The Years of Fantasy and Horror

The Year's Best Fantasy, First and Second Annual Collections
The Year’s Best Fantasy, First and Second Annual Collections

I remember fondly buying a few editions of The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror anthologies edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling in the 1990s. I was in my twenties and while many of the stories and their level of craft were opaque to me at the time, I felt I had stumbled onto a magical tradition. Even then my mind boggled at the idea of anyone reading and sampling so many short stories from so many publications in a single year, year after year. Each edition included an annual summation of fantasy by Windling and of horror by Datlow, as well as “Horror and Fantasy on the Screen/in Media” by Edward Bryant, obituaries, and honorable mentions. The anthology series was published every year from 1988 through 2008. What dedication to such a wonderful project!

I’m a different reader and a different writer than I was at the time. I recently purchased the first two editions in physical paperback form, to begin my own survey of fantasy and horror writing over the years. I hope this personal project will give me a sense of the breadth of these genres to inspire and inform my own writing. I am reading new short stories as well, in such publications as UncannyFireside, Crossed Genres, and Lightspeed, but I think a tangential trip through time and across genres can only benefit me.

This effort was prompted by the recent death of Tanith Lee [defunct link], a name that seemed familiar to me because I’m certain I read and loved one of her short stories in an edition of The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror. I don’t like having vague recollections of people and their works, especially after they die. Reading these anthologies will also introduce me to the works of many other writers I would like to get to know through their writing, by attaching their names to stories I love.

All good writers are readers, and all good genre writers also read the other authors in their genres. While I frequently write science fiction, and I’m reading a great deal of science fiction, especially short stories, these days, I also write fantasy and horror. Even if I didn’t, I would want the influence of fantasy and horror writing on my science fiction. I cannot explain why, exactly. Each genre has its particular approaches and elements, but perhaps we are in an age (or have always been in such an age?) were the boundaries between genres are porous, perhaps even illusionary. For example, Charlie Jane Anders wrote a novelet titled “Palm Strike’s Last Case” that appeared in the July/August 2014 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. The story combined elements from different genres and subgenres. I was so impressed and inspired by her story; it taught me that stories can indeed and with great success cross and merge genres.

I need the background in genre only reading can provide. I need to know what other writers are (and were) thinking and writing about. I need to know how their concerns have changed over time. I need to know how they are crossing and merging genres. Tonight I crack open the first annual collection of The Year’s Best Fantasy (as it was called in the first two editions before “and Horror” was added) to find out what short stories from 1987 grabbed the attention of Datlow and Windling, to uncover the tropes and trends of the time, to read stories I haven’t read yet from some of my favorite writers like Ursula K. Le Guin, to find out what George R. R. Martin and Harlan Ellison were writing at the time, and to discover new favorite writers. Through their work I hope they will guide my hand a little in my own writing.

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