(originally published in The Very Slow Book Reviewer, September 18th, 2018)
I’ve been writing reviews in English for a decade now. And, though I’ve written on occasion about Brazilian science fiction (most notably the Steampunk movement in Brazil, which is still going strong as I write this), I don’t think I’ve ever wrote a review in English about an untranslated Brazilian SFF book. So this is a first, I guess.
The reason why I chose Santiago Santos’s Algazarra to begin this (hopefully constant from now on) trend is that this is a fucking good book.
No, really. I curse like a sailor in meatspace, but when I do it online, is for a very good reason. And this flash fiction collection is one of the best things I’ve read in Portuguese recently.
In my last post, I wrote of my newfound love for novellas, and how I tend to read more stories in this format than big novels today. I don’t tend to read story collections in one sitting, though; I like browsing them and picking stories more or less randomly (for instance: someone mentioned Gene Wolfe to me just the other day on Facebook, a propos of nothing particularly relevant, and I suddenly had the urge to re-read a few of my favorite short stories by him. Last night I read Seven American Nights again after a few years).
But I couldn’t do it in this case. Algazarra gripped me right from the start.
What does the word Algazarra means? It comes from the Arabic Al-gazarâ, meaning abundance, but also a huge, almost unbearable noise; in Portuguese it means mostly tumult, hullaballoo. This collection is all of the above.
There are fifty stories in the book, almost all of them within the 1k limit of the flash fiction category. The bigger one is Mascate (Peddler), which opens the book, with 1070 words, and the shortest is Olhos Emprestados (Borrowed Eyes) with 250 words.
This is not just an SF collection; there are stories for all tastes here. Fantasy, Suspense, Noir, Superheroes, Western, you name it. One of my favorites, Broesd, is heavily influenced by Fritz Leiber, one of Santos’s favorite writers. But the reader will also identify tributes to Borges, Bioy Casares, Calvino. There are many homages to a lot of Brazilian writers, like Graciliano Ramos, Dalton Trevisan, and José J. Veiga, absolute masters of the trade. But Santos is way more eclectic: one of his stories, Percepção Extra-Sensorial Inerciática (Inertiatic ESP) was heavily influenced by a song of The Mars Volta, while others got their juice by way of Cormac McCarthy and Flann O’Brien. But Santos acknowledges that most of the stories featured in Algazarra owe their existence to Alan Moore’s works, such as the impressive Arqui-inimigo (Arch-Enemy) and A Morte do Toupeira (The Death of the Moleman), both super-heroical, but owing more to Tom Strong than to regular stories of superbeing wearing capes and their undies outside their pants.
Curiously, Santos had never read Fredric Brown, one of the greatest flash fiction writers of all time (when stories of this length were called just short short stories). Even though he had a small volume of his fiction, he didn’t have any of his really short ones. I borrowed him a book a few weeks ago.
An obvious disclaimer: Santiago is a good friend of mine, and I’m between the many friends he thanks in the Acknowledgments of his collection. But my friends know how harsh I can be regarding quality, especially Santiago; we had lots of talks, sometimes over beer, but mostly coffee, for me, and sometimes tereré, a maté brew typical of his region, for him), and not all of these conversations ended in agreement about one or another finer point of literature in general, and science fiction and fantasy in particular. I’ve been following his ongoing struggle with the written word for a few years, and I couldn’t be happier for him now, with the publication of Algazarra.
I wish you could read his stories. In fact, I wish it happens soon – and who knows? Santiago has been translating a few of them for some time now, and submitting them to magazines. Meanwhile, if you want to have a taste of his output, just go to flashfiction.com.br – most of the stories are there. Google Translator is far from good, but maybe it will give you an idea of what he aims at with his stories. I’d love to have a feedback from the Anglo-American readers. Santiago Santos is a name to remember.