INTERVIEW: Karin Tidbeck and Athena Andreadis on THE APEX BOOK OF WORLD SF 3

This is part of a series of Q&As with the authors of The Apex Book of World SF 3 edited by Lavie Tidhar.

The stories in The Apex Book of World SF 3 run the gamut from science fiction, to fantasy, to horror. Some are translations (from German, Chinese, French, Spanish, and Swedish), and some were written in English. The authors come from Asia and Europe, Africa and Latin America. Their stories are all wondrous and wonderful, and showcase the vitality and diversity that can be found in the field. They are a conversation, by voices that should be heard.


1. Tell us a little about yourself.

I live in Malmö, Sweden, where I work as a creative writing pedagogue and text consultant (which means I do all sorts of stuff related to fiction, from translations to writing to order). In my spare time I’m a massive geek, mostly about gaming and Forteana. I started writing in English back in 2010 because it was extremely difficult to publish fantastic fiction in Sweden, short stories especially. These days I’ve kind of passed the point of no return and write almost exclusively in English.
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[Do you have an idea for a future Mind Meld? Let us know!]

Nanotechnology, lifelike robots, Google Glass, Invisibility Metamaterials, and 3-D Printing are just the beginning. Many technologies that recently existed only in the pages of a science fiction novel are becoming reality. We asked this week’s panelists:

Q: What science fictional technologies do you think are right on the horizon and will become part of our everyday lives in the next ten years?

Here’s what our panelists had to say…

Ken Liu
Ken Liu’s fiction has appeared in F&SF, Asimov’s, Analog, Strange Horizons, Lightspeed, and Clarkesworld, among other places. He has won a Nebula, two Hugos, a World Fantasy Award, and a Science Fiction & Fantasy Translation Award, and been nominated for the Sturgeon and the Locus Awards. He lives near Boston with his family.

Advances in artificial intelligence are not making many headlines these days, but I think within the next decade computer thinking will make inroads in many areas touching our lives. The reason advances in AI don’t seem very “science fictional” to us is that we keep on moving the goal post: computers now can beat humans at chess, answer Jeopardy questions, understand and transcribe your speech, translate in real time, and make billions on the stock market. While most people still seem “skeptical” about whether computers can think, we already live in a science fictional world.

Perhaps two areas will challenge our comfort. One is the military. Right now, military computers are still used in a way that is “supervised” by human decision makers. The drones that are in the news so much are operated by remote pilots, and targeting systems make recommendations, leaving the final decision to kill up to the human (though some have already described the human oversight as “illusory”). But the machinery of war has a relentless logic: eventually, human oversight will be seen as too slow and error-prone and undependable. We will have fully automated robots fighting our wars, where the decision to fire and kill will be made by machines alone—human oversight, if any, will be limited to the crafting of the algorithms governing these systems.
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BOOK REVIEW: The Other Half of the Sky Edited by Athena Andreadis

REVIEW SUMMARY: A very strong anthology with a excellent mission, and some really striking stories with top-notch authors.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: An anthology of genre stories with the purpose and mission of highlighting women as fully rounded characters and protagonists with agency.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Strong stories that both entertain and illuminate the book’s theme and mission.
CONS: Some stories not as good as others in the book.
BOTTOM LINE: An excellent marriage of theme and mission with a well-cultivated collection of authors and stories.

Science Fiction has gotten a not-undeserved reputation for giving both women writers and women characters short shrift. Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, Gully Foyle, Beowulf Schafer, and many more go to the stars and beyond. Sadly, the Wilma Deerings and Gunnery Sergeant Bobbie Drapers are far rarer, and it’s even rarer is when the female characters are the protagonists, plot-drivers and central characters. If men are going into space and to the stars or dealing with science fictional elements right here on earth, why can’t members of the other gender do so as well? And while we’re at it, what about relationships beyond the straight and narrow, so to speak. Human history and the modern day is full of relationships of all kinds. Why shouldn’t our science fiction future have the same? The Other Half of the Sky, edited by Athena Andreadis, sets out to try and rectify these imbalances.
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(Note: this is part of a series in which I discuss works of the contributors to The Other Half of the Sky. Links to other entries in the series appear at the end of this discussion.)

