This week Charles Tan reviews Three Messages and A Warning: Contemporary Mexican Short Stories of the Fantastic, edited by Eduardo Jiménez Mayo and Chris N. Brown and published by Small Beer Press. We’ll have more material on the book this week, so stay tuned!
Three Messages and A Warning: Contemporary Mexican Short Stories of the Fantastic edited by Eduardo Jiménez Mayo and Chris N. Brown
Reviewed by Charles Tan
I’ll say it outright: we need more anthologies like these. There’s ambition in Three Messages and A Warning — perhaps more so than the Philippine Speculative Fiction volumes I’ve been reading (and sometimes contributing to) for the past eight years. For one thing, there’s the sheer number of translations, in addition to maintaining a consistent tone and atmosphere.
Second, reading this anthology is diving into the unknown: the strength — and perhaps weakness — of such a book is that every contributor is an unknown factor. Their contributions could be award-winning stories. Or it could be their first piece of published fiction. The only thing that affects my judgment are the stories themselves since I don’t have any preconceptions about the author.
Third, there’s a sense of diversity in the book. Two stories, for example, share a common concept, a town populated by animals: “Lions” by Bernardo Fernández and “Wolves” by José Luis Zárate. However, the treatment, theme, and allegory of the two stories are very different from each other. Whereas “Lions” showcases a gradual juxtaposition, “Wolves,” on the other hand, is this inevitable surrender to something beyond mortal comprehension. And that’s simply scratching the tip of the proverbial iceberg. One could make an argument that certain stories aren’t speculative fiction: “The Guest” by Amparo Dávila and “Three Messages and A Warning In The Same Email” by Ana Clavel come to mind. But again, the sensibilities in which they are, are stylistically different: “The Guest” features this unnamed entity while the titular story weaves itself in a mystery that’s either science fiction or literary metafiction. These stories tackle genre tropes or challenge existing definitions that’s refreshing to read and encounter.
If you’re looking for a common motif, a recurring element that attempts to define the “Mexican Fantastic,” you won’t find it in this book. The selections are simply diverse, and perhaps the only conclusion that one can claim is that a lot of the stories are relatively short as several are flash fiction while the lengthier pieces don’t even come close to the novelette. It’s simply a different kind of sensibility, one that makes sense in this kind of anthology where the aim is to showcase variety and breadth.
As far as impact is concerned, the stories hit home, although perhaps not too deep. They’re jabs and body blows instead of knockout punches, but considering the length of the stories, it’s understandable why several of them don’t leave bruises.
If there’s one significant flaw with the anthology, it’s not that the book has three introductions (which is, admittedly, overkill), but one of them is written by Bruce Sterling. I know he means well, and it’s not everyday that a famous writer gets to write the introduction to a book, but there’s this sense that he’s patronizing. There’s some value in his introduction, don’t get me wrong, but the crux of his argument is that “The United States of America is Mexicanizing much faster than Mexico is Americanizing” so “The face of an old friend can be better than a mirror, sometimes,” the old friend being Mexico.
Save for that one detail, Three Messages and A Warning is a treasure trove of stories that showcases a unique brand of aesthetics when it comes to the fantastic.