The Short: I loved “The Best of World SF: Volume 2”, Lavie Tidhar editor, 2022 Ad Astra/Head of Zeus. Although my average rating is 3.73/5, or “Very good”, I’m giving it an overall “Great” rating, explained below. Recommended strongly for those interested in different voices in speculative fiction.
The Full Story: I’ve been a fan of the different voices found in international and translated speculative fiction for a while. I had read Lavie Tidhars 2021 anthology “The Best of World SF: Volume 1” several years ago and loved it. When I heard there would be a volume 2, I knew I had to read it.
I was fortunate that my regional library consortium had “The Best of World SF: Volume 2”, Lavie Tidhar editor, 2022 Ad Astra/Head of Zeus. I requested it; when it showed up, it appeared that the book was brand new and that I was the first reader of this copy.
It’s a hefty anthology, with 29 stories and 618 pages of short fiction. Juggling other short fiction and novels already being read, it took me about three weeks to read it.
There is a very good introduction that tells what Tidhar was thinking about and how he found or acquired many of these international SF stories. I think the gist of what his goal and scope was are found in these sentences from the Introduction, “…my intention with these volumes is to showcase the new voices of international science fiction.”, “…the oldest story is from 2012, and several stories appear here for the first time.”, and “…none of the authors from the previous volume appear in this book.”
There are also story introductions, an “About the Authors” essay, and “Extended Copyright Information.” Also of real value is the “About the Translators” essay. While not unique, this has become a required feature for translated stories.
While not a requirement for a good genre anthology, I find the presence of an Introduction, story introductions, “About the Authors”, “About the Translators”, and the “Extended Copyright Information” are all part of a full and satisfying package for me. I was pleased to see all of them.
The anthology is definitely world speculative fiction. There are 5 stories first published here, and 4 more first published first in English translation here, by writers from 25 countries. Authors were listed as from Bahrain, Bangladesh, Barbados, Bolivia, Brazil, China, Czech Republic, Greece, Grenada, India, Iraq, Jamaica, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, The Philippines, Poland, Russia, Singapore, Uganda and Zimbabwe.
While the anthology is mostly science fiction as labelled, I find the “Between the Firmaments” novella by Neon Yang to be an SF/Fantasy crossover novella.
As noted above, there are 5 stories included that had not been previously published anywhere. These were:
- “At Desk 9501…”, a short story by Frances Ogamba.
- “Dead Man, Awake, Sing to the Sun!”, a short story by Pan Haitian.
- “The Next Move”, a short story by Edmundo Paz-Soldán.
- “The Child of Clay”, a short story by Dilman Dila, author of two stories that I have read and enjoyed, “Red_Bati” and “The Blue House“.
- “Waking Nydra”, a novelette by Samit Basu.
It was a plus for me that four of these were by authors new to me.
Four of the stories included were first published in English here. These were:
- “Twenty About Robots”, a short story by Alberto Chimal.
- “A Flaw In The Works”, a novelette by Julie Novakova, author of the stories “The Gift” and “The Long Iapetan Night” which I enjoyed.
- “Sleeping Beauties”, a short story by Agnieszka Hałas.
- “The Farctory”, a novella by K.A. Teryna, author of several stories that I have read, including “Lajos and his Bees“, “No One Ever Leaves Port Henri“, and “The Errata“.
Two of them were by authors new to me, which I liked.
I was also pleased that there were only three stories included that I had read previously read, “The Bahrain Underground Bazaar” by Nadia Afifi, “Beyond These Stars Other Tribulations of Love” by Usman T. Malik, and “Whale Snows Down” by Kim Bo-Young.
My favorites were all stories I rated “Great” and included:
- “Blue Grey Blue”, a short story by Yukimi Ogawa.
- “Salvaging Gods”, a short story by Jacques Barcia.
- “A Flaw in the Works”, a 2020 novelette by Julie Novakova.
- “Whale Snows Down”, a 2020 short story by Kim Bo-Young.
