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Best American Fantasy

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A prestigious new anthology series, Best American Fantasy is guest edited by Ann & Jeff VanderMeer, with Matthew Cheney serving as the series editor. This inaugural volume showcases the best North American fantasy short fiction from the preceding year.


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A prestigious new anthology series, Best American Fantasy is guest edited by Ann & Jeff VanderMeer, with Matthew Cheney serving as the series editor. This inaugural volume showcases the best North American fantasy short fiction from the preceding year.

30 review for Best American Fantasy

  1. 4 out of 5

    Wealhtheow

    A collection of short pieces of writing, some of which could be termed "fantasy" and a few of which could be termed "stories." Very few are worth reading. The stories by Baker and Swirsky are by far the best, but it's hard to choose what was worst, because there are so many terrible ones to choose from. As I read each story, I recorded my reaction. Here they are: Eric Amudsen, "Bufo Rex." The tale of a toad who is tormented by humans. I like the rhythm of the words. Bruce Holland Rogers, "The A collection of short pieces of writing, some of which could be termed "fantasy" and a few of which could be termed "stories." Very few are worth reading. The stories by Baker and Swirsky are by far the best, but it's hard to choose what was worst, because there are so many terrible ones to choose from. As I read each story, I recorded my reaction. Here they are: Eric Amudsen, "Bufo Rex." The tale of a toad who is tormented by humans. I like the rhythm of the words. Bruce Holland Rogers, "The Seven Deadly Hotels." Various hotels torment various travelers with each of the seven sins. Clever conceit, but something about the writing annoyed me. The characters are just puppets moved through motions, and they all give in to temptation. I guess I wanted just one that saw through the hotel's obvious manipulations. Miranda Mellis, "The Revisionist." Surrealist and terrible. Loopy and wacky for no reason I could discern. A nuclear bomb goes off and various random stuff happens. Nonsense is so avant garde! Kage Baker, "The Ruby Incomparable." The Master of the Mountain (a dark lord who commands armies of demons and ogres) and the Saint of the World (who quite resembled her name) fell in love, married, and had children. One of them was Svnae, whose unquenchable love of power and learning led her into many adventures. A wonderful story about family and individuality. Aimee Bender, "Interval." An orphan signs up for a sculpting class, but the teacher tells him to sculpt out of sound instead of clay. He falls in love with the sculpter's model, who eventually gives birth to clay sculptures of twelve of his dead relatives. But then! It was all in his head! Yet more surreal run-on sentences trying to be meaningful; I don't like it. "Memoir of a Deer Woman" by M Rickert. A woman sees a deer killed, and rapidly becomes a deer. It's that style where something completely strange and unexplained happens, and everyone reacts to it as though it's completely normal, even though it clearly isn't. I hate that style and I hated this. The characters have no names or personalities or motives; there is not plot; it's all just an excuse for the author to write lines like "She is finally able to write that there is no sorrow greater than regret, no rapture more complete than despair, no beauty more divine than words, but before writing it, she understands, standing there, amidst the cars and shopping bags, watching all the words spin away, as though she had already died, and no longer owned language, that ordinary, every day, exquisite blessing on which lives are both built, and destroyed." "In the Middle of the Woods" by Christian Moody. I was annoyed by his author bio (no one cares that you're in a PhD program for English, gah!) but far more annoyed by the story itself, which tries to be surreal and strange and is instead senseless and silly. Maybe I just hate this would-be-literary style too much, but there's something so annoying about reading story after story about characters without names or personalities or reasons. "Story With Advice II: Back from the Dead" by Rick Moody. Another story I wouldn't really classify as fantasy, but I liked this better than the earlier ones. An (again unnamed!) advice columnist answers problems sent to him in the afterlife. I liked the way his personality and history peek out throughout his answers, and the columnist's writing style is identifiable. Characterization! So what if there's no plot or names or fantasy, at least we're going in the right direction. "Logorrhea" by Michelle Richmond. A woman whose incessant speech destroys her relationships meets a man covered in beautiful but sharp iridescent scales. He slowly finds ways to cover up the one thing she likes about him, in order to join society like a normal person. I quite liked this. But again with the unnamed characters! "Ave Maria" by Micaela Morrissette. A magical bird or something? Super boring. "Chainsaw on Hand" by Deborah Coates. Chel is annoyed that her ex-husband won't stop talking about seeing angels (or maybe fairies. or trolls. He's not sure what they are.) and that her small South Dakota town still expects her to take care of him. THIS contains some believable reactions to surreal experiences, and I really liked Chel's internal grumbling and yearning. "The Last and Only, or, Mr. Moscowitz Becomes French" by Peter S. Beagle. An ordinary American librarian slowly turns into a Frenchman. He even loses the ability to speak English, and emigrates to France in hopes of finally being home. But there he finds that the people living in France are not French either, and goes in search of the true French. Weird, less fantasy than surreal literature, but still I liked Mrs. Moscowitz and the two presidents. "Minus, His Heart" by Jedediah Berry. Unreadable. Yet more unnamed main characters, sentence after sentence that don't connect to each other, and a random inexplicable world. "Abroad" by Judy Budnitz. Two unnamed (as always) tourists visit a country, and one of them rapidly turns into a native while the other watches, befuddled and confused. I am so sick of this surrealist bullshit. "Mario's Three Lives" by Matt Bell. Super Mario, as told from the point of view of the plumber himself. Poorly written, overused concept. "The Naming of the Islands" by David Hollander. Unnamed narrator tells us about discovering various islands. No plot, no tension, no characterization, nothing but a series of disgusting islands. "The Drowned Life" by Jeffrey Ford. Hatch is an insurance claims worker. One day all the considerations of life grow too much for him and he metaphorically (?) drowns and finds himself in a metaphorical (?) Drowned Land where everyone else has ruined lives as well. I have no clue what happened in this story, and after slogging through so many senseless stories before it, I didn't have the patience to puzzle it out. "Light" by Kelly Link. Lindsey doesn't conform to the stereotypes about people with two shadows: she's not a trouble maker, she's not untrustworthy. She just likes to drink and take care of iguanas. Then a hurricane hits and gives her the opportunity to leave her troublesome twin brother and depressing routine behind. I liked a lot of the writing here, like the descriptions of the incipient hurricane. Lindsey feels realistically complicated, and the world is fantastical but still grounded. Not sure what was going on in this story, though. "How the World Became Quiet: A Post-Human Creation Myth" by Rachel Swirsky. The apocalypses of the earth, and the ways humanity survived (or didn't). Fucking fantastic.

