the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘surreal

apex book of world SF 3

You know I wasn’t going to keep you waiting forever, right?  yesterday I start talking about my favorite stories in the next Apex Book of World SF, and I just couldn’t jam all my favorites into one post!  So here’s the rest of my favorite stories:

 

“Jungle Fever” by Zulaikha Nurain Mudzar  was a satisfyingly enjoyable horror story which starts with a scratchy plant.  After reading this I’m going to wear garden gloves every day outside, even if I’m just watering the tomato plant!  Sailin gets a scratch, which turns into a wound, which turns her into something else all together. this is not how she planned on getting revenge on her abusive uncle, but well, what are you going to do?  As the disease progresses, she keeps enough of her mind to see what she’s doing, but it’s like she’s watching from outside her body.  Since she doesn’t narrate the worst parts, either she’s in complete denial, or she’s so detached that she’s not aware of what’s happening in those moments, or she doesn’t want the reader to know the gross details of what’s she’s done.  Someone has got to have a cure, but when she finds a physician, she’s terrified of what he might do to her. I appreciated that Sailin never became a mindless zombie. She might not be herself anymore, but the reader consistently sees her as a  human, as someone deserving of our compassion. Or at least, we might be compassionate towards her so long as she eats someone else. . .

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authorityAuthority by Jeff Vandermeer (Southern Reach #2)

published May 6 2014

where I got it: purchased new

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WARNING: there are some minor spoilers here for the first book in the series, Annihilation.  If you have not read that book (but are planning to), you may want to skip this entire article.  If you’ve read just the first book in the series (or are planning to), check out this unbelievably awesome annotated excerpt from Annihilation, complete with cool pictures and commentary!

all warned?  let’s get to the review.

 

Reading the Southern Reach books is a little like a fantasy visit to Area X.  Each turn of the page is another step closer to the lighthouse, each rock turned over is another secret unearthed.  It’s a fantasy trip to Area X because I can close the book and believe I am safe.  It goes without saying, but you need to read these books in order. Annihilation will tell you what to look for in Authority. Although there is very little overlap in characters, you can’t skip any steps here. You need the warnings from the first book to know what tics to look for, what patterns to watch for in the second.

 

Tics and patterns are a little like moles and freckles on your skin.  I don’t worry about the moles and freckles that have always looked exactly the same. But the ones that change, the ones that don’t match the pattern, those are the ones to show the doctor.  Annihilation taught me what to look for. Authority allowed me to put what I’d learned into practice.  Annihilation was the warning, Authority is the beginnings of a diagnosis.

 

The story follows John Rodriguez,  the incoming  Director for the Southern Reach, the government agency that maintains Area X. He’s no stranger to agency work, as his mother is a high ranking spook handler, and she’s helped him out of a few more pickles than he’d like to admit.  As a child, John’s grandfather nicknamed him “Control”, and the name stuck. As he’s introduced to the staff members of the office building, he tells everyone to call him “Control”, and they do.

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The Apex Book of World SF, edited by Lavie Tidhar

published in 2009

where I got it: purchased new

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I recently picked up both of the Apex Books of World SF.  I’ve had my eye on these anthologies for quite a while now.  Up till now, I’ve mostly read books by Americans, Canadians, UK’ers, and a few Australians. It’s time to widen my horizons, don’t you think?

The Apex Book of World SF offers a variety of types of stories, from the surreal to the relatively mundane, and some, such as Elegy and Compartments felt like they were completely outside of time, as if taking place in a world and a language that only have present tense. In many stories, names were left out, characters were just “the daughter”, or “the conductor”, or “the girl”. In English, we seem to have an obsession with naming things, we enjoy naming things, we enjoy giving each character a name that fits that person, we write entire stories that focus around naming.  In this collection enjoyed running into so many stores where the priority for what to name was so different. I imagine there was some context there that I missed, something of an implied title or connotation in “the girl”, or “the father”, something our English spellings aren’t quite equipped for.  But that’s all okay.

As with any anthology, there were a few entries that didn’t do much for me, but for the most part, the Apex Book of World SF was a winner.  I found myself rereading many of the stories, especially Compartments and Transcendence Express.  Somtow’s The Bird Catcher was a special treat, made only more terrifying after I did some further research.

Were there  cultural references that I missed in these stories? To be sure. Foods, or holidays, or colors of clothing, or being barefoot, or being a certain religion, or urban legends, these are all things that would register with anyone who grew up on that culture, but didn’t register with me because I didn’t grow up with those things.  Again, all completely okay, and didn’t stop me from enjoying the heck out of this anthology and going back to reread many of the entries.

And the best part is I’ve got the Apex Book of World SF 2 sitting at home waiting for me.  If you are looking for more diversity in what you read, this is an excellent anthology to start with.

Here are just some of my favorites out of the Apex Book of World SF:

The Bird Catcher, by S. P. Somtow – I’ve been looking forward to reading more from Somtow since reading Starship and Haiku. The Bird Catcher was written in 2002 and won the World Fantasy Award for best novella.