- “Dead Man, Awake, Sing to the Sun!”, a short story by Pan Haitian.
- “The Child of Clay”, a short story by Dilman Dila.
- “To Set at Twilight In a Land of Reeds”, a 2020 short story by Natalia Theodoridou.
- “The Beast Has Died”, a 2015 short story by Bernardo Fernández.
- “Twenty About Robots”, a short story by Alberto Chimal.
- “Kakak”, a 2015 short story by William Tham Wai Liang.
- “Beyond These Stars Other Tribulations of Love”, a 2020 short story by Usman T. Malik.
- “When We Die on Mars”, a 2015 short story by Cassandra Khaw.
- “At Desk 9501…” “, a short story by Frances Ogamba.
- “The Gardens of Babylon”, a 2016 short story by Hassan Blasim.
- “Bring Your Own Spoon”, a 2017 short story by Saad Z. Hossain.
- “The Bahrain Underground Bazaar”, a 2020 novelette by Nadia Afifi.
I was pleased that a number of my favorites were first published here.
There were two stories that I wondered about being included, “The Next Move”, a short story by Edmundo Paz-Soldán, and “The Farctory” by K. A. Teryna. This might just be my personal taste, especially for “The Farctory”.
My overall average rating for the stories was 3.73/5, or “Very good”. However, the variety of voices including authors new to me and the outstanding essay material pushed this into “Great” for me. Strongly recommended for those interested in different voices in speculative fiction.
Detailed Reviews/Comments: Spoilers Everywhere:
“The Bahrain Underground Bazaar“, a novelette by Nadia Afifi, F&SF November/December 2020. An aging woman in Bahrain is dying of a brain tumor. Technology of the NeuroLync has the unexpected byproduct of recording the deaths of its users, and one can sample those at the Bahrain Underground Bazaar. The woman experiences one, of a woman who has an unusual death frim falling in Petra. She goes there, thinking perhaps to go out on her own terms, but changes her mind. I loved this story. Reprinted in “The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Volume 2“, Jonathan Strahan editor, 2021 Saga Press, “The Best Science Fiction of the Year: Volume 6“, Neil Clarke editor, 2022 Night Shade Books, and “The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy, 2021 Edition“, Rich Horton editor, 2022 Prime Books. Rated 3.8/5, or “Great”.
“The Ten-Percent Thief“, a short story by Lavanya Lakshminarayan, from the fix-up novel “Analog/Virtual and Other Simulations of Your Future“, 2020 Hachette India. A very good story of future haves and have nots, and hope. Reading the fix-up novel it appears in, “Analog/digital”, may be a good idea. Rated 3.7/5, or “Very good”.
“At Desk 9501…“, a • short story by Frances Ogamba, first published here. A great story of an orphaned man who goes to work for a company where the employees are paid to use a portion of their life to save people who are dying otherwise. His life becomes horrific, as there is much more going on than just giving up a bit of his life. Rated 3.8/5, or “Great”.
“Milagroso“, a 2015 short story by Isabel Yap, 2015 Tor.com. A very good story about place and home, and trying to reconcile that with attempting to move into the future. Told as a man who works for a future food corporation takes his family home to a small town in the Philippines. Rated 3.7/5, or “Very good”.
“Bring Your Own Spoon“, a 2017 short story by Saad Z. Hossain, from the anthology “The Djinn Falls in Love & Other Stories“, Mahvesh Murad & Jared Shurin editor, 2015 Solaris. A great story of haves and have nots, in a much degraded world, with jinn returned. A man and his friends open a restaurant. The restaurant is destroyed by the haves, but there is still hope. Rated 3.8/5, or “Great”.
