The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror 2008

The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror 2008

edited by Ellen Datlow, Kelly Link & Gavin J. Grant

“As in every year since 1988, the editors tirelessly scoured story collections, magazines, and anthologies worldwide to compile a delightful, diverse feast of tales and poems. On this anniversary, the editors have increased the size of  the collection to 300,000 words of fiction and poetry, including works by Billy Collins, Ted Chiang, Karen Joy Fowler, Elizabeth Hand, Glen Hirshberg, Joyce Carol Oates, and new World Fantasy Award winner M. Rickert. With impeccably researched summations of the field by the editors, Honorable Mentions, and articles by Edward Bryant, Charles de Lint and Jeff VanderMeer on media, music and graphic novels, this is a heady brew topped off by an unparalleled list of sources of fabulous works both light and dark.” (via Amazon)

Good Things: Hey, look, it’s an anthology! I grabbed this one pretty randomly off the shelf at the library. I’ve been meaning to read more short stories, and “the year’s best XYZ” seems like a pretty reliable endorsement, no? Flipping through it, I landed on a poem by Catherynne M. Valente, “The Seven Devils of Central California,” and that’s when I knew the book was coming home with meCentral California doesn’t get featured a whole lot in fiction, especially not the San Joaquin Valley, where I’ve lived for 20 of the last 24 years of my life. Unfortunately, that particular poem ended up being a bit too obtuse to end up on my favorites list, but there are a number of stories that really impressed me, listed here in the order they appear in the book:

1) The Cambist and Lord Iron: A Fairy Tale of Economics, by Daniel Abraham. The title sums it up pretty well: a money-changer encounters a dangerous, powerful man, and is forced to outwit him in three puzzles regarding money, exchange, and value in order to escape with his job and his life.

2) “The Fiddler of Bayou Teche,” by Delia Sherman. A beautiful trickster tale set in Louisiana, where a young albino girl named Cadence makes a deal with a devil. Probably my favorite of the collection.

3) “Winter’s Wife,” by Elizabeth Hand. Teenage American Justin’s neighbor, Mr. Winter, marries a strange woman from Iceland who is more than she seems.

4) “The Gray Boy’s Work,” by M. T. Anderson. This is one of the few more obscure, opaque works in the collection that left me interested instead of annoyed. A sort of spooky American fairy tale; a boy’s father returns from war, and embodied concepts like Despair and Victory haunt their house.

5) “The Hill,” by Tanith Lee. A historical mystery, where an English spinster librarian is hired to sort the library of a near-empty mansion with an expansive menagerie, and the animals begin to act very strangely. (Miss Constable had a strong, practical narrative voice that I liked quite a bit; the drawback for me was the exoticization of non-English countries that, while appropriate for the story’s time period, still bugged me.)

6) “Sir Hereward and Mister Fitz Go to War Again,” by Garth Nix. A surprisingly sad fantasy by the author of one of my favorite fantasy series; a knight and an animated puppet travel from town to town, righting a very particular kind of wrong. I’ve read some of Nix’s books and short stories aside from the Old Kingdom series and generally found them disappointing in a good-but-not-as-good sort of way, so it was great to finally read a story that engaged me as fully as Lirael, Sabriel, and Abhorsen did.

7) “The Evolution of Trickster Stories Among the Dogs of North Park After the Change,” by Kij Johnson. Dogs have gained the ability to speak, and many have subsequently been abandoned by their masters, who have become uncomfortable with the way the master-pet relationship has changed and is continuing to change. A young woman, Linna, visits abandoned dogs at a park to record their fables about One Dog, and to try to help them.

Bad Things: My main complaint with this volume is that, for something titled “the year’s best XYZ,”there were a lot of stories that left me unimpressed. I’ll admit that I skipped over a fair number of them, especially when I started noticing a pattern where many of the stories a) were narrated first-person by b) a young-to-middle-aged white guy who c) acts as a thoughtful observer to certain mystical or horrific events that teach him an important lesson about his young-to-middle-aged white guy life. Do you know what I mean? There was such a narrow scope, and it started getting really repetitive. I really would have liked to see the inclusion of more POC, and stories from more countries and with a greater variety of circumstances. It’s supposed to be the year’s best, for pete’s sake! The ones that really tended to grab me (as you can see above) varied from the pattern or stood out in some way.

