The BFS Awards 2020: My reviews of the books in the Best Anthology category

I’ve been keeping fairly quiet about this, even after the British Fantasy Society announced the shortlist and jurors; I’m one of the jurors for the Best Anthology category. The Awards ceremony was yesterday (Monday 22nd February 2021) and was streamed on YouTube and Facebook.

Originally the following were the shortlist:

·      New Suns: Original Speculative Fiction for People of Colour, ed. Nisi Shawl

·      Once Upon a Parsec: The Book of Alien Fairy Tales, ed. David Gullen

·      Wonderland, ed. Marie O’Regan & Paul Kane

·      The Woods, ed. Phil Sloman

Other jurors added:

  • A Secret Guide to Fighting Elder Gods, ed. by Jennifer Brozek
  • The Big Book of Classic Fantasy, ed. Jeff and Anne VanderMeer

You can find the short lists for the other categories here.

Now that the winners (add link to winners list)have been announced, I can safely share my thoughts on the books I read for the awards.

The Woods, ed. by Phil Sloman (PentAnth, June 2019, I.S.B.N.: 978-1096358893, Paperback)

82 pages
Published July 12th 2019 by Hersham Horror Books

The sixth anthology in our PentAnth range brings you five more chilling tales that have their roots in the dark terrors that lurk in the woods.

My Comments

This book contains five short stories:

The Iron Curve of Thornes, by Cate Gardner;

A Short Walk Round The Woods, by James Everington;

Compass Wood, by Mark West;

Dendrochronology, by Penny Jones;

and The Teddy Bears’ Picnic, by Phil Sloman

They each take the theme of woods and make them ever so slightly creepy, disturbing and disturbed. I liked The Iron Curse of Thornes and Dendrochronology, they had something more of substance to them. While A Short Walk hinted at past grief, these two showed it raw and open, the slow-dawning madness of inescapable guilt and grief. The imagery was enfolding, the writing claustrophobic. The Teddy Bears’ Picnic was actually rather good, creepy when you really think about it, once you get passed the sweet image of a little girl playing in the woods with her teddy bears. The dead bird graveyard is definitely creepy.

On the other hand, Compass Wood wasn’t anything new; the same plot has been used in a dozen horror films. Off the top of my head, Dog Soldiers comes to mind – at least that had a bit of pace to it and the werewolves were fairly scary. A Short Walk Round the Woods was repetitive. I get what the author was going for – the cookoo in the nest, grief driving people mad – but it didn’t really work for me.

The cover is a bit naff. Badly organised. Amateurish, even. The editing was good, I didn’t see a single spelling or grammar error, and the added author biographies and story notes were interesting.

Overall, three decent stories out of five and questionable quality in manufacture.

Read date: 25th October 2020

My ranking: Well, this was the first book I got so I have nothing to compare it to just yet. However, the other books won’t have to work to hard to be better than it. After reading the other books – 6

The final jury ranking: 6

Once Upon a Parsec: The Book of Alien Fairy Tales, ed. David Gullen

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278 pages
Published September 3rd 2019 by NewCon Press

Have you ever wondered what the fairy tales of alien cultures are like? For hundreds of years scholars and writers have collected and retold folk and fairy stories from around our world. They are not alone. On distant planets alien chroniclers have done the same. For just as our world is steeped in legends and half-remembered truths of the mystic and the magical, so are theirs.

Now, for the first time, we can share some of these tales with you…

1. Introduction – David Gullen
2. The Little People – Una McCormack
3. Lost in the Rewilding – Paul Di Filippo
4. Goblin Autumn – Adrian Tchaikovksy
5. Myths of Sisyphus – Allen Ashley
6. The Land of Grunts and Squeaks – Chris Beckett
7. The Blood Rose – Susan Oke
8. Starfish – Liz Williams
9. The Raveller’s Tale – Neil Williamson
10. The Tiny Traveller – Aliya Whiteley
11. The Tale of Suyenye the Wise, the Ay, and the People of the Shining Land – Gaie Sebold
12. Wanderlust – Kim Lakin-Smith
13. Pale Sister – Jaine Fenn
14. Alpha42 and the Space Hermits – Stephen Oram
15. The Teller and the Starborn – Peter Sutton
16. The Winternet – Ian Whates
17. The Awakening – Bryony Pearce
18. About the Authors 

My Comments

The list of short stories in this book is rather longer than in the previous, so I won’t discuss them individually. They were all enjoyable, without any really sticking in the memory after a while; I’d know them if I read them again however. I enjoyed the central conceit of ‘fairy tales told by aliens’; they were so very human.

