Ohhhhh.....Where to begin? I'll start with co-editor Terri Windling. Her opening essay on the year in Fantasy was almost enough to make me hurl down the book in irritation. If she said "Magic Realism" one more time....I lost track at 37. Unbearable. Just unbearable. I have a pretty steadfast rule that, no matter how bad a book may be, I read EVERY SINGLE WORD. Every word. No matter what. I had to skim through Windling's essay, because it was either skim or put my fist through the wall. "Magic Realism. Magic Realism. Magic Realism." Ugh.
Ellen Datlow's essay is slightly more interesting, and the sections on Media and Comic Books were very well done. Now, on to the stories themselves.
I've read a few of the previous Year's Best volumes, and it always bothered me how the book slants towards Fantasy over Horror (Terri Winling is the Fantasy Editor, Ellen Datlow the Horror Editor), but this edition is WAY over the top. Out of 35 stories, Windling's name is on over twenty. Her tastes run towards oblique, overwritten, pretentious tripe, and strange poetry. One of her selections, Gerald Vizenor's Oshkiwiinag: Heartlines on the Trickster Express put me beyond the newfound sacrilige of skimming. I actually had to skip the remainder of the story after five endless, pointless pages. I have never read such strange shizznit in my whole life. I literally had NO idea what he was writing about. Ugh. Another Windling pick (Among The Handlers, by Michael Bishop) is endlessly long, written in an awful hillbilly dialect, and is neither Fantasy or Horror, but IS god-awful. I'll avoid Vizenor and Bishop like the plague, thanks to these stories. We also get other Windling-picked classics like Birthdream, (A poem about childbirth, not Horror or Fantasy, but also awful. If I wanted bad poems, I'd get a poetry book.) Caribe Magico, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (A travelogue. For God's sake, a travelogue! Not Horror, not Fantasy...but as Windling says...MAGIC REALISM! Code for "Pretentious story that makes no sense."), and Beckoning Nightframe by Terry Dowling, about a woman who is scared of her neighbor's open window. FOR 16 PAGES! UGH. Her only decent choice is Little Beauty's Wedding, by Chang Hwang. It's an unforgettable story.
Ellen Datlow fares better in her choices. The Secret Shih Tan (By Graham Masterson), Never Seen By Waking Eyes (By Stephen Dedman), and the grotesque Three Bears pastiche "Ursus Triad, Later" (By Kathe Koja & Barry N. Malzberg) are all incredible, and I'm glad to have discovered writers I wasn't familiar with, but the overall feeling I had when reading the book was one of irritation with the all-encompassing pretentiousness of the package. I'd say the stinky outweighed the good by 90%. I'm VERY sorry that I've already purchased the next four volumes....But at least I've learned to skim & skip!