John C. Hocking for "The Face in the Sea," and Black Gate for publishing the best all-around Sword&Sorcery short story in 2009. In my humble opinion, of course.
Alas, there can be only one. This was not an easy decision to make. I read and reread every story, taking notes along the way, spent most of yesterday weighing my decision, then slept on it. When it came right down to it, I had to select the story I liked best and that I felt was truest to the form. But every finalist was worthy and selecting just one has taught me that the Sorcerer's Guild has its work cut out for it in 2010.
John's story is a superb example of the genre, harkening back to the master himself - REH. It hit all the points I mentioned in my previous post: two strong hooks (story and adventure); well-crafted, believable historical fantasy setting; solid characters; monsters, mayhem and magic aplenty; a satisfying ending, and an entertaining storyteller's voice.
Over the next few days, I will post my notes on each of the finalists, starting in my next post with the winning story. Meanwhile, please use the comments to send John and Black Gate your well-deserved congratulations.
Also of note, Black Gate #14 just came out. It includes another of Mr. Hocking's Brand the Viking stories.
Rather than add another post, I also want to give a few shout-outs to finalists magazines.
First, Silver Blade has to be the best-looking zine on the web. Their art is superb and I love the way they present each issue and the stories within. Reading Silver Blade is as pleasurable as reading a book, perhaps moreso.
In addition to being chock full of good stories, the production quality of Rage of the Behemoth was excellent. It's a solid book put together with professional care, excellent art, design and typography. It now has an honored place on my shelf.
Based on the quality of the two nominations sent to me from Dark Worlds 3, I'm going to have to pick up a copy and see what else it holds.
A big shout out to editor Sheila Williams and Asimov's for publishing Sara Genge's sword-and-planet story, "Slow Stampede." I'm not an enormous sci-fi fan so this magazine isn't on the top of my must-have list. But I'll be inclined to check more often now, to see what other jewels they let fall.
Another jewel of a find was Electric Spec. I happened upon Dale Carother's story almost by accident and have been taken with it ever since.
Beneath Ceaseless Skies is a wonderful webzine, producing a pair of quality fantasy stories twice each month. "Where Virtue Lives" was Saladin Ahmed's first published story.
I don't plan to publish my short list of stories, from which I drew the finalists, but you should know that Heroic Fantasy Quarterly had the most stories of any publisher on my short list - four. And that's out of nine total stories published in 2009. If this were baseball, they'd be millionaires with that batting average.