The Continental Scene
Sergio Gaut vel Hartman, Argentina
Originally appeared in Asimov 20 (Sept/Oct 2005)
Translation: Daniel W. Koon
When Augusto Uribe got us involved in his project Latinoamérica Fantástica, the anthology which Ultramar published in 1985, Argentina was experiencing a moment of great cultural effervescence, brought on by her return to democracy after eight years of military “process”. In our field, the literature of the fantastic, that pot had been brought to boiling by El Péndulo, Marcial Souto’s magazine, and simmered by the publishing house Minotauro, which in those years brought out a collection of books that gave an opportunity to some writers who had been working in this genre for some time. Meanwhile, during the lapse when El Péndulo ceased to appear, for strictly “commercial” reasons, Marcial Souto was at the forefront of the magazine Minotauro’s second epoch, an odd interlude which, although not a literal reincarnation of the magazine, still managed to retain something of the good sf flavor which Francisco Porrúa’s publication had had in the sixties.
We can confidently describe that as the panorama at the time, at least in Argentina. Gorodischer, Shua, Gardini, Gandolfo, Levrero, Mouján Otaño, and some other writers served as a guiding light for those less accomplished who began to hone their craft in the fanzines or who were coming in from outside the field. These new names, Ramos Signes, Gimenez, De Bella, De Giovanni, Moledo, Viti, Carletti, Carson, Alzogaray, Parini, Morales, Barbieri, Sayegh, filled up the pages of Uribe’s aforementioned anthology and of other publications. Still, buoyed by the euphoria of the moment, we barely noticed that the “Latin American” in the title was limited to one Brazilian and three Uruguayans -- maybe four, if we count Jaime Poniachick as one (I’m not sure from which side of the Rio de Plata he sprung.) -- and thus Latinoamérica Fantástica came off as an Argentine anthology with assorted “guests”. What did we know back then about what was being written outside our country’s borders? The names of only a handful of writers rang a bell with us, and for most of these writers we had read only a story or two. In Chile there was Hugo Correa, to whom Nueva Dimensión had dedicated a special issue, Elena Aldunate, Antonio Montero (who signed his works Antoine Montagne) and Miguel Arteche, whose novel El Cristo hueco had been published in Spain. The Uruguayans, Mario Levrero and Tarik Carson were “locals”, because they lived and published in Argentina, and so too, after a fashion, were Carlos María Federici and W. Gabriel Mainero, since communication with the other shore of the Rio de la Plata was always good. In those days, the Cuban Ángel Arango sent us some books of his own and others which were published in his country, and from that we knew that Bruno Henríquez, Daína Chaviano, Félix Lizárraga, Gregorio Ortega, Eduardo Frank, and a few others existed. The Primera Antología de Ciencia Ficción Latino-Americana (1970) and another, Lo mejor de la ciencia ficción Latinoamericana (1980), somewhat stranger still, with stories compiled by Bernard Goorden and A. E. Van Vogt, had in its time stimulated our imagination, approaching what was being produced in the rest of America. But the nearly monolithic Argentinean composition of Latinoamérica Fantástica was a strong wake up call. Where were those “others” who had appeared in those books and those we had not heard of again? Luis Britto García, José B. Adolph, René Rebetez, Álvaro Menén Desleal, René Avilés Fábila, Eugenio Alarco? Venezuela, Peru, Mexico, El Salvador? Must we assume that their appearances were the product of isolated forays into the field of fantastic literature? Today it is easy to say yes. They were writers who in most cases had developed their careers in the mainstream and had nothing to do with the genre. The impossibility of forging a commercial market was at once both attractive and off-putting. And the affection for the topics and forms of English-speaking science fiction in texts of that era betrayed a certain thematic frailty, a mimetic spirit and the scarce interest of the writers to commit themselves to long-range projects or to laying the foundations for developing their own voices.
In that sense the works of two Argentine writers are paradigmatic. Eduardo Goligorsky used science fiction as a resource for investigating the social and political aspects of reality from a fantastic perspective, and H. G. Oesterheld, in the storyline of his comic strip “El Eternauta”, proposed an ideological reading of the relations between the Northern and Southern hemispheres. These two writers marked the point of departure for a search for identity in which one was forced to discard the old stereotypes.
Still, not everybody viewed this exploration as the ideal approach for recovering a shattered distinctiveness. Emilio Serra, in an article appearing in the bulletin Gigamesh Number 2, March/April 1986, argued that, while “I am not dead set against claiming the indigenous traits which one imagines to recognize within himself (...) it seems absurd and sad to me to go to extremes of bitter chauvinism, of stubborn and obstinate nationalism against any innovative detail which might come from outside.”
I do not deny that in the primary phase of self-recovery some “chauvinist” excesses may have been committed. But this was never the norm, much less a self-imposed trait. Nor can one interpret history as saying that Argentine writers embrace political fiction and a science fiction with a “national” bias, abandoning any form that links us to the “foreign”. But it is possible to sniff out some clues that will outline our search for an identity. Perhaps there were enough to show that in those years we were emerging from a very dark night and needed to exorcize a few demons. The benchmark was Carlos Gardini’s story “Primera línea”, the winner of a very important competition that included Jorge Luis Borges among its judges, and other stories of that writer that appeared in his two first books of stories. El Péndulo’s inclination to assimilate native fiction, the theoretical stamp that Professor Pablo Capanna’ reflections lent and the efforts derived from the fact that we were capable of creating our own means of expression, the fanzines, had permitted us to throw off our moorings and almost without selecting a course they had sent us off to conquer unexplored territories.
