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December 13, 2011

Book Notes - Eduardo Jiménez Mayo and Chris N. Brown "Three Messages and a Warning: Contemporary Mexican Short Stories of the Fantastic"

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, David Peace, Myla Goldberg, and many others.

Three Messages and a Warning: Contemporary Mexican Short Stories of the Fantastic is a diverse and satifying collection of short fiction that will appeal to both fans of fantasy and speculative fiction as well as readers of contemporary Mexican literature.

Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:

"By turns creepy, self-consciously literary, and engagingly inventive, these 34 stories selected by translator-scholar Jiménez Mayo and writer-critic Brown offer some excellent and ghastly surprises....These are punchy, ghoulish selections by south-of-the-border writers unafraid of the dark.

Stream a Spotify playlist of these tunes. If you don't have Spotify yet, sign up for the free service.

In his own words, here is Eduardo Jimenez Mayo's Book Notes music playlist for the anthology, Three Messages and a Warning: Contemporary Mexican Short Stories of the Fantastic:

Three Messages and Warning is the most improbable of anthologies, and Mexican literature of the fantastic is the most improbable of genres. The anthology is improbable because its contributors are folks who normally wouldn't speak to each other in their daily lives: being separated by taste, education, social class, generation, gender, prestige or other parameters of the Mexican literary caste system. The genre itself is improbable because there is no consensus as to what Mexican literature of the fantastic is and how it differs from other modes of the fantastic around the globe. Accordingly, in choosing songs, personal favorites, that could have inspired the stories in this anthology, I tried to pay close attention to the theme of the improbable. I submit the following playlist in that spirit:

"Be My Love," Mario Lanza

My ninety-six-year-old Italian grandmother recently came from Boston to San Antonio to live with us because she can't take the cold weather anymore. Just as all her brothers and sisters are dead all her favorite musicians are dead. Their songs are only available on vinyl nowadays. So I went to Target, virtually the only store in town that sells retro-style turntables, and followed that up with a trip to Half Price Books to collect some vinyl albums with music from her era—the greatest hits of Mario Lanza being the most outstanding. Almost every day before I walk out the door for work I play "Be My Love" for my grandmother, and she comes to life when she hears it. In the anthology, one will find a story titled, "Waiting," by Iliana Estañol, in which a very elderly grandmother infuses life into the cadaver of the love of her life. Improbable, yes, but based on a true story.

"Elvira Madigan Theme," Mozart

All my life I've suffered from insomnia. When I was a small child, mother would put me to sleep with Mozart's "Piano Concerto No.21 in C Major" (also known as the "Elvira Madigan Theme," after the 1967 Swedish film whose soundtrack employs Mozart's concerto). It wasn't until I was an adult that my mother told me that it had been her deceased brother's favorite piece. Her brother survived Vietnam only to die in a car accident a few weeks after his return. Now I realize that when I was a child my mother summoned the dead almost every night through music to quiet my spirit and lay me to rest. One will find in the anthology an improbable story called "Murillo Park," by Agustín Cadena, in which the ballads of Mexican composer Agustín Lara serve as a bridge between the living and the dead: conjuring the spirit of a phantasmagoric beauty and soothing an old man's lonely soul.

In his own words, here is Chris N. Brown's Book Notes music playlist for the anthology, Three Messages and a Warning: Contemporary Mexican Short Stories of the Fantastic:

"Justiciera del amor," Casa Wagner [link at 14:04]

One day this summer I noticed a trainer at the gym had a bright yellow T-shirt featuring an image of an elevated monorail and the legend "Tijuana: City of the Future." This artifact of Urban Outfitters irony started a conversation in which I explained that, in fact, I had just participated in a conference in Tijuana dedicated, unironically, to that very theme. In May 2011 a group of Mexican and American writers gathered at an abandoned building a hundred yards from the U.S. border crossing, sandwiched between twelve lines of cars lined up for hours beneath Homeland Security helicopters and the chaotic commercial signscape of cheap Viagra, budget plastic surgery and souped up Chula Vista pickups. The "You can see the future from here" lectures followed a series of student interventions at the crossing, including a talking robot kiosk dispensing printed futures, cyborg street dances incorporating found electronics, and the toxic baptismal procession of Santa, patron saint of technological accidents. Tijuana *is* the future, a multicultural island improvised inside jurisdictional fictions to profit from prohibition, devoid of its own folkloric traditions and destined to create its own from the detritus of postindustrial culture. Like electrocumbia and Nortec, the local mashups of techno and traditional north Mexican music. Casa Wagner are one of the most interesting local practitioners, a duo of drums and synth that incorporates the indigenous sounds of the wild city into hypnotic rhythms. At the conference, Casa Wagner played after a screening of Alex Rivera's Sleep Dealer, a 2009 cyberpunk masterpiece in which a rural Oaxacan hacker ends up in TJ plugged into the nerve net of an infomaquila, remotely operating industrial robots in an unknown foreign city. One of the masters of Tijuana's semiotic domain is author and media studies scholar Pepe Rojo, whose story "The President Without Organs" discovers a uniquely Mexican and totally globalized biopunk realization of Donald Barthelme's statement that "the purpose of literature is to create strange objects covered in fur that break your heart." (See also "Norteño del Sur," by Bostich + Fussible, from the soundtrack to Sleep Dealer.)

