The Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Vol 2: More disturbing than Vol 1

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The Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Volume 2 edited by Gordon Van GelderThe Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Volume 2 edited by Gordon Van Gelder

The Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Volume 2 edited by Gordon Van GelderI read the first volume (The Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction: Sixtieth Anniversary Anthology, published 2009) before I tackled this one, published in 2014. It’s only been five years, but I detected a darkening of the tone. Maybe I’m imagining it, maybe it’s just me, but it seemed to me that the earlier volume contained stories that set out to go to strange places and, as a consequence, were sometimes disturbing, while this one contained stories that set out to be disturbing.

Consequently, given that “dark and disturbing” isn’t my preference, I very nearly gave this one three stars instead of four — reflecting my reduced enjoyment, not reduced quality. These are still fine stories from multiple decades of F&SF; I just didn’t like them, overall, as much as the ones in Volume 1.

Looking over the table of contents, there are actually several humorous stories early on: C.M. Kornbluth’s “The Cosmic Charge Account” with its parody of self-help books (and the publishing industry), R.A. Lafferty‘s “Narrow Valley,” Kit Reed’s “Attack of the Giant Baby,” “The Aliens Who Knew, I Mean, Everything” by George Alec Effinger. The problem is that, while they’re a bit funny, they’re not very funny, certainly not enough to balance out the extreme darkness of Jane Yolen’s “The Hundredth Dove,” Lucius Shepard’s “Salvador,” James Patrick Kelly’s “Rat,” Maureen F. McHugh’s “The Lincoln Train,” M. John Harrison’s “Suicide Coast” or Paolo Bacigalupi’s “The People of Sand & Slag,” with their alienated protagonists afflicted with meaningless tragedy.

For my taste, any collection with stories by Ursula Le Guin and Neil Gaiman (like the first one) is thereby made more enjoyable, and any collection with stories by Gene Wolfe or M. John Harrison (like the second one) is thereby made less enjoyable. But that’s just me.

Harlan Ellison and Stephen King are, I think, the only writers with stories in both volumes (the contents includes Roger Zelazny‘s “The Doors of His Face, the Lamps of His Mouth,” but it wasn’t in the version I reviewed, at least). I actually thought their stories in this volume were better than those in the first, and if the Zelazny story had been included the same would be true. In both cases, the stories felt more intimate, closer to the main characters, and were, therefore, more touching.

Also touching was Ken Liu‘s beautiful “The Paper Menagerie.” I love how Liu explores issues of family and human relationships with a spec-fic thread running through, and it was probably the choice of this as the closing story that tipped me, barely, over to giving the book four stars.

Published in 2014. A mutant baby goes on a rampage through Central Park. An immigrant reveals secrets in the folds of a perfect gift. Lucky Cats extend their virtual paws to salute a generous revolution. The Internet invades a third-world village. The premier speculative-fiction magazine Fantasy & Science Fiction continues to discover and showcase many of the most inventive authors writing in any genre. Now drawing even more deeply upon F&SF’s impressive history, this extraordinary companion anthology expands upon sixty-five years’ worth of top-notch storytelling. The Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Volume Two is a star-studded tribute to the continuing vision of F&SF.

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MIKE REEVES-MCMILLAN, one of our guest reviewers, has eight bookcases which are taller than he is in his basement, and 200 samples on his Kindle. He's trying to cut down. A lifelong lover of the written word, he's especially a fan of Jim Butcher, Lois McMaster Bujold, Terry Pratchett and Roger Zelazny. He reads a lot of indie fiction these days, and can report that the quality and originality are both improving rapidly. He himself writes the Gryphon Clerks fantasy series, and numerous short stories. Mike lives in Auckland, New Zealand, and also in his head, where the weather is more predictable and there are a lot more dragons. He rants about writing and genre at The Gryphon Clerks and about books he's read at The Review Curmudgeon.

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