Apex Magazine’s latest issue has a new short story by Chinese author Tang Fei, translated by Ken Liu: Call Girl.
Morning climbs in through the window as shadow recedes from Tang Xiaoyi’s body like a green tide imbued with the fragrance of trees. Where the tidewater used to be, now there is just Xiaoyi’s slender body, naked under the thin sunlight.
She opens her eyes, gets up, dresses, brushes her teeth, wipes away the foam at the corner of her mouth with a towel. Staring at the mirror, all serious, her face eventually breaks into a fifteen–year–old’s smile. Above her, a section of the rose–colored wallpaper applied to the ceiling droops down. This is the fourth place where this has happened.
My house is full of blooming flowers, Xiaoyi thinks.
“There must be another leak in the pipes,” her mother says. “There’s a large water stain growing on the wall.”
They sit down together to have a lavish breakfast: soy milk, eggs, pan–fried baozi, porridge. Xiaoyi eats without speaking.
When she’s ready to leave the apartment, she takes out a stack of money from her backpack and leaves it on the table. Her mother pretends not to see as she turns to do the dishes. She has turned up the faucet so that the sound of the gushing water is louder than Xiaoyi’s footsteps.
Xiaoyi walks past her mother and the money on the table and closes the door. She can no longer hear the water. It’s so quiet she doesn’t hear anything at all.
Her knees shake.
She reaches up for the silver pendant hanging from her neck, a dog whistle. – continue reading.
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.
I’m not a music person. Father has all sorts of things in the house that can still play, and he listens to them on occasion, but I never cared. I have no need of borrowed emotions; my own are more than enough for me.
Yet a morning came when the orchestra sounded within me. It burst through the cobweb of my dream and I knew that it was something different. I couldn’t see it, I could only hear it, and I heard that it was calling me to it. I felt all of me drawn towards something greater than myself, something distant and beyond my comprehension, something I must become a part of.
In my dream I could fly. I had gossamer wings and these wings carried me upwards, above the tin tent, above the hydroponic farms and the rest of the settlement. I flew, led on by the sounds of the orchestra, not yet knowing myself where I was headed, but knowing with the utmost certainty that the orchestra was leading me to where I belong. I flew through the dust clouds, above the heaps of garbage that have flooded the world, towards the ruined buildings that towered on the horizon like the rotten teeth of a giant. I saw underneath me skeletons of cars and tractors, of trucks and of buses, and I flew straight through the shattered windows of colossal buildings. In one of them I saw a writing desk covered with dust and a shattered television set and a framed picture that lay on the desk, and I stopped for a moment to sweep the dust off the picture and saw the face of a woman smiling at me. – continue reading.
Apex Magazine’s latest issue is a special Arab/Muslim themed issue:
“The Green Book”
by Amal El-Mohtar
“50 Fatwas for the Virtuous Vampire”
by Pamela K. Taylor
“The Faithful Soldier, Prompted”
by Saladin Ahmed
“Kamer-taj the Moon-horse”
compiled by Dr. Ignácz Kúnos
(originally appeared in Forty-four Turkish Fairy Tales)
“Me and Rumi’s Ghost”
by Samer Rabadi
by Jawad Elhusuni
by Sara Saab
Cover art by Edward Dulac
Catherynne Valente, editor of Apex Magazine, has announced the November issue will be a special showcase issue:
I was thinking the other day about the whole horrifying Elizabeth Moon situation.
I don’t like to just watch bad things happen and make outraged noises and then go back to reading the intertubes like nothing happened. I always want to do something–something positive, something that stands on its own and says something good just by being. I can’t do anything about Moon or Wiscon or any of it. I’m not on the concom and I’m not a habitual buyer of Moon’s books.
What I am is the editor of Apex Magazine.
And I have the Wand of Editorial Oomph.
I would like to announce that the November issue of Apex will be an entirely Arab/Muslim issue. It will be beautiful. It will showcase writers of Arab descent and Muslim writers. (I am aware that many folk not of Arab descent are Muslim, that’s why I’m structuring it this way, so that writers from either culture or both can be part of the issue.) It will show how Islam is as much a part of the human experience as any other faith or story system that writers of the fantastic draw from. It will be a small thing, in the grand scheme. It will not save the world. But it will exist, and perhaps in its own way can stand beside the recent ugliness in the SFF world as something bright and good.
I am looking for material, but most especially poetry, from Muslim authors and authors of Arab descent. Let’s make it easy: if you think you might “count,” then you do. Southeast Asian Muslims, yes. American Muslims, yes. Anybody with a connection to the cultures of Islam, yes. The subject of your works can be anything you like, but I am only looking for authors with connections to Islam and/or the Arabic world. Please do not send reprints, we have that covered.
I want to do what I can. This is a thing I can do. I believe it will be extraordinary.
1) Mail submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
2) Maximum word length a firm 7,500 words.
