book reviews by Althea

The Assimilated Cuban’s Guide to Quantum Santeria – Carlos Hernandez

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The Assimilated Cuban's Guide to Quantum Santeria
The Assimilated Cuban’s Guide to Quantum Santeria by Carlos Hernandez

**** The Aphotic Ghost
A strong opener to the anthology. An updated selkie story for the modern age, with marine biology, immortal jellyfish, and an ascent of Mount Everest.

*** Homeostasis
Delicate treatment of a classic sci-fi theme: ‘cybernetic’ enhancements and the line between technology and whatever it is that makes us human. Imagine a more mundane Robocop.

** Entanglements
This one felt a little bit too sappy/Lifetime drama for me. A physicist finds out that his girlfriend is married to another man – when he returns from a military tour of duty as a double amputee. Driven by guilt, he makes it his mission to try to help the girlfriend’s husband. The quantum physics/experimental tech part of the story is interesting, but the emotional agonizing and interpersonal drama didn’t win me over. The commentary on racism felt a bit shoehorned in, rather than being an element that flowed organically from the characters and the plot.

*** The International Studbook of the Giant Panda
You know how pandas aren’t particularly eager to have sex? Conservationists have tried all kinds of ways to get them in the mood. Here, there’s a new method: remote controlled sexy robot pandas. Unfortunately, some Christian extremists have an objection. Can a junior journalist help the panda husbandry organization with their PR image? Funny, with a dash of disturbing.

**** The Macrobe Conservation Project
Nicely creepy take on the ‘pod people’ trope. A kid is reluctantly spending the summer aboard a space station with his scientist dad. Mom and his brother aren’t on the station, but the kid has robot versions of mom and bro to keep him company – although they’re not quite the same as the real thing. Dad is a little bit secretive about what the research project is that he’s working on, but it has something to do with the alien ‘macrobes’ that were discovered on the colony planet of New Hope.

*** Los Simpaticos
It’s hard to pull off a murder mystery in a short story, but this one succeeds better than most. It still over-relies on a detailed confession that sets out all the details after-the-fact; always a failing in the genre. (And this is purely a murder mystery, with no sci-fi elements.)
The most popular new TV show among Spanish-speaking audiences is a reality ‘sting’ production. The show’s star poses as a hitman and trolls for customers. After the ‘job’ is set up (and the arrangement filmed), the police swoop in to collar the would-be murderers.
A teen gangster who wants a schoolmate done away with seems like just another episode – until the star of the show turns up dead.

*** More Than Pigs and Rosaries Can Give
After a long search, a family member seems to have located the place where a family member was executed in Cuba. The historian who tracked down the location also claims to be a kind of spiritual medium who can facilitate communion with the dead. Although skeptical, a curious couple travel to meet the man and see what he’s actually offering.
Intriguing, well-drawn characters and a fascinating premise give this piece a very strong start. However – then it just randomly ends at an inconclusive moment. Very frustrating.

** Bone of my Bone
Well, that was odd. Depressed, drunk guy who’s separated from his wife starts growing a horn out of his head, and it’s a metaphor for…. something Biblical? Having to do with relationships? I’m not quite sure. Didn’t really work for me.

*** The Magical Properties of Unicorn Ivory
Quantum physics weakens the barriers between parallel universes, and one of the side effects if the crossing over of unicorns into our reality. Of course, the amazing and magical animals are immediately a target for poachers. I liked all that, but the main focus of the story shifts to a musing on whether it’s ethically acceptable to tell ‘white lies’ to children, and I didn’t think that aspect of the piece was as strong.

*** American Moat
A couple of good ol’ boys are on a self-appointed patrol along the US-Mexico border, with the goal of keeping out illegal aliens. They do indeed encounter aliens – but they’re not Mexicans. A humorous take on the old theme: If aliens game here searching for intelligent life; would they judge that they’d found it? Would we be considered ‘worthy?’

*** Fantaisie Impromptu #4 in C# min, Op. 66
The reporter from the Panda Robot story makes a reappearance here, along with a second visit from the eneural technology we were introduced to in ‘Homeostasis.’
An acclaimed piano player’s thought patterns have been preserved technologically within his piano, after his untimely death. His religious wife believes that his soul also lives on inside the instrument. She has invited a reporter to experience the piano, in defence of her claim – and also to be a witness.

**** The Assimilated Cuban’s Guide to Quantum Santeria
Previously read in ‘Interfictions 2’ (…).
A little boy turns to voodoo rituals, looked up in a book from the library, after his mother dies. As in many stories, dealing with the dead is more complex than one might hope. A very authentic, almost autobiographical feel to this.

Many thanks to Rosarium and NetGalley for the opportunity to read. As always, my opinions are solely my own.

View all my reviews


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