(Disclaimer: English is my second language, so I want to apologize in advance for there may be mistakes in the text below. If you find any, please let me know so that I can correct it. I'd really appreciate it. Thanks.)
Review Soundtrack: I suggest reading this review while listening to I'm My Own Grandpaw by Lonzo and Oscar (Spotify, Youtube).
There is no denying that the table of contents of The Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Volume 2, is simply impressive. Harlan Ellison, Robert Silverberg, Robert Heinlein, Gene Wolfe, Stephen King, Brian Aldiss... Looking at all those names it is impossible not to harbor great expectations for this collection. After having read it, I can say that the book (almost) lives up to all the hype.
In fact, the first 40% of the collection is nearly perfect. I enjoyed each and every one of the stories, and I eagerly read one after another. "The Third Level," by Jack Finney; "The Country of the Kind," by Damon Knight; "Green Magic," by Jack Vance; "The Prize of Peril," by Robert Sheckley... are all excellent stories. But I was especially delighted by "Narrow Valley" by R.A. Lafferty and, above all, by "The Anything Box" by Zenna Henderson. Henderson's story is sweet, surprising and touching and it is easily my favorite one among those included in the book. Simply marvelous.
It is certainly curious how several of these stories focus on variations of the same topic, though they approach it quite differently. I'm thinking of the stories by Henderson, Finney, Lafferty, Ellison and even Silverberg, in which the characters are able to perceive something that might just not be there. I was very pleasantly surprised by this (possibly unintentional) connection among a number of really remarkable stories and it made enjoy them even more.
After this first excellent half, the book becomes more uneven. The average quality is still good, and you can find some gems ("The People of Sand and Slag," by Paolo Bacigalupi, for instance, is one my favorite stories of the last few years), but there were others that I couldn't get into or that I simply didn't like or care for. Your mileage may very well vary, for I'm talking about very famous and beloved stories such as "The Lincoln Train" by Maureen F. McHugh or "Maneki Neko" by Bruce Sterling.
The anthology, despite some weaker (in my humble opinion) stories, gives an excellent taste of the quality and variety of the tales that Fantasy & Science Fiction has been publishing over its 65 years of existence. The highest praise I can give to this book is that, even if it is by no means short, I finished it in less than four days (and that is a lot to say for me, since I am no fast reader).
All in all, I highly recommend reading The Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Volume 2. Those fans that are more veteran would surely have already read (probably many times) timeless (no pun intended) classics such as "- All You Zombies -" by Robert A. Heinlein or "Jefty is Five" by Harlan Ellison, but I'm sure they won't regret the chance of reading them once again. And those who still haven't enjoyed these and all the other stories included in the book are certainly in for a treat.