In 1985 there was more than one validation. At that time the collection of books edited by Minotauro and also directed by Souto allowed us to evolve from stories in magazines and fanzines to actual books. In rapid succession: Gardini, Gorodischer, Levrero, Ramos Signes, Giménez, Shua, Axpe and myself. Eight authors, 10 books. At the same time, the publishing house Editorial Universitaria of Buenos Aires published La ciencia ficción en la Argentina, Antología crítica, compiled by Marcial Souto, echoing various of these same names and adding Elvio Gandolfo and three countrymen from the previous generation: Alberto Vanasco, Eduardo Goligorsky and Juan Jacobo Bajarlía.
What was happening in other parts of Latin America at that very moment? In an article entitled "Breve historia de la Ciencia-Ficción mexicana", Miguel Angel Fernández points out that the most prolific writers in his country between 1950 and 1983 were Marcela del Río, René Avilés Fabila, René Rebetez, and Alfredo Cardona Peña and that "with novels like Mejicanos en el espacio, by Carlos Olvera, the attempts, albeit unconvincing, had begun to give a unique face to science fiction ‘made in Mexico’". Of course, in Fernández' eyes, and I totally agree, the absence of Mexicans in Goorden and Van Vogt’s and in Augusto Uribe's 1985 anthology underlines the simplest, most basic of the problems: you can't choose what you don’t know. This is no knock against the compiler; we were isolated islands and one could navigate towards us without a trusty map. . .
It is no less true that in 1979, in the first edition of the Encyclopedia of Science fiction, Peter Nicholls dedicates exactly 75 words (Fernández has counted them) to science fiction in Latin America. We believed that we existed, but that was not enough for the others to perceive us...
It is in this same epic that some of the most genuine and original writers began to appear in Mexico. The First National competition in science fiction stories in Puebla was won by "La pequeña guerra" by Mauricio-José Schwarz. Subsequent years of the contest have sought to give the genre its own identity in the country, choosing texts both that were worthy of being published on their own merits and that incorporated singular national aspects. That is how writers like Héctor Chavarría, Federico Schaffler, Gabriel Trujillo, Gerardo Horacio Porcayo and José Luis Zárate, among others, came to be discovered.
Raúl Aguiar in his article "La ciencia ficción en Cuba" points out that the decade of the 1980s was the golden age of science ficiton in his country. Classic books were republished, and new writers appeared: Roberto Estrada, Julián Pérez, Félix Mondejar, Juan Carlos Reloba, Rodolfo Pérez Valero, Eduardo Barredo (a Chilean, but residing in Cuba since 1974), Arnoldo Águila and two young, promising writers who in 1988 shared the last "David" prize: María Felicia Vera and José Miguel Sánchez (Yoss). This latter, as we shall soon see, has ceased being a promising writer and has become a solid and mature creator, one of the most important in Latin America.
Pausing at this point, we could review the books and writers which emerged for the readers’ attention on the continent between 1980 and 1990 as a point of departure for our upcoming analysis both of what followed and of what was left in the dust. In Chile the last book by Hugo Correa appears, “El nido de las furias”, but the handful of names and books that we could list does not carry on to the present day: Carlos Sepúlveda, Bernardo Weber, Edward Grove, Juan Ricardo Muñoz.
To sketch the lines that link the genre and its readers perhaps it is enough to study the capacity of the published works to create local critical masses of interest. In Colombia, for example, the work of Antonio Mora Vélez stands out. His collection of stories Glitza (1979), El juicio de los dioses (1982) and Lorna es una mujer (1986) have been sufficient to earn him a reputation, but not enough to stimulate interest in science fiction in his country. There was not then nor is there today any activity aside from isolated events. In Venezuela, against a similar backdrop, the effect was, however, different. We've already cited Luis Britto García. The short stories of Rajatabla (1970) and the stories in La orgía imaginaria (1984) can be considered as works of this genre. Professor Andrea Bell, in her article "El cuento breve venezolano contemporáneo", referring to this writer, points out that he “demonstrates a predilection for the creation of imaginary worlds and for inserting fantastic and disquieting elements into a familiar and comfortable reality". This does not mean that Britto García is a writer "of” the genre, but he's never been afraid to be "in" the genre, even if this presence seems limited to a handful of writings. Although it is very difficult, from a distance and without any more than a few random stories to judge by, to distinguish between a nucleus of "activists", small but resistant, and the total absence of activity, I'm going to appeal to what a Venezuelan writer, Jorge De Abreu, who fortunately remains active, wrote in 1984, in an article entitled "Una Veta sin Explotar": "Science fiction allows for an infinite variety of themes; it is a mine which has gone unappreciated in our region because of ignorance. Just imagine a new generation of writers who will revolutionize science-fiction (...) that express with deepness and complexity the world of today, of yesterday and of always". The same Jorge, in Cygnus at the time and in electronic publications today, as essayist, editorial and writer of fictions, has worked to bring about this new generation of writers. . .
