Rich Horton Reviews Stories from Sofía Rhei, Greg Egan, and Juliana Rew

Everything is Made of Letters, Sofía Rhei (Aqueduct) March 2019.
Perihelion Summer, Greg Egan ( Publishing) April 2019.
Hidden Histories, Juliana Rew, ed. (Third Flatiron) April 2019.

I was really impressed by Sofía Rhei‘s Everything is Made of Letters. Rhei is a Spanish writer, and this slim book contains five recent stories, all as far as I can tell appearing here for the first time in English. The title of the collec­tion doesn’t lie. Rhei’s interest here is in words: in linguistics, in stories, and in translation. All of the stories are worthwhile. My favorites included “Secret Stories of Doors“, set in an apparently oppressive alternate 20th century in which Joan Perucho sneaks false accounts of the work of a fictional writer, Sor Assumpció Ardebol, into the World Encyclopedia. He is in fear of discovery by the “aerial agents.” Inevitably that time comes, leading to a bit of a surprise. I also liked “Learning Report“, the most extravagantly science fictional piece here, about a woman sent to another world to learn their unusual language. In this world, children learn with the help of a talking educational toy, and the protagonist gets one of her own. After a while, the toy starts telling her stories. It claims to be a mutilated member of the original race of this world, which was displaced by the current occupants. Soon she is convinced to help the toy return to its family, but after they escape they find more and scarier mysteries. The resolution is strange and leaves us with productive questions – we don’t know what’s truly going on, nor do most of the characters. All in all, an excellent book, presenting a quite dif­ferent voice, often funny, often just weird, in a thoughtful way.

Greg Egan‘s new short novel is Perihelion Sum­mer. A black hole has been detected entering the Solar System. Depending on how close it comes to Earth, the effects can range from nothing much, to massive floods, to total destruction. Or what eventu­ates: a slight perturbation of Earth’s orbit, so that winters are significantly colder and summers hotter. Matt is involved in a small group experimenting with a self-sufficient floating “fish farm,” and his group decides to take their “floating island,” the Mandjet, to sea as the black hole comes, figuring that if the worst (or almost worst) happens, that will be the safest place. Over three sections, we follow his efforts, and the reaction of the rest of the world to the disaster, and the ways in which the Mandjet and the people who end up there try to cope – mostly technologically but also socially – with an unexpectedly fraught future. This is neat stuff, with some intriguing sort of small-scale tech, a good bit of Kim Stanley Robinson-style technocratic prob­lem solving (with a bit less optimism than Robinson usually manages), and it’s fascinating reading as well. It’s the sort of book where welding becomes a suspenseful event.

It’s also been a while since I looked at a Third Flatiron anthology. Hidden Histories is, I think, the 25th collection from this small press. The theme is right there in the title, and the stories are a mix of SF, fantasy, and horror, with some humor (short-shorts are mixed among the regular length stories.) The stories are mostly pretty short and there’s a lot of decent work but nothing that really wowed me. I was amused by the closing short-short, “Fairy Godmothering” by Dantzel Cherry, in which a few apprentice fairies are shown bestowing gifts (like husbands) on some notorious women, and I liked “Specimen 1842” by Sandra Ulrich Alma­zan, in which a Native American woman joins a project analyzing the DNA from some old Native American bones, and finds something very hard to explain. The reader will guess right away what’s going on, but Almazan gives us a satisfying, slight twist at the close.

Recommended Stories
“Secret Stories of Doors”, Sofía Rhei (Everything Is Made of Letters)
“Learning Report”, Sofía Rhei (Everything Is Made of Letters)
Perihelion Summer, Greg Egan ( Publishing)

Rich Horton works for a major aerospace company in St. Louis MO. He has published over a dozen anthologies, including the yearly series The Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy from Prime Books, and he is the Reprint Editor for Lightspeed Magazine. He contributes articles and reviews on SF and SF history to numerous publications.

This review and more like it in the June 2019 issue of Locus.

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