So far, 2020 feels like it could be the backdrop for the kind of story that makes up most of this collection of fantasy stories. Although focused on work from last year from authors working in Britain and Ireland, editor Jarid Shurin, has drawn together a collection of pieces which feel entirely contemporary with the strange times we are living through.
The introduction was written a couple of months into pandemic-caused lockdown across the UK and I can’t imagine the choices were entirely coincidental. Unlike last year’s compendium, which I also reviewed and noted as being full of swords and sorcery, there is precious little of either of those to be found across this collection of tales. That said, if you allow the genre to go further than Robert E Howard’s Cimmeria, there are plenty of gems to be found.
Helen McClory’s A Manual for Avoiding Further Harm from [REDACTED] opens the collection and seems a good bellwether for the likelihood of the reader appreciating the rest of the stories. Many have modern settings although some, like Canst Thou Draw Out the Leviathan (Christopher Caldwell), take us back in time and others, like Sin Eater (Chikodili Emelumadu) take us clearly to other nations.
If I had to pick a favourite, I would probably go for Demolition, where Nick Adams spins a tale of a shopping mall that goes rogue on the eve of its planned destruction. There is certainly some kind of magic going on but it is also the kind of brainworm that is likely to pop into mind when wandering through the bowels of such glass and concrete monsters in real life: fantasy that succeeds by serving to seed the imagination.
This is a very different range of works from the 2018 edition but, if anything, I enjoyed it more. I am looking forward to seeing what next year’s edition shows in its mirrors of what is and what has been.