Best of Strange Horizons: Year One, edited by Mary Anne Mohanraj

Best of Strange Horizons Year One, edited by Mary Anne Mohanraj book coverGenre: Mixed Genre Anthology
Publisher: Lethe Press
Published: 2003
Reviewer Rating: five stars
Book Review by Fraser Ronald

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I really don’t know what to say except WOW. Were this a restricted site I might add a Holy Cr… but I won’t. This collection is packed full of good reading. There’s fiction, fiction criticism, literary theory and even movie reviews. It is simply astounding that all this good stuff is from one year in the life of Strange Horizons.

Now, I won’t lie to you, I didn’t read every single story in this collection. Honestly, they didn’t all appeal to me. In my opinion, though, that’s going to be a problem with any collection. I’m surprised how many stories in there appealed to me. I did start every story, just some I didn’t finish. Were I to put a percentage on it, I would say that 20% of the stories left me cold. You may look at that and think “only 80% good stuff?” You’d be wrong. I didn’t say the stories weren’t good, the subject matter simply didn’t appeal to me. Having at least sampled all the stories in this collection, I can say with certainty that this is an extremely professional collection. My reasons for leaving some stories unfinished reflects merely on my tastes. The Last of the Mohicans is a classic book, considered part of the U.S. literary canon. I didn’t care for it. Do you see my point?

The non-fiction articles fared much better with me. There was one review/criticism of a selection of short stories that I had never read that I didn’t finish. I actually did skim through it though, as it had a lot of great insights into writing and fiction. Every other non-fiction article in the collection I read completely. A couple of these almost gripped me better than the fiction. It’s not really surprising, as I read fiction and non-fiction in equal measure for my own pleasure. It was great that so much non-fiction was included in this collection. It is–after all–such an important part of Strange Horizons.

A few stories that left their mark on me: “A Winter’s Tale.” Short, sweet, a little sentimental, but structured so well and with such simplicity of form that I admired it as much for its technical achievement as for its story. It was also one of the first stories in the collection. It orientates the reader as to what can be expected. “One-Eyed Jack.” Just really fun and interesting. What an opening. It had both an overcurrent and a very subtle undercurrent that meshed quite well. “I Know Why Sales Clerks Fall From the Sky.” Disturbing, bizarre, but also demanding attention. I just had to keep going on, even as I shook my head. And it all paid off.

And non-fiction? The opener, “Strange New Horizons”, was a great look at the evolution of a genre reader. I think anyone who reads this collection will see so much of himself or herself in there. “The Medieval Agricultural Year.” Quite honestly, this is one of those things that some people will take an entire book to tell you (and charge you $35 to do so). Concise, clear and truly interesting reading. This is one of those articles I’ll be flipping to while I’m pounding away on another unfinished opus. “Major League Entertainment.” Listen, I can read just about anything that’s written competently about Alan Moore and his work. The guy and his ideas are fascinating. Considering how grotesquely the screen version of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen failed, it was nice to be reminded of the quality of the actual comic.

So there you have it. Three hundred and fifty-two pages total–though some of that is taken up by author bios, which are actually a bit of a guilty pleasure of mine. I love to see who writes this stuff, where they come from and what they do. I can safely recommend this collection to anyone who enjoys short fiction and science fiction. Even if you only like one or the other, the quality of this collection might just seduce you.

And that was just one year. Impressive.

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