But let's take a few steps backwards and close out the decade of the 1980's before entering into the 1990's and beyond (or closer).
In Argentina, the euphoria of the first few years gave way to a progressive saturation of the principal actors or of their leaving the genre to explore other territories. The magazines and fanzines like Sinergia and Nuevomundo, and even professional experiments like my own magazine, Parsec, disappeared -- with the honorable exception of Cuasar, which continues its existence -- and the groups and associations of fans broke down. But if it remains clear that Angélica Gorodischer, Ana María Shua, Elvio Gandolfo and Eduardo A. Gimenez stopped hanging around, it is no less certain that a handful of other writers, with ups and downs, took responsibility for giving continuity to their work. The swan song of the period was the competition organized by Ultramar and El Péndulo, which gave rise to Historia de la fragua, y otros inventos, a collection of stories which brought together highly honored writers (Gorodischer, Gardini), infrequent unknowns (Boido, Figueras, Suchowolski) and absolute unknowns (López Ocón, Schapira, Segovia). The most effective omen of what was about to occur was, rightly, that we never heard again from the "unknowns" and that there was no second competition. Did the same thing happen anywhere else?
Miguel Ángel Fernández says in his previously cited article: "Already discovering its own language, Mexican science fiction begins to analyze itself and to find common denominators with the rest of the Latin American production in the genre, with which it also comes into contact." It's true. And it already coincides with what follows: "The national authors, like many Latin Americans and Third Worlders, take science fiction as a backdrop to present stories of human reaction to technology and the unexplained." Mexico was able to preside, throughout the decade, at the birth and development of a series of talented writers, although it should be stated that in many of them the plots in which they try to explore the response of man to the changes forced on him by science and technology suffer, perhaps in excess, from the influence of North American cyberpunk ". I may be wrong in the degree of this ascendancy, although José Luis Ramírez, in an article entitled "El movimiento", speaks of the "twist given to the Mexican science-fiction in the '90s". Gerardo H. Procayo, José Luis Zárate and Federico Shaffler may have been the unwitting standard bearers of this change, which was made manifest in 1995, when Juan Hernández Luna wins the Puebla prize with a story clearly inscribed with that tendency, Gerardo Sifuentes and José Luis Ramírez create a fanzine specializing in this variant and are the same writers, to which one would have to add Rodrigo Pardo, Bernardo Fernández and Pepe Rojo, who would capture prizes in the following years with cyberpunk short stories. Ramírez, in the article already cited, justifies this tendency, saying that "In the 90’s in Mexico we approached the present -- economic crisis, globalization, revolution, urban violence, narcotrafficking, Internet, commercial openness, the stupid belief that we had left the Third World and were on the verge of becoming part of the First -- and that present is the same one that the writers labeled cyberpunk in the U.S. had worked through ten years ago. For lack of a better term, the new current in Mexico was also labeled cyberpunk." Perhaps it was this extravagant symbiosis, which allowed a reaction against the "enemy" by means of a metamorphosis which converted you into an analogue of it, that permitted Mexican science fiction to survive when that of the other countries was alternating between coma and nothingness ... Porcayo, in a quote which appears in the anthology Visiones periféricas, affirms: "Mexican cyberpunk does not depart in the least from a reaffirmation of the so-called imitatio, from plagiarizing or from climbing aboard prestigious movements. It is only another resource, another manner of allowing the voice in the desert of overinformation to stand out from the thousands of mass media which have created the unexpected static of reality. It is a direct response to an urban medium which is polluted by its own complacencies and pathologies. By its own shit."
There was not any visible cyberpunk in Argentina, for the moment, or if there was it was nothing more than a manifesto of principles which did not see itself reflected in any body of works which could be classified as such; in none of the other countries of Latin America did it acquire the prominence and character that it has had in Mexico.
In his article “La ciencia ficción en la literatura argentina: Un género en las orillas”, Luis Pestarini highlights "an attempt to bring forward a commercially distributed publication, Neuromante Inc., brought into being by a group led by Horacio Moreno, which allowed the sporadic appearance of some young writers strongly influenced by cyberpunk ". But perhaps it was general literature which provided the most definitive signs that, at least in Argentina, the genre was ailing. Marcelo Cohen, Insomnio (1985), El fin de lo mismo (1992), Inolvidables veladas (1996) y Hombres amables (1998); Carlos Chernov, Anatomía humana (1993); Eduardo Blaustein, Cruz diablo (1997); Daniel Sorín, Error de cálculo (1998); Sergio Bizzio En esa época, (2001), demonstrate exactly this: The writers of this genre, with the exception of Gardini with El Libro de la Tierra Negra (1993) and Capanna with his essays on Philip K. Dick, Ballard and the reprinting of El sentido de la ciencia ficción, are in retreat. Gorodischer, Shua y Gandolfo, are decidedly at the edge of the genre.
The situation in Cuba, where the problems occasioned by the fall of communism would wind up crippling local production and exacerbating the effects of a natural decline, particularly obvious coming after such a very active stretch, the advent of a local and late form of cyberpunk would have to wait several more years. Ángel Arango, who had been publishing since 1964 (¿A dónde van los cefalomos? ) and who had presented three books during the 1980s, will remain silent until 1994, when Síder appears. The young hopefuls, like Yoss, Timshel, (1988) or Daína Chaviano, Fábulas de una abuela extraterrestre (1988), would not publish again during the first half of the 1990's. But already we can speak of new tendencies in writers which would appear in the Caribbean island as the new millennium dawns.
