Monthly Archives: December 2009

Abandonados (The Abandoned), Chile’s World War III Film (Trailer)


Recently premiered in Chile, Abandonados (The Abandoned) presents a dystopian Chile after World War III. Based on the short Calor 2052,  survivors try to live on despite their memories, loneliness, and ensuing madness. The young director is David Contreras Silva, fellow genre geek and comic book artist, who previously directed gore film Demencia (Dementia). Looks like he has a theme going! Despite a low budget, Contreras had the support of the community including local firefighters and the army along with private and public funds from Los Ángeles (Chile) institutions.

Here’s a link to their movie blog (in Spanish) and the production company Chile Fantástico‘s Facebook Page. Hopefully we will get to see it soon in the northern hemisphere.

The Abandonados trailer looks great!  It is in Spanish but you can get the gist of it. It has a voiceover of a reporter talking about the war for water resources, and how it came to Chile along with Christmas 2049.

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more about “ABANDONADOS trailer oficial on Vimeo“, posted with vodpod

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Cosmos Latinos: Anthology of Science Fiction from Latin America and Spain (Book Review, Part Two)

The previous post covered the introduction of the Cosmos Latinos anthology edited by Andrea L. Bell and Yolanda Molina-Gavilán. This post will briefly describe the 27 short stories in the book without spoilers except for the first two essay-type stories. The 27 were selected to represent different authors and different “eras” of Latin American science fiction. Each story is preceded by a short biography.

In the Beginning: The Visionaries

1. The Distant Future by Juan Nepomuceno Adorno (Mexico, 1862). A treatise on what the author, an inventor and philosopher, thought the future would be like. He cites a philosophy called Providentiality, which sounds like Communism enhanced with literal brainwashing, all based on “moral science.” Racial differences literally disappear. Women’s rights are honored (sort of). Nature is submissive. Telegraph and trains link all parts of the globe like one big city. Neighborly aliens of our solar system also communicate with humans via telegraph. War has been eradicated. Medicine is highly advanced. Carnal pleasures are of limited use and sexual love isn’t a “frenzy of anguish and jealousy.”  The rare case of crime is a result of mental disorders which barely exist. People live in sparkling, safe, portable, and sometimes floating homes called social nuclei along with their local workers guild. In the social nuclei, men and women sleep separately. When their bodies develop, young women are presented at a Festival of Virgins in a kind of talent show.  The young men submit a formal request to a council of elders when they see someone they like. The women are then given the young men’s file and they decide who to marry at the Festival of the Adults. Women can be married for as long as they wish, and can separate easily at the same Festival of the Adults (hopefully away from all the marriages). When they return to the nuclei, the man goes to the men’s sleeping area and the woman gets a marriage chamber where her husband can only go by request.

2.  On the Planet Mars by Nilo María Fabra (Spain, 1890). Fabra, a journalist and a main force behind the creation of Spain’s first news agency, envisions a world where people no longer read but listen to all their news via paid in-home or street phonographs. People no longer write, but communicate via telephone. Only diplomats are taught to read and write. All streets are moving platforms at different speeds with hotels above them for travelers.  Canals crisscross the continents to allow for the melting of the polar icecaps and also for fast electric ships.  There is political, linguistic, and religious uniformity. Martians boast of synthetic clothing and food, free travel via an unnamed “vital fluid,” weather control, teaching via hypnotic sleep, telefoteidoscope (similar to TV and videophone). Mars discovers that their blue planet neighbor is inhabited, and the main news program Universal Resonance tells its listeners all about it. The story is a thinly veiled critique of Earth’s state of societal and scientific backwardness with a smugness in Mars’ superiority. Reports from Earth show mistreatment of women, excessive animal sacrifice, war, and general barbarity. The report starts talking of Earth but then ignores it in its insignificance to exalt Mars’ superior virtues. It is disheartening to read about an 1890 Earth that sounds a lot like what we have more than a hundred years later.

Speculating on a New Genre: SF from 1900 through the 1950s

3.  Mechanopolis by Miguel de Unamuno (Spain, 1913). Mechanopolis is the story of a traveler that comes upon a highly advanced city devoid of humans or animals and ruled by unseen machines that regard the man as a curiosity since humans have become extinct.

4. The Death Star by Ernesto Silva Román (Chile, 1929). In 2035, the radiation wave of a star passing near Earth causes all living things including humans to grow exponentially the closer it gets.

5.  Baby H.P. by Juan José Arreola (Mexico, 1952). Hilarious advertisement, directed to exhausted moms, of a contraption to harness the energy of children and put it to use in the home and even market any surplus.

