Review: Definitely Maybe by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky

By Ho Lin


“Suddenly the front door swung open, and in walked…” This incomplete sentence, which occurs a third of the way into Arkady and Boris Strugatsky’s delightful Definitely Maybe, is a tease, a taunt, and a mission statement. We’ve come to expect a certain amount of knottiness in our so-called serious literature and understand puzzlement is part of the game, yet it’s still a shock to encounter it in genre fiction, where at its best plot, character, and theme are still delivered in neat, enjoyable bundles. Suffice to say we never learn who walks in through that door and what happens immediately afterwards. Yet it doesn’t matter. Definitely Maybe is that rarest of creatures, a science fiction novella that is also a book of questions without answers. Read More

Review: The Mongolian Conspiracy by Rafael Bernal

By Ho Lin

That .45 was part of him, part of Filiberto García, as much as his name and his past. Fucking past!
  — Rafael Bernal, The Mongolian Conspiracy (1969)

 “You say ‘fuck’ a lot.”
  —Kim Basinger, L.A. Confidential (1997)

conspiracyThe word “fuck” is deployed fast and furious by Filiberto García in Rafael Bernal’s The Mongolian Conspiracy — easily hundreds of times — and given that Filiberto is a public dick whose Christian name also means “dick,” this all might seem excessive to certain discerning readers. But to García and Bernal, the f-word, in all its vulgar, existential aggravation, is the only sane response to a Mexico City reeking with corruption, drug lords, would-be revolutionaries, lecherous Chinatown kingpins, payouts in fifty-dollar bills, and, yes, conspiracies. A former revolutionary himself, García now toils as a cop (read: hitman) for the ruling party and has plenty to be steamed about: within the next two days, he must investigate wild rumors of an assassination plot against the U.S. President by the Mongolians (fucking Outer Mongolia!), play nice with American and Russian agents who have their own Cold War priorities (fucking gringos!), and ferret out the truth from a thicket of untruths, secrets, and misdirection (fucking mission!), all the while babysitting and lusting after an illegal immigrant from China who may not be so innocent but is too comely to ignore (fucking Marta!). Read More