  2. 5 out of 5

    le-trombone

    As the title states, these are the stories that editors Ann and Jeff Vandermeer have chosen for the best American (stories published in American journals, magazines, and web sites) fantasy stories of the year. With one exception, I can't find fault with their choices. “Bufo Rex” by Erik Amundsen. The toad of fairy tales travels from town to town, until he finds a story of his own. “The Seven Deadly Hotels” by Bruce Holland Rogers. Description of visits to seven different hotels, each with a As the title states, these are the stories that editors Ann and Jeff Vandermeer have chosen for the best American (stories published in American journals, magazines, and web sites) fantasy stories of the year. With one exception, I can't find fault with their choices. “Bufo Rex” by Erik Amundsen. The toad of fairy tales travels from town to town, until he finds a story of his own. “The Seven Deadly Hotels” by Bruce Holland Rogers. Description of visits to seven different hotels, each with a singular flaw. “The Revisionist” by Miranda Mellis. The doctored report is easier to believe than the reality. “The Ruby Incomparable” by Kage Baker. The daughter of the Dark Lord and Saint of the World decides destiny is not for her. “Interval” by Aimee Bender. On the first day of sculpting class, a student is told to sculpt without clay. “Memoir of a Deer Woman” by M. Rickert. Transformation viewed as an end-of-life experience. “In the Middle of the Woods” by Christian Moody. Introducing mechanical life to nature is fraught with hazards. “Story with Advice II: Back from the Dead” by Rick Moody. The advice columnist has more to add post-mortem. “Logorrhea” by Michele Richmond. The feature that makes the narrator's husband most attractive to her is what he most wants to lose. “Ave Maria” by Micaela Morissette. Assimilating not-quite homo ferus into society. “Chainsaw on Hand” by Deborah Coates. The difficulties of love with a man who claims to see fairies. “The Last and Only, or, Mr. Moscowitz Becomes French” by Peter S. Beagle. Some people are more French than others. “Minus, His Heart” by Jedediah Berry. The search for the lost mix tape through the surreal playgrounds and zoos. “Abroad” by Judy Budnitz. While on vacation, the narrator's husband goes native. “Mario's Three Lives” by Matt Bell. The Plumber contemplates his life. “The Naming of the Islands” by David Hollander. The crew of the Scapegrace searches for safe harbor amongst strange and dangerous islands. “The Drowned Life” by Jeffrey Ford. Drowning in debt is no longer a metaphor. “Light” by Kelly Link. Pocket universes, insubstantial twins, and warehouses of sleepers. All a background for difficult family relationships. “How the World Became Quiet: A Post-Human Creation Myth” by Rachel Swirsky. The aftermath of the tree-human peace treaty. None of the stories are in the elf-and-sword mode, which is something of a relief. The types of stories include the metaphor-as-reality and the outright surreal, which sometimes make for difficult reading for some people, but there are also contemplative and personal stories. Appropriately for a “Best” anthology, it's difficult to pick out the stand-outs, but if you were truly pressed for reading time I would recommend “The Seven Deadly Hotels”, “The Ruby Incomparable”, “ The Last and Only, or, Mr. Moscowitz Becomes French”, and “The Naming of the Islands”, which is not meant to slight the rest. With the exception of “Mario's Three Lives” (a story from the point of view of a game character, a theme that's been done before going back decades), all the stories are interesting, some are very clever, and all very good.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Raving Redcoat

