I’m excited to be interviewing Lavie Tidhar, who is the editor of the anthology, The Best of World SF. Check out the interview and the information on the book!
Interview with Lavie Tidhar
How long did it take you to select the stories that went into The Best of World SF?
You could say it took over ten years, in that I’ve been editing smaller anthologies and actively reading and keeping an eye out on stories as they were being published. So I have a long list of stories I liked, writers I was interested in, and a general familiarity with what has been happening in the field over the past decade. So I was able to take that and start the process of putting it together relatively quickly, though the selections often ended up surprising me!
What is the selection process like?
When I started, I put together a list of the stories I personally just enjoyed the most, only to realise this was a bit esoteric. I like weird stuff, but I wanted something with a wider appeal, so I scrapped my original list and started again with that in mind. I still kept some of the pure weird stuff (Ekaterina Sedia’s “The Bank of Burkina Faso,” Nir Yaniv’s “Benjamin Schneider’s Little Greys” for example) but focused more on science fiction, the “robots and spaceships” stuff, and a lot of near-future stories.
I also started with a list of all the prominent stories with awards – many of which made history as the first stories to ever win a genre award for someone from outside the Anglophone sphere – but I didn’t necessarily end up using them. I felt it was important some were represented, but once I had my overall sense of what the anthology should look like, it began to form its own shape, as it were.
How do you determine the order of the stories presented? Does order matter?
I think it does! Some people, of course, will just pick a story at random and read out of order, and that’s perfectly fine (I do that!). But I think as an editor you are trying to put together a sort of narrative, an argument even. I went back and forth with Aliette de Bodard on which of her stories to use but finally went with my original choice, “Immersion,” which is both one of her award-winning stories but also felt to me to be a good opener for the book. It kind of tells you where the rest of the anthology is going and what you’re in for. And there’s a flow, I’d like to think, if you follow it through. At least that’s my hope!
Do you have a favorite science fiction theme?
I’m not sure I do. What I really look for is originality, something new. If I hadn’t seen it before, that’s exciting! If you look at something like, say, Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s “Prime Meridian,” which I got to also write the introduction for when it was first published, it takes in a whole range of materials, from really near-future speculation to a focus on little people dreaming of Mars in the way, say, Philip K. Dick was doing a few decades ago, and then Silvia does something new and touching with it. I think it’s a terrific SF story. Tade Thompson uses time travel in “Bootblack” but for a really powerful purpose, to look at historical injustice. And then you have a stylist like Kuzhali Manickavel, who I admire, for the pure joy of language and the invention in everything she does. And you look for emotional impact, too, like Chinelo Onwualu’s “What The Dead Man Said,” which is quietly devastating, and then you can offset it with the laugh-out-loud comedy of something like “Fandom For Robots” by Vina Jie-Min Prasad, about a computer writing fanfiction.
I wanted to make sure there were enough “robots and spaceships,” as I said, but then I’d offset it with something weird and surreal like “The Old Man with The Third Hand” by Kofi Nyameye, which I thought was great.
You’ve written quite a few novels yourself, what made you want to be a writer?
It seemed preferable to getting a job! From time to time I see writers who take themselves very seriously and I always think, hold on, you’re getting paid to sit on your couch and make stuff up. Let’s not get carried away! I think as a writer you’re trying to say something about the world and perhaps try to change it. Can I change the world? I don’t know that I can, but I can certainly try! I have novels like A Man Lies Dreaming, which is being reissued in the UK this year, which are borne out of a lot of anger – it’s a book about Adolf Hitler as a private investigator (which is very funny to me!) but it’s about fascism, about nationalism, things that matter today just as they did back in the 1930s. Or my recent one, By Force Alone, which on the surface of it is a sort of Arthurian story, and again I think very funny in parts, but ultimately is about power and how power is used. And then if you take a book like Central Station, which I like to think of as “science fiction where nothing actually happens,” it’s a quiet family story at heart, but it does everything Western SF doesn’t do. It is still, to my knowledge, the only SF novel set in Tel Aviv, and instead of the lone hero fighting their way through the frontier of space it’s about a family and the complications that come with having those extended networks of people in your life. So it’s an argument, in a way, about what SF can do.
