The Assimilated Cuban’s Guide to Quantum Santeria, Carlos Hernandez (Rosarium 978-1-4956-0793-4, $15.95, 268pp, tp) January 2016.
Note to small presses: sometimes introductions and blubs do make a difference. When Carlos Hernandez’s debut collection The Assimilated Cuban’s Guide to Quantum Santeria showed up in the mail, the title struck me as almost fatally whimsical, even though it’s actually the title of one of the better stories here – but then I noticed a blurb from Christopher Barzak and an introduction by Jeffrey Ford, and it turns out that Ford is exactly right in his introduction when he says, ‘‘the book perfectly delivers on that title as if only that title could do it justice.’’ None of the dozen stories focus primarily on cultural assimilation, but the issue underlies the problems of many of the Cuban-American families portrayed here. One recurring character, a newspaper reporter named Gabrielle Reál, faces sexist as well as Latin American stereotypes, and her adventures give a few of the selections a tall-tale flavor reminiscent of Clarke’s Tales from the White Hart. In one story (‘‘The International Studbook of the Giant Panda’’), she gets involved in an experiment to increase the panda population by promoting panda-fucking by remotely controlling a female panda Avatar-style; in another (‘‘Fantaisie Impromptu #4 in C# Minor’’) she encounters a piano inhabited by the soul of the dead virtuoso who built it; in yet another (‘‘The Magical Properties of Unicorn Ivory’’) she helps track down poachers seeking the horns of unicorns who have apparently wandered into our universe from a parallel one because of black holes created by the Large Hadron Collider.
As the latter story makes clear, Hernandez’s physics tends to be of the gonzo-metaphorical variety, and the parallel universe theme shows up again in ‘‘Entanglements’’, in which a physicist helps an amputee war veteran come to terms with his new identity by encountering iterations of himself from parallel universes in which he’s uninjured (though the real entanglement of the title is that the veteran’s wife is the physicist’s lover). In ‘‘American Moat’’, which seems almost prescient given this year’s presidential primaries, a group of anti-immigrant nutcases set out to shoot Mexicans crossing the border, when they meet a pair of real aliens from the multiverse, who demonstrate their power by turning a pickup truck into Margaret Thatcher. When the visitors offer to end poverty, disease, and war in the manner of Clarke’s Overlords, Thatcher persuades the yokels to reject the offer as ‘‘an invasion, pure and simple.’’ Scenes like that, which demonstrate Hernandez’s considerably entertaining wit, are scattered throughout, such as when the brilliant physicist narrator of the title story recalls his childhood career as a magician (featuring Roadkill the Magic Dead Cat) before setting out to seriously learn Santeria magic and later quantum physics. Some of Hernandez’s stories – only a few of which seem to have been published before this volume – seem a bit off-the-shelf in concept, such as the ghost-pianist story or ‘‘Bone of my Bone’’, with its horn-growing protagonist offering nothing more than Keith Mano or Joe Hill have already done, but when he brings his various themes together, as in ‘‘The Assimilated Cuban’s Guide to Quantum Santeria’’, he’s offering us a perspective not quite like anyone else’s, and which at its best is a hilarious delight to read.