One of the best ways to acquaint yourself with fiction from Latin America remains the fabulous Cosmos Latinos anthology which I reviewed for Emerald City back in 2004. It contains stories by both Latina authors I have mentioned thus far: Angélica Gorodischer & Daína Chaviano. There are also many other fine stories in it.
Also germane to this post is the fact that the editors of the book are both women: Andrea Bell and Yolanda Molina-Gavilán. I suspect that many of the translators are women too. I can’t check because my copy of the book is in California.
Anyway, here is my review, first published in Emerald City #104.
I owe my discovery of this particular book to reader Mike Kingsley who wrote to me suggesting a translated story as a potential Hugo nominee. The story in question was “Gray Noise”, by Pepe Rojo, and it appears in Cosmos Latinos, an anthology of science fiction from Latin America and Spain, edited by Andrea Bell and Yolanda Molina-Gavilán. Given Mike’s enthusiastic recommendation of one of the stories in the book, it seemed that I really should cover it in this column.
If Cosmos Latinos has a flaw, then it is that it is trying to be two different things. Rather than simply pick the best of current Latino SF, the editors have gone all the way back to the 19th Century and have produced a history of Latino SF from then to the present day. (By the way, I’m using the US term Latino here, in part because of the title of the book, but whenever I use that term it should be taken to encompass Spain as well, and not to include other “Latin” European countries except possibly Portugal. There are works translated from Portuguese in the book, but they are all Brazilian.) So on the one hand we are looking at an historical document, and on the other a cross-cultural comparison. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, except that the development of Latino SF seems to have closely paralleled English SF. There is obviously less influence from the American pulps, and more influence from the likes of Borges, but in terms of history it is very recognizable.
We start out in the 19th Century with absurdly optimistic faith in science and an earnest support of a “feminism” that would have most modern-day women gagging in horror. From there we move forward to a more rigorous view of science, on into a period where most of the stories sound like scripts from Classic Trek, and finally into a grimy cyberpunk era. It is all very familiar.
Culturally, however, there are differences. There is perhaps more of an emphasis on religion than in English SF. But by far the most characteristic feature of the stories is their fascination with living under dictatorships. There is, of course, a very good reason for this, namely that many of the stories were written by people who actually have lived under dictatorships, as opposed to us lucky Anglos who have largely avoided that fate. Needless to say, the whole thing sounds much more real when written about by someone with practical experience of the subject.
The most important question, however, is whether these stories are worth reading. Are Spanish and Latin American SF writers any good? And the answer to that is an unequivocal yes. Some are obviously better than others, and I’d like a highlight a few of the stories.
The funniest piece in the book dates all the way back to 1952. “Baby H.P.” by Mexican writer, Juan José Arreloa, is a mock advertising brochure for a special harness that you can put on your toddler and have the little darling generate electricity as it rushes about the place. The power generated is stored in a battery, which can later be used to power household appliances. It is probably even funnier now than when it was written because to us the style of 1950’s advertising is hilarious all by itself.
You can foster individual ambition in the wee ones by rewarding them with little prizes when they surpass their usual production records. For this purpose we recommend sugar treats, which repay your investment with interest. The more calories added to a child’s diet, the more kilowatts saved on the electricity bill.
“Baby H.P.”, Juan José Arreloa
Argentina’s Angélica Gorodischer is one of the acknowledged stars of Latino SF. Her novel, Kalpa Imperial, recently translated into English by Ursula Le Guin, will find its way into this column before too long. Cosmos Latinos features her story, “The Violet’s Embryos” from 1973, a disturbing tale about the crew of a spaceship marooned on a planet that will grant almost any wish they desire, except escape and women. Back in 1973 writing feminist SF was tough enough for the likes of Russ and Le Guin in the USA. Goodness only knows what it was like in Argentina, but Gorodischer does a great job.
I was pleased to find that the book contained a story by Cuba’s Daína Chaviano, probably the only work of hers to appear in English thus far. “The Annunciation”, from 1983, is about a young woman called Mary who received a visit from an angel and discovers the delights of heaven. Goodness only knows what the Catholic Church made of this one.
The star of the show, however, is Mexico’s Pepe Rojo. “Gray Noise” is a fabulous piece of cyberpunk about a reporter with an implanted camera. The story dates from 1996, long before the explosion in reality TV. Rojo has his finger firmly on the sick tastes of the TV audience, and boy can he write. If he were working in English he’d be a big name by now. “Gray Noise” won the Kalpa, Mexico’s top SF award, and it deserves to be much wider known.
The whole world is on TV. Anyone can be a star. Everyone acts, and every day they prepare themselves because today could be the day that a camera finds them and the whole world discovers how nice, good looking, friendly, attractive, desirable, interesting, sensitive, and natural they are. How human they are.
“Gray Noise”, Pepe Rojo