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INTERVIEW: Lavie Tidhar Talks about APEX BOOK OF WORLD SF 3

Lavie Tidhar

photo by Kevin Nixon (c) 2013 Future Publishing

Lavie Tidhar‘s most recent novels are The Violent Century (published in the US next year by Thomas Dunne Books) and A Man Lies Dreaming (published in October in the UK from Hodder & Stoughton). He won the World Fantasy, British Fantasy and BSFA Awards. Lavie ran the World SF Blog for four years and is the editor of The Apex Book of World SF series of international speculative short fiction, of which Volume 3 just came out. Originally from Israel, he currently lives in London.

Charles Tan: Hi Lavie! This will be the third Apex Book of World SF anthology. How is it different from the previous volumes? Is there a specific region or regions you wanted to focus on in this volume?

Lavie Tidhar: It’s a good question – to me, in a way, the three volumes present one continuous project, a single work – a snapshot of international speculative fiction in the last decade or so. That is, my goal was and remains to read widely, to select stories that I liked and that I wanted to share, without any story standing for some half-mythical “representation” of an entire culture or language. They’re individual stories by individual writers from all around the world, and some engage directly with specific cultural questions and some don’t feel the need to do that. If they do constitute an argument at all, it is exactly that, that you can’t narrow down fiction – genre or otherwise – you can’t reduce it to generalities.

Saying all that, it’s been a lot easier since I started editing the series in 2008 or so. One obvious difference in Volume 3 is that the stories are predominantly by women writers – who I think are very much leading the field in short fiction now. The other is that I had more access to more sources, and I’d single out the anthology Afro SF as filling a particularly important niche in that regard. In fact there’s a great range of sources included here.

Other than that, Volume 2 had a lot of shorter stories – here I wanted the freedom to reprint longer works, such as Benjanun Sriduangkaew’s “Courtship in the Country of Machine-Gods”, which opens the book, and is a remarkable debut.

CT: We now have three volumes over the span of six years. For some readers, a book every two years seems long. Why the long wait? What were some of the challenges?

LT: It’s been the case from the start that each volume could have been the last. We were very surprised by the enthusiasm with which Volume 1 was received, and that allowed us to do a second volume. But also, it’s been a case of finding the right stories, the right venues – like I said, it’s certainly a lot easier now, with more venues, more awareness, more people publishing, more specialist anthologies, which wasn’t really the case back in 2009.

But once every two years is plenty! Really it’s a fair amount of work – not just finding the stories, liaising with authors and translators, copy-editing and design and so on, but also investing time and energy in trying to make sure people hear about the books, promoting them, promoting the authors (who deserve nothing less, of course). So it can be quite draining, and I have to fit it around the novels and so on – we do it because we believe in the project, not because it’s particularly cost effective.

And of course after every volume I swear I’ll never edit an anthology ever again! But saying that, even now I’m secretly reading with the idea that, maybe, no, never! but maybe, if we do a Volume 4…

CT: When you started the Apex Book of World SF, you also began the World SF Blog. Currently, the latter has been retired. Do you have plans for the Apex Book of World SF series or a similar project in the future? What is your ideal vision for the series, or your dream project?

LT: The blog ran for four years, and it was getting hard for me to maintain it about three years in, as my – for lack of a better word, career – began to consume quite a lot of time. Then they gave me a couple of awards for it! And I think it missed out on a Hugo nomination by 5 votes or something. So I figured it was definitely time to stop!

I did look at various options of continuing it, but it didn’t work out in the end. And my feeling was, to a large extent, the blog did what it was set out to do. It was a voice in a conversation, I hoped it helped initiate, to an extent, a part of a conversation, and I don’t know that it was needed any more, or as much at any rate.

When we started with The Apex Book of World SF, while we kind of hoped we could keep doing them, it also seemed very unlikely. So it’s been a complete privilege to continue it as a series. So it’s the question again of, will people buy it? Will it allow us to do a fourth volume? And I don’t know that it would. And also, I like the idea that if we keep doing them, maybe we could get different editors for different volumes – but who’d be mad enough to want to do it? So we’ll see.

CT: How has the field changed compared to when you began the Apex Book of World SF? There seems to be more diverse anthologies (but never enough) and awareness now, but we also see some authors and editors repeating old mistakes. Do you think we’re progressing? Are you hopeful?

LT: I think we’ve seen a change for the better as editors become more aware, as funding possibilities expand, as more outsider voices get involved. I have a lot of reservations – I think a lot of the time the conversation about “diversity” takes place in an almost-exclusively American context, for instance – but it’s undeniably better than it was. I’d like to be hopeful, anyway!

CT: You’ve travelled, written some novels, written even more novels, moved house, etc. Do these experiences influence your vision for The Apex Book of World SF 3, and vice versa?

LT: It’s true that each volume was edited in a different country! But the anthologies aren’t about me, in that sense, they’re all about the writers. If it’s had an effect it’s that it’s harder to invest the time necessary for the anthologies (let alone the blog, before), as I seem to take on more and more work every year.

CT: Why do you continue projects like The Apex Book of World SF 3? Why should readers care?

LT: Sometimes I think I’m just being obstinate! I guess I’m still, somehow, an idealist, though I’ll deny it if anyone asks. Look, I think it’s an important thing to do. I think it’s a valuable thing. That’s all that really matters to me. They’ll always be on the shelf, they’ll always be in the library. They’re a window that I think needs to stay open.

1 Comment on INTERVIEW: Lavie Tidhar Talks about APEX BOOK OF WORLD SF 3

  1. I was a huge fan of the first volume, (have the 2nd but haven’t had a chance to read it yet), and recently finished the third. These are fantastic anthologies. I’m always interested in speculative fiction from somewhere other than English Speaking Countries, so this series has been one of my go-to titles. I sure hope there is a 4th one, and a 5th, and more!

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