This year marks the 60th anniversary of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. To mark the occasion, Tachyon Books is publishing The Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction, an anthology of more than two dozen stories that appeared for the first time in F&SF. The line-up is quite impressive with all sorts of writers from Stephen King to Shirley Jackson to Neil Gaiman to Ursula K. Le Guin. The anthology includes some of the magazine’s best-known stories, such as “All Summer in a Day” by Ray Bradbury, “Flowers for Algernon” by Daniel Keyes, “Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Vonnegut, and “The Electric Ant” by Philip K. Dick. If you’ve somehow managed to never encounter the magazine, The Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction is an excellent introduction. Heck, it’s just a great collection of stories.
Because I like to drag out number of award wins, F&SF has won more Hugos, World Fantasy Awards, and Locus Awards than Asimov’s and Analog combined. Before I get angry e-mails, that’s talking about the magazine on its own, rather than the material that’s been published in the magazine. Asimov’s certainly never had the chance for a Best Magazine Hugo, although it did have a near-permanent lock on the Best Editor Hugo through the the 1980s and 1990s with editor Gardner Dozois.
Now, when you talk about the number of wins by its published work, F&SF is—keeping comparisons to Asimov’s and Analog listed in that order when you start seeing numbers—first in Nebula wins (38, 27, 18), first in World Fantasy Award wins (15, 5, 0), second in Locus Award wins (27, 33, 9), and third in Hugo wins (8, 51, 28). As F&SF has always labeled itself a more literary magazine, it’s not surprising where it leads in award wins. I don’t know if the award wins translate into anything meaningful, but given that it’s the 60th anniversary, I thought I would make note of the magazine’s successes.
The magazine’s 60th anniversary issue was recently on the newsstands. The issue on the whole didn’t strike as particularly stronger than an average issue of F&SF, whereas in past years I’ve felt that the anniversary issue pulled out the stops a bit. I think at least part of that was the fact that the anniversary issue always had more content than a normal issue. This year, however, the issues have changed to double-sized as the standard length so the anniversary issue feels more like any other issue from the year. That said, there’s some good stuff in here.
To be forewarned, there are many places where I talk about a story’s ending. Not so much a detailed description, but typically whether I liked the ending or not. If you’d rather read the story without the taint of my reaction, go read the issue first and then come back to argue with me.
I like Elizabeth Hand’s writing, and her story “The Far Shore” certainly shows off her talents at evoking strong imagery. Moreso than any other story in this issue I could see parts of Hand’s story as I read it. The ending was more literal—after striking images and poetic phrasing—than I thought it would be.
I haven’t read much by Albert E. Cowdrey, but “Bandits of the Trace” will certainly make me seek out more of his work. This is one of those stories that I read and I think, “Hmm, not much of a fantastic/speculative element in that story” but it’s a story that I still really enjoyed reading. I always wonder how these types of stories will come across to the readers. Now, I think the readers of F&SF have come to expect pieces that push the envelope with regards to the percentage of speculative content per story, so perhaps it’s not that big of a deal. The characters really came alive for me in this story. I wish there had been some parallelism between the two storylines, or perhaps a little more detail about the modern-day storyline, but this is a minor quibble.
“The Way They Wove the Spells in Sippulgar” by Robert Silverberg is set in Silverberg’s world of Majipoor. Since Silverberg invested his time with Majipoor in building the planet and its history rather than focusing on a single character, which to be honest is more a fantasy trope than a science fiction one, he’s created a place he can use as a backdrop any time he wants without needing to spend long expository stretches of the story explaining what’s gone before. I found the ending disappointing as I felt the story was really starting to take off.
When I read Carol Emshwiller, I’m either completely enthralled with her story or I feel like the story is speaking on a level that I just can’t quite reach. Unfortunately, her story “Logicist” falls into the latter category. The set up was simple enough, but as the story progressed it felt like a conversation that was happening in another room. The words seemed to make sense to me, but I wasn’t hearing enough of them to be able to follow everything. I’m sure I’ve missed something, but this story left me feeling confused.
