The Best from Fantasy and Science Fiction: the Fiftieth Anniversary Anthology. Edward L. Ferman and Gordon van Gelder (eds). Tor 1999.

F&SF have been producing anthologies since 1952 – annual anthologies for the first quarter century, and every two or three years since then. Rather than being a 50-year retrospective, this volume collects the best stories published in F&SF between 1994 and 1998 (since the 45th anniversary anthology).

Not having been a reader of F&SF during this period I cannot comment on the representativeness of the selected stories from the magazine. I can tell you, however, that the stories are all worthy of reprinting, and most have contemporary, on-Earth settings. Those seeking hard SF or swashbuckling fantasy will not be well served. A couple of the stories were included in either Dozois or Hartwell’s annual anthologies.

Last Summer at Mars Hill. Elizabeth Hand.

An evocative story about a secluded summer retreat in Maine. Moony and her middle aged hippy mother, Ariel, make their annual pilgrimage – but this visit will be markedly different as her mother’s illness and that of Moony’s boyfriend’s father attract the shimmering “Light Children”.

Populated by a number of three-dimensional characters, and just the right amount of mystery sparkling at the periphery. 1996 Nebula Award winner for Best Novella.

Maneki Neko. Bruce Sterling.

Originally published in Japan.

The Japanese computer network is encouraging its population to be helpful to each other, to provide assistance and goods.

An American official who sees this as anathema to the market oriented network topology in the USA falls foul of the oriental system.

No Planets Strike. Gene Wolfe.

A talking donkey called Donnie, his friend Bully the bull and their worlds-touring clown show.

Donnie narrates, describing eloquently the Beautiful People and their far from beautiful treatment of man and beast, and of a newborn babe who may be the one to set free the human settlers on Sidhe.

As with much Gene Wolfe, a story you want/need to think about and come back to. Again. And again.

Sins of the Mothers. S.N. Dyer.

Arwen Wildflower, sixties rebel, now in her forties, is visited by the son she gave up for adoption. It is not an emotional reunion – the rock star is after her DNA to help treat the consequences of his chronic drug and alcohol abuse – to create a clone to harvest cells in utero.

The Finger. Ray Vukchevic.

Young Bobby learns to flip the bird, and suddenly the world is at his feet.

Lifeboat on a burning sea. Bruce Holland Rogers.

Excellent SF – 1997 Nebula Award Best Novelette.

A trio – Bierley with the money, charisma and political clout, Richardson and Maas – are working towards an analogue AI which will give access to The Other Side: virtual immortality.

When Bierley dies the remaining two take the opportunity to re-create him in TOS, in order to keep the project going. However, Richardson uses TOS for his own purposes, leaving Maas to struggle towards the ultimate goal.

Gone. John Crowley.

Visitors from space, the enigmatic Elmers. are knocking door to door, offering to help with chores. The populace are warned against taking up the offers. But why not say yes, why not?

After taking up an offer, Pat sits in a daze, thus letting her no-good estranged husband meet their children off the school bus. Maybe the Elmer could help?

First Tuesday. Robert Reed.

A Virtual Reality visit from the President of the USA. The wonders of technology allow the President (or more accurately an avatar) to visit a large number of homes, but to the hosts is appears if the President is really there with them.

Young Stefan is impressed by the visit of President Perez, latino-African. His parents, particularly his step-father, less so, concerned about the extent to which the global economy is causing people like them to struggle.

The Fool, the Stick, and the Princess. Rachel Pollack.

A good old fashioned fairy tale, with a magic stick bringing together an intellectually challenged country boy and a Princess.

A Birthday. Esther M. Friesner.

1997 Nebula Award, Best Short Story.

A disturbing, chilling story which gradually unfolds.

Initially appearing to be a mundane office worker’s daughter’s birthday, the real horror of the situation gradually unfolds. Read it if you haven’t already!

Sensible City. Harlan Ellison.

A touch of the Stephen King’s, with two bad, bad cops on the run. They take a wrong turning somewhere, somehow, and end up somewhere just about as bad as they deserve.

All the Birds of Hell. Tanith Lee.

