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Book Review: Reclaim the Stars, edited by Zoraida Córdova

Reclaim the Stars: 17 Tales Across Time & Space
Zoraida Córdova, ed.
Hardcover / Ebook
ISBN: 9781250790637
Wednesday Books, February 2022, 432 pgs

Since May 2021 (keeping in mind that I am writing this on Nov 1, 2021) I have noted over 70 new anthologies from across a number of publishing houses, and this is by no means exhaustive. I am happy to report that more and more we are seeing anthologies with BIPOC editors which specifically feature BIPOC authors. For decades, many major anthologies came out with few to no BIPOC authors; or repeatedly featuring the same specific BIPOC authors, as if they were the only BIPOC folks writing stories.

This tradition does still continue to some degree. Browse through the table of contents of a few major anthologies and see for yourself. Because of this history, and because in general, publishing tends to overlook or undervalue BIPOC creators, anthologies which help readers discover those creators are incredibly important.

It is my greatest joy to occasionally discuss these books in this column. This time around, I bring you Reclaim the Stars, “a collection of bestselling and acclaimed YA authors that take the Latin American diaspora to places fantastical and out of this world,” edited by Zoraida Córdova. As with many such anthologies, there is a sense of a project which deliberately stands against cultural erasure, or which seeks to improve visibility for those who are too often missing from narratives, or misrepresented when they are presented at all. Córdova’s introduction discusses the relationship between the fantastic and Latin American people, ultimately saying, “And yet, when it comes to our literature, there are a million stories that have yet to be told.”

I’ll describe a few pieces from this wonderful assortment of fiction. But I recommend picking up this book, reading the stories on offer, and discovering for yourself which pieces speak to you the most. Everyone in this book knows how to tell a story, and their words deserve to be read.

The anthology opens with “Reign of Diamonds” by Anna-Marie McLemore. Since reading their incredible short story “Cristal y Ceniza” in Dhonielle Clayton’s anthology A Universe of Wishes (see review here: bit.ly/3nTjrvu), McLemore has become someone that, if I see their name in an anthology, makes me far more interested in looking at the book. This story is an imaginative take on a fairly classic premise. Opposing and somewhat opposite princesses must duel for rights to La Ruta, a much safer, shorter passage through a section of space. Of course, there a number of ways this piece recasts the classic trope, and McLemore has a lot of fun with fire and ice motifs. The core of the story comes down to the conflicts of duty and love, and at its heart, it’s about being controlled by the people around you, by expectations, and by the roles you’re meant to fulfill.

“Color-Coded” by Maya Motayne is a fun, heartwarming read, but with a streak of the terrible realities of life. Girls are literally magical. And when they reach a certain age, not only does their hair change color, but their power starts to appear. Flor is a girl who is developing a bit early. She has to navigate the awkwardness of school, and particularly, the reactions of people eager to make her feel one way or another about her noticeable changes. Her kind father tries to help but is a bit at a loss, and childhood friend Mateo is perhaps more encouraging than Flor likes. Complicating things is the fact that, while her father is kind, her mother apparently struggled with mental illness, eventually disappearing into the sky. It’s a lovely story, full of warmth, and with a delightfully unexpected moment.

As co-Editor-in-Chief of Fantasy Magazine (with the brilliant Christie Yant), I see a lot of stories about mermaids, selkies, sirens, and similar. I am always impressed by authors who craft stories about these kinds of beings which actually read as fresh and innovative. Among my favorites is Alyssa Wong’s incredible “The Fisher Queen,” originally published in the May/June 2014 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. In Reclaim the Stars, Vita Ayala gives us “Sumaiko Y La Sirena.” While the worldbuilding aspects may not be as innovative as Wong’s piece, the story itself is a great take on the trope, and it’s brilliant in its thoughtful application of the idea’s possibilities to story. Suma has grown up on the plantation for as long as she can remember. And, of course, the plantation operates via oppression of varying degrees. As Suma matures, one of the men who owns the plantation begins to court her, wanting far more than she wishes to give. Meanwhile, after the death of her father, Suma discovers much about herself, about the ways she is different from the others working the plantation, and about her own desires. It’s a wonderful story which deserves to be read closely. Ayala mixes the direct with powerful allusions, and there are layers here which reward a careful read. This is an exploration of control and the oppressive nature of expectations, but it’s also an intriguing demonstration of the two-sided nature of courtesy, of so-called kindness, and the way they are used as tools to manipulate people. It’s also a story about what happens when someone reaches true desperation, and about finding strength in darkness.

“White Water, Blue Ocean” by Linda Raquel Nieves Pérez is an interesting examination into the idea of honesty. Gabriel is part of a family with a curse: the women can’t lie, and the men can’t love. Gabriel wants to know: what does that mean for them, someone who doesn’t conform to gender in the way certain members of their family would like. Complex family dynamics are at play, as well as the way love is expressed by different kinds of people. This story is also about marginalized people marginalizing other people. But ultimately, it’s a lovely coming-of-age tale about being yourself despite friction and adversity; it’s lovely because it’s about healing, reconciliation, and the multifaceted nature of truth.

In Nina Moreno’s “Magical Offerings,” Luz Pérez is sent to stay with her grandfather after landing in a bit of trouble for trying to work her little, not entirely successful, magics. Her grandfather’s place is an abandoned golf course on the edge of the swamp, and grandpa is both an idealist and an eccentric. It doesn’t take long in that strange place for Luz to begin to unlock her true potential. This is an interesting story with a cool setting and a great vibe. But more than this, it’s a meditation on the nature of “home,” one which many people will relate to: odd and familiar, uncomfortable and awkward, all at once. For Luz, as unlikely as it seems, home becomes the place where she finds her truths and her sense of place.

I have been lucky enough to find a number of these important anthologies, to review them for Lightspeed, and to bring a modicum of attention to the authors who are improving genre by sharing their visions and perspectives via their stories. If you enjoy short fiction, I encourage you to spend some time with these authors. I’ve highlighted a few pieces here, but there are more stories for you to discover in this book. Read this one cover to cover. Share your favorites with friends. Let the publishing industry know that these authors are vital, they are important, and that we need to see their stories.

Arley Sorg

Arley Sorg

Arley Sorg is co-Editor-in-Chief at Fantasy Magazine and a 2022 recipient of SFWA’s Kate Wilhelm Solstice Award. He is also a 2021 and a 2022 World Fantasy Award Finalist, a 2022 Locus Award Finalist, and a finalist for two 2022 Ignyte Awards: for his work as a critic as well as for his creative nonfiction. Arley is a senior editor at Locus Magazine, associate editor at both Lightspeed & Nightmare, and a columnist for The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. He takes on multiple roles, including slush reader, movie reviewer, and book reviewer, and conducts interviews for multiple venues, including Clarkesworld Magazine and his own site: arleysorg.com. He has taught classes, run workshops, and been a guest for Clarion West, the Odyssey Writing Workshop, Cascade Writers, Augur Magazine, and more. Arley grew up in England, Hawaii, and Colorado, and studied Asian Religions at Pitzer College. He lives in the SF Bay Area and writes in local coffee shops when he can. Find him on Twitter @arleysorg. Arley is a 2014 Odyssey Writing Workshop graduate.