Could have done with some minor bits of editing, nothing much.

Overall, good collection. Packs a punch for a slim volume. Some very excellent writers.

Read dates: 26th October – 4th November

My Ranking: Better than The Woods by a long chalk – 2.

The final jury ranking: 3

New Suns: Original Speculative Fiction for People of Colour, ed. Nisi Shawl

Paperback, 279 pages
Published March 12th 2019 by Solaris
ISBN: 1781085781 (ISBN13: 9781781085783)

New Suns: Original Speculative Fiction by People of Color showcases emerging and seasoned writers of many races telling stories filled with shocking delights, powerful visions of the familiar made strange.  Between this book’s covers burn tales of science fiction, fantasy, horror, and their indefinable overlappings.   These are authors aware of our many possible pasts and futures, authors freed of stereotypes and clichéd expectations, ready to dazzle you with their daring genius

Unexploited brilliance shines forth from every page. 

Includes stories by Kathleen AlcalaMinsoo KangAnil MenonSilvia Moreno-GarciaAlex JenningsAlberto YanezSteven BarnesJaymee GohKarin LowacheeE. Lily YuAndrea HairstonTobias BuckellHiromi GotoRebecca RoanhorseIndrapramit DasChinelo Onwualu and Darcie Little Badger.

My Comments

Wow! This was a magnificent collection of short stories drawing on contemporary and historical cultures of people of colour, some with a future tint. I found them original and well-written. I can’t pick out a favourite because they were all so good. There are a lot of LGBTQ+ friendly stories here too.

I’ve been trying to diversify my fantasy and sci fi reading this year and this anthology proves what I’ve been saying: widening the pool of writers, from different backgrounds and cultures brings a greater variety of influences and stories to light. Fantasy has historically been very Anglophone and European in its focus, time for readers and publishers to widen their focus.

Read dates: 5th November – 18th November 2020

My Ranking: 1 – without a doubt.

Jury’s Ranking: 1, although a couple of the jurors put it second in their choices

 Wonderland, ed. Marie O’Regan & Paul Kane

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Paperback, 384 pages
Published September 17th 2019 by Titan Books
ISBN: 1789091489 (ISBN13: 9781789091489)

From the greatest names in fantasy and horror comes an anthology of stories inspired by Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Join Alice as she is thrown into the whirlwind of Wonderland, in an anthology that bends the traditional notions of Lewis Carroll’s classic novel. Contributors include the bestselling M.R. Carey, Genevieve Cogman, Catriona Ward, Rio Youers and L.L. McKinney.

Within these pages you’ll find myriad approaches to Alice, from horror to historical. There’s even a Wild West tale from Angela Slatter, poetry, and a story by Laura Mauro which presents us with a Japanese folklore-inspired Wonderland.

Alison Littlewood, Cavan Scott and Catriona Ward make the more outlandish elements their own, while James Lovegrove instead draws on the supernatural. Cat Rambo takes us to a part of Wonderland we haven’t seen before and Lilith Saintcrow gives the legend a science-fiction spin. The nightmarish reaches of the imagination are the breeding ground for M.R. Carey’s visions, while Robert Shearman, George Mann, Rio Youers and Mark Chadbourn’s tales have a deep-seated emotional core which will shock, surprise and tug on the heart-strings.

So, it’s time now to go down the rabbit hole, or through the looking-glass or… But no, wait. By picking up this book and starting to read it you’re already there, can’t you see?

