Tag Archives: Cuba

A Latino POTUS on NBC’s The Event? Science Fiction Rocks

The Event First Family Of all the new shows this season on American television, the one I looked forward to the most was NBC’s The Event. Not only is it science fiction and potentially conspiracy related, but it has a solid cast and a Latino First Family (!!!).  So did I like it? Why yes I did! After watching the first two episodes, I found it has the mystery of The 4400 (which has some similarities) and LOST before we started to wonder if the writers knew what they were doing. Unfortunately The Event is flashback heavy- it makes the storytelling unnecessarily convoluted.  I’m hoping that this frenetic jumping around will simmer down soon because it will get old fast. The story doesn’t need more help in being complicated.

[Skip this paragraph to avoid spoilers] So what’s it about? Well so far, a group of individuals with advanced physiology and technology are kept prisoner in an Alaskan facility at Mount Inostranka (meaning foreigner/alien in Russian). After 60 years, the U.S. President learns of these people (let’s call them the Inostranka Group). He tries to get them out but events in the first two episodes change his mind. The Inostranka Group has people outside, and, tired of waiting, are poised to react, possibly violently. Usually these stories have an average character who gets thrust into the middle of things- someone to root for. In this case it’s Sean Walker (Jason Ritter), a guy who just wants to propose to his girlfriend but all this conspiracy stuff gets in the way.

The Event features a U.S. President of Cuban descent, President Elias Martinez (Blair Underwood), the First Lady Christina Martinez also of Cuban heritage (Lisa Vidal, Puerto Rican) and their son, David (Sayeed Shahidi). There is  another Latino actor in the series besides Vidal- Gonzalo Menendez (of Cuban heritage). He plays an Air Marshal called Gonzalo MenendezDan Taylor- a minor character listed in 4 episodes on IMDB. Not sure what is up with his accent but I wanted to mention him since he’s had small parts in at least three other genre works- 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer, The Island, and Sliders. All we know about this character is his job, his weird accent, and that he wears a wedding ring. At least he has a name, so who knows? We may see more of him in the series.

Apparently there’s been some controversy about Blair Underwood playing a Latino character of such stature (major character, primetime network TV). I admit I would have preferred a Latino actor because of the shortage of good roles that are custom-made for a Latino. But Underwood is doing a good job so far, and he definitely looks the part. Sure when he speaks Spanish he’s probably going to have a terrible accent that will make me cringe, but so do many second generation Latinos raised in the United States. Plus, the character is a bona fide Afro-Latino which is super rare on TV. Most Latinos on television or in movies are white or light skinned, and that goes for Latin American productions too.

Out of curiosity, I looked up other fictional Latino U.S. presidents. Here they are:

  • Jimmy Smits (Puerto Rican) as President Matthew Santos (Mexican American) in The West Wing
  • John D’Aquino (Italian American) as President Richard Martinez in Cory in the House

In written works (now added to my reading list!):

  • President Juanita Alvarez in Sunstorm by Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter (President in 2037)
  • President Joseph Armando in Mars by Ben Bova (first Hispanic president, elected sometime in the early 21st century)
  • President Maria Juarez in: The Light of Other Days by Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter (First female President of the United States, for at least one term (2037-2041))

So according to this brief research, President Elias Martinez is the first U.S. President of Latino heritage on a science fiction TV show. But if you’re thinking sci-fi movies, then look no further than President Camacho of Idiocracy:

President Camacho Idiocracy

Yeah, that's right

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The Island of Eternal Love by Daína Chaviano (Book Review)

Spanish book cover and front flapBefore reading fantasy novel La Isla de Los Amores Infinitos (available in English as The Island of Eternal Love) the only other Chaviano work I had read was a sci-fi short story about the Immaculate Conception (mentioned in my Cosmos Latinos anthology review). I really enjoyed that story for its irreverent sense of humor. It put the author on the radar for me. The Island of Eternal Love is part of Chaviano’s “The Occult Side of Havana Series” which the author’s website describes:

“In these works Havana is the point of departure for arriving at other universes – fantastic or magical – that lead the characters to unexpected discoveries about themselves. Each novel explores different facets of spirituality: reincarnation, Celtic magic, Spiritism or mediumistic practices, Afro-Cuban cults…”

The Island of Eternal Love is a family saga that includes ghost relatives, fantastical creatures, obscure religious rituals and supernatural abilities. It’s also a great story to learn about Cuban history while being entertained. The novel focuses on three families originally from China, Nigeria, and Spain that end up in Cuba .

The three families are [this section contains spoilers]   :

1. From China: Kiu-fa, husband Síu Mend, son Pag Li. They flee Chinese civil war to Cuba with Síu Mend’s grandfather who lived in Havana’s bustling Chinatown. They used dream interpretation to play the clandestine Chinese Charade lottery.

2. From Spain: Clara, husband Pedro, daughter Ángela. When the women of this superstitious family hit puberty, they are cursed with a mischievous dwarf called Martinico only they can see. Ángela can also see other fantastical entities.

3. From Nigeria: Caridad (African name Kamaria) and Florencio, both emancipated slaves of African mothers and white slave trader fathers that start a business in Havana. Caridad can see ghosts, and her daughter Mercedes falls victim to a demon that completely alters her personality.

English translation cover [END SPOILERS]

The families’ story is told by an old woman (Amalia) to Cecilia, a Cuban woman who left Havana for Miami. She alternately misses Cuba and despises it. Cecilia’s loneliness in her new city makes her visit with the old lady again and again to continue the tale. Cecilia is a reporter investigating claims about a phantom house that appears and disappears in different Miami locations. Only people with the ability to see supernatural phenomena can see it. In general they are reluctant to talk about it, so Cecilia is having a hard time writing the story.

Cecilia isn’t a very likeable character (she gets rather depressing after a while), but she is a smart investigator that is open-minded about the supernatural. The novel constantly switches from Cecilia’s investigation to Amalia’s story. At first I found Cecilia’s phantom house investigation intriguing, but as it went on I wanted to get back to the “good stuff” which to me was the old woman’s story.

The old woman’s tale eventually brings the three families together and along the way explores Cuban political, musical, slave, and ethnic Chinese history. It is also heavy on the religious rituals from all three family cultures and has a subtle sense of humor throughout. I would recommend this book for anyone who likes stories of ghosts and the occult and/or is interested in multi-ethnic Cuban history. Chaviano writes beautifully in Spanish, so I hope this translates well in the English edition.

Check out Daína Chaviano’s official website here. There is also a Facebook fan page and a book trailer for The Island of Eternal Love.

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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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