We have already hinted that the panorama in the rest of Latin America was not auspicious. The programs of political adjustment, the need to survive through extraliterary activities, the discouragement of cultural activities and a certain exhaustion derived from frustration were all undermining the will of many creators. Spain, which had been a sort of light in the darkness during that time that Nueva Dimensión had its run, had been dimmed since 1983, and the publishing houses, true to the laws of survival, could not even indulge in adventures like Latinoamérica Fantástica.
In 1994, an Argentine publishing house, Huemul, called upon José María Ferrero to compile two anthologies: Fantasía y Ciencia Ficción, Cuentos hispanoamericanos y Fantasía y Ciencia Ficción, Cuentos argentinos. It was not a novelty for a reprinting of stories to come accompanied by a critical study and the corresponding bibliography -- Souto and Uribe had done that before -- but it was unusual for the anthology to have been entrusted to a university professor that we did not know. It was a good sign, and it produced a curious mix of writers, among whom names known from other fields predominated, like Enrique Anderson Imbert, Luis Britto García, Cristina Peri-Rossi, Eduardo Stilman, Roberto Arlt, Jorge Luis Borges, Julio Cortázar, Marco Denevi... The question, as in earlier cases, was posed from shaky ground: should science fiction be based on good literary technique, traveling the path that leads from the form to the idea, or is it preferable that those new to the genre learn the delights of style, of the fine and elegant quill?
A few months later, Ediciones Nuevo Siglo entrusted Pablo Capanna with an anthology destined to put things in their place, balancing past and present, ideas and forms. In El cuento argentino de ciencia ficción there appeared Lugones, Borges, Adolfo Bioy Casares, Oesterheld, Goligorsky, Vanasco, Gorodischer, Mouján Otaño, Gandolfo, Souto, Gardini, Moledo, Segovia, Gaut vel Hartman and Carletti. Everybody? Certainly not. But running through the pages of that book it is possible to find the threads leading to the present. From that point on, although not immediately, after that "permission" conceded by their coexistence within the same anthology with their precursors, we the constructors and the renovators (although that term sounds presumptuous), begin our transition to the present. And more: the present, with all its load of technological novelties, was about to produce the perfect synthesis. In September 1989, silently, Axxón, an electronic magazine which, in its first moments, was distributed on floppy disks, was born. Throughout these 17 years, together with the intrinsic evolution generated by Eduardo Carletti, it began to create a brand-new space for itself, open to all those who could not access the conventional publications. Axxón has not ceased to mutate throughout all this period. The wide-open invitation to everything produced in the Spanish language, whether in Spain or America, fostered an inclination in the writers to send in their material, and it was not that strange that, inaugurating a practice which would be repeated in more than one opportunity, electronic publication sometimes proceeded the publication in hardcopy. My own story, “Náufrago de sí de mismo”, included by Capanna in the anthology of 1995 already cited, passed through Axxón before sitting, in that book, at the table with Borges and Bioy Casares.
But while Axxón was evolving, what was happening in the rest of Latin America? One may notice that several countries in the region have not been mentioned. Is there now a science fiction in Bolivia, for example? Could there be? I will try to respond to this without the need for falling into a Byzantine discussion of what is science fiction. But we cannot avoid describing how the limits of the genre have been expanding and by noting that many writers have learned how to explore the reactions, fears and stimuli to changes in the world and to changes to society without having to live at the epicenter of those changes. One could argue that it's not the same to imagine a scientist working in a laboratory in Pasadena as transporting the action to Beni or Bariloche, but it is not a small thing that science fiction has rediscovered the Third World, and if Greg Eggan can locate “Yeyuka” in Uganda, Don D'Ammassa his “Agente curador” in Morocco and Lucius Sheppard several of his stories in the Caribbean -- to cite only those that come to mind -- then there is no reason for an Ecuadorean or Salvadoran writer to not situate his stories in, or to reflect the issues of, his region.
To search for examples that validate this position, I studied all the panoramas produced by local scholars to find the lights of the genre hiding under the bushes of each of our countries. And in so doing, I will dare to unite the panorama retrospectively with my own current experiences, and so I will leave Argentina till the end and begin my journey marching northward through Chile.
From the other side of the Andes, a handful of valiant writers and publishers are trying to keep the flame of Chilean science fiction alive. Luis Saavedra, visible head of a tiny but enthusiastic movement, for many years directed the fanzine Fobos, where a handful of writers had the opportunity to cut their first teeth. Fobos was published between 1998 and 2004. Twenty-two issues were published in paper form and 23 in electronic format and from the beginning these were distributed for free in Chile. In three successive competitions stories were awarded prizes and the winners went on to be published in book form as the Púlsares series. In February 2003 a second fanzine, TauZero, directed by Rodrigo Mundaca Contreras, appeared, this time entirely digital, as well as a third one, El Calabozo del Androide, directed by Sergio Alejandro Amira. The names, publishers and writers of the three are interchangeable. To these we must add Pablo Castro Hermosilla, Jorge Baradit, Marcelo Quinteros Muñoz,... What do the Chileans write? It is very difficult to extend an opinion in general based on a handful of stories and one will have to wait until these authors write novels. But a first, conditional approximation allows us to state that the plot centers less around technology and more around man, his thoughts and fears.
