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The Apex Book of World SF 3 Paperback – June 29, 2014
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Paperback, June 29, 2014
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About the Author
Lavie Tidhar is the World Fantasy Award winning author of Osama, The Violent Century and the forthcoming A Man Lies Dreaming. His novella Gorel & The Pot-Bellied God won a British Fantasy Award, and he is also the author of graphic novel Adolf Hitler’s “I Dream of Ants!” and forthcoming comics mini-series Adler. He grew up on a kibbutz in Israel, and spent much of his adult life traveling around the world.
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Top customer reviews
“Courtship in the Country of Machine–Gods” by Benjanun Sriduangkaew was an odd choice to lead things off with, being a bit confusing and hard to grasp, but it reminds us that good science fiction isn't always immediately accessible. “A Hundred Ghosts Parade Tonight” by Xia Jia was a more entertaining follow-up, exploring the streets walked by the dead, but even it strayed a bit into confusion towards the end.
The next few tales I didn't care for at all, but “The City of Silence” by Ma Boyong may very well be the smartest, more entertaining story in the collection. “Planetfall” by Athena Andreadis was interesting, but tried to do too much, while “Jungle Fever” by Zulaikha Nurain Mudzar surprised me with how well it worked as a monsters-among-us sort of tale. The next few stories fell flat for me, although I may go back and give “Ahuizotl” by Nelly Geraldine García–Rosas another read when I get the chance, as I fear I may have missed something that would deliver on its initial promise.
“Waiting with Mortals” by Crystal Koo was another twist on the traditional ghost story, offering something different yet again from that of Xia Jia. While Ma Boyong may have the smartest tale in the collection, Ange has the most imaginative in “Three Little Children” - a very dark twist on faery tales and their role in society. “Brita’s Holiday Village” by Karin Tidbeck is one of those stories about writing stories, which rarely ever work for me, but “Regressions” by Swapna Kishore was surprisingly deep and thoughtful, with some really interesting conclusions to be found.
Finally, if Benjanun Sriduangkaew was an odd choice with which to open the collection, Berit Ellingsen is absolutely perfect to close things out. On the surface, “Dancing on the Red Planet” seems like the most traditional story in the collection, but like Mars itself it has layers to its narrative, all of them musically inclined. Odd, and somewhat disjointed, but entertaining as a while - much like the collection itself.
If you're open to new authors, and are open to the challenge of exploring new ways of telling a story, then The Apex Book of World SF Volume 3 is worth checking out. So many of this year's anthologies have been about revisiting favorite authors and familiar stories, it's important to remember that they were all unknown to us at one point . . . and the thrill of discovery is as important in the reader's mind as it is on the page.
"Courtship in the Country of Machine–Gods" left me cold with its confusing first person viewpoint, dizzying flashbacks jumping forward and backward in time, and the finale's lack of emotional connection from the opening. I'd recommend future anthologies begin with a shorter, easier story to hook readers, as this one dampened my enthusiasm for the book as a whole.
"A Hundred Ghosts Parade Tonight" was an intriguing glimpse into a different mythological setting, an inversion of the Pinocchio premise as a young boy grappled with the rules of reality amongst an actual ghost town. The ending veered in a tangential direction, in a way I didn't fully understand, but the strong narrative voice kept me engaged.
"Act of Faith" was a beautiful story about the intersection of faith, family, and technology, with an android servant becoming so much more for an aging man, helping to bridge the gap between the old and the new.
"The Foreigner," like all great science fiction, had new tech but old problems. The plight of a boy seeking asylum from war in a place where he's doomed not to belong felt especially apropos of current events, and the futuristic elements were cleverly deployed.
I'd rank "The City of Silence" highest: it was a complete narrative technically and emotionally, with a clear voice and a well-crafted illumination of the current world through a projection of one potential future. The protagonist offered the reader a haunting look at a world poisoned by thought control. While it educated me about what life under the Great Firewall might inspire, it offered cautionary warnings for the Western mediascape as well. It concluded in true distopian style, with just a trace of hope, reminiscent of the Pandora myth.
