From the outset when Ahmed first proposed the idea--what seems a long time ago on his LJ and at the Asimov’s forum--I thought it’d be a good idea. The main reason was equal parts under-representation, if you want to put it one way, and under-exploration, to put it another; I’m always down for pushing myself to read outside my comfort zones, be they artistic, philosophical, religious, whatever. I went through a period several years ago where it was to sit down and read Lao Tzu, Confucius, The Bhagavad-Gita, The Upanishads, Zen Buddhist sword strategy texts. Although I had to return the copy to a colleague, I also started reading the Koran several years ago. You get the idea. I just hadn’t read much science fiction with any Muslim or Arabic characters or perspectives unless you count some far-flung, far-future works like Frank Herbert’s Dune or Greg Bear’s Hegira.
Well, everything. It’s not about tossing in a Muslim/Arabic character and calling it Muslim/Arabic-oriented science fiction no more than my just throwing in a Southern character in a story makes it Southern-oriented. It’s about texture, and the TOC is a well-winnowed presentation of textures. From the religious motifs to the scientific to the mathematical to the mythological, Ahmed and Muhammad have carefully chosen a buffet to present the reader.
A Few Personal Faves fer Ya
Andrew Ferguson’s “Organic Geometry” is a tight little story where I enjoyed the intersection of math and cricket and a character who came across as a figure striving for some order (see the reference to geometry).
My hands-down favorite was the time-travel adventure, “Cultural Clashes in Cadiz,” by Jetse de Vries. He handles multiple settings and points of view quite well and weaves them together for a satisfying conclusion with a bit of a twist I thought I would’ve seen coming and didn’t, so my hat’s off to Jetse for the pleasant surprise.
As a rarity, I’m also posting perhaps my favorite line of dialogue from one story, “Servant of Iblis,” by Howard Jones. It’s a character’s reaction to another character’s reaction involving an encounter with the mythical efreet: “’Efreet are notoriously difficult to control, and not given to subtley. An efreet would not patiently leave messages, or steal monkeys. At best it would have dismembered half the household as a warning.’” See? That’s good stuff, especially just mentioning a monkey.
Camille Alexa’s story, “The Weight of Space and Metal,” involves the rigors of traveling to Mars and the mixing of crew by gender and cultural backgroung--the complications naturally arising from that--and she handles it in what I’ve come to expect as a trademark Camille Alexa ™ production of smooth-paced plotting, tightly accrued characterization, and just plain ol’ good writing. I particularly loved the juxtaposition of the macro with space and the micro of the spaceship and Mars colony scenes.
And for a dose of humor, look no further than G.W. Thomas’s “Emissary.”
A Brief Word about Structure . . .
Now I pause to say that I am a sucker for well-structured stories, though, and among the ones I enjoyed for both content and structure were the offings by Lucius Shepherd, Ahmed himself, C. June Wolf (’cause I‘m even more a sucker for epistolary elements in storytelling), and Tom Ligon.
Honorable Mentions in The Self-Avowed Geek’s Book
The stories from McMahon, Taylor, and Miller are fine stories, too. I hope to see some more of their work in future antho offerings from and know that Ahmed is cool about inviting or soliciting anthology alums back for another round.
* A moment of disclosure and crow-eating. My life and work have been busy enough that I forgot myself on being more prompt in delivering this review. Initially, I wanted to do it two weeks ago (!!!), but began playing triage with other projects and letting myself get distracted to boot on other things. So, I wanted to offer Ahmed an apology for dragging my feet.