Review of The Other Oscar by Cora Siré

the other oscarGood things do indeed come in small packages—even novels, as is demonstrated by Cora Siré’s The Other Oscar. Although the book is only 87 pages in length, it manages to accomplish more than many books that are four times its length.

Oscar, the main character in this story, is a Canadian musician who’s been hired to play his cello for a bit role in a movie being filmed in the city of Iquique, Chile. The problem? He must do the playing on a small raft in the middle of the ocean, and he can’t swim. Oscar is a young father, divorced, a little socially awkward, good-natured, and a devoted son to a father with mental health problems. In fact, Oscar is somewhat obsessed with madness, which happens to also be the topic of the film in which he has been called upon to play.

Siré does an excellent job of gaining sympathy early on for her protagonist. In addition, she has created a whole cast of additional characters who are both believable and interesting, including Clave, who stars in the film; Sarah, the director; Noemi, who works at the hotel; a street musician, his daughter, and a monkey; and a second Noemi … but to say more would be a spoiler.

Suffice it to say instead that I happily followed Oscar through the twisty streets of Iquique and the equally twisty plot turns, and in the end, I learned some more about madness, art, devotion, kindness, hope, and new beginnings.

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Review of Fae Visions of the Mediterranean: An Anthology of Horrors and Wonders of the Sea

Fae Visions of the Mediterranean: An Anthology of Horrors and Wonders of the Sea, Edited by Valeria Vitale & Djibril al-Ayad

This is the fifth Future Fire anthology that I have read. The first three—Outlaw Bodies, We See a Different Frontier, and Accessing the Future—are each linked by a common theme or idea, and the fourth one, TFF-X: Ten Years of The Future Fire, is a mix of new work and selected reprints published to celebrate the tenth year anniversary of The Future Fire magazine. The most recent anthology, Fae Visions of the Mediterranean: An Anthology of Horrors and Wonders of the Sea, is a collection of stories, poetry and artwork connected by geography rather than ideas.

I read and appreciate a fairly wide spectrum of what can be called speculative fiction, but my preferences tend to run more towards science fiction and realistic fantasy than to other sub-genres. As in art, music, and romance, there is no accounting for taste, but for some reason, stories about sea monsters and other mythic ocean creatures don’t usually float my boat (excuse the pun.) I am also not very drawn to horror. Nevertheless, though this anthology is filled with such elements, there is something about it that was pleasing to me, something that has to do with the impressively diversity of the pieces contained in the collection. Not only is there prose, poetry, and artwork, but a wide range of writing and artistic styles are also represented. The stories likewise come from a large number of nations, cultures, and traditions, all linked by their physical connection to the Mediterranean Sea.

The inclusion in the collection of many of the languages of the region was particularly effective. Though the anthology is still primarily English (and can be enjoyed by a unilingual anglophone), I appreciated the opportunity to see some work in its original regional language followed by the English translation, and the fact that in some cases the translation seemed truncated or at least secondary somehow made the story feel more authentic for me. In fact, while the collection has an almost mythic feel to it, at the same time, it seems very “grounded” in the history and legends of the Sea, thereby giving it a well-researched or even academic solidity

Here are some of my favourite pieces:

“The Miracle Town” by Mattia Ravasi: I was very drawn in by the story-telling skills of this author. I did not know what the story was about for a while (no spoilers) but it did not matter because the writing was so enjoyable, and the build and reveal were very well-done.

“The Wisps of Tabarka” by Hella Grichi: I enjoyed this both as a story and a work of art. There is a lovely integration of the original language with the English telling. It is written as a fairy tale, but not like a western fairy tale.

“Ghanja Bla Flus/A Free Song” by Maria Grech Ganado: This is a beautiful poem, filled with passion, sharp wit, and mystery.

“The Minotaur in Pamplona” by Rhys Hughes, is a well written tale filled with longing and regret, with just enough mystery mixed + foreshadowing to make the ending satisfying.

“Bilaadi by S. Chakraborty”: This is beautifully written, with a very successful use of second person narration. It is a deep, a very human story at the same time that it is a tale of gods and myths.

“The Return of Melusine” by Angela Rega is a well-told story that reads both contemporary and as an ancient myth.