In Peru the situation is pretty much the same. Groups of fans meet, tell their stories, support a couple of sites on the Internet (Ciencia Ficción Perú, directed by Daniel Salvo and Velero 25, under the direction of Luis Antonio Bolaños) but that doesn’t stop some from collaborating with others and this all points toward the creation of a Peruvian science fiction that will make its name in the world. The most visible figure is the already mentioned Salvo, a fiction writer and assiduous contributor to publications outside his country. But various young (and not so young) creators have begun to pop up, like José de Piérola, Carlos Bancayán Llontop, Pedro Félix Novoa Castillo, Adriana Alarco de Zadra (daughter of Eugenio Alarco, the pioneer of Peruvian science-fiction), Paul Muro Lozada, Manuel Antonio Cuba, Yelinna Pulliti Carrasco and many others. What is peculiar to this science fiction, given that we find ourselves in what was the Incan Empire, is that there exists a genuine preoccupation with the past and an analysis and retelling of native myths.
Although Bolivia's SF scene seems closed off from contact with the exterior world and one doesn't see its authors mixing with others from the Americas, we've been able to verify a preoccupation similar to the one found in Peru. I quote the Bolivian essayist Miguel Esquirol: "How can there be science-fiction in a country where we barely have science? But in Bolivia everything is in place to accept this literary genre as its own: the mix of pre-Columbian cultures with state-of-the-art computers, ancestral monoliths and Boeing 747, which brings Bolivians to lands that do seem futuristic, Internet cafes next to cardboard qhatus, high-tech centers located in the middle of the High Plains. Contradictions that one may encounter within the borders of this country permit us to believe that anything is possible, and science fiction is no more than that." Esquirol complains that despite the existence of the appropriate petri dish, the books they have written are few and unknown. The funny thing is that the impulses seem to come from foreigners: Werner Pless, a German, Harry Marcus, and other German and the most curious case of all, the English anthropologist Alison Spedding, located in Bolivia since the beginning of the '90s, author of the novel De cuando en cuando Saturnina, a work which fuses indigenous elements and high-tech in the year 2086 and which uses science fiction to imagine what would occur if the Aymara people were the dominant force in the region.
What I’ve just written does not imply zero participation in the field by Bolivians. Alvaro Montenegro, Roberto Leiton, Marcela Gutierrez and especially Edmundo Paz Soldán with his novel El delirio de Turing, (2003), show that, even if there exists no notion or consciousness of the genre, the ideas of the clash between the ancestral Universe and the mundane world are present. Very recently, in 2004, El Huésped, by Gary Daher was published. I refer once more to Esquirol: "Although it is more difficult to categorize this novel within science-fiction because of its not having the typical elements (future societies, high-tech), it is clearly within this world, as it tells us a story with different rules than we know, with a culture and social development of its own and with the alienation of the stranger who has to adapt to the unknown."
My hope is to shatter the lack of confidence which the Bolivian seems to have relative to other Latin Americans. It is enormously strange to have the winning stories in hand from a competition organized by the United Nations in Bolivia and to not be able to publish them because there is no way to reach the authors...
As a curious datum I would add that there exists a novel of science fiction written by a Bolivian that is available in digital format. It is Latinoamérica 2025 and its author is Cochamba native Fernando Aracena.
Somehow it is less painful to confront the situation of Bolivia, which might unravel at any moment, than that of Ecuador and Colombia. In the first case it has not been possible to detect writers, nor fans, except for a couple of vague references: in 1975 a writer of some renown in her country, Alicia Yáñez Cossío, published the book El beso y otras ficciones, which contained various stories classifiable within the genre. Much more auspicious and encouraging is the reference which comes with the young Guillermo Andrés Romero, who has just published his first book, entitled Proyecto Akitania, a science-fiction novel, but here the road ends and I have been unable to verify anything more. ..
The first Colombian book recognizable as deliberately science fiction is La nueva prehistoria y otros cuentos, by René Rebetez. We've mentioned this writer, born in 1933 and died in 1999, when we referred to what was published in Mexico between 1950 and 1983 and because he was one of the authors in the Primera Antología de Ciencia Ficción Latino-Americana of 1970. What is certain is that one can hardly call him "a Colombian writer" and this irreducible globetrotter, as Juan Carlos Moyano Ortiz pointed out, "traveled through unexpected territories of the world and of knowledge, and was loyal to his independent spirit and his proclamations as pirate and poet." He is classified by his history, of course, and by his education and passport, as a Colombian, but his influence in the creation of a national science fiction in his own country is weaker. That is not the case, on the other hand, for Antonio Mora Vélez. this writer, born in 1942 in Barranquilla, has remained in the genre continuously since the publication of his first book of stories, Glitza, in 1979, to which followed El juicio de los dioses in 1982 and Lorna es una mujer in 1986. One frequently sees Mora Vélez contributing stories, brief fiction and poems in the most diverse publications, because he fortunately stays active. However, the work of Rebetez and Mora Vélez, in addition to a series of isolated books which have been squeezed out over the years, are not enough to form a leafy and prosperous Colombian science-fiction. Los dioses descienden al amanecer (1990), by Rafael de J. Henríquez and El cero absoluto (1995), by Jaime Restrepo Cuartas are the counterexamples which prove what has already been said, namely that in order for another book of science fiction to appear in the bookstores we would have to wait until Rebetez added something to La nueva prehistoria y otros cuentos. The resulting book was entitled Ellos lo llaman amanecer y otros cuentos and it contained 10 from the earlier and 13 new ones. In a critical study of Colombian science fiction Professor Campo Ricardo Burgos López comments that "science-fiction (in Colombia) constitutes an attempt to fill three holes that exist in our literature: the poverty of thesis or ideas; the poverty in the matter of epic and adventures; the poverty in fantastic literature." For their part, Burgos López, Dixon Moya and Orlando Mejía Rivera complain in an interview that Colombia "is a country which despite (or perhaps because of) its Macondian Garciamarquezism is much more closely allied to realism than to science fiction."
