Friday, February 15, 2013

The Apex Book of World Sci-Fi vol. 2

First, this is fair warning that this post may be a little loopy. I had a tooth pulled today and have been eating Vicodin like candy. I'd never had a tooth pulled and I learned a valuable lesson. I will never again compare finishing an awful book to pulling teeth because there is no book on this planet that is worse than having a molar ripped out of your mouth.

Not even this book, which I admit with reluctance. 
About a year and a half ago, I joined a science fiction and fantasy book club through a branch of my local library. Not only am I finding and reading books that I never would have picked up (or even known existed) on my own, but I have made a group of lifelong friends who are wonderfully, unapologetically, as nerdy (and usually more so) than I am. If you take nothing else away from this post, take this: Get thee to a book club.

Our February pick was a little different than usual. Instead of a novel, we decided on an anthology - the Apex Book of World Science Fiction, vol. 2, edited by Lavie Tidhar. I'm not usually a fan of short story collections, even those with a shared universe. I succumb to book hangover too easily - that feeling of despair when you finish a great book and realize that your time with those characters is over. I usually need a day or three to recover before I can pick up another book. So, you see my problem with an anthology - lots of little hangovers in one book.

This is a picture of me after finishing The Magician King by Lev Grossman.
Despite this problem, I had a lot of fun with the Apex anthology. Tidhar selected a very nice variety of narratives, each offering something a little different. Not a single story bored me, and there are several that will stick in my mind for a very long time.

The one selection that stood out the most, that I am still thinking on a couple of weeks later is "The Secret Origin of Spin-Man" by Andrew Drilon. This is the story of a pair of Filipino brothers obsessed with comic books and enthralled by their uncle who lives in America and works for a small comics publisher. Together, they create Spin-Man, but not in any sort of traditional brainstorm sort of way. I loved this story because it spoke to my own childhood. The author and I are of similar age, and his 80s and 90s comics references were ones I understood. The narrative also takes a very unexpected turn. I love a story that can surprise me. Out of all the authors in this anthology, Drilon is the one whose work I will most likely pursue.

You watched this for the Rogue/Gambit relationship drama. Don't lie, sugah.
Other standouts were, “The Sound of Breaking Glass” by Joyce Chng (about an old man who hung polished glass chimes all through his house and grounds for the fairies), “Hungry Man” by Will Elliott (one of the most horrifying tales I have ever read), and “Zombie Lenin” by Ekaterina Sedia (which is not quite a zombie story at all).

There were a lot of other selections that were also pretty great. As I said, I enjoyed this anthology as a whole. This was world sci-fi, with themes and tropes that are not always native to American or first world science fiction. For example, while first world sci-fi tends toward the brave exploration of new lands, authors from other, more impoverished nations write more about survival and adaptation either in colonized lands or failed expeditions. I also felt that many of these stories were more character than plot driven, where most of the American sci-fi I have read is the opposite. This anthology made me reexamine just how ethnocentric/geocentric I really was (and we all are to an extent - truly understanding life from any perspective other than the one you know is difficult). So, not only did I discover a whole new bunch of authors, I got to learn a few things about myself as well.

You mean, there's more to the world than the kitchen and litter box?!
For those of you who like a good anthology, I recommend picking this one up. Even if you're not a big old science fiction nerd, there's some good stuff in here well worth reading.

1 comment:

  1. "I will never again compare finishing an awful book to pulling teeth because there is no book on this planet that is worse than having a molar ripped out of your mouth." The self-hating writer in me wants to say, but Carey you haven't read any of my books :)

    I'm not a huge collection reader myself but I also don't like collections that are reprints. I like collections that this is the first time the stories have been published. I've seen some stories in three or four different collections and for some reason that bugs me. I think the last collection I read was Fragile Things and I'm still not finished with it.