cover image Best from Fantasy and Science Fiction

Best from Fantasy and Science Fiction

. Tor Books, $24.95 (384pp) ISBN 978-0-312-86973-1

Half a century old, the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction continues to impress. Editor Van Gelder and long-time publisher Ferman are, Van Gelder writes in the introduction to one story here, connoisseurs of ""lyrical, character-driven human dramas."" Among the 21 pieces collected here, all copyrighted between 1994 and 1998, are examples of that sort of drama by well-known authors like Ursula Le Guin, Tanith Lee and Terry Bisson, alongside entries from newer talents. At their best, the stories are strongly original, their humanity amplified by elements of scientific extrapolation or straight-out magic: the quotidian rendered fantastic and the fantastic, quotidian. Ray Bradbury's ""Another Fine Mess,"" a whimsical L.A. ghost story, is so sweet as to make one laugh tears. John Crowley's ""Gone"" fascinates: alien ""elmers"" seed hope in a desperate world, with the point of view that of a woman whose survivalist ex has absconded with the children. Bruce Holland Rogers explores intricate borders of mind and machine in his Nebula-winning ""Lifeboat on a Burning Sea."" Information never crowds out the natural life of these tales (the old SF excess). Rather, they sin, when they do, by an excess of sentiment. The formidable Gene Wolfe washes out with ""No Planets Strike,"" an offworld Christmas tale that reads like a draft, seeming to seek justification in its uplifting associations. Harlan Ellison delivers with his forceful prose and charming, tough dialogue a cookie-cutter story of Twilight Zone-ish comeuppance. In ""Quinn's Way,"" fantasist Dale Bailey vividly captures joys and torments of childhood, but his prose periodically goes purple: e.g., he provides three introductions. Is the craft sufficient to carry its load of sentiment? Often, yes, though sometimes a reader's tears will abort in a squint and a cock of the head. (Oct.)