    Honestly, I didn't finish this book. I honestly tried, but the stories really didn't grab me.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Rick

    In the 1950s and 1960s, the distinctions between literary and fantasy fiction lacked rigid outlines. Nothing typified this trend more than editor Judith Merrill's 12 volumes of The Year's Greatest Science Fiction and Fantasy, published from 1956 to 1968. Within her anthologies, such authors as John Graves, William S. Burroughs, Donald Barthelme, and Gunther Grass routinely appeared alongside more readily identifiable genre writers. Since the mid-Eighties, "best of" fantasy publications have In the 1950s and 1960s, the distinctions between literary and fantasy fiction lacked rigid outlines. Nothing typified this trend more than editor Judith Merrill's 12 volumes of The Year's Greatest Science Fiction and Fantasy, published from 1956 to 1968. Within her anthologies, such authors as John Graves, William S. Burroughs, Donald Barthelme, and Gunther Grass routinely appeared alongside more readily identifiable genre writers. Since the mid-Eighties, "best of" fantasy publications have focused on genre writers, all but ignoring stories that are marketed outside the field. Best American Fantasy replicates Merrill's success by combing nontraditional genre haunts and delving into mainstream literary and online magazines. Editors Ann and Jeff VanderMeer offer a wide range of tales, most of which do not appear in other "best of" collections, from publications as different as Alaska Quarterly Review, Fantasy & Science Fiction, The Georgia Review, Harrington Gay Men's Literary Quarterly, McSweeney's, New England Review, The New Yorker, Oxford American, The Paris Review, and Zoetrope: All-Story. The VanderMeers chose their selections wisely. Highlights include Sumanth Prabhaker's "A Hard Truth About Waste Management," Chris Adrian's "A Better Angel," Meghan McCarron's "The Flying Woman," Gina Ochsner's "Song of the Selkie," Tyler Smith's "A Troop [sic] of Baboons," E.M. Schorb's "An Experiment in Governance," Brian Evenson's "An Accounting," and Daniel Alarcón's "Abraham Lincoln Has Been Shot." Two pieces stand out: Nik Houser's "First Kisses From Beyond the Grave," a refreshingly original tale of a high school for zombies complete with teen angst and desires, and Kelly Link's clever "Origin Story" about two people with powers, super and not so much, and their lifelong love affair. A majority of the stories rotate around the loss of control, especially by persons with immense inner strength. Given the state of American politics since 9/11, this is not a surprising theme. In Best American Fantasy, the VanderMeers accomplished their stated goal. They have successfully produced an excellent collection of the fantastical, completely disregarding the arbitrary distinctions of genre and, in the process, potentially reinvigorating American fantasy. This review originally appeared in The Austin Chronicle, October 19, 2007.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Steve

    By some error, Goodreads seems to have conflated the first and second volumes of this series. My favorite stories from the first book are "The Saffron Gatherer" (Elizabeth Hand), "A Better Angel" (Chris Adrian), "First Kisses from beyond the Grave" (Nik Houser), "A Troop [sic] of Baboons" (Tyler Smith), "Origin Story" (Kelly Link), and "The Man Who Married a Tree" (Terry D'Souza). --------------------------------- A month after my first posting and I just read the second volume. My favorites here By some error, Goodreads seems to have conflated the first and second volumes of this series. My favorite stories from the first book are "The Saffron Gatherer" (Elizabeth Hand), "A Better Angel" (Chris Adrian), "First Kisses from beyond the Grave" (Nik Houser), "A Troop [sic] of Baboons" (Tyler Smith), "Origin Story" (Kelly Link), and "The Man Who Married a Tree" (Terry D'Souza). --------------------------------- A month after my first posting and I just read the second volume. My favorites here are "Chainsaw on Hand" (Deborah Coates) and "The Last and Only, or, Mr. Moscowitz Becomes French" (Peter S. Beagle). There are also stories, most of them good, by some other well-known writers of fantasy: Bruce Holland Rogers, Kage Baker, M. Rickert, Jeffrey Ford, Kelly Link, and Rachel Swirsky. There are eleven other stories of varying merit by other authors as well.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Amy

