Strange Horizons review: Rosa Montero, Tears in Rain (2011/2)

Today, Strange Horizons publish my review of Tears in Rain by Rosa Montero (translated from the Spanish by Lilit Zekulin Thwaites). The book came from the SH review pile, and I was especially interested in reading it because it’s a work of science fiction in  translation – and we don’t see nearly enough of those in Anglo-American publishing. It’s not just the case that sf imprints don’t often publish translations; publishers who specialise in translated works don’t often cover science fiction (with the odd exception like Haikasoru).

So when a translated work of sf does come along, it is still something notable. Sadly, though, Tears in Rain is not a good book.

It’s a common enough view (one for which I generally have little time) that “mainstream” writers who use sf tropes recycle them unimaginatively because they’re unfamiliar with how they have been used in the past. What concerns me more is when sf writers who do know the tropes are still content to just go through the motions – and this latter is what Tears in Rain feels like to me. But I would not consider Montero a genre sf writer, so why does her novel have such an air? I tried to explore something of this, albeit indirectly, in the review.

In my mind, I kept coming back to the idea of “off-the-shelf futures” that came up in the discussion of Paul Kincaid’s LA Review of Books piece (see the comments for his use of that term). I think that’s what we see in Tears in Rain: a kind of science-fictional future which is so familiar as an archetype that you don’t need to be steeped in knowledge of sf to draw on it – and one so familiar that it has no purchase on the imagination. This – coupled with a thriller plot that doesn’t thrill – is what’s at the root of Tears in Rain’s weaknesses.

Click here to read the review in full.

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