The Big Idea: Lavie Tidhar

Author Lavie Tidhar is on a mission to bring you the best science fiction in the world — the whole world, not just parts of it. This is a task which takes some doing, as Tidhar explains today, telling you of the painstaking work it took to accumulate, translate, and pitch the collection that is The Best of World SF: Volume One.


Why World SF? Back in 2008 I had the crazy idea of an anthology of international speculative fiction. There was only one problem. No one was publishing international SF, and no one was interested…

It’s taken over a decade, five small press anthologies put together with shoe polish and string, a blog that became a magazine that ended up publishing some of the best and brightest in the field today, and rejections that ranged from a fifty-minute-no to ghostly silences from publishers large and small to do it. But it’s here. I guess it helps just being relentlessly annoying and banging on about the same thing for over a decade to finally wear someone in the industry down.

There was nothing very altruistic about it, either. I come from outside the Anglophone sphere. I grew up on a kibbutz in Israel. I read American SF in translation into Hebrew. The idea of one day writing SF myself, let alone publishing, seemed as remote as the moon or America. And yet now I write in English as a second language. Honestly? It’s not that hard. Though even Polish author Józef Korzeniowski had to change his name to finally make it as Joseph Conrad, back in the tail-end of the Victorian era. I wish I could say things are much different now.

When I started writing SF, nobody was buying. There weren’t any international writers being published. The stories I was trying to sell were a little bit different. So I got rejections. So did a whole bunch of international writers who started at the same time, as though we were the barbarians at the gates of Rome. Sooner or later we were going to get in, but no one needed to make it easy.

I set out to do this book because I didn’t think anyone would do it for me. I hunted for stories far and wide—picking up horror collections in Malaysia, getting writer friends in China to send me rough translations, translating stories myself from Hebrew, begging and cajoling to find writers in Latin America, Africa, Eastern Europe… And I pitched the first Apex Book of World SF to Jason Sizemore in 2008, by telling him it wasn’t going to make him any money but it was a good thing to do.

Improbably, he agreed.

Since then, of course, the field has radically changed—at least when it comes to short fiction. You can still count the number of international novels in genre in a given year on your fingers. Liu Cixin, who I met in China many years ago when he had only published a handful of short stories, made it big—but how many other Chinese novels can you mention? Andrzej Sapkowski (who I’d met in Tel Aviv and got to publish in The Apex Book of World SF 2) made it big—but how many other Polish writers do you know? There are tremendously exciting writers from Africa now publishing short fiction—Tlotlo Tsamaase and Chinelo Onwualu come to mind—but how many African SF novels can you mention?

“World SF” was a joke term I wanted to reclaim: back from the kids who first used it in that hotel room in New York in 1939 for their “Worldcon,” so called just to ride on the then-in-town World’s Fair; back from the pros who used it in the 1970s for a fake association whose main purpose was to organise annual drinking fests for Soviet and American writers (the official headed paper was useful for visas). I wanted to take it back for people like me, and to actually publish international fiction—not just use the term to organise parties (as fun as they must have been!).

Is it a big idea? Hell, I think so! Is the field better today for being more diverse, for having more international writers, new ideas and new points of view? Hell, yes, it is! Did I have anything to do with it? Hell, no! Not really. But I got to pay a whole bunch of amazing writers, and a bunch of amazing translators, well over the going rate for their work, bundle it together into a gorgeous hardcover, and I got myself paid, too. Like I said, nothing altruistic about it. Was it worth thirteen years of pushing? Probably not. And yet it was worth every second.

The Best of World SF Volume One: Amazon

Visit the author’s website. Follow him on Twitter.

5 Comments on “The Big Idea: Lavie Tidhar”

  1. Sounds good!

    “…but how many other Polish writers do you know? ”

    Honestly, one. Henryk Sienkiewicz. And that’s because I was introduced to ‘Quo Vadis’ as a young movie enthusiast. (Possibly the first movie that ever moved me to seek out the book. In translation, of course!)

  2. Stanislaw Lem? Seems to me that he and the Strugatsky brothers made it into an English-language anthology or two.

    Good to see that female authors are well represented in this collection.

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  4. Seconding Sienkiewicz above.

    His trilogy (With Fire and Sword, The Deluge, Fire in the Steppe) in modern translation is a monster of a bestseller just waiting for someone to try selling it to its natural audience of F&SF readers, instead of letting it gather dust over in Worthy Literature in Translation.

    Not as bloody and lower-magic than The Witcher, but also better characters and way funnier. (Sapkowski’s Dandelion is bound to be based in part on Sienkiewicz’s Zagloba, with a side order of Pasek from a famous autobiography.)

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