“Blue Grey Blue“, a 2016 short story by Yukimi Ogawa, Clarkesworld December 2016. I was struggling a bit with this story, and I put it aside until after I finished reading the rest of the stories. Coming back to it and starting fresh, I love this story. People have started to display colors on their skin, and sometimes in their eyes, apparently as a result of both genetic and environmental factors. This can be good for them, but also not so good. The POV character has challenging eye colors, which wax and wane as he feels good and less good. He meets Ai, who has amazing lazurite skin and interesting eyes, and becomes involved with her. At the end, he has bluer and more interesting eyes. Ai reveals she is an AI that is tasked with gathering the colors, but is not supposed to give, and she has given to him. She leaves or is terminated. His life goes on, perhaps better. Rated 4/5, or “Great”.
“Your Multicolored Life“, a novelette by Xing He, previously published in Chinese in 2007 and then in Clarkesworld June 2018 (translated by Andy Dudak). A very good story of two men in different “worlds” (perhaps regions?) who both flee due to be a perceived inhospitality of their world. One is a revolutionary and the other a smart, driven man that wants to achieve and do big things. They meet up, and eventually exchange places. Both die soon be after as their mutual world was not hospitable to them. Rated 3.7/5, or “Very good”.
“The Easthound“, a short story by Nalo Hopkinson, from “After: Nineteen Stories of Apocalypse and Dystopia“, Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling editors, 2012 Hyperion Books. This story appears to be at the interface of SF and horror. A pandemic has made adults sprout and kill people before dying, with the world rather devastated. Some teens do the same as well, and some do not. An older twin sprouts, and the younger runs from her friends as she realizes she is next. Rated 3.7/5, or “Very good”.
“Dead Man, Awake, Sing to the Sun!“, a short story by Pan Haitian, first published here, translated by Joel Martinsen. A great story of the living dead, and how they get on with life as one dead. The world changes. This story is humorous and wry. Rated 3.8/5, or “Great”.
“Salvaging Gods“, a short story by Jacques Barcia, Clarkesworld October 2010. A great, serious yet humorous tale of gods and God, and software and hardware. 3.9/5, or “Great”.
“The Next Move“, a short story by Edmundo Paz-Soldán, first published here, translated by Jessica Sequeira. Maybe I’m slow, but I never got a firm grip on what was happening in this story. There is some kind of an occupying force on a island. The soldiers occupying cannot leave. There is a reference to “little humans” or some such. Life seems to be pointless for all. Maybe that is the point of the story? Rated 3.3/5, or “Good”.
“The Child of Clay“, a short story by Dilman Dila, first published here. This feels like a horror story for robots. The robot named Labita badly wants a child, rit is unlucky. Getting a child from clay brings danger to all robots. Rated 3.8/5, or “Great”.
“To Set at Twilight In a Land of Reeds“, a short story by Natalia Theodoridou, Clarkesworld October 2020. A wonderfully melancholy story of a person and robots, and loss. Rated 3.8/5, or “Great”.
“The Beast Has Died“, a short story by Bernardo Fernández, published in Spanish in 2004 and in Words Without Borders, January 2015, translated by Brian Price. I love this alternate history story of Mexico, and it’s emperor, and robots. The president of the prior government returns in very different form, and wreaks havoc. I am sure that I would need to know a few more things about Mexican history to get all of the nuances, but I loved the story regardless. Rated 3.8/5, or “Great”.
“Twenty About Robots“, a short story by Alberto Chimal, first published in Palabras Errantes, 2014, first published here in English, translated by Fionn Petch. A slice of life approach to many robots. I love it. Rated 3.8/5, or “Great”.
“The Regression Test“, a short story by Wole Talabi, F&SF January/February 2017. I like this story of future AI research and a grandmother who dislikes her grandson who is an AI researcher. There is probably a rather horrific ending for her. Rated 3.6/5, or “Very good”.
“Kakak“, a short story by William Tham Wai Liang, from “Cyberpunk: Malaysia“, Zen Cho editor, 2015 Fixi Novo/Buku Fixi. A great story of a nurse robot who flees her jealous owner and hopes for a new life. Rated 3.8/5, or “Great”.