Overall: A somewhat uneven collection of stories with some incredible standouts and some forgettable works. Includes a long series of introductions listing the best fantasy and horror novels, media, comics, and music of 2007, if that sort of thing floats your boat. It’s unfortunate that 2008 was the last year of the anthology, because while I suspect that I would continue to skip a portion of stories for more recent years, there would be a few really knockout pieces that would, like this one, make the whole thing worth it.


So you want to get into… Bollywood movies

First, an apology: This is not going to be about books or even the written word. I hope that is occasionally forgivable for a book blog.

Second, a little information: America had, for a long time, the biggest film industry in the world, but times change. India now ranks #1 in the world for total film output, with America and China taking the #2 and #3 spot, respectively. Bollywood is the largest industry within India, referring to Hindi-language films produced in Mumbai (formerly Bombay, hence the B in Bollywood), but it is far from the only one and I have tried to reflect some of that diversity in my list. Lastly, the Indian diaspora is huge and hungry for these films, so they are available everywhere, including (sometimes) new releases at movie theaters.

Disclosure: I am a white girl who has never lived in or been to India, but almost all of these movies come from a class I took on Indian film that had an Indian teacher. I’m going to recommend one to start, and then split the other eight into musicals and non-musicals, for you to more easily navigate with your tastes.

Without further ado, here are the nine movies that I would recommend for people wanting to get into Indian film:

Start off with 1. Monsoon Wedding, which is about, you can probably guess, a family preparing for a wedding during the monsoon season. It’s less conservative than Bollywood and was made for both Indian and Western audiences, which is why I recommend it for people unfamiliar with Indian film or culture. Plus it’s a great movie! (This was, in fact, the first film we watched in the aforementioned class.)


2. Kuch Kuch Hota Hai – If that admittedly small picture doesn’t convince you, I don’t know what will. This is my favorite Bollywood musical, about friendship and love and loss. It’s a love story that takes years to tell, which I like, and that doesn’t pretend that you can only ever love once or best, which I fucking adore more than I can even express. Plus there is a wonderfully cheesy 90s-esque dance scene.
3. Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge – This movie, which came out in 1995 did for Bollywood what The Little Mermaid did for animation. That is, it completely changed the game. It features the first time Shahrukh Khan and Kajol, the same couple from Kuch Kuch, graced the screen together. It’s about a young man and woman who fall in love on a European tour.
4. Swades – Also stars SRK (Shahrukh). What can I say? He is my favorite Bollywood actor. I like this one because it is a typical Bollywood musical but also has a little more politics than the ones above. Swades means homeland in Hindi and the main character is a NRI – Non-Resident Indian, aka a member of the Indian diaspora, who goes back to India for reasons I won’t go into here. But! Will he find a reason to stay?


5. Parzania – This may be harder to find, but it is a must-see for the mob scene in the beginning. Here is a little reading (two Wikipedia pages shouldn’t be too much) that will help with the background. The film is about one family that was affected by the Hindu/Muslim rioting (srsly go read those links). I really cannot stress how much I want more people to see this film. (Okay, I just realized you should also know a little about Parsis, the bigger group of Zoroastrians in Indian. The key thing, really, is that they are not Hindu or Muslim.)
6. Rang de Basanti is a very political and modern film, and as such a necessity. It’s about, to boil it down, Indian nationalism. If you do watch this, or have seen it, I’d love to talk to you about it. I have mixed feelings that I want to work through. :P

7, 8, 9. Any/all of Deepa Mehta’s trilogy: Fire, Earth, Water – These are more political, too, to the point of causing controversy in South Asia. Fire is about two women who fall in love with each other in, if I recall correctly, contemporary India. Earth is set in 1947 about Hindus/Muslims and the separation of India into India and Pakistan (this, like Parzania, involves a Parsi family*). And lastly, Water is set in 1938 about a child widow.

So there you go! Nine movies. That’s totally doable, so get started!

There are so many great Indian films and this is a really small selection, designed to get you going in Indian film without overwhelming you. Here is a more extensive (but still curated) list of Bollywood films to look at once you’re ready to take the next step!

A note to end: A crap ton of Indian films are on Netflix as of right now. Rang de Basanti, Dilwale dulhania le jayenge, Swades for my list and My Name is Khan, Jodhaa Akbar, Hum Tum, Chak de India, Dhobi Ghat, Udaan, No One Killed Jessica for the other list. I’m sure I’m missing some great movies that I haven’t seen, but you get the picture! I know a lot of people don’t have Netflix, but if you do, there is no excuse! Go watch some of these. That’s an order.

*Did you notice that the two films about Hindu and Muslim conflict feature Parsi families as protagonists? Interesting, no?