I first came across Mercurio D. Rivera in Ian Whates’ story collection Paradox, which assembles a number of writers and scientists to explore the different answers/approaches to the Fermi Paradox. A recommended book on its own, but not what we’re talking about here. Mercurio’s contribution to the collection was such that I smartly turned around and ordered Across the Event Horizon, the only full-sized book published under his name so far (it won’t remain the only one, I can assure you), which is this collection of the majority of his short fiction to date.
You might have gathered already that Mercurio D. Rivera is considered the next big thing by those who claim to know, and I have to agree that if he keeps delivering stories of this calibre he will indeed become a household name, at least in SF circles. He is based in New York, is blogging at mercuriorivera.com, has seen his stories in a number of publications and collections, and has been nominated for the World Fantasy Award.
Did the book live up to my expectations from the story in Paradox, you ask? Yes and no – overall this is fascinating and engrossing stuff, but not every story hits home the same way, as you are no doubt not surprised to hear. It’s a collection, after all…
What else can I tell you without spoilers? The book starts with an Introduction by Terry Bisson (who is full of praise for Mercurio), and ends with a potted biography called About the Author and a short chapter on Story Honors and Accolades. All the stories have been published before, between 2005-2012, there is no original first-publication content here. Nevertheless, he excels at stories which I felt are slightly twisted, slightly uncomfortable, even if the subject matter frequently follows classic SF tropes.
One to watch (for the author), and one to buy (for the book), would be my recommendation.
Below is a run-through of the individual stories in the book, including a capsule review. This is a bit spoiler-ish, so if this bothers you stop here, and leave with my recommendation above!
Dance of the Kawkawroons
Playing mostly on a protected/quarantined planet which is flooded, with the Kawkawroon (intelligent flying beings) living on the towers/artefacts from an older, mysteriously disappeared Alien race. The protagonists have smuggled themselves in with sinister intent – they want to steal eggs from the Kawkawroons, as the yolks yield the drug Inspiration, which induces exactly that, in leaps and bounds of invention. But – no, that would be telling. It’s fascinating and it’s clever.
Longing for Langalana
A retrospectively told story of coming of age in a colony of ‘pilgrims’ on a new planet. Of love between humans and aliens – a trope he keeps returning to in this book. It’s both sensitive and ever so slightly sweet, but also equally slightly disturbing. This is the story which established his Wergen universe, he’s written more stories in this since the publication of this collection.
Ooooh, where to start? It's about religion in a time of scientific rationality, about personal pain and the way to God. And about aliens, of course, and our attempts to communicate with them. And I really rather liked it.
Snatch me Another
A world where a machine called a Snatcher has been invented, allowing the snatching of objects, conferring to a specific template, from parallel dimensions. Harmless enough if it's paper plates and drug inhalers, I guess. Much more worrying if you grab, sorry, snatch another version of your recently deceased child. Scary, chilling, and with a promise for a full novel. At least.
A follow-up to the previous story, written as an Agony Aunt column. Things have gone from weird to outright strange, messy, and in large parts scary. It's rather fun painting in the pictures/sociological developments between the individual columns...
The Fifth Zhi
An alien life form, the 'Stalk', has arrived. It enters the Earth at the North Pole, and exits South - “it penetrates the planetary crust straight through the Earth's core, from North to South Pole, and out to the ionosphere”. This is the story of the final assault on it.
Disquieting, fascinating, a story like the bastard child of Lavie Tidhar's “Enter the Dragon. Later, Enter Another” with Warren Ellis' “Trees”. In the best possible way, of course.
The Scent of Their Arrival
A (human) space ship has arrived over the world of a fascinating, scent-communicating, peaceful Alien race. And the aliens are trying to decode the message the ship is sending – a message which talks of an attack by Vampire-like beings, of battle, and of flight.
Well executed, if not an entirely new trick. And it rather overstays its welcome, something which Rivera occasionally seems to be prone to.
Bargonns Can Swizzle
A series of chat sessions between a future post-human and a current-day female. Quite sweet, actually, and full of fake (?) techno-babble.
The oceans are dead. Well, as good as. And Wynn, who was working on saving what could be and bringing back more, has broken his back in a freak accident, and is now bitter, and entirely withdrawn with his Shunter, which lets him experience other, minutely different parallel worlds where he lived his life 'as it was supposeed to be'. Believable and gripping from a human point of view; this is Rivera playing to his strengths.
A world, post-war, where everyone can manage and change their own emotions by pressing buttons on their wristlets. But only within limited, safe boundaries, and controlled/monitored. 'Naked' emotions are dangerous and illegal, as they led to the near-destruction of humanity. But now the protagonist couble have got themselves a hit of 'brown', a temporary nano inhibitor. And are about to face themselves and the world naked...
Unsettling, and rather convincing in its message that human emotions are the root of all evil and cannot be trusted.
Set in a society where most people exist as sets of near-identical doubles; living, courting, working together, finishing each other's sentences. Singletons are considered disabled, substandard, and discriminated against. But now Darren, Darwin's other, has had a mental breakdown and is advocating Singles' Rights. Which in turn endanges Darwin. But worse things are afoot in this society.
A fantastic setting, with an all to believable societal and political back drop (or is this the main topic?)
Tu Sufrimiento Shall Protect Us
This story was nominated for the World Fantasy Award – to me this would rather fit under the Horror umbrella, though. It is set in a post-apocalyptic society, with some parts of ‘civilisation’ as we know it still standing, but rife with terrorism (including nuclear), messed up weather patterns, corrupt police, gangs ensuring safety, and saturated in refugees. One of these, Edgar, originally from the DR, is trying to make a legal living, to stay out of trouble and away from the police at any point (the police IS trouble), and generally under the radar. He dreams of being an artist…
But there are strange things going on in his tenement building. Screams. Hidden stairs only he can see. And it gets worse…
This didn’t do much for me – maybe because of the horror element, which is not something I’m not terribly into? It’s well written and compelling, but somehow not my thing.
Sleeping with the Anemone
“If there’s one thing we’ve learned from our encounters with intelligent species it’s that, for all our cultural and physiological differences, we all share one universal trait, one commonality that cuts across the species divide. Porn.”
I shall not delve deeper (yes, it’s fun), but let’s just mention that the porn company dealing with the illegal Xenophilia flicks is called MacroHard. I’ll get my coat…
Answers from the Event Horizon
This looks like the author’s view of the world, his state of the world address, presented as dictated by an advanced intelligence from the other side of a White Hole. Originally published in Nature.
More Mercurio D. Rivera
Title: Across the Event Horizon
Author: Mercurio D. Rivera
Reviewer URL: http://thierstein.net
Publisher: NewCon Press
Publisher URL: http://www.newconpres.co.uk
Publication Date: 2013
Review Date: 160713
Price: UKP 11.99
Format: Large PB
Topic: Short Stories