Science Fiction Though the Decades

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

2009: The Apex Book of World SF (Tidhar, Lavie)

Good collection which overuses the word “whilst” (4/5)

I was born, raised and educated in America but I’ve lived more than a third of my life in Thailand, almost my entire adult life actually; it has become my homethe place, people and customs I’m most familiar with. America is a foreign country. When I visit, the weather is unpredictable, the food is terrible and the shows people watch on TV are shameful, indulgent.  Anyway, the general atmosphere is oppressive.

Being (what I hope doesn’t sound hokey) a global citizen, many of my friends and students come from different backgrounds: Turkey, France, Lao, China, Brazil, Russia, Myanmar, Singapore, Korea, Switzerland, Australia, Ireland, Canada, Portugal… just to name a few off the top of my head. Each time, I’m exposed to a different narrative, a fresh perspective on life. Verbalizing the difference between each cultural narrative is impossible, but a warm quality of humanity is pervasive; stereotypes dissolve: not all Koreans are technologically savvy, not all Chinese are ugly tourists, not all Singaporeans are submissive law abiders, not all Irish are… well, actually, they are—that one’s true.

In essence, this mingling of cultures, this sometimes demonized “globalization”, has stirred the soup of our shared narratives. Many people are now raised in bilingual, bicultural families. This leads us to the question: What is World SF? Is it a story which typifies a people or a merely exotic surname? Is it a story exhibiting tactic cultural norms or merely engrossed in myth? In the end, the stories in this collection don’t have that exotic spark of foreign culture but they DO all have some wonderfully exotic names. If the reader is looking for foreignness within speculative fiction, these are not the stories you are looking for; but if the reader is interested in narratives which are difficult to access, this just may be it.

As mentioned in the paragraph above, this is a collection of “World SF” where “SF” does not stand for “science fiction”, as it commonly does, rather for “speculative fiction”: fantasy, horror, sci-fi, alternative history, etc. if you come looking for science fiction, these are not the stories you are looking for.

------Complaint Section, skip if desired------

One gripe: Being a global citizen and also being an English teacher, I understand that some countries prefer to use “while” and others prefer “whilst”; however, the use of each is not exclusive. Americans only use “while” but the British, for example, juggle the two. Take these great British novels for example:
  • Virgina Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway: while (32 times), whilst (0 times)
  • E.M. Forster’s A Room With a View: while (54 times), whilst (1 time)
  • Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None: while (10 times), whilst (1 time)
The stories in this collection very, very oddly only use “while” once (page 148); every other story exclusively uses “whilst”—sixty-six times to be exact, two of which aren’t even real words:

  • Meanwhilst (?): pages 26, 45, 67, 289
  • After a whilst: pages 44, 47, 105, 111, 144, 146, 219, 258, 323
  • For a whilst: pages 110, 142, 154, 160, 210, 222, 237, 238, 248, 257, 259, 265, 277, 282
  • Worth your whilst: page 119
  • Worthwhilst (?): page 305
  • All the whilst: page 319
“Meanwhile” has 57,900,000 Google hits; “meanwhilst” only has 62,600 results.
“Worthwhile” has 15,500,000 Google hits; “worthwhilst” only has 9,650 results.

Editor’s fault? Publisher’s fault?
This collection (Apex, an American publisher) has a version of Aliette de Bodard’s “The Lost Xuyan Bride” that contains “whilst” 10 times. Anyone can access Aliette de Bodard’s website and read another version of “The Lost Xuyan Bride” (first printed in the British magazine Interzone, 2007) that contains “while” 10 times.
Mutually exclusive?

------End of Rant------

Thailand, S.P. Somtow
“The Bird Catcher” (2001, novelette) – 4/5
Thailand’s own boogieman isn’t a strand of fiction—he actually existed and is actually preserved in a forensic museum just west of Bangkok. Nicolas has a story: He found his way to Siam as a stowaway from China where he was in a concentration camp. He arrived on the same boat as Si Ui, the man who caught and ate live birds. When they meet again, bird livers aren’t the only thing Si Ui has a hunger for.

Netherlands, Jetse de vries
“Transcendence Express” (2007, shortstory) – 4/5
In the Dutch lowlands, research into quantum computing hits stride when crossed with biology, resulting in a bioquantum computer (BIQCO). Liona, once a straight-laced follower of innovation, follows her boyfriend to Zambia where he is a volunteer. She, too, volunteers her knowledge to the community. The homemade BIQCOs slowly learn from the children and, in time, the children learn from them.

Israel, Guy Hasson
“The Levantine Experiments” (2009, shortstory) – 5/5
An 11-year-old girl, having been born, weaned and taught language under nearly absolute isolation until the age of five, is under constant observation as an experiment. Her home—a cell; her fixation—a crack in the wall; her limitations—endless. After two years of dreaming exclusively of the crack and its alienness of the light and dark voids beyond it, she is rescued into another prison.

China, Han Song
“The Wheel of Samsara” (2009, shortstory) – 3/5
From Mars, a girl with wonder in her eyes visits a Tibetan lamasery where 108 wheels spin in the wind—the Wheels of Samara. The 36th wheel, however, is discolored, counter-rotating and makes strange noises in the nightly wind. Back on Mars, she tells her learned father of the phenomenon. He eventually travels to Tibet to witness the relic and is confronted by a reality unknown to his precious science.

