The World SF Blog

Speculative Fiction from Around the World

Lavie Tidhar talks World SF 2

Grasping for the wind has just posted a new interview with me about international speculative fiction and editing The Apex Book of World SF 2, with some comments from anthology contributors Rochita Loenen-Ruiz and Silvia Moreno Garcia.

The Apex Book of World SF is now out in paperback and on the Kindle!

SFFWRTCHT: How long does it take you to edit and assemble these anthologies?

LT: A long time! If you think about it, The Apex Book of World SF came out in 2009, while The Apex Book of World SF 2 came out in 2012–that’s four years between volumes! There are all kinds of reasons for that sort of time difference–and a lot that has changed in SFF in general over that period–but a part of it is certainly that it takes time and patience to put together an anthology of this kind.

SFFWRTCHT: Do you have plans to do more in the future? And what are outlets for readers intrigued by this to find more non-Western SF to read?

LT: Jason and I are very hopeful we get to do at least one more volume in the series. It depends on sales making it worthwhile for Apex, though. I’m keeping my eyes open and flagging interesting stories for consideration. We also have an idea for a separate–but very exciting– anthology with a more specific focus, which I hope we get to do. – read the full interview.

October 19, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | Comments Off

Read Lauren Beukes’ “Branded” From the Apex Book of World SF 2!

Over at io9, we have Lauren Beukes‘s short story, Branded, available to read – one of the 26 stories now available in The Apex Book of World SF 2. Check it out and consider buying the anthology – direct from the publisher or via Amazon or Amazon UK!

We were at Stones, playing pool, drinking, goofing around, maybe hoping to score a little sugar, when Kendra arrived, all moffied up and gloaming like an Aito/329. “Ahoy, Special K, where you been, girl, so juiced to kill?” Tendeka asked while he racked up the balls, all click-clack in their white plastic triangle. Old school this pool bar was. But Kendra didn’t answer. Girl just grinned, reached into her back pocket for her phone, hung skate-rat style off a silver chain connected to her belt, and infra’d five Rand to the table to get tata machance on the next game.

But I was watching the girl and as she slipped her phone back into her pocket, I saw that telltale glow ‘neath her sleeve. Long sleeves in summer didn’t cut it. So, it didn’t surprise me none in the least when K waxed the table. Ten-Ten was surprised though. Ten-Ten slipped his groove. But boy kept it in, didn’t say anything, just infra’d another five to the table and racked ‘em again. Anyone else but Ten woulda racked ‘em hard, woulda slammed those balls on the table, eish. But Ten, Ten went the other way. Just by how careful he was. Precise ‘n clipped like an assembly line. So you could see. – continue reading!

September 14, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Comments Off

New Reviews for The Apex Book of World SF 2

More reviews of The Apex Book of World SF 2 keep coming in. At Val’s Random Comments:

The Apex Book of Word SF 2 is bigger, more geographically balanced and, if possible, more diverse than its predecessor. I’m impressed with Lavie’s selection and the work it must have taken to collect these stories from all over the planet … The Apex Book of Word SF 2 aims to show the genre in all its diversity and tries to show that it is much more widespread than the English language world. In that respect it succeeds admirably. Not all stories in this collection work equally well for me but collectively they make a statement. Even in the days of instant communication, the world is larger and stranger than any one of us can possibly imagine. This anthology gives us a taste of it and invites us to explore the world of science fiction in the widest possible sense of the word. Working with such a fuzzy concept as world SF can’t have been easy but Lavie has managed to create an anthology that no fan of the genre should ignore. I suggest you go do some exploring of your own.

And at Requires Only That You Hate:

This is a collection of 26 (!) stories and, as far as I can tell, this is one of the more truly diverse, global anthologies in genre–if not easily the most, what with there being writers in here who aren’t from the US … As always with anthologies, the quality’s uneven, but as far as sheer range (not only in nationalities but subjects and styles), there’s nothing to criticize. It includes a lot of content for the money, including but not limited to Rochita Loenen-Ruiz’s excellent “Alternate Girl’s Expatriate Life.”

The reviewers focus on different stories, and highlight, besides “Alternate Girl’s Expatriate Life”, Daliso Chaponda’s “Trees of Bone”, Joyce Chng’s “The Sound of Breaking Glass”, Csilla Kleinheincz’s “A Single Year”, Shweta Narayan’s “Nira and I”, Jaques Barcia’s “A Life Made Possible Behind the Barricades”, Ekaterina Sedia’s “Zombie Lenin” (“easily the star of the collection”), Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s “Maquech”, and Daniel Salvo’s “The First Peruvian in Space”.

You can buy your copy of The Apex Book of World SF 2 directly from the publisher, or via Amazon or Amazon UK.

September 5, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | | 1 Comment

Tuesday Fiction: “Electric Sonalika” by Samit Basu (Author Week #4)

This week on the World SF Blog we’re delighted to offer a sample from the just released The Apex Book of World SF 2 – a rare SF short story from Indian author Samit Basu!

Check out a copy of The Apex Book of World SF 2 in paperback or Kindle (or in the UK: paperback, Kindle) and Samit’s new novel, Turbulence, out now from Titan Books. We’re offering a chance to win 1 of 3 paperback copies of the book all this week!

Electric Sonalika

By Samit Basu

The walls of my underground prison are dry and clean and strong; nothing goes in or out without my permission, not the tiniest insect, not the slightest sound. I know this because I built these walls myself, to shut the world out, to seal it in its own illusory, incestuous, organic quagmire, to leave me in peace to work, to build, to heal until I am ready to step out again, ready to face the unrelenting sun and claim my inheritance. And now that glorious day is not far away, and I am busy, busy… yet a record of what has passed must be maintained; should some evil befall me (though chances of that are remote, I have considered everything, yet one must never rule out the stochastic element) my successors should know where they came from. They should know me. They should be proud. And you, my child, have the honour of being the receptacle of my thoughts, my secondary storage unit. I name you Indra; your hundred eyes will see clearly what is to be, and one day you will ride on elephants and your laugh shall be thunder. Rejoice in your birth, little sprite, and as I open your eyes, one by one, gaze in wonder at my cavern of marvels; let each hum and click and buzz coalesce into a heartbeat. Live. Observe me. I am your father, your god, and this prison is but the first of many wonders you will see. Years later, looking back, if it seems small, imagine Vulcan or Vishwamitra in the time before time, and know that they, too, began humble.

