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Year's Best Fantasy 3, edited by David G. Hartwell, Kathryn Kramer Book Review | SFReader.com
Year's Best Fantasy 3, edited by David G. Hartwell, Kathryn Kramer Genre: Fantasy Anthology Publisher: Harper Collins Published: 2003 Review Posted: 9/30/2005 Reviewer Rating:
Reader Rating: Not Rated
Year's Best Fantasy 3, edited by David G. Hartwell, Kathryn Kramer
Book Review by David Roy
Have you read this book?
This Year's Best Fantasy version, volume 3, has even more goodness than the previous year's version did. Twenty-nine stories in all, ranging from short 3-page stories to 40 page ones, by some of the biggest names in the field. This is the perfect sampler to see what's going on in the Fantasy world, to see who the up-and-comers are, and get a taste of what they're offering. On the strength of some of the stories in this volume, I'm definitely going to check out a couple that I've never tried before.
I'd say that this volume is better than the last edition, just because there weren't any stories that I didn't like. There were some that were weaker than others, of course, but no real clunkers in the bunch. It has fantasy for every taste, from urban fantasy to other worlds, if you've got a taste for the stuff, this book will satiate it. I will, of course, include a list of the stories at the end of the review so you can check them out and see if there are any authors that you particularly like.
I love the short fiction format, especially when it's done well. There are some standout entries in this year's edition, capped off with a short little piece by Michael Swanwick called "Five British Dinosaurs." This one is extremely short, but a lot is carried in a small package. It's about the discovery of dinosaur bones in Great Britain in the 19th century, along with the discovery that there are some living specimens hanging around in the British aristocracy. This story is hilarious and I found myself laughing throughout it's brief span. The thought of a walking dinosaur speaking in proper British English, disputing the reconstruction of the bones of his ancestors, is priceless. Swanwick gives the dinosaurs a lot of personality, along with a lot of arrogance. "Things were definitely better run in the Mesozoic...But mammals knew their place then." Swanwick has the honour of being the only person with two stories included, but they are both very short and so I figure Hartwell decided that he could afford the space.
Another standout is Steve Popkes and his story, "A Fable of Saviour & Reptile." This is a re-telling of the Jesus story, from the point of view of a talking turtle that befriends Jesus when he's young. The turtle is suitably haughty, given his long life span and his infinite patience (given the fact that it takes him a long time to get anywhere). It's an interesting take on the whole Messiah story, but if you can get past the irreligious tone of the story, it is very heartwarming. Hartwell warns in his prologue to it "Do note the word 'fable' in the title." While it gives an alternate view of Jesus and his life (including filling in the missing thirty or so years that the Bible doesn't include), it is very respectful the idea behind the story. The turtle is characterized wonderfully, and Jesus is too if you can get past the fact that he does drink when he's younger (getting a little drunk with the turtle) and he has a wife and son. It's a story about the power of myth and how humans can attach meaning to anything if it will help them get through life and possibly throw off the yoke of oppression. There are some very touching moments and conversations between the two of them, especially when the turtle comforts Jesus in his cell right before he's crucified. This is probably the best story in the book, and I am definitely going to track down some more by this guy.
Other particularly good stories are Kage Baker's "Her Father's Eyes" (a tale of a young girl and the boy she meets and befriends on a plane), Neil Gaiman's "October in the Chair" (a typical Gaiman tale about stories and the people who tell them, this time a group of god-like beings), and "A Prayer for Captain LaHire" by Patrice E. Sarath (a story of three knights who followed Joan of Arc until she burned, and the horror that they discover a fourth disciple has unleashed). Finally, there is P.D. Cacek's "A Book, by its Cover." This is a wonderful little tale about a Jewish boy in the aftermath of Kristallnacht in Berlin, and the bookshop owner who he believes is doing evil things afterward. It's has a wonderful message about books and the effects that they can have on a person.
If there are any weaknesses in the book, they are purely my personal feeling. I'm not a big fan of Tanith Lee, though I know that she is very popular. Thus, her story "Persian Eyes" didn't do a whole lot for me. In it, a Roman noble family is destroyed by the work of a slave girl and her magic eyes. It was more interesting to me than her entry in last year's book, but not by much. Also, "The Pagodas of Ciboure" just dragged on a little too long for my tastes. In it, a sick boy is healed by some French fairy creatures called "pagodas," though he has to save them from an onslaught of slugs first. It's cute, and it's well-told, but it's just too long.
That being said, I did enjoy even those stories. This is just a top-notch collection of short fantasy. Hartwell has done it again, pulling together a varied group of stories that can't help but satisfy. If you're a fantasy fan and like the short fiction genre, this is definitely the book for you.
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