The Apex Book of World SF 4

The Archivist - Julie Dillon

The Archivist by Julie Dillon ©

My review of The Apex Book of World SF 4 is now up at Strange Horizons. Excerpt:

The first story in the collection is Usman T. Malik’s Bram Stoker-winning “The Vaporization Enthalpy Of a Peculiar Pakistani Family.” I’ve read it many times here and elsewhere. This time I was struck by the author’s note: “For the 145 innocents of the 12/16 Peshawar terrorist attack and countless known & unknown before.” In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in Beirut and Paris, this story achieves greater significance and delivers tender insight as well as the solace we have come to expect from the work of artists. Tara Khan, the protagonist, represents millions of Muslim women who have lost their loved ones to religious fanatics, wars, and terrorism:

“Salam,” she said. “Peace be upon you, brother.”

The nuktah that was him twitched. His fried vocal cords were not capable of producing words anymore.

“I used to think,” she continued, licking her dry lips, watching the infinitesimal shifting of matter and emptiness inside him, “that love was all that mattered. That the bonds that pull us all together are of timeless love. But it is not true. It has never been true, has it?”

He shimmered and said nothing. (p.14)

One of Malik’s earliest stories, ‘Vitriol,’ (Papercuts, 2012) featured a woman whose body had been disfigured during an acid attack. In ‘Vaporization,’ both male and female bodies melt in a drone attack. In ‘Vitriol,’ the cause of the protagonist’s suffering—the acid attack—is a taboo subject. The narrator respects her seeming unwillingness to talk about the public and private nature of her shame, and limits himself to the exploration of the social mores of her time and culture. After reading ‘Vitriol,’ I felt that perhaps there is no way we could fully grasp the ‘horrors’ of our world even if we tried. ‘Vaporization,’ however, is preoccupied with an attempt to examine and understand even the most horrendous of human encounters and experiences through faith and science. While Malik’s earlier attempt is less concerned with the norms of the horror genre and more interested in building character and suspense, ‘Vaporization’ is an elegant proof of superior craftsmanship and the scope of speculative fiction and poetry.

Malik’s prose turns into poetry in the story’s final act, and it manages to stay appealing and enigmatic even after multiple readings. The author’s journey from “Vitriol” to “Vaporization” is a triumphant one. It shows why new writers from around the world are abandoning the mode of exhausted realism and embracing the conventions of contemporary SF in order to entertain, shock or heal people in the age of cyber warfare, widespread terrorism and unmanned bombers. Malik provides a robust model for writers from both his own part of the globe and beyond.

This is true for most of the twenty-eight writers from twenty-four countries featured in the new anthology, including Zen Cho (Malaysia), Vajra Chandrasekera (Sri Lanka), Haralambi Markov (Bulgaria), Natalia Theodoridou (Greece), Thomas Olde Heuvelt (Netherlands), Julie Novakova (Czech Republic), Samuel Marolla (Italy), Dilman Dila (Uganda), Isabel Yap (Philippines), Yukimi Ogawa (Japan), and Bernardo Fernández (Mexico). Together with authors featured in the previous anthologies, they represent the best of international SF today.


You can read the full review at Strange Horizons.