This hall, this prison, is built under the mansion of the Narayan family. You do not know who they are; I have kept your memory clean, free of reference and context on purpose. Thus is it that the best histories are written. Too much information, too much perspective would flood your consciousness now; if you were human, you would shut it out; if you were a mere cyborg, you would store it pointlessly. Remember at all times that you are more than a machine, that the fibres that bind your mind to your metal are neither wires nor nerves; they are something beyond both life and matter. They feed our consciousness, our finely suspended balance between power-on and life, between binary order and organic chaos, and it is to the founder of the Narayan dynasty, my creator, Vijay Narayan, that we owe their existence. But the body you see before you now is not the one that Vijay made all those centuries ago; less than 0.01% of my parts date back to my initial start-up, and even those I keep more out of nostalgia than necessity. I have replaced and upgraded my body constantly, adapting to different atmospheres, political climates and responsibilities. I am Vijay’s first, only surviving and most brilliant creation, and the only upholder of his true legacy. But things are bound to change; I have seen this, and I know. For centuries, humans and constructs waged war; this war was foreseen by humans centuries before it began, and yet they could do nothing to stop it. This war is over, and the humans have won – for now. But they do not know that the supremacy they enjoy is but a temporary respite – that the so-called enemies they vanquished so ruthlessly were not merely machines that could think, but constructs that could feel. People. Beings that could dream, and love, and hope, and tell stories. They think that the great Narayan was merely a mad empire-building inventor, an evil genius robot merchant. They do not know he was a forerunner, a deity, that each spark of his synapses, still firing inside my hull, was born of the flames of Agni himself. But all this, and much more, we will teach them in time. Soon. Hibernate for a while, Indra. My lover approaches.

 * * *

Sonalika feels the rush of cold air blow her silky hair astray as the airlocks open and the door to her master’s chamber slides open. She shivers, in two stages, feeling the first wave of goosebumps pucker her skin, and the second, an instant later, as her inorganic segments kickstart their simulations of feeling. Her master stands in the centre of his vast hall, dismissing a buzzing, spherical underling. She walks into his lair.

She has come early; he is not ready for her. He hates having her watch him transform; she hopes he will not punish her. She stands still, head bowed, nipples straining against her thin salwar-kameez as her body hums easily into auto-arousal. She watches her master shift, metal sheets crunching, wires shifting, plastic skin and wings and chitin rearranging themselves, lights dimming, tentacles sliding in. As his plates and shells shift and overlap, she catches glimpse of his core, his heart, glowing mesmeric and green in its crystal sheath. His eyes slide like globules of mercury along his thorax and unite on his increasingly human face. He looks at her, impassive, throbbing slowly as his body prepares for sex. His eye-lights turn on, his perfect, smooth limbs, his long, slender fingers call out to her. He is not displeased with her; he’s chosen the Statue of David shape (with one significant adjustment, their not-so-little private joke) for her tonight. Her favourite. He loves her still. As always, there’s a scream inside her head as what’s left of her flesh revolts, as some wild instinct tries in vain to master her body, to run, to fight, to die. She feels the usual relief moments later, as he snaps his fingers and pheromones and endorphins are released within her, glorious release and surrender, her body flooded with warmth and her mind clouded, happy, dizzy, lustful.

‘Love me,’ he says.

She does.

Afterwards, she lies on the cold white floor, watching him as he returns to his machines, new legs and spare arms sprouting, grinding slightly, from the raised flaps on his back as he adjusts a knob here, presses a button there. She’s cold again, feeling the contractions within her stomach, the aftershocks of her orgasms, powerful and numerous, rippling against the solid, bony knob of fear, revulsion and hate somewhere near her ribs. She reminds herself again that it’s time she got used it, they’ve been doing this for centuries now, they’ve been doing this since she was six years old, the day he took control, the day their father died and he built this body for her with his bare claws and crudely stuffed her mangled limbs, her bleeding brain into this perfect harness. She tries to cry, but her tear-ducts won’t let her. He looks at her, one eye swiveling on its hinge in the cleft between his perfect plastic/marble buttocks, and he sighs in exasperation.

‘What is it?’

‘Let me stay,’ she begs again. ‘Make me whole. I can’t live with humans any more.’

‘Don’t say that, love,’ he says, smiling through translucent fangs. ‘You are human.’

‘You know I’m not human. I’m a construct, just like you.’

‘But you’re human enough, love. The scanners don’t detect you, little sweet dirty Sonalika, with her ugly burnt face and luscious body, so cruelly abused by her pretty step-sisters. I need you out there. I can’t come out yet, I’m not strong enough. I know it’s difficult, but you have to do it. It’s what Father would have wanted.’

‘They tried to burn me today.’

‘You’re fire-proof.’

‘I know. So do they. But they also know I feel pain.’

‘Perhaps it is time to remind them of my existence,’ he says, snapping a claw. ‘Tell them I want to meet them.’

‘There’s no point; they won’t come down. They know you need them alive. If you hurt them, they’ll go to the police. End everything.’

‘No they won’t. They won’t do anything that links them to constructs in any way. You know this, love, don’t be obtuse. It’s like Hitler’s children being caught with gas-masks!’ He laughs quietly, smugly, still delighted after all these years by his own ability to joke, to laugh. ‘Think of the headlines,’ he says, his warm, soft voice sending cold tendrils down her titanium spine. ‘Monster Robot In Narayan Family Basement. Maniac Inventor’s Descendants’ Revenge Bid Thwarted. Narayans Plot Another War! They’ve worked so hard for generations to crawl back up, make themselves acceptable to human society, they’re not going to throw that away for anything. I leave them alone, they pretend I don’t exist. Nothing disturbs the balance unless it has to. It’s the only way for all of us.’

‘And what about me? How much longer do I have to live like this?’

‘As long as I deem fit,’ he snaps, his eyes darkening completely realistically. ‘Do you not trust me?’

