Three Messages and a Warning – Contemporary Mexican Short Stories of the Fantastic – edited by Eduardo Jimenez Mayo and Chris N. Brown
Small Beer Press 2011
I was drawn to this book for a myriad of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that I am based in Arizona yet I encounter so little literature from Mexico. I’m not talking about our fine Hispanic American writers and poets and I’m not talking about Carlos Fuentes whose Christopher Unborn is a masterpiece of magical fiction. I’m talking about the kind of literature that must be emerging from such a vibrant and diverse culture as Mexico, particularly as it enters the 21st century head-on.
My other reason for picking up this collection was that this book is published by one of our finest small publishers, Small Beer Press, which is devoted to publishing the best collection of short stories they can find, especially stories of the fantastic–including science fiction and fantasy. (They are the people responsible for Howard Waldrop’s beguiling, bedazzling, and hilarious Howard Who? of 2006 which you absolutely must have in your library.) It seems appropriate therefore that they come out with a collection of stories of the fantastic (sci-fi, fantasy, slipstream, horror, magical realism, etc.) by some of Mexico’s best writers, some of whom are new to the scene and some who are veterans.
As I’ve said, these stories are quite diverse and only one really has any resonance of the kind of “magical realism” we’ve experienced from the Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges or Colombia’s Gabriel Garcia Marquez. “Photophobia” by Mauricio Monteil Figueiras is a post-apocalypse story of a man trying to make sense of what’s left of the world. It’s more surreal than anything else, a cross between Franz Kafka and J.G. Ballard. You’ll find stories about ghosts and werewolves, ceremonies for the dead, and one story about a little girl selling lemonade. My favorite is one about the President of Mexico who’s literally cannibalized piece by piece for his electorate (in the traditional manner of taking slivers of wood from a cross or sacred relic as a charm). It’s called “The President Without Organs” by Pepe Rojo, a real stand-out.
Most of these stories are quite narrowly focused on a single character caught up in a very unreal situation. Some even question reality itself. What’s missing in most (but not all) of these stories is often a broader sense of what’s going on in the outside world, something more common to American fantasy and science fiction. But don’t get me wrong: that’s part of the appeal of this book. These are engaging stories written in a manner that is quite different than those more commonly published in our country. Some of these seductive stories might only fragments of a narrative, others mere slights of the imagination or the reminiscence of a dream. But, boy, this was a fun read and I highly recommend this anthology to anyone with an interest in the fantastic from a part of the world we so rarely hear from.