The 18th annual collection of the year's best fantasy and horror -- which encompasses the crème de la crème of published short work from the year 2004 -- includes more than 40 stories by genre luminaries China Miéville, Peter Straub, Joyce Carol Oates, Alice Hoffman, Terry Dowling, and Jeffrey Ford, to name a few.
Noteworthy selections include Stepan Chapman's "Revenge of the Calico Cat," a brilliantly surreal story set in an afterlife of sorts for stuffed toys where drunken teddy bears beat the stuffing out of their pink bunny wives and plush lavender octopuses wielding straight-edge razors transport balls of black opium for double-crossing Mob bosses; and Simon Bestwick's "A Hazy Shade of Winter," a masterfully metaphorical tale about organized religion that pits a "sharp-toothed" atheist and a demon against a lynch mob of true believers on Christmas Night. "Hunting Meth Zombies in the Great Nebraskan Wasteland" by John Farris explores a future fallen America where killing methamphetamine addicts isn't just legal -- it's a sport. Tanith Lee's "Speir-Bhan" delves into Celtic myth with a haunting story about a trio of demonic sisters who, on every full moon, feast on the flesh of unwary humans. Chuck Palahniuk's "Guts," about the sexual exploits of ignorant teenage boys, is arguably the most disgusting story ever written.
Neil Gaiman stated it perfectly when he said of the highly acclaimed annual Year's Best Fantasy and Horror collection: "Year in, year out, it's always essential reading." Enough said. Paul Goat Allen