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Archive for the ‘Apex Books’ Category

Nexhuman by Francesco Verso

Publishing date Aug 14th, 2018 (click here to pre-order)

Where I got it: Received copy for review from Apex Books*

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#sorrynotsorry, I’m going to give you a spoiler right out of the gate:

 

Nexhuman will offer you enough ideas and discussion topics and thought experiments to keep you busy for the next ten years. In fact, an entire Convention programming track could be built just around the questions and ideas in this book.

 

What Nexhuman does not offer is concrete answers to any of the questions that are brought up.

 

It’s something you should know before you pick up this book: If you are the kind of reader who wants a book to ask questions and then cleanly answer them, Nexhuman will be one confusing and disappointing read.  On the flip side, if you enjoy science fiction books that ask questions about how society works, why humans act the way they do, why we make the decisions we make, how obsession and fear and passion work, a book that invites you to pull your own thoughts apart and examine them, and oh  yeah, if you love beautiful prose that doesn’t rely on snark to get a point across, Nexhuman could be the best book you read this year. Interested in how any of this came about? Francesco Verso recently published a short essay in Apex Magazine about the origins of the novel.

 

Another spoiler: Nexhuman does not at all read like your typical popular American-style science fiction novel. What I mean by that is there is no snarky language for the sake of being snarky or shocky,  no sexy cinematic scenes, the language is often raw and blunt, and the characters don’t really care if you like, agree with, relate to, or sympathize with them. I mean no disrespect to science fiction when I say that Nexhuman reads like literature.

 

Most of the novel takes place in or around a dump that overflows with consumer goods. For me, this novel was a connecting keystone for works such as Battle Angel Alita, Wall-E, John Scalzi’s Lock In, Ferrett Steinmetz’s The Uploaded, David Brin’s Kiln People, and other stories that touch on hyperconsumerism and leaving our fleshbodies behind for one reason or another.

 

Peter and his family make their living by clawing through the trash to find bits and pieces that can be resold, recycled, reused. Many household items are 5th, 6th, nth hand. Having something that is brand new is a status symbol, but also a symbol of flagrant waste.  Even Peter’s prosthetic limbs are made of whatever he can find in the dump. If he wants a better arm or a better leg, he better hit the jackpot of finding outdated robot or android parts in the dump. I spent 80% of the book wondering if he was born with a birth defect, or if there had been an accident or infection that led to his amputations. Peter doesn’t like to talk about, and when I found how what had happened to him,  not only did I realize why he hates to talk about it, but everything in the beginning of the book suddenly made a ton more sense!

 

Ok, so what the hell is this book about?  On the edge of the dump is a commercial district. Teenage Peter has a puppy-dog crush on a young woman named Alba who works at the travel agency. He watches her from afar, he shyly says hello to her when she comes to unlock the business in the morning.   He begins to view himself as her protector. She politely engages in conversation with him, asks him how his day is going, says hello. Alba is the first person in his life who has ever shown him the slightest bit of unconditional kindness, so it’s no wonder his crush turns into infatuation.

 

Is it before or after Peter’s brother’s gang attacks Alba and tears her body apart at the seams that Peter realizes she is a Nexhuman?

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Winterglass, by Benjanun Sriduangkaew

Published in December, 2017

where I got it: Received e-ARC, then immediately ordered the paperback

 

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I have been a fan of Benjanun Sriduangkaew since I read her short story of “The Bees Her Heart, The Hive Her Belly”, which appeared in Mike Allen’s Clockwork Phoenix Vol 4, in the summer of 2013. That story involved a grafting of animal habitat into human (literally), and the prose was poetically effervescent.  I’ve been seeking out Sriduangkaew’s  work ever since, knowing that every time she puts out new fiction that I am in for a unique treat.   Oh, you’ve never read her before? That’s no problem, as Winterglass is a stand alone novella available in print and e-book format.  You can catch up on everything else later.

 

For such a slender novella, Sriduangkaew deftly weaves a number of unspoken conversations into a story that at first blush, is simply a story of political intrigue laced with romance.  There is the conversation about  General Lussadh, who was once a crown prince, and is now a traitor to her homeland, yet still believes she can be redeemed.  There is the conversation about the gladiator Nuawa, who has been speaking and thinking in doubletalk so long now that it no longer matters who the spies are. There are unspoken conversations about assimilation, shame, and jealousy.

 

Simmering just beneath the surface, and so obvious that not a single character needs to (or will risk) mentioning it, is the conversation of colonialism and forced assimilation through climate change.  At first, you won’t even see these conversations, as they are slippery and easily hidden by characters who would prefer to speak of anything else. And thanks to the symphonically beautiful prose, you’ll think you’re just reading some fairy tale type story that takes place in the fantasy city-state of Sirapirat.

 

Did I mention this is a retelling and re-interpreted version of the fairy tale The Snow Queen?  And that the descriptions of food are so amazing that I am waiting with baited breath for the companion cookbook?

 

If  Yoon Ha Lee’s Raven Strategem, Ellen Kushner’s Swordspoint, and Robert Jackson Bennett’s City of Blades had a love child, that booklovechild would flirtatiously steal glances at Winterglass from across the room.  I imagine they would communicate their interest in each other through a system of cybernetic hummingbirds.

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apex-world-sf-volume-4I’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!

mahvesh murad

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?

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apex book of world SF 3The Apex Book of World SF 3, edited by Lavie Tidhar

published June 2014

where I got it: received review copy from the publisher (Thanks Apex!)

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This newest anthology from Apex opens with  poetic visuals and then gently whirls around the planet – touching on ghost stories, political skewerings, the surreal and the horrific, and finally the whimsical. This is Lavie Tidhar’s third World Book of SF, and if you are looking to expand your international speculative fiction reading, this series of anthologies is a perfect place to start.

 

I love that we are getting more and more World Science Fiction. When I read the first Apex Book of World SF, I think I recognized two authors in the Table of Contents. I’m not suggesting you read a particular anthology only because you recognize names in the ToC, but my point is that it’s nice to see more and more non-anglo and non-Western authors known more widely every year. You’re sure to recognize a number of authors in the ToC of the third volume in this series: Benjanun Sriduangkaew is on this year’s Hugo ballot,  Karin Tidbeck garnered a lot of attention for her 2012 collection Jagannath, Xia Jia and Ma Boyong’s stories were originally published in Clarkesworld, and Biram Mboob and Uko Bendi Udo’s stories first appeared in Afro SF.

 

For the most part, the stories are subtle and understated, often with meanings that bloom in your mind a few hours or days after the reading, (excepting of course, City of Silence, which bashes you over the head in a darkly humorous way with what’s going on). The prose is often lush and poetic, with slang terms that taste exotic and  maywill have you googling a word to learn what it means. And it’s ok if you don’t know all the words you come across.  Aren’t we reading science fiction because we want to learn something new?

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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