As part of its fund drive this year, Strange Horizons announced that it would do a special issue dedicated to translated Spanish SFF. And here it is! With two fiction pieces and five poems, it's a bit weightier than a typical week and that's definitely a good thing. The fiction explores both science fiction and fantasy, death and consumption and justice. The poetry is substantial and nicely varied, from very short pieces to more lengthy verse and I love it all. It's an issue that shows why SFF in translation can be so fun, because it presents stories that were originally told outside the language we are used to (well, those of us who grew up in English-only environments), and as such they approach things a bit differently. But it's still very much SFF and I should just get to those reviews!
|Art by Sonia Camacho
"Gracia" by Susana Vallejo, translated by Lawrence Schimel (8588 words)
This is a gripping and dark story about civilizations and people, families and homes. About peaks and declines. The story focuses on Gracia, a woman living rather well off despite the way the world has gone, despite the fact that the times we're living in now are called the Peak and everything after is the roll downhill. After the death of her grandmother's partner, Gracia returns to the home she grew up in, the home that was really just her and her grandmother after illness brought on my climate and population and medicine killed off her mother and grandfather and so many others. The setting is one not completely hopeless but still oppressive, where those with power and privilege live entirely different lives than those who have not, and Gracia spends the story seeing what it is she left behind, what it is she lives above now. Above, but not separate from. The setting is intricate and visceral, the crap from the top trickling down onto everyone below until it is a tidal wave of awful that the people are trying to live through. It's about the decline of more than just the internet and cars, too, about how when the focus becomes just on the survival of certain people, it makes an environment when certain people stop being people, [SPOILERS] when certain people become nothing more than meat. It's a disturbing story in many ways, beginning with the nostalgia of Gracia's return and the way she has tried to remember the past and then shattering against the sharp edges of what the situation is like. The ugliness and the suffering. It's a stark story and not for the faint of heart but it is also amazingly challenging and worth checking out. An amazing read!
"Esmeralda" by Tamara Romero, translated by Lawrence Schimel (4921 words)
This is a strange but rather fun story about a strange place where people manufacture happiness in pill form and where a king and queen hold court open a nearly always raining sky. The setting of the piece is interesting and I love the way that it brings so many fantasy elements to the table. There is a rather intelligent guardian panther and there's the magical crop of happiness and there's the weather and the strange effects the pills have on animals. The central drama of the story comes when Lazarus, the king, disappears and his new bride, Estigia, is left to tend to things. Only she doesn't really trust Esmeralda, the panther guard, and she's growing more and more dependent on the happiness pills to get her through the days. It's a strange story, to be sure, and I like how Estigia does live under a cloud. Under a sort of constant depression, broken only by her dependence on pills, and the story is a rather compelling mystery, Estigia left wondering what has happened to her husband, receiving clues only slowly, in the way the panther acts and in an inventor falling from the sky. And the ending brings things nicely to a head, the story darkly funny and biting in its look at monarchs who claim to live with difficulty by situating their throne under the open sky but who use different umbrellas, still shielding themselves from having to fully confront life. They live drugged and still get to control the country, and it becomes a wrong that the world of the story sets to right in an interesting and bewitching way. A great story!
"Short Poetic Saga" by Antonio Rivero Taravillo, translated by Lawrence Schimel
I love the grumpiness of this poem. Just love it. The voice of the piece is sharp and scalding and delightful. It's also a poem that is in some ways about poetry and (I think) avoids the "kids these days" trope by speaking specifically to a feeling of distance and isolation that comes from being an outsider not from the populous at large, but from the niche where you hoped to find understanding. Because, really, it would be somewhat unreasonable to stand up and ask why no one cares about poetry. But is completely understandable to seek out people who might care and be disappointed that it's…not something you want to be a part of. That it's not a place to find community and understanding. And that feeling is one that I recognize and that I think the poem sells incredibly well. That feeling of loneliness and isolation, of being this island without trees, of being in a sea of people who can't even understand why you'd be interested. This is a feeling that comes not from despair but from disappointment. From hope that has been crushed. Either the lecture the narrator attended wasn't what they hoped or it could have been but is over. Just a brief breeze that passed through and has left the narrator more dissatisfied, more upset that they are misunderstood and unappreciated. And it's a fun piece that I find I can relate to, that's just a bit melodramatic but also reads true. It's fun and funny but buried in there is this deep yearning and need to be have some place to belong, some way to connect to the past and the world and everything. So yes, definitely check out this poem!
