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The Del Rey Book Of Science Fiction And Fantasy edited by Ellen Datlow

01/10/2008. Contributed by RJ Barker

Buy The Del Rey Book Of Science Fiction And Fantasy in the USA - or Buy The Del Rey Book Of Science Fiction And Fantasy in the UK

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pub: Del Rey/Ballantine Books. 402 page enlarged paperback. Price: $16.00 (US), $19.00 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-345-49632-4).

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My first attempt at reviewing this book saw me going through doing little mini-reviews for each story. That didn't work out and the reason for this is, not my own inherent laziness, but the anthology itself.

When I first started reviewing for, our lovely Uncle Geoff told me that I should use the term 'SF' not 'Sci-fi' as 'Sci-fi' is somewhat the red-headed stepchild. Well, I do have to admit a terrible fondness for that particular ill-favoured son. Maybe that's a failing in me but the great test for me of any SF or fantasy is whether the fantasy/science element is intrinsic to the story. Good SF or fantasy can tell a story with amazing technology, wonderful beasts or striking magic but great works make you feel like the story couldn't exist without them.

Ellen Datlow is the doyen of speculative fiction. To be featured in one of her anthologies would send a lot of writers into a swoon of pleasure so I had very high expectations from 'The Del Ray Book Of Science Fiction And Fantasy'.

If I'm honest, I didn't particularly enjoy this anthology, probably more down to me than the content. This is a collection shaded with metaphor and coloured with subtleties, there are few wondrous vistas and amazing visions of the 'other' to engage my mind the way I want speculative fiction to. I cannot fault the writing, it is without doubt wonderful all the way through, beautiful in places. There are also the occasional stories that really jump out, 'Daltharee' by Jeffrey Ford with its miniature, fungal cities and the wonderful 'Prisoners Of The Action' by Paul Mcauley and Kim Newman with its razor sharp satire and nods to 'War Of The Worlds' (vast, cool and unsympathetic...) particularly stuck in my mind.

It's an over used cliché that SF and fantasy mirror the world and society they are written in. If that's the case then, as a rule, 'The Del Rey Book Of Science Fiction And Fantasy' shows a very inward looking society. This is staring at the naval of human nature against a setting of Science Fiction and fantasy as opposed to striking out and looking at our society through the vast lens of what can be imagined. This anthology is definitely not for me but that isn't always the same as saying something is a bad book. However, there is very little variety in here, nearly every story is set within a world easily recognised as our own with a few minor tweaks. There are few moments of dislocation and most of the stories are closer to SF and fantasy's more literary acceptable friend 'Magical Realism' than what's advertised on the book cover.

As such, the content tends to feel like it's running into itself. It's like staring at a garden that only contains red flowers; some of them may be more beautiful than the rest but unless you're prepared to look very closely and stare for a long time then they all look the same and none end up being particularly memorable.

If you like your SF/fantasy quiet and contemplative then you will adore this anthology. If you want noise and colour then give it a miss.

RJ Barker

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