Alas, Further Reading Only Reinforces My Initial Cynicism

Despite severe misgivings, I took a few hours away from the political and religious fuckery and returned to The Dreaded Year’s Best Collection. This time, I attempted random sampling.

The situation has not improved.

Now, you may recall from my missive on SF over at The Coffee-Stained Writer that SF is a broad, generous genre that allows for just about anything as long as there’s a speculative element hiding in there somewhere. However, that’s an overarching category, and when you break it down into sub-genres, certain things are expected of a story. Fantasy should have fantasy, science fiction science, and so forth. There are conventions. There are expectations. There are, very nearly, rules – and if you break the rules, you’d better be brilliant.

That said, I must herewith state my firm belief that the editors of the Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror 2006 were on the hard drugs when they made their selections.

I read four stories. Two of them, I think, were supposed to be horror. I’ve not revisited the current conventions of the horror genre, but I don’t think it’s been redefined quite this drastically, i.e., that no horror is required aside from people being assholes.

Look, when I read horror, I expect to feel horror. And fear, and sweat, and a creeping feeling of doom. Panic, sometimes, as well. Not, “yep, people sure can be bastards.” Not, “Was that supposed to be creepy?” And definitely not, “What the fuck is that doing in this collection? It’s just regular fiction!”

The only fear I felt was in turning the page to discover that, yet again, the editors had chosen a story that had nothing to do with either fantasy or horror, and probably couldn’t even sneak its way in past a sharp SF editor’s eye.

The other two fared rather better, and so I shall embarrass them with names. “Going the Jerusalem Mile” managed to announce itself as dark fantasy in the first few paragraphs, which is a hell of a lot more than the other two did in their entirety. The middle turned into something you could find in any literary magazine, the kind that loves navel-gazing tales of domestic angst, but it didn’t bog too badly. The end – eh. Lacked a certain je ne sais quois, but at least managed to remain a decent, dark fantasy verging on horror.

“A Case Study of Emergency Room Procedure and Risk Management by Hospital Staff Members in the Urban Facility” isn’t quite as long as its title. It’s one of the most fucked-up things I’ve ever read, and I mean that in the best possible way. It’s more pure SF than urban fantasy – you’re never quite sure if it ’twas drugs or really real fairytale – but it deserved some love. The snark, the clever turns-of-phrase, the sheer bizarreness of it made me feel like my brain had been chucked in the clothes dryer and set to tumble. I didn’t spend a single instant of that story wondering how the fuck it had ended up in the collection, except to wonder how the fuck it ended up in the collection when it was actually good.

So, out of six, we have one (1, uno) story that actually belongs, one nearly-there, and four you’ve-got-to-be-fucking-kidding-me’s. A quick skim through the remainder informs me that the rest of the collection is not likely to improve upon that ratio.

Please forgive me if, in the near future, my self-control breaks down, and I end up subjecting many of the current practitioners of my beloved genre to the Smack-o-Matic. Oh, yes. What you’ve seen thus far is merely love-taps. If The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror 2007 ends up being this stupifyingly insipid, I’m going to get upset. And then I’m going to get sarcastic. And then I’m going to – well, anticipation’s half the fun, and I’ll let you enjoy it.

I’m sure you’ll enjoy the anticipation far more than I’ve enjoyed this bloody collection thus far.

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Alas, Further Reading Only Reinforces My Initial Cynicism

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