The typical speculative fiction anthology of original material that appears on shelves these days is a selection of stories intended to reach a particular niche of readers while finding as many tangents within that niche as possible to avoid monotony. The themed anthology self-limiting, rarely do great or superb anthologies appear, average to slightly above average the usual result. It is the retrospective anthology, with its ability to glean the years for quality stories, that has a chance at greatness. If you’re the editor of Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazine, well, the possibilities are all the brighter. The magazine publishing speculative fiction for more than half a century, and best-of every five to ten years since 1970, in 1999 Gordon van Gelder took the reins from Edward L. Ferman and produced a 50th Anniversary edition from the magazine’s backlog. A success, he came back with another ‘very best of’ selection of stories in 2009 for the 60th anniversary anthology. The magazine’s archives deep (perhaps like no other magazine can boast) and van Gelder's editorial skills consistent, the 60th is just as consistently good as the 50th. (And for the record, so is the 65th.)
The anthology opens on a scattershot shot of color from the genre’s past. Three stories in a row—rat-a-tat-tat—anticipate the reader’s hopes all will be as good. “Of Time and Third Avenue” by Alfred Bester is the result of an author trying to write the best time travel story, ever. A brief few pages, indeed it is a perfect little specimen (for whatever it’s worth) written in Bester’s supremely confident, dynamic hand that captures one magical possibility of time travel. “All Summer in a Day” by Ray Bradbury is a tiny, sparkling jewel of a story. A breathtaking moment of juxtaposed beauty and pain, the rain does stop falling on Venus—but only for a moment. “One Ordinary Day, with Peanuts” by Shirley Jackson is a charming and delightful story of a man who… well, it’s best just to read the story and find out. A bit of post-WWII Americana, its sentiment produces nostalgia for simpler days.