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The Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Volume 2 (edition 2014)

by Stephen King (Editor), Charles De Lint, Jane Yolen, Paolo Bacigalupi, Gordon Van Gelder (Editor)

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626285,669 (4.13)1
Member:KelMunger
Title:The Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Volume 2
Authors:Stephen King
Other authors:Charles De Lint, Jane Yolen, Paolo Bacigalupi, Gordon Van Gelder (Editor)
Info:Tachyon Publications (2014), Paperback, 432 pages
Collections:Your library
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Tags:Science Fiction, Fantasy, Short Stories, Anthology, D

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The Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Volume 2 by Gordon Van Gelder (Editor)

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Showing 5 of 5
3.48 average... I'll round up to 4.
This collection finishes a lot stronger than it starts. (No, I don't think that decades past were devoid of great fiction; I just don't think that all the older selections here were as strong as they could've been.) Still, there are some real gems here - and overall, this collection gives a good overview of the breadth of the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction's editorial selection.

*** “The Third Level” by Jack Finney (1952)
Well, I liked this better than Finney's 'Time and Again.' It has the same sort of wistful nostalgia for the past, which borders on sappy. But I really liked the portrayal of Grand Central (still totally recognizable today), and the idea of getting lost and finding the stairwell down to another level...

** “The Cosmic Charge Account” by C. M. Kornbluth (1956)
Not my kind of thing. An intentionally silly story of a Professor whose scholarly work on a kind of transcendent meditation has apparently had only one devoted reader - who has, unfortunately, turned a huge swath of territory in her vicinity into a stricken land of mindless zombies.

*** “The Country of the Kind” by Damon Knight (1956)
The trials and tribulations of a sociopath in a future society of peaceful, well-adjusted individuals. There's some interesting content here, about how the sociopath, unique in his society, equates his violence with 'freedom' - but he's really just a petty loser and a self-centered bully.

*****“The Anything Box” by Zenna Henderson (1956)
A re-read - previously read in Henderson's collection of the same title, and probably in other anthologies as well. A sweet and beautiful story of a child and her teacher, about the magic and necessity of imagination and hope - for both children and adults.

*** “The Prize of Peril” by Robert Sheckley (1958)
Eerily prescient! The premise here is very similar to Stephen King's 'The Running Man.' We're introduced to a protagonist who has signed up to be on a televised game show - if he can evade hired killers for a certain amount of time, he wins. Call-in viewers can donate gifts or help - much like in 'The Hunger Games.' This is a solid, early entry into this genre, with a nicely bleak outlook on human nature.

* "‘—All You Zombies—’” by Robert A. Heinlein (1959)
In the introduction to this book, Michael Dirda complains about modern readers dismissing older writers like, specifically, Heinlein. With Dirda's direct implication that Heinlein is not actually 'misogynistic,' perhaps a different selection would've been more apropos. This is a time paradox story. It's not specifically *about* gender, but Heinlein's deeply sexist assumptions about how gender affects personality and his assumptions about how even a future society's sexism will not change in any way, are fully on display here. (In the future, women don't become 'spacemen,' they are sent to be 'comfort women' for lonely spacemen who can't control their 'urges.' The possibility of a woman being a competent astronaut isn't even considered.) Unless, of course, she actually becomes a man. Apparently male hormones confer said competence. Ugh.
PS, there are no zombies in this story.
I didn't find the ramifications of the time-travel dilemma, as presented here, as interesting or 'mind-blowing' as other readers have.

** “A Kind of Artistry” by Brian W. Aldiss (1962)
If you like Aldiss, you will probably like this. I've never gotten into his style - I find it a bit rambling and opaque. Here, a far-future human leaves his overbearing and shrewish mother/lover to make contact with a huge and strange alien.

*** “Green Magic” by Jack Vance (1963)
Better than Vance I've read in the past, but not particularly remarkable. An occultist is intrigued by the grimoire left behind by his deceased relative, and uses it to begin researching an entirely new plane of magical existence. Will what he learns change his perspective on what he desires?

*** “Narrow Valley” by R. A. Lafferty (1966)
A tale told with a wink and a chuckle, about a Native American who resorts to magic to prevent his land being taken by the White Man, and the modern-day invaders who try to lay claim to the property, precocious brats and RV in tow...

*** “Sundance” by Robert Silverberg (1969)
A Native American, on a mission to prepare a new planet for colonization, becomes disturbed by the concept that the native life he's exterminating might be sentient. The story starts very strongly, but then tries to squish too many possibilities in, right at the end. I expected a strong statement, but it kind of backed off and sputtered out.

** “Attack of the Giant Baby” by Kit Reed (1976)
A direct precursor of "Honey, I Blew Up The Kid." A scientist father's experiment accidentally results in, literally, a giant baby.

