The latest issue of Interzone (#234) contains the results of the magazine’s annual readers’ poll. I found out that my stories “Dance of the Kawkawroons” and “In the Harsh Glow of its Incandescent Beauty” placed at #6 and #7 in the list of favorites. It’s always an honor to be acknowledged by my British readers. Interestingly, this year three authors made multiple appearances in the top-10 list: myself, Jason Sanford (at #1 and #2), Aliette de Boddard (at #4 and #10). Personally, my favorite IZ story from last year was Nina Allan’s “Flying in the Face of God,” a touching, nuanced, oh-so-real exploration of the relationship between two women, one of whom is undergoing a physical transformation in anticipation of a one-way interstellar voyage. (It finished tied at #1 with Jason Sanford’s outstanding “Plague Birds.”) From posts I’ve read elsewhere, I think it was Jason and Aliette’s favorite as well and will be appearing in Gardner Dozois’s Year’s Best SF anthology (Along with Aliette’s terrific story, “The Shipmaker.”
I’ve been saying it for months, but I need to do a better job of posting here and I aim to be more interactive in the coming months.
A couple of reviews of note:
♦ A thoughtful review of the StarShipSofa podcast of “Snatch Me Another” calls my story “dark and thoughtful and terrible, in the best possible way. Snatch me another story from Mercurio Rivera. 4.5 out of 5.”
♦ And Pete Tennant provides an in-depth analysis of “Tu Sufrimiento Shall Protect Us” and makes the following observation:
“[W]hile the story might take side swipes at the legacy of the Bush administration and the moral contortions of the so called “War on Terror”, it also does something far more basic, by turning the mirror on the reader and asking exactly what we would be prepared to do to protect ourselves, our loved ones. What do we do when such questions aren’t simply intellectual conundrums but as here, as for Edgar, vital concerns that require us to steep our own hands in blood, to rend and tear the flesh of another, to sacrifice our own innocence on the altar of pragmatism so that others will be spared.
The last line of the story is, “‘We’re safe,’ he says.”, and it’s left for the reader to wonder at the terrible cost of that security, whether life at any price is a bargain well made.
Rivera doesn’t have any answers to give, and perhaps there aren’t any, but he poses the question in powerful terms, with no turning away from the savage and appalling consequences of the story’s dialectic, and for that he is to be commended.”
You can read the entire comprehensive review here.
As usual, I begin by noting some of the acclaimed films or fan favorites that didn’t quite make the cut this year: The Oscar-nominated 127 Hours is a gorgeous-looking film but ultimately can’t escape the trappings of its limited plot; audiences understandably shied away from “the Movie About the Guy Who Cuts His Own Arm Off.” Another Oscar-nominated film, Kids are All Right, is a good example of a movie that suffers from the high expectations generated by glowing reviews. Annette Bening is terrific but the overall story left me wanting more. Another great acting performance is delivered by Javier Bardem in Biutiful, and while I’m a big fan of director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, this is the feel-bad movie of the year, so bleak, so depressing, that like last year’s Precious it’s difficult for me to recommend. At the other end of the spectrum, I appreciated Scott Pilgrim versus the World well enough for its flashy style and inventiveness, but its endless battle sequences grow tiresome fast. Finally, Ben Affleck’s highly regarded crime drama, The Town, while well-executed, suffers from an unsympathetic protagonist and characters that appear to be in an F-Bomb-dropping competition (with exaggerated Bah-stin accents).
But enough stalling. Here were my favorite movies of 2010:
10. Winter’s Bone. A 17-year old girl (Jennifer Lawrence) sets out on a journey to find her missing father, who’s skipped bail, in this haunting film set in the backwoods of the Ozarks. It’s difficult to believe that this story takes place in modern-day America and not in some other century or post-apocalyptic setting. Both the film and Jennifer Lawrence are deserving of their Oscar nominations.
9. Toy Story 3. Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) and the rest of the gang are back in Pixar’s clever and touching story about the fate of toys abandoned when their child owner grows up. Surprisingly melancholy, it still manages simultaneously to generate laughs while pulling at the heartstrings. Is Pixar even capable of making a movie that’s less than great?
8. Black Swan. In this edge-of-your-seat, psychological horror film, an ambitious ballet dancer struggles to embrace her dark side in order to master the role of the black swan in “Swan Lake.” Natalie Portman makes a lasting impression as the troubled ballerina and Barbara Hershey is particularly creepy as her domineering stage-mom. My only reservation is that the movie cheats – alternating between reality and delusion to “trick” the audience – and, as a result, becomes a bit one-note about three quarters of the way through. Still, the soaring music, the great performances and the unsettling story make Black Swan unforgettable.