Bloodchildren is a collection of eleven stories by the recipients of the Carl Brandon scholarship, established in Octavia Butler’s honor to enable SFF writers of color to attend one of the Clarion workshops. The stories were edited by Nisi Shawl, herself a practitioner of many literary arts; they’re front-ended by a haunting cover by Laurie Toby Edison, by moving testimonials from Nalo Hopkinson and Vonda McIntyre and by Butler’s story “Speech Sounds”.

The collection is titled after Butler’s groundbreaking story “Bloodchild”, one of the most original and disquieting explorations of interspecies contact: spacefaring humans stranded on a planet with its own advanced sentient species have been reduced to breeding vessels along the lines of hosts for parasitic wasps or the Alien über-predator, though they generally survive the ordeal. Men are preferred as incubators so that women can produce more breeders, although bonds of reciprocal need, loyalty and affection have slowly developed between humans and their native masters.
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Note: this review originally appeared on the blog of Starship Reckless, as part of a series in which Athena Andreadis discusses works of the contributors to The Other Half of the Sky.

Shimmering Kaleidoscopes: Cat Rambo’s “Near + Far”

by Athena Andreadis

Cat Rambo’s recent collection, Near + Far (Hydra House, $16.95 print, $6.99 digital), is a tête-bêche book containing 2×12 stories of wildly different lengths that previously appeared in such venues as Abyss & Apex, Clarkesworld, Clockwork Phoenix, Crossed Genres, Daily SF and Lightspeed.

Before I discuss the stories themselves, I’ll mention two secondary but important aspects of the book. One is the attention paid to the presentation; as one example, the text ornaments are almost distracting in their beauty. The other is that each story has an afterword in which Rambo gives its backstory and worldpath. Personally, I greatly enjoy such fore/afterwords (I still fondly recall Harlan Ellison’s needle-sharp, needling introductions) and find that they invariably deepen my understanding and appreciation of the tale – provided that the writer knows their craft. Which brings us to the content of the collection.
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MIND MELD: The Books We Didn’t Love

[Do you have an idea for a future Mind Meld? Let us know!]

This week we asked about books you don’t love.

What books do people expect you to love or read, but you don’t?  Why?

This is what they had to say…

Jamie Todd Rubin
Jamie Todd Rubin is a science fiction writer, blogger, and Evernote Ambassador for paperless living. His stories and articles have appeared in Analog, Daily Science Fiction, Intergalactic Medicine Show, Apex Magazine, and 40K Books. Jamie lives in Falls Church, Virginia with his wife and two children. Find him on Twitter at @jamietr.

Robert Heinlein’s Stranger In a Strange Land was not the first Heinlein book I read. I started with what is still, in my mind, one of his best, Double Star. Nor was Stranger the second Heinlein book I read. Or the third. Or the fourth.

Indeed, back in the days when my interests in science fiction were broadening and I would occasionally talk to people about them, Heinlein would inevitably come up. “You should read Stranger In A Strange Land.” I must have been told this a dozen times by a dozen different people. I even tried reading the book, but on two occasions, spaced years apart, I simply couldn’t get very far into it. I felt terribly guilty about this. Something must be wrong me. It seemed everyone who ever read a book had read and loved Stranger. But not me. I couldn’t even get through it.

It wasn’t Heinlein. Couldn’t be, right? I went on to read and enjoy Heinlein’s future history in The Past Through Tomorrow. I read and loved Podkayne of Mars. I read Puppet Masters and Starship Troopers and found those entertaining. (Although both movies were appallingly bad.) I adored Friday and The Door Into Summer.

It finally took jury duty for me to get through Stranger. In the fall of 2000, in a cavernous room within a Hollywood courthouse, I battled my way through Heinlein’s tour de force. And before my jury service was up, I’d managed to finally finish the book.

And hated it. Just plain didn’t like it. To this day, when asked if I’ve read Stranger, I reply with a world-weary, “Of course. I read it while suffering through jury duty in the fall of 2000.”

“And what did you think of it?”

And without skipping a beat, reply, “I couldn’t be picked for a jury soon enough. My how I suffered through that book!”

