the Little Red Reviewer

The Assimilated Cuban’s Guide to Quantum Santeria, by Carlos Hernandez

Posted on: April 24, 2016

Hernandez Quantum SanteriaThe Assimilated Cuban’s Guide to Quantum Santeria, by Carlos Hernandez

Published Feb 2016

where I got it: received review copy from the author (thanks!)

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Along with C.S.E Cooney, Carlos Hernandez wrote one of my favorite short stories in Clockwork Phoenix Vol 5. And Cooney wrote some of my favorite short fiction from 2015, I’ve now read her Bone Swans collection cover to cover three times. So I should have known going into Hernandez’s collection The Assimilated Cuban’s Guide to Quantum Santeria that these short stories were going to be amazing.

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You know how you can know ahead of time that you’re going to love a certain movie, or a certain book? And then you go to the movie theater, or you finish the book, and it was even better than you thought it was going to be? That pretty much sums up my experience with Hernandez’s Quantum Santeria collection. I’ve read it cover to cover twice already (and gotten so much more out of the stories on the second read through!), and I see this is going to be one of those books that lives on my bedside table, so when I need something comforting to calm my mind down at bedtime the perfect thing is sitting there waiting for me.

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With gorgeous writing, accessible storylines, emotional depths alongside sometimes laugh out loud dialog, Hernandez’s prose is marble that’s been carved expertly down until the ideal sculpture is revealed. If you’re a short story author, and you worry that your short story has too much fat and not enough meat, read this collection and pick these stories apart. They’ve got everything you need, and nothing you don’t. Without rushing or infodumping, Hernandez deftly includes swaths of character development, any necessary  worldbuilding, and chapters of plot in the course of 15 pages, with ideas and concepts that are easy to grab onto and so verdantly and gloriously alive.

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Hernandez keeps his story presentation on the traditional side – you won’t find much in the way of experimental story telling styles, or technobabble, or aliens who are beyond our understanding or cyborgs or complex political machinations. These are easily accessible, present-day and near-future stories that pull you in from the first paragraph, and the character’s journey becomes your journey. That said, this collection is a fantastic gate-way book to convince your non-scifi reading friends and family that yes, science fiction can be accessible! It can be a joy to read! It can be about completely normal every-day things such as helping endangered animals, non-traditional therapies for war veterans, finding love in unexpected places, reality TV, Grandma’s home remedies, researching family history, the right and wrong way to help someone through the mourning process, and how to get to where you’re going by an unexpected route, alongside a healthy dose of parallel worlds,  unicorns, and magic. The breadth of speculative fiction truly is boundless and speculative things can happen (and do happen) to anyone.

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I usually ignore the table of contents in short story collections, reading in whatever order I damn please. Well, congratulations Mr. Hernandez, you got me to read this book in the right order! I started off randomly, realized very quickly that Gabrielle Reál was a recurring character and that I was missing out on some huge joke, so that clinched it – I was going to read in order. And I’m so pleased that I did. The first story, “Aphotic Ghost”, and the last story “The Assimilated Cuban’s Guide to Quantum Santeria” make perfect bookends. These two short stories deal both with finding love again later in life, and finally realizing your first love would want you to find happiness again, and that your second love will never be jealous of the first. “Aphotic Ghost” is told from a father’s point of view, who when we meet him is a lonely aged man going to Mt. Everest to find the frozen body of his son; and “The Assimilated Cuban’s Guide to Quantum Santeria” is told from a son’s point of view, a boy who wants to help his mourning father find love again, and in the process becomes closer to his dead mother. The last scenes of both of these stories put a huge smile on my face, and I’m sure you’ll smile too. In an unexpected way, these short stories speak directly to my love for speculative fiction – I’m always finding something new, but that doesn’t mean I love my first SF love, space opera, any less. I can always bring that magic back into my life.

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My absolute favorite story in the collection was “The International Studbook of the Giant Panda”, in which journalist Gabrielle Reál visits a secretive animal conservation reserve to do a newspaper story on their successful giant panda breeding program. This story starts out weird and funny, and then gets high tech, and then dives head first into this fully sensory forest of intense smells and pure vitality and sensuality and all of it all at the same time and once you’ve experienced it how do you go back to your mundane life that feels so limited in comparison? I hope your reaction to this story was as intensely sensory as mine was, because I want you to need to sit quietly for a half hour afterwards, to have to slowly come down from what you’ve experienced, to take as much time as you need to come back to yourself. This unforgettable story is true mastery of creative writing.

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Another story I won’t be forgetting anytime soon is “The Macrobe Conservation Project”. Randy lives on an orbiting research station with his Dad. Randy’s asiMom and asiBro are also there, but Randy can’t much stand those stupid robots. His dad spends all day and too many evenings in the lab, studying a symbiotic microbe that was flourishing on the planet below, leaving Randy to mostly entertain himself. I love this story because Randy does all the normal things a kid his age does – he gets bored, gets into trouble, giggles at made up swear words, seeks approval from grown ups, is brilliant at avoidance and denial while at the same exact time can see right through inauthenticity, and does the same stupid things any eleven year old would do with faced with emotions they don’t know how to handle. The big question is, is Randy justified in what he does at the end? Is Randy’s dad justified in what he lied to Randy about? You go read the story and tell me what you think.

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A near-future technology that appears in a few stories is the eneural. A brain implant, the eneural helps paralyzed people move again, it helps dementia patients function better, and the like. The eneural learns your brain’s synapse patterns, until it can imitate them. So, if you have eneural, who is doing the thinking, the moving, and the remembering? You? Or your eneural? Is it just a computer that imitates a person who might otherwise be in a coma? How would that effect the person’s family? If you are a skilled artist, and you get an eneural, is it still you creating the art, or is it the computer in your brain? Those are great questions, but it’s way more fun to see how the family drama plays out, and it’s all there, in “Homeostasis”, and “Fantaisie Impromptu No. 4 in C#min, Op 66”. And no, the stories do not offer any concrete answers. Because what’s the point if you leave a short story without anything left to think about?

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Other favorites of mine included “Entanglements”, “American Moat”, and “More that Pigs and Rosaries Can Give”. I wouldn’t say any of the stories in this collection are 100% full of calm scenes, or calm people, but the act of reading them was calming for me. On days when I read a Hernandez story or two in the morning before work, I felt less anxious all day, I felt separated from all the work stress, and deadlines, and other frustrations that have been dogging me at work these last few months. Having read The Assimilated Cuban’s Guide to Quantum Santeria, I now know another flavor of speculative fiction that I want to seek out more of. Whatever flavor these stories are, whatever style this is, whatever “this” these are, I want more. I’ve blabbered on for nearly 1400 words, and there is so much more I want to say, but If I’ve convinced you to give this collection a try, no more words are needed.

2 Responses to "The Assimilated Cuban’s Guide to Quantum Santeria, by Carlos Hernandez"

I just bought this, one click, sight unseen. I usually download a sample first, but your glowing review sold me. I felt like I had to read this book right now! I love the way my e-reader gives me instant gratification like that.

Okay, enough with the commenting, time for some reading.

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Thanks for reviewing this one; I’ve been waiting and watching for it for a while.

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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