SHORT STORIES are rarely cozy. They have no time to build lush settings for the reader to inhabit, or to weave complex connections between their characters, the kind that makes them feel familiar, predictable. Perhaps the most comfortable subspecies in this otherwise angular genre is the formulaic story: a tale that follows such a recognizable pattern—the crime story; the ghost story—that we already feel a little at home before we even start reading it. It is not surprising then that Ten Planets is a peculiarly uncomfortable short story collection. These 20 bizarre tales by Mexican-born writer and political scientist Yuri Herrera, first collected in the original Spanish as Diez Planetas in 2019 and now newly translated into English by Lisa Dillman, are rarely longer than a handful of pages. Their characters have ambitions, anxieties, and misgivings about their lives, but we barely get to know them before we reach the end of their story. And yet the stories are formulaic too: this is very much fantastic fiction, although narrowing the genre further would be somewhat tricky. The collection employs many of the fantastic tropes that have become part of our shared culture—aliens and monsters, rebellious technology, spaceships leaving a condemned, decaying earth—except even these tropes are confused, short-circuited. Ten Planets ' tapestry of situations and characters feels familiar—until Herrera, time and again, pulls the rug out from under our feet. It is hard to overstate how central this feeling of disorientation is to the experience of reading Ten Planets . It is at once the book's most infuriating feature and its most alluring. “The Objects,” for example, is a tale of workplace alienation where a resigned protagonist tries to save a fragile colleague from making a mistake he might regret later—in a context where workers have to undertake an uncomfortable process of animal metamorphosis at the end of every shift. “The Objects” ends with an ominous reference to certain “carnivores” that the fragile colleague might be running with, although whether this should be read as an encouraging fact, or as the mark of his downfall, remains a mystery to […]
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