fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsreview Gordon Van Gelder The Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction: Sixtieth Anniversary AnthologyThe Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction: Sixtieth Anniversary Anthology by Gordon Van Gelder (ed.)

The Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction: Sixtieth Anniversary Anthology is an excellent collection of 23 stories picked from the treasure trove of short fiction that’s been published in the eponymous magazine over the past 60 years. Editor Gordon Van Gelder — also the editor of the magazine since 1997 — has done an admirable job, picking stories that illustrate the diversity of both the genre and the magazine. As such, this is a great anthology for SF&F fans as well as newcomers looking for a taste.

The line-up of authors in this collection looks like a veritable Who’s Who of speculative fiction: Ray Bradbury, Philip K. Dick, Stephen King, Roger Zelazny, Ursula K. Le Guin, Neil Gaiman — just to name a few of the most famous ones. What’s even more impressive is the fact that all the stories collected here saw their first publication in the magazine. It really gave me pause when I realized that a towering classic such as “Flowers From Algernon” by Daniel Keyes first appeared in this digest-sized magazine (and if you haven’t read that story yet, you have at least one perfect reason to get this anthology right now!). Every story is preceded by a brief and thoughtful editorial note, often highlighting its author’s involvement with the magazine.

The quality of these stories is, as could be expected, almost uniformly excellent. Stand-outs for me were: the previously mentioned “Flowers For Algernon” which is about a mentally retarded man who gains a brief period of brilliance via a scientific experiment; “Solitude” by Ursula K. Le Guin, an exquisite and touching story set in her Hainish Cycle; “Creation” by Jeffrey Ford, about a young boy’s attempt to create life; and “Mother Grasshopper” by Michael Swanwick, about how a far-future civilization becomes reintroduced to death. If I could give these stories individual ratings, they’d all have five stars by their names, with the majority of the others getting a solid four stars. The only disappointment for me was “Buffalo” by John Kessel, a reverie about a fictional meeting between the author’s father and H.G. Wells.

By the numbers: out of the 23 stories collected here, I’d call 12 solidly science fiction, 6 definitely fantasy, 1 horror, and the rest hard to place but trending towards the fantastical. Included in that last category is Harlan Ellison‘s “The Deathbird”, which is more or less a genre of its own and one of the oddest things I’ve read in years. The stories are spread out across the six decades of the magazine’s existence, although strangely enough not a single story from the eighties was included. The earlier part of the anthology is predominantly science fiction, and as fantasy became more popular over the years, more stories of that genre appear towards the end of the collection. The only real “high fantasy” story included here is Peter S. Beagle‘s “Two Hearts,” in which the author revisits his classic The Last Unicorn. In terms of length, the stories vary from barely 3 pages (Neil Gaiman‘s “The Others,” a terrifying vision of hell) to Stephen King’s 44 page story “The Gunslinger,” one of the 5 stories that make up the novel of the same name, originally serialized in the magazine.

Another number, and one that might raise an eyebrow, is 5: the number of female authors represented here, compared to 18 male authors. Also, some readers may look for one or more legendary stories from the magazine that unfortunately aren’t represented here. My personal pick would be to add Fritz Leiber‘s “Ill Met in Lankhmar” novella, originally published in F&SF Magazine and certainly one of its classic — and now sadly underappreciated — stories.

Still, it’s easy to second-guess almost any anthology, let alone one that attempts to span the life of one of the most revered magazines in speculative fiction. When all’s said and done, this is undeniably an excellent collection of stories — one that will give readers a great look at the history of F&SF Magazine and, in doing so, the history of the entire genre. It’s possible that some reader will already be familiar with many of these stories, but if you aren’t, The Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction: Sixtieth Anniversary Anthology is practically a must-read. Highly recommended.


  • Stefan Raets

    STEFAN RAETS (on FanLit's staff August 2009 — February 2012) reads and reviews science fiction and fantasy whenever he isn’t distracted by less important things like eating and sleeping.