We are specks in this mess. We are so miniscule, but we express ourselves with the magnitude of an entire galaxy.
More often than not, I will purchase a book based on what I hear from others, mainly authors and avid readers such as myself. It's uncommon for me to make an impulse buy. Rios de la Luz's collection of stories, The Pulse Between Dimensions and the Desert, was one such impulse buy. With the exception of a couple blurbs on the back cover, there wasn't much else to go by, but it was the beautiful and enticing cover that ultimately made the decision for me, and I'm quite happy with my decision. Matthew Revert's cover gave off a vibe akin to something along the lines of the universe reaching out to me, wanting to show me something, and through Rios de la Luz, it totally did.
Published by Ladybox Books, an imprint of Broken River Press, TPBDATD is a powerful work of literature, resonating on a variety of levels. At only 102 pages, the stories within pack hard-hitting truths, evoking a wide range of feelings, from sadness, anger, laughter, to joy. De la Luz is not afraid to explore the brutal aspects of human nature; she's not afraid to explore the harsh realities people regularly face; and she's certainly not afraid to explore the ridiculous stereotypes and ignorance that many experience on a daily basis. She brilliantly utilizes speculative elements, such as time travel, in order to place a greater emphasis on her various explorations of the layered landscapes of life. De la Luz writes of femininity, xenophobia, alienation, prejudice, abuse, racial stereotypes, broken families, adolescence, sexuality, and the simple things we find solace in, such as Xena, X-Files, Power Rangers, and Killer Instinct. Basically, she leaves no stone unturned.
Some of de la Luz's stories, such as Hammer, and Lady Mescaline, are told in the second person. Considering the nature of her stories, the second person had a rather personal effect on me. It felt like I was experiencing memories that were tucked away in the darkness situated in the back of my mind. Or, the universe was showing me the memories of others; it felt like I experienced all the good and bad through their eyes, making the stories all the more impactful and resonating; my emotions went through the roof, shedding tears and feeling intense anger at the injustices suffered by those who were doing nothing more than trying to live a life free of harassment and prejudice.
In some stories, time travel plays a rather integral role. In Esmai (also the name of the protagonist), a version of her, named Maribel, from another world, travels to Esmai's world to save her. Maribel tells Esmai that she's a time travel agent from portal Q2786, and saves lost children from other portals and dimensions that began on Esmai's version of earth. If the children are found alive, they would undergo rehabilitation and be sent to a foster family from another earth. Maribel is now a fugitive, though. She tells Esmai there is a political campaign against multidimensional travel. "They are marketing through xenophobia, claiming the kids my department has rescued should be left for dead. They claim the kids should not be allowed on an earth from which they were not born." Sounds crazy and absurd, right? Why would anyone campaign for such a thing? Yet it echos many problems we face today. I think de la Luz's use of time travel in this story is convey the message that, if we don't address and fight racism and xenophobia here and now, in the present, then the future is doomed; the problem will only amplify and multiply. In the case of Lupe, an abuela (grandmother) from the story, Lupe and Her Time Machine, time travel is means to show us how are children can often suffer the same pitfalls we did when we were their age. Lupe sees her daughter, Alma, suffering many of the same fates she did at such a young age. All she can do is protect her daughter and her grandchildren from any outside threats, mainly Alma's current boyfriend. Lupe builds a time machine and goes back to certain points in her past, viewing repeats of her younger life. Time travel truly illuminates these themes, bound to make anyone acknowledge the issues that threaten our lives, within and without.
De la Luz also highlights adolescence, womanhood, and sexuality. In Church Busch, a girl is made to feel like an object through the church she attends. Virginity oaths are signed, and pamphlets on sexual defiance refer to young women as "tape," or a "piece of candy." At church, you are told that two virgins waiting to have sex on your wedding night is a magical experience, but all "odors and fart noises" are never discussed. Neither are the malfunctions and messiness. What the girls are told does not accurately reflect the reality of it. Throughout the story, the protagonist is also experiencing puberty, creating a wide range of emotions and problems for her. At church, she feels like an alien; however, it's because of the church, she meets Laura, her first love. I found it to be a fantastic turn of events. The one place that always made her feel like an object, that made her feel alienated and uncomfortable, is where she meets someone she likes, and actually feels safe for a change. The theme of alienation is also explored in Martian Matters; how we are made to feel alienated, or how we sometimes choose to alienate ourselves because of sexual orientation or other things. We fear what others, especially family, will think of you. In Marigolds, the power and safety of family is expressed; how, even in death, a family member can reach out to you and let you know that everything will be okay. It also shows us that death is inevitable, and we must live our lives to the fullest.
Some of de la Luz's stories do a rather excellent job of depicting humans as miniscule in the grand scheme of things. We are often referred to as "specks," or we live on a rock floating through space. We step inside a crater and instantly feel "heavy." The universe is very much portrayed as a frontier, and the earth is just one tiny, tiny, tiny piece of that frontier. On this rock we live on, we are struggling to survive; struggling to eek out an existence that ultimately means nothing, yet we strive to make the best of what we have. "We are specks in this mess. We are so miniscule, but we express ourselves with the magnitude of an entire galaxy." This is all we have, and we will do what ever it takes to make the earth, our lives, and the societies found all over, worth living and fighting for.
Rios de la Luz's debut collection is nothing short of powerful and resonating. She knows all aspects of human nature. She knows the goodness that can be found in us; she knows we are capable of kindness and good deeds. On the flip side, she also knows the vile and terrible things we are capable of doing to one another. De la Luz shows us that somewhere, in some part of the world, a child is taking care of him/herself because their father is long gone, and their mother is out on the streets. She shows us that someone is living in fear because of who they are; they are afraid to open because of what society will do to them. She knows that somewhere, someone is being stereotyped because of the color of their skin. A man tells a woman, "I'm really a nice guy," or "I'm just trying to compliment you." "Where are you from?" Unfortunately, ignorance, labeling, and stereotyping happen far too often, and de la Luz cleverly and brutally addresses this in many of the stories found within TPBDATD. Anyone who reads this collection of stories will be left with an unforgettable experience. The truth rings free in de la Luz's stories, and sometimes the truth is harsh, but it must be acknowledged, addressed, and faced.