Top positive review
The current pulse of nonrealistic fiction.
on June 27, 2002
In their twelfth annual survey, Datlow and Windling have assembled a rewarding collection of genre (and extra-genre) fiction from English language sources of all kinds from 1998, with a little poetry thrown in as well. In a format based on Dozois's science fiction anthologies, Datlow and Windling's series has become an annual "event" for lovers of nonrealistic short fiction. The editors are open to just about anything and everything, as long as it has significant fantasy or horror elements, but they are more likely to reprint material by women writers, or about female characters. As far as biases go, that's not a bad one to have: some of the best fantasists working today are women.
The editors look at mainstream magazines like "The New Yorker" and "Ms." -- both of which had strong stories chosen for this book. From "The New Yorker" they selected Stephen King's "That Feeling, You Can Only Say What It Is in French," which in 20 tightly-written pages gives the reader the entire life of a woman who may be getting precognitive flashes about the crash of the plane she and her husband are on, or who may simply be fantasizing the crash as a death wish. I knew this woman completely by the end of the story (whose title refers to déjà vu). The "Ms." story was Lisa Goldstein's "The Phantasma of Q-----," with a moment of magic realism passing so quickly it's hard to catch. It is a strength of this series that it covers work in mainstream, genre and academic/small press sources.
A number of British and Australian magazines, anthologies and collections provide selections, with two superior tales well worth reading. The best thing in the book (and saved for last) is the superb modern fairy tale by A. S. Byatt, "Cold" -- sitting in a warm library, I was shivering at the frozen world depicted. A beautifully textured story, the best I've read in several years. It came from Byatt's collection, "Fire and Ice." Christopher Harman's "Jackdaw Jack" (from Ghosts and Scholars, a UK little magazine) is the best shocker in the anthology. Its pieces fall into place like a well-wrought jigsaw, and the end left me numb.
Among the other stories is an unclassifiable gem by Ray Vukcevich, "By the Time We Get to Uranus" (from the anthology, Imagination Fully Dilated). In the story's surreal world, a person's body slowly develops an astronaut's suit from the feet up, and eventually the person floats off into space. When this happens to a man's wife, he's concerned that his suit isn't developing as fast as hers, as they can't leave together. A metaphor for what separates the sexes these days, the story works and then some.
The stories I detailed here are my favorites, but others will find others they like as much or better. Some motifs of the book are hispanic magic realism, foreign fantasy in translation, and stories that are just very strange. I'm not a fast reader, and this long book took me a year and a half to finish. The extensive prefaces (in roman numerals) run over 100 pages before you even get to "page 1." Windling first documents fantasy for 1998; Datlow then does the same for horror, after which we get essays on the media, comics and obituaries for 1998. The prefaces are meant to be references more than essays, and I do use them as a reference, but they are slow going just to read (and some of the info is duplicated by approaching the genres separately). The shortlist of "honorable mention" stories at the end is also useful as a reference.
All in all, a class act by two dedicated anthologists who deeply care about the state of the contemporary nonrealistic story.