BOOK REVIEW: The Best of World SF Volume 1, edited by Lavie Tidhar

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Publisher: Head of Zeus

Genre: Various

Pages: 583

Publication Date: 01/042021

Verdict: 2/5

 

In recent years, there has been an explosion of interest in authors from non-English speaking languages. Here in the UK, it certainly seems as though Head of Zeus are leading the charge when it comes to fiction from outside the Anglophone sphere. Tidhar goes into more detail about the journey foreign fiction has made in English-speaking nations in the introduction to this book. For myself, I’ve definitely found a lot of brilliant authors that classify as ‘World SF’ (a label that Tidhar agrees is less than useful). Foremost among them are Cixin Liu and Hao Jingfang, both originally writing in Chinese. I came to The Best of Wirld SF Volume 1 hopping to find more authors to join that growing list, but I unfortunately came away less than satisfied.

I don’t read a lot of modern short fiction. I’m not subscribed to any of the major magazines, and the anthologies and collections I buy tend to be focused around an author or series that I am already familiar with. Though I enjoy short stories as a concept, most of my reading in that area comes from battered old paperbacks by names from the past. Asimov is the obvious one, but there’s also Kuttner, Moore, Laumer, and van Vogt. The short stories that I enjoy the most are those set up as logic puzzles. The ones that speak to me intellectually. Looking around modern markets, it feels like that’s a style that’s fallen out of favour these days, and The Best of World SF Volume 1 does little to allay these suspicions.

This is a fantastically diverse anthology, not only in authors but in the style of stories. But if there is a common thread binding most of them together, it’s the idea of a common human identity. These may be marketed as an example of fiction from any given country, but each one posits some unique truth about the human condition. It’s this emotional core to the anthology that keeps me at bay. Ninety percent of these stories are trying to hook onto empathy that simply isn’t there. And that is entirely a me-centric issue. On a mechanical level, this stories are simply brilliant. There are literary ideas at work here that I’ve never encountered before, and that intellectual stimulation was enough to keep me going. But these stories are, perhaps, too literary for their own good. There’s not enough actual story to keep me engaged. I don’t doubt that these are all writers at the top of their game. It’s just not a game that I’m interested in.

There are a few stories that stand out however. A handful that I absolutely loved. Vina Jie-Min Prasad’s ‘Fandom for Robots’ is a story I read earlier this year in ‘We, Robots‘ and I enjoyed it just as much here. Considering the fact that I don’t care for either anime or fan fiction, this story of a robot becoming a writer is surprisingly engaging. And then there’s Kuzhali Manickaevl’s brilliantly titled ‘An Incomplete Guide to Understanding the Rose Petal Infestation Associated With EverTyphoid Patients in the Tropicool IcyLand Urban Indian Slum.’ ironically, this is one of the shorter stories in the collection, and takes the form of a medical report that is both ludicrously nonsensical and absolutely engrossing.

Even though I didn’t enjoy this anthology, it is one that I recommend. There’s something for everyone in here, even me. If you want to see the state of modern short fiction for yourself, give this a read and make your own mind up. The only real disappointment here is that The Best of World SF Volume 1 didn’t work for me, because on its own merit, it is absolutely amazing.

Published by Alex Hormann

I'm a writer, reader, and farmer, with an interest in all things speculative.

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