A chat with Mahvesh Murad about the new Apex Book of World SF 4
Posted August 15, 2015on:
I’ve been following the Apex Book of World SF series for a while, and was thrilled when the fourth volume was announced. The series had previously been edited by Lavie Tidhar, and now the editing reins have been passed to Mahvesh Murad. A new editor can mean a new direction, and a new style. No matter the direction, readers are guaranteed a mind bending taste of speculative fiction from around the world, including stories from Spain, Sweden, Kenya, Uganda, Taiwan, Japan, India, Israel, Greece, Iceland, Pakistan, Philippines, Czech Republic and more. The Apex Book of World SF Vol 4 hits bookstore shelves and e-readers on August 25th. Wanna pre-order? Click here to order direct from Apex Publications*.
If you’re looking to read beyond your geographic horizon, this anthology series is a great place to start. And yes, it’s an anthology series, but it’s not a series. You can start anywhere.
Mahvesh Murad was kind enough to give me a behind the scenes look into her editing process for this new volume. And then we got on some tangents, and talked about radio, her new podcast Midnight in Karachi, and her Dragonlance reread over at tor.com. After the interview, I’ve got some links to reviews to previous volumes in the World SF series so you can see what others (including me) thought of this anthology.
let’s get to the interview!
Little Red Reviewer: Tell us a little about the behind the scenes selection process for this anthology. Were there open submissions? Did you solicit stories from authors you already knew? What if you wanted to purchase a story that didn’t yet have an English translation?
Mahvesh Murad: The Apex Book of World SF is primarily a reprint anthology so we looked at work already published in various anthologies or online all over the world. There weren’t open submissions as such, no, but we did reach out to editors we knew who had worked on or curated stories from writers outside of the US/UK mainstream to see if they had stories we could look at. There were some stories I knew I wanted as soon as we started because I’d read them recently and they had left their mark, so we reached out directly to those writers, specifically about certain stories.
We have a few translations in this volume but none were translated for the anthology. If a story didn’t have an English translation, chances are I wouldn’t be able to read it so wouldn’t know if I wanted it or not:). It would be fantastic for this anthology to grow to a point where we can commission translations though!
LRR: What are some of your favorite stories from the new anthology?
MM: Oh come now, you don’t really expect me to play favourites, do you?
LRR: Any unexpected or funny anecdotes from the editing process?
MM: So once we had signed contracts etc, Lavie shared some Google spreadsheets with me, with a few suggestions of stories he had been thinking of earlier but mainly for me to fill in with my ToC. Until a few months ago, something between our two versions of the spreadsheet wasn’t updating correctly and Lavie wasn’t able to see any of what I’d picked. He assumed I hadn’t picked anything and was still reading and it was beginning to make him a little nervous. We had a very strange, kind of stilted conversation over Gchat one day in which he desperately wanted to know what was going on but didn’t want to bully me and I didn’t understand what he was being so odd about, until eventually he said well, if you like such and such story, why dont’ we add it to the spreadsheet so we can start our ToC? I was about 20 stories deep into the ToC by then, so I assumed he was veto-ing everything I’d picked.
Clearly, we managed to sort that out. I think I’ll be telling this story for many months because I’ve never known Lavie to be nervous the way he was when he thought I’d done nothing about the ToC.
LRR: Everyone has to start somewhere, and I know there are readers out there for whom this anthology will be their first exposure to international speculative fiction. what should those readers expect? what do you hope they will get out of reading this, or any Apex Book of World SF?
MM: There is sometimes this idea that speculative fiction or even SF/F exists only in certain parts of the world, or that genre writing has to be a certain way because that way is what is best known. We all grow up with fantasy: every single person in the world does at some level or the other because every culture has indigenous stories that are what we now call fantasy, be it fairies or jinns or tokoloshe. So I’m hoping these stories will do what all good stories do – open windows into worlds and cultures that each reader has so far not been able to imagine or empathise with.
LRR: My dream international anthology would be multi-lingual, with one side of the page being the reader’s native language (English, in my case), and the other side of the page being the original language the story was written in. Knowing the story was right there, for me to enjoy in it’s original tongue would hopefully encourage me, and maybe other readers to learn another language. Do you think an anthology printed in such a fashion is possible? Would it be practical?
MM: That’s an interesting thought. I’m not sure it’s something that would encourage me to learn another language, to be honest. I have enough trouble keeping the ones I speak in order in my head already and making sure I don’t swap tracks mid conversation! Anything is possible of course, but I’m not certain about the practical aspect here. Perhaps there could be original versions online or elsewhere for every translation printed in the anthology?
