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Love. An Archaeology by Fabio Fernandes

(Luna Press, 2021)

Reviewed by Duncan Lawie

There are several absolute stand out stories in Love. An Archaeology and not a single dud. This is simply a wonderful collection. The shortest stories, at a couple of pages, still have room to be playful, to deliver a central image and to leave the feeling that they are just the tip of the iceberg. At a greater length, Fernandes has a tendency to break up his narrative into smaller chunks, sometimes creating tension through the ordering of elements or simply leaving gaps for the reader to fill. Several stories begin by foreshadowing the death of the protagonist, whilst one has a rather dark murderer. Half of the longer stories are told in the first person, creating even more room for an unreliable narrator.

Fernandes wrote some of the fifteen stories in English and some in Portuguese, apparently translating them to English himself. The stories set in Brazil are enriched by their casual familiarity with the locations even as Sao Paolo shares the lineaments of the global metropolis. The only stories which have a clear genre are a couple of steampunk items — most make use of the whole orchestra of ideas, sliding from Buddhist-in-space to time travel or from memoir into horror. Fernandes uses his setting and his characters to build an inevitable outcome which still contains surprises. Viewed from the end point, the threads of each story pull together beautifully; but, as the story progresses, each section can be distracting, confusing or delightful but rarely giving the appearance of coherence. Having experienced this a couple of times, the reader is looking for the signposts to how the pieces might fit together. This reader missed them almost every time, repeatedly jolted by a change which I couldn’t see coming.

Amidst this richness, three stories particularly stood out for me. The first, ‘The Emptiness in the Heart of All Things’, is set in Brazil’s back country, where a young police woman, confident in her big city career progress, finds herself out of place, confronted by the degradations of the rural poor. The older woman she has come to investigate seems to have stepped away from the literary world into obscurity — but her practical help for the country women is not merely rooted in empathy and politics. When domestic violence is ignored by the authorities, does the rumoured night creature exist, and is she delivering justice or revenge?

The second, ‘The Remaker’, takes as its theme a story by Borges. In both the Borges and this story, a writer called Pierre Menard is re-writing the classics. Literally, word for word, writing them again. Fernandes pushes this idea further, with the actual publications being republished. There is something absurd in the idea that the narrator believes the story to have been written again, rather than a simple replacement of the author’s name. And yet that absurdity fits neatly amidst the metatextual, with quoting from more sources than I recognise. Even whilst Fernandes plays such games, he has room to create a convincing character for the narrator, his meta-gender girlfriend and the somewhat familiar near future Sao Paolo. The result calls to mind both Paul McAuley’s Fairyland and Blade Runner whilst maintaining its own distinct character.

The final piece is also my third, the title story, ‘Love. An Archaeology’. If there was a Device which could let you look at alternate timelines in the recent past, what would you do? Would you be able to resist looking at the life you might have lived? But that is an understanding the reader needs to build from jumbled fragments. I thought I detected an error in the printing, when two sections had identical paragraphs — which was, in fact, the point; at least until divergence was reached. And then the final sections reframe the story further, multiplying the melancholia.

Powerful, subtle, beautiful.

Review from BSFA Review 16 - Download your copy here.


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