When I read the image to the left from over at Classics of Fiction about the New Prehistory, I was surprised that I didn’t know about the lack of science fiction roots in Hispanic countries. It opened a door. Science fiction fires the imagination for applying science and technology to issues, so this is important.
At the first CARDICIS, way back when, I thought I’d been invited by mistake. Suddenly I found myself in St. Lucia at a conference about ICT (or in Spanish, TIC) and culture. There was, for the first time as they said, real time translation allowing people from the Caribbean and South American region to speak to each other.
The core of this was wrapped around the metaphor of cooking, and food is certainly something that we all share around the world since we need to eat. It was a great conference, and I learned a lot about the region, barring US and UK territories and the Bahamas.
The Caribbean is poorly defined any way you look at it, and one can argue it’s by design. European territories were never designed to be independent, and it shows even now. CARICOM members include nations from the South American continent (Suriname, Guyana and Belize), and those nations all have something in common: They don’t speak Spanish. I don’t know how that happened, but it happened.
Geographically, the countries considered in the Caribbean are not the same, and within the Caribbean itself there are islands of isolation in language. By land mass or population, though, the majority of nations in the Caribbean speak Spanish, French, English and Dutch in descending order, and these islands come from the European influences which, to this day, define who does what with who.
After CARDICIS, I spent a lot of time in South America and the Caribbean in places where English was not the native language. I even became conversational in Spanish during that time, though I fear that part of my brain goes on vacation now and then. I enjoyed getting to understand how people lived throughout the region, and yet here’s this gaping hole in my knowledge that I knew nothing about.
It was never a question, so I never sought an answer. So I started digging in.
Science Fiction in Latin AmericaScience Fiction in Latin America, Encyclopedia.com, accessed on 26th May 2023.
Science fiction (SF) is not a literary form native to the region, but many Latin American writers have utilized its creative freedom to reflect local settings and concerns. The definition of science fiction is particularly fluid in Latin America, where it overlaps considerably with horror, mystery, fantasy, and other genres…
I had no clue, but in the books I read in Spanish I never did read any science fiction. Thinking back to when I picked them up in my travels, availability could have been a factor, though my focus at the time was trying to understand how people lived.
“La gente real” is a common enough phrase but one I picked up in Nicaragua. The real people. Not what you see in the tourist brochures, the news, or what your friend who visited that all inclusive hotel thinks about the people who made their stay comfortable.
So this was a new thing to research, and since I’m procrastinating about a particular part of what I’m writing, I drilled in this morning. The thing about science fiction is that there’s science involved. It’s not exactly a big secret with the name being stuck in the title of the genre, but science and technology are not that far apart. In fact, technology is best described as science practically applied. So science fiction would go hand in hand with ICT.
I recalled conversations I had over the years with many of my Spanish speaking friends, and not once did we really cover common ground in science fiction aside from stale Star Trek and Star Wars stuff. Those are so ubiquitous that a billion years from now errant signals will reach a planet with intelligent life who will think Yoda is a demi-god and that Captain Kirk is a reason to bolster their planetary defenses. They may eventually get here and find some plastic light sabers and phasers to help prop up that mythos in their culture. There’s a book idea.
And then I remembered using the word, “Grok” to one of my friends in Costa Rica, who was (and probably still is) an Argentinean Penguinista, steeped in the Linux command line. She didn’t know what it meant, and I attributed that to language. I do recall explaining the origin from Stranger in a Strange Land and Robert Heinlein, but she had not read that book and I thought little of it.
Latin America has it’s own science fiction, and I had somehow completely missed that.
“The man could feel his eyes filling with tears. Before him stood a spaceship, a gigantic metallic disk that seemed to be made of two immense plates joined at the edges.” These first words of Argentine Eduardo Goligorsky’s “The Last Refuge” could open any American or European science fiction story. However, the rest of the story largely deviates from Western models of sci-fi in its overt treatment of political themes, as “The Last Refuge” quite openly critiques authoritarianism. The story’s protagonist, Guillermo Maidana, must escape an authoritarian society that proclaims itself as the “the last refuge of Western civilization,” directly referencing Argentine dictator Juan Carlos Onganía’s paternalistic crusade against communism. Maidana’s crime? Possessing a photo album of historic technological and scientific achievements…“Looking to Las Estrellas: The Political Role of Latin American Science Fiction“, Kendrick Foster, Harvard Political Review, April 13th, 2020.
…Despite its clear relevance to political themes across the region, Latin American sci-fi does not receive the credit it is due inside or outside Latin America. Historically, the literary establishment across Latin American has not taken sci-fi seriously. In Mexico, literary contests and publications “did not think it was sufficiently literary, so it was frowned upon,” said Schaffler. Likewise, the Argentine cultural establishment looked down on Argentine scientists in general. “Scientists’ opinion has as much weight as that of rock stars or sports idols,” Capanna explained. Even when sci-fi did enter the mainstream, popular audiences often believed that imported sci-fi was somehow “purer.”…”
There’s a lot of text between the elipses in this last quote, and I encourage people to go read the article if they’re interested in this topic. I had no idea about all of this.
Science fiction in many ways drives technology. Technology today emulates science fiction of yesteryear. Many people won’t remember Dick Tracy’s watch where he could video chat with people. Many more people don’t even know who Dick Tracy is. Somewhere on this planet, right now, someone’s trying to build a light saber. Tricorders and tablets, artificial intelligences and those presented in science fiction…
The last article gives a big hint about the difference in focuses, and it likely has to do with the situations in Latin America itself, which are painfully political as we see here in Trinidad and Tobago. With an influx of Venezuelans taking the jobs nobody in Trinidad and Tobago seemed to want, Venezuelans are making their way into Trinidad and Tobago culture. It’s a drum that people beat every now and then about the Venezuelan influx, but Trinidad and Tobago and Venezuela have a long standing relationship – enough so that 1920s calypsonian King Radio sang Matilda long before Belafonte recorded anything.
There’s certainly a lot of space to think about this, but I sadly have not read any Latin American science fiction. The intentionality, be it “make the world a better place through science” or “get rid of authoritarian society” all drives the imagination that drives technology… and is something maybe we should be paying a little more attention to.
I wonder now about French, Dutch…