Review: The Best Horror of the Year Volume One

by Orrin Grey

yearsbesthorror1

Datlow, Ellen. The Best Horror of the Year Volume One. Night Shade Books, 2009. US $14.95/ CA$17.55 . ISBN 978-1597801614.

There’s been a volume of The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror edited (or co-edited) by Ellen Datlow every year for literally as long as I’ve been writing. In fact, there’s been one every year for most of my life. Until this year.

This year, in place of that venerable series (which marked its 21st anniversary last year with what also turned out to be its final installment), we have a new Datlow-helmed “year’s best” collection, this one simply titled The Best Horror of the Year and distributed by Night Shade Books.

Reviewing any “year’s best”-type anthology is always a different proposition from reviewing a “normal” anthology (if there can be said to be such a thing). In addition to the usual questions of whether the book is any good, there is the added question of whether or not it does, in fact, represent the best fiction of the year. To that question we can add an additional one in this case, which is whether or not The Best Horror of the Year is a worthy successor to the title it’s replacing.

Tackling the last question first, it’s a bit misleading to think of The Best Horror of the Year as “replacing” The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror. There are, after all, any number of different “year’s best”-type anthologies each year, all with somewhat different goals, and, in spite of their shared editor, Best Horror is obviously a very different creature than The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror was, much sleeker and more focused. This isn’t represented just by the exclusion of the word “fantasy” from the title, or in a reduced page count; the streamlined quality of the book can be felt in reading it as well. Best Horror reads like what it is: the product of a more singular vision.

Gone are the various sub-sections on movies, music, comics, and obituaries, replaced with a single summation that is still lengthy, exhaustive, readable, and indispensable, probably worth the cover price by itself for any dedicated aficionado of the genre. It’s also a shorter book, with roughly half as many entries as last year’s Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror. But far from feeling like a cheat, Best Horror feels lean and stripped down. Efficient.

(Also absent from my electronic copy was the usual section of “honorable mentions,” an omission that would be keenly felt by many up-and-coming writers, but I’ve been assured that they will be there in the actual version of the book.)

As to whether the stories contained in Best Horror really are the best stories of the year, I’ve certainly not read enough of what’s on offer to judge, but they’re an excellent and representative-seeming sample, comprising a surprising range of styles, tones, types, and subject matter. There are stories by the likes of Laird Barron and William Browning Spencer and Joe R. Lansdale, as well as stories by authors who were new to me (Margaret Ronald’s “When the Gentlemen Go By” was a standout, and Adam Golaski’s “The Man from the Peak” might be my favourite story in the book). Several of the pieces display a distinct regionalism and sense of place (as in Trent Hergenrader’s “The Hodag” or Euan Harvey’s “Harry and the Monkey”). There are stories about werewolves (two from the same anthology, no less) and vampires, and there’s even a noir-ish hardboiled supernatural private eye story, complete with trash-collecting golems and angry Titans.

I can’t say whether or not the stories in The Best Horror of the Year do, in fact, live up to the collection’s title, but I can say that they are all great, pretty much without exception, and that the book as a whole is a lean, mean contender that should be at home on pretty much every horror fan’s bookshelf.

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