THE FIRST SPANISH SF STORY COLLECTION IN ITALIAN
Newly released right now in March 2019 by Italian Francesco Verso‘s wonderfully international small press Future Fiction based in Rome is the first ever anthology of Spanish (including Latin-American) SF stories in Italian—and I was lucky enough to be asked to provide the Afterword which follows (and which of course is in Italian translation in the book itself):
Three men and six women contribute to this reprint anthology of the best SF and Fantasy stories by Spanish-speaking authors. Suddenly male authors are in the minority, so it seems, or is this coincidence?
Veteran César Mallorquí, a master of Young Adult SFF, contributes a vividly descriptive and emotionally devastating tale (from 1993) of a shepherd’s dutiful dog in a time of doom and of a surveillance satellite compelled by its programming to go far beyond its original programmes. We might exclaim at the end, “Oh, the futility!”, yet the sustained ingenuity, originality, and vigour of the story are captivating. And in the long run futility is our inevitable fate. As the philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell wrote in 1903: “The whole temple of Man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins—all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built.” Ironically, in Russell’s magnum opus Principia Mathematica (1910-1913 in 3 volumes) written along with Alfred Whitehead, Russell tried to show that arithmetic is logically self-consistent, yet just a few years later in 1931 Kurt Gödel pulled the rug pet from underneath Russell’s only firm foundation by proving logically than no self-enclosed system such as mathematics can ever validate itself fully. So what has this to do with a dedicated dog—although no genius—and a herd of sheep stupidly robotic compared with itself? If we have existence rather than non-existence, we should do something rather than nothing, even if in vain!
Erick J. Mota (B.A. Physics, Havana) satirises the suffocating regime of his native Cuba which will make zombis of its citizens in the service of a sclerotic ‘revolutionary’ state, the communist party making the horridly hypocritical best of things in a world inflicted at large by a zombi virus. This story is definitely a case of “no spoilers, please!” because we are led to a quite unexpected finale—even, one might say, a cosmic climax.
The third man here (cue the Harry Lime theme) is Juanfran Jiménez Troya, born in Madrid in 1975, with his tale of criminality and of mind transfer to host bodies. This story is strangely reminiscent of A.E. Van Vogt‘s Golden Age methodology of changing the topic every 750 words —whose side is who on?— and of Van Vogt’s adaptation to SF of hard-bitten pulp crime fiction, with tough guys “kissing the floor”. Not to mention mindswaps, a perennially potent theme.
Toxic waste dumps feature in the tales by both María Angulo Ardoy and Cristina Jurado. A ‘yamamba’ is a ‘mountain witch’ from Japanese folklore and “The Hunger of the Yamamba” tells of a Japanese scientist who reaches the age of 75, consequently becoming completely redundant in a nation which can no longer pay for its old folk, an impending ‘age crisis’ confronting the real Japan. He travels to a guarded forbidden zone near Mount Fuji in search of a woman professor who was researching bacteria which biodegrade rubbish and who disappeared there six years earlier. What he finds is… fascinatingly different from what we might expect. Cristina Jurado, who herself lives in Dubai, writes in a hallucinatory way about grim survival among the metastising rubbish of cities, powerfully visualising what happens when a rubbish “rat” finds something much more valuable than is usual. Here is a dark visceral vision, muscular, gritty, and evocative.
“Mechanical Mind” by Carme Torras—who works as a real-world scientist upon artificial intelligence—also features a technological waste dump, in the midst of which is an oasis of neatness maintained by a mysterious cloaked figure who runs a filling station for electric flying cars. In this future, recycling is futile because of the sheer mass of products, and no one knows any longer how things work. The narrator’s parents are both virtual reality designers who are fairly inattentive to reality. But their teenage daughter pays careful attention to exactly what she sees and its implications.
In Marian Womack‘s highly visual and visceral “Black Isle” ravaged environments are being restored by profitable biotechnology until ‘nature’ begins to reject the interventions. Here is a strong Spanish story set in a future Scotland. The hook of its opening is one of the best I know: “The ospreys’ deaths—by the dozens—are inexplicable, as is the bluish taint on their beaks, heads and chests. It simply should not be there. I should know, for I designed the birds.”
