The second collection of World Sci-Fi from Apex is a worthy successor to the first, not least because its contents is considerably expanded, with twenty-six disparate stories gathered under the careful eye of Lavie Tidhar, the editor. An eclectic mix of hope and horror, death and rebirth, companionship and loneliness, it spans everything that comes under the banner of science fiction: from the unsettling visions of “Zombie Lenin” (Ekaterina Sedia) to the whimsical time-travel caper that is “December 8th” (Raúl Flores Iriarte, translated with the help of Daniel W. Koon) to the witty cyberpunk of “Branded” (Lauren Beukes).
As ever, to stop these reviews becoming overlong I have a few favourites to pick out. In the case of this collection this was a really difficult choice, as most of the stories are, frankly, fantastic. I narrowed them down as much as I could, but as you can see by the following, this isn’t saying much:
Alternate Girl’s Expatriate Life – Rochita Loenen-Ruiz
In this story Loenen-Ruiz weaves an engagingly dark technological dystopia, in which, through the lens of a collectivist society big questions are asked. For example, what is humanity? And what lengths would you go to to save loved one?
Mr Goop – Ivor W. Hartmann
In a futuristic Harare, Hartman creates a heart-warming story about a boy and his hand-me-down technology. It’s easy to relate to the characters, especially the protagonist coming of age, his geneform who cannot keep up, and his parents who are trying their best. The message that growing up not necessarily about putting away childish things is one that more people should remember.
Trees of Bone – Daliso Chaponda
This harrowing tale of inter-tribal tensions and violence really brings home the dangers of forgetting past horrors and atrocities, of assuming the here and now is different and grievances more justified. The shades of grey in the characters, in their nostalgia, naivety and, in the end, horrific pragmatism all bring life to a story that is ultimately about the trade-off between holding to tradition and saving the future – a theme that is never irrelevant.
The First Peruvian in Space – Daniel Salvo, trans Jose B. Adolph
One of the shorter offerings in this collection, this is a clever, and at times uncomfortable, exploration of structural racism, and how token efforts to combat it are ultimately only make the situation worse.
The Sound of Breaking Glass – Joyce Cheng
Joyce Cheng’s tale of a reclusive old man’s odd habit of making wind chimes is a fun and charming reversal of brownie folk tale. What’s more, the ecological subtext makes it a story that has a lot to say to the modern world that is so often in opposition with nature.
A Single Year – Csilla Kleinheincz
In a neat twist on the traditional love story, Kleinheincz explores the devastating and tragic effects that having an oracle in the family can have on your love life. Filled with pathos and moving emotion, it’s a hard-hitting and powerful story.
Nira and I – Shwets Narayan
Another story that has a folkloric feel to it, “Nira and I” begins with harsh, violent darkness and gradually builds an atmosphere of hope as people learn to fight the mists of despair and fear through the power of dance.
Nothing Happened in 1999 – Fábio Fernandes
A witty, faintly satirical what-if sci-fi about time travel development and its social history. It’s short, sweet, and will keep you thinking.
Shadow – Tade Thompson
Thompson works his own distinctive dark style with this mystical story of the importance of the shadow and the dangers of losing – and misusing – this vital, and inscrutable, part of oneself.
Shibuya no Love – Hannu Rajaniemi
In this near-future tale of teenagehood, Rajaniemi explores the limits of cyberdating through what can only be described as virtual reality Tinder with a dash of a glimpse of the future. It’s clever, thought-provoking stuff that prods both at shallowness and at the mystery of romance. How far is a relationship worth it if you know how it will pan out from the very beginning?
Maquech – Silvia Moreno-Garcia
This unexpected gem is a slow burner, following an exotic pet dealer as he grows fond of a beetle he is trying to sell. Moreno-Garcia does an excellent job of depicting the dealer’s frustration and the emotional warmth that grows with what is essentially ambulatory jewellery.
The New Neighbours – Tim Jones
In a sweet, if heavy-handed metaphor for xenophobia, Jones follows the acceptance, or lack thereof, of an alien family in suburban New Zealand. It plays out as an interesting fish-out-of-water drama that occasionally seems overoptimistic, but the source of the aliens’ eventual acceptance injects a sobering dash of cynicism into the mix.
From the Lost Diary of TreeFrog7 – Nnedi Okorafor
A real highlight of this eco-scifi of otherworldly explorers is the neat worldbuilding, built through intriguing zoological entries and a vivid sense of the characters’ inner world. In an apparently cyber-bionic rainforest, two married explorers must put their trust in each other and themselves to the test in order to complete their mission, weaving in themes of kinship, humanity, and the sometimes thin divide between knowledge, reality, and madness.
The Slows – Gail Hareven trans Yaacov Jeffrey Green
In a more dystopic vision of the future, Hareven imagins modern humans seen from perspective of the evolutionary step that will replace us. An uncomfortable exploration of the “Übermensch” mentality and the way more “advanced” civilisations look down on those different to them as if inferior ensues, and also asks another deep question about the human condition – how human is someone if they have no childhood?
Electric Sonalika – Samit Basu
One of the highlights of the collection, this dark take on the Cinderella tale set in a technological uprising is both a clever updating of an age-old tale, but also a deeply unsettling story about breaking free of an abusive relationship.
And those are just the highlights! As with the last collection of Apex World Sci-Fi, there’s something to suit every taste here. No matter what flavour of science-fiction or fantasy you like, you’ll find a gem or two here. Highly recommended.