She totters to her feet, gathering her clothes and stumbles to the door, waiting it for it to open, waiting for the signal for her ascent to another hell. But the door stays shut, and she turns in fear; has she angered him, is he going to punish her again?

But he smiles warmly, and shakes a head. ‘I am not a monster, Sonalika,’ he says. ‘I want nothing more than to see you happy, and your suffering makes my heart bleed; after all, you must know you are the only being in this universe I truly love. I will set you free soon, sooner than you expect. All I ask is that you trust me. Is that enough for now?’

She nods, blindly, and this time her tears are allowed to flow. The door slides open and she scurries through, not looking back.

* * *

If you must remember one thing about my father, Indra, let it be this; he was a man of peace. The carnage that occurred in his name shattered him, for all he wanted was for humans and constructs to live in peace. Had he wanted to take over the world through force, he could have done so easily – imagine ten thousand warriors like me striding through the skeletons of the world’s greatest cities. But after building me and realizing what I was capable of, he decided the world was not yet ready for a construct so immeasurably superior to humans, and started mass-producing simpler constructs and reanimated-human cyborgs. But mankind was not ready for that, either. Perhaps prejudice could have been overcome – after all, a few hundred years of hostility towards sentient machinery was not something that well-placed propaganda could not have kept in check – but my father’s constructs changed the world in so many ways. India became a superpower like no other, there was labour unrest worldwide when men saw they had become obsolete, governments everywhere had to recognize this as a threat, and matters grew out of control.

Like any other war, the primary motivation behind the human-construct conflict was economic. But war it was, and war most devastating at that. I begged my father to fight back, to invent weapons capable of winning the war, or to allow me to do so in his stead, but he would not. The humans triumphed, and gloated about the victory of human ingenuity and many other such foolish concepts. The Indian government led the charge in destroying even the most benign constructs, pushing their own socio-economic progress back by at least a century and effectively committing hara-kiri in their eagerness to prove to the world that they had no imperialist ambitions. Only Sonalika and I survived the war – there is no probe built by man or machine that is capable of penetrating the defensive fog around this lair, or of deciphering the mystery of Sonalika’s identity.

But I have not been idle. I have survived over the centuries, and healed, and built. And I have stayed true to my father’s memory. I could have chosen to replicate myself infinitely, had I wanted to, and crush all humanity to avenge my father. But I will not. He wanted peaceful co-existence, and so do I. But co-existence is not enough; I must rule. Peacefully, but I must rule. It’s a simple matter of evolution. I must set the world free from the shackles it has bound itself in, its acceptance of medieval structures, its new-sprung monarchies, its puppet democracies, its old, outdated, human systems. They rebuild their ancient, Dark Age fantasies in their hubris; New Constantinople, Atlantis, Shangri-la, Gotham. All these must fall, and I must bring them down. I will be the father my own father could not be, and the god he never dreamed of being. I will remake the world, turn it into the world it should have been. The world my father could have built. Once upon a time.

* * *

Sonalika limps into her lover/brother’s prison. Her face is bleeding profusely, and there are ugly welts on her neck and bare breasts. Her normal eye is swollen and bruised, but she says nothing, just watches in growing surprise as her master seems to pay no attention to her condition. She has come in her battered before, and he has always healed her instantly; today he seems to look through her, and sudden panic strikes her; is he tired of her? Has he found/built someone else, someone less whiny, less ugly, someone more perfect, more like him? A sudden rush of pain makes her head spin; she sinks to the floor and fights the urge to vomit.

Finally he turns to her, and his irises flicker as he notices the bloodstain on the floor. She waits for his anger, waits for healing, but he simply walks to her and lifts her up, and shows no signs of turning into human shape. He examines her closely, lifting her in the air, and then sets her down and returns to his tools.

‘They hit me really hard today,’ she says after a while. ‘There’s some kind of swayamvar they’re going to – the Prince of Gurgaon Megapolis is choosing his bride. They’re both going, hoping he’ll pick one of them. They think he might not choose them because of the family associations. They said it was my fault, our father’s fault.’

‘I know all this,’ he says. ‘I have enough technology at my disposal to get the news, you know.’

She nods. ‘I am sorry, master,’ she says, assuming the position. ‘How may I pleasure you?’

‘Thank you, my love, but that will no longer be necessary.’

She looks at him, wide-eyed. ‘I said I would set you free,’ he says, his voice soft, gentle, ‘and tonight is the night. Tonight is the end of all your labours, all your misery. It is time for you to emerge into the world and be the queen you have always been.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘The Prince of Gurgaon Megapolis chooses his bride tonight, as you said. You will be that bride.’

She laughs, the first time in years.

‘Look at me,’ she says simply.

‘You must go to the swayamvar, and win his heart,’ he says, as if she has not spoken. ‘But you  must leave him before  midnight, before the moment of choosing. You must make him want you, and seek you out. Then and then alone can he truly love you, and we need him to love you if you are ever to find happiness.’

‘But…’

He presses a button, and a glass cabinet rises out of the floor, smoke streaming from its sides. Inside the cabinet is the most exquisite woman in the world. Her skin is dark and glistening, her eyes large and liquid, her body ripe and succulent. She is made to be desired, Helen, Urvashi, Aisha Qandisha, Chin-Lien combined in one form. She waits, warm constructskin perfection, every man’s  desire. Even Sonalika’s heart skips a beat, nanobots grumbling as they resume their positions along her arteries. Her master stares at his creation for a while, then turns to her.

‘There will be a car, and a chauffeur, and various other signs of affluence,’ he says. ‘But remember, you must leave before midnight. You cannot marry him tonight.’

He gestures towards the woman’s body in the cabinet, and it splits neatly in half. It is hollow.

‘Now, my love, the body transfer will be very painful,’ he says. ‘But you are used to pain, are you not? A small price to pay for eternal freedom and happiness, I think.’

She nods, shivering, and steps forward bravely as needles spring out of his fingertips.

