Los últimos, The Last Ones, Juan Carlos Márquez (Madrid, Salto de Página).
You have already travelled there, by eteronef perhaps. You’ve met and fallen in love with Aelita. But you’ve never been to Mars like this. Márquez constructs a delicate novel with the bare essentials—domestic vistas, familiar settings—to portray a highly unusual end of the world and how it affects marriages, couples, brothers, fathers and sons. A novel that shows the desolation and sadness of starting anew, discovering a new SF idiom in the process, this is a perfect complement for viewers of the recent blockbuster Interstellar. Whereas Nolan’s text infuses itself with cosmic immensurability, suggesting a human struggle with forces beyond our comprehension, Márquez’s vision is firmly positioned in the backyard of our consciousness. That man’s place in the universe is fragile is not new, but Márquez puts this fragility at the service of his prose, finding beauty even in desolation, at the last frontier of human hope. A refreshing and subtle tale.
El ejército de piedra, The Stone Army, Luis Manuel Ruiz (Madrid, Salto de Página).
This is the second offering in a charming series featuring Irene Fo and Elías Arce, a fearless, intelligent woman and a shy journalist with little common sense in early twentieth-century Madrid. An old-fashion adventure in which science and the fantastic interact, the Madrid of the period is vividly mapped, with hints at its removal two paces from our own but never fully admitting to its magic. The tone is masterful, rich in expressions and cultural references, but the books feel absolutely modern in their execution and structure, a rare feast of hybridisation that only a writer of Ruiz’s abilities could manage. In this case, the statues of Madrid, a capital city rich in them, come alive with evil intentions. This is an intelligently constructed narrative, savvy, funny, and extremely well-observed in its eloquent portrayal of Spanish misdemeanours still at work nowadays: paramount to the story is the mediocrity of the country’s institutions and its unexplained disdain for its suffering intelligentsia. A modern nod to classical adventure novels, an homage to Sherlock Holmes, it reminds us in its high literary ambition of the earlier offerings of Borís Akunin, and it is as charming and as sharp. A truly joyful read.
Pérfidas, Traitors, Tamara Romero (Badajoz: Aristas Martínez).
I had the opportunity to read Romero’s haunting Her Fingers, a dark fantasy tale with a pulpy heart, originally published in English a couple of years ago by Californian based Eraserhead Press. Her Fingers is an original tale, highly imaginative, daring in its conception and assured in its execution. Romero’s new offering shares those traits with its predecessor. Now, we are invited into a highly unusual world shared between humans and mutants, Valtidia. There is a refreshing twist: mutants remain in the shadows, no one impressed by their exploits, and the real heroes are professional female wrestlers with fantastical names, flamboyant abilities and the hearts of heroines. Two different gangs of them, the Pérfidas and the Lúcidas, compete for the people’s attention and the most lucrative deals. But when one of them is kidnapped, chaos ensues until an unexpected dénouement. A novel that explores the nature of fiction with humour and assurance, a meditation on the nature of identity, and a feminist fantasia, Romero has been compared to Bret Easton Ellis, and one could sense Kelly Link, or even a mixture of Tarantino’s manga-female warriors and Almodóvar’s strong and highly unusual women (the wrestling nun, for example, or her colleague, named Estigma after the wounds of Christ), as possible references. But it is better not to search for comparisons, as with each page Romero shows us that her effervescent imagination, mid-way between weird, pulp and bizarre, is definitely all her own.
Pronto será de noche, Night Falls. Jesús Cañadas (Madrid, Valdemar).
Nine characters are trapped in a huge traffic jam. But this is not any traffic jam, this is a group of people fleeing the end of the world, and, more crucially, an unknown creature or situation of huge proportions, an unnamed something that the reader senses is terrible, which is coming to get them. An apocalyptic thriller with a twist, as one of them is brutally murdered inside his car. Luckily, there is a cop at hand, a cop who decides to find the murder before the world ends. This is the third novel by Cañadas, who last year published Los nombre muertos, a highly unusual road-movie adventure involving H.P. Lovecraft, to great critical acclaim. Again, the author does not take the easy way in this highly unusual murder mystery, which also works as a sort of anti-road movie. It is a minimalist book, with very few elements and characters, but it continually surprises the reader, as Cañadas hides his characters’ intentions, and indulges in several shocking and unpredictable twists. The apocalypse shown from a liminal, refreshing angle, and presented as an anticlimactic world-ending with no answers or atonement possible, even at the level of the plot itself: does it make any sense to solve a murder when the world will end tomorrow?
Bonus track: Rojo alma, negro sombra, Red soul, black shadow (Madrid, 451) Ismael Martínez Biurrun.
No one can surpass master of slipstream Ismael Biurrun’s elegant, clear and fluent prose. His novels are soft as a silk glove that fits perfectly; but once it is on it reliably delivers pain and confusion. This novel has an unusual story: apparently out of print in a publishing house that doesn’t exist any longer, hundreds of copies were found by a sharp-eyed bookseller who is now distributing it again. This is one of Biurrun’s earlier works, now available to Spanish readers who may have missed on it, a joyful reencounter for followers of Spanish flourishing slipstream mode. In this novel the domestic “horrors” are more terrible than the hauntings, delicate as will o’ wisps in the darkness of the night, impossible things that come through the cracks of reality. Perhaps that’s why they are so plausible and horrific. You will not hear the Beatles in the same way after reading it.
Marian Womack is a bilingual author, translator and editor, born in Andalusia and educated at the universities of Glasgow and Oxford. A graduate from the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Workshop, she is currently completing a MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Cambridge. She has fiction in English forthcoming in Weird Fiction Review, and edited THE BEST OF SPANISH STEAMPUNK.