Sunday, 7 February 2016

The Assimilated Cuban's Guide to Quantum Santeria by Carlos Hernandez

A quirky collection of short sci-fi stories for fans of Kij Johnson and Kelly Link
Assimilation is founded on surrender and being broken; this collection of short stories features people who have assimilated, but are actively trying to reclaim their lives. There is a concert pianist who defies death by uploading his soul into his piano. There is the person who draws his mother’s ghost out of the bullet hole in the wall near where she was executed. Another character has a horn growing out of the center of his forehead—punishment for an affair. But he is too weak to end it, too much in love to be moral. Another story recounts a panda breeder looking for tips. And then there’s a border patrol agent trying to figure out how to process undocumented visitors from another galaxy. Poignant by way of funny, and philosophical by way of grotesque, Hernandez’s stories are prayers for self-sovereignty.

Goodreads description

This short-story collection explores that border country between science fiction and magic realism in a way that reminded me of not only the stories of Kelly Link (as stated in the Goodreads description) but also of Elizabeth Hand and a number of other writers reviewed on this blog. As with those other writers' collections, only a few of the stories fall firmly within the realm of magic realism. My favourite stories (although not all are magic realism) were:

The Aphotic Ghost
A modern selkie story, which brings together marine biology, jellyfish, mountain climbing and a father's search for a missing son.

Los Simpaticos
A murder mystery with no speculative elements about the death of the star of a Spanish-language reality TV show. As he pretends to be a hitman to lure out potential hirers, there are no lack of suspects. 

More Than Pigs and Rosaries Can Give
This story is about a son trying to locate the site of his mother's murder at the hands of Che Guevara's death squads. When he gets the lead he seeks, he is offered the opportunity to communicate with the dead woman. This story starts very strongly, but I found myself questioning the ending. 

Bone of my Bone
A man, separated from his wife following his affair with another woman, starts to grow a horn in a strange reverse of the traditional portrayal of the cuckold's horns.

The Magical Properties of Unicorn Ivory
This is a story where sci-fi and magic realism definitely meet. As a result of scientists playing with quantum physics, unicorns from a parallel universe start appearing in the British countryside. Immediately they are the targets of ivory poachers who kidnap a young girl to attract the attentions of the shy beast.

The Assimilated Cuban's Guide to Quantum Santeria
My favourite story in the book is the last one. After the death of his mother, a young boy tries to get her back using santeria learned from a library book.  But of course magic is not that simple and the boy has to resort to santeria again. This story is more complex, developed and thought through than most of the others. 

This is an interesting collection and one which will appeal to fans of magic realism who also like science fiction.

I received this book free from the publisher in return for a fair review.

No comments: