Saturday, April 25, 2009

Overlooked Praise: SF Waxes Philosophical

Two reviews of Ahmed A. Khan's anthology "SF Waxes Philosophical", 2008, ZC Books have come to my notice. The first is a LiveJournal review by [info]selfavowedgeek. For the full review please click on the link above.

Finally finished the SF Waxes Philosophical anthology edited by Ahmed A. Khan...So, I didn’t read a single clunker. Granted, any given anthology is bound to have that waxing and waning effect with me. Anthologies by their very nature invite a buffet of styles and voices; heck, you even get that with a single-author short story collection. I didn’t feel as if I wasted my time reading any of the stories.

I’ll hasten to add Ahmed appears to have done a very careful, deliberated job of soliciting and winnowing based on the quality of what I’d encountered (and hope this anthology is an indication of things to come from our doughty author-editor).

My single complaint: I wish it had been a bigger anthology.

Without further ado, I won’t bore you with a rundown of each and every selection but will lump them into three categories. Again, it’s rare for me to come away from reading an anthology and liking each selection.

And, based on my totally subjective experience as a reader, here are the stories that I more-than-liked. You might also notice that I’m partial to the pieces by the ASFM forumites, too. Hey, they write well and dominated half the TOC ‘cause that‘s just how they roll.

The Good:

* “The Day the World Lost Gravity” by Ian Shoebridge
* “Different and Different Again” by Sean M. Foster
* “Lords of Light” by Ren Holton
* “These Old Bones” by C. June Wolf
* “The Squirrel That Didn’t Bark” by Douglas A. Van Belle

selfavowedgeek then goes on to list the ones he likes even more. So he more than likes mine, but is over the moon about some others. Not a bad recommendation at all for this unusual anthology.

The second review--in actuality the first review, from 16 May 2008 in the Australian SF zine, Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, is by Simon Petrie.

SF Waxes Philosophical is a collection of fourteen short stories, slightly over half of them original to this volume, whose unifying characteristic is the application of science-fictional techniques to philosophical concerns. It's a moot point, to my mind, as to which works of SF don't, in some matter, deal with philosophical questions - both fields of endeavour, as the introduction notes, tend to ask the question 'What if?' and then seek to follow it to its logical conclusion, in both cases inviting comparison with our present-day circumstances. My impression is that the editor's strategy has been to select stories which aim to tackle the sorts of questions for which Douglas Adams once proposed a numerical answer lying somewhere between forty-one and forty-three. Here, though, calculations on such problems tend to deliver a rather different result. SFWP is a reasonably serious-minded anthology, to the extent that it also features explanatory notes, presumably scripted by each of the story authors, which deal with the origins, the history, and/or the implications of the philosophical principles they've explored in the preceding story...

..."These Old Bones," by C. June Wolf, is a subtle, atmospheric tale of the interaction between two loners who share an interest in palaeontology. It's an intriguingly elusive story that's reminiscent in style to the work of Kate Wilhelm. For me, it echoed long after I'd finished reading...

I finished reading the anthology not entirely convinced of the overall success of these efforts to marry SF and philosophy. The most effective stories here, as works of fiction, I judge to be the reprinted offerings of Utley and Kosmatka and the first-release works by Wolf, Holton and Van Belle, though these were not the only stories I found enjoyable. The exploration of philosophical components in the commentary following each story was, in most cases, interesting but hardly essential for an appreciation of the fiction, and I found the stories which appeared to deal most directly with philosphical issues - such as "Waveform", "Different and Again Different", and "The Saving Power" - were less than completely successful in their efforts to craft memorable fiction from the tenets of philosophy. This is not to say that the anthology is unsuccessful: even a negative result is worthwhile, and there are a good number of intriguing stories here. So: if you're shopping around for a new philosophy textbook, I don't think this would fit the requirements; but if you're looking for a collection of intelligent, thoughtful, mostly serious SF, SF Waxes Philosophical is worth a peek.

For the full review, click here.
To purchase a copy of SF Waxes Philosophical, click here.


Berry said...

Hey there! See you got the link to my review of SF Waxes Philosophical. I post a review of Mosque among the Stars, too, and enjoyed your story, particularly because of the content *and* structure. Here's the link:

I really enjoy your storytelling.

Warm regards,


C. June Wolf said...

Thanks very much, Berry! I will check out your review of the Mosque--I appreciate the headsup.