Editor: Steve Haynes
Jon Wallace Lavie Tidhar Joseph D’Lacey
E. J. Swift Carole Johnstone Cheryl Moore
Steph Swainston Kim Larkin-Smith Mark Morris
Cate Gardner Sam Stone Alison Littlewood
Simon Kurt Unsworth Lisa Tuttle Simon Bestwick
Tyler Keevil Adam L. G. Nevil
“In these pages you will find apocalyptic hangovers from unwise foreign adventures, political dystopias and a fear of the ‘other’ that leads to moral corruption. You will find metamorphosis, psychosexual ghost stories in a very modern world, a little steampunk, folklore, phobias rising up from beneath the surface veneer of life and monsters walking amongst us.
British fantasy writers are experimental and brave; they delve into disturbing subjects and mix one genre seamlessly with the next. So enter the many worlds of British fantasy.”
It really isn’t what you expect. There are no questing knights and dragons, no children learning magic or sparkly vampires. Instead there’s a disturbing take on a cherished children’s novel, new/old folklore, ghost stories, dystopian futures and everything in between.
The writing is of a consistently high standard, as one would expect from a book titled ‘Best British Fantasy’. The writers are all skilled story tellers and the short story format works well for fantasy (sci-fi, horror, steampunk…); their originality is impressive and the stories addictive. I found myself thinking about them when I wasn’t able to read the book, wondering what would happen next.
I liked all of the stories but the following stood out, not necessarily as the most original but as the ones that will stick with me:
· Kim Larkin-Smith’s ‘The Island of Peter Pandora’ is a disturbing take on the Peter Pan story. Its twisted protagonist and his biomechanical creations are going to creep me out for some time to come.
· ‘Lips and Teeth’ by Jon Wallace, with a setting that is equally a dystopian political future and a worryingly familiar past, and Lavie Tidhar’s ‘The Last Osama’ – a foreign adventure gone terribly awry that’ll destroy the world – are confusing when first approached but then completely engrossing once you get into them.
· Joseph D’Lacey’s ‘Armageddon Fish Pie’ is a tragi-comedy. If forced to face the end of the world I hope I go with as much dignity and as pleasant a last meal as the unnamed stoic narrator.
· Man-eating, sentient, poacher killing mutant sabre-tooth tigers are the unseen horror in post-apocalyptic conservation fantasy ‘Fearful Symmetry’ by Tyler Keevil. Lesson from this one: if you’re going to poach the young from a man-eating, poacher-killing, sentient and telepathic mutant sabre-toothed tiger in a post-apocalyptic Siberian wasteland consider going in a large group and heavily armed. With explosives.
· ‘The Scariest Place In The World’ is a ghost story by Mark Morris. I will never look at nice little studies the same way again. Or let polite young men claiming they used to live in the house through the front door. Writers have all sorts of nightmares (paying the bills, getting a bit of peace to work, submitting work to agents and publishers…) but I don’t think suicidal ghosts had entered my mind until I read this one.
An enjoyable collection of well-written short stories, with something for everyone. Definitely a must for all fantasy, sci-fi and horror fans.