The Industrial Winter has a tight, icy grip on the world. Henrique Tchaikov has escaped the misery of the city, exchanging his tiny flat for a full six months relatively luxury in a stately house in the country, whose only other occupants are a couple lying together in a frozen sleep in an upstairs room, and a dog.

In the midst of the cold love and life fight to keep their place.

We Love Lydia Love. Bradley Denton.

Willie Todd, struggling musician, is offered his Big Chance in the music biz. But in order to get that chance, he has to impersonate the latest lover of Lydia Love, who is missing, presumed dead in an airplace crash.

With a chip in his neck feeding him the advice from an AI construct, Willie finds that he is able to help Lydia to return to her song-writing best, getting her back into her well-established routine of post-relationship breakdown-inspired writing.

Paul and Me. Michael Blumlein.

Now this is a peculiar story. The editorial introduction refers to the story being controversial, and affecting.

Not being American, the story of Paul Revere is one which I am only vaguely familiar with – which left me reading a story about a 30foot plus lumberjack having a same sex relationship with the narrator.

The two men go their separate ways, onto into heterosexuality, the other into a longer term gay relationship. HIV causes one relationship to be broken, and some resolution is achieved by the end of the story. (I found myself wondering about the mechanics of sexual congress between two people of such disparate sizes!)

Have Gun, Will Edit. Paul di Filippo.

Golden Age SF writer concerned at the Young Turks (Turkesses/Turkettes?) snapping at your heels? Why not hire someone to – help with your problem?

Forget Luck. Kate Wilhelm.

Tony Manetti has a slice of luck, which offers the prospect of attending an academic conference with a paramour. But that doesn’t work out, and he is reduced to spending time with an old lecturer of his, who is expounding on his research into a genetic aspect to ‘luck’. Is there something in DNA somewhere which is looking after itself?

With the FBI moving in to suppress the story, Tony’s luck continues to steer him clear from trouble.

Quinn’s Way. Dale Bailey.

For me, this is a story which is discomforting and affecting, unlike the Paul Revere story above.

With echoes/whispers of Something Wicked This Way Comes, a carney coming into town causes young friends Jemmy E and Henry to get into trouble. And with their fathers, trouble is trouble with a capital T. Jemmy E’s alcoholic, abusive father, and Henry’s father, combat veteran and town Sherrif, strict disciplinarian, both take unkindly to the boys running close to the train line. And when Henry ignores being grounded and finds out that Jimmy E. has taken even more drastic action, their world closes in.

On the run, the circus owner seems to offer one way out. Jemmy E. takes the circus owner’s route, and Henry decides to stand his ground and to face his troubles, in a small town which turns a blind eye to many things.

Powerful stuff.

Partial People. Terry Bisson.

A very short, minimalist tale about very short, minimalist people.

The Lincoln Train. Maureen F. McHugh.

1996 Hugo Award, Best Short Story. Alternate History, in which things are (presumably) different after the Lincoln assassination ‘attempt’. You will have to forgive me here again, as my knowledge of the American Civil War is a little sketchy. But it appears that slave-owning families are being forcibly ‘relocated’ to reservations, and one young woman and her mother face a desparate journey on the the Lincoln Train.

However, as with Schindler, there are some who are striving to save a few of those destined to meet a miserable fate.

Another Fine Mess. Ray Bradbury.

A pleasing, affectionate look back at Laurel and Hardy, and that set of steps, and that upright piano.

Solitude. Ursula K. Le Guin.

I have to admit to not finding most of Ursula K. Le Guin’s anthropological stories particularly engaging. The Hainish descent seems to offer an easy way of setting up otherwise humanlike societies and structures which can be explored an investigated. In this case a society has fallen from a hi-tech zenith, with a gender split – women living alone in settlements, with males living mostly alone in the forest. (Some males do form same sex partnerships – it does appear that this kind of thing is a compulsory element of these stories).

An anthropologist settles in a community, using her children the better to understand the society she is studying.

Conclusion.

An excellent collection of well written stories, many of which make you sit back and think about them. If you haven’t read many of them, then excellent value for money.

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