Review: 12 Burning Wheels, by Cesar Torres
12 Burning Wheels: stories of the strange and the wonderous.
Published by M Brane SF, 2010
I first met Cesar Torres through Chris Fletcher of M-Brane SF. I read Cesar’s blog, and the writing and themes within drew me in right away. So, when I heard that he had a collection come out, I jumped right on the opportunity to read and review it.
12 Burning Wheels was born out of a challenge that Cesar set for himself: write 12 short stories in 12 days. This is the result of that challenge.
Cesar nails the horrific and the weird. This isn’t stomach-turning viscera, though that isn’t too far around the corner. Instead, this is a lovely example of Weird fiction.
Some of the stories do venture into the gruesome. None of them shy away from sex, violence or uncomfortable situations, yet they also bring forward an unexpected tenderness in some cases.
Cesar is a member of Outer Alliance, an advocacy group for the positive inclusion of LGBTQ issues and characters in genre fiction, and 12 Burning Wheels does a great job of traditional and non-traditional relationships, and portraying both the positive and the negative.
Particular stories stuck with me, long after I went on to other things.
The Scryer is visceral, brutal and nasty. It also has a solid bit of world-building behind it, and would do well as an expanded story. Lemonade, the synopsis of a play, has the potential to be a great New Weird novel.
Mantis Love is a gentler piece, quite melancholy in its portrayal of a gay couple attending prom and the results of that. The weird, in this story, is a backdrop, the focus seems to be on the couple, and that brings an entirely different mood. Madre Catrina is another story that focuses on the characters, and brings out Cesar’s gift for showing the subtle dynamics of a relationship.
My personal favorite? Dig Your Own Hole. Straight Weird with strong mythological elements. For this one, in particular, the shorter length was perfect.
The strengths of this collection are in the subtle details of weirdness that slip into the most common-place description, and in the delicate portrayal of relationships. Cesar stays away from shmoopy romance to portray the reality and challenge in a sympathetic light.
12 Burning Wheels could benefit from expansion. Given the scope of the challenge set for himself, what Cesar has here is impressive, and I would like to see what these stories would do as longer works.
Keep an eye on this guy. Seriously.
(Disclaimer: I was given this ARC to review. The opinions are my own, and not influenced by anyone/thing except my own disturbed brain. I received no compensation for doing so. Promise. No, you don’t get to go poke around in my soul-closet. There’s no one there that you need to worry about. Now SHOO!)