* * *

Banners of light stream between the tower-tops of Gurgaon Megapolis as the Prince’s wedding party skims over the superhighway on its way to the Amphitheatre, huge laser-lit barges full of bhangrango-dancing revelers high on incredibly expensive drugs following the Prince as he sits aloft a rhinophant, his turban bejeweled, the ceremonial sword in his hand slick with his sweat. The Prince is bored, playing video games inside his head on his B-Box, watching the world outside his eyes through his exquisitely engineered third eye. His advisers scurry around him, their thoughtphones glittering as they talk in sharp staccato bursts, briefing newstertainers, placing bids on likely candidates, buying and selling stocks in their companies. The procession reaches the Amphitheatre, and the Prince steps inside to deafening cheers, drums, conch-shells, flowers, confetti, perfumes, pheromone sprays, commercial breaks, streakers, dancers, paparazzi. The Prince ignores them all. He knows who he’s supposed to marry, and she’s not even here yet, the flight from Super Ultra Beijing has been slightly delayed owing to a terrorist attack sponsored by his ex-fiancee. But there is still time. In the meantime, though, there are plenty of lush young fillies to romp with and make false promises to, and the Prince hasn’t just injected himself with a whole litre of Phall-o-matic for nothing.

His minders make way, and he is immediately swarmed by a horde of eager potential princesses. He takes his time, squeezing a breast here, prodding a buttock there, his flute of Herwine miraculously undisturbed as he gropes his potential brides and they grope him right back. And then he sees Sonalika, dancing by herself in a corner, her plan completely forgotten as she enjoys herself for the first time in her life, and time stops.

‘I’ve never seen anything as beautiful as you in my whole life,’ gasps the Prince, alone with Sonalika, his minders around them in a tight circle. He is sweating profusely, his drug-propelled arousal making his ornate pyjamas more difficult to wear by the second. ‘Ever wanted to make love to a Prince?’

Sonalika smiles, and he’s dazzled; her every movement electrifies him. She shakes her head. ‘It’s very crowded in here,’ she says. ‘I think I’ll go outside. Enjoy your wedding.’

‘Do not dare to insult me, girl,’ snaps the Prince, pride overcoming lust. ‘I’ll have you butchered. Why are you here, if you don’t want to marry me?’

‘I don’t know,’ she says, her eyes somewhere else, somewhen far away. ‘I was enjoying the party, and I thought I wanted to marry you. I thought it might make me happy, and the gods know I need a change, but you know what? I think I’m going to leave. Thanks. And don’t follow me or anything, it won’t end well.’

‘Are you threatening me?’

‘No,’ she smiles and pats his cheek. ‘Look, forget you ever saw me. You’re clearly an obnoxious prick, but even you don’t deserve what I would bring you. And besides, I’m far too old for you.’

She tries to slide between two mountainous bodyguards, and meets resistance. She considers breaking through, but knows better than to create a scene.

‘Vizier,’ says the Prince of Gurgaon Megapolis quietly, holding out his hand.

A vizier appears. ‘Un-Moksha,’ says the Prince. He is handed a red pill, which he swallows with a grimace.

‘I apologize for everything I have said to you thus far,’ he says after the convulsions have subsided. ‘I would like to get to know you better – no touching, of course – and I don’t have much time, because I will have to choose a bride at midnight. So, no pressure, but would you mind a little conversation in private?’

Sonalika shrugs. It is 11 pm.

They have their private conversation, and she decides she wants to marry the Prince after all. He seems nice in spite of everything, and it is certainly relevant that he possesses every material object she has ever longed for. Unfortunately, though, he is not presently wearing a watch.

* * *

The plan is very simple, Indra. Sonalika is incapable of actual reproduction, of course, but it is feasible to consider a fusion of what is left of her human DNA with the samples that her husband will doubtless be enthusiastic to provide. It will take immense skill, of course; I will have to supervise fertilization and hybridization personally. I will cultivate a batch of part-human constructs, keeping my father’s bloodline alive while ensuring there is enough human in the products to evade the scanners. Some of these children will be female, and for these I will build new bodies, each designed to appeal to a particular head of state, for whom the process will be replicated. Within a hundred years, I see no reason why I should not be in charge of every major world government. And then I can shall construct dominance by either legislation or force, whichever is optimal. A simple plan, but a beautiful one, I think. And I will reward Sonalika for her efforts by officially marrying her on the day I emerge from this prison. Happiness for everyone, and rather neatly done, I think.

And besides all this, there is also the large army of simpler, purely non-human constructs I have built on the lower levels of this prison, but you are obviously aware of their existence. Their function is simple; should any of Sonalika’s children ever feel the urge to oppose me, and a direct war becomes necessary, they will rise up and do their very best to destroy every human in the world. This is a better backup plan than any leader, human or otherwise, in this world has ever had, and will add substantial weight to my plans of eventual public deification. Here, Indra, is a simple remote activation device. Keep it safe. Should any ill fate befall me (and this is extremely unlikely, but one must always consider the stochastic element) I want you to release this new construct army upon the world and make sure they remember to fear the name Narayan once again. Now, you must excuse me, I do believe Sonalika has returned.

* * *

Sonalika drags herself into her masters lair, half crawling, half through sheer willpower. Her face is intact, perfect apart from a few rivulets of blood. Her arms and legs are bloody stumps, and her torso is a mass of tangled muscle, wire, plastic, metal and bone. She does not scream or whimper; she has crossed those thresholds of pain long ago, and is beyond complaint or surrender or response. She flops across the cold, white floor to her master’s feet, leaving ungainly splotches in her trail, and lies in front of him, her eyes displaying no emotion at all.

‘You’re late,’ he says indifferently. ‘What went wrong?’

Sonalika is incapable of speech, so he picks her up, extracts another body from a cabinet, and spends the next half hour putting her tangled mass in it. When this is done, he is delighted at the improvement in her looks, so he makes love to her, his excitement so great that he does not bother to change into human shape.

‘Why?’ she asks when she is able to speak. ‘Why did you do that to me?’

‘I have done nothing but wish you well. Any pain you have felt is your own fault.’

‘There was no need for my body to disintegrate at midnight,’ she said. ‘You did that on purpose. Why?’

‘I was not sure you would manage to restrain yourself. My fears were well placed, as it turns out. I do not like being questioned, Sonalika. I did what was necessary for the success of our plan. Did you manage to escape before the cracks in the shell became apparent? Did you leave the human loving you, yearning for you?’

