Next week, Head of Zeus is due to publish The Best of World SF, Volume 1 — a collection of science fiction stories by authors from around the world, it was collected and edited (and in some instances, translated) by award-winning author Lavie Tidhar. The publisher has kindly provided me with an excerpt to share. But, first, here’s the synopsis:
Twenty-six new short stories representing the state of the art in international science fiction, selected by Lavie Tidhar.
The Best of World SF draws together stories from across the spectrum of science fiction – expect robots, spaceships and time travel, as well as some really weird stuff – representing twenty-one countries and five continents.
Lavie Tidhar has selected stories that range from never-before-seen originals to award winners; from authors at every stage of their career; and a number of translations, including a story translated from Hebrew by Tidhar himself.
A full Table of Contents can be found at the end of this post — it’s an impressive line-up, too: I’ve already read three of them (de Bodard’s, Tidbeck’s and Moreno-Garcia’s), so if the rest are as good, then this will be an excellent read. Read on for an excerpt taken from the introduction to the collection, by Lavie Tidhar.
They say the more things change the more they stay the same, but things do change, and science fiction has to change in order to survive. For too long, the future was dominated by one country and one viewpoint: the future was white, male and American, and it was going to stay that way: until it didn’t.
I look at The Best of World SF with something like awe, because it doesn’t feel real. As I write this, it isn’t yet real. I look to the future and imagine holding the book, reading the introduction. I have read anthologies and I’ve been published in anthologies but I never thought I would see one like this. The sheer breadth of talent from across the planet gathered here is something no one could imagine twenty years ago. Publishing certainly wasn’t interested. And it wasn’t just then. I spent ten years trying to get someone, anyone, to publish this book, or one like it. The last time I tried it took the publisher an hour to turn it down.
Less than an hour, if I’m being honest.
If you make yourself enough of a pain, eventually people notice. Or so I tried to tell myself. In 2008, I convinced my friend Jason Sizemore to publish an anthology of international speculative fiction. Jason runs a small press out of Kentucky, of all places, and is a stubborn man, and I told him he will make no money doing this but that it will be good. We put together The Apex Book of World SF out of string and sticks and polish and buttons and it came out in 2009. No one had done a book like that before, not in this way, not with an editor who himself didn’t belong to the Anglo world. And I was right: we didn’t make any money, but the book was good.
It was a ridiculous thing to do. And no one was interested. Reviewers didn’t even know how to talk about the book. It wasn’t exotic, it wasn’t strange: it was just a collection of stories written by people from places like Malaysia and China, Croatia and the Philippines, and the only thing they did share was that they weren’t a part of Anglo-American science fiction. And they were good.
So we did it again. I edited The Apex Book of World SF 2 in 2012. And then we did it again with The Apex Book of World SF 3 in 2014. We published writers no one had heard of – then. Aliette de Bodard and Tade Thompson and Lauren Beukes and Silvia Moreno-Garcia. Nnedi Okorafor’s in there. So are Hannu Rajaniemi and Amal El-Mohtar. Between them, now, these writers are science fiction. They have the awards and the hardcovers in the bookstores and the film and TV deals. It was easy to see this is how it should be, back then, because they were good. But then you’d talk to publishers and they’d say things like, ‘Oh, we don’t publish books set in Nigeria.’ And that would be the end of the discussion. I had never heard a more ridiculous thing. I went and wrote a science fiction novel set in Israel in the sure and liberating knowledge no one would publish it, and it came out from an independent press and won a couple of awards and ten editions in translation, at last count. And I had to face up to the fact that maybe the world really was changing.
Mahvesh Murad came on board to edit The Apex Book of World SF 4. I think she is the first editor from Pakistan to edit a genre anthology, and she went on to do more, and get nominated for a World Fantasy Award, though not for that book, because still no one cared.
Cristina Jurado came on board to edit The Apex Book of World SF 5, and it was great, and there we stopped. And I tried to sell a bigger version of those books to publishers large and small, and kept hearing that familiar ‘no’ – or, more commonly, not hearing anything at all. I watched those writers I published early on become established, and I watched talented new writers pouring in to the new magazines and the electronic publications, and they were terrific. Some of them are in this volume. And some of the old gang are here too.
Science fiction has to change to stay relevant. It deals in futures, after all. And the Internet was a great liberating force for those of us who lived elsewhere, who spoke English in a strange accent, who wrote in it as a second language or not at all. There are more translators now, enthusiasts mostly, but there are more places open to those stories now. They weren’t there before. The editors weren’t there and the publications weren’t there and we had to create them somehow. The future couldn’t stay uniform or it would die.
And we weren’t there. There was a time where every year Aliette de Bodard and me would be placed on the same panel at the same SF convention to talk about the same thing in front of the same people, and one year a guy accused me of taking publication spots from native speakers and why can’t we publish in our own countries? And the next year he repeated the question because he said he didn’t think I understood him the first time he’d asked.
But I did understand. And I never did that panel again after that. In fact I try not to do panels at all and let other people speak instead, and I refuse to talk about translation. I have my own body of novels now and my own awards, but for some reason I never get asked to talk about that – that privilege is still reserved for ‘proper’ writers. Things change, but slowly…
The Best of World SF is due to be published Head of Zeus/AdAstra in North America (June 1st) and in the UK (April 1st).
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The Best of World SF Table of Contents:
- “Immersion” by Aliette de Bodard
- “Debtless” by Chen Qiufan (trans. from Chinese by Blake Stone-Banks)
- “Fandom for Robots” by Vina Jie-Min Prasad
- “Virtual Snapshots” by Tlotlo Tsamaase
- “What The Dead Man Said” by Chinelo Onwualu
- “Delhi” by Vandana Singh
- “The Wheel of Samsara” by Han Song (trans. from Chinese by the author)
- “Xingzhou” by Yi-Sheng Ng
- “Prayer” by Taiyo Fujii(trans. from Japanese by Kamil Spychalski)
- “The Green Ship” by Francesco Verso (trans. from Italian by Michael Colbert)
- “Eyes of the Crocodile” by Malena Salazar Maciá (trans. from Spanish by Toshiya Kamei)
- “Bootblack” by Tade Thompson
- “The Emptiness in the Heart of all Things” by Fabio Fernandes
- “The Sun From Both Sides” by R.S.A. Garcia
- “Dump” by Cristina Jurado (trans. from Spanish by Steve Redwood)
- “Rue Chair” by Gerardo Horacio Porcayo (trans. from Spanish by the author)
- “His Master’s Voice” by Hannu Rajaniemi
- “Benjamin Schneider’s Little Greys” by Nir Yaniv (trans. from Hebrew by Lavie Tidhar)
- “The Cryptid” by Emil H. Petersen (trans. from Icelandic by the author)
- “The Bank of Burkina Faso” by Ekaterina Sedia
- “An Incomplete Guide…” by Kuzhali Manickavel
- “The Old Man with The Third Hand” by Kofi Nyameye
- “The Green” by Lauren Beukes
- “The Last Voyage of Skidbladnir” by Karin Tidbeck
- “Prime Meridian” by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
- “If At First You Don’t Succeed” by Zen Cho.