7. Please Give. The year’s best indie stars Catherine Keehner and Oliver Platt as a married couple who purchase undervalued items at estate sales and mark them up for resale at their chic Manhattan furniture store. When they look to expand their apartment by buying the unit next door owned by an elderly woman, they form a relationship with the unpleasant old lady and her two granddaughters (Rebecca Hall and Amanda Peet). While short on plot, Please Give is an honest, slice-of-life movie that examines in an effective and understated manner the different ways in which everyday people deal with guilt.
6. The King’s Speech. Colin Firth deserves the best-actor crown for his portrayal of King George VI, the stuttering monarch tasked with delivering an inspiring speech to his subjects in the days leading up to World War II. When his wife (Helena Bonham Carter) engages the services of an unconventional Australian speech therapist (Geoffrey Rush), an unlikely friendship develops between these two men in this uplifting British drama.
5. True Grit. The Coen Brothers resurrect the rollicking, beautifully shot Western in yet another movie, like Winter’s Bone, about a missing father and a young girl’s odyssey. Hailee Steinfeld steals the movie as the unusually mature14-year-old on a quest for justice, and Jeff Bridges is terrific as well (though he delivers half of his dialogue in an incomprehensible growl) as the U.S. Marshal she hires to track down her father’s murderer.
4. Inception. Hands down the year’s most inventive film, this science fictional “heist movie” stars Leonardo DiCaprio as the leader of a team of agents who enter the dreams of corporate rivals to hijack their secrets. It is a classic Christopher Nolan film, a dream-within-a-dream-within-a-dream “puzzle movie” in the vein of Memento, and easily the most talked about (and over-analyzed) movie in years. Originality is such a rare commodity in Hollywood these days, who can blame the critics and bloggers for giving Inception so much attention?
3. The Ghost Writer. This Hitchcockian political thriller set in rainy Martha’s Vineyard stars Ewan McGregor as a ghost writer hired to pen the memoirs of the former British prime minister. When an international tribunal charges the former prime minister with war crimes, McGregor’s character finds himself ensnared in a web of mystery and intrigue that culminates in the year’s best and most surprising ending.
2. The Secret in Their Eyes. A murder mystery. A love story. A compelling drama set in 1970’s Argentina. A brilliant movie. Last year’s Oscar winner for Best Foreign Film, which opened last January in the States, flashes back and forth between 1974 and 2000, telling the story of the relationship between a criminal investigator and a woman judge–and the old case that still haunts them. A must-see.
1. The Social Network. The top spot this year goes to David Fincher’s fast-paced biopic about the socially inept Mark Zuckerberg and the creation of Facebook. The rapid-fire dialogue (courtesy of Aaron Sorkin, in fine form) crackles with wit and intelligence. The film focuses on the troubled relationships between Zuckerberg and the friends who soon become his bitter enemies. It’s an amazing accomplishment that a plot that consists mainly of deposition testimony and flashbacks can be so riveting.
Runners-up: 11. The Fighter (Christian Bale steals the movie as the crack-addicted brother of a boxer (Mark Wahlberg) looking for Rocky-like redemption but held back by his dysfunctional family); 12. Blue Valentine (affecting indie with stellar performances from Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams that tracks both the hopeful beginning — and heart-rending breakup — of a romantic relationship told through alternating present-day scenes and flashbacks); 13. Inside Job (disturbing documentary that analyzes the underlying causes of the country’s financial meltdown – and the fact that not much has changed to prevent another such collapse); 14. Let Him In (a slow-paced, moody and evocative flick that focuses on the relationship between a lonely misfit boy and the girl vampire who lives next door).
I was sad to hear recently that Ikarie, a long-standing Czech SF magazine, came to an end. Fortunately, the editorial staff decided to continue the magazine under the new banner XB-1. If the above cover is any indication, it appears to continue the high quality of its predecessor. And, oh, “In the Harsh Glow of its Incandescent Beauty” is reprinted in the magazine’s latest issue.
Overall, 2010 was a good year for me writing-wise.
I began the year with a bit of a bang — with stories in back-to-back issues of Interzone. “In the Harsh Glow of its Incandescent Beauty” appeared in the January/February issue (#226). It features my lovestruck aliens, the Wergens, who are assisting a man on a quest across the solar system to Triton to rescue his ex-wife. “Dance of the Kawkawroons,” then appeared in the March/April issue (#227). It’s a story about an avaricious human couple who break a quarantine around an alien world in order to plunder the precious eggs of a sentient avian species. Rich Horton recently called “Kawkawroons” one of the best short stories published by Interzone in 2010.
