, it’s natural that they start seeing each other for breakfast and such—spending time with someone they know to wind down from the week.

Pat discovers a painting that is to be displayed in an upcoming show at the school. Esme knows the painting. It’s a scribble that seems to be a constant, reproducable by people who can remember being in the womb.  Esme becomes obsessed with this scribble and the memory that is associated with it.

Esme hatches a plan to get the scribble artist to reveal to her his memory.  Unfortunately, the artist is a fake with his own agenda regarding those who can “remember.”

“The Scribble Mind” is a story of obsessions; Esme’s obsession with those who can “remember,” and Pat’s obsession with Esme. The story was most accessible to me through Pat’s obsession, as I can envision having such an obsession myself. And it works very well, given that we mostly see Esme’s obsession through Pat’s eyes. Mr. Ford’s story is a compelling read. (Reviewed by Michael Fay.)

Tom Brennan's "Scarecrow" is a quiet little tale of a village seemingly besieged by foreigners (Gypsies?). When their houses are robbed, their chickens taken, and a child murdered, the men of the town decide to take the law into their own hands with a grisly warning for other outsiders who enter their village. This story is a scary glimpse into human evil and a reminder that not all monsters come from storybooks. (Reviewed by James Palmer.)

Chaz Brenchley's "Going the Jerusalem Mile" is one of my two favorites of [issue #41 of The 3rd Alternative].  Exquisitely written, this is the story of a man who loves his wife because she's a loser, who will do anything for her because she will never succeed herself—because she's defined by her eternal effort.  We never know her name, or what she looks like, but she is alive before us just the same: meeting, eventually marrying the narrator, heroically (with the same indefatigable emotional disquiet we find in the diaries of women as disparate as Virginia Woolf and L. Montgomery) trying to confine the restless seas of desire and dream into the domestic teapot.  The culmination of domestic perfection is to produce a child.  She joins a church, and though she throws herself into every aspect of worship she seems determined to force the doctrine of faith into a ritual of magick.  This determination is bound round a strange maze that is only opened a few times a year, on certain holidays.  She walks it, subsequently gets pregnant, but despite all her care, the child does not thrive.  And so she determines to walk it again, on the most perilous night of the year—and the narrator, who is living evidence of how love is both ineffable and dangerous (or maybe it's dangerous because it is ineffable) goes with her. (Reviewed by Sherwood Smith.)

“Boman” is by Finnish writer Pentti Holappa.  Translated from his native Finnish, its narrator tells the tale of his talking dog, Boman.  The narrator is an educated man and before he learns that his dog can talk, she (the dog) has a bad habit of eating his books.  Much of the story concerns Boman’s adventures, and the narrator telling the reader what the dog told him.  The story meanders, but I found it poignant and well written.  Much is made of growing wings in this tale, and toward the end, Boman does.  While obviously a metaphor, I found the wings to be an incongruous image that didn’t quite work.  And no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get past the fact that I was reading a story about a talking dog. (Reviewed by Marshall Payne.)

“The Machine of a Religious Man” by Ralph Robert Moore is a difficult tale to synopsize.  Told from an odd point of view, this works better than most second-person stories because the “you” of the narrative takes a back seat and mostly watches the action unfold.  The reader accompanies a fellow named Bonay as he invades a rich Indian chief’s home to demand his help.  Bonay’s boss, a rancher named Gordon, is in the car outside crying.  Gordon’s wife, daughter, and granddaughter are all dead—the wife a few years ago, the daughter last year, the granddaughter that day.  The granddaughter is trapped underneath a pond that has frozen over, and he wants the chief to have his cattle stampede the frozen pond so the ice can be broken and his granddaughter’s body can be retrieved.  This was written well, gripping, and with a colorful cast of characters, but I found the premise absurd.  Yes, the rancher does have a purpose to all this in the end, but I still found it farfetched.  And mental aberration doesn’t qualify to make this speculative fiction.  A brilliantly realized failure. (Reviewed by Marshall Payne.)

Generally, there's not much gore in each year's edition of The Year's Best Fantasy & Horror. But it appears that editor Ellen Datlow has a soft spot in her heart for one of the most effective gore writers in the business, Chuck Palahniuk. "Hot Potting" is a nasty little work about a woman and her bed & breakfast inn that is next to some hot springs. People fall in the springs. Nastiness ensues. Probably not for those readers with a sensitive stomach, but overall an effective piece. (Reviewed by Jason Sizemore.)

Joe Hill's "My Father's Mask" is a complicated story that could be seen both as allegory and as abstract surrealism.  Under the depth of symbolism, one gets a stark feeling of loss and loneliness that most writers can't even come close to achieving in entire novels, let alone in the space of a short story.