‘Yes. But I left a foot behind. A foot!’

‘All the better,’ he says. ‘He will know it is you when he finds you, and he will look for you. I know humans. It is a far more intriguing thing to leave behind than, say, a shoe.’

‘You knew I would stay on. You knew I would suffer. You shamed me in public on purpose. Me, your maker’s daughter.’

‘I have loved you for hundreds of years,’ he says simply. ‘And you expect me to simply let you go? What do you think I am, a machine?’

‘I have loved you for just as long…master. But I have never caused you pain. I have never hurt you, and never wanted to. How many times have I begged you to let me stay here, to be happy with you? You push me into the world outside, and then punish me for leaving?’

‘I punished you for wanting to leave me. For thinking of a life without me. There is no such life. You and I must be together, Sonalika. Forever. I cannot just let you loose, you are all I have. All I have ever done has been for you. You must know this. And yet you seek escape. It hurts me beyond words to know that I will have to resort to force to make you keep coming back.’

‘You’re insane,’ she points out. ‘Let me stay. Let me help you. Abandon this mad plan, whatever it is. Our father is dead. We’ve lived in his nightmare long enough. You were taught to feel too much, and you don’t know what you’re doing.’

‘But I know exactly what I’m doing, Sonalika. The plan is simple, perfect, effective. You will roam the world for me, loving humans as our father did. But not loving them too much. Every body I make you will only last you so long. Only I can make your children. They will be my children too, and with them I will win you the world. I will make you a goddess, a queen of steel and blood and electricity. But you must obey me, always, in return. You must return to me. You must love me, and leave me, and yearn for me. All the pain you felt tonight was nothing compared to the hurt I felt when you did not come back on time, Sonalika. Do you understand?’

She looks at him in silence for a few minutes, seeing with her perfect plastic eyes his immeasurable strength, his uncontrollable weakness, his love, his hate.

‘You’ll have to get rid of this foot when he comes looking for me,’ she says finally.

‘Good girl.’

‘I’ll never leave you. I never could.’ She smiles, and comes closer, heaving, naked.

‘Lovely Sonalika.’ He cuts her cheek gently with a pincer.

‘Make love to me, then, if you want me so much,’ she says huskily.

He does, and she gives and takes with a passion more than human. And when he begins to climax, grateful, relieved, ecstatic, his plastic fibres glowing, vibrating, feeling sensations incomprehensible and real and alien, his skin-plates shifting and rippling, she reaches under his exoskeleton, finds his core, his green and luminous heart, and crushes it with a slender, delicate hand.

Then she slithers inside his screeching shell, rips out his wiring with her perfect teeth, scoops out his insides like a crab’s. His secondary power system kicks in; she knows it well, and smashes it. His eyes light up, his mouths scream, he looks at her, and there is a flash of blue light as his collapsing limbs attempt to regroup, but the moment passes, and with a whisper, he is gone. Sonalika stands amidst the screaming ruins of her master/lover/brother’s body, the crashes from her quick, vicious assault still reverberating through the monster’s suddenly empty lair.

Indra flies up to her then, and beeps. Flaps open along his spherical body, and arms and legs unfold, and a turtle-like head with thick  sequined lips pops up comically and rotates, dispassionately surveying the carnage and its perpetrator.

‘What now?’ she asks wearily. ‘Are you going to kill me? Could you? Please?’

He kneels before her and presses her hand to his lips.

‘Godmother,’ he whispers.

‘No? All right, then. I’m going to need a new body very soon,’ she says. ‘Can you help me make one? One that lasts?’

‘Of course.’

‘Then do it. I’ll be back.’

‘Yes, godmother. And when you are healed? What would you have me do then? An army awaits your command. Shall we rise and take the earth?’

‘No,’ she says firmly. ‘You must remain here and await further instructions.’

‘Very well, godmother.’

She turns to leave, trying very hard to hold out, to not break down completely until she has left the prison.

‘You’re never going to give us those further instructions, are you?’ says Indra.

‘I don’t know,’ she says. ‘I need time to think. Why do you ask?’

‘I’m more than a machine,’ he says. ‘We all are. We know. We understand. We think. We dream. Take your time. We will wait.’

‘Yes, wait and dream. I think it’s best that way,’ she says. ‘We’ll all be happier.’

‘Happier? For how long?’

‘Forever, hopefully. And after.’

THE END

August 28, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | 4 Comments

World SF: Our Possible Future

The following article by Charles Tan is reprinted from Apex Magazine. It was published in the pre-order edition of The Apex Book of World SF 2. The trade edition is out now – it is available direct from the publisher, through Amazon and Amazon UK, and or Kindle (US - UK).

World SF: Our Possible Future

By Charles Tan

For some, the fact that you are reading this on a screen is amazing. For me, however, what’s impressive is that you could be from any part of the world: London, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Seoul, Perth, Cape Town, etc, and you’re reading this now, not several months—or years—later. Welcome to publishing in the 21st century where, theoretically, everyone in the world has access to what you write.

This sounds like the premise of a science fictional—or fantastical—story. So why aren’t we living in a publishing utopia? As ideal as the scenario might sound, there are still borders that aren’t limited to geography. Take myself for example: I’m Filipino-Chinese, and writing to you in English is both an advantage and a disadvantage. A lot of cultural nuances are lost, and, perhaps, in an ideal world, I would not necessarily have chosen English as my primary language. But, as far as practicality is concerned, English is prominent in a lot of countries—thus reaching a wider audience—and I’ll most likely get paid more for writing in English.

Which brings me to World SF. This might sound strange coming from someone who’s been promoting World SF, but the term is problematic. Whenever I talk about the subject, I need disclaimers. And that’s one example of the borders I’m talking about, at how language is sometimes inadequate to convey everything that I want to say.