The First Wave: The 1960s to the Mid 1980s

6.  The Cosmonaut by Ángel Arango (Cuba, 1964).  On an alien planet with sociable creatures of tentacles and pincers, a human visitor faces well-intentioned yet confused inhabitants. Interesting use of dark humor and authentically alien creatures.

7.  The Crystal Goblet by Jerônimo Monteiro (Brazil, 1964). The founder of the first Brazilian sci-fi club writes a story of Miguel, a former political prisoner, who rediscovers a crystal device from his childhood that shows disturbing scenes from a people unknown to himself and his wife.

8.  A Cord Made of Nylon and Gold by Álvaro Menén Desleal (El Salvador, 1965). At the height of the space race and the Cold War, an American astronaut, frustrated with humanity (especially his cheating wife), cuts the cord that tethers him to his orbiting space vessel with an unexpected result.

9.  Acronia by Pablo Capanna (Argentina, 1966). P. lives in a bureaucratic state, manned by robots but supervised by humans. The construct of time doesn’t exist, just the Plan, which tells everyone what they should be doing at a determined moment. Architecture and transportation are radically different: homes, shopping centers, and workplace quadrants orbit and intersect according to Plan. Due to “errors” in his education that were never fixed, P. starts to question and deviate from the Plan, a condition called oneiromancy that could result in exile from society.

10.  The Last Refuge by Eduardo Goligorsky (Argentina, 1967). A man persecuted by an authoritarian regime because he possesses photographs of the outside world seeks salvation from a nearby spaceship grounded due to mechanical difficulties.

11.  Post Boomboom by Alberto Vanasco (Argentina, 1967). Dark comedy about three not so bright men gathering to write the history of mankind that has all but disappeared after a cataclysmic event.

12.  Gu Ta Guttarrak (We and Our Own) by Magdalena Mouján Otaño (Argentina, 1968). Comedy of a family of Basque geniuses that develops time travel to discover the origin of their people.

13.  Future by Luis Britto García (Venezuela, 1970). A humorous depiction of the future of humanity and what happens when it finally reaches all its goals.

14.  When Pilate Said No by Hugo Correa (Chile, 1971). Humans travel to the planet of the Sumis, a “savage” race of smelly cave dwellers that look like insects. A Sumi prophet born on the night of a shining nova causes unrest among his people, and is brought before the human conquerors. The captain of the starship must decide the prophet’s fate.

15.  The Falsifier by José B. Adolph (Peru, 1972). Story based on a native legend about a white man who appears and performs miracles before he continues his journey, and the royal chronicler who in the 1600s feels obliged to change the tale to avoid heresy.

16.  The Violet’s Embryos by Angélica Gorodischer (Argentina, 1973). A mission to the planet Vantedour to discover what happened to a previous mission’s crew finds them alive and wielding seemingly infinite power.

17.  Brain Transplant by André Carneiro (Brazil, 1978). One of the founding fathers of Brazilian sci-fi presents a bizarre story of a future classroom in which the professor uses every one of his students’ senses to teach a lesson about the history of human brain transplants and reality.

18.  The Annunciation by Daína Chaviano (Cuba, 1983). Founder of Cuba’s first sci-fi writers’ workshop and host of genre-related television and radio programs before emigrating to the U.S., Chaviano presents an alternate and humorous view of the immaculate conception.

19.  A Miscalculation by Federico Schaffler (Mexico, 1983). A little fanboy lying in his back yard is dreaming of the stars when he suddenly sees a bright object come towards him.

Riding the Crest: The Late 1980s into the New Millennium

20.  Stuntmind by Braulio Tavares (Brazil, 1989). Roger Van Dali is chosen to be the first of several human contacts for a race of alien visitors, changing his life from simple bookkeeper to fabulously rich, but with severe physical and mental consequences. The contacts, called Stuntminds, provide a wealth of alien knowledge to the world.

21.  Reaching the Shore by Guillermo Lavín (Mexico, 1994). On Christmas Eve, a little boy dreaming of a new bicycle runs to greet his father at the end of his factory shift but his dad, a pleasure microchip addict, just wants his next fix.

22.  First Time by Elia Barceló (Spain, 1994). In a decadent world, a teenager writes excitedly about her first time in her diary while doing her best to ignore her computer teacher and parents that force her to socialize.

23.  Gray Noise by Pepe Rojo (Mexico, 1996). A reporter with a camera in his eye, embedded audio links and a direct line to the news center, roams the city in search of the best news. The more his items are viewed the better he gets paid, and violence always gets the most attention. Meanwhile anti-media extremists use the panic caused by a new illness called Constant Electrical Exposure Syndrome to advocate a radical change in society.