    What I love about this collection is that it's not just genre fantasy (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, etc). Much of it - in fact, the majority of this collection - pulls from literary journals like One Story, Zoetrope, The Southern Review, A Public Space The New Yorker, etc. It's such a smart way to do a year's best-type collection, in my opinion, broadening the horizons of fantasy readers, genre and literary. Not sure why this collection is getting only What I love about this collection is that it's not just genre fantasy (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, etc). Much of it - in fact, the majority of this collection - pulls from literary journals like One Story, Zoetrope, The Southern Review, A Public Space The New Yorker, etc. It's such a smart way to do a year's best-type collection, in my opinion, broadening the horizons of fantasy readers, genre and literary. Not sure why this collection is getting only 3.5 stars on average. It deserves better.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Nikka Calindas

    Some of the stories included in this compilation simply perplexes me. Not because the stories are confusing but simply because I do not understand why exactly are they included in the fantasy category. Maybe my own definition is too narrow, I don't know. But I always believed that fantasy and fiction are too different genres. They may overlap most of the times but still different entities just the same.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Liz

    I was pleasantly surprised -- I hadn't read anything called "fantasy" in years, and that's the main reason my expectations were so...skewed. There were a handful of stories in here that I really LOVED, and most of them I quite liked, and I think I'll actually seek out and read the NEXT one in this series, whenever it comes out. Congrats to the editors and writers!

  9. 4 out of 5

    Eric

    My favorites: "The Flying Woman," "Song of the Selkie," "Pieces of Scheherazade," "The Man Who Married a Tree," "A Fable with Slips of White Paper Slipping from the Pockets," "The Warehouse of the Saints," "The Ledge," "The End of Narrative (1-29; or 29-1)," and "An Accounting," which I read to my wife when she was ill and it cheered her up.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Jenny

    I was really excited to read this collection of stories, I thought that the fantasy would be spilling out of the pages....but I was really disappointed. Although all of the stories were well written there were only a few that I really enjoyed. Bottom line is that this book is not fantasy more twisted reality and the the only reason I finished it was in the hope that it would get better.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Lane

    Some I really enjoyed, some not so much, as is often the case with more "literary" fantasy. For the most part still better than bad uber-genre short fantasy, but I didn't enjoy as many as I hoped I would. I particularly liked the "A Troop [sic] of Baboons," but I'm especially susceptible to monkeys in my fantasy.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Eric Orchard

    This is an incredible collection of stories.They sprawl across time and space and are endlessly inventive. Every story is compelling, impossible to set down yet every story is also incredibly different from each other. a remarkable feet. Grab this collection.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    Why are there so many depressing stories in the world? Future self, you should know that you probably only stopped reading this book because you had so many others you would rather be reading checked out from the library which has a measly three week lending period.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Marisa

    Blech. Pretentious, and seemingly dedicated to "rescuing" fantasy from genre. Many of the stories were quite bland.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    Some very good, some mediocre. Then again, I have really particular tastes. The story about God's overcoat was my favorite, if only because I was touched by the kindness.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Joy

    Interesting range of stories; even those not to my taste were solid and well-written.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Deborah Coates

    I've only read the one story in this so far, but I have a special fondness for it :)

  18. 4 out of 5

    Zach Zeidler

    my sister has a story published in this one, everyone should buy this

  19. 4 out of 5

    Paul Jessup

  20. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

  21. 5 out of 5

    Blythe

  22. 4 out of 5

    Cherie

  23. 4 out of 5

    Argus Panoptes

  24. 4 out of 5

    Andy

  25. 4 out of 5

    Mike Manzer

  26. 5 out of 5

    Gaygeek

  27. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

  28. 4 out of 5

    Peggy

  29. 5 out of 5

    Anna

    Couldn't finish it. The selected stories were very dark and depressing.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Dan

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