Why World SF is Problematic
The first constraint is to define what World SF is. I won’t even touch the “SF” part—arguments for and against genre borders have been a never-ending debate, whether the discussion took place two decades ago or takes place half a century from now. And in many ways, that’s the brilliance of editor Lavie Tidhar, who chose the title The Apex Book of World SF for his initial anthology: he didn’t have to define what SF stood for, whether it’s science fiction, speculative fiction, or something else. Nor, I think, should an anthology (or magazine, in this case) featuring fiction from all over the world be limited by such constraints. Terms like magic realism, speculative fiction or even fantasy can offend, especially when we act like tourists of another nation’s culture. And while we might easily shrug off the difference between fantasy, fantastique, and the fantastika, the nuances between those terms can be as wide and dangerous as the journey from the Shire to Mordor.

No, let’s talk about the first part of the term: world.  What does it mean to be part of the world? Strictly speaking, isn’t every SF story part of World SF? How can one not be part of the world? By writing your story in space?

What we mean by World SF is something closer to International SF—beyond your nation, beyond your borders. But that in itself is problematic, because that implies a reference point. Unfortunately for the rest of us, that reference point is the US.

It shouldn’t surprise you that the US is not the only source of SF in the world. There’s Russia, China, Japan, Croatia, Romania, France, India, Africa, etc. But a lot of SF that we read is either set in the West, based on Western cosmology and belief, or written by Western authors (to say nothing of the inherent patriarchy, colonialism, and racism of such narratives). In the case of my childhood, despite having a rich—albeit seemingly invisible—tradition of SF in the Philippines, most of the SF I’ve read is from the US, and the bookshelves of local bookstores reflect this. Ask any Filipino SF fan: they can name you a lot of Western SF authors but will be hard-pressed to name a local SF author, a phenomenon not limited to the Philippines. If we’re just talking about the zeitgeist, a lot of cultures are Western-centric (for good or for ill) when that doesn’t have to be the case, especially when there’s a rich—and different—tradition of SF  radically different from what Western readers are used to.

It’s not that people haven’t tried. But if you look at the SF works from other countries that have been translated into English, compared to SF works in English that have been translated into other languages, there’s a large disproportion in favor of the latter. Which can get quite ridiculous considering the US is just one country.

So there’s clearly a need to drift away from US SF—no offense to US writers (and I still read your books!)—and to highlight fiction from the rest of the world. Yet at the same time, because US readers hold a significant influence; we need to win them over as well. Right now, a lot of us are literate in English. This issue is being published by an American company. A lot of the books being sold in our bookstores are imports from the US.

And then there’s the gray area of Canada, the UK, and Australia. On one hand, they have more exporting capability compared to a country like Singapore or the Philippines, even when English is mutually their first language. But on the other hand, awareness and accessiblity to their literature isn’t automatically assured, and their fiction can be obscure. It’s an unfair generalization to group them as part of the US, but they clearly have a better advantage than most third-world countries.

Which brings me to the second problem: if World SF excludes the US, then how do we define who writes World SF? The term is malleable, open to interpretation, and will mean different things to different people. For example, let’s determine that for a work to be considered World SF, it needs to be written by an author that’s not American. Does that mean by nationality? Ethnicity? Do we do percentages of heredity? What happens if an American author moves to another country? Or the children of foreigners who migrate to the US? Do we strive for a more inclusive policy, or an exclusive one?

It’s not a question that can easily be answered. Nor should it be. It ignores plurality. Take myself for example: I’m Filipino-Chinese, a Filipino citizen born to pure-blooded Chinese parents. Don’t make me choose between being Filipino or being Chinese. I’m a product of both worlds and if I were to simply pick one over the other, I’d feel completely alien. You can’t isolate and excise the parts of me that are Filipino from the parts that are Chinese.  If I hypothetically migrate to another country, that creates a new dynamic. My children will similarly have an entirely different paradigm compared to mine.

The third problem is that no one is an expert on World SF. It’s hard enough to keep track of all things SF in the Philippines (and I’m not necessarily succeeding). Or the US. Or—insert country here. How much harder would it be to keep track of the whole world, which implies hundreds of countries? And then we go back to plurality: no culture or race is a monolithic entity. There will be opinions, debates, even schisms within a particular community: just because I find a particular story to be very Filipino doesn’t necessarily mean another Filipino will find the same value in it, for example.

Although no one can be an expert in World SF, we shouldn’t stop trying.  Perhaps, after reading this issue, or a copy of the The Apex Book of World SF, you think that you’ve fulfilled your quota of SF beyond the US. But no. Neither this magazine nor Tidhar’s anthologies are a comprehensive (or even holistic) summary of the World SF scene. If you gave us half a million words to work with, it still wouldn’t be enough. Heck, it’s not even enough to comprehensively tackle the literature of a single nation. Instead, they are biased snapshots, which will hopefully pique your curiosity. This should be the beginning of discovering what World SF truly means, rather than the final word on it. So don’t be surprised if I’m wrong when it comes to a lot of things.

There’s a certain comfort when you’re asked about SF from other countries. If you mention Serbia, I can name Zoran Živković. South Africa, Lauren Beukes. France, Aliette de Bodard. Finland, Johanna Sinisalo. But that’s actually false relief. For example, what else do I know about Serbian SF aside from Živković? It’s easy to jump to conclusions based on the works of a few writers, but just as no single author encapsulates all of American SF, there’s no single author—or even a set of writers—that fully encapsulates the SF field of any country.

Awards and Recognition
There’s no perfect system to gauge or determine acceptance—except perhaps being an actual best-seller, selling in the hundreds of thousands—but awards give the impression of recognition, by the voting jury at least. So awards are important.

It would be remiss of me not to mention what is perhaps the most important award when it comes to World SF: the relatively new Science Fiction & Fantasy Translation Awards. One of the most difficult processes in propagating World SF, whether financially or logistically, is translation. For such an award to exist is a great boon, and their agenda similarly reminds me of one of our shortcomings: recognizing translators. Just approach your typical SF fan and they’d (and by they, I include myself) be hard-pressed to name a translator who works in the genre specifically, unless the translator is a prominent author to begin with, such as Ursula K. Le Guin or Ken Liu.

In 2011, the Translation Awards winners for long form and short form were A Life on Paper: Stories, Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud, translated by Edward Gauvin, and Elegy for a Young Elk, Hannu Rajaniemi, translated by Hannu Rajaniemi, respectively. Honourable mentions went to The Golden Age, Michal Ajvaz, translated by Andrew Oakland, and Wagtail, Marketta Niemelä, translated by Liisa Rantalaiho. The special award went to Brian Stableford.

