(NewCon Press, 268pp, pb £11.99)
When I was a fresh-faced pup, new to the beckoning worlds of science-fiction and their siren calls of “what-if”, one of the first stories I chanced upon was in TTA’s own podcast –- a little tale entitled “The Scent of Their Arrival”, by a wordsmith called Mercurio D. Rivera.
It clearly had some sort of impact, given that I’m still devouring any and all speculative fiction with the gleeful gratitude of a starving man given a pasty. So it shouldn’t really surprise anyone that I jumped at the chance to read and review Rivera’s short story collection.
“Across the Event Horizon” treats us to fourteen stories, taking us on a journey across the universe and beyond. All of them have a profound basis in human (or non-human) relationships, and they have a unifying theme of questioning who we are and what our place in the universe is – on both as individuals and a species.
I haven’t the space to analyse every story –- although I easily could – so I will focus instead on a selected few. And given my own relationship with Rivera’s stories, it makes sense to start with “The Scent of their Arrival”.
It was somewhat strange to be rereading and rediscovering this story after so long — which is something that many readers will find, as a not inconsiderable number of these stories were first published in [Interzone’s] vaunted pages. But it had lost none of its potency; the vivid way that Rivera conceives and then relates of such a radically different species and the concurrent communications issues, and then blends it with a strain of pure horror to leave a conclusion ripe and heavy with foreboding.
“Longing for Langlana” is another highlight of the collection. A story told over a lifetime, heavy with unrequited love and dreams of what may have been. It exemplifies Rivera’s storytelling that the full message of “…Langlana” is told over multiple levels. The threads of the characters personal relationships are part of a patchwork of a bigger relationship between humanity and the Wergen. The feelings of individuals within the story are insignificant in scale, and yet integral to the whole.
“Bargonns Can Swizzle” is one story which I wished more could have been made of. Beneath the delightful whimsy of the almost Whovian title, lurks the story of an internet relationship over such scales of distance that the radical differences come across as sweet. But I would have welcomed more explanation of the differences between humanity and post-humanity, differences which lurked under the surface and which I feel a longer piece would have given Rivera the chance to explore.
“Dear Annabehls” and “Snatch Me Another” however, are exactly what I look for in science fiction. Radical ideas, approached through innovative form. They are so intricately interlinked that I can’t really analyse them separately. “Snatch Me Another” sets up the idea of infinite realities and the ability to ‘snatch’ items –- and even people -– from neighbouring universes at will. And hot on its heels, “Dear Annabehls” explores the resultant dissolution of the boundaries between them through the medium of an agony aunt. It’s impressive, it’s imaginative, and it takes the story to its fascinating conclusion in a way which had me wishing more stories were written like this.
Speaking of boundary pushing ideas, “Dance of the Kawkaroons” is one of the best colonisation-themed stories I can recall having read. As a pair of explorers discover an alien species with remarkable properties, the resulting ‘exploitation’ is disturbing in of itself –- but not half as disturbing as the final suggestion of turning the tables.
Finally, “Tu Sufrimiento Shall Protect Us” is a completely different beast of a story. Set in a semi-post-apocalyptic near-future, this is a story steeped in Dominican culture, and the accordant superstitions. For a story which starts off decidedly odd, it takes a stark route into the darkest recesses of human nature, exploring how much we are willing to do to keep us and ours safe.
This is an anthology to read and read again. Rivera is blessed with a sharp pen, and a sharper mind, and the themes and ideas which he chooses to explore are always thrilling, and handled with a deft and adventurous wit which is a pleasure to read.