Thursday, February 11, 2010

Book Review: The Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction

The Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction
Sixtieth Anniversary Anthology
Edited by Gordon Van Gelder

I cut my teeth at a young age on short science fiction, reading classic SFF stories in anthologies and in my father's old magazines. So when I was offered a review copy of The Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Sixtieth Anniversary Anthology, I jumped at the opportunity.

The anthology contains over two dozen stories drawn from throughout the sixty years of the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, more commonly referred to as just F&SF. The list of writers collected in this anthology reads like a who's who of the genre, including Ray Bradbury, Theodore Sturgeon, Kurt Vonnegut, Roger Zelazny, Philip K. Dick, Harlan Ellison, James Tiptree, Jr., Damon Knight, Stephen King, Ursula K. Le Guin, Neil Gaiman, Peter S. Beagle, and many more.

Unfortunately, I found that I didn't enjoy the anthology as much as I had anticipated. I think that was more an issue of taste than anything else; certainly most of the stories were excellent stories by top-notch authors. But I found the majority of them to be a little too strange and oddly depressing for my taste. Other people who enjoy that type of story will most likely appreciate this anthology.

There were some stories in the anthology that I did enjoy. It was great to revisit old favorites such as "Flowers for Algernon," by Daniel Keyes, which I read as a child and which was probably the first story to make me cry. I was happy to rediscover "All Summer in a Day," by Ray Bradbury, which made a big impression on me as a child, and which I've remembered all this time, but couldn't remember the title or who wrote it.

There were also several new-to-me stories that I greatly enjoyed. My favorite in the anthology was probably "Solitude," by Ursula K. Le Guin, in which she does what she excels at better than any science fiction writer I know of: create a culture so different from our own as to be incomprehensible, and then make it completely understandable to the reader, in this case from the point of view of a child who grew up helping her ethnologist mother study the culture, and who comes to identify with it more than with her own. I also loved "Two Hearts," by Peter S. Beagle, in which he revisits the world of The Last Unicorn. I remember reading and loving that book many years ago, but I have to confess that I don't remember it all. Yet not remembering the book didn't diminish my enjoyment of the story. The last story in the anthology was another new favorite for me: "The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate," by Ted Chiang, which reads like a middle-eastern folktale and is an unusual and moving look at how time-travel can affect individual lives.

Several of the stories are fairly disturbing, and at least one of them has explicit sex, so I would recommend this for mature teens and adults.

Disclaimers: I received a review copy from the publisher. The Amazon links above are Amazon Associate links, and I earn a very small percentage of any sales made through the links. Neither of these things influenced my review.

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