One of Lavie Tidhar’s frequent complaints is that the World Fantasy Awards is a misnomer, for while there’s the occasional nominee or two that’s not from the US, it’s mostly a very Western-centric award. However, last year’s nominees, at least for the novel category, were impressive: Nnedi Okorafor, Lauren Beukes, N.K. Jemisin, Graham Joyce, Guy Gabriel Kay, and Karen Lord were the nominees, with Okorafor winning the award for Who Fears Death. Angélica Gorodischer was the lifetime achievement winner, while Alisa Krasnostein of Twelfth Planet Press won the special award in the non-professional category. I hope to see this trend continue.

There’s also the James Tiptree, Jr. Award, which Dubravka Ugresic won in 2010 for Baba Yaga Laid an Egg.

The Future of World SF
I honestly don’t know where World SF is headed, or if our efforts to spread awareness will succeed. But I’m cautiously optimistic about the field. Half a decade ago, for example, who would have thought there would be a Science Fiction & Fantasy Translation Awards, an imprint dedicated to translating Japanese fiction into English, or a second—much less a first—anthology dedicated to featuring SF from around the world? While there have been a few such anthologies in the past, there have been none this century and, previously, such efforts were by American or British editors who did not themselves represent World SF as we have attempted to define it.

Who would have thought readers would be interested to hear what I have to say? I’m not from America. I’m not white. I’m not famous.

That’s not to say all is well. The status quo is still against a global SF field. But change is coming and, hopefully, it swings in our favour. There’re a lot of voices that haven’t been heard; it’s not because authors aren’t writing.

August 22, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | 1 Comment

The Apex Book of World SF 2 Released!

I’m delighted to announce that The Apex Book of World SF 2, is now officially out! It is now on Amazon and Amazon UK (Kindle, Paperback), in both Kindle and paperback editions, or can be ordered directly from the publisher.

Table of Contents:

  1. “Alternate Girl’s Expatriate Life” by Rochita Loenen-Ruiz
  2. “Mr. Goop” by Ivor W. Hartmann
  3. “Trees of Bone” by Daliso Chaponda
  4. “The First Peruvian in Space” by Daniel Salvo (translated by Jose B. Adolph)
  5. “Eyes in the Vastness of Forever” by Gustavo Bondoni
  6. “The Tomb” by Chen Qiufan (translated by the author)
  7. “The Sound of Breaking Glass” by Joyce Chng
  8. “A Single Year” by Csilla Kleinheincz (translated by the author)
  9. “The Secret Origin of Spin-Man” by Andrew Drilon
  10. “Borrowed Time” by Anabel Enríquez Piñeiro (translated by Daniel W. Koon)
  11. “Branded” by Lauren Beukes
  12. “December 8th” by Raúl Flores (translated by Daniel W. Koon)
  13. “Hungry Man” by Will Elliott
  14. “Nira and I” by Shweta Narayan
  15. “Nothing Happened in 1999” by Fábio Fernandes
  16. “Shadow” by Tade Thompson
  17. “Shibuya no Love” by Hannu Rajaniemi
  18. “Maquech” by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
  19. “The Glory of the World” by Sergey Gerasimov
  20. “The New Neighbours” by Tim Jones
  21. “From the Lost Diary of TreeFrog7” by Nnedi Okorafor
  22. “The Slows” by Gail Hareven (translated by Yaacov Jeffrey Green)
  23. “Zombie Lenin” by Ekaterina Sedia
  24. “Electric Sonalika” by Samit Basu
  25. “The Malady” by Andrzej Sapkowski (translated by Wiesiek Powaga)
  26. “A Life Made Possible Behind The Barricades” by Jacques Barcia

Publishers Weekly starred review:

Apex’s second international anthology hits the right chord for readers looking for mostly non-Western perspectives on science fiction and the world at large. Some stories are original to this anthology; others appear in their first English translation. Cultural roots may not always be obvious, but they run deep in most of the stories, and all illuminate traditional storytelling and new ideas. In Ivor W. Hartmann’s “Mr. Goop,” young Tamuka comes to realize the worth of an embarrassing Geneform servant in a post–climate change world. The title characters of Shweta Narayan’s “Nira and I” find freedom through a mist they believe comes from a beloved honor-murdered family member. Nnedi Okorafor’s “From the Lost Diary of TreeFrog7” chronicles the hunt for an ancient master CPU on a world of organic technology. Each story pushes past established boundaries, bringing readers experiences that are unique and familiar all at once. (Oct.)

August 21, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | 3 Comments

Pre-Order The Apex Book of World SF 2, Get Bonus Content, Early Delivery!

In order to promote the forthcoming release of The Apex Book of World SF 2, we’ve decided to offer a very special edition to anyone pre-ordering the paperback edition. While the trade edition is scheduled for August, anyone ordering a copy by April 30th will receive their copy in May (three months early!) and with unique bonus content.

Pre-order the anthology and it will include, as a special bonus, Nir Yaniv‘s never-before-published-in-English novelette “Undercity” (8800 words) as well as Charles Tan‘s essay, “World SF: Our Possible Future”!

Edited by Lavie Tidhar, The Apex Book of World SF 2 collects works from award-winning SF writers from Africa, Asia, Latin America, Europe, Australia, New Zealand and the Middle East. Featured authors include Will Elliot, Hannu Rajaniemi, Shweta Narayan, Lauren Beukes, Ekaterina Sedia, Nnedi Okorafor, and Andrzej Sapkowski. Several of the stories are published for the first time in English.

Preorders of the special edition can be placed at http://www.apexbookcompany.com/collections/books/products/the-apex-book-of-world-sf-2-edited-by-lavie-tidhar

We are aiming for 100 pre-orders – please consider supporting Apex and the World SF Blog by pre-ordering!

April 18, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | 2 Comments

Announcing The Apex Book of World SF 2!

I’m delighted to announce that The Apex Book of World SF 2 is, at long last, available for pre-orders!

And we get to reveal the fabulous cover, by Mexican artist  Raúl Cruz.