It is possible that the work Contemporáneos del porvenir, primera antología colombiana de ciencia ficción, with Rebetez -- who sadly died a few days before its publication -- selecting stories and writing a prologue, is a worthy attempt to fill those holes. With 18 stories and 3 poems, the anthology tries to cover seventy years of Colombian science fiction, from “La tragedia del hombre que oía pensar” (1936), by María Castello, through promising young writers like Pedro Badrán, Orlando Mejía and the previously cited Burgos López, here in the role of narrator. Of course, neither Rebetez nor Mora Vélez are missing, nor other Colombians of a vast trajectory, like Jaime Lopera, Juan Camargo Gonzalez, Julio Cesar Londono, Juan Carlos Moyano and Germán Espinosa. In an interview, Antonio Mora Vélez pondered how Rebetez “took as the basis of the anthology the stories that he enjoyed from the contest in which they were judged, and others from his friends, those last with the argument that, by dealing with known writers from the mainstream, they would raise the esteem in which the book was held." Beyond this affirmation, the book does not appear to have circulated outside of Colombia, and five years after its publication it has not been outside the country.
Let me point out one last time that, very recently I discovered the existence of a novel from….Campo Ricardo Burgos López, whom I have cited more than once in this work. The novel’s name is José Antonio Ramírez y un zapato (2003) and thanks to it the writer has come to occupy a privileged position in the Colombian science fiction scene. Burgos’ posture with respect to the genre is however eloquent. “In Colombia, if you are a fan of science fiction or fantasy you are always made to feel as if you belong to a satanic cult.” Those are his words. But Mora Vélez does not judge that the book can be classified as science fiction, and so we are right back where we started.
Venezuela is another story. Despite the fact that Luis Britto Garcia has remained more or less faithful to the genre, a group of fans gathered around Jorge De Abreu continues to labor at consolidating a national science fiction. At present, there is Ubik-l, a virtual site in which one can access a lot of information at all levels, and one that also stores the archives of a fanzine called Cygnus, which appeared in March 1986 and lasted till October 1994 and published five issues. Jorge De Abreu, José Parés, Manuel McLure, Rafael Escalona, Víctor Pineda, Wilfredo Puignau and Juan Aguilar parade through its pages, among others. At the end of the 90s, practically the same people produced Desde el lado obscuro and now in the new millennium, Necronomicón, a digital magazine oriented toward the short story, which is going through its sixth issue. The most appreciable difference between Cygnus and the other publications is its openness to collaborations with foreign writers, Spaniards and Argentines mostly. But in Venezuela, just as with almost all the countries of Latin America, there is a lack of a publisher who publishes the new writers with regularity, and it is evident that with only sporadic fits and starts there is no process for drawing them out.
It is natural, therefore, that in Central America, made up of a handful of small countries which, containing only forty million inhabitants maintained artificially isolated by economic interests, no unified cultural or publishing policy has been articulated. Costa Rica, the one which by all appearances has the most audacious aspirations in this regard, supports an unusual level of publishing, although one must say that there has been no flood of science fiction. Still, a book of stories in the genre by Iván Molina Jiménez, La miel de los mudos y otros cuentos ticos de ciencia ficción (2003) has made its way into my hands. One must clarify that “tico” is the popular name of Costa Ricans for themselves. And it is also worth noting my surprise: the stories are not only of a level better than acceptable, but they dare to focus from their own perspective on a series of themes that other nations having greater economic or human resources don’t usually tackle.