"Last Day of Winter," Pelican

Traveling over the course of a lifetime from the plains of the Midwest to the high deserts of Texas, and through the wall into the arid expanses of northern Mexico, you acquire a taste for landscapes of Richterian minimalism and extreme weather. The gray wonder of a big mid-continental thunderstorm gathering over the bleached out grasslands of an Iowa prairie, fireball-sized shooting stars mirroring the natural gas flares as they dance across the inky expanse of the Transpecos before dawn, the soul-melting heat of the desert vents between Tecate and Mexicali beyond la Rumorosa's graveyard of wrecked ‘70s sedans. The music of Pelican embodies this experience of the subtly epic erupting from the powerful monotony of simple patterns painted across a horizon-wide canvas. Pelican plays art metal, big guitar music without words, sweeping chords that combine classical flourish with barbarian rock, music that evokes the feeling you get when wild nature smashes your alienation and gets you wet. Mexican science fiction writer Jose Luis Zarate's "Wolves" achieves a similar effect—story as atmosphere, nature sweeping down from the mountains into the village, a ubiquitous untamed force that occasionally reminds us we are part of it, a system of destruction and creation that transcends cultural difference.

"Haunted," The Thing

Intensity of feeling is best evoked obliquely. Scandinavian punk jazz trio The Thing taught me this when I heard them live for the first time six years ago at a club in East Austin. Three taciturn men in black occupied the stage, arctic cool. Saxophonist Mats Gustafsson began literally breathing through his instrument, as his colleagues slowly constructed elusive insect click rhythms from drum and bass. And suddenly the minimalist dialogue catalyzed into primal scream, a garage rock cover by a flock of psychotic geese. "Haunted" is a cover of a piece by the mysterious free jazz figure Norman Howard, whose only release was a cassette that almost missed the long tail. It sketches a conventional melody while revealing its dissonant and even frightening core. It has a lot in common with the oldest story in our book, "The Guest" by Amparo Dávila, an incredibly beautiful and disturbing story that repurposes the monster story to expose the horror within the life of a Mexican hausfrau.

"Si Señor," Machete

Control Machete are Mexican rappers from the northern industrial city of Monterrey, a city so infused with narcoviolence in recent years that last summer the cartels took over the concrete arteries of the metroplex with a citywide road blockade just to show they were in charge. Si Señor, which appeared in the outstanding Alejandro González Iñárritu film Amores Perros, appropriates the musical vocabulary of West Coast hip hop, and repurposes campesino imagery to convey the feeling of young men on the prowl in the Mexican sprawl, trying to seed their world to avert apocalypse. "Photophobia" by Mauricio Montiel Figueiras depicts an actual Mexican post-apocalypse, one infused with a similar feeling of masculine cool that shields intense feeling, the suspension of vision as a means of coping with the dark reality of the everyday. Mauricio is the one who taught me of Roberto Bolaño's love of the science fictional toolkit, and whose convocation of a literary symposium gathering Anglo-American and Mexican science fiction writers to explore the role of parallel worlds in contemporary literature helped bring about this anthology.

"Language is a Virus from Outer Space," Laurie Anderson

Laurie Anderson proved you can create avant-garde works of art that are widely accessible to a general audience. Language is a Virus is a brilliant riff on one of William S. Burroughs's great epigrammatic lines, included on albums where Anderson actually used Burroughs's junked out Joe Friday drawl as guest vocalist. Perhaps unsurprisingly for a guy who seemed undead even when he was alive, Burroughs keeps showing up, even when you go to Mexico and hang out with science fiction writers. Burroughs lived in Mexico before Tangiers—that's where he shot his wife—and remains an important influence on Mexican fantasists. Bernardo Fernández, whose story "Lions" appears in our anthology, is working on a graphic novel about Burroughs's years in Mexico and his influence on Mexican literary culture. Bef, Pepe Rojo, and the Lacanian psychoanalyst Deyanira Torres (now married to Pepe) even retraced Burroughs's steps across the Maghreb in an epic exploration of cross-cultural surprises. "Language is a Virus" is also a suitable theme for a work of translations that confound the lexicon of either language.

Biophilia, Bjork

The new Bjork "album" is a very science fictional piece—I downloaded it as an iPad app, and found a digital multimedia effort to explore the potentials of biology as artistic material. I am still working my way through it, but it strikes me a a piece that is trying to have a conversation with an inevitable future, when the bioart is real—when the latest Bjork album will be a "long live the new flesh" collaboration with Matthew Barney that sings with its own unexpected organs. Gabriela Damian Miraveta's story "Future Nereid" is another successful experiment in atemporality, a future exploration of the past, time travel achieved through intertextuality.

"The Lincolnshire Poacher MI5 Numbers Station Recording," The Conet Project

This selection from the Conet Project's archive of recordings of numbers stations is meant as cryptography rather than music. Numbers stations are the strange public broadcasts of sequences of numbers over short wave radio that allow field agents to transcribe their orders using a one-time pad. They are an analog technology whose unbreakable code allows them to survive well into the digital age—transmissions from the past that tell us about the future. And divorced from their full context, they function as beautiful ambient pieces (especially when accompanied by musical bookends to cue the decryption). Alberto Chimal's short short "Variation on a Theme of Coleridge" tells the story of another transmission from the past, when a guy finds an old cell phone he thought he'd lost, and gets an unexpected call from last year's version of himself.

Eduardo Jiménez Mayo, Chris N. Brown and Three Messages and a Warning: Contemporary Mexican Short Stories of the Fantastic links:

Eduardo Jiminez Mayo's website
Chris N. Brown's website

Library Journal review
Publishers Weekly review
Three Percent review

Necessary Fiction essay by Chris N. Brown (on science fiction for MFAs)

also at Largehearted Boy:

other Book Notes playlists (authors create music playlists for their book)

List of Online "Best Books of 2011" Lists
List of 2011 Year-End Online Music Lists

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
52 Books, 52 Weeks (weekly book reviews)
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
Try It Before You Buy It (mp3s and full album streams from the week's CD releases)
weekly music & DVD release lists