As many writers know, waiting for inspiration to strike is not the best recipe for creative productivity. Having some time between novel manuscripts, author Cesar Torres challenged himself to pen twelve stories in twelve days. Armed with nothing but a handful of ideas and some serious writing chops, Torres crossed the gap between desire and the dreaded blank page to produce The Twelve Burning Wheels. The reader is led by the hand down into the rabbit hole to discover a mescaline-tinged world filled with wonder, strangeness and dark things rippling just below the surface.
First and foremost, The Twelve Burning Wheels is an immanently enjoyable read. There’s just not a bad story in the bunch. Torres throws down the gauntlet with what he describes as ‘the most conventional story’ and opens the collection with The Broken Chest, a tale that evokes the best of classic Ray Bradbury or Harlan Ellison. It’s that good. Another standout is Lemonade: an Electric Opera in Six Parts, an outrageously absurd tale of fractured, mythic delirium. My ADD-addled-borderline-Aspergian brain will never look at lemons the same way. The closing story, Machina, is one of those rare pieces I find inspiring and infuriating — why didn’t I write this? Where does this Torres come off writing something so perfectly realized?
Although the collection never sags, some stories beg for further exploration; tales like The Scryer, We Merge and Victoria establish settings that need to be explored again. And again. These aren’t half-baked stories, but hopefully portents of things to come.
Throughout the collection, Torres skillfully plucks an emotion from behind your ear, like a magician’s misdirection with a coin. He never hits you over the head with brute emotion, he artfully lets it creep up on you. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the story Dig Your Own Hole, where the quiet unease becomes unsettling as the characters (and reader) wait for an impending eclipse.
Torres’ display of craft is impressive; the breadth of style, voice and sheer imagination contained in The Twelve Burning Wheels is a testament to the author’s skill. Which isn’t surprising — books aren’t the fruit of some nebulous union between muse and writer, but by an author who bangs out a word at a time with an eye on craft and detail. A writer who doesn’t wait for inspiration. Torres’ dedication is apparent — he’s a writer that can shatter reality and weld the remaining pieces into something dark, something wonderful.