Introduction to THE YEAR’S BEST DARK FANTASY & HORROR, Vol. 1 (2020)

Strange Days

“Fiction reveals truths that reality obscures.” –Jessamyn West

ybdfh#1These are unsettling times. The world changed forever as I compiled this anthology, and we don’t yet know what it has changed into.

Why, some must be asking, would anyone want to read dark fantasy or horror while a pandemic rages, the economy (and who knows what else) topples, and people are dying and suffering?

I won’t attempt to provide any deep thoughts on the subject. But I do have some shallow ones that occurred to me during the process of deciding on the content of this anthology.

Most of these stories begin with a world you can identify with (or the fictional universe is an extension of ours). You are grounded. Then things become disquieting, unnerving, disrupted, intruded upon. The world changes. The normal is subverted. But cleverness, or resilience, or caring, or perseverance still somehow exists. And if doom is inevitable, perhaps we emerge resolved to defy the fictional fate if it ever turns real. At the very least, we can admire those who have faced catastrophe.

For better or worse, these stories will affect you. Make you feel something that reminds you of your own humanity and that of others.

To quote author Ruthanna Emrys:

Horror as a genre is built around one truth: that the world is full of fearful things. But the best horror tells us more. It tells us how to live with being afraid. It tells us how to distinguish real evil from harmless shadows. It tells us how to fight back. It tells us that we can fight the worst evils, whether or not we all survive them—and how to be worthy of having our tales told afterward.

Dark fantasy? Well, I still will not try to define it, but as China Miéville has pointed out about the genre as a whole: traditional fantasy may only, as Tolkien wrote, offer “consolation,” but in the best of modern fantasy “[t]hings are gritty and tricky, just as in real life. This is fantasy not as comfort-food, but as challenge.”

Dark fiction isn’t escapist, it confronts reality and helps us comprehend it.

I didn’t pick these stories with any theme in mind. Certainly not to challenge or provide hope in these days of adversity. Response is always personal, but I think there is a chance you may find a modicum of such in some of these stories.

After ten volumes of the series with Prime Books, this is the first volume with a new publisher, Pyr. I’m grateful to both and hope the Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror series has a robust future in the ever-changing world of publishing.

And thanks to you readers, new and old; you, more than anyone or anything, determine its future.

National Burrito Day 2020
Paula Guran