*****“The Hundredth Dove” by Jane Yolen (1977)
Stories like this original fairy tale are what earned Yolen her well-deserved, stellar reputation. The King's fowler sets out to obey his monarch's directive to capture 100 doves for the royal wedding feast - even though the bride protests. Gorgeous and tragic, with that aura of inner truth that sets up a sympathetic resonance of the heart...

**** “Jeffty Is Five” by Harlan Ellison (1977)
A reread - previously read in the 'Locus Awards' collection. A classic, and impressively well-done. I actually disagree with the content of the story: I object to the nostalgia for 'good old days' that it rests on - but it doesn't matter. It's still incredibly moving.
Two boys are best friends. One of them grows up and does all the normal things a young man does. One of them stays five years old, both mentally and physically. They stay friends, even though their dynamic changes... and one realizes that his friend is quite literally tuned in to another time.

**** “Salvador” by Lucius Shepard (1984)
Powerful and hallucinogenic. This piece fully conjures up the moral confusion and social disconnect of soldiers pushed into atrocities. The reader sees the point of view of a Special Forces operative, on patrol searching for Sandinistas in El Salvador, mostly under the influence of weird drugs. It's not really in the SFF genre, but it's an excellent and thought-provoking piece of war fiction.

*** “The Aliens Who Knew, I Mean, Everything” by George Alec Effinger (1984)
Aliens make first contact with earth - and they are insufferable know-it-alls. Yes, life on our planet is changed by our new horizons - but not quite in the way anyone expected. This one definitely brought a smile to my face.

** “Rat” by James Patrick Kelly (1986)
OK, so this is a fairly standard and unsurprising cyberpunk-ish drug-smuggling tale - where the main character happens to be an anthropomorphic rat. I'm really not sure why he's a rat. It's not explained. Is it supposed to be funny? All the other characters in the story seem human-standard. Go figure. Future. Drugs. Violence. Rat. Shrug.

**** “The Friendship Light” by Gene Wolfe (1989)
A horror story. As always, with Gene Wolfe, there's a lot going on here, and a lot of it is in the gradual reveal, which makes it hard to say too much about it. Our narrator, who is probably unreliable, gets a note from his brother-in-law asking for a favor... and from that seemingly normal starting point, things degenerate into creepiness. Wolfe has a very distinctive style - if you like his writing, you'll like this.

*** “The Bone Woman” by Charles de Lint (1993)
Typical de Lint. This is one of his Newford stories. A street musician keeps an eye out for one of his local mentally ill homeless women, so he notices when a strange character starts paying an unusual amount of attention to her. When this new character turns out to be collecting an unusual number of bones out of the trash, the musician finds it somewhat disturbing and ominous, and goes to investigate. What he finds is magical and unexpected.

*****“The Lincoln Train” by Maureen F. McHugh (1995)
A re-read. (Previously read in 'Mothers and Other Monsters.') This is an impressively crafted, emotionally wrenching piece. It worked just as well the second time through, too. In an alternate history, President Lincoln has survived an assassination attempt and decisively defeated the South. Former slave-owners are being forcibly shipped out west in cattle-cars stuffed with refugees. One young woman, evicted from her home, has a terrible time of it... McHugh just twists you around her finger, then twists you back the other way and forces you to look at yourself and examine your assumptions.

**** “Maneki Neko” by Bruce Sterling (1998)
A re-read - but it's been quite a while since I last read this. This may be my favorite piece by Bruce Sterling.
Cyberpunk isn't generally thought of as being optimistic and cheery, but this story really is. It laughs, in a rather good-natured way, at those who are hostile to and threatened by technological change. In this future, members of semi-secret 'networks' are always doing small, easy things at the urging of their pocket computers. These actions are usually to help out someone else - and they get benefits in return. This general attitude of 'pay-it-forward' has helped to set up a functional gift economy - and of course, those who are invested in the traditional economy are threatened.
It's a fun story with a personal feel (and some action!) - but with some radical, sensible ideas.

*** “Winemaster” Robert Reed (1999)
Interesting thoughts on nanotech and issues of time and scale as applied to societies... and the conflicts that may or may not arise when they go out of sync.
A driver stops at a gas station. Some militia/hooligans want to mess with him, but a big man stops them. But what are his reasons? The pleasure of this story is in how it unfolds, so I won't say more...

**** “Suicide Coast” by M. John Harrison (1999)
An exploration of the pros and cons of extreme sports (and life in general) lived through the physical world, and lived through virtual reality. Surprisingly even-handed... and heartbreaking.

