Editor: Lavie Tidhar | Format: eARC | Publisher: Apex Book Company | Publication date: June 30th | My rating: 4/5
These stories run the gamut from science fiction, to fantasy, to horror. Some are translations (from German, Chinese, French, Spanish, and Swedish), and some were written in English. The authors herein come from Asia and Europe, Africa and Latin America. Their stories are all wondrous and wonderful, and showcase the vitality and diversity that can be found in the field. They are a conversation, by voices that should be heard.
My appreciation for short fiction has been growing pretty steadily lately, and a lot of that is down to the work being published by Apex. Whether in their monthly magazine or in these anthologies, I’ve yet to find a real dud anywhere. In some cases, I’ve even found stories that I’ve fallen in love with. One of them was in this book. Below the cut, I’ll highlight a few stories from this anthology that have stood out in my mind.
The first of them is in fact the first story in this collection – “Courtship in the Country of Machine-Gods” by Benjanun Sriduangkaew. I noted, when this story came up as a reprint in the latest issue of Apex Magazine, that Sriduangkaew is making quite a name for herself this year as one of the nominees for the Campbell Award at this year’s Hugos. This story is the one that got me sitting up and paying attention. It’s a strange little tale, but a fascinating and warm-hearted one. It’s certainly unlike anything I’ve read before, and I definitely want to read more from her.
“Act of Faith” by Fadzlishah Johanabas is another one that stands out. In it, we meet an android who learns to become a Muslim, first at the encouragement of its owner, then later of its own volition. The notion of artificial intelligence learning human traits isn’t a new one in science fiction, but this story takes it a little further, literally out of the hands of any controlling human influence (the android’s owner) and giving the android itself (himself) autonomy of a sort. Rather than turn this scenario into one that’s threatening to humans, however, it results in something far more peaceful, more unifying than horrific. It’s another story that touched me, and definitely one that should not be missed.
“The City of Silence” by Ma Boyong is less uplifting, but no less affecting. The similarity to 1984 takes care of that – this is an unflinchingly dystopian take on the future. It’s also not violent by any means, which is one of the reasons it impressed me. Good writing doesn’t need shock factors to affect the reader; this story got under my skin with its themes of paranoia and oppression. Trying to imagine the kind of future depicted here left me genuinely uncomfortable at the thought. The kicker of a twist in the end was also nicely effective, if not perhaps particularly surprising. All in all it was incredibly well done.
“Planetfall” by Athena Andreadis is wildly different yet again from the rest of my favourite stories here. It feels as much like a fairytale as a science fiction story, and the blending of these elements is wonderfully done. It’s a beautifully written story, and as much as I love the story itself, sometimes it’s the way that a story is told that can affect me the most. This is one of those; Andreadis has a way with words that’s nothing short of a pleasure to read. She’s definitely one whose other work I’ll have to get my hands on.
My absolute favourite of these stories, however, is without a doubt “To Follow the Waves” by Amal El-Mohtar. I stopped reading immediately after finishing this story just to geek out about it online for a bit, and seriously. I need more of her work. I need it. I’ve honestly never enjoyed a single short story quite so thoroughly before – this one instantly captured my imagination and would not let it go until it was done. And even then… I’m still getting chills when I think about it now. Enough said!
So, Apex have done it again. Whether you’re a fan of short fiction or you’re new to it, and especially if you need an injection of new and diverse SFF in your life, pick up this anthology. Heck, pick up any anthology they’ve published. I would bet good money that you won’t regret it – not everything here was my cup of tea, I will admit that quite freely, but there is, I’m damn near certain, something here for everyone. That alone is enough to keep me coming back to them.