Review: Signal to Noise by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (2015)

Signal to Noise

There are books that when you first hear about them excite and tease you, though if, like me, you’ve heard about them months before they come out that excitement can fade, mostly because other books get in the way, but some things do stay around with Signal to Noise it was the trio of music, and magic and Mexico which stuck, and that is a pretty good summary of its hook.

Meche is a fifteen year old girl who uses music to mask out the world around her. The love of music is inherited from her father but it’s with her two friends, Sabastian and Daniela, where her passion takes a more practical and disturbing turn when she discovers how to make music weave magic, and we’re witness to how magic doesn’t really make things better.

Moreno-Garcia goes back and forth between Mexico in a 2009 present and 1998 past as she shows us the lasting effect of the earlier events. She doesn’t linger too long in either and makes both interesting enough that you’re happy to get back to either time frame. She also uses the past to confuse and foreshadow present.

You see Meche’s journey as she burns through her friends and witness the breakdown of her relationship with her family at the same time as seeing that it’s unfinished business she may have tried to leave behind but can’t now avoid dealing with.

You know that’s where the first half of the tale ends up pretty quickly because that is how the present section starts but it’s what happens next and why that makes it more interesting.

As an adult you can’t help thinking back to your earlier self and seeing how you laid tracks to the present and wondering if you could change things what would you change? But Meche has no such regrets. Though there is a scene with her grandmother, that we see as an audience, which if Meche had witnessed would, I think, fill her with a lot of remorse.

Even though this story is full of teenage anxieties and issues I’m reluctant to label it as YA because of the effect it had on this adult reader. The power of using those formative events is that emotion is simpler and more intense, which works in its favour, though this could be seen as simplistic if you’re expecting a more nauanced exploration.

Brought together because they’re unhip gives an awkwardness and a camaraderie to Meche, Sebastian and Daniela but it’s more than that because Meche is a leader and Sebastian has a unacknowledged crush on Meche and with Meche confused by her own feelings then Daniela playing go between the two. It’s teenageness in a microcosm.

As for the music, I’d be surpised if Moreno-Gracia hasn’t got her own passion there. The various melodies resonate as you read and the author makes the point that what is obvious isn’t always the most effective.

Back to the magic. Does it make things better? Not really.

At the heart this novel are dysfunctional relationships; with Meche at 15 and 36 dealing with the effect of her father and how she is and was with her friends plus it illustrates effectively how we do, but mostly don’t, change.

Signal to Noise is a great debut that uses music and magic to bring something a little different to the exploration and struggles of teenage years.

Interview: Jonathan Strahan (Fearsome Journeys)

The fearsome journeys the new solaris book of fantasy 250x384

 

I’m huge fan of SF&F short stories. They capture something different that normally can’t be felt on the scale of a novel. They also give the opportunity to try authors you wouldn’t normally read. The only G.R.R. Martin story I’ve read was from an anthology co-edited by Jonathan (and very good it was too).

Not only is he a prolific editor he also co-hosts one of my favourite podcasts – the Hugo nominated The Coode Street Podcast so I was more than please when he agreed to answer a few questions on his latest anthology Fearsome Journeys, which is published in the UK and US by Solaris Books:

Gav: I always see heroes as fearless but the anthology is called Fearsome Journeys. Don’t you see heroes as fearless?

JS: Fearless? No. I don’t see heroes as fearless at all. Heroes, for me, are usually ordinary people who look at the fears they have and overcome them because they have to. I think a character that is genuinely fearless would be disconnected from reality and horribly damaged: Hannibal Lector or a berserker perhaps.

That said, the book is called Fearsome Journeys because the tasks heroes, great and small, face are exactly that: fearsome. What turns those fearsome journeys into great stories is that characters are willing to take the risk and go on them anyway.

Gav: I guess if you mention fantasy to most people they will think of Tolkien’s LOTR-esque Orcs, Golbins, Castles and Wizards. What’s the kind of fantasy that makes up Fearsome Journeys? And how do the stories fit with that idea?