*****“Have Not Have” by Geoff Ryman (2001)
Another re-read. I was absolutely blown away by this, when it first came out. Then I read the expanded-into-a-novel version, 'Air.' I didn't feel that the continuation quite lived up to the beginning, but it was still excellent. Upon re-reading, though, I did find myself thinking about 'what happened next...'
The story introduces Mae, an enterprising but not very likable woman who makes a living as a 'fashion consultant' for her remote village. She is aware that her stock in trade is not actually fashion, but information, and as such, she hoards it jealously. However, her livelihood - and the way of life of everyone she knows - is threatened by an incipient technological advance that will affect the whole world.

*****“The People of Sand and Slag” by Paolo Bacigalupi (2004)
I've read this one at least a couple of times before, and have shoved it into people's faces and insisted that they sit down right there and read it. It's a 'Boy and His Dog' story. It's a scathing excoriation of what humanity's doing to the world. It's possibly an extension of the same future hinted as being to-come in 'The Wind-Up Girl.' And it will make you cry.

**** “Echo” by Elizabeth Hand (2005)
Already read, in Hand's 'Saffron and Brimstone.' "A quietly post-apocalyptic tale which compares and contrasts the myth of Echo and Narcissus with a story of a lonely woman living on a solitary island, missing her lover and hoping against hope that he might return to her."

**** “The New York Times at Special Bargain Rates” by Stephen King (2008)
This ghost story has the distinct feel of one of those stories that someone tells you, swearing it's true. "It's happened to my friend's sister's cousin... really!" A woman gets a phone call from her recently-deceased husband... and what he tells her may change her life.

*****“The Paper Menagerie” by Ken Liu (2011)
Already read, in 'Nebula Awards Showcase 2013.' "'The Paper Menagerie' is the first work of fiction, of any length, to have swept the Nebula, Hugo, and World Fantasy Awards." I cried. OK, usually when I say "I cried" I mean one tear escaped my eye... This story made me cry a whole bunch of tears. A story of the disconnect between parents and children, the gap between cultures, and magical origami.

Thanks to NetGalley for an advance copy of this collection!
As always, my opinion is my own. ( )
  AltheaAnn | Feb 9, 2016 |
See full review @ The Indigo Quill

Special thank you to NetGalley and Tachyon Publications for providing an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.

The Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction vol. 2 is the second compendium of the most famous and well written short stories to ever grace the pages of an already prolific magazine through its 65 year history. Fantasy and Science Fiction magazine has been the premier publication for the genre, and has showcased some of the most inventive and creative writers in any genre.
I love these short story compilation books. Getting to experience different worlds, characters, atmospheres and themes every 20 pages or so is a real treat sometimes. Even more of a treat is the fact that each story was incredible in its own right. Before each story is a blurb about the author and some background on the stories wherever possible. This really helps you change gears from story to story and helps to give a greater appreciation for the work in relation to the era it was written.
The stories themselves cover the full spectrum of sci-fi and fantasy and speculative fiction. Everything from the classic styles to contemporary and Avant-Garde pieces found their place amongst the pages. I salute the editor for avoiding a common pitfall with compilations, by including a bit of everything instead of sticking to one type or subgenre or style. On top of that, every story was interesting and entertaining; really showing off where Sci-Fi & fantasy has come from and where they are going. That being said, even the older stories didn’t show their age in a bad way.

Usually it’s easy for me to pick a favorite and least favorite story in a compilation such as this, however I found that I enjoyed them all, and never found myself trying to speed through one to get to the next. They all have such different subject matter and style that picking one favorite would be a futile exercise. The setting and gritty futuristic feel in Winemaster was one that I enjoyed but I could just as easily pick any title out of a hat and tell you all the things I enjoyed about it. If I had to find anything negative about it, it would be that the titles could have used a bit of organization, and possibly some more background info about the stories and authors, but really that is nit-picking. Any fan of sci-fi, horror, fantasy or plain old fiction would be happy to count this collection as a part of their own. ( )
  TheIndigoQuill | Nov 7, 2015 |
This is an excellent collection of short fiction. The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction began publication in 1949 and this new book published in 2014 marks the 65th anniversary year. We have 27 stories in this collection first published in the magazine between October 1952 and May/June 2011. Most if not all of these stories have already appeared in collections or anthologies (including ones from the magazine itself) over the years, or Year's Best collections, but that does not diminish the significance of them first appearing in the magazine, but rather validates it. Editor Gordon Van Gelder in his foreword says his nickname for the collection is "F&SF's Greatest Hits, Volume 2." The nickname is appropriate. Many of these stories can be considered the "best of the best" from prior collections and recognition. I also found the introduction to this collection, written by Michael Dirda to be quite informative. This is an excellent way to bring older stories to the attention of newer readers.