"Planetfall" had a great premise, but the scope of this tale strained against its structural limits. Any one of the stories would have been fine on their own: together they pushed against each other, distracting me with a need to create connections that proved tenuous or even nonexistent.
"Jungle Fever" was a welcome departure from the normal monster tale, perhaps proving better than any of the other stories what a different viewpoint can bring to the genre as a whole. Rather than show a traditional (read Western) horror at the grotesque, or the reactionary love of it, the protagonist subtly but surely showed that when the world around one is mad, monstrosity may be a welcome escape.
"To Follow the Waves" ventured into the most fertile imaginary world invention: hand-crafted dream stones. The fear of losing one's innate self is timeless, cross-cultural, and rich with possibility: I wish the author had explored more than just the obvious erotic implications. A character who began rich with promise tragically shrunk to someone whose sole purpose is tied up in another (the fact that this other is a woman doesn't make it any less depowering).
"Ahuizotl" went back in time and mined the Spanish colonization era for a macabre little tale that felt like it was missing something. The story itself was fairly straightforward, but I couldn't quite grasp the emotional or character landscape, or appreciate the stakes involved.
"The Rare Earth" had all the ingredients of a successful post-apocalyptic narrative, complete with a messiah in the wildness. The story picked up once this character really came into prominence, but suffered from a lack of focus amongst competing story ideas.
"Spider's Nest" was by far the weakest story of the anthology. The plot and characters proved incoherent to me, and I found myself skimming to be done with such a determinedly nihilistic world.
"Waiting with Mortals" was hauntingly beautiful in its description of how ghosts might long for real life. Both the mundane and the sublime needs of living were explored, anchored by the narrator's opposing personal connections. The story neatly turned the concept of "crossing over" on its head, subverting the opening act with a great conclusion.
"Three Little Children" hearkens back to the dark world of Grimm, delving the depths of what I assume to be a well-known French nursery song for all its unvarnished realities. The style was beguiling and the story entrancing, bringing me to the edge of tragedy before gracefully allowing the heroes to step back into the light, albeit forever changed.
"Brita's Holiday Village" was surreal, a writer writing about writing (written by a writer), more interested in the journey than the small plot. It reads like a Nordic travelogue, entertaining with flashes of subtle comedy, but I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. I left the story feeling like I'd chewed on a stick of gum: not completely unsatisfying, but not very substantial either.
"Regressions" took what could have been a very simplistic premise and pushed deeper, provoking questions about how we determine value and worth: is it against our opponents? Ourselves? Or something even more? The narrator underwent a remarkably vivid journey in a short amount of words, creating a life for herself that defied everyone's expectations (including her own).
"Dancing on the Red Planet" proved a brilliant grand finale to this anthology, not only summarizing mankind's expectations for landing on Mars but also the entire book's varying threads. I loved the surly mission commander's reactions to his crewmmates' desire to dance their way off the Mars lander (and I defy anyone not to laugh when one of them imitates Europop vocally). In a metanarrative, I enjoyed reading this book in electronic format so that when confronted with a piece of music so integral to the story I could immediately find it online and listen. I encourage even readers of traditional paper to do the same: you'll get a sense of the fantastic and the familiar, which I believe is the entire point of the anthology.
One final note: I've described some of my objections above, but it should be understood that this anthology is not appropriate for young readers in terms of content or language. I enjoyed many of the stories, and found some lovely new authors to follow, but I would not recommend or endorse this anthology in total.
With authors hailing from Thailand, Germany, Nigeria, Greece, Malaysia, France, India, Sweden and half a dozen other countries, these are voices that will be new to the American SF reader, and a welcome addition to my bookshelf.
Stories I liked the most:
The City of Silence by Ma Boyong (masterpiece).
Jungle Fever by Zulaikha Nurain Mudzar.
The Rare Earth by Biram Mboob
Regressions by Swapna Kishore.