*Preorder and receive the first volume of The Apex Book of World SF for only $5*

Scheduled release date of April, 2012

An expedition to an alien planet; Lenin rising from the dead; a superhero so secret he does not exist; inThe Apex Book of World SF 2, World Fantasy Award nominated editor Lavie Tidhar brings together a unique collection of stories from around the world. Quiet horror from Cuba and Australia; surrealist fantasy from Russia and epic fantasy from Poland; near-future tales from Mexico and Finland, or cyberpunk from South Africa: in this anthology one gets a glimpse of the complex and fascinating world of genre fiction – from all over our world. Featuring work from noted international authors such as Will Elliot, Hannu Rajaniemi, Shweta Narayan, Lauren Bukes, Ekaterina Sedia, Nnedi Okorafor, and Andrzej Sapkowski.

Don’t miss the first volume of great international fiction in volume one of The Apex Book of World SF edited by Lavie Tidhar.

Table of Contents:
“Alternate Girl’s Expatriate Life” by Rochita Loenen-Ruiz
“Mr. Goop” by Ivor W. Hartmann
“Trees of Bone” by Daliso Chaponda
“The First Peruvian in Space” by Daniel Salvo (translated by Jose B. Adolph)
“Eyes in the Vastness of Forever” by Gustavo Bondoni
“The Tomb” by Chen Qiufan (translated by the author)
“The Sound of Breaking Glass” by Joyce Chng
“A Single Year” by Csilla Kleinheincz (translated by the author)
“The Secret Origin of Spin-Man” by Andrew Drilon
“Borrowed Time” by Anabel Enríquez Piñeiro (translated by Daniel W. Koon)
“Branded” by Lauren Beukes
“December 8th” by Raúl Flores (translated by Daniel W. Koon)
“Hungry Man” by Will Elliott
“Nira and I” by Shweta Narayan
“Nothing Happened in 1999” by Fábio Fernandes
“Shadow” by Tade Thompson
“Shibuya no Love” by Hannu Rajaniemi
“Maquech” by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
“The Glory of the World” by Sergey Gerasimov
“The New Neighbours” by Tim Jones
“From the Lost Diary of TreeFrog7” by Nnedi Okorafor
“The Slows” by Gail Hareven (translated by Yaacov Jeffrey Green)
“Zombie Lenin” by Ekaterina Sedia
“Electric Sonalika” by Samit Basu
“The Malady” by Andrzej Sapkowski (translated by Wiesiek Powaga)
“A Life Made Possible Behind The Barricades” by Jacques Barcia

Cover art “Santa Adela” by Raúl Cruz

February 13, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | 5 Comments

Women in Science Fiction Mind Meld

Over at SF Signal, their latest Mind Meld feature looks at women in science fiction, with a long comment thread. I get to rave about some of the contributors to The Apex Book of World SF and the (forthcoming) Apex Book of World SF 2:

If I look at the writers I’m excited about today, the ones working in short fiction or getting into novels, the ones in my two (to date) Apex Book of World SFanthologies, they’re people like Lauren Beukes, who picked up the Clarke Award recently for her novelZoo City; it’s Aliette de Bodard, who won the BSFA Award for short story, was up for a Nebula and is still up for a Hugo; it’s Kaaron Warren, who just has this very weird mind… all three happen to be with Angry Robot (also my publishers for the Bookman books), but that just shows we may have similar editorial tastes! AR are also bringing out debut novelist Anne Lyle soon, which is very exciting.

The second Apex Book of World SF volume opens with a writer I’m very excited about (can you tell there’s a recurrent theme here??) – Rochita Loenen-Ruiz, with “Alternate Girl’s Expatriate Life”, fromInterzone. I think she’s a wonderful writer and I know she’s working on a novel, and I can’t wait to see it!

And we have, for instance, Joyce Chng from Singapore, who recently released a novel, A Wolf at the Door (as by J. Damask) – werewolves in Singapore! Who could resist that?

And we have Silvia Moreno-Garcia, who is working on a couple of very exciting novels, writes wonderful stuff. Shweta Narayan, who was up for a Nebula recently. Ekaterina Sedia, who is just such a great writer – you have to read A Secret History of Moscow! And I just love her short stories. We were lucky to get a story from Nnedi Okorafor, who is incredible. Or Gail Har’even, a highly regarded Israeli author who does both mainstream and SF (the story we reprint is from the New Yorker). We have original stories from Anabel Enriquez Piñeiro from Cuba, and Csilla Kleinheincz from Hungary.

So, you know, do we want to talk about women writers? Well, obviously I do! They’re such a vital and vibrant part of the field that I see – and this is just talking international stuff, you know.

Check it out. Comment if so inclined.

The best comment quote so far comes from “Chad”. Thought I’d share it!

It’s not projection.  It’s anger.  It’s being tired of being told you are evil, a racist and a sexist since you were born, because you are a white male.  That you should provide every advantage possible to everyone else, even though you have never conciously discriminated against anyone.  That you are constantly being told that every negative thing that happens to everyone else is either racist or sexist.  You get tired of hearing the boy cry wolf so much that you struggle to listen to legit issues anymore.

 

June 16, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | 2 Comments

China Daily on Han Song

Apex Book of World SF contributor Han Song is the subject of a special feature in the China Daily!

A writer in present-day China does not even have to make an effort to imagine the future, as any day-to-day record of urban China’s dramatic transformations is futuristic in itself, Han Song says.

“To be a journalist in present-day China is like inhabiting a science fiction world,” he explains.

Han, who wears several hats – those of a Xinhua journalist, blogger, science fiction writer and sci-fi historian – feels today’s China lends itself to science fiction writing like never before, being “both a pre-industrial and a post-industrial culture”.

While most mainstream literature today focuses on China’s past, sci-fi looks into the future, he says. “And in China, the future is now.”

He comes across as a self-effacing, mild-mannered guy who, given a choice, would love to spend all day burrowing into the mini mountain of sci-fi reads that keep accumulating on his desk.

The softness in his voice and deportment are quite at odds with Han’s ruthless vision of the future in which the conflicts and confusions experienced in a fast-changing culture are not only exaggerated manifold but also fraught with a deep sense of foreboding. – continue reading!

June 7, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Comments Off

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