Monday, May 25, 2015

The Pulse Between Dimensions and the Desert: Review

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. 

Monday, May 4, 2015

The Queen in Green: Review/Analysis

Everything-trees, rocks, sun, wind-all of it speaks its own language at its own pace. But being human means we are too self-involved to even consider the notion.

Of all the terrestrial ecosystems found on our beautiful planet, forests (generally speaking), are my favorite. They evoke fear, wonder, beauty, and are home to myths and legends from cultures all over the world. Throughout time, people have associated forests with goodness, nostalgia, reverence, relaxation, sanctuary, and even fear and terror, said to never be traversed because of evil beings that lurk within them. We love spending time in forests, whether it's for hiking, hunting, bird watching, or even to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life. With forests being home to all manner of wildlife, rivers, waterfalls, thick canopies, massive trees, and being so prominent in folklore, myths, and legends, it's no surprise they are settings in fiction of all genres. Gina Ranalli's short story, The Queen in Green, is one such story. A Weird tale that would make anyone think twice about going into the woods. 

Until I read The Queen in Green, I was not familiar with Gina Ranalli; however, after reading it, I fully intend to delve into her other works of literature. If they are of the same quality as this story, then I will be writing more reviews and analyses on her works. In this story, I found she can craft an inviting, enchanting, and deceiving atmosphere, and can shift from playfulness to terror at the drop of a dime. 

A chapbook published by Dunhams Manor Press, The Queen in Green is about a boy named Charlie, who is on a camping trip with his parents. He is sent into the woods to find kindling to make a fire back at the campsite. He spots a squirrel and sets down his bundle of sticks by a huge boulder so that he may pursue it. After the squirrel scurries up a tree, Charlie loses interest and begins collecting more sticks. When he returns to the boulder, he is startled by a small Dwarf sitting on it. The Dwarf greets Charlie, and, knowing Charlie's curiosity and "flights of fancy," the Dwarf convinces Charlie to follow him, with the hopes of seeing something really interesting. Charlie soon discovers that there is more to the forest than meets the eye; he is an outsider in a world he only thinks he knows. And his curiosity will cost him. 

As the last sentence in the previous paragraph states, Charlie's curiosity gets the better of him. He's a kid who is, as his mother says, "given to flights of fancy." In the forest, his imagination is running in several different directions. He's collecting kindling, chasing animals, not taking into consideration of where he's at. He's completely caught off guard by the appearance of the Dwarf. Being smaller than Charlie, the Dwarf is not so much alarming, but is more of a curiosity to Charlie, which somewhat relaxes him and loosens his guard. I initially somewhat suspected the Dwarf's nature when he referred to Charlie's kindling as "loot," indicating that Charlie is stealing from the woods, rendering him an unwelcome visitor. It conveys this theme of humans acting as intruders and thieves in a place that has been around far longer than we have. This goes hand-in-hand with the Dwarf's lecture to Charlie on sentience. The Dwarf leads Charlie to what appears to be a dying tree named Mungforgotta, the Queen in Green, and he wants Charlie to give the tree a little "pick-me-up," a "boost of youth." Charlie thinks the whole thing is crazy, commenting on Mungforgotta being nothing but a tree. The Dwarf says:

So? She's still a sentient being. She still knows what's happening around her. She still has feelings. She and all the trees you see around you-just move at a different pace than the rest of us. They speak on a different frequency. 

The sentience of Mungforgotta and all the other trees puts an even greater emphasis on Charlie and other humans as trespassers, violating and tainting the sacred grounds of a world within our world; a world that, like an iceberg, has much more beneath its surface. Charlie incredulously responds to the Dwarf with, "Speak?" The Dwarf says:

Oh, yes. Speak. They're conversing with each other right now, just as we are. But they speak too slowly for us to hear them. It's one of those wonders of the world. Everything-trees, rocks, sun, wind-all of it speaks its own language at its own pace. But being human means we are too self-involved to even consider the notion. But once you've been made aware of it, as you've just been, the hum of the earth will be  impossible to ignore in those moments when you find yourself alone in an otherwise quiet place.

