As a way of perhaps easing myself back into blogging and doing interviews with creative folks again, I thought I’d start posting occasional book or short story reviews here that go into more depth than my planned monthly reports.
LATIN@ RISING: An Anthology of Latin@ Science Fiction & Fantasy
Publisher: Wings Press
Edited by Matthew David Goodwin
Introduction by Frederick Luis Aldama
My Rating: Four out of five stars
My Thoughts: There are only so many books one can read in a year. My limit seems to be about 100, which barely scratches the surface of my “to be read” pile(s). So I rely on short story anthologies and magazines to introduce me to authors I’ve never heard of, to help expand the range, depth, and breadth of my reading experience. The Kickstarter for Latin@ Rising was brought to my attention through Twitter, by one of the authors involved whose work I was already familiar with. I’m glad I did.
I was familiar with the work of a relative handful of the authors between these covers (Junot Diaz, Daniel Jose Older, Sabrina Vourvoulias, Carmen Maria Machado — four out of twenty!). So the Table of Contents alone helped me to realize just how woefully under-read I am in the realm of Latin@ speculative fiction. There are a lot of authors in this anthology with whom I was not previously familiar, many of whom I suspect I *should* have at least heard of by name. Thankfully, this book came along to help me become a little bit more well-read in this realm.
The stories range in length from flash fiction to almost novelette length, plus a few poems and something akin to a photo-essay, so there’s something for every attention span. The authors are male and female, straight and queer (various values thereof). There’s science fiction and fantasy and magical realism and some stories that don’t fit neatly into any one category. Many are rooted in our real world or variations of same, some take place farther afield.
Junot Diaz’s “Monstro” posits a fungal/viral outbreak on the Dominican/Haitian island, drawing a picture of the complicated relationship between not just the two nations but between lighter- and darker- skinned natives. And he manages to sandwich a tale of unrequited love in there, too, with language that is practical and lyrical at the same time.
I can’t review every story in the book in this post, so let me concentrate on the four authors I already knew and a few of those I’m interested in becoming more familiar with:
Daniel Jose Older fills in a bit of the back-story of his Bone Street Rhumba urban fantasy trilogy in “Red Feather and Bone,” sending Carlos Delacruz on a bird-watching mission with lasting repercussions. I’ve always found Daniel’s writing to be musical, each novel in the Bone Street Rhumba series a mash-up playlist of sonic influences, and this story is no exception.
In the almost novella-length “Sin Embargo,” Sabrina Vourvoulias takes the tricks of translation and uses all of them to comment on how easy it is to misunderstand someone’s history and intent when you don’t understand which meaning of a given word they intend. The story also touches heavily on the lingering impact of the Guatemalan “dirty wars” of the 1980s, and how those who grow up in war zones never really leave.
Carmen Maria Machado’s “Difficult At Parties” broke my heart a few dozen times. I loved the way she makes the reader feel intimately connected and yet distanced and removed through use of perspective and detail. My reading experience mirrored, I think, what the main character is feeling (or not feeling). The speculative element is very subtly woven in. (Perhaps a trigger warning is necessary for this one, as the main character is a rape survivor trying to find her way back to “normal.”)
Alex Hernandez’ “Caridad” explores a world where technology allows family members to be permanently “psychically” connected to a single member who has ability to processes everyone’s experiences and opinions into a cohesive whole. Family loyalty versus wanting to be your own person is always a potent theme, and Hernandez makes it real and raw without being cloying or simplistic. I also loved Marcos Santiago Gonsalez’ “Traditions,” which treads some of the same ground as Hernandez, in terms of family loyalty and who will carry on magickal traditions in an advancing technological society. Both of these stories have endearing teen female lead characters.
The joys and pressures of family and history also inform Kathleen Alcala’s “The Road to Nyer” and Diana Chaviano’s “Accursed Lineage,” two very different and equally effective ghost stories. Each author explores how much we understand (or don’t) that our family history, traditions and interactions affect our view of the world around us. Alcala’s story has a bit of the wistful about it, with some amazing sensory detail. Chaviano’s is also full of very different sensory detail and very definitely the scarier of the two. Also impressive is how both authors manage to keep the heaviest violence in their stories “off-screen” and yet manage to make us feel every punch, kick or fall.
And I can’t end the review without mentioning the really unique bit of alternate history about the Moon Landing by ADAL, the “photo-essay” (for lack of a better term) I mentioned earlier. The story has a ton of impact, with a bit of humor, using very few words. Speculative fiction, after all, is not limited to the printed word, and ADAL shows us that the way a story is told can be as important as the story itself.
The stories that I enjoyed the most may not be the same ones you would enjoy most. That’s the great thing about multi-author anthologies: something for everyone, and your mileage may vary. But I highly recommend checking out Latin@ Rising. The variety of voices, all grounded in what is unique and shared about the Latin@ experience, is well worth listening to.