Since I am a longtime reader of science fiction, including the magazine at times, I have previously read a number of the stories over the years, a bit more than half, although none very recently with the exception of Robert Silverberg's "Sundance". Some of these stories are "classics" with a capital C. I remember being stunned when I first read Lucius Shepard's "Salvador" in 1984. I had just begun a subscription to the magazine that year after a number of years of haphazard reading and eagerly read each issue as they arrived. I never expected something like Salvador. It is also one of his very first published stories. I can also remember being entranced by Zenna Henderson's fantasy story "The Anything Box" when I first read it as a young teen in the 60's. Although there are a number of science fiction classics included here, such as Harlan Ellison's "Jeffty is Five" (another one of those which once read is never forgotten), there are also many smaller classics from across the years.

So having said that, I think the collection gets off to a slow start. If the first stories disappoint stick with it. I wouldn't call all of the stories in this collection "Greatest Hits" and a few surprised me for having been included, especially the second story, although they are all interesting in one way or another. Just like with music, different songs, different stories will resonate differently with the audience. I think I would have dropped a couple of the early stories to include a few more from mid to later years. I can think of some excellent F&SF stories not included in either Vol 1 or 2 of the "Very Best" that could comfortably sit in here and deserve to be rescued from the obscurity of old magazine pages, stories that I don't think have been collected or anthologized much, if at all. I suppose I will have to wait for future volumes if the series continues.

I'll mention just a couple of the perhaps less well known minor classics included in the collection. The third story here, "The Country of the Kind" by Damon Knight from 1956 kicks the collection into gear. It is a sad and disturbing story that doesn't soon leave one's memory. Sad. Disturbing. There are no better words for this story. I first read it years ago in Gardner Dozois's "Modern Classics of Science Fiction" anthology which also includes Lucius Shepard's "Salvador". "Salvador" came out at at time when Central America seemed to be in a constant civil war or revolutionary state. The ground pounding near-future warriors gave us a dark look at what could evolve, and the dark echoes of Vietnam from a decade earlier ring through the story as well. Robert Sheckley's "The Prize Peril" is scarily prescient of reality TV and is perhaps only one final step removed from where it is today. And it was published in 1958!

There are many other excellent stories in the collection, such as the alternate history tale "The Lincoln Train" by Maureen McHugh. Ken Lui's multiple award winning short piece from 2011, the newest in the collection, is "The Paper Menagerie." Something of a tearjerker. "The Aliens Who Knew, I mean, Everything" by George Alec Effinger was fun to re-read. The aliens return to Earth. This is a rather funny tongue-in-cheek tale that pokes fun at all sorts of things. The aliens are ever so helpful and really seem to know everything. They are here to help. They tell the President that they met with Eisenhower in 1954 and even helped him with his golf game. They love Earth and love to visit and maybe they'll stick around for a while this time.

"Winemaster" by Robert Reed is a pretty cool story about a new kind of life in the near future. Bacigalupi's story is a modern classic. Rather than talk about more of the stories I'll just suggest that the prospective reader discover them.

Good anthologies seem to be a rare breed these days, though they once were a staple of the genre. All in all this collection is an excellent overview of the span of F&SF and a testament to the importance that the magazine has held in the field. I enjoyed reading these stories a few at a time and then thinking about them. As Michael Dirda says at the end of his introduction, "To this day, Fantasy and Science Fiction remains, like The New Yorker, The Atlantic, or The Paris Review, one of the great fiction magazines of modern American Literature."

I received an advance review copy of this forthcoming collection (July 2014) from the Goodreads First Reads program.

The included stories are:

"The Third Level" by Jack Finney
"The Cosmic Charge Account" aka "The Cosmic Expense Account" by C. M. Kornbluth
"The Country of the Kind" by Damon Knight
"The Anything Box" by Zenna Henderson
"The Prize of Peril" by Robert Sheckley
"---All You Zombies---" by Robert A. Heinlein
"A Kind of Artistry" by Brian W Aldiss
"Green Magic" by Jack Vance
"Narrow Valley" by R. A. Lafferty
"Sundance" by Robert Silverberg
"Attack of the Giant Baby" by Kit Reed
"The Hundredth Dove" by Jane Yolen
"Jeffty Is Five" by Harlan Ellison
"Salvador" by Lucius Shepard
"The Aliens Who Knew, I mean, Everything" by George Alec Effinger
"Rat" by J. P. Kelly
"The Friendship Light" by Gene Wolfe
"The Bone Woman" by Charles de Lint
"The Lincoln Train" by Maureen F. McHugh
"Maneki Neko" by Bruce Sterling
"Winemaster" by Robert Reed
"Suicide Coast" by M. John Harrison
"Have Not Have" by Geoff Ryman
"The People of Sand and Slag" by Paolo Bacigalupi
"Echo" by Elizabeth Hand
"The New York Times at Special Bargain Rates" by Stephen King
"The Paper Menagerie" by Ken Liu

4+ stars ( )
  RBeffa | May 30, 2014 |
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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 Fa.… (more)

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