In March, the Hugo Award-winning StarshipSofa podcast my story “Snatch Me Another,” pitting it in battle against a classic tale by C.M. Kornbluth. Listeners were asked to vote for their favorite. (I’ll admit that I was slightly embarrassed by the contest and voted for the Kornbluth story without even listening to it). I also recorded an introduction to the story, explaining what inspired me to write it.
2010 also marked the first time I was published in a foreign language. In May, Czech SF magazine Ikarie reprinted my novelette “Longing for Langalana” (“Touha po Langalane”) It was a hoot reading the translated Czech reviews for the story, which were quite positive (or at least I think they were). Ikarie also re-published “The Scent of Their Arrival,” my novelette about aliens that communicate by scent, and the mystery of the spaceship that orbits their world. It was fascinating comparing the artist’s depiction of the aliens to the rendition of the same aliens by Interzone‘s artist.
In May, Beam Me Up, a radio show originating out of Maine, broadcast the Starship recording of “Snatch Me Another.” In June, Beam Me Up followed up with a superbly produced podcast of my Electric Velocipede story, “Dear Annabehls,” a story consisting of a series of letters to an advice-columnist in a future world where a device allows us to get anything we want — simply by snatching it from an alternate dimension.
In July, I was “spotlighted” over at Senses Five Press as one of the editors of Sybil’s Garage. Also, in August I was interviewed over at Clarkesworld with my fellow Altered Fluidians about our writing group and the way we operate.
In August/September, my dark fantasy/horror story “Tu Sufrimiento Shall Protect Us” appeared in Black Static #18, one of the preeminent horror magazines being published today. It received a glowing review from SF Signal, the reviewer calling it “[A] brilliant meditation upon the role of magical thinking in our political culture… it is also one of the most atmospheric, disturbing and thought-provoking short stories I have ever encountered. If Rivera’s work does not get picked up by one of the Year’s Best anthologies then there really is no justice in the world.” I’m trying to get T-shirts made with that blurb, but them’s a lot of words.
In September, I co-hosted the KGB Fantastic Fiction series with my buddy Matt Kressel when Ellen Datlow couldn’t attend. This reminds me that earlier in the year, in June, I also had the pleasure of co-hosting the NYRSF reading with Jim Freund when fellow Fluidians N.K. Jemisin, E.C. Myers and Devin Poore all read their great stories.
Overall, not a bad year.
SF Signal recently reviewed Black Static #18 and gave a glowing review to “Tu Sufrimiento Shall Protect Us.” Reviewer Jonathan McCalmont states:
“Set in an apocalyptic world in which the government battles “Justice Gang” lynch mobs in the wake of a series of terrible terrorist attacks, this story is a brilliant meditation upon the role of magical thinking in our political culture. “Tu Sufrimento Shall Protect Us” explores the idea that, in times of stress, humans retreat into atavistic beliefs about the need for pain and purification….Rivera asks: Is the acceptance of torture a result of ignorance or the product of superstition? Do we send people to be tortured because we genuinely believe that this is a reliable means of extracting intelligence or is it because we think that as long as someone out there is suffering for us, we will be safe? Rivera asks this question through the lens of South American culture, the story is elegantly written, beautifully atmospheric and filled with some wonderful local colour. “Tu Sufrimento Shall Protect Us” is not only the strongest story in the issue, it is also one of the most atmospheric, disturbing and thought-provoking short stories I have ever encountered. If Rivera’s work does not get picked up by one of the Year’s Best anthologies then there really is no justice in the world.”
(Hence the need for Justice Gangs. ) Anyhow, that’s only an excerpt of the thorough and thoughtful (and quite flattering) review. You can read the whole thing here.
And in another review, Tangent Online “predicts that this is the story from this issue that will stick with you the longest. Tight, fast, dramatic, and tortuous.” Cool!
Finally, Colin Harvey at Suite 101 calls it “the best story in the issue” and writes: “Set in a near future New York in a world of ‘proxy wars’ and nuclear-armed terroristas, Rivera neatly reworks the classic scapegoat theme while peppering his narrative with Spanish. Outstanding.” Thanks, Colin!
There’s an interesting article over at i09 discussing the new “sci-fi strange” subgenre. SF writer and nebula-nominee Jason Sanford includes my story “Longing for Langalana” as part of his “dream anthology” of sci-fi strange, along with stories by all-stars Ted Chiang, Paolo Bacigalupi, Rachel Swirsky, Eugie Foster, Nnedi Okorafor, Lavie Tidhar, Gareth L. Powell, fellow Fluidian Alaya Dawn Johnson and others. There’s a link to “Langalana” included in the article. Many thanks, Jason!
