I recently realised that I haven’t been reading my quota of science fiction for quite some time now. That’s why I picked up “The Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction”, anthology of best stories in 60 years of F&SF magazine, edited by Gordon Van Gelder.
For me, the anthology offered a mix of known and unknown names, and stories. Among those stories I had already read is Stephan King’s contribution – the first chapter of Gunslinger saga. Ted Chiang writes a story of a merchant in Baghdad worthy of Arabian nights. Other names included Neil Gaiman writing about a version of hell, sure to produce some nightmares. Philip K. Dick writes about an ignorant automaton. Kurt Vonnegut’s only contribution to F&SF takes the form of the story of a man living in the world where everyone is completely equal.
There’s time travel, a world with limited resources and a world with fixed population. For those who have heard about or read the book “The Last Unicorn”, the story continues in this collection. There’s the story of Americans, slowly losing ground to the native Indian tribes. Shirley Jackson’s story about a man who goes through his day, being nice to others, has a nice twist in the tail. Ursula K. Le Guin writes about going native in a world where “people” have vanished, leaving a few survivors behind. And by no means is this a complete list of stories in the volume.
A good story always resonates with something inside you. While most of the sci-fi stories leave you with lot of questions, “macs” by Terri Bison was something different. Reading about the “creative” solution post Oklahoma bombing on the day of 26/11 verdict was a bit surreal.
Given F&SF’s 60 year long history, the claim of “very best” is easy to make and deliver. At the same time, as the editor mentions in the introduction to Le Guin’s story, everyone’s idea of the ideal (and hence the best) fantasy/scifi story is a bit different, making it difficult to satisfy all those definitions. But the anthology delivers a mix of really good stories, which I believe will make most fans happy. And even if you are not a fan of the genre, I shall recommend this book as one of the best introductions to the genre.
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