Saturday, 21 June 2014

Review: The Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Volume 2

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

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read the first volume ([b:The Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction: Sixtieth Anniversary Anthology|6661321|The Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction Sixtieth Anniversary Anthology|Gordon Van Gelder||6856092], published 2009) before I tackled this one. 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: Kornbluth's "The Cosmic Charge Account" with its parody of self-help books (and the publishing industry), 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 "The Hundredth Dove," "Salvador," "Rat," "The Lincoln Train," "Suicide Coast" or "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, Charles de Lint 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 listed above 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.

I received a copy via NetGalley for purposes of review.

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