Published by Gaudy Boy on October 1, 2021
Genres: Fantasy, Science Fiction
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A boy creates monsters from nanotech clay and programs them by reciting stories. A young woman finds the secret to save their doomed generation ship inside a children’s primer. Residents of Bukit Batok face a slow-motion disaster that threatens to turn them into living mathematical equations. Three Filipino siblings enter a black hole to save humanity from an enemy that uses words as weapons.
The seventeen stories in this loosely-connected collection push the limits of form and trope, from realism to genre and experimental fiction. All speak of the unease of being between two worlds, of not quite fitting in, and also of the comfort of words and books, which illuminate our way through the darkness.
Thank you to Isabel from Gaudy Boy for sending me an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Victor Fernando R. Ocampo is one of the authors I’ve had my eye on for a while. So when the email dropped in my inbox asking if I wanted to review his short story collection, I immediately said yes.
I’ll be honest and say I don’t read enough short stories (what is enough, anyway?). One of my goals this year was to read more of them and I’m glad I can add this one to the list. While some collections focus on retelling or reimagining fairy tales (I’ve got two of those on my list) Ocampo’s collection is something else entirely. He masterfully explores abstract ideas and turns them into bite-size stories. Some are more scientific, while others are more magical realism. The mix of the stories, together with several themes mixed throughout the stories, is perfect for people who like to think on a more conceptual level.
One of my favourites is Here Be Dragons where magical realism and map making are central to the story. It’s one of the shorter ones but definitely worth a read or two.
A Secret Map of Shanghai is another story that stuck with me. It reminded me a bit of what Neil Gaiman does with American Gods, personifying something that isn’t but in a way that’s both magical and real.
Another thing that makes Ocampo’s voice stand out is his worldly experience, having lived in multiple countries and experiencing racism. It’s the subtle mentions, and sometimes not so subtle, that make the stories feel more real to me. I recognise it, not belonging to one race or the other, but a mix, an in-between. It’s tough when you don’t have a space where you fit in completely, and books like this give me that space.
I give the whole collection four stars. I enjoyed the multiple threats of the nanotech and the presence of the Infinite Library throughout the stories and I’m sure I’ll revisit some of them again. If you want to read more speculative fiction, I can definitely recommend this one. Keep your eye on this author as he’s sure to create more fantastic stories.