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TOC: ‘The Other Half of the Sky’ Edited by Athena Andreadis (+ Teasers)

Athena Andreadis has posted the table of contents for her upcoming anthology/collection The Other Half of the Sky:

  1. “Finders” by Melissa Scott
  2. “Bad Day on Boscobel” by Alexander Jablokov
  3. “In Colors Everywhere” by Nisi Shawl
  4. “Mission of Greed” by Sue Lange
  5. “Sailing the Antarsa” by Vandana Singh
  6. “Landfall” by Joan Slonczewski
  7. “This Alakie and the Death of Dima” by Terry Boren
  8. “The Waiting Stars” by Aliette de Bodard
  9. “The Shape of Thought” by Ken Liu
  10. “Under Falna’s Mask” by Alex Dally MacFarlane
  11. “Mimesis” by Martha Wells
  12. “Velocity’s Ghost” by Kelly Jennings
  13. “Exit, Interrupted” by C. W. Johnson
  14. “Dagger and Mask” by Cat Rambo
  15. “Ouroboros” by Christine Lucas
  16. “Cathedral” by Jack McDevitt

Athena included teasers in her posting. I’m including them after the jump…
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EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Athena Andreadis, Ph. D.

Athena Andreadis was born in Greece and lured to the US at age 18 by a full scholarship to Harvard, then MIT. She does basic research in molecular neurobiology, focusing on mechanisms of mental retardation and dementia. She is an avid reader in four languages across genres, the author of To Seek Out New Life: The Biology of Star Trek and writes speculative fiction and non-fiction on a wide swath of topics. Her work can be found in Harvard Review, Belles Lettres, Strange Horizons, Crossed Genres, Stone Telling, Cabinet des Fées, Bull Spec, Science in My Fiction, SF Signal, The Apex Blog, World SF, SFF Portal, H+ Magazine, io9, The Huffington Post, and her own site, Starship Reckless.


CHARLES TAN: Hi Athena! Thanks for agreeing to do the interview. First off, how did you first get acquainted with Science Fiction and Fantasy?

ATHENA ANDREADIS: My pleasure, Charles! I taught myself to read at four; I wanted to figure out what was this mysterious activity that diverted my adoring, adored father’s attention from me… The first book I clearly recall reading was Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea (unexpurgated, I found out later). So you can say my acquaintance with SF&F started early – and I’ve been a constant wanderer in this literary domain ever since.

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Roundtable Discussion: Lavie Tidhar’s ‘Osama’

Lavie Tidhar’s new novel, Osama, is described as follows:

In a world without global terrorism Joe, a private detective, is hired by a mysterious woman to find a man: the obscure author of pulp fiction novels featuring one Osama Bin Laden: Vigilante…

Joe’s quest to find the man takes him across the world, from the backwaters of Asia to the European Capitals of Paris and London, and as the mystery deepens around him there is one question he is trying hard not to ask: who is he, really, and how much of the books is fiction? Chased by unknown assailants, Joe’s identity slowly fragments as he discovers the shadowy world of the refugees, ghostly entities haunting the world in which he lives. Where do they come from? And what do they want? Joe knows how the story should end, but even he is not ready for the truths he’ll find in New York and, finally, on top a quiet hill above Kabul–nor for the choice he will at last have to make…

In Osama, Lavie Tidhar brilliantly delves into the post-9/11 global subconscious, mixing together elements of film noir, non-fiction, alternative history and international thriller to create an unsettling–yet utterly compelling–portrayal of our times.

Recently, Athena Andreadis moderated and took part in a discussion of the novel with Kay Holt, Paul Jessup and Fábio Fernandes. Here is what they said…

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[Athena Andreadis was born in Greece and lured to the US at age 18 by a full scholarship to Harvard, then MIT. She does basic research in molecular neurobiology, focusing on mental retardation and dementia. She is an avid reader in four languages across genres, the author of To Seek Out New Life: The Biology of Star Trek and writes speculative fiction and non-fiction on a wide swath of topics. Her work can be found in Harvard Review, Strange Horizons, Crossed Genres, Science in My Fiction, H+ Magazine, io9, The Huffington Post, and her own site, Starship Reckless.]

REVIEW SUMMARY: An anthology showcasing the authors of the writing group Written in Blood.