3) Payment is .05 per word. Paid within 30 days of publication.
4) Please submit either a Microsoft Word Doc or RTF file.
5) Use standard manuscript formatting as outlined by William Shunn. Essentially–double space, 12 pt. Courier or Times New Roman, 1″ borders.
6) We accept reprint submissions. However, your story must have been sold to a highly respected semi-professional (think Interzone, Weird Tales, and so forth) or professional publication (F&SF, Analog, and so on). Payment is a flat $10. Mark your story as a reprint in the subject heading of your email. Word limit for reprints is 10,000.
1) Send no more than five poems at a time. No simultaneous submissions with other publishers.
2) Payment is $0.25 per line or $5 per poem, whichever is greater, paid within 30 days of publication.
3) Format your submission professionally (Writers Digest format). Single-space within stanzas.
4) Poems formatted flush left are preferred over those requiring special formatting (concrete poems, poems with staggered indentation, etc.). We’re looking for creativity of expression rather than of page layout.
5) Mail submissions to email@example.com.
We were supposed to be back up and running this Monday, after Charles, bless him, has been running the blog for over two months while I’ve been moving (again) and, more importantly, getting married!
Then came the volcano, and we now have 10 wedding guests stranded in Israel, living in and out of our 1-bedroom apartment.
A more thorough explanation and a free online serial, Jesus and the Eightfold Path, which will be running on Apex Magazine for the next two weeks, with donations going to help me a little through the unexpected situation. I’ll try to keep the WSNB updated periodically too.
Thank you for your support!
Prompted by a conversation with Jeff Ford, we thought we’d take a look at what stories have been published in 2009 from people who could be termed world SF writers. We’re focusing on people from outside of the traditional Anglophone world (so no US, UK, English-speaking Canada or Australia – all of whom have an obvious advantage), nor American/British/etc. ex-pats overseas – though we attempt to mention them, at least, as Charles and I tend to somewhat disagree on definitions. You can check out more summaries by clicking on the “2009 summaries” tag in our tag-cloud.
Caveat: my name pops up in these lists.
This time it’s Apex Magazine. A diverse list of contributors – we have Americans overseas, like Ruth Nesvold (Germany) in the January issue and Gord Sellar (South Korea) in the February issue; Russian-American writer Ekaterina Sedia in the March issue (and again in the September issue); new Australian writer Peter M. Ball (who’s popping up a lot this year) in the May issue; the special World SF issue, of course – and the American list itself is quite diverse.
- 59 Beads by Rochita Loenen-Ruiz, December
- After the Fire by Aliette de Bodard, November (special World SF issue)
- Benjamin Schneider’s Little Greys by Nir Yaniv (special World SF issue)
- An Evening in the City Coffeehouse, With Lydia on My Mind by Alexsandar Žiljak (special World SF issue)
- Fungal Gardens by Ekaterina Sedia, September
- The Mind of a Pig, Ekaterina Sedia, March
- Dark Planet, Lavie Tidhar, February
So, 7 by my reckoning, more by Charles’ (see above) – any way you look at it a respectable offering. Apex, of course, are the publishers behind The Apex Book of World SF, but it’s nice to see the diversity on offer in the magazine itself.
Apex and Fantasy are currently ahead by a wide margin, with Clarkesworld ruling the roost in terms of artwork. Analog’s at the bottom…
We’d like to run more summaries but our time is limited. If you’d like to contribute drop us a line, especially if you’d like to cover some of the smaller publications.
Netherlands-based, Philippine writer Rochita Loenen-Ruiz‘s new story, “59 Beads”, has just been published in the December issue of Apex Magazine. Check it out.
Air limousines floated by like ghosts in a night filled with a jangle of sounds. A mad juxtaposition of chords, wailing voices and crooned-out tunes mangled by the sound of honking horns, curses and the cries of the desperate filled the dark streets. Cordoba’s End, home to migrants and refugees.
After their parents succumbed to the rot, Pyn and Sienna wandered the streets of Cordoba. Together, they trekked the back side of the posh quarter. Ecstasy street, Ilona’s Oord, Sonatina’s Point, the words tasted as exotic and beautiful as the places themselves. – read the rest of the story.
For any SFWA members voting for the Nebulas (or for any other award voters out there – ’tis the season!), the following stories from The Apex Book of World SF are eligible for nomination:
- The Levantine Experiments, Guy Hasson
- The Wheel of Samsara, Han Song
- Wizard World, Yang Ping
- Cinderers, Nir Yaniv
And the following stories from the Special World SF Issue of Apex Magazine:
Apex Book of World SF contributor Aliette de Bodard‘s latest story, “After the Fire”, first published in the special World SF issue of Apex Magazine, is now available in audio in the popular podcast StarShipSofa.
And Aliette has just unveiled the cover art for her rapidly-approaching first novel from Angry Robot Books!