JS: Fearsome Journeys is an epic fantasy/military fantasy anthology. When it was still back on the drawing board my editor, the terrific Jonathan Oliver, and I talked about it being a “mainstream fantasy” anthology. What we meant had nothing to do with the literary mainstream, and everything to do with the very core of what a lot of fantasy fiction has been over the past decades. Stirring stories of adventure with characters going on great journeys to overcome terrible odds and such. There is a castle or two, and even a dragon, in the book. Not too much Lord of the Rings-esque, as much as I like Tolkien’s work. More influenced by Leiber and Cook and so on.

Without going through the book story by story, I think you’ll see when you read it that every story has a strong fantasy element, most are set in a secondary world, most involve going on a journey or adventure of some kind, and there’s usually a grand battle.

Gav: How do you ensure an original story so it will fit an anthology like Fearsome Journeys? And is there any you’ve asked for and it’s turned out to be something that just doesn’t fit?

JS: With most of the original anthologies I’ve worked on I’ve chosen writers that I’d like to work with and then invited them to be involved. Usually when I invite someone to be part of a book it’s because I love their work and I’m confident that they can write the kind of story that I need. I then try to explain very carefully what the book is supposed to be about, what I want it to be, and sometimes (though not often) how I hope their stories will fit into it. Then, as much as possible, I try to get out of the way of the writer and let him or her do the thing they do. Occasionally, though not often, when a story has come in I might ask for an element or two to be added just to make sure it’s relevant, but usually writers really do get it. And I have had stories come in that didn’t fit. Fortunately I’ve usually been able to find good homes for those stories in other projects of mine.

Gav: Given the unlimited space of electronic books do you see yourself freer in the future to do an anthology of longer pieces like novellas or are we still in the limits of print because we still love having print editions?

JS: I think the unlimited space of electronic books is a real distraction. While you can produce longer books, it ignores the fact that good editing is as much about what you leave out as what you put in. Almost all of the great books I’ve read have been really clearly thought out and tightly edited volumes that focus on delivering the core of what the book is supposed to be about, rather than comprehensively hoovering up everything possible. Sometimes the subject of the book is so sweeping that you need that space, like when Ann VanderMeer and Jeff VanderMeer edited The Weird or when Peter Straub did his Library of America books, but books like those really are exceptions.

I think you also have to have mercy on the reader. Long books can be great, but with limited time and lots of distraction, I wonder if most readers really have time to read enormous electronic files.

Gav: If you were to take a look at my bookshelves you’d see a large block of your anthologies including Under My Hat, The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, which you’ve collected the best of the year’s SFF every since 2006. What changes have you seen in collecting those together? Are there more online magazines stories included? Do authors still write short fiction?

First, thank you! I’m really flattered that you’ve been reading the books and I appreciate the support. I think there have been changes since I started editing anthologies back in 1996. The distinction between a story published online or in print really has become totally meaningless. As many of the best fantasy magazines are published online these days as are published in print. The real challenge is that authors do still write short fiction and they write a lot of it. It’s hard to keep track of it all, almost impossible to look at it all, and increasingly short stories show up in odd places. Rather than selling stories, writers are using them for promotional purposes, dropping them into the back of novels, adding them to collections and so on. It’s dizzying trying to keep up.

Gav: Given the amount that comes out in a year how do you keep up? Do you have people you rely on to tell you this or that is a good story and you should read it?

JS: I’m not sure I do keep up. I try. I read a lot and read about short fiction a lot, trying to keep on top of reviews and commentary. That helps. I also am the Reviews Editor for Locus, which means I have three other reviewers (Gardner Dozois, Richard Horton and Lois Tilton) all talking about great new short fiction. Finally, I’m part of Not if You Were the Last Short Story on Earth, a group of six or so people all of whom read a lot of short stuff. Between all of that, I get a pretty good idea of what’s out there.

Gav: Back to Fearsome Journeys are the stories and the writers breaking new ground in fantasy or can see the influence of the pioneers of fantasy on the work you’re reading now?

I don’t think the purpose of Fearsome Journeys was to break new ground, though there are plenty of writers out there trying to do that. It’s a middle of genre book. I do think you can see the influence of George R.R Martin, Fritz Leiber, Glen Cook, Marion Zimmer Bradley, and others all over these stories. Some are dark, though only Glen Cook’s is really grimdark, but most are action-packed, and some are funny.

Gav: I wonder if it’s a myth that short fiction isn’t popular? Is there anything that can be done to spotlight short fiction more? Or is it getting along just fine thank you very much?

