From time to time, I like to read collections of foreign language science fiction. I just am curious as to what people coming from a different history and geography will do with the genre. By the way, in this regard, James Gunn’s The Road to Science Fiction, Volume 6: Around the World is worth a look since he attempted an overview of foreign language science fiction as of 1999.
When it first showed up on Amazon back on December 18, 2011, this retro review got some reactions.
Most were from people who thought the book, based on my description, sounded like something they would be interested in even if I didn’t like it.
I also got a nice email from one of the included authors.
Review: Three Messages and a Warning: Contemporary Mexican Stories of the Fantastic, eds. Eduardo Jiménez Mayo and Chris N. Brown, 2012.
If you like your stories to have a dramatic arc with a conflict and a resolution, this is not the anthology for you.
If you like your stories to read like completed projects and not story fragments or philosophical speculation inadequately fictionalized, this is not the anthology for you.
If you think that, when you buy a book, you’re paying for a writer to tell the story – not present you with a literary version of “choose your adventure”, this is not the anthology for you.
If you think studied vagueness and elliptical endings are usually an abrogation of authorial responsibility, this is not the anthology for you.
If you think maybe Bruce Sterling’s name and the word “fantastic” in the title means you will get significant Mexican science fiction, this is not the anthology for you.
If you think “microfiction” and “flash fiction” are sometimes excuses for presenting incompletely worked out ideas, this is not the anthology for you.
If you don’t want to sigh in exasperation at the end of nearly every one of these 33 stories (and one poem), this is not the anthology for you.
Because there are so many stories here with so few that are satisfying, I’ll mention the ones I did like.
Iliana Estañol’s “Waiting” may or may not have a fantastical element, but I liked its account of a man driving his dead brother’s body around so he can be buried in the seaside town he wanted to rest in.
The apocalyptic ghost story “Photophobia” by Mauricio Montiel Figueiras was my favorite story. The deserted cityscape, almost completely depopulated after some never completely explained event, reminded me of J. G. Ballard and, in its philosophical ruminations about man “fondled by eternity”, of H. P. Lovecraft’s cosmically themed horror though the author explicitly mentions Peter Weir’s movie The Last Wave and dedicates the story (nearly all the stories here are dedicated to someone) Juvenal Acosta and Andrei Codrescu.
Two of the stories I liked satirize politics, one Mexican politics in particular. They were Bernardo Ferñandez’s “Lions”, which details the consequences of zoos releasing their lions into the city after budget cuts, and Pepe Rojo’s “The President Without Organs” which has bodily secretions and removed organs purchased by Mexicans for many of the same reasons saint’s relics were popular in the Middle Ages.
“Nereid Future” from Gabriela Damián Miravete was a predictable tale of lovers separated by time, but I liked its style and method of working out the plot.
Genuine science fiction stories are few and far between here, and the only one that worked and seemed to have a decent amount of logic and extrapolative rigor behind it – as opposed to fablistic satire like “Lions” was Liliana V. Blum’s post-apocalyptic “Pink Lemonade” which has, during a worldwide famine, a young woman hiding out in a warehouse of animal food and encountering one of the people who may be responsible for the whole mess. I read it as a nice comment on eco-terrorism and luddite GMO opponents.
“Three Messages and a Warning in the Same Email” from Ana Clavel was sort of a variation on the doppelganger theme.
“Wolves” by Jóse Luis Zárate wobbles a bit from mixing wolves as a symbol for man’s lust for blood and natural disasters with the imagery of a flood. Still I liked it.
“The Infamous Juan Manuel” by Bruno Estañol is a fun variation on the treasure hunt story.
Now while I may complain about many of these stories committing the sins of current “literary” fiction, I didn’t find a consistent relationship, given the author biographies, between the quality of work of genre and literary writers.
Sterling and the editors warn the reader not to expect uniquely Mexican content here. Given that the editors and Sterling note that, in Mexico, “no problem-solving stories, and very little ideational extrapolation” exist in fantastic literature, that the stories here are products “of a world that the authors all understand cannot really be explained with numbers and laws”, it’s tempting to say it’s no wonder Mexico is not exactly synonymous with contributions to science and technology. However, the perils of assuming this anthology is a representative of contemporary Mexican fantastic literature, much less Mexico itself, make me unprepared to go quite that far. And, it must be noted, several of the unsatisfyingly mystic and vague stories are from people that are actual scientists or science journalists.
Yes, I’m still giving this anthology two stars even after liking over a third of its entries. Only “Photophobia” is a true stand out.
However, your calculation may be different, and, certainly, I don’t know where else you are going to find a sample of Mexican fantasy translated into English, and I’m pretty sure that goes for many of the authors here too.