“Francine” by Mari Antònia Martí Escayol, a historian at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, is set mainly in the Dutch Republic during the 17th Century, the time of philosopher/scientist René Descartes. In this highly researched and ingenious alternate history story, Descartes succeeds in immortalising his daughter who actually died of scarlet fever at the age of five. The route to artificial reincarnation is fraught and fascinating and wonderful consequences ensue. The long, slow transformation of a little girl from fevered flesh to a person of more permanent substance is transcendent.
If Cuba suffocates and zombifies its citizens in Erick J. Mota‘s story, Mexico murders its women due to the macho misogynistic violence endemic in its culture—the moving aftermath of this in the future due to holographic technology is told of in “They Will Dream in the Garden” by prize-winning Mexican author, scriptwriter, and cultural journalist Gabriela Damián Miravete. How appropriate that the country which above all celebrates the Day of the Dead should develop a holographic technology to memorialise the testimony of the female victims of violence in a gentle, pastoral, ambiguous way.
Thus themes interweave richly—of artificial beings, of biotechnology, of environmental collapse and beyond; of extinction and of life’s aftermath and of the superhuman.
The “Golden Age” of SF for the Anglo-Saxon world was the 1950s (unless one goes along with the joke that the Golden Age for SF is always the age of 15)—whereas for Spain the Golden Age was from the mid-1980s through the 1990s. Thereafter the market squeezed, which incidentally was unfavourable for the growth of female talents. For a while it looked as if the excellent Elia Barceló was single-handedly the Spanish SF authoress. But small presses arose, both print and electronic. It’s also well worth mentioning, as a stimulus to creativity in Spain, that an unusually large number of cities and towns in Spain sponsor literary festivals with story awards worth from hundreds to even thousands of Euros.
At the present time of writing (October 2018), two Spanish SFF magazines publish new fiction. In 2017 the gorgeously produced quarterly print magazine Windumanoth was launched with Patreon assistance at Spain’s leading international SFF festival, Celsius 232 ( = Fahrenheit 451) held each July in the north-coast city of Avilés. (The name ‘Windumanoth’ is a homage to a medieval character created in a 2001 novel by author Ana María Matute who died in 2014 aged 88.) In its first year Windumanoth published 19 new stories as well as reviews, interviews, and games coverage. Eurocon Award-winning web magazine Supersonic, founded in 2015 by the irrepressible Cristina Jurado, with issues in English as well as Spanish, offers a rich mixture of non-fiction and fiction and especially is a shop window for Spanish-speaking authors reaching into the anglosaxon publishing world, and vice versa.
Every year the Spanish Association for Fantasy Science Fiction & Terror (AEFCFT) publishes a paperback anthology of original stories entitled Visiones (‘Visions’) guest-edited by notable SFF & Terror authors, as well as a fat paperback of reprints, likewise guest-edited, Fabricantes de Sueños (‘Dream Makers’). AEFCFT also administers the annual ‘Ignotus‘ fiction awards, presented at the annual national convention Hispacon. (‘Ignotus’ isn’t a joke about SFF being ignored by snobs but is in homage to the pen-name of pre-Civil War SF author José de Elola.)
The source for two of the stories in the present anthology was the ambitious Spanish anthology series Terra Nova which sold about 1000 copies of each of 3 issues in print as well as electronically, edited by Mariano Villarreal who importantly also edited in English Castles in Spain: 25 Years of Spanish Fantasy and Science Fiction—published by Sportula, a big small press run by excellent SF author Rodolfo Martínez whose short stories have appeared in English from small press NewCon Press run by Ian Whates whose own stories have appeared reciprocally in Spanish from Sportula. I’m mentioning translations into English because English can serve as a useful lingua franca for the many national SFFs of Europe and beyond. Anthologies have recently appeared in English of SFF from Finland, Sweden, Portugal, the Czech Republic, and elsewhere. Here is a way forward for the national SFFs of Europe, but of equal importance is the increase in non-English to non-English anthologies such as the present anthology. Future Fiction, edited from Rome by Francesco Verso, is one of the most exciting ventures in making European SFF more widely available in Italian