This is heartening since I continue to work on my collection of interconnected stories starring my tragic lovestruck aliens, the Wergens, who have it bad for humanity. (There’s nothing sadder than unrequited alien love.:)) The second in the series, “In the Harsh Glow of its Incandescent Beauty,” appeared earlier this year in Interzone #226 and will be podcast in an upcoming episode of StarShip Sofa.
More people are reading “Langalana” as a result of this recent attention. I came across this new, lengthy and very generous review which starts off by saying, “If an SF story could every make me cry, it’d be this one.” Suddenly, I feel motivated to plug on in the Wergen universe.
I’ve been meaning to post this for a while, but go check out this interview of the Altered Fluid writing group (including yours truly) over at Clarkesworld. We had a lot of fun responding to these questions. I think it gives you a good sense of the genuine camaraderie and support that exists among this group of truly talented writers. (I’m just so lucky to have somehow managed to sneak in to their ranks.)
I’m pleased to report that Black Static, considered the preeminent horror magazine out there, will be publishing my dark fantasy/horror story, “Tu Sufrimiento Shall Protect Us” in its next issue. Andy Cox has done a phenomenal job making this magazine look every bit as beautiful and professional as its sister magazine, Interzone.
This story marks my first foray away from pure science fiction, so I’m glad the story is appearing in such a great market.
In other news, Murky Depths has taken my flash piece “All Smiles” about invading clown-like aliens. This magazine is of special interest to me because of the graphic illustrations that accompany its various stories. I can’t wait to see what they do with my story.
Finally, my SF advice-column story “Dear Annabehls” which originally appeared in Electric Velocipede #17/18, was broadcast last week on the Maine radio show “Beam Me Up.” The story is set in the same universe as “Snatch Me Another.” You can listen to a podcast of the program here. (My story begins at the 35:30 minute mark.)
Bits of news here and there:
I had the honor of co-hosting last night’s New York Review of Science Fiction Reading with Jim Freund, and I thought it went very well. It featured Altered Fluid and the three readers (E.C. Myers, Devin Poore and N.K. Jemisin) all did a stupendous job. Kudos, Fluidians!
The Czech Republic’s largest circulating SF magazine, Ikarie, is reprinting “Longing for Langalana” in its current issue (pictured above). Or as they call it: Desire for Langalaně. So cool! And here’s a review, translated from Czech by Google, which makes it somewhat amusing:
The desire for Langalaně is readable story of people and wergenů on a strange planet. Shimera and Phineas are children who learn language tutoring for the second of them. Immediacy of children during story turns into a mature adult and opinions by the way, we learn interesting information about wergenských relationships, marriage and reproduction. Although Mercurio D. Rivera is a man, the narrator of the history of dueling Langalaně wergenská is just a girl who fell in love with the human boy. Relatively normal plot is complicated by wergenským worship of human beings.
And here’s another Czech review:
Shimera Wergeňanka and is with his father and mother are working together to teraformaci Langalany planet. Is responsible to pay his nephew Dr. significant, Phineas. At first glance it seems that perhaps the children can resolve differences between two races. Remarkable story of the encounter of two civilizations, which prevents unilateral okouzlenost in full cooperation. Alien eyes watching developments and thus becomes for us to fully understand the contradiction that can not be overcome with time. The main character herself is aware of this situation, and yet it can not get rid of the desire for return and contact with people.
Finally, iconic SF editor Gardner Dozois devoted a nice little chunk of real estate (a full paragraph, which is quite a bit; his fiction reviews usually run a sentence or two) in this month’s Locus to my “In the Harsh Glow of its Incandescent Beauty” from Interzone #226. He wrote:
“Also good here is Mercurio D. Rivera’s ‘In the Harsh Glow of its Incandescent Beauty’ about a man obsessively following his ex-lover to the ends of the solar system, convinced that she’s been stolen from him by the application of a mind-altering chemical aphrodisiac; this turns out to be both true and not true. The motivations of the human-obsessed aliens here, the Wergens, who are willing to do almost anything for the humans they’ve become fixated on (and who remind me a little of Al Capps’ Shmoos, who will invite you to eat them and obligingly fall over dead if you look even the slightest bit hungry) may be a bit hard to understand if you haven’t read Rivera’s other story in this sequence, ‘Longing for Langalana’”
It’s quite a kick to think that the great Gardner Dozois — whom I consider the personification of SF — is familiar with my work.