I'm grateful to the publisher for letting me have a copy of this book.
Best British Fantasy 2013" is an engaging collection of 17 stories,
with "fantasy" being interpreted generously - I've seen endless
nitpicking discussions about the differences between fantasy, SF and
other genres. If you wanted to you could argue that some of these
stories are equally SF, or horror, or ghost stories, or... but really
that misses the point. They all feature the fantastical. The stories
are all well chosen and - while inevitably in a collection like this,
different stories will appeal to different readers - I'd give most of
them, individually, four or five stars: five for the collection as a
whole to reflect its breadth and the overall curation which manages to
produce a slight air of bleakness, menace and claustrophobia.
it's perhaps not wise to pick out favourites, I have to say that the
stories I enjoyed most were "Dermot" by Simon Bestwick in which the
police strike a very nasty bargain with an informant, and "The Island of
Peter Pandora" by Kim Lakin-Smith which manages to combine JM Barrie's,
HG Wells and steampunk in a single carefully observed story. But
there's something in each of these stories.
In "Lips and Teeth",
Jon Wallace imagines a prison camp in (I think) North Korea, where a
prisoner has a strange ability (and a strange, talking tool).
Osama" by Lavie Tidhar is a strange, myth laden blend of the Old West
and Middle East with a quest not unlike that in "Heart of Darkness" / "Apocalypse Now".
"Armageddon Fish Pie" by Joseph D'Lacey is less about the coming
destruction - we never learn for sure what is to happen - but about how
one might behave and respond if such a thing threatened.
(EJ Swift) is very SF, telling the story of a time served convict on a
distant penal colony.
"God of the Gaps" by Carol Johnstone is rather
weird - a student, mentoring a younger pupil, gets into something very
dark ('Try the manacles, Miss Daisy!') while accompanying him on a
Cheryl Moore's "Corset Wings" again has steampunk
overtones, imagining the plight of a young woman exploited in an
alt-Victorian London, and how she might dream of escape.
"The Wheel of
Fortune" by Steph Swainston also has, as its main protagonist, a woman,
an apothecary (I think) in a metropolis (but a fantasy one, this time)
who has made a bargain with a bunch of scoundrels, and wants out of it.
"Too Delicate for Human Form" (Cate Gardner) concerns a dead aunt and
"Imogen" by Sam Stone has a twist - it would give too much
away to say any more.
Alison Littlewood's "In the Quiet and in the
Dark" induces the kind of shudders one would expect from her: very
"The Scariest Place in the World" by Mark Morris really brings
the fear home, as does Simon Kurt Unsworth's "Qiqirn".
In "The Third
Person" by Lisa Tuttle, another Imogen unwillingly helps out a friend who wants
to conduct an affair, but things get out of hand.
Symmetry" (Tyler Keevil) reads like the opening of a series: at some
unspecified point in the near future, the earth is mucked up, with "the
cough" spreading and mutant animal species emerging.
Finally, Adam G
Nevill's "Pig Thing" reminded me somewhat of The House on the Borderland in the way that it bleeds the fantastical into the lives of the unsuspecting.
All great stories, and a good way to sample authors you might not otherwise pick up.