THE BEST OF BRITISH FANTASY 2018: Short Stories ed by Jared Shurin
NewCon Press, pb, £12.99
Reviewed by Irene Rosenfeld
The recent publication of The Best of British Fiction 2018 by NewCon Press was a pleasant surprise. Published in May 2019 and edited by Jared Shurin, the cover promised a traditional set of Fantasy tales.
I delved into it expecting to enjoy a few and skip a few, depending on my boredom quota. To my astonishment, I ended up reading them all, and with the sort of curiosity and pleasure I had almost forgotten is possible.
A week and nearly 250 pages later, having savoured more than twenty delicious short stories, I realised that even for a jaded and slightly impatient reader like me, this anthology was both modern and utterly fascinating. Its contents may be adventurous, imaginative and (occasionally) based on ‘traditional’ narratives. But its themes and moods are more innovative, challenging and at times therapeutic than any so-called ‘literary’ fiction I have recently read.
Sometimes melancholic, sometimes humorous, poetic or slightly surreal, they have been brilliantly chosen for the quality of language, story-line and thematic relevance to our passions and fixations in an ever-maddening world. The editor’s introduction gives an interesting overview of the collection’s context. There is some useful demographic information about fantasy readers and an attempt to avoid trite alignments with generalisations, such as 2018 was the year of nostalgia, anxiety or whatever. All we can truthfully say, the editor explains, is that these stories were all published in 2018, contain nuances of British life and none of them is pure escapism. Which, I have to agree, is spot-on.
Nevertheless, I believe that the reason I found these stories so absorbing was that they represent some of the deepest feelings that I share with others about fantasy – both the reading and the writing of it. This was stated with captivating charm in the opening poem by Jenny Fagan, There’s a Witch in the Word Machine.
We Are Now Beginning Our Descent by Malcolm Devlin is an entrancing account of such monumental alienation from our environment, that, like the protagonist, we end up as ghostly presences in an absurd, self-destructive world. A Son of the Sea by Priya Sharma is a beautiful, dream-like study of how cultural rootlessness and childhood neglect impacts on the adult. I will not review all of them, I will just say, read them for yourselves, down to the humorous epic parody that completes the collection by Adam Roberts, Godziliad (presumably a fusion of Godzilla and The Iliad) with its great comment on 21st Century culture and hilarious rhyming couplets.
Suspenseful and well-written, most of the stories in this collection steer an alluring path between being emotional yet stylish, traditional but also meaningful for our times, hilarious and disturbing, psychologically consistent yet weirdly easy to identify with.