MY RATING: context-free, within the larger context.

PROS: The anthology has variety and all its stories except one are competently executed.

CONS: Most of the stories have serious flaws and almost none are memorable.

This anthology contains one story from each of the eight members of the writing group Written in Blood. All have published short stories in well-known SF/F venues and two (de Bodard, Hardy) have also brought out novels. So these are not beginners in the crafts of either writing or publishing.

Because the collection is meant to showcase the individual authors, the content and style of the stories rove freely. Given the collection’s goal, most of the story choices are puzzling because they don’t represent the authors’ best efforts. As is my habit, I’ll start from the bottom and work my way up, so that we begin with gruel and end with truffles, if not ambrosia.

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[Athena Andreadis was born in Greece and lured to the US at age 18 by a full scholarship to Harvard. She does basic research in molecular neurobiology, focusing on mental retardation and dementia. She is an avid reader in four languages across genres, is the author of To Seek Out New Life: The Biology of Star Trek and writes speculative fiction and non-fiction on a wide swath of topics. Her work can be found in Strange Horizons, Crossed Genres, Science in My Fiction, H+ Magazine, The Huffington Post, and her own site, Starship Reckless.]

REVIEW SUMMARY: Optimistic near-future SF collection

RATING: absolute, in context

PROS: A welcome change from cyberpunk/urban noir adolescent gloom. Diverse in style and content, human/e in tone and scale.

CONS: Uneven, like all tightly themed collections; few truly memorable, trailblazing stories.

An editor who undertakes to compile an anthology of optimistic SF must toil up a steep and stony hill. It has become an article of increasing faith and fashion in contemporary SF that happy endings lack sophistication and hence are fit to appear only in such déclassé subgenre ghettoes as – horrors! -romance or squarish venues like Analog. Girls can squee, but manly geeks need their angst. Not surprisingly, this mindset mirrors the declining political and financial fortunes of the Anglosaxon First World. The attitude is so pervasive that it has trickled even into Hollywood, that lowest of common denominators: with the partial exception of Star Trek, there are no functioning post-scarcity quasi-utopian societies in movies and TV.

Into this breach stepped author and editor Jetse de Vries, who broadcast his intent to publish an SF anthology that was not only optimistic but also near-future. How do you say Cruisin’ for a bruisin’ in 22nd century Spandarin? But he persevered and Shine duly appeared, with a cover of a glowing lovely young Eurasian woman who reaches toward the reader with a beguiling half-smile… but lacks nipples and is surrounded by grim gunmetal-gray skyscrapers and smokestacks. Which is an accurate visual summary of the collection’s stories and their strengths and weaknesses.

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Continuing our theme of science fiction tropes, we asked this week’s panelists:

Q: What are some of the coolest robots in science fiction? Why?

Here’s what they said. Are your favorites listed?

Mike Resnick
Mike Resnick is the author of 50 novels, 200 short stories, a pair of screenplays, and the editor of 50 anthologies, as well as the executive editor of Jim Baen’s Universe. According to Locus, he is the leading award winner, living or dead, of short fiction. His work has been translated into 22 languages.

The single most memorable robot:

  • Jenkins, from Cliff Simak’s City. Simak made you care for Jenkins at a time when Asimov was creating scores of robots that only Susan Calvin cared about.

Others:

  • Joe, from Henry Kuttner’s “Robots Have No Tail”. Kuttner was another writer who had no interest in the Three Laws, and created a charming robot.
  • Roderick, from John Sladek’s Roderick and Roderick at Random. Roderick was a perfect vehicle for Sladek’s sardonic commentary.
  • Adam Link, from Eando Binder’s I, Robot (sic) and others; he’sthe missing link between clanking metallic monsters and positronic robots.
  • Sisto Settimo, from Robert Silverberg’s “Good News From the Vatican”. He’s only onstage for one paragraph, but the notion of a robot pope is as memorable as they come.

And if I can suggest three totally non-Asimovian robots that made major ballots:

  • Sammy, from my “Robots Don’t Cry”.
  • Jackson, from my “Article of Faith”.
  • Mose, from my and Lezli Robyn’s “Soulmates”.

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