The Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Volume 2

The Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Volume 2 - Harlan Ellison, Robert Silverberg, R.A. Lafferty, Alfred Bester, Jane Yolen, Jack Finney, Charles de Lint, Robert Sheckley, M. John Harrison, Maureen McHugh, Gene Wolfe, George Alec Effinger, Bruce Sterling, Geoff Ryman, Zenna Henderson, Paolo Bacigalupi, Robert Reed, Gor

(I got a copy of this book from NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.)

3.5 stars for this collection of 27 stories, some of which are funny and grotesque, some others dark and disturbing.

Strangely, I didn't feel that much of a connection with a lot of those. Maybe I've become picky after a few disappointing experiences with anthologies recently, or maybe I tend to expect more definite endings; I regularly got the feeling that this or that story was interesting (because of its theme and/or the questions it raised), but without going as far as I thought it should go, considering that I expected "the best", yet felt I got "good only". It's definitely strange, indeed, since I wouldn't say those texts are bad. Objectively, there's a lot of creativity in here, lots of different concepts, lots of exploring, which all represent a variety of stages in the history of speculative fiction. Subjectively, they just didn't touch me the way I thought they would.

My favourites:

* Maneki Neko: I really like the idea of a network linking people, everybody being a link in the large picture chain without knowing what it's going to end in, but performing acts (of kindness, but also totally random sometimes) for strangers. It would almost seem of the conspiratorial kind... but it could also be seen as another way of living, with the awareness that whatever you do for others, someday a stranger will do something good for you as well.

* The People of Sand and Slag: An exploration in what being human entails, once technology/biotech have gone so far that human beings can regrow limbs, live on basically dirt if they need to, and have lost part of what make us who we currently are.

* The Paper Menagerie: Bittersweet and touching, a tale of magic and love gone misunderstood until it's much too late for the protagonist to do anything about it.

* The Anything Box: An interesting reflection of people's (especially children's) ability to dream, and how this ability can be so easy to crush by other people who think they know so much better than you. After I read it, I was all the more determined to never let anything destroy my soul.

* The Prize of Peril: Probably not as original today as it was when it was first published, but as far as reality TV goes, it definitely felt "right". The Good Samaritans, the people helping the protagonist, aren't so good as willing to see danger pop up here and there for as long as possible. Very ambiguous.

Not so favourites, though still intriguing:

* The Bone Woman, as a tale of second chances and dreams given to those who've lost everything.

* The New York Times at Special Bargain Rates, for its blend of haunting longing and trying to fit into a new life.

* Winemaster: An exploration of microcosms on different scales, how they may be perceived, and where people would draw the line at, well, "people" and "not-people anymore."

* The Aliens Who Knew, I Mean, Everything: Pretty amusing. I somehow expected the ending, yet it still made me chuckle no matter what.

* The Third Level: Here, too, I could somewhat sense the twist coming. However, it was one of those stories where it just doesn't matter: you see it coming, you want it to come, and it's really satisfying.

Overall, it is a pretty satisfying collection, and makes for an appropriate introduction to lots of different types of SF/F stories, especially for readers who're not very familiar with what those genres at large have to offer. My "problem" with it is mostly personal, a matter of feeling, rather than of actual literary worth. Sometimes, it just happens...