Harwell, David G. and Kathryn Cramer, eds. Year's Best Fantasy 4. New York: Eos, 2004. 484pp.
Another fine volume in the Harwell/Cramer Year's Best series. In fact, if anything I like this one a little better than the previous fantasy volumes I've read -- volumes 2 & 3 only, I still haven't gotten around to volume 1 yet. Fantasy is my least favourite of the genres of the fantastic, after sf and horror, so I probably found a few more clunkers in this volume that I would in some of the other Year's Bests I read. Typically, I also read Gardner Dozois' sf volume, Harwell & Cramer's sf and Stephen Jones's horror volumes.
What I propose to do, as an experiement, is to rate the fiction anthologies I read in a similar fashion to the way Claude Lalumière does in his blog for the past year's best of anthologies. His summary of the 2004 crop is here. My criteria will be a bit different. Claude uses whole number ratings from -2 to +2 to indicate how much he likes a particular story. I'm not particularly interested in coming up with ratings for stories that I was indifferent to or just plain didn't like, so my scale will be from 0 to +2: 0 for stories I disliked or was just indifferent to, +1 for stories I liked but I found to be somewhat flawed and +2 for stories I really liked.
So, How does the book under review fare:
Brendan Duffy "Louder Echo"
Mary Soon Lee "Shen's Daughter"
Lucius Shepard "Señor Volto"
Michael Swanwick "King Dragon"
Neil Gaiman "Closing Time"
Ellen Klages "Basement Magic"
Tanith Lee "Moonblind"
Rosaleen Love "Raptures of the Deep"
Pat Murphy "Dragon's Gate"
Arthur Porges "A Quartet of Mini-Fantasies"
M. Rickert "Peace on Suburbia"
Terry Bisson "Almost Home"
Octavia Butler "The Book of Martha"
Terry Dowling "One Thing about the Night"
Charles Coleman Finlay "Wild Thing"
Theodora Goss "Professor Berkowitz Stands on the Threshold"
Kelly Link "Catskin"
Tim Pratt "A Fable from a Cage"
Robert Sheckley "The Tales of Zanthias"
Gahan Wilson "The Big Green Grin"
Gene Wolfe "Of Soil and Climate"
I'm pretty happy with the ratings here. The average score is .71, in other words on average I'm kinda mediocre about fantasy stories. The really superior +2s however, really blew me away. Swanwick and Shepard especially. The Lee story is a bit lite, but I thought it was very well executed. Of the +1s, the best by far was the Klages. I was very tempted to put it as a +2, but the ending wasn't really to my liking. To me it was the kind of ending where the author just seems to run out of story and has to just end it before going over the word limit. Down in the 0s, mostly I just found the subject matter or setting uninteresting. The Butler was a different case, however. I thought the idea was pretty good -- god comes to you in your dreams and gives you the chance to fix all the problems in the world -- but the solution that Butler's character comes up with is so breathtakingly lame that I really couldn't justify a higher mark to myself.