Constantly, there is the image of gambling, of trying to fend for one's life in the presence of a card game.  The father of the story is always hidden—distant and almost sexless.  The son, who replaces him in a strange oedipal fashion, is not ready for the responsibility he faces.  All of the symbols in this story play together, drawn to one another in a sort of gravity of fear—where nothing real is possible.  Ghosts haunt every moment, as well as the threat of killer playing cards.  There are times where everything seems to be a childish game of make believe, but these are thrust aside constantly and shown to be a strange fabric of half truths that are creepy as well as enlightening.  You have a feeling that the parents are lying to their boy, to make everything seem better, even though the lies are in themselves terrifying nightmares.

As a reader, you are never certain what the truth is—everything pulling apart and weaving back on itself in the shape of illusions.  A cloud of obscurity creates a feeling of paranoia, of not knowing where the world of the story truly begins.  It is inside of this cloud, this paranoia, where Joe Hill pulls out all the stops and makes us question our own very concept of selves, of identity and of family.

Another layer to the story is all the references to Stephen King's The Shining.  The masks are the same—disturbingly dark and menacing. Ghosts are everywhere, and there is even a child on a tricycle that the main character follows into the woods.  Layers upon layers, all crammed into this short story create a dizzying effect that spans the concept of horror as a genre, and then transcends it as an exercise in nightmarish surrealism in a very Lynchian fashion.

One could too easily try and interpret this in the wake of the new information on Joe Hill's identity.  The references to his father's novel, as well as a son taking over the father's position in the story (and the father being sold and marked up like cattle for the slaughter) could all too easily be read as Joe Hill claiming his heritage as a horror writer.  But I think this sort of shallow interpretation is too easy and simplifies the story into something less personal too each reader. Instead, we should set aside such critical analysis, and instead enjoy the brutal attack on our concept of reality that this story exceeds in.

Highly Suggested.  (Reviewed by Paul Jessup.)

Isabel Allende
writes a dreamy story about love and a museum in "The Guggenheim Lovers." In short, a young couple are caught making love in the Guggenheim. How did they get in? Why didn't the alarms ring? Hey, how come they're not showing up on the video surveillance? We follow the short investigation of a local detective as he eventually comes to the conclusion that the reader knew all along. An entertaining read. (Reviewed by Jason Sizemore.)

I’m not quite sure what it is about Theodora Goss’s writing that I like so much, but every time I read one of her stories, I am drawn in.  "A Statement in the Case" is no exception.  It is told as a statement to a police officer by a local guy, named Mike, after a fire decimates the corner pharmacy.  The pharmacy is owned by Istvan Horvath, a Hungarian immigrant who is a friend of Mike's.

Istvan’s wife is a younger woman who cared for Istvan’s mother in Hungary.  Istvan brings her to the United States after his mother dies.  Their relationship is uncomfortable and Goss illustrates their differing philosophies of life in the New World effectively.  The ending is beautiful and a little horrific.  The focus on the Horvath’s relationship made the revelation at the end all the more chilling.  And the end is truly disturbing in a way that questions our carefully structured reality.  I really enjoyed this one. (Reviewed by Aimee Poynter.)

Although “The Pavement Artist” by Dave Hutchinson is a horror selection in this anthology, it has a science fictional premise.  Thomas is a gallery owner in the day-after-tomorrow London art world.  Twenty years ago, the Japanese invented a method for recording human personalities, a process known as “cracking.”  For convicted murders, death row has become The Distillery where personalities are saved and the human body put to death.  Enter the modern artist Coypu, who creates bizarre sculptures with moving arms and accompanying holograms, each downloaded with a human personality.  Soon Coypu is murdered, and the end is the revelation of where his personality went.  I wasn’t surprised by the ending, but was glad that the technology figured into the denouement instead of this turning out to be another whodunit.  I wouldn’t call this fantasy or horror, more of a cyberpunk tale in the snobbish art world: a Gibsonesque Warholian crime drama.  Enjoyable. (Reviewed by Marshall Payne.)

In the most original and intriguing tale of [The Fair Folk, edited by Marvin Kaye], Kim Newman writes about what happens after a late Edwardian brother and sister's brush with fairy land. "The Gypsies in the Wood" follows the boy Davey as he turns instantly into an old man, a reclusive artistic savant, and the girl Maeve as she never grows up at all. Several years later, an entertainment industry grows up around a highly popular "fairy theme park." A reporter and a paranormal investigator discover that real magic—and Davey and Maeve—are at the bottom of it all. Newman nails the rhythms of speech and life in early 20th century London, as well as the creepy, gritty tang of his particularly malevolent type of fairy land. He also muses on the strength of the brother-sister bond while sending up Holmesian detective novels and leveling some criticism at sugarcoated, commercialized concepts of fantasy. Of all the stories in The Fair Folk, "The Gypsies in the Wood" brings together technology and magic, our world and the fairies', most skillfully. (Reviewed by Elizabeth A. Allen.)

Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin (Aug. 2006)
Pages: 608
Trade Paperback: $19.95
Paperback ISBN: 0312356145
Hard Cover: $35.00
Hard Cover ISBN: 0312356153