the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘speculative fiction

apex-world-sf-volume-4The Apex Book of World SF, Vol 4, edited by Mahvesh Murad

published Aug 25, 2015

where I got it: receive review copy from the publisher (thanks Apex!)

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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.

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the best Japanese science fictionThe Best Japanese Science Fiction Stories, edited by John L. Apostolou and Martin H. Greenberg

published in 1989

where I got it: purchased used

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Although this anthology was published in 1989, translation of included works began in the 70s when anthologists Judith Merrill, Grania Davis and Martin Greenburg, and editor and fan of Japanese literature John L Apostolou spent what would end up being nearly a decade of intense work with Japanese authors and translators of science fiction.

 

The planet is much smaller now, but try to put yourself into the mindset of an American in the 1980s.  What came to their mind when they thought “Japanese Science Fiction”? Godzilla? Astroboy? Remember, manga and anime were barely available if at all, and very few Japanese speculative fiction novels had been translated at the time.   I count myself very lucky to be reading speculative fiction in a day and age when magazines and anthologies and e-zines are printing works from all over the world, where fans clamor for translated works, where I can walk into Barnes and Noble and buy Manga that was published last month in Japan.  E-mail and Skype and Twitter make communicating across the planet as easy as shouting across the room, but that interest had to come from somewhere. I like to believe that some of it came from this anthology.  If you can find a copy of this collection (there are plenty of used copies available on Amazon), I highly recommend it.

 

I don’t care if this sounds cliche, but I love that science fiction means different things to different people.  Everything is contextual and cultural, and what you grew up with is going to shape your SFnal dreams.  I grew up in a suburban land of plenty.  Many of the authors in this anthology lived through Hiroshima. Quite the difference in experience there.  For the most part, these are not stories of first contact with aliens, they are not stories or space exploration or adventure, there is no futuristic technobabble and little gadgetry to speak of. They are intimate and low stakes, often ominous, everything from laugh out loud funny to horrifically hard to read, more fantastical than SF. But still, all of them are worth the read. Check out Two Dudes in an Attic’s review as well.

 

Here are a few words on my favorites:

 

Cardboard Box by Ryo Hanmura (1974) – These self aware cardboard boxes are seeking to fulfill their destinies – to be completely filled up. Because of course, what else would be the purpose of a box? Filled with fruit, and enroute to a grocery store, the boxes on the truck discuss what might happen to them after their fruit is removed. Will they be reused? Will they be thrown into the incinerator? broken down and stomped on and put in the trash? Their yearning to be completely filled up is hilariously sexual, and one box does in fact, become completely filled by taking an unexpected and possibly deadly path. Good luck getting through this story without laughing your head off and not blushing next time you put stuff in a box.

 

The Road To The Sea, by Takashi Ishikawa (1981) – A little boy runs away from home, insistent on seeing the sea. He’s seen pictures of it in books, how far away could it possibly be?  People he meets on his way try to convince him to go back home, but the child is determined to see the sea. This story put me a bit in mind of Cecil Castellucci’s We Have Always Lived on Mars.

 

The Savage Mouth, by Sakyo Komatsu (1979) – At first, I thought the protagonist was planning to, or threatening to commit suicide. And then we get a look at the room in which he will undertake his procedure, which includes an automated operating table, a stack of prosthetics, and a restaurant quality kitchen, complete with seasonings and cast iron frying pans.  This is one helluva gag reflex triggering horror story, with extra pressure coming because you can’t believe anyone would actually *do* this to themselves.  First, he amputates his leg, and attaches a prosthetic.  Think about that fully equiped kitchen, and I’ll bet you can guess what happens next.  One of his many justifications is that he’s not using the planet’s diminishing resources, he not eating an animal, he’s not harming other animals to feed himself.  Like some people get addicted to piercings or getting tattoos, our protagonist gets addicted, in a way, to his slow self immolation.  But he is sustaining himself with calories, and planning the next steps in the most scientific way possible. So, is it suicide or science? No one has ever done what he’s doing, no one has ever survived it. he could be the first person to taste his own eyeball, his own lung tissue, his own brain tissue!  By the time the cops find the lab, there isn’t anything left of him to put to questioning, and the cops assume some kind of sick murderer tortured his victim.  Like I said, gag reflex triggering horror story.

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Clockwork Phoenix 4, Edited by Mike Allen

Available July 2013

where I got it: received review copy from the editor (thanks Mike!!)

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What kind of stories will you find in Clockwork Phoenix 4? Only those are that are magical, imaginative, heartwrenching, just plain bizarre, forward-looking, backward-looking, biological, romantic, hopeful, darkly funny and openly frightening. All the words that describe the best speculative fiction you’ve ever read apply. In fact, if this isn’t the epitome of speculative fiction, I don’t know what is.

Mike recently did an interview with me over at BSBB, and I asked him about the job of an editor. Among other things, he described it as being similar to being the director of a play. Did you recently see a play or a movie that was more than the sum of its parts? How about a musical that was only 2 hours long, but seemed to have weeks of song in it? That’s what Clockwork Phoenix feels like, like time has been frozen, allowing Allen to cram far more beautiful strange things than the laws of physics should permit in less than 300 pages. Allen is a dude who really, really knows how to direct.

I used to always read anthologies in the order the stories were presented. I started liking anthologies much better after I decided I’d read the stories in any damn order I wanted (usually starting with the shortest). I know Mike Allen put these stories in this particular order, for a particular reason, and by reading them out of order it’s like I’m going through his carefully curated museum backwards. To be even more contrary, the order I’ve reviewed a handful of stories in isn’t the order they were presented in either.

I’ve not read much from most of the authors in this collection, so I greatly appreciated the “Pinions” section in the back, where each other offers a short bio, and more importantly a little snippet about how their story came to be. It was very nice to read that Corrine Duyvis is an arachnophobe.

Here are my thoughts on a handful of selected entries. This is just the smallest taste of what awaits you within these pages. Where available, click on the author’s name to visit their website.

The Old Woman With No Teeth by Patricia Russo – The Old Woman has hired someone to transcribe her story, but since he keeps getting things wrong she interrupts and tells him what he aught to be writing down. Their interaction is hilarious, but her story starts out sadly. The Old Woman is very lonely, and wants a family. She goes into the city to find orphans who might want to be adopted, and instead finds another population that is in more dire need of being wanted. It’s a little jarring how the story goes from a fantasy-feel to a matter-of-fact feel, but in the end it all works out.

Beach Bum and the Drowned Girl by Richard Parks – what happens when two story cliches meet each other? Beach Bum is the mysterious guy the female protagonist always meets in the story, maybe to fall in love with, maybe to learn something from, maybe to be hurt by, maybe just to watch. Drowned Girl is the dead girl the investigator always finds, the mystery to be solved, the child to be saved. And who knows? Maybe Beach Bum and Drowned Girl can help each other out and learn from each other. It couldn’t hurt to chat with another cliché, could it?

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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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