Being so self-centered and concerned with matters pertaining only to ourselves, we rarely see what's outside our periphery. We rarely catch a glimpse of what lies beneath our surface level perceptions of the world we inhabit. Once we do, though, as the Dwarf says, we can never ignore it. Our simple perceptions are forever altered, once we are revealed hidden truths. More often than not, however, these truths can spell our ultimate doom in a variety of ways. 

The mention of sentience and frequencies outside the meager range of humans is often explored in Weird Fiction. Christopher Slatsky's stories often involve sentience as a result of emergent properties, such as mega-cities. Ambrose Bierce touched on frequencies in his story, The Damned Thing. In it, there is some sort of monster that lies outside our spectrum of vision. The only way the characters know it's there is because when it walks by trees, the trees can no longer be seen, yet the creature also cannot be seen. So, not only are there things we cannot comprehend, but there are things that are out of range of our senses. In the case of The Queen in Green, the voices of the forest are on a frequency outside the range of human hearing. Sentience in organisms such as trees gives way to the notion that the entire earth is sentient, and our destructive ways give us a parasitic, viral nature. Ranalli takes this grand concept and effectively shrinks it down to a micro incident involving a boy, a Dwarf, and Mungforgotta.

The Dwarf tells Charlie that Mungforgotta is old, sad, tired, and sickly. He wants Charlie to introduce himself to Mungforgotta, but Charlie begins to think that the Dwarf is a loon, and is ready to leave, until the Dwarf asks him, "Don't you believe in magic?" This causes Charlie to purse his lips, and in an impatient manner, raises his right hand and introduces himself to Mungforgotta, the Queen in Green. Suddenly, the trees "gnarled branches twitched," beginning to grown longer and droop towards the ground. Charlie is amazed at the sight, "Holy shit," the only words he could think of. The tree limbs begin to "bristle along their lengths with short, fine hairs while simultaneously bending in peculiar ways, as if the wood had secret joints within it. Charlie is witnessing those hidden truths coming to light. The surface appearance of the forest is all deception, and Charlie is unfortunate enough to see what lies beyond the illusion. Keeping his focus on the tree, the Dwarf is now next to Charlie, and wants him to get a closer look at Mungforgotta, and it's here that things suddenly shift to the terrifying, for Charlie soon realizes that Mungforgotta is not a tree:

The limbs no longer looked like limbs at all-more like enormous, long, black, multi-jointed spider legs, all of them pawning at the ground as if blindly searching for something.

The Dwarf has Charlie in his grip, and is surprisingly strong; Charlie cannot break free. The Dwarf reveals that he and Mungforgotta are one, he lives inside her, but is free to roam the forest. He is "pollen on a fishing line." He attracts bait to the pole that is Mungforgotta. I somewhat see the Dwarf as some sort of guardian of the forest, or perhaps he's an executioner. He disposes of those who come barging into a place they have no business being. Or, he is simply an appendage of a predatory creature, like the dangling tongue of a snapping turtle. Either way, those who lose themselves in the forest, they become prey, as Charlie horrifyingly discovers. 

I was actually caught off guard with this, because I was expecting Charlie to leave the forest, but with his view of the world forever altered, but that wasn't the case. The Queen in Green has a fairy tale quality to it, a parable to keep little boys and girls in check, and to show respect to the environment. What also makes the story so effective is Ranalli's depiction of Charlie. She achieves a perfect balance in making Charlie a believable kid, to the point where I was reminiscing on my own childhood, and my many excursions into wooded areas. Charlie's not a stupid kid, but he is curious, and has quite the imagination. He's well aware of all the possible outcomes that could happen with the Dwarf, making him somewhat on guard, but he can't help but give in to his child-like whims, and the possibility of seeing magic. Ranalli crafted an excellent tale full of atmosphere and terror. She not only made me believe in magic, but her tale will serve as a reminder to be more aware and cautious the next time I find myself in the woods.