Alice in Armor by Jane Yolen
Wonders Never Cease by Robert Shearman
Where Were No Birds to Fly by M.R. Carey
The White Queen’s Pawn by Genevieve Cogman
Dream Girl by Cavan Scott
Good Dog, Alice! by Juliet Marillier
The Hunting of the Jabberwock by Jonathan Green
About Time by George Mann
Smoke ‘Em If You Got ‘Em by Angela Slatter
Vanished Summer Glory by Rio Youers
Black Kitty by Catriona Ward
The Night Parade by Laura Mauro
What Makes a Monster by L.L. McKinney
The White Queen’s Dictum by James Lovegrove
Temp Work by Lilith Saintcrow
Eat Me, Drink Me by Alison Littlewood
How I Comes to Be the Treacle Queen by Cat Rambo
Six Impossible Things by Mark Chadbourn
Revolution in Wonder by Jane Yolen

My Comments

I didn’t finish this book. It’s not as bad as The Woods, but with that book I had the enthusiasm of starting a new project. I’m getting to the end of November and I really just want to get this done and read the books that have been piling up all year.

It was a drag just picking this book up, I wasn’t fussed when I had to put it down. I didn’t have that feeling of ‘I must read this now!” that I had with New Suns and Once Upon A Parsec and only read enough to do my duty to the awards. I got a quarter of the way through the book before I admitted to myself that I wasn’t getting anywhere with it. So, yes, I gave up, and went on to reading A Secret Guide to Fighting Elder Gods.

Read Dates: 18th November – 22nd November

My Ranking: DNF – 5

Jury’s Ranking: 2

A Secret Guide to Fighting Elder Gods, ed. by Jennifer Brozek

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Kindle Edition, 321 pages
Published April 22nd 2019 by Pulse Publishing (first published April 2019)
ASIN: B07R1357TM


The ongoing battle against the immortal Elder Gods enters the modern age. Magic, mayhem, and murder no longer reign in dusty books discovered in decrepit libraries. Today’s monsters can be called by more than uncanny rituals in candlelit basements. Madness lurks on the internet and lives in the locker room. It breeds in the mall and ambushes its victims outside the club.

But those who fight this vast evil have also moved into the modern age. Teenagers from every walk of life use whatever they can to defend our world. Sometimes they win. Sometimes they lose. Sometimes…they give into the temptations of eldritch power.

My Comments

Based on what I read before closing date I enjoyed this book; the modernisation of the mythos developed by Lovecraft has produced some very entertaining stories.

Read Dates: 11th November – still reading

My Ranking: Joint second

Jury Ranking: 4

The Big Book of Classic Fantasy, ed. Jeff and Anne VanderMeer

Kindle Edition, 818 pages
Published July 2nd 2019 by Vintage
Original Title
The Big Book of Classic Fantasy

From Ann and Jeff VanderMeer–esteemed editors of The Big Book of Science Fiction and scholars of the fantastic–comes a globe-spanning anthology that unearths the origins of fantasy fiction. A VINTAGE ORIGINAL.

From the fairy tales we first heard as children, fantasy stories have always been with us. They illuminate the odd and the uncanny, the wondrous and the fantastic: all the things we know are lurking just out of sight–on the other side of the looking-glass, beyond the music of the impossibly haunting violin, through the dark trees of the forest. Other worlds, talking animals, fairies, goblins, demons, tricksters, and mystics: these are the elements that populate a rich literary tradition that spans the globe.

In this collection, Ann and Jeff VanderMeer explore the stories that shaped our modern idea of “fantasy.” There are the expected pillars of the genre: the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen, Mary Shelley, Christina Rossetti, Nikolai Gogol, Franz Kafka, L. Frank Baum, Robert E. Howard, and J. R. R. Tolkien. But it’s the unexpected treasures from Asian, Eastern European, Scandinavian, and Native American traditions–including fourteen stories never before available in English–that show that the urge to imagine surreal circumstances, bizarre creatures, and strange new worlds is truly a universal phenomenon. A work composed both of careful scholarship and fantastic fun, The Big Book of Classic Fantasy is essential reading for anyone who’s never forgotten the stories that first inspired feelings of astonishment and wonder. 

My Comments

Very worthy addition to the collection, highlighting previously untranslated pre-1939 fantasy.

Read Dates: 5th November – still reading

My Ranking: Joint forth

Jury’s Ranking: 5

So, that’s it, what do you all think? Have you read any of the anthologies? Which did you prefer?

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