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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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