Sunday, August 11, 2019

Burn the Ships, by Alberto Yáñez

★★★★☆ Clever Combination of Themes

(Alternate History Fantasy) European invaders with near-modern technology conquered a Mexico where the magic really worked, but the natives are preparing a rebellion. (7,688 words; Time: 25m)

"Burn the Ships," by (edited by Nisi Shawl), appeared in (RSR review), published on by .

Mini-Review (click to view--possible spoilers)

Review: 2019.268 (A Word for Authors)

Pro: The setting seems to be a Mesoamerican Fantasy world invaded by a 1930s-technology European world. The characters use Aztec words for things, but they aren’t really the Aztecs any more than the typical characters in a medieval-European-style fantasy are English, French, or German. Like the Aztecs, though, they worship a god who feeds on human sacrifice.

Nor are the Dawncomers much like the Conquistadors, although, like Cortez, they did burn their ships after they arrived. For one thing, they’ve got radio, trains, and machine guns. For another, they’re actively trying to exterminate the natives, not just conquer them.

Quineltoc’s god almost seems to be working with the Dawncomers. He seems to know the mass slaughter of the “cull” is coming and all he’s interested in is getting all those souls for himself. Quineltoc is way too slow to realize that his god has betrayed him.

Citlal’s strategy is very clever. She too knows the cull will release a huge amount of blood and souls, but her plan is to make unhealthy deals with dark spirits and channel that flood of magical energy into something that can destroy the Dawncomers—or at least knock them off their pedestal.

I give the story big points for foreshadowing what all of this magic is going to cost. At the end, Quineltoc has lost his connection to his god, and he realizes his wife means more to him than anything else.

Citlal will give her life to turn off the dark magic that slew the Dawncomers. I really liked that fact that her sacrifice isn’t to destroy her enemies; it’s to protect her people from the tool she used. I also liked the fact that the Dawncomers will have a place in the society to come; she hasn’t replaced one war of extermination with another one. Likewise, I was glad that she rebuffed the god, rejecting his demands for more human sacrifices.

Con: Quineltoc’s arc feels incomplete. He realizes he loves his wife more than his god, but we don’t see what happens when he realizes he’s lost them both. A different problem is that I never felt a strong emotional attachment to any of the characters, so while I was happy to see them win, there wasn’t any real emotional punch either for their victory or for the price they paid.

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Alberto Yáñez Info: Interviews, Websites, ISFDB, FreeSFOnline

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3 comments (may contain spoilers):

  1. One of the things I found interesting in this story was it's closeness to the Jewish Days of Awe. Where God opens the book of life at the beginning, Rosh Hashanah, and closes it 10 days later on Yom Kippur. Prayers like "Hear the Living Lord" reminds me of the Shema "Hear O'Israel, the Lord is God". And when they pray, "who by firs, who by water,..." again similar to Jewish prayer during this time. I was wondering if the author had any influences from the Jewish faith for this?

  2. Reprinted online at Lightspeed 126 (Nov 2020):