24.  Glimmerings on Blue Glass by Mauricio-José Schwarz (Mexico, 1996). An office full of detectives is addicted to the adventures of Jacknife, a fictional private eye. In real life however, their main job is to certify the mental retardation of assembly line applicants.

25.  The Day We Went through the Transition by Ricard de la Casa and Pedro Jorge Romero (Spain, 1998). The GEI Temporal Intervention Corps protects the pre-2012 historical timeline from those who would benefit from illegal time travel in Spain. In this particular story, the Corps intervenes in the post-Franco transition to democracy (1975-1981).

26.  Exerion by Pablo Castro (Chile, 2000). A metaphor for Chile’s brutal Pinochet period, this story is about a man traumatized by his father’s kidnapping who tries to escape the authorities himself years later by preserving his memories virtually. As he awaits the police, he attempts to break the record of his favorite videogame, Exerion.

27.  Like the Roses Had to Die by Michel Encinosa (Cuba, 2001). Encinosa tells the story of a world with millions of exotics- humans with extreme animal, vegetable, or synthetic implants. The Walled Zone inside an unfinished Olympic stadium is a market and center of a city filled with violence perpetuated by power struggles, virus-laden Skaters and the police.  Here the Wolf, a former space fighter pilot, awaits her friend the Wizard, a techno-alchemist. She recruits the Wizard to help free her husband Mastín from a group of mercenaries. The Wolf stumbles upon a war against exotics led by fanatical pure humans.

The only ones I found to be a chore to read were The Violet’s Embryos and Brain Transplant which were a bit too “out there” for me. My personal favorites were Baby H.P. and The Annunciation for making me laugh; Acronia and The Day We Went through the Transition for the worlds they create; Like the Roses Had to Die and Gray Noise for their fast-paced action; and Reaching the Shore for its tenderness. I will definitely be looking for more from these authors- any recommendations are appreciated!

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Cosmos Latinos and the History of Latin American Sci-fi Literature (Book Review)

Not a Latino bartender manual

Cosmos Latinos: An Anthology of Science Fiction from Latin America and Spain
Edited By Andrea L. Bell & Yolanda Molina-Gavilán
Wesleyan University Press, 2003

There are many Science Fiction authors that write in Spanish, but unfortunately few are translated into English (especially short stories) so Cosmos Latinos was a surprising find. Besides 27 short stories, it contains an interesting introduction about the development of science fiction literature in Latin America. I’ll sum up the intro here since it has some interesting points and in the next post I’ll review the actual stories.

According to Cosmos, the three dominating characteristics of Latin American science fiction literature are:

  • Its slant towards the “soft” sciences- psychology, ecology, and sociopolitical topics including social criticism and international relations;
  • The use of Christian symbols, other Western mythology, along with the opposition of faith vs. reason/technology; and
  • Its use of allegory, satire and humor in topics ranging from the serious- like the colonization of the Americas, to lighter fare featuring heroes on some sort of quest in comic-book style.

Other noteworthy points discussed in the introduction, some of which I didn’t know:

  • Latin American sci-fi’s beginnings were greatly influenced by Anglophone and other foreign authors to a certain extent, but since the 1960s the main influence of science fiction writers comes from within; that is, writers in Spanish and Portuguese “cross-pollinate” and the scifi community supports itself with magazines, awards, and conventions. Prior to 1960, there were very few writers committed to the genre and it was the isolated author who used it for promoting a particular agenda, like providing a social critique.
  • Unfortunately sci-fi faced the sociopolitical and economic climate of the 1970s and 80s and production diminished in Latin America and Spain. Publishers needed to make money and turned to more mainstream titles to avoid government suspicion. Artists and intellectuals in general stopped writing or emigrated. It was only until the late 1980s with the broadening of political freedoms and the institution of literary prizes that the genre picked up again.
  • The countries with the most recognized sci-fi authors are Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, and Spain, although every Latin American country has active writers and organized fan activity. Publishers outside the region have expressed an interest in local authors, although that has often meant that writers feel pressured to imitate their Anglophone counterparts to be marketable.
  • Genre writings are not confined to magical realism, a myth perpetuated by what little gets translated into English and made into Hollywood movies (see 100 Years of Solitude, Like Water for Chocolate) but it is an important subgenre that helped legitimize the fantastic among social literary circles. Even now mainstream regional bookstores tend to focus on magical realism; other subgenres of scifi are mostly translations from well known authors, considered a safer investment for publishers.
  • The Internet has done a lot for Latin American scifi, solidifying regional ties.  Several websites of published magazines, fan forums and new authors have developed and flourished.