"supernatural tongue" by Estíbaliz Espinosa, translated by Lawrence Schimel
This poem speaks to me of the contrast of the sweet flesh of an apple and the deadly poison of its seeds. Speaks to me of this fruit that has been a symbol of so much, at the center of so many stories, and the power of it to transform and transcend. It's a wonderfully evocative poem that captures so well the moment of cutting an apple in half, of opening it. The smell and the sight and the history. The way that it brings to mind those stories and those feelings. And it also lingers on the other side of the apple, it's poison qualities. The apple from Snow White, or the apple of Eden, or the apple that seems to walk hand in hand with destruction. And it uses these different halves of the angle, created so perfectly by the opening of the fruit, to show a way toward the supernatural, which I don’t exactly read as the fantastical so much as the sublime, the feeling of darkness and light, of contrast. Fear and beauty. Life and death. And the poem flows quite nicely, conversational at times but with a rhythm that I quite enjoyed. It's a fun, satisfying read, and I quite recommend checking it out!
"To wait and wait and wait" by Almijara Barbero Carvajal, translated by Christopher Yates
This poem is a tricky one to me because I feel that it nicely captures an urge to act, an urge to move, that is censured by a voice enforcing inaction, a voice that demands consideration and deliberation that never seems to end. And yet there's something else here as well to me, a feeling of celebration, a feeling of something happening. Or about to happen. The poem itself seems to describe a gathering of shadows, a summit of sorts, where there are sharp interjections. Demands. Judgments. And yet where the main push of the actions seems to be inaction. The idea that these are shadows of people or ideas enhances for me the conflicting nature of the poem. There seems to be drinking and eating and debating going on. There seems to be something momentous in the work. But there is also this voice to silence, this voice to wait. And it's a very insistent voice, very loud, crying out to wait, crying out to stillness. It's a contrast that I like and I will admit that gives me some difficulty because it feels to me like there's both a frustration and a celebration here, that there is this potential for great change that is being chained, that is being restrained. I feel that it is a story about pushing past that voice of restraint, to rejoice and to rebel and to push forward. To try, even when some say you aren't ready, even when some say it's foolish, that it needs to happen later, or slower. There is something here that speaks to me of breaking through that urge, though this is probably just how the poem strikes me. It's a lovely read, though, and definitely a piece to spend some time with.
"The Kingdom of Another World" by Almijara Barbero Carvajal, translated by Christopher Yates
This is a poem that to me is about breaking away from a bad situation, from a suffocating situation. From a person who is full of…concern but who really doesn't understand the situation or the person of the narrator. The poem revolves around this decision to leave, to go, to move somewhere new. It feels to me like a physical move, and I feel resonances here to conversations with parents about moving out, conversations with significant others about breaking up. The conflict here is both that the narrator needs to move on, that they need to go and that they are going, resolved to, and also that the person speaking to the narrator is trying to convince them it's a bad move. Is gaslighting them, is trying to make them believe that they aren't who they are, that they don't feel what they feel. To me it speaks to a large divide, to a narrator who has had to bury themselves in order to have some semblance of safety. Some hope of peace. And who was never before able or ready to make the break, to disappoint the person who they are leaving. And yet it comes down to their identity, to their freedom, and this urge to go is tied up in their urge to be truly themself. And I love the way that it all comes together, the pleading tone of the person being addressed and the strength of the narrator to go, to have left, to realize that this version of themself that this other person believes in does not exist and might never have existed. That they're already gone, and need to match that metaphoric goneness to a physical one. It's an amazing poem and a must-read!
"microtherapy" by Sofia Rhei, translated by Lawrence Schimel
Okay so this poem is kind of disturbing me and I'm not sure it should but for a poem that's very short is also leaves this very open and maybe that's where my unease flows from. The poem examines a scalpel and how the blade has two edges. A straight one that doesn't cut and a curved one that does. But it also speaks to the unreliability of human vision, the way that everything is curved, the way that we might see a curved edge and have it really be a straight one. The way that we might press on what we think is the straight edge and have it be the curved one and this just feels like something bad is happening, has happened, that the edges are out of order and yet things are going forward and there's going to be blood. Again, this is a very short piece, but I love what it does with the limited space and with the layout. There is a sense of something brief here, a quick decision, something not quick looked for until… And I will admit that I've pressed the wrong end of an exacto blade before and it is no joke. No joke. So yes, this is a very short and very sharp piece (pun intended) about the limitations of perception and the way straight lines can seem curved and the damage that can be done when we don't take the time to examine what we're doing. An excellent read!