In the remaining countries of the region I have hardly been able to detect fans and willing writers, although today they are in a better situation than before, thanks to the Internet. To be sure, today one only needs to produce a quality text to get it accepted…
Mexico and Cuba remain on our list, before we return to the basin of the Rio de la Plata. It is obvious that to deeply analyze the activity that these two countries have displayed in the last few years in the specific field of science fiction would greatly exceed the scope of this article. We have already seen, superficially, the activity of the last two decades. Mexico, even if lacking an effective publishing policy, has witnessed the maturing of a handful of writers, the majority of whom I have named in earlier paragraphs. Among them Gerardo H. Porcayo stands out, having published La Primera Calle de la Soledad (1993), Ciudad espejo, ciudad niebla (1997), Las sentencias de la oscuridad (in installments in 1997), Sombras sin tiempo (1999), Dolorosa (1999), Cuando las sirenas cantan (2003) and José Luis Zárate, with Xanto, novelucha libre (1994), La Ruta del Hielo y la Sal (1998) and Hyperia (1999), but one cannot ignore the contributions of Gerardo Sifuentes, Bernardo Fernández, José Luis Ramírez and Pepe Rojo, among those not previously cited. An anthology from 2002, Visiones periféricas, compiled by the specialist Miguel Ángel Fernández Delgado, brings together these names and some others which we have left out. In this book, perhaps more than in any other expression of Mexican science fiction, it is possible to see the juxtaposition of styles and tendencies. There is, of course, cyberpunk, the form that the Mexicans stubbornly insist on cultivating, but there are also foci of a social bent, satires, and works that deal with aboriginal myths. That multiple direction has been a constant, and it is not at all surprising that writers coming directly from fantasy approach the genre with borderline works in which it is not simple to come away with a classification. Alberto Chimal, Ricardo Bernal, Lorenzo León... But there’s more. In 1994, Federico Schaffler had compiled an anthology in three volumes entitled Más allá de lo imaginado, in which he brought together 42 writers. Many of them, ten years later, reinforced in the genre, are publishing assiduously and serve as a guide to those who come after.
In this attempt to bring under a single roof everything that has been written in a vast and complex space, preserving the differences but seeking the similarities, I have to take a forced breather at Cuba, a small country, populated by barely ten million inhabitants, which has embarked on a political (and consequently cultural) experiment which seems to run counter to history. We have already said that despite the difficulties a new generation made its appearance at the start of the 1990s. José Miguel Sánchez Gómez (Yoss), author of Los pecios y los náufragos (1999) and Al final de la senda (2003); Vladimir Hernández, Nova de Cuarzo (1999); Daína Chaviano, Gata encerrada (1995), Casa de juegos (1996), El hombre, la hembra y el hambre (1998), Azorín prize winner in the category of novel, Michel Encinosa Fú, Sol Negro (2000), Niños de neón (2002) pass from classical science fiction to allegory, epic fantasy and cyberpunk. And now there is more in the oven: Ariel Cruz, Juan Pablo Noroña, Juan Alexander Padrón, Duchy Man, Erick Mota... It is certain that Cuban science fiction has special elements. From the fact that many of its representatives live outside or publish more regularly in Spain than in Cuba, to the peculiar detail that there are sometimes “Cuban” versions of the stories which are published in other places, as I have been able to verify in the anthology Polvo en el viento (1998) which Bruno Henríquez compiled for Ediciones Desde la Gente de Buenos Aires.
Still, the vitality of Cuban science fiction is manifest in the dynamism of its writers, in the ample training most of them enjoy, and in their fertility. Clearly one cannot always accept such a manifestation simply because it is written in an article like this, but it is no coincidence that the names cited above have frequently appeared among the award winners and finalists of literary contests: Yoss and Vladimir Hernández, in particular, have dwelt among the list of winners of the UPC prize and that distinction has been shared only with other Latin Americans from Mexico and Argentina for as far back as I can remember.
I made no mention of Puerto Rico in any of the preceding entry. A special case, that of this Caribbean island, culturally linked to the United States and, in a certain way, a crude generalization, more inclined to enter the English-speaking language zone and erase the letter Ñ from their keyboards than anything else. North American science fiction, as a market, is much more attractive than anything we could offer in Hispanic America. And yet… and yet I have uncovered signs that the tide rolls in and out. If one generation, subjugated by the attractiveness of earning dollars, abandoned the Spanish language, there seems to be a growing renaissance in interest for the tongue of Cervantes. It is premature to pass judgment on the basis of such scant evidence. But many times I wonder if the great map of our language must be bounded by Ushuaia, Mexicali, El Ferrol, Irún, Las Palmas, Havana, Santo Domingo, Ciudad Guayana and Rivera or whether external points to this cartography, like Phoenix, Tucson, Tampa, Malabo, Manila and San Juan de Puerto Rico should not be considered as belonging inside…
Sorry for the geographic digression.
Set to consider the conjunction of the currents, and back in my own city after such a long trip, I pause a moment to say two words about Paraguay and Uruguay, our Mercosur neighbors (the other one, Brazil, is not relevant to the subject of this article.). In Paraguay I have not been able to detect any activities recognizable as science fiction. I have read some stories by Melissa Ballasch, who lives in Asuncion and is only 19 and I have in my folder works from Jorge González, but that is not enough to start to pass judgment yet.
Uruguay is another matter. A long tradition in the realm of fantasy that can be readily recognized with worthy antecedents like Horacio Quiroga (although he lived most of his life in Argentina) and Felisberto Hernández, is carried on in the unclassifiable work of the recently deceased Mario Levrero (Jorge Varlotta). Cristina Peri-Rossi, Armonía Summers and Tarik Carson. But things don’t stop there. There is science fiction in Uruguay as there was before, almost like a faint, but identifiable and unique echo of what has happened in Argentina, and almost with the same frequency and irregularity. Carlos María Federici, Félix Obes, W.Gabriel Mainero are the names which we have become accustomed to seeing in the Argentine and Spanish magazines. Roberto Bayeto, on the other hand, present for many years, seems to be in free ascendancy and his latest works testify to this.