If you get a chance to peruse Cosmos, keep in mind that it is seven years old and that science fiction in Latin America has continued to grow since then, although most of it is still limited to Spanish speakers. One of the reasons to write this blog is to share my discovery of interesting authors in the genre so if there is one you enjoy, let me know via email or comment!

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Avatar: Epic Film that Lives up to the Hype (Spoiler Free Movie Review)

Everybody is blue on Pandora

Avatar opening weekend has finally arrived and James Cameron definitely did not disappoint! Avatar is an amazing film that grabs you immediately and doesn’t let go until well after the end credits. There are no boring parts. The 3-D is used well, not throwing things at you all the time but giving you depth perception that brings the computer generated world to life. Everywhere you look there is something new to discover; it’s almost too much to absorb on the first try.

The story in brief is about a marine, Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), who travels to the planet Pandora to join the Avatar project team. His mind is connected to a genetically compatible test tube body that is to all effects, a body of a native Na’vi. This allows him to interact with the local tribe as he becomes increasingly entwined with his new surroundings. The problem is that Jake’s human friends are on the planet to exploit it, and the Na’vi are in the way.  Yes, this type of story has been told before but it doesn’t drown in clichés like I was afraid it would and it adds unexpected twists.

Our blue Latino warriors Zoe Saldaña (as Neytiri) and Laz Alonso (as Tsu’Tey) really brought it and even though they were playing computer generated characters, the motion capture in 3-D truly made their facial expressions shine through. Also, the voices were all theirs and when they spoke the Na’vi language (a complete language created by USC professor Paul Frommer) they were absolutely believable. Kudos to the language coach (Carla Meyer appears as the dialect coach on IMDB) for giving the non-natives a noticeable accent and making the Na’vi actors appear fluent. And thank you subtitle font people for using Papyrus when Na’vi was spoken. It was as pretty as the language.

Our non-blue warrior chica Michelle Rodríguez (playing Trudy Chacón) kicked ass and was a favorite (at least in my theater) judging by the applause she got. Trudy is a helicopter pilot, part of the group of mercenaries on Pandora. She becomes an important part of the inevitable rebellion, and I’m pleased she had such a prominent role that wasn’t computer generated and an actual Latina character. Latinas on Pandora FTW!

On the science fiction side, this movie has enough creatures, glowing plants, weapons and technology to satisfy any sci-fi or fantasy fan. There is plenty to dissect here and obsess over, my fellow geeks! It is jaw-dropping gorgeous and with the 3-D even more so. Hi-tech labs, fantastic myths come to life, and heart-stopping battle scenes round out this film to make it an absolute must-see.


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At the End of the Spectra, Colombian Supernatural Thriller (Movie Review)

Frak, this TV doesn't have cable.

Al final del espectro (At the End of the Spectra) is a 2006 Colombian thriller set to be remade in the U.S. in 2010. If you like movies similar to the Japanese version of The Ring, you’ll enjoy this film. I’m not sure Espectro (Spectrum or ghost) needs to be remade, but I do like that the same young Colombian director Juan Felipe Orozco will direct the Hollywood version. It is set to star Nicole Kidman in the main role, so this is great Hollywood exposure for Orozco. He not only directed Espectro, he also co-wrote it with his younger brother Carlos Esteban Orozco.

The lead, Vega (Noëlle Schonwald), is a young documentary filmmaker who due to recent tragedy is sunk in a depression. Apparently in Colombia being depressed means you should move into a creepy apartment by yourself to recover. Vega’s father is played by Kepa Amuchastegui, whom I recognized as the “Mr. Meade” from the first Ugly Betty, also a Colombian original. Daddy takes Vega to an apartment building at the beginning of the movie. She promptly gets security cameras installed to satisfy (and feed) her paranoia. Vega’s floor mates are a raving alcoholic, her rebellious daughter, and a creepy bug-eyed neighbor with a Doberman. Vega shuns socializing with them to remain isolated in her apartment. That’s when her visions begin. The more time she’s alone, the more she sees and hears things she tries to explain to herself so she doesn’t think she’s going crazy. Now an agoraphobe, Vega tries to solve the mystery of her apartment via endless hours watching her camera monitor and digging through things left by the previous tenant all with increasing paranoia and tension.

The film starts off slowly so if you feel like it’s dragging on a bit, don’t worry. It’ll pick up and then you’ll regret turning the lights off. Like I did.

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