There was one night when a man came in and bought a bottle of storm clouds. He claimed to be a poet. "I needed the rain," he said. "I couldn't write in this goddamn heat."Loss, I believe, is a theme in fiction that's difficult to capture resonantly in prose but authoress Eliza Victoria's anthology was essentially able to bottle it in a condensed volume that features sixteen tales ranging from horror, science fiction and fantasy. Curiously entitled A Bottle of Storm Clouds, the thematic bulk of Victoria's short stories is usually about losses and the dangerous and often pitiful coping mechanisms creatures of brevity such as ourselves can only cling onto in order to survive tragedies.
"What did he pay for that?" I asked.
"That's just a week's supply of storm clouds," Ana said, "so I only asked for six months of his life. I'm going to use that for my sunflowers. That way, they wouldn't wait for a long time--isn't that fantastic?"
I hoped the man wrote good poems.
I can't even begin to describe the impactful deftness of Victoria's style. I once described her prose to be "Chandleresque" but this was more present in her novella Dwellers which was a supernatural mystery/psychological horror piece about cousins who can inhabit other people's bodies as vessels. In this volume, that same quality is still present but with less noir and more infused with fantasical inclinations, considering Victoria writes generally for the speculative fiction genre. This collection of hers, in my opinion, offers some of the best short stories I have ever had the pleasure to read.
We have her mediations on quasi-science fiction tales such as Intersections and Parallel which both deal with alternate universes and the repercussions of attaining the ability for dimensional travel. Other sci-fi pieces are Earthset and The Just World of Helena Jiminez, the latter of which was part of the Diaspora Ad Astra anthology I reviewed last month. We also have Night Out that tackles prostitution and homosexuality in a more futuristic setting. Victoria's writing is never delicate when telling these stories and I will not have them told in any other way. Nothing about her fiction is painless as it is a very earnest examination of the things that have the ability to destroy us.
Her horror stories can be both folklore-oriented such as Sand, Crushed Shells and Chicken Feathers and Ana's Little Pawnshop at Makiling St. or makes use of more metaphorical monsters like in An Abduction of Mermaids and The Storyteller's Curse. Even her fantasy has some grounded truth to them which can be found in her reimagining of the Cain and Abel biblical story in Reunion. Other times they can just be short and spooky such as the final story in the collection entitled Once in a Small Town which is I think under 500 words.
My personal favorites have to be the very first story I read from her (featured in the anthology, Demons of the New Year) named Salot; the surprising Sugar Pi about a highschool mathematical genius and his best friend on a quest to figure out the last digits of Pi; the satirical The Man on the Train which is a quintessential bereavement story; a deconstructed Aswang story called Monsters; and the enchanting Siren's Song that is probably the longest piece of the collection, and one that stayed with me in a blinding moment of terror and acceptance.
I once again recommend another accomplished Eliza Victoria book. I am so happy that I decided to pursue her writing after coming across Salot months ago. This is a very imaginative and memorable anthology of speculative fiction and, if you're a Filipino who can access this at your local bookstore, then you're missing out if you don't pick this one up soon!
* An impeccable, spellbinding volume that cuts and wounds