Since we’re getting in the Halloween spirit around here, with all the talk of haunted houses and creepy books, I’d like to take a few minutes to talk about my favorite anthology series. The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror anthology, edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling*, published twenty-one volumes between 1988 and 2008. I remember first encountering volumes of the anthology at my local library while perusing the Science Fiction and Fantasy section back in the early nineties. That some of the tales have stayed with me, even after twenty years, only attests to the power of a well-written short story.
My favorite volume, perhaps because it was the first one I encountered, is the Fourth Annual Collection. I’m generally not a big reader of horror (with the exceptions of King and Poe) and when I originally picked up the volume I was only interested in it for the fantasy. But, I found myself reading the horror stories anyway, and it’s those stories in particular that I’ve always remembered. “Coming Home” by Nina Kiriki Hoffman is a story that’s always stuck in my head. It’s a simple ghost story on the surface, but, of course, there’s more to it than that. It’s one of those tales that’s all the more horrific because it could, in reality, happen to anyone. And “Arousal” by Richard Christian Matheson is perhaps the most successfully creepy be-careful-what-you-wish-for-because-you-might-just-get-it story I’ve ever read. Even thinking about it now makes me shudder.
What is it about these stories that make them remain so vivid in my mind, some for more than twenty years, after reading them? If I were to hazard a guess, I’d say it has to do with that twist that horror stories often have. Frequently in horror, things aren’t as straight forward as they seem. You may be reading a story that seems perfectly normal….and then something happens. Or, something is revealed that changes your perceptions and makes you rethink everything from the beginning. A great horror story can make you believe something is true and then pull the rug out from under you, causing your body to have a visceral reaction. You get that feeling in your gut of utter shock and horror, and that leaves a lasting impression.
For someone that loved the series, I was devastated when I heard that the publishers had canceled the anthology. I miss having this collection come out every year, not only for the great selection of short fiction, but for the wonderfully informative essays about the genres. Nevertheless, I’ll always have those twenty-one volumes to look back on. If you’ve never had the chance to peruse a volume of The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror, I suggest you check them out, they’re well worth the read. And, with contributors such as Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Charles de Lint, Patricia C. Wrede, George R.R. Martin, and Tanith Lee (just to name a few), I can almost guarantee you’ll find something to enjoy in these volumes.