“Best of” collections can be fun, sometimes, because they might introduce you to authors you might not otherwise have encountered. I found Fantasy: The Best of the Year, 2007 Edition in a library sale and decided to give it a shot. Other Goodreads reviewers have already pointed this out, but I’ll echo them: rather disappointing to see Neil Gaiman and Gene Wolfe’s names on the cover but no stories from them in the collection. WTF? At least one out of three is … well, bad. And I didn’t even particularly like Peter S. Beagle’s story.
In fact, my overall impression of this collection is rather less than favourable. One or two of the individual stories are pretty good (I’ll talk about those later). For the most part, though, I just wasn’t interested. Indeed, I’ll own up to skimming and even skipping in a few places (I feel like this is a prerogative, particularly with anthologies—if a story isn’t working for me, I don’t need to read all of it). There’s a preface by the editor discussing his views on the year in fantasy and how he went about choosing the work. He talks about an upswing in superhero fiction—but then says he didn’t choose any superhero stories. He says there were more fairy tales and fairy tale–retellings—but then says he didn’t put any of those in here, although there are stories he considers fairy tale–esque in their “lyricism”.
This volume contains 16 stories but only 5 by women. Also—and this is just something that struck me, not something I necessarily look for when I’m reading these anthologies—these stories seem overwhelmingly heteronormative. I mean, I know that 2007 was a decade ago (dear god) and therefore A Different Time and all that. But so many of these stories involve romance and love (requited or unrequited) and desire and pursuit of happiness, and it always seems to be happening between a man and a woman. Where are my gay couples, my polyamorous groups, my aro/ace heroes, or my knight/dragon who live happily ever after instead of killing each other? My point here is that there is very little in these stories that strike me as overly subversive, and not just when it comes to romantic and sexual orientation, and that’s a disappointment. If this is truly a representative pick of 2006’s fantasy offerings (and I by no means assume it is), then 2006 was a shit year. I suspect, though, that this is more a function of the editor’s choices. One can only hope that in the elapsed decade more “best of” anthologies have started thinking about diversity and representation in the stories they choose to feature.
None of the stories in this book jumped out at me as favourites that will sit with me for years to come. However, there were one or two that I genuinely liked, and I should probably mention them. “The Water Poet and the Four Seasons”, by David J. Schwartz, is the kind of fantastical personification experiment that I like. It actually reminds me of some of Gaiman’s stuff. Geoff Ryman’s “Pol Pot’s Beautiful Daughter (Fantasy)” is weird as all get-out but also very interesting. “Irregular Verbs”, by Matthew Johnson, is another one of those neat thought experiments reified into a story, this time focusing on the nature of language and the way people form their own private little worlds.
Alas, I just wish I had been able to latch on to something in this volume, even just one story that could have made me go “wow”. If you read this and do, then all the more power to you. As far as I’m concerned, though, Fantasy: The Best of the Year, 2007 Edition was a bit of a bust. I’m going back to being a little more selective with my anthologies, I think, because there’s certain types of stories I want and certain types that won’t do much for me.