The Apex Book of World SF Vol 4 edited by Mahvesh Murad (part 1)
Posted September 19, 2015on:
published Aug 25, 2015
where I got it: receive review copy from the publisher (thanks Apex!)
Quick! how many anthology series can you count on one hand! Some of you probably need both hands and a foot. If you’re looking for a new anthology (or just want to read some compelling and fun fiction), allow me to introduce you to the Apex Books of World SF Volume 4, which showcase speculative fiction from around the globe. Lavie Tidhar edited the first three volumes, and he’s passed the reigns to Mahvesh Murad. I’ve read and reviewed the first and third volumes of this series (and I’ve got Vol 2 around here somewhere), and Lavie, I gotta tell you, Mahvesh put one helluva book together. You better make sure you’ve contracted her for at least three more of these! In more than 24 stories, this volume takes us from Pakistan to Israel to Mexico to Iceland to Bangladesh to Uganda to Singapore to Kenya and beyond.
Reading science fiction from elsewhere feels a little like reading mythology from elsewhere. Mythology doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and neither does speculative fiction. Both are affected by current and previous cultural mores, ecology, weather, local resources, politics, rivals, etc. Well, so is any kind of story telling, and science fiction is just another type of story to tell. And like mythology, people everywhere use fantastic fiction to explain something that seems like magic to the uninitiated. I used the term fantastic fiction because these stories bleed through and beyond the assumed limitations of science and even speculative fiction – in this collection you’ll find magical realism, mythology retellings, the languages of artificial intelligences, mourning practices, experimenting scientists, families torn apart, and more. A handful of these stores are available online, if you want a sample:
The Good Matter by Nene Ormes (at Io9)
Six Things We Found During the Autopsy by Kuzhali Manickavel (Apex Magazine issue 76)
The Four Generations of Chang E by Zen Cho
My absolute favorites in this anthology were Like a Coin Entrusted in Faith by Shimon Adaf and The Four Generations of Chang E, by Zen Cho. Here are my thoughts on those and a number of others. I’ve split this review into two parts, because I just had so much I wanted to say!
Setting up Home by Sabrina Huang – a very quick and very effective story in which an amnesiac man’s empty apartment slowly fills up with furniture, gifts, and household items. It’s quite magical actually. The final item is accompanied by a note from his father, explaining how this final gift should be “used”. There is a lack of overt context and background, but you’ll figure out what’s going on pretty quickly. I do wonder though, how the man will react when he figures out what’s happened.
In Her Head, In Her Eyes, by Yukimi Ogawa – young Hase is a servant girl at the compound of wealthy indigo dyers. She does her job, but everyone treats her cruelly. She claims to be from a mythical island, and here to learn about patterns, that she’s been tasked with bringing home as many patters as she can. What makes Hase so weird is that she wears a metal helmet that she never takes off. It covers her face, and can’t be pulled or pried off. Hase also seems to love being teased and treated badly, as to her, this is just another pattern. What’s really on her home island? When someone finally does she her face, that’s when the story really gets weird. Hase certainly did learn something from her time with the indigo dyers, and it’s not what anyone expected.
Djinns Live By The Sea, by Saad Z. Hossain – The protagonist sees a Djinn, and thinks he’s going crazy. So does everyone else. After eight months, the man quits telling people’s being haunted by a Djinn, and he starts trying to communicate with the ethereal being. It was neat, the conversations he has with the Djinn, about how human languages have changed over the centuries, about what the Djinn saw last time he was out of hibernation. They have these completely normal conversations! As part of a bargain, the Djinn takes the man to archaeological ruins to learn the secrets of the Djinn. The man has his wish granted, he learns a secret. He also learns that Djinn and Man have very different goals.
How My Father Became a God by Dilman Dila – Don’t all young people thing their parents are gods of some sort? When you’re a child your parents make magical things happen, they make wishes come true, they keep you safe. Akidi’s father is more curious scientist than god, but only a god would create things all day long, right? I don’t think her father would describe himself as a scientist, but that’s exactly what he is. His newest creation is a Bruka that needs a special sap in its heart to fly. But Akidi’s brothers don’t have patience with their father, they aren’t interested in solar ovens or weapons or any of his other failed inventions. They want wealth for their homestead, and that means marrying Akidi to a local wealthy farmer. If she can find the magical sap in time, maybe she won’t be forced to get married. this is the kind of story that makes me beg the protagonist to tell me the next chapter.
Like a Coin Entrusted in Faith by Shimon Adaf – My absolute favorite in the anthology. Not only did this story have gorgeous prose, but I connected to it in a very personal way. This story consists of e-mails back and forth between Doron and Tiberia, discussing language, poetry, artificial intelligence research, and ancient Jewish mystics. Woven between is the story of a Jewish midwife named Sultana, whose story is told nearly backwards. Why did she travel outside the city to deliver a demon baby? What happened to her father’s favorite student? What bargain did she make? Tiberia tests AI software by talking to it, and Doron is sharing ancient Hebrew myths with Tiberia because he’s trying to tell her something. They use the Hebrew calendar – this story doesn’t take place in the future, it takes place a few years ago, and when characters talk of the fall of Tel Aviv, the date they cite is ten years ago. It was neat, reading a story that weaves into my own culture. I don’t know the story of Sultana or Shlomo, but the names are familiar, these are syllables that taste familiar, although I’m embarrassed that the only word I knew from Sultana’s lullaby is “lilah”, which means night. When Tiberia uses the phrase “on my tongue the syllables of the month of Tishrey are rolling”, I know exactly what she means. I did, after all, read this story in early September, and those syllables (or at least the thoughts of them) were on the roof of my mouth, waiting to fall. As Sultana’s story grows in depth and detail, we learn that Doron’s research of a heretical rabbi could be directly connected to Akko’s research into a software language for artificial intelligence. But the AIs keep dying, or crashing, or something. Can an AI commit suicide? Can it decide that it doesn’t want to be a part of what’s happening? If words have power, what happens when you put those words into software and run it? The connections hinted at in this story felt a little like Ted Chiang, but more so like the shiver I get when reading stories of Jewish mysticism and what those people thought (or feared) they had discovered. What a happy surprise, to find a story in this anthology in which I understood the context and got the nuances.
Stay tuned for part 2 of this review!