With me not being much of a Horror fan, you wouldn't think I'd get much out of The Year's Best Fantasy & Horror: #20, edited by Ellen Datlow, Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant, with half of it being a genre that I really don't have any interest in. However, I really enjoyed last year's edition, with the Horror stories actually being more interesting than the fantasy ones. Sadly, this year the stories aren't quite as gripping, though I can't point to any that I didn't enjoy at least somewhat. It helps that quite a few of them are from one of my favorite anthologies from last year, Salon Fantastique (and thankfully, none of the bad ones in it are included).
As usual, the book begins with the state of the genre, written by all of the authors; Datlow covers the Horror side admirably, with the other two editors doing Fantasy. There's also a round up of media (by Edward Bryant), Comics & Graphic Novels (by Jeff VanderMeer), Music (Charles de Lint) and the past year's obituaries (by James Frenkel). This is a really nice overview of the year that was (2006, in this case), with all of these articles highlighting entries that you may have missed and wish to pick up.
Then we get to the stories. As usual, each story has a brief introduction by the editor(s) that picked it, so you can tell right away whether it falls into the Horror or Fantasy genre, though admittedly some of the lines are a bit mixed. Just because the story was originally published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction doesn't mean that Datlow won't pick it for her list.
The best story in this year's edition is "The Night Whiskey," by Jeffrey Ford (from Salon Fantastique) and it was also one of my favorites from that book as well. The story is about a drink so potent that it leaves people drunk enough to meet up with the dead for a night. It's only consumed once a year by a select (but different) group of people every year. But what happens when one of this year's drinkers brings the dead back with him? This story is powerful and emotional, yet also very quiet. Ford's prose is as good as usual, immersing the reader in this little town that he's created and the characters who are trying to deal with a truly abnormal situation. One of my favorites in the original anthology, it's also near the top this time as well.
While there aren't any truly awful stories in this collection (nor should there be in a "Best of" collection!), there are a few that just didn't do anything for me. Sadly, there were more of those this year than last. For the most part, though, The Year's Best Fantasy & Horror: #20 is an excellent read, full of "more than 250,000 words of the finest fantasy and horror." Unless you have a complete aversion to one of the genres, you'll probably find something in here that you like. If I can like a Horror story, some of you non-fans of Fantasy can give one our stories a try. Who knows? It may just grab you and suck you in.