LRR: Beyond the Apex Book of World SF anthology series, you’re involved in plenty of other incredible projects. You got your start in radio nearly a decade ago. Tell us a little about “89 Chapters”, the book show you hosted and produced. How did the show get started? Why are radio shows, and especially shows about reading and books, important?
MM: I used to work in TV. That was terrible – or maybe I was just terrible at it. The switch to radio was a revelation – it was suddenly so much fun. I think “89 Chapters” started with a colleague (I think?) saying ‘you should do a book show’ each time I talked about books (very often!), which evidently the then-CEO thought was a good idea. It was really great interacting with people on live radio, but also pretty scary. Some threatening things happened that lead me to censoring myself a lot, and censoring my interviews too which I hated, but to be honest it becomes second nature frighteningly fast. In fact, I think I’m still learning how not to censor myself on the podcast. Wow, I can talk about sex! About religion! Amazing.
But seriously – of course shows about reading and books are important. Everything about reading and books is important! Via radio, especially music radio, you’re reaching out to a massive market that may not be directly interested in literature or news about books but there’s so much you can do to interest them in stories that are new and revelatory. I personally just want people to be more open minded about everything, especially in Pakistan, and I really hoped that reading books they may not ordinarily have read would help them expand their comfort zone.
LRR: Bringing your audio talents to the interwebs, you now run the Midnight in Karachi podcast at Tor.com. How did this podcast get started? Do you have a favorite episode? What are your long term goals for the podcast?
MM: Sadly the radio show was cancelled after 7 consecutive years because the new boss didn’t think people wanted to hear ‘smart’ things on music radio. I was pretty devastated, as you can imagine but I did know it was coming. I had thought doing a show with GRRM would buy me more time but they axed the show literally hours after I finished the edit on the GRRM interview. Harsh, right? I had recently been to WorldCon in London at that point and met some lovely, lovely people with whom I had only interacted with over email or Twitter before and so so many of them wrote to me offering suggestions and ideas on how I should keep doing what I was doing – it was an overwhelming amount of support. Justin Landon, who hosts Rocket Talk also at tor.com suggested I talk to Irene Gallo at Tor, which I did and Irene was just so wonderful about it. Can I just mention here that the tor.com people are just the best in the whole wide world?
I can’t pick a favourite episode! I love talking to writers, I love their stories, I love their energy, I love their curiosity. Some of the people I interview are those I have interviewed before or interacted with before but sometimes I get to talk to someone I have never had much contact with and yet get along really well with, and we end up talking a lot off air – those conversations leave me buzzing with energy for days.
Long term goals? Right now I’m just trying to work out how to interview Margaret Atwood and Ursula le Guin, for starters!
LRR: Who are some of your favorite authors? Give us some recommendations of novels and or short stories you’ve enjoyed recently.
MM: I’ll never tire of Margaret Atwood or Angela Carter or Diana Wynne Jones or Toni Morrison. In the last couple of weeks I’ve really enjoyed NK Jemisin’s The Fifth Season, Kate Elliot’s Court of Fives, China Mieville’s Three Moments of an Explosion and one of the new tor.com novellas, Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti.
LRR: How are you enjoying the Dragons of Autumn Twilight? It’s been ages since I read that series. Have any interesting conversations come out of this reread, either between you and Jared, or in the comments?
MM: I haven’t read any of the Dragonlance books since I was a teenager either. Many things are coming as a revelation to me – the fact that I now know these books to be one module of an exiting game, for instance. I grew up in Karachi in the 80s, the only table top games we knew were things like Ludo and Monopoly! Of course, I’m also reading with an entirely different lens now – I know what plot holes are now, I can vocalise why some things feel wrong, or why the pacing of certain chapters feels right. That may not be fair to Dragonlance, given it was written to support the games way back when, but hey, we readers bring our own baggage, good or bad, to everything that’s lasted over years, don’t we?
Jared and I haven’t yet had a massive disagreement on anything. Isn’t that boring? We should do something about that! He did point out to me that Laurana appears to be not white…she’s described as ‘woodland brown’. Is she one of my people? Does that mean all the elves are? But what would Tolkien say?!
LRR: Thanks Mahvesh!
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Check out these review of the previous World SF anthologies:
∗Full disclosure – I am a non-fiction contributor to Apex Magazine.