Is there an independent future for Uruguayan science fiction? A handful of books by young writers has just been published, among them Guía para un universo (2004), by Natalia Mardero, a sort of trip journal from a girl from the future who can travel through space and which is a kind of mixture of “Starmaker”, “The Prince” and “Alice in Wonderland”. For his part, Juan Grompone, in Rosa del tercer milenio y otros cuentos (1999), proposes an excursion through seventeen works which, according to Pablo Dobrinin, the greatest contemporary Uruguayan scholar of this field: “with a precise and very agile language, the author constructs solid stories that for the most part find themselves closer to hard science fiction than to fantasy.” What is surprising is that this is the first news we have had of this writer, who is already on his sixth book. Once more, as has happened with almost all of the countries which we have been “visiting”, the problem is more one of diffusion than of generation.
Argentina. 2005. Carlos Gardini has just published Fábulas invernales, finalist for the Minotauro 2003 Prize and also two UPC-Prize-winning novels from this author, under the common name of El libro de las voces have been published, containing “Los ojos de un Dios en celo” (1996) and the story which gives the volume its title, from 2001. Alejandro Alonso, perhaps the most promising figure in the genre in Argentina, published Postales desde Oniris (2004) in Spain and La ruta a Trascendencia, which contains the eponymous novela, winner of the 2002 UPC and seven stories, in our country. Rafael Pinedo, winner of the Cuban Casa de las Américas Prize, with his science fiction novel Plop (a science fiction novel that wins an important mainstream prize), saw a revised edition published by a publisher, Interzona, which launched itself into the publishing of genre books this year with its so-called “linea C” line, directed by Marcelo Cohen. In this more than compressed synthesis we have to ignore projects and proposals, but we can’t leave without mentioning that after twenty years as faneditor, Luis Pestarini has launched himself into professional publishing. It remains to be seen if after having laid a foundation with some Anglophone firms (Egan, maybe Budrys and Sturgeon) he will fancy to publish some Hispanic writers. There were two anthologies, Antología del cuento fantástico argentino contemporáneo, which appeared in 2004, compiled by Gabriel Guralnik and Mañanas en sombras, which appeared a few days ago, a thematic anthology (dystopias and antiutopias), for which he edits these lines. The names that inhabit those pages are, in many cases, the same ones that I have been dropping throughout this article. But there are new names, the names of the near future: Fabio Ferreras, Romina Doval, Guillermo McKay. There are new names in Axxón, almost every month. Ricardo Castrilli, Juan Diego Incardona. Hernán Domínguez Nimo, Nicolás Saraintaris, Martín Cagliani, Sebastián Barrasa, Adrián Ferrero, Víctor Coviello, Olga Appiani, Leonardo Killian, Saurio, Carlos Abraham.
Too many names?
Perhaps I have gotten ahead of myself in that respect, but I can’t speak of what they write if I don’t mention who is writing. Okay, then the question arises: what are they writing?
It is enough to ask the question to see that it is a rhetorical question and that the only response has to be “a little bit of everything.” So let’s change our angle of approach then. What do they propose, what motivates them, what drives them? Easing on back to the beginning, we can say that we are exiting from a long night which contained other long nights with moments of light. At no time in the past was there ever, aside from the individual fits and starts and irreducible stubbornness, the conditions for writers to project a work in time, to organize their steps and to construct the bare bones of a career. If such conditions exist, the writer explores and after a certain amount of time abandons the imported models and go about developing his own stamp, a ground rule for a “style” to emerge. One cannot dispute that the “Capanna law” (Argentine writers ground their science fiction in the fiction rather than in the science.) has continued to exercise its influence on the genre, more as a consequence of circumstance and personnel than from a deliberate intent by the actors, but it is so. There is little “hard” science fiction, little cyberpunk. It is natural enough that Borges, Bioy Casares and Cortázar, although they are not “typical” science fiction writers, influenced the prose of the local writers and their themes and forms, and that the writers wound up embracing a comfortable syncretism. One should not ignore, however, other evident imperatives: the colloquial language of Gorodischer and Gandolfo, the construction of universes with characters custom-built to each fiction, as in Gardini and more recently in Alonso, the preoccupation for making sense of the country’s political decadence, inefficiency and anarchy, as in almost all the authors, either in the language of metaphor or figuratively or in plain language. Of course it seems simpler to point out the disintegration, as Pinedo visualizes it in Plop, Chernov in Anatomía humana, and many others, and thanks to which I was able to compile Mañanas en sombras [Tomorrows in shadows], but apocalyptic nightmares leave the reader exhausted, so there is nothing wrong with giving him a little space for playing (Uchronias are nothing more than brainteasers, chess matches reconstituted as stories.) and the light stuff. Occasionally we will see the next comings of Porcayo’s or Vladimir Hernández’ ciberpunk and other times we will feel ourselves kin to Yoss’ latest space opera. But we will continue to be, at least in the coming years, on the periphery, so that it should not surprise us that in some sense, whichever mask we choose, we will have the hearts and arms of the ethernaut, which will hold us closer to Oesterheld’s epic than any technothriller that pockets a Hugo and slips off down the road.
Sergio Gaut vel Hartman 18-05-05
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