I like Lavie Tidhar for 3 reasons
1) He writes well, very well.
2) he’s fun to have a drink with
3) With this book he jumped into my mind, read it and produced something I’ve wanted to see for a while
I also like Apex publishing because they allowed and enabled him to do this.
Ok I’d better slow down and start at the beginning.
Apex with editor Lavie Tidhar have produced the first volume Of a series entitled The Apex Book of World SF.
Let me get my first problem with this volume out of the way right at the start. I’m a huge science fiction fan but with 2 young children and a freelance career, reading time is hard to come by. This means that my finger is not really on the pulse, literary wise and I was a little bit fooled by the title. I was expecting a book of science fiction stories but as evidenced by a lot of the books nominated for SF awards these days – the S no longer stands for Science. It stands for Speculative. Essentially this means that these stories may be scifi, they may be fantasy or horror or a number of descriptions that play with our genre expectations.
I have no problem with this really as I just love imaginative and reality twisting storytelling. Just know that this is not a plain old science fiction collection. This problem has less to do with this book and is really a bigger discussion waiting to happen about literary and marketing trends.
So what is this book. it’s a collection of 16 short stories from SF writers around the globe. Stories that you might not normally see in the US or the UK, some of which have required translation to be printed. It’s lovely to have different voices to whisper in your ear. These voices have the power to describe places that I have only seen in pictures, if at all; and to fill them with life, vibrancy and the familiarity of first hand experience. This volume features authors from Thailand, Israel, the Netherlands, China,the Philippines, Australia/Fiji, Palestine, Malaysia, France, Croatia, India and Serbia. In a world which constantly tries to rectify diversity issues, Tidhar and Apex have quietly shown us that true diversity is simply reflecting the world we live in. That being said, there is a glaring racial omission here, but Tidhar fully aware, corrects this in volume 2.
So it’s quite obvious that the concept has made me happy in a special way but is the content any good?
The stories are a multifaceted selection which range in tone from absurdist character journeys, to poetical fairy tales to whimsical explorations of the universe, and dip into the world of the online gamer, to name but a few.
It is to be noted that of the 16 stories only 2 of them failed to resonate with me which I think is a damn good ratio for such a collection. Unfortunately one of them was the first in the book which slowed down my consumption of it. To its credit it wasn’t a bad story, it was in fact quite well written but just didn’t seem ‘ speculative’ enough. Despite it being about the narrators encounter with a serial killer it didn’t really go anywhere. Similarly into the night was a lovely story of an old mans inability to assimilate the modern world but despite speculative props it suffered from the same malady.
Aleksandar Žiljak’s, “An evening in a coffeehouse with Lydia” provided a brilliant porn fuelled premise with a great conclusion but something about its prepress ion to that conclusion seemed a little rushed to me. I suspect my opinion of it may improve with a re-read.
Conversely I was utterly charmed by the whimsical nature of Han Song’s,”The Wheel of Samsara”, in which science attempts to solve a mystical problem with interesting consequences. Also charming is the fairy tale like, The Kite of Stars, which was heartbreakingly lovely and bizarre
The classic straight out horror of Tunku Halim’s “Biggest Baddest Bomoh” was exacerbated by the superb existential horror of Nir Yaniv’s “Cinderers” both wonderfully balanced by another genre template, that of the hard boiled detective of Aliette de Bodards “The Lost Xuyan Bride; a story set in the world of de Bodards existing novels.
Whilst I cannot comment on Mélanie Fazi’s “Elegy” which I could not complete for personal reasons, Zoran Živković’s—“Compartments” forms a perfect book ender with its Godot-esque explorations
I haven’t mentioned every story here but suffice it to say that this book is well balanced in terms of genre selection and in reflecting a global SF conglomerate – a melding of distinct voices. This is a project that brings the ‘other’ into focus, both on and off the page, and after all what better place for that kind of work but right here.