Size / / /

You Glow In The Dark coverLiliana Colanzi’s first collection in English, Our Dead World (2017), was so intriguing and strange that, when I found out about her second collection, You Glow in the Dark, I nearly jumped through the computer to get a copy. In that first book, Colanzi imagined, among other things, a cold, lonely colony on Mars; a meteorite potentially controlled by aliens; and a girl pushed into a nervous breakdown by her fanatical mother (à la Stephen King’s Carrie [1974]). You Glow in the Dark offers readers a similarly vibrant and diverse constellation of stories, but here Colanzi is also playing with time. Some of the worlds in these texts span eons, while others exist in a kind of non-time, unlocatable but tethered just enough to our reality that they can be understood. And then there’s the title story … but all in good time.

The first two stories in the collection—“The Cave” and “Atomito”—play around with time quite differently. Against the backdrop of the slowly shifting environment inside a cave in or near Oaxaca, human (and alien?) desires, tragedies, and conflicts play out, all recorded either on the walls or in an evolving organic mass inhabited by numerous bacteria, insects, and small creatures. In this cave, a prehistoric woman gives birth to twins and records their footprints on a section of wall; a “silvery flame” appears out of nowhere and contributes to bountiful harvests in the surrounding village; a pair of lovers from warring clans hides out for the night; and more. Indeed, each microstory in “The Cave” features a kind of birth: human and nonhuman babies, alien microorganisms, the advent of time-travel portals, and so on.

Time then seems to fold in on itself in “Atomito,” in which the Tùpac Katari Nuclear Research Plant is being linked by surrounding residents to strange ailments and unexplained events. When a group of friends gather at one of their homes to mourn the passing of Kurmi Pérez’s mother, an explosion caused by lightning releases something from the plant—“souls,” Kurmi says to her dead mother, who’s apparently inhabiting her brain. One friend then wanders off, under a “spell,” collecting other zombie-like people as he walks toward the plant, while an art restorer working on an eighteenth-century painting looted from a church and recovered by the police starts seeing the plant’s mascot, Atomito, in the corner of the painting; it grows clearer after the explosion.

“The Debt” and “Chaco” are less otherworldly but, if possible, more sinister. In the former, a woman accompanies her aunt to a small village to recover a debt, wondering all along when she should tell the older woman that she’s pregnant and fearing the reaction she’ll get. The decaying, dying village makes the younger woman queasy and her dreams become stranger—she keeps seeing the woman she thinks is her mother, always just out of reach. Her aunt raised her, explaining that her mother just ran off one day, and this seems true until, of course, someone in the village tells her otherwise. And then there’s the man with the shotgun who greets the two women when they arrive to collect on the debt …

Like Kurmi in “Atomito,” the young boy in “Charco” finds that he has another consciousness inhabiting his mind. After throwing a rock at and killing a Mataco man who was lying drunk on the side of the road one day, the boy starts experiencing the dead man’s thoughts and memories, especially his lamentations about those of his people who died over the years. The boy then uses the same stone to kill his angry, critical grandfather—and then nearly uses it to kill a child before hitchhiking to a city, where he’s hit by a car.

An evil spirit (or possibly the Devil) shows up in “The Greenest Eyes” and “The Narrow Way,” literally in the former and as a threat in the latter. Lured to a cramped storeroom by the promise of fulfilling her greatest wish—to have beautiful green eyes like her Italian father, and not the dark brown eyes of her mother and everyone else in their Andean village—Ofelia asks the man she finds there for green eyes and signs a form. It turns out that he isn’t really a man at all. In “The Narrow Way,” though, the Devil is often invoked but never actually appears, despite being used to keep villagers within the boundaries of their land (think M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village [2004]). This isn’t frightening enough for two sisters who desperately wish to escape: when a boy they know is given a small sphere that can neutralize the electric fence keeping them in, the girls plot to leave the suffocating surveillance of the Reverend (who’s always preaching about the Outside being the Devil’s habitation) and the rest of the village’s adults.

Of all the tales in You Glow in the Dark, the title story (which is also the last) is the only one set in a very specific time and place and based on a real event: Brazil’s Goiânia radiological accident, which occurred in September 1987. Jumping back and forth in time, “You Glow” is told from multiple points of view, forming a patchwork of scenes and conversations that, together, offer readers a more human, nuanced version of the accident than anything gleaned from a textbook or an internet article. We witness the first time that the scrapyard dealer cracks open the shell of a capsule to handle the shining flakes of highly radioactive cesium chloride inside; we learn about all of the irradiated clothing, toys, books, and other materials that were buried in the “Nuclear Cemetery” in lead containers; and we hear about the protests of local residents wishing to have the waste moved elsewhere. At the end, one of the men exposed to the radiation is used as a draw for crowds eager to see a man who glows in the dark.

Unexpected, surreal, and sinister, the stories in You Glow in the Dark are beautifully translated from the Spanish by Chris Andrews and underscore Colanzi’s place as one of the most interesting and magnetic writers producing speculative fiction today.

Rachel Cordasco has a PhD in literary studies and currently works as a developmental editor. When she’s not at her day job or chasing three kids, she’s writing reviews and translating Italian speculative fiction. She runs the website, and can be found on Twitter.
Current Issue
13 May 2024

This variation on the elixir of life pairs the flavour of roasted roc with the medicinal potency of the philosopher’s stone. But buyer beware: this dish isn’t for everyone.
mourn and lament while mixing, then cut down a tree
At the end of every tunnel, there was an epithelium of silence that deluged the larynx.
Issue 6 May 2024
Issue 29 Apr 2024
Issue 15 Apr 2024
By: Ana Hurtado
Art by: delila
Issue 8 Apr 2024
Issue 1 Apr 2024
Issue 25 Mar 2024
By: Sammy Lê
Art by: Kim Hu
Issue 18 Mar 2024
Strange Horizons
Issue 11 Mar 2024
Issue 4 Mar 2024
Issue 26 Feb 2024
Load More