World Science Fiction 1 Visions To Preserve The Biodiversity Of The Future edited by Francesco Verso (book review).

At a panel on translated fiction at the Dublin WorldCon, Francesco Verso was very passionate about creating opportunities for more Science Fiction from around the world to be translated into English and between numerous other languages. I met him briefly afterwards in the dealer hall. He is the founder of Future Fiction, an Italian organisation devoted to translating Science Fiction into Italian and numerous languages into English. ‘World Science Fiction 1’ is the first anthology of international Science Fiction published in English by Future Fiction.

The anthology collects 16 stories from 13 countries, including translations from 6 different languages. A couple of them I’d read before, but the majority were new to me and proved to be a real box of delights.

The volume opens with ‘Aethra’ by Michalis Manolios, the story of a police officer sent to interview a famous artist whose house contains living exhibits: her own non-sentient clones who function as furniture and decorations. A disturbing, mesmerising tale that explores the ethics and consequences of this incipient technology.

Lavie Tidhar’s ‘Choosing Faces’ also deals with cloning, this time the illegal and unregulated cloning of famous and historical figures, generally for dubious purposes. Told in quintessential Lavie Tidhar style, with intersecting flashes of narrative, this is both more light-hearted then the first story in its mocking of famous figures, yet equally plausible and unsettling in its portrayal of mankind’s excesses.

The far north of Japan is the setting for the marginally speculative ‘Whale Meat’ by Ekaterina Sedia. It’s an evocatively-told trip home for a young woman to visit her estranged father and follow him on an oddly uneventful investigation into the death of a fisherman. This was a wonderfully calming and serene story.

‘Coming Of The Light’ is Chen Quifan techno-Buddhist story of how big business, technology and enlightenment become entangled around the life of advertising strategist Zhou Chingbo. When he comes up with the idea of a monk-blessed app, he has no idea of the social or metaphysical consequences that will ensue. It’s a fast and clever story that seamlessly weaves together seemingly disparate avenues of life into a suitably Buddhist whole.

‘The Ethical Treatment Of Meat’ by Claude Lalumière is both amusing and simultaneously horrifying. In a future inhabited by zombies, who have regained their faculties after mostly wiping out live ‘fleshies’, two zombies contemplate the ethics of fleshy adoption and farming, turning the zombie genre on its head to startling result.

I could probably classify Clelia Farris’ introspective story ‘A Day To Remember’ as climate-fiction or cli-fi, dealing as it does with raising water levels and extremes of weather. Olì belongs to an eclectic community who inhabit the roofs and upper levels of submerged tower blocks, linked together by dubious small boats and an interdependent bartering system. Olì specialises in adjusting memories, but comes to the realisation that her fellow castaways are missing out on what they have due to the constant rewriting of their memories. It’s a fascinating glimpse into a unique society.

The highlight of the volume for me was ‘Diary Of A Repentant Poliocrete’ by Ugo Bellagamba, the story of a secret French society whose mission is to keep the world politically stable at a price. Aged Agent Sébastien begins to question his organisation’s values when he is assigned to prop up a North African dictatorship. This is a subtle and powerful piece.

‘Francine’ by Maríia Antònia Martí Escayol is presented as the transcript of an academic speech, dealing with the research into a mysterious historical figure known as Francine who apparently underwent numerous surgical procedures that gradually transformed her into a steampunk-era automaton. The far-fetched pseudo-science is nicely couched in critical academic language that simultaneous presents alternative explanations to this fantastical story.

A holographic memorial garden is the setting of Gabriela Damián Miravete’s ‘They Will Dream In The Garden’. It’s a melancholic and touching story of one woman’s attempt to keep alive the memory of numerous women murdered and forgotten by society.

The classic Louis Borges meta-fictional story ‘Pierre Menard, Author Of The Quixote’ is referenced in ‘The Remaker’, the near-future tale of diminishing literary works and obsolete libraries by Fábio Fernandes. In this story, somebody seems to be emulating the fictional character Pierre Menard, in a meta-fictional tale that was slightly befuddling but also rather clever.

A woman tries to reconstruct the memory of her astronaut husband in ‘The Promise Of Space’ by James Patrick Kelly. With growing desperation, Zoe tries to teach her husband’s artificially created memory persona about their life together. The halting dialogue and tortured conversation makes this a heartbreaking and brilliant story.

Top athletes can be ‘Meshed’ in Richard Larson’s basketball story, fitted with a system that allows others to virtually re-live their athletic exploits. A young basketball protégé has his own reasons for not wanting this while sports agent Vic does everything he can to sign him as the next big star. It’s a brief story that once again holds up the benefits of new technology to the scrutiny of an ethical lens.

The most bizarre story of the collection is ‘Conversations With Yoni Rei’ by Pepe Rojo. In a series of editorials, Q&A sessions and interviews, Yoni Rei reveals his tragic history as an orphan raised by a corporation for experimental purposes. It’s a grim and horrifying tale in places, travelling to more and more disturbing places as Yoni Rei goes against society and his owners in an all-out bid to be his own person, whatever the cost.

‘Debugging Bebe’ is Mary Mascari’s enjoyable tale of nanobiotics, set on an orbital habitat where plants controlled by electronics are developed to thrive in space. Britta Hammar is facing her final exam but discovers that her prize creation, Bebe, her newly developed plant, is infested with bugs. It’s a fun exploration of an orbital society, corporate politics and nanotechnology that left me with a smile.

The shady world of counterfeit 3D printing is explored in ‘A Series Of Steaks’ by Vina Jie Minh Prasad, in which the counterfeit items in question are beef steaks. It’s a vivid description of a hidden economy and the dangerous life that such an occupation involves.

‘The Fifth Dragon’ is the short story that lays the foundation for Ian McDonald’s ‘Luna’ series of novels. It portrays a gritty and unforgiving society built around the shortage of life’s necessities and the iron grip on resources held by the Moon’s four most powerful families. Although it doesn’t go into much technical detail, it paints a realistic and well-realised vision.

I thoroughly enjoyed this anthology and it’s a fine selection of stories from around the world. What I like about this kind of anthology is that, even while enjoying the ‘difference’ of these stories translated from other languages or written from the viewpoint of other cultures, you can’t really define what that difference is.

Really, the Science Fiction genre is so wide-ranging that the mean difference in style between cultures and languages should effectively be less than the range of variation across the genre as a whole. Simultaneously, a particular author’s specific style is more of a differential than what language they write in or where they’re from. There were certainly some authors here whom I’d not read before and I shall look out for opportunities to sample their work.

Gareth D Jones

September 2019

(pub: Future Fiction, 2019. 335 page Price: $16.00 (US). ISBN: 978-8-83207-708-7)

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