When Nicholas was a child, he befriended a serial killer. Caucasian, but still a refugee, Nicholas and his mother were among thousands who fled  China when the Japanese occupied Nanjing. On the boat to Thailand, Nicholas meets Si Ui, a strange, scared man, who speaks of insatiable hunger as he catches birds to eat raw. They each see something they recognize in the other.  Nicholas is young enough that he may recover, but Si Ui is scarred for life. Nicholas’s mother finds work in a clinic in a small village, and Si Ui shows up there too, as a farmhand.  On the surface, this is just a story about a little boy who finds a monster, and sees how easy it would be, how easy it *could* be to become a monster. When children go missing in the village, and are later found dead, Nicholas can stay silent, or he can brag about knowing the monster.

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I know, I know, classics month isn’t until January, but I’d started reading this book (and couldn’t put it down) before I made that announcement the other day.

The Investigation, by Stanislaw Lem

published in 1974

where I got it: purchased used

why I read it: had read his Fiasco many years ago and was looking to read more of his books.

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I think I’m finally old enough to appreciate Stanslaw Lem. I read his Fiasco when I was in college, and I enjoyed it, but I didn’t get it (huh, maybe I should have taken that Literature class).   Maybe it’s a Eastern European thing (Lem is Polish), but his books simply don’t read like American or British books.  Metaphysical double meanings, characters who are 100% in the dark about what’s going on, and little if any closure at the end.  He’s not an easy guy to read. So of course, when I saw his The Investigation at the used bookstore, I grabbed it in a heartbeat.

The Investigation isn’t science fiction by any means, but depending on how you interpret it, it could be.  Let me explain.  The police are investigating rural cases of body snatching. The night before a burial, to the horror of the family, the body is moved in the coffin, dragged across the room, or disappears completely from the mortuary.  The obvious answer is someone is trying to steal the bodies and is only sometimes successful.  the post-modern answer is the dead people are turning into golems or limited zombies of some sort.  See how it could be SF?

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Viriconium, by M. John Harrison

published in 2005

where I got it:  library
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I first read M John Harrison’s Viriconium about 5 years ago. I was browsing the library, and the silvery book leapt off the shelf and into my arms. If it could have spoken, I imagine it would have confidently told me to read it. No pleading, no begging, no “if you please”, just simply “I have to be read”. And I did. And at the time, I thought it was the most incredible thing I had ever read, and I said so loudly to anyone who would listen. Brimming with gorgeous metaphors, and populated by multiple versions of recurring characters, Harrison’s stories of the ever changing city of Viriconium are considered sci-fantasy/ new weird gold.

Good books deserve to be reread, and although I own copies of a few other Harrison titles, Viriconium still lives at the library. So I got it. and read it. From the introduction by Neil Gaiman to the final story in the collection, I was surprised at how much  I remembered, nearly word for word: the sunsets that bled to death, the making of dwarves, the artist’s quarter, the masked abduction attempt, and the search for the mirror that will take you there. Harrison’s surreal and dreamy style is science fiction that reads like fantasy.

An author known to abhor the idea of world building, it’s the world he creates, and how he presents it that is the most intriguing part of this book. An unknown number of generations after we have destroyed the Earth, either through over mining of resources or nuclear holocaust (or most likely both), humanity still survives. It is not a pretty place, but Harrison makes  Viriconium reflect his prose: beautiful, alluring, seductive, and manipulative.

when I say beautiful and alluring language, this is what I’m talking about:

“East and South of Monar runs a string of heathland whose name, when it still had one, was a handful of primitive syllables scattered like a question in the damp wind. It is a deserted and superceded country, that one, full of the monuments and inarticulate ghosts of a race older than Viriconium, younger than the Afternoon Cultures, and possibly more naive than either.”

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You don’t read VanderMeer, you experience it, you swim through it, you breathe it, you smell it.  anyone who knows me knows that is one of the highest compliments I can give anything.  I made my way through The Third Bear, sometimes meandering, sometimes biting my nails, sometimes swimming through the salty surf.  Wherever VanderMeer took me, it wasn’t where I was expected. Most of these stories start out light if strange, and then the light turns to dark and the strange only gets perfectly stranger. They are startling and surreal, and much Lovecraftian deliciousness abounds.

So spoiled on epic series and 800+ page books, it’s no surprise I often have a tough time with short stories. What happened before? what happens next? who are these people? where the hell are we?  I don’t know what specifically I need for a short story to work for me, but I know VanderMeer does it.  Most of the stories contained in The Third Bear are told in first person, often by people who are at a crossroads – they’ve done something horrible, or they are about to.

I was happily surprised at how much of The Third Bear worked for me. On the rare occasion that I do pick up a book of short stories, I expect a bell curve of enjoyment: a few stories will knock my socks off, most of them will be OK, and a few will suck.  The Third Bear worked out pretty much like this: One entry didn’t do it for me, and the rest knocked my socks off to one extent or another. There is a reason I can’t say no to Jeff VanderMeer.

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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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