(Because Amazon lumps all of these volumes together, this review is split in halves: Fifteen/2001 and Fourteen/2000.)
For THE YEAR'S BEST FANTASY AND HORROR: FIFTEENTH ANNUAL COLLECTION (2001)
The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror: Fifteen Annual Collection collects the best (as determined by the editors) short fiction of both genres in 2001, using wide definitions of the genres in order to build a diverse, quality collection. Introductions survey related novels, anthologies, and media; some of these recommendations are useless, but others are a rich resource. The stories and poems themselves vary in quality, but the standard is high and some stories are a distinct success. It's no surprise that such a large anthology has its ups and downs, but Datlow and Windling achieve many of their lofty goals. This is a varied and successful collection of short fiction and a promising resource for discovering new authors. I recommend it.
Short fiction anthologies and collections are almost always a mixed bag, and this one in particular reaches farther--and is longer--than most collections, so there are plenty of opportunities for failure. But it's a surprising success: there's some underwhelming poetry and some disappointing and odd short stories, but on average the bar is high and the best stories are exceptional. Doerr's "The Hunter's Wife," Arnott's "Prussian Snowdrops," Kiernan's "Onion," Maguire's "Scarecrow," and best of all Palwick's "Gestella," the story of a rapidly-aging werewolf, were among my favorites, and while another reader may have different preferences the best part about this broad collection is that it has something to delight every sort of horror/fantasy fan, and perhaps something new for each reader.
Other than a treasure-trove of stories, The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror also serves to expose the reader to new work and new authors. The introductions are lengthy, but useful: Windling is the most succinct in picking her choices for best fantasy novels and anthologies, Datlow is more wordy and less helpful in her horror recommendations, and the surveys of related media, comics, and anime/manga are pretty much useless (and in the final case, laughably so). Still, skim the introductions and remember your favorite authors from the short story collection, and this anthology has the potential to inflate your to-be-read list in record time. All in all, this volume of The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror is not perfect, but Datlow and Windling aim high and manage to pull together a surprising amount of enjoyable fiction that includes some true gems and opens the door to finding many more. I recommend it.
For THE YEAR'S BEST FANTASY AND HORROR: FOURTEENTH ANNUAL COLLECTION (2000)
The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror: Fourteenth Annual Collection collects the best (as determined by the editors) short fiction of both genres in 2000, using wide definitions of the genres in order to build a diverse, quality collection. Largely useless introductions summarize the year in fantasy, horror, and related media, but the bulk of the book is 43 short stories and 11 poems which span paranormal horror to imaginary world fantasy to mythic poems. The stories are a mixed bag, but on the whole a disappointment: some break the mold, but most of these selections are so exaggerated that they lack magic or tension. This series has a laudable goal, but in this installment the editors don't quite reach it. Not recommended.
I so much enjoyed the fifteenth volume of this series that it boggles my mind that I found this fourteenth installment such a slog. Short story collections are usually composed of selection of varying quality, and an anthology this wide-reaching and long has plenty of opportunities for failure--and, unfortunately, in this volume it often does fail. The selections are a mixed bag: Some are wonderful, and Koja's "At Eventide," Grant and Link's "Ship, Sea, Mountain, Sky," Duffy's Circe and Little Red Cap, Adriázola's "Buttons," Gaiman's Instructions, and best of all Greer Gilman's "Jack Daw's Pack," a mythic and dreamlike story of the trials and tribulations of divine avatars, were my favorites. But too often, regardless of genre, these stories are often so blatant--horror exaggerated to empty violence, retold myth which is too obvious, humorous fantasy pushed over the top--that they lose all the magic and tension that can come with subtlety. Perhaps that's a personal preference, but I doubt it. Obvious, exaggerated stories smack of lazy writing, and certainly don't warrant a "best of" collection.
The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror: Fourteenth Annual Collection still serves a purpose: some selections, like those listed above, break the mold and are in turns understated, haunting, intelligent, or otherwise subtlety and skillfully told. And the volume also functions as a means to encounter new stories and new authors. With such a wide range, pulling from paranormal to psychological horror, from magical realism to urban fantasy, The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror is a broad cross-section of both genres and may expose a reader to all number of new writers or texts. Unfortunately, like the middling quality of the stories themselves, this volume isn't always a good resource: Windling summary of fantasy novels is concise and useful, but Daltow's summary is unnecessarily long and the summations of media and comics often lose sight of their fantasy/horror purview. All told, this fourteenth installment of The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror is well-intended but not wholly successful. Other installments prove that the premise can succeed, and such a wide goal as the year's best pulled from broad definitions of two genres is loftly and laudable. But perhaps the pickings were slim, perhaps they had a bad year--for whatever reason, Windling and Datlow don't reach their goals in this fourtheenth installment, and I don't recommend it.