Thank God for people like Bryan Cholfin, who became a publisher so more of his favorite writers could see print, who carried the brilliant but overlooked SF magazine CRANK! on his shoulders, and who somehow convinced Tor Books to publish this similarly great but commercially suicidal anthology. Because of people like him, science fiction still stands a chance of overcoming the inbred, stagnant, bad-joke image it has somewhat deservedly acquired in the world of literature. Cholfin has bravely decided to publish good, thoughtful stuff by authors who obviously think about things besides science fiction; although he includes Ursula Le Guin, Gene Wolfe, and Brian Aldiss, who can be found on "sci-fi" racks, their work has always been quieter, more thoughtful, and more human than that of their peers. Jonathan Lethem, reasonably successful author of the fantastic novel Gun, With Occasional Music, is the cornerstone of this collection; among his three stories is a lovely, gloomy speculation on a mood-based economy. But most readers probably won't have heard of the others, which is a shame. There's a rowdy little yarn about the nature of intelligence by R.A. Lafferty, a literary genius who might have been a million-seller had his work been called "magic realism." As it is, there are only about a thousand hardcore Lafferty fans in the country, though most of those people publish his work on their own small presses in their spare time. Michael Bishop is pretty obscure, but his theological/legal drama about the simulated trial of Judas Iscariot is pure, unalloyed genius. All 17 stories are surprisingly good, even—perhaps especially—to those who consider themselves fans already. Those who don't will probably be forced to admit that even the material they didn't like still made them think. With the publication of The Best Of CRANK!, Cholfin may have achieved his dream of helping return science fiction to the literature of ideas—a true literature, of all ideas.
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