Colonialism is one of those things that's always in the background when we build fantastical worlds, and far too often it goes woefully under-explored by both the author and their audience. This doesn't just lead to the further exclusion of non-white and non-western readers from the science fiction and fantasy communities--it leads to those communities becoming dull and lifeless echo-chambers with the same narratives and stories bouncing around over and over again. With that in mind, short fiction anthology We See a Different Frontier is a rare gem indeed: an anthology of post-colonial speculative fiction from the folks behind progressive fiction 'zine The Future Fire.
And I don't think I'm going too far in saying that there will be something in this collection for everyone. The authors, and indeed the stories themselves, are so diverse in their styles, backgrounds and content that you'd be hard-pressed not to find at least a couple of pieces that knocked your socks off. And, whilst this did mean that I ended up reading a couple of stories that just didn't do anything for me, the editing work of Fabio Fernandes and Djibril al-Ayad meant that I never felt as though the anthology had lost its focus.
The introduction does a great job of setting the collection up without getting in the way of the stories, and the inclusion of forewords and afterwords from the likes of Aliette du Bodard and Ekaterina Sedia are evidence enough of the high standard of the work involved. All of this boded well. Nothing puts me off an anthology more than forewords, afterwords and annotations that only serve to boost the ego of the editors. Fernandes and al-Ayad both obviously know what they're doing--how to pick the right stories, and then leave them to speak for themselves--and the whole anthology is much stronger for it.
As for the stories themselves, some of my particular favourites in the collection are:
Sunny Moraine's 'A Heap of Broken Images', which presents the typical image of a colonised alien world through the lens of a tour guide showing humans around the sites where their ancestors massacred zir people. Socially prohibited from discussing the past in any way that could cause offence, the story details the guide's journey in confronting zir own past, and the scars it has left on the people that zie cares about.
J.Y. Yang's 'Old Domes'. An inspired look at the colonised landscape itself, 'Old Domes' takes a look at the patchwork landscape of Singapore, where every building and space has its own spirit--appearing in human form to anyone clever enough to see them. The story itself is about the re-purposing of two colonial-era buildings, the City Hall and the Supreme Court, and the young woman tasked with hunting down the spirits of these buildings and killing them so that they can be born again. I don't think that I can sing this story's praises highly enough. It is the kind of narrative that sticks with you for a very, very long time after you've finished reading it.
That said, I have to admit that my favourite piece in the anthology is Benjanun Sriduangkaew's 'Vector': a highly-experimental, second person story that draws an extended parallel between viruses and cultural imperialism. Almost impossible to categorise or explain, 'Vectors' is both brutal and breathtaking in its concept and its use of language, and should serve as a guide for anyone trying to figure out how to write something that is layered, textured and utterly immersive.
There were a couple of pieces that fell flat for me: maybe I've just read far too many steampunk airship stories to find Ernest Hogan's 'Pancho Villa's Flying Circus' engaging, and I did feel that maybe it could have ended on a slightly stronger note than Rochita Loenen-Ruiz's 'What Really Happened in Ficandula', which read a little too much like a straight-up colonial revenge story for my liking.
That said, it's possibly just a matter of personal taste and I did find far more stories that I enjoyed than ones I didn't. Either way, I was very rarely bored--which is an achievement in itself. On the whole, I'm pretty much a sucker for anything that mixes social activism and politics with speculative fiction, and this collection does it damned well.