BOOK REVIEW: The Apex Book of World SF: Volume 4

Short story collections need to have a theme. They need to have a purpose. Something that binds them together. Especially those by different authors. A book of random short stories might as well be a pick n mix chosen by someone who doesn’t know what your tastes are. Picking up short story collections in the past has driven me to read more works by authors I wasn’t familiar with, so as I started reading The Apex Book of World SF: Volume 4 I was hoping for a selection of treats to my taste and some potential new authors to hunt down.

Now firmly established as the benchmark anthology series of international speculative fiction, volume 4 of The Apex Book of World SF sees debut editor Mahvesh Murad bring fresh new eyes to her selection of stories.

This collection is the first volume in the series to be edited by book critic and self-confessed ‘recovering radio show host’ Mahvesh Murad who writes for Tor.com amongst others, with series editor Lavie Tidhar (editor of the first 3 volumes, and writer of the excellent A Man Lies Dreaming, and The Violent Century). It is important that the authors in these collections have a voice that supports them and an opportunity to be read; not because they are necessarily the best at what they do, but because they often have a unique perspective not commonly found amongst the bookshelves on the local bookshop or library. It is also important to note that the SF in title is not science fiction, but speculative fiction. What we have here is a collection of science fiction, fantasy, mythology, horror and what if?

This collection is not defined by specific theme or particular style, or even a thread of ideas. Writers here represent classical story-telling prose; a little experimentation; new and old mythology; weird fiction; far future science fiction; Europe, Africa, Asia, Americas, eastern philosophy and western ideology. Inevitably, some work for me better than others, but there’s not a bad piece amongst them.

There are 28 stories, ranging from a few pages such as Setting up home by Taiwanese Sabrina Huang (a Dad’s magical gift to his son) to the longer, and my personal favourite in the collection, The Boy Who Cast No Shadow. This story, by the Dutchman Thomas Olde Heuvelt, is a delightful tale of an outsider growing up and finding friendship in someone as equally different. Without going through every story here, there is also Spanish steampunk, Bulgarian meditation on death, Ugandan mythology, Italian horror and Mexican end-of-the world drama. My other favourites are:

Kuzhali Manickavel (India): Six Things We Found During the Autopsy, in which a dead woman has a spectacular autopsy, in short descriptive sections.

Chinelo Onwualu (Nigeria): The Gift of Touch, in which Bruno has a spaceship and a big gun called Jane (surely a nod to Firefly) and those aboard speculates on the nature of creation.

Yukimi Ogawa (Japan): In Her Head, In Her Eyes, in which Hase wears a pot on her head and no-one knows why.

Johann Thorsson (Iceland): First, Bite a Finger, in which finger food takes on a whole new meaning.

Saad Z. Hossain (Bangaldesh): Djinns Live by the Sea, in which a Djinn is given an unusual role in a man’s life, and who has a secret to pass on.

Sathya Stone (Sri Lanka): Jinki and the Paradox, in which Jinki learns about both life in the colony and maths from Alice in Wonderland, Mr Quest and the Trickster.

Julie Novakova (Czech Republic): The Symphony of Ice and Dust, in which a mission to Sedna in the far future reveals a surprising secret.

Isabel Yap (Philippines): A Cup of Salt Tears, in which a monster falls in love.

There are plenty of other stories here to intrigue and delight. Different styles of storytelling, different perspectives to what you might find western speculative fiction. Some have slow reveals, others get to the point. Some are subverted, others with the typical short-story reveal at the end. There really is something for everyone. Nothing seems tired or clichéd. Even the more traditional ideas weren’t something I’ve read before.

I love something different, something unusual; a new way to tell a story. I also enjoy the classic tale, well told. There is something for each of my tastes here, and there should be something for every other fan of SF. Speculative fiction is not the domain of west. Far from it. Those in the know will revel in this collection. Those new to it should find plenty of tasty treats. My favourites won’t be your favourites, but favourites you will indeed find. While the order presented works well enough, and not all the stories hit the really high notes, it is the concept of the Apex publication and the work of Tidhar and Murad that should be praised, and therefore it is more than worth your time exploring these works. This is a collection worthy of the concept. Now, I’m off to find more works from Heuvelt, Yap, Novakova and others.

Editor: Mahvesh Murad
PUBLISHER: Apex Publications

Rating: 4/5

Reviewer: Ian J Simpson

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