And so in a similar way, doing an anthology like The Best of World SF is maybe an act of changing the world, in a small way. I’d like to think that. Because there was nothing like it, no one wanted to publish something like it for a long time, and it gives voice to writers who were never represented in SF. So, for me, it’s something to be proud of.
In what way(s) does being a writer help you edit an anthology and select stories?
I don’t know that it does! Most professional anthologists I know don’t write. It’s really a different set of skills, and I have a lot of respect for the people who do them.
Would you like to work on another anthology in the future?
We’re talking about a second volume for The Best of World SF, and I’d love to do that if the opportunity came. I’d love to edit an all-original anthology one day, though there’s so much work involved in that. It would have to be something pretty special.
Do you have any advice for upcoming writers or people interested in editing?
I don’t know that I can offer much that is useful, though one thing I think is really important to stress is that not everything needs to become a book! As a writer I remember one year getting 7-8 solicitations for anthologies that were all funded by Kickstarter, and none of them felt to me worth publishing. Just because you have an idea doesn’t mean it’s a good idea, you know? And the same thing for me as a writer, I have folders full of unpublished stories, a couple of novels, etc, that were simply not good. So I’m not saying you should self-reject your own work, but you should ask yourself why you want to do something, what does it do that hasn’t been done before, why is it important? Because you will need to put a lot of your energy and passion – and possibly heart-break! – into making it happen, and you need to really believe in it. For me, The Best of World SF is a work of passion, and when I write, I don’t write with the thought of, will I get paid for this, I write because this is purely what I want to write. So my next novel in the US, for instance, is called The Escapement, and it’s a sort of surrealist quest, I suppose – I call it a “clown western,” though nobody likes clowns! And it’s one of my favorite books. It’s a book with plenty of weirdness, but it has a heart. And at least I know that whatever else, no one’s done a book like this before. So as long as I can keep chasing the wave and do something fresh, I’m happy.
26 new short stories representing the state of the art in international science fiction, selected by Lavie Tidhar.
21 counties: France, China, Singapore, Botswana, Nigeria, India, Japan, Italy, Cuba, Brazil, Trinidad, Spain, Mexico, Finland, Israel, Iceland, Russia, Ghana, South Africa, Sweden and Malaysia.
14 women / 12 men.
‘Immersion’ by Aliette de Bodard
‘Debtless’ by Chen Qiufan
‘Fandom for Robots’ by Vina Jie-Min Prasad
‘Virtual Snapshots’ by Tlotlo Tsamaase
‘What The Dead Man Said’ by Chinelo Onwualu
‘Delhi’ by Vandana Singh
‘The Wheel of Samsara’ by Han Song
‘Xingzhou’ by Yi-Sheng Ng
‘Prayer’ by Taiyo Fujii
‘The Green Ship’ by Francesco Verso
‘Eyes of the Crocodile’ by Malena Salazar Macia
‘Bootblack’ by Tade Thompson
‘The Emptiness in the Heart of all Things’ by Fabio Fernandes
‘The Sun From Both Sides’ by R.S.A. Garcia
‘Dump’ by Cristina Jurado
‘Rue Chair’ by Gerardo Horacio Porcayo
‘His Master’s Voice’ by Hannu Rajaniemi
‘Benjamin Schneider’s Little Greys’ by Nir Yaniv
‘The Cryptid’ by Emil H. Petersen
‘The Bank of Burkina Faso’ by Ekaterina Sedia
‘An Incomplete Guide…’ by Kuzhali Manickavel
‘The Old Man with The Third Hand’ by Kofi Nyameye
‘The Green’ by Lauren Beukes
‘The Last Voyage of Skidbladnir’ by Karin Tidbeck
‘Prime Meridian’ by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
‘If At First You Don’t Succeed’ by Zen Cho
Lavie Tidhar is the World Fantasy Award-winning author of Osama (2011), The Violent Century (2013), the Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize-winning A Man Lies Dreaming (2014), and the Campbell Award-winning Central Station (2016), in addition to many other works and several other awards. His latest novels are the Locus Award nominated Unholy Land (2018) and debut children’s novel Candy (2018). He works across genres, combining detective and thriller modes with poetry, science fiction and historical and autobiographical material. His work has been compared to that of Philip K. Dick by the Guardian and the Financial Times, and to Kurt Vonnegut’s by Locus.
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