As we pass the halfway mark of the year, we find the first of the new 'best of' anthologies flooding the market. Currently I have 4 monster tomes that I've been reading through, jumping around between favorite authors and intriguing titles. I'm not one to read an anthology from cover-to-cover, but I try to give the bulk of the stories a fair shot.
First up was Space Opera from Rich Horton; The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year #8 from Jonathan Strahan; and The Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction (Volume 2) edited by Gordon Van Gelder.
Lastly, we have The Apex Book of World SF Volume 3, edited by Lavie Tidhar, which collects 282 pages of science fiction, fantasy, and horror. This is a collection where, to be honest, I didn't recognize a single author from the table of contents. Instead, the appeal for me was in the quality of work that I've known Apex put out in the past - yes, I'd be going in blind, but I also knew I'd find some gems.
“Courtship in the Country of Machine–Gods” by Benjanun Sriduangkaew was an odd choice to lead things off with, being a bit confusing and hard to grasp, but it reminds us that good science fiction isn't always immediately accessible. “A Hundred Ghosts Parade Tonight” by Xia Jia was a more entertaining follow-up, exploring the streets walked by the dead, but even it strayed a bit into confusion towards the end.
The next few tales I didn't care for at all, but “The City of Silence” by Ma Boyong may very well be the smartest, more entertaining story in the collection. “Planetfall” by Athena Andreadis was interesting, but tried to do too much, while “Jungle Fever” by Zulaikha Nurain Mudzar surprised me with how well it worked as a monsters-among-us sort of tale. The next few stories fell flat for me, although I may go back and give “Ahuizotl” by Nelly Geraldine García–Rosas another read when I get the chance, as I fear I may have missed something that would deliver on its initial promise.
“Waiting with Mortals” by Crystal Koo was another twist on the traditional ghost story, offering something different yet again from that of Xia Jia. While Ma Boyong may have the smartest tale in the collection, Ange has the most imaginative in “Three Little Children” - a very dark twist on faery tales and their role in society. “Brita’s Holiday Village” by Karin Tidbeck is one of those stories about writing stories, which rarely ever work for me, but “Regressions” by Swapna Kishore was surprisingly deep and thoughtful, with some really interesting conclusions to be found.
Finally, if Benjanun Sriduangkaew was an odd choice with which to open the collection, Berit Ellingsen is absolutely perfect to close things out. On the surface, “Dancing on the Red Planet” seems like the most traditional story in the collection, but like Mars itself it has layers to its narrative, all of them musically inclined. Odd, and somewhat disjointed, but entertaining as a while - much like the collection itself.
If you're open to new authors, and are open to the challenge of exploring new ways of telling a story, then The Apex Book of World SF Volume 3 is worth checking out. So many of this year's anthologies have been about revisiting favorite authors and familiar stories, it's important to remember that they were all unknown to us at one point . . . and the thrill of discovery is as important in the reader's mind as it is on the page.
Paperback, 282 pages
Published June 29th 2014 by Apex Book Company