When I first learned that the Chicana spec lit author Silvia Moreno-Garcia lived and published in Canada, I wondered how Mexican she still was. I don't know much about the culture there, other than it's obviously far from Aztlán y la frontera. I read about anthologies she co-edited and about her awards: Sunburst Award, Cooper Short Fiction Competition winner, Manchester Fiction finalist. Then, I was more surprised that the setting for her full-length novel, Signal to Noise, was set even further south--in Mexico City--and described as "a literary fantasy about love, music and sorcery, set against the background of Mexico City."
"It's very early in the year but I can already tell this is one of the Notable Reads of 2015." - Kirkus
"Moreno-Garcia has a solid and convincing prose style, robust and subtle in all the right places... a successful debut, and a very interesting book." - Tor.com
“In a poignant, graceful coda, Moreno-Garcia brings the book full-circle, slyly subverting the expectations of a linear narrative and punctuating Meche's story with a hushed, lovely flourish. In many ways, Signal to Noise is a coming-of-age tale, but it's also the tale of what comes after — and what happens when forces beyond our control, magical or otherwise, are better left that way.” – NPR
So I read the book. It's more than a regular fantasy, and then again, it's not pure fantasy. To me, genre classifications don't do justice to a lot of our Latino writings. Even the term speculative, as in, speculative literature, is the Euro-Western worldview being imposed on what's only a half-Euro world, our Spanish half.
The witches and witchcraft in Moreno-Garcia's book would be called fantasy and speculative--or Daniel José Older's santería--even though we grew up in environments where the only speculation about witches was, who was a good or bad witch, and what they do next.
But Signal to Noise is about signal to noise (s:n), developed through literary paths of Silvia's making. For those who don't know, s:n is a tech/scientific term comparing what's understandable to what's interfering with that understanding. The less background "noise," the better. Like being in the middle of the recent Facebook exchange of insults about not reading White Male Hero Saves The World books, for a year. Too much racist, privilege-defense and male chauvinism make it difficult to find intelligible comments.
I understood and appreciated Moreno-Garcia's novel once I realized that the theme of s:n permeated the entire plot and subplots. Maybe I should say themes, plural. Here's the synopsis from her publisher, the imprint Solaris (Rebellion Publishing Ltd., England):
"Mexico City, 1988: Long before iTunes or MP3s, you said, “I love you” with a mixtape. Meche, awkward and fifteen, has two equally unhip friends -- Sebastian and Daniela -- and a whole lot of vinyl records to keep her company. When she discovers how to cast spells using music, the future looks brighter for the trio. With help from this newfound magic, the three friends will piece together their broken families, change their status as non-entities, and maybe even find love...
"Mexico City, 2009: Two decades after abandoning the metropolis, Meche returns for her estranged father’s funeral. It’s hard enough to cope with her family, but then she runs into Sebastian, and it revives memories from her childhood she thought she buried a long time ago. What really happened back then? What precipitated the bitter falling out with her father? And, is there any magic left?"
Don't think this some regular time-travel story. Silvia beautifully develops the s:n themes through her character Meche (a great girl-name). The plot weaves between Meche's life as a teenager and the grown-up Meche returning to DF to help bury her father.
The s:n theme is also reflected in Meche's current life and her memories of her teen years. Back and forth, down those two currents, or paths, she will run through phases of coming of age, twice. And coming to terms with her BFFs, as teens and as adults, as well as her teen and her adult love of a boy and a man. Old magic that worked and new magic that may not. The s:n of the magical pitted against reality. The s:n between teen Meche and the boy Sebastian, attempting to find their "signals" by filtering out the "noise" of teen life, growing up in Mexico City.
These are my thoughts about what Silvia accomplished, which she may see differently. She gave us a novel that explores at least two ways--possibly more--of living and reliving a teen's life. The memoirs of an adult Meche judging her teen mistakes and successes, not only with dark magic, but also with the struggle of trying to find happiness in family life that reminded me of Melinda Palacio and Reyna Grande's books.
In that sense, Signal to Noise has a feel of memoir that I know girls will love. This also crosses into genre of "teen romance" with the teasing and flirting and obsessing about the hottest guy in school, the pledges and tortures of loyalty and love between girls and guys. Yes, there is some "love story."
Teen boys will see in Sebastian, their own attempts to create more signals to girls, rather than awkwardly stumbling over the "noise" they often produce from trying to discover their male emotions. Boys, just read a female version of what you're going through and you might learn quite a bit.
This is also a book for adults--the nostalgia, oldies music of rock, jazz, R&B and more. Adults will recognize and maybe regret identifying with how they fumbled with the "other" sex, through their own teen years. And later, how they might have returned to correct some of the stupid things they did.
How the strange magic works, I'll let you discover from your own reading. Of course it's about music, and witches, and witchcraft. That will turn dark, not like horror, but as mean as some of us might have acted had we had the power.
Don't expect a La Capital setting that an Anglo author might paint. There's not much of museum visits, boat rides down Chapultepec canals, or the tourist lens. This is a Mexico City that its residents live and love in, a mysterious place to a gringo americano, but it's simply a Home, like barrios we grew and grow up in. Abject realism, centered on the characters.
What I'd love to see from Moreno-Garcia are sequels or prequels of these characters and the city DF and the magic. I want Meche to visit and stay with her bruja abuela who's sent somewhere--I'm not spoiling it--and have the abuela mentor Meche's magical abilities. I want to know how the magic ties to Aztec or other indigenous cultures. Give me más, por favor.
For the sake of getting our Latino stories published, we're supposed to follow the constrictions of genre to be a "good fit," as it's called. Latinos writers are subordinated too often by the rules of the Euro-Western worldview. It's buenísimo that Moreno-Garcia didn't shoehorn her story into one genre. And instead, let her story flow thematically, in multiple streams across time, space and teen/adult emotions.
Mexican by birth, Canadian by inclination. Silvia’s first collection, This Strange Way of Dying, was released in 2013 and was a finalist for The Sunburst Award for Excellence in Canadian Literature of the Fantastic. Her stories have also been collected in Love & Other Poisons.
She co-edited the anthologies Sword & Mythos, Historical Lovecraft, Future Lovecraft, Candle in the Attic Window and Fungi. Dead North and Fractured are solo anthologies. In 2011, She won the Carter V. Cooper/Exile Short Fiction Competition (in the Emerging Writer category) and was a finalist for the Manchester Fiction Prize.
Es todo, of my "noise" today,
RudyG, a.k.a., Chicano fantasy author Rudy Ch. Garcia, known for sending his own mextasy signals