Have you read this book?
If there’s one thing I expect from a best-of-the-year anthology, it’s not a surprise. The stories chosen for such a collection usually come with a lot of buzz. I’ve probably read them in Asimov’s or F&SF, or seen them on award ballots. But Best of the Rest 3 was an honest and welcome surprise. This is a collection of stories that would have otherwise fallen through the cracks–stories published in the backwaters of genredom, in little-known or unknown zines, on web sites, cd-roms, and off-beat little anthologies in 2001.
The book kicks off with the haunting and mystical “Lamed Vov” by d g k goldberg, first published in the CD-ROM short story anthology, Extremes 2: Fantasy and Horror from the Ends of the Earth. It would be hard for me to pick my favorite story, but this is one of the top three, anyway. It revolves around the Lamed Vov, or “thirty-six” in Hebrew. There are thirty-six righteous men in the world, the legend goes, for whose sake God does not destroy the world. And no one knows who they are. Goldberg’s heroine, Jenny, visits an otherworldly Jerusalem, where the number thirty-six continually recurs, and finds herself in the middle of someone else’s life. The quietly unexpected conclusion sets the tone for the entire book.
M. L. Konett’s “Right Sized” from Strange Horizons is another notable offering. With a fresh twist on an old story, she gives us a tale of friendship between two young Dust Bowl refugees–Okies. The viewpoint character, Johnnie, at first disdains the eccentricities of his strange friend, Petey. But when Petey passes out in the hot sun, Johnnie learns that home for Petey is much farther than Oklahoma.
“Edward Bear and the Very Long Walk” by Ken Scholes from Talebones #22 is a good example of a story that surprises. Although it’s something I would never expect to see in one of the bigger magazines, I’m glad that I got a chance to read it at all. Playing heavily on the proprietary Winnie-the-Pooh characters, he tells a story of a very brave animatronic children’s toy. It would be falling-down funny if it weren’t so heart-rendingly sad at the same time.
John Aegard’s “Feng Burger” from On Spec may be the wittiest story I have read yet this year. Deriving its fantastic element from the serendipitous convergence of feng shui in a fast food vending trailer, the story tells of an unlikely love affair in a dream world created by Adelle Turner, burger purveyor. Its conclusion is both logical and inevitable, yet still unexpected.
Other notables from Best of the Rest 3 include Tim Pratt’s fairy story, “Annabelle’s Alphabet,” first published in Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, which is, if predictable, at least poetic. Ray Vukcevich’s creepy Christmas story, “Pretending,” also from Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, gave me pause to ponder. James Van Pelt tells a love story in outer space with a bluesy soundtrack in “Saturn Ring Blues” from On Spec. Lori Ann White’s “Sex with an Alien” explores female body image and the concept of “the other” with a fresh twist. John Shirley’s “Claw Spurs” tells a chilling tale of revenge on the range. “Our Temporary Supervisor” by Thomas Ligotti from Weird Tales puts a new, demonic spin on Big Brother, and “Homecoming” by Mary Soon Lee from her collection Winter Shadows and Other Tales wraps the collection up with a bittersweet reunion between husband and wife after a long adventure.
Inevitably, there were stories in this collection that I simply didn’t connect with, but I think a good many of the stories I loved would strike someone else as strange or inscrutable, and that’s the unique genius of a collection like Best of the Rest 3. It chooses that would not appear in a more conventional reprint anthology, one whose content is influenced by reader consensus. Rather, it collects a large number of stories that are likely to divide readers into love and hate camps.
If there is one weakness in Best of the Rest 3 I would say that hard science is not well represented. Where science is essential to the story plots, it is somehow softened or twisted. Beauty is treated as a genetically engineerable trait, for example. Or science is relegated to the background while the focus narrows in on its emotional fallout. This softness on science may be due to a lack of such stories in the small press, which seems to lean toward slipstream and fantasy in general, or it may be an editorial preference, but it’s certainly no reason not to read and enjoy this wonderful collection. I recommend it strongly, and in fact, I fervently hope that Best of the Rest becomes and annual tradition, because it would be a shame for stories like “Lamed Vov” and “Edward Bear” to disappear into the past without recognition. You can be sure that I won’t miss Best of the Rest 4.