“Beyond These Stars Other Tribulations of Love”, a short story by Usman T. Malik, Wire.com December 11, 2020. A man signs up for an interstellar journey, while using quantum telepresence to watch over and help his mother. As the time dilation increases, life becomes harder. Elements of this reminded me of Heinlein’s “Time for the Stars“, with the telepathic twins and one of them on a time dilation star ship. Reprinted in “The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Volume 2“, Jonathan Strahan editor, 2021 Saga Press, and “The Best Science Fiction of the Year: Volume 6“, Neil Clarke editor, 2022 Night Shade Books. Rated 3.8/5, or “Great”.
“A Flaw in the Works“, a novelette by Julie Novakova, first published in Czech in “Robot100“, edited by Jaroslav Olša Jr., and Richard Klíčník, and first published here in English. A great story that is a wonderful follow-up to a classic, “R. U. R.” by Karel Čapek. (1920). My thanks also to to Lavie Tidhar for not blowing the surprise with too much information in the story introduction or a too cute but transparent title. Rated 3.9/5, or “Great”.
“When We Die on Mars“, a short story by Cassandra Khaw, Clarkesworld December 2015. A great story of people going to Mars to prepare the way for others. They will not come back. Rated 3.8/5, or “Great”.
“The Mighty Slinger“, a novelette by Tobias S. Buckell and Karen Lord, from “Bridging Infinity“, Jonathan Strahan editor, 2016 Solaris. A very good story of cohorts working to develop the solar system for everyone, and music, and the fight against the man. Reprinted in “The Best Science Fiction of the Year: Volume 2“, Neil Clarke editor, 2017 Night Shade Books. Rated 3.7/5, or “Very good”.
“Corialis“, a short story by T. L. Huchu, Fiyah, Autumn 2019. A very good story of a man on a new world. Although he and the others have had their personal biomes replaced to be compatible with the world’s, he concludes he must give his life and his biological material for the colonists to survive and thrive. Nommo nomination. Rated 3.7/5, or “Very good”.
“The Substance of Ideas“, a short story by Clelia Farris, Future Science Fiction Digest December 2018, translated by Rachel Cordasco. A very good yet melancholy story of life on a very different kibbutz far from Earth. Rated 3.7/5, or “Very good”.
“Sleeping Beauties“, a short story by Agnieszka Hałas, first published in Polish in “Science fiction po polsku”, Wydawnictwo Paperback, Strzelin 2012, and first published here in English. A horrifying story of life in the outer system under a dictatorship. Convicts in frozen sleep are the cargo, with torture at the end. Rated 3.7/5, or “Very good”.
“Waking Nydra” “, a novelette by Samit Basu, first published here. Interstellar sleeping princess with a rescuer and a fan boy from the wrong side of the tracks. Fun, but at the same time I felt there were some things going on with the POV character I did not get. Not sure if this is cultural or generational on my part, or just writing that could have been better. Rated 3.6/5, or “Very good”.
“Between the Firmaments“, a novella by Neon Yang, first published in 2018 on the Book Smugglers website. A good story of fallen gods and interlopers who rule, and a big change. I do consider this more fantasy than SF. Rated 3.7/5, or “Very good”.
“Whale Snows Down“, a short story by Kim Bo-Young, first published in Korean in 2020 and first published in English in Future Science Fiction Digest, December 2020, translated by Sophie Bowman. A great and harrowing story of life in the deeps and the end of life on the surface. Rated 3.9/5, or “Great”.
“The Gardens of Babylon“, a short story by Hassan Blasim, from “Iraq + 100: Stories from a Century After the Invasion“, Hassan Blasim editor, 2016 Comma Press. A great story of a man in a future Babylon attempting to write a story-game based on a famous story. I love the progression and imagery. Rated 3.8/5, or ” Great”.
“The Farctory“, a novella by K. A. Teryna, published in Russian in 2014 and first published here in English. I see the art in how this story is written, but it is too surrealistic for me. It appears to be about a man searching for Barbara, maybe, with some noir aspects. It is interesting that this is the second story in this book to concern color, after “Blue Gray Blue”. Rated 3.2/5, or “Good”.
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