Australia/Fiji, Kaaron Warren
“Ghost Jail” (2008, shortstory) – 2/5
The slums called Cewa Flats are evacuated because of, what the Chief of Police says, the sacred ground under the site. Keith and Lisa, journalists from the newspaper, visit the Flats where the residents tell them of the contractible cancer of the breathe. Deciding on a closer look, Lisa discovers the Flats to be haunted and Rashmilla, a spirit contact, informs her that the gravestones render her escape impossible.

China, Yang Ping
“Wizard World” (2009, novelette) – 4/5
Lured into his own death by a character with the handle of Pig Tongue, Xingxing is miffed as to why he can’t access his account on the MUD game. Not having left his room for three years, he seeks help within the game under a new account; his Wizard friend Porket helps him discover the widespread hacking of the entire game program. Even in the year 2097, some vindication must be done in person.

Philippines, Dean Francis Alfar
“The Kite of Stars” (2003, shortstory) – 4/5
Only sixteen and love struck by the reckless jaunt of a young, influential astronomer who “only has eyes from the stars”, Marie becomes inspired to meet the young stargazer whatever it takes, or whenever. Her grand idea is to ascend in a kite for him to observe her, but the kite maker insists on the impossibility of its construction; regardless, she sets out for sixty years to retrieve the 1,000-part list.

Israel, Nir Yaniv
“Cinderers” (2004, shortstory) – 3/5
On a personal quest of wanton murder, Huey, Louie and Dweye kill various people by various methods, eventually racking up more than eighty deaths. The narrative trio attain singularity when the Demon, an outside force bent on curing the multiple personality war of his mental disease, kills the remaining personalities. However, the inner qualm of the murderer goes deeper than the split personalities.

Palestine, Jamil Nasir
“The Allah Stairs” (1990, shortstory) – 3/5
Laziz was the small, pale, awkward boy in primary school with the recurring bizarre story of sending his father up the Allah Stairs because of the abuse inflicted upon little Laziz. Years later and grown to adults, two ex-classmates revisit the apartment they and Laziz used to live in, where they see the Allah Stairs in Laziz’s room. They track the man down for an explanation and reassurance.

Malaysia, Tunku Halim
“Biggest Bassest Bomoh” (1997, shortstory) – 4/5
Idris Ishak is crazy about Zani Kasim, the new secretary who has become his object of worship. Her popularity among the staff and utter beauty doesn’t keep him from having a few tries at dates with her. Eventually his reality intruded on his fantasy and he resorted to contacting the witch doctor his friend recommended. His wish for iron-clad reciprocal love becomes true when she visits his home.

France, Aliette de Bodard
“The Lost Xuyan Bride” (2007, novelette) – 4/5
Jonathon Brooks is an American investigator with a curious history of having a deceased wife and fleeing the east state of America for the west state of Xuyan. The case of his missing daughter of a tech company founder sends Brooks on a path with the local ring of mafia, whom the young missing girl is betrothed with, and into the southern country of Mexica and their discriminatory isolation.

Philippines, Kristin Mandigma
“Except from a Letter by a Social-Realist Aswang” (2007, shortstory) – 5/5
In a meta-fictional twist on a Kafkaesque reality, an editor bitingly responds to a story submission by a fledging author who penned a novel about fighting monster cockroaches on an alien planet (a la Heinlein) while Earth itself is being protected by “alienated capitalist soldiers” (167-168). The Filipino editor questions the author’s socialistic allegiances and defends herself as a “baby eater”.

Croatia, Aleksandar Ziljak
“An Evening in the City Coffeehouse, with Lydia on My Mind” (1999, shortstory) – 4/5
Zargeb is full of beautiful women. This situation doesn’t impinge upon most minds but does drive one man into a voyeuristic indulgence. He secretly seeds houses with “flies” which record the subject’s most intimate encounters. He sells these thousands of terabytes of footage, but one gorgeous subject he want to keep for himself. The footage, however, shows her having some rather strange bed partners.

India, Anil Menon
“Into the Night” (2008, shortstory) – 3/5
Displaced from Mumbai to the Pacific island of Meridian, an 82-year-old Brahmin finds the transition difficult in part by his language preference for Tamil, his unfamiliarity with the science his daughter spouts off about, and the alienation from his culture. His emotionally disconnected daughter staunches his chance of integration and the memory of his wife fills him with discomfort in a technological world.

France, Melanie Fazi
“Elegy” (2007, shortstory) – 5/5
Deborah and Benjamin are the parents of twins, whom they adore even after their disappearance from their bedroom. Benjamin regresses to drunken stagnation and emotional detachment while Deborah pleads to a majestic tree on the hill which bores the generic likeness of Adam and Anne; she pleads with sacrificial words and the blood of her hands. Only a human sacrifice, she thinks, can appease it.


  1. This "whilst" thing is either a publisher or editor issue. I didn't use the word in my story either.

  2. I'm honored by your stopping by Mr. Žiljak. The whole "whilst" issue was greatly annoying (to someone like me who is sensitive to word repetition) and marred my enjoyment of the collection. Your own story was great except for the rather abrupt Lazarus conclusion.

  3. Interesting that the one story from a native English speaking country should be the poorest in your opinion. I am not a big fan of horror either...

    1. I like horror, but not supernatural horror like ghosts and demons and stuff. I prefer "body horror".