JS: I think short fiction is valued and respected, but I think it’s not necessarily greatly commercially valued. Most short fiction that I see is published by really vital and energetic independent and smaller publishers like Small Beer, Subterranean, Tachyon, Twelfth Planet and so on, or in magazines like Asimov’s, F&SF, Subterranean, Tin House, or Interzone. You’ll occasionally see it in bigger circulation markets, but mostly not. Even though I think talking about the short fiction you love helps, and I’d encourage everyone to do so (that’s really what my ‘Best of the Year’ books are), I’m not sure how you get a bigger market for it. Persistence, perhaps. I know some people thought short fiction was going the way of poetry, destined for an ever smaller market, but I have noticed there’s most short work being published and that writers are slowly getting paid more (though not enough) for it, so that’s encouraging.

Gav: Late next year we’re getting a follow-up to Fearsome Journeys are you going to have a new rota of authors? And what can we expect from you next? I guess that next year’s The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year is up in the air? Any more SF anthologies in the works?

JS: I am! It’s hard for me to talk about who will be the book, mostly because none of the stories are written and writers often aren’t able to get stories done for all sorts of good reasons, but three writers who are in Fearsome Journeys have agreed to write for the next book. I should say, though, that it’s not Fearsome Journeys 2. It’s The New Solaris Book of Fantasy 2. The idea for the series is to do an unthemed fantasy book each year. The first one happened to fall around the idea of journeys, to greater or lesser extents, but the next one will be different. I’m quite excited about it. I’m also working on a special guest-edited issue of Subterranean Magazine, which I’m loving working on. I already have this massive Crusader-punk novella from Bruce Sterling for it and am waiting on other stories now, though I can’t say from whom. Then there’s Reach for Infinity, a science fiction anthology following on from Engineering Infinity and Edge of Infinity. This one will feature stories set during the period when we leave Earth and head into space (if we actually do). That one’s huge fun. And I am reading for the next ‘Best of the Year’ book, so I’m pretty busy as you can imagine!

Thanks Jonathan, I think lots of people are going to enjoying Fearsome Journeys.

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Review and Giveaway: Regicide by Nicholas Royle (Solaris Books)

Regicide uk

Carl meets Annie Risk and falls for for her but Regicide isn’t a love story instead it’s about a map and Carl’s obsession with finding the streets it matches. Though it isn’t really about love or obsession either. What Nicholas Royle does is slowly peels away Carl’s psyche but what it feels like is Carl’s psyche unhinging as you read.

What really stands out is that it gets weird fast and then remains teetering back and forth on the edge of sanity/reality before finally leaping off the deep end. This isn’t an easy at times to follow especially as it’s not clear where Carl ultimately heading.

But through apparent asides and personal revelations Royle is really putting the reader in the same mental space that Carl inhabits and that makes this a haunting and disturbing tale.

It’s not often that books effect me after reading them but this one lingers especially when you start asking how unhinged Carl actually is and when you first started to notice..

Now as this is a meditation on the life of a record store owner as he deals with love and inner demons the way Royle does things is going to effect your connection to Carl. And as this isn’t a straightforward novel in terms of hero or narrative it requires an element of , especially when you’re fast approaching the last few pages with no apparent ending in sight.

But it’s those pages that make, rather than break, Regicide. It’s not a trick ending but it does pull back that final layer that leaves Carl raw in front of the reader.

There are however things that do feel oddities in this strange tale. One is a feeling of being slightly dated or least it being date ambiguous. The plot requires the absence of some pretty everyday technology and then wondering at the beginning why Carl does one thing, even though coherent with later behaviour it jars a little in it’s unexpectedness.

Even though those things stuck in my mind they weren’t enough to pull me out of the story and they are minor considering the effect of the whole book. And it’s nice to see a book that is confident enough to be shorter. Regicide weighs in at under 200 pages and carries more power for that.

Regicide is one of those books that is perfect for dark nights but if you hear a dog bark whilst reading I doubt you’ll want  to go to the window to investigate.

Competition: I ended up with two copies of Regicide so I’ve got one to giveaway (UK only sorry) just leave a comment to enter.

Deadline: 12PM 2nd Sept 2011.

Update: And the winner is:

The Randomiser by Mat Hayward