cover image Year's Best Fantasy/13th

Year's Best Fantasy/13th

. St. Martin's Press, $29.95 (640pp) ISBN 978-0-312-26274-7

You can't improve on the ""best,"" but as the editors of this landmark anthology series show in its most recent volume, you can find fresh new angles from which to present it. For the first time ever, they have selected an essay, Douglas Winter's ""The Pathos of Genre,"" and this incisive critique of the limits of genre branding subtly calls attention to how Datlow and Windling's fiction and poetry selections usually resist simple categorizing. Many of their best picks from 1999 willfully bend, blend and move beyond expected genre materials: Tim Lebbon's ""White,"" a horror and SF cross-stitch, uses B-movie imagery to explore the behavior of people confronted with ecological apocalypse. Kim Newman, in ""You Don't Have to Be Mad,"" grounds a caustic horror satire of modern business mores in set pieces appropriated from television espionage programs of the 1960s. Michael Marshall Smith, in ""Welcome,"" and Charles de Lint, in ""Pixel Pixies,"" conjure alternate fantasy worlds with the most unlikely of talismansDa computer. Neil Gaiman, one of six authors represented by more than one contribution, places both a horror and a fantasy tale: ""Keepsakes and Treasures: A Love Story,"" a nasty bit on the death of romance, and ""Harlequin Valentine,"" a darkly funny fantasy. There are more than a few modern fairy tale variants, but even these show a refreshing range of styles and approaches, notably Patricia McKillip's ""Toad,"" a delightful deflation of the frog prince's tale. The usual generous survey essays by Datlow, Windling, Ed Bryant and Seth Johnson only enhance the volume's reputation as indispensable reading for the year. (Sept.)