“Blocked” by Geoff Ryman is my favorite story of the issue. The characters felt like real people and they got into conflict with each other in satisfactory ways. The world of the story felt very real as well. In some ways evocative of Thomas A. Day’s A Grey Moon Over China or Ken MacLeod’s Fall Revolution books, Ryman’s piece of near-future sf is full of big ideas, but they don’t overwhelm the story. The big thing for me is that Ryman never did anything that forced me to remember that I was sitting in my chair at home; I was always in his story.
By contrast, “Halloween Town” by Lucius Shepard, like can happen in a Shepard piece, the conceit of the story threatens to crush the protagonist. It was not easy to pick the Ryman story as a favorite over this Shepard story. I think the fact that Shepard either likes to place his characters in tougher and more unusual situations—ones where a way out is difficult to conceive but rarely difficult to believe—or that his stories just run that way, can sometimes take me out of the story and back into my chair. I like to get lost in a story, and “Halloween Town” really grabbed me. The titular Halloween Town is such a strange place and I completely empathized with Clyde Ormoloo who struggled to fit in with this odd town. I had trouble suspending my disbelief towards the end of the piece (“Halloween Town” is the longest story in the issue) and it’s only Shepard’s skill that brough Clyde through in a fashion where I didn’t feel cheated by the outcome. As I mentioned, I did come out of the story towards the end, and that puts “Halloween Town” at a close second to “Blocked” for favorite story in the issue.
Reading Robert Reed is something I always enjoy quite a bit and I know that my expectations of his writing are quite high. Perhaps it’s that I’ve read several mermaid inspired stories recently, but Reed’s “Mermaid” didn’t live up to my expectations. The story felt slight. I think coming after such a long piece like “Halloween Town” it’s hard to not feel that something’s lacking. Reed did a good job of concealing what was going on in the story. You feel that one thing is happening, but it’s really some other completely different thing, but when Reed reveals what is actually happening, the story ends.
“Never Blood Enough” by Joe Haldeman is a quick space adventure story that, like the Reed piece, ends sooner than I’d like. The resolution is so straight-forward that I almost felt cheated.
“I Waltzed With a Zombie” by Ron Goulart has a great premise. However, it reminds me too much of a novel by Greg Kihn of all people to really carry the impact I think it should have. I also found I didn’t care for the protagonist, so it was difficult for me to get into the story and root for him as I was clearly meant. The other people in the story were so despicable, that I couldn’t even root against the protagonist, as I didn’t want them to carry the day either. The voice and tone of the story was terrific and strong enough to carry me through to the end.
“The President’s Book Tour” by M. Rickert is one of those stories that I think people will either love or hate. The premise of the story, a village full of families with mutant children who come into sexuality prior to the president coming to town on his book tour, is purposefully put forth to be distasteful, and you will either accept this or reject this as a reader. Rickert does not pull punches as she describes the children, but as the story comes out of the collective voice of their parents, the story is filled with love, too. The people realize their children are different, but they love and care for them just as you would care for any child. There is a strong heart at the center of this story, and I quite enjoyed it. There is a lot going on in these few pages and I fell head over heels into this story.
Either you know what “Through Time and Space With Ferdinand Feghoot LXXI” by Ron Partridge is, or you don’t. Suffice to say, the gag here is groan-worthy, and I believe that’s what they’re going for.
I’m not sure I can talk about “Another Life” by Charles Oberndorf without giving too much away or without prejudicing you, so, be forewarned if you haven’t read this yet. I couldn’t stop thinking about The Forever War while I read this, and while this story isn’t a pastiche of Haldeman’s excellent novel, I couldn’t separate the two in my head. I can’t decide if the story’s end is heartbreaking or if the protagonist got what he deserved.
“Shadows on the Wall of the Cave” by Kate Wilhelm really felt like something I read before and I’m not sure why. Certainly the title evokes Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, but I didn’t feel that really carried through into the story. There’s really nothing wrong with this story, but it didn’t surprise me in any fashion. The story progressed almost exactly as I thought it would.
My brain keeps wanting to compare The Very Best of F&SF to the 60th Anniversary issue, and that’s an unfair comparison. The anthology collects some of the greatest specualtive fiction stories of the past 60 years, and there’s no individual issue of a magazine that can compete with that. I would have liked to like more of the issue . . . that’s not quite right. I wanted to be blown away by the issue, and that didn’t happen.