Visions of Paradise

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Very Best of F&SF

While Galaxy was my favorite magazine as a teenager, it lost my loyalty after Frederik Pohl passed the editorial baton to the much-inferior Ejler Jakobsson. Soon thereafter I started reading Edward Ferman’s Fantasy & Science Fiction, and while it did not offer the same variety of future fiction, tending to lean more towards fantasy and contemporary sf, it was still a damned good magazine which never failed to entertain me.

I stopped buying F&SF during Kathryn Kristine Rusch’s editorialship, partly because reading prozines was proving too time-consuming so I gave up all my subscriptions in the mid-1990s, but also because I felt the magazine had declined during her tenure. When Gordon Van Gelder took over the reins, I began buying it occasionally, liking it as much as I did during Ferman’s years, and ultimately renewing my subscription to it.

Recently F&SF celebrated its 60th anniversary, so Van Gelder compiled The Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Obviously, as he states in the editorial, it would be impossible to print all the best fiction from 60 years of a very-highly regarded magazine, so Van Gelder does not even try to do so. In effect, this 473-page anthology is more of a sampler of what F&SF has been about for six decades than an attempt to include its very best stories. For me, who has probably read all of the most famous stories in the magazine, there probably would have been no reason to buy the book if it really lived up to its title. As it is, only 7 of the 23 stories were published between 1970 and 1995, my subscription years, while several others are famous stories which I have read elsewhere.

Van Gelder avoided many of the overly-familiar classics in favor of lesser-known stories by the same authors. Thus Alfred Bester’s “The Pi Man” and “Fondly Fahrenheit” are passed up for “Of Time and Third Avenue.” He skipped Roger Zelazny’s “A Rose For Ecclesiastes”–perhaps my favorite sf short story ever published–and “The Doors of His Face, the Lamps of His Mouth” in favor of another story which many readers might have missed, “This Moment of the Storm.” Nor does he include any of the three novellas which became A Canticle For Leibowitz, even though the first novella might well have been the very best story ever included in F&SF.

So the book was worth reading for the stories which I had not read previously–such as several of the pre-1970 lesser-known stories, or Ted Chiang’s recent award-winner “The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate” which shows him at the very top of his form–as well as a chance to reread a few classics which I have not read in several decades.

In the latter category is Daniel Keyes’ renowned “Flowers for Algernon.” Van Gelder called this story his “all-time favorite f&sf story”, and it is hard to disagree with such an assessment. Even having read it 40 years ago, and the novelization as well, I had forgotten how moving it is, both in how Charlie recalls his past when he becomes super-intelligent, and, of course, for its very moving ending (which I will not reveal in case one of you readers has not read the story before). If you have not read “Flowers for Algernon” in as many decades as me, then this anthology is worthwhile just for the pleasure of rereading it.

Other highlights include William Tenn’s musings on racism “Eastwood Ho!”, Kurt Vonnegut’s sharp satire “Harrison Bergeron,” James Tiptree’s “The Women Men Don’t See,” Stephen King’s “The Gunslinger” (first story in his 7-book cycle), Ursula K Le Guin’s “Solitude” and Peter Beagle’s “Two Hearts.” I cannot picture any fan of either fantasy or science fiction not liking this book. Perhaps the only reason to stay away is if you have all the stories in it already. But if, like me, several of them are missing from your collection, what are you waiting for? Buy it.


  • You should join the listserv, fictionmags -- lots of discussion there about F&SF, and other sorts of fictionmags -- members are not only readers, but authors and editors as well.

    Shelby Vick

    By Blogger shelvy, At 3:39 PM  

  • This comment has been removed by the author.

    By Blogger Jim, At 7:57 AM  

  • One of my favorites from F&SF was "A Father's Tale" by Sterling Lanier. It was part of his Ffellowes series. Did you happen to read it?

    By Blogger Jim Black, At 7:59 AM  

  • yes, i did, many years ago, but i barely remember it. maybe i should go back and reread it.

    By Blogger adamosf, At 3:36 PM  

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