Science Fiction in Latin America

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Science Fiction in Latin America

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.


The eighteenth and nineteenth century precursors to modern Latin American SF used the latest technological advances, scientific theories, and speculative future possibilities, such as hot air balloons, eugenics, mesmerism, and space travel, as a framework for tales that served as vehicles for social commentary. The earliest known example is a philosophical tale of a lunar journey published in 1775 by Manuel Antonio de Rivas, a Mexican friar. The few proto-SF works published over the next century, especially in Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, and Chile, were usually styled after the scientific adventures of Verne and Flammarion and reflect a positivist faith in human perfectibility through the judicious application of science and technology.

Latin American modernism, social realism, and the avant-garde movements that bridged the nineteenth and twentieth centuries encouraged greater stylistic experimentation, and regional SF writers no longer had to look exclusively abroad for inspiration. Latin American authors who tried their hand at science fiction writing and who, by their example, emphasized literary quality and introduced horror and the fantastic to the genre include Horacio Quiroga, Amado Nervo, José Asunción Silva, Leopoldo Lugones, Clemente Palma, and Adolfo Bioy Casares.

By the late 1920s, foreign pulp magazines such as the U.S. Amazing Stories were becoming known in Latin America; similar local publications soon emerged, such as the Mexican Emoción (1934–1936) and Los cuentos fantásticos (1948–1953). The pulps catered to a taste for exotic locales and stirring adventure tales, but current events also provided a wealth of somber themes for stories, which far outnumbered novels, as Latin American SF writers responded to the rapid social changes brought on by industrialization and urbanization and to global events such as the Depression and the two World Wars. Authors like Jerônimo Monteiro in Brazil examined issues of national sovereignty and cultural identity in the face of continued U.S. and European hegemony. Scientific and technological advances were seen alternately as humanity's salvation (as in Francisco Urquizo's Mi tío Juan [1934]) and as modernization's sinister companion (Ernesto Silva Román's "El astro de la muerte" [1929]).


SF production in Latin America remained sporadic through the first half of the twentieth century due to the dominance of realism in literature, the paucity of commercial opportunities for authors, and readers' unfamiliarity with the genre. Starting in the 1950s, however, the situation improved dramatically with the launch of several magazines (of variable quality and duration) devoted exclusively to science fiction. These publications, such as Más Allá (Argentina, 1953–1957) and Fantastic (Brazil, 1955–1960), featured translations of some of the best foreign SF alongside works by local authors. Other factors contributed to this first flourishing of Latin American SF: Gumercindo Rocha Dórea in Brazil and Marcial Souto in Argentina, visionary editors at the small SF presses GRD and Minotauro, respectively, cultivated emerging talent. The Cold War space race kindled interest in the genre, and fans began to form clubs and organize reading groups, writing workshops and conventions. SF prizes such as the David in Cuba, the Más Allá in Argentina, and the Puebla in Mexico encouraged new authors and set higher standards for the genre. Some writers, like Chile's Hugo Correa, published stories abroad. And Anglophone SF, always a strong influence on Latin American writers, was opening up to stories grounded in the humanities and social sciences, disciplines with a longer tradition in Latin American letters than the physical sciences.

Although SF output declined somewhat in the late 1980s as the publishing industry reacted to economic recessions and authoritarian regimes, there was a significant renaissance in the 1990s that continues unabated to this day. The Internet and desktop publishing allow for the cheaper and wider dissemination of texts and ideas and enable greater communication among writers and fans. More novels are being published, and some have been published abroad by major presses. Mexico, Brazil, and Argentina continue to lead the field in terms of output and consumption, followed by Cuba and Chile, but there are SF writers and organizations in every country in the region and increased activity overall.

Much of Latin American SF treats universal themes of science and society, but with a distinct regional flavor. (This was especially true both of the early social extrapolation novels and of contemporary SF, but was less the case during the "boom" of the 1960s–1980s, when there was a strong desire to follow U.S. and European models.) In conceptualizing the future, for example, Latin American utopian and dystopian works have addressed agrarian reform, race and ethnicity, local politics, religious practices, the environment, and other concerns. Alternate histories have reimagined the outcome of the European conquest and the War of the Triple Alliance. Settings range from the Amazon jungle to the Andes to the great metropolises. In Castro's Cuba, SF was actively supported by the state as a way of promoting socialist ideals. And both during and after military regimes, SF has provided ideal camouflage for critiquing authoritarianism and imagining freedoms not enjoyed in the real world.

Women are a growing presence in the field and figure among the genre's earliest practitioners. During the 1970s and 1980s, two of the most prolific and celebrated SF writers were women, Angélica Gorodischer (Argentina) and Daína Chaviano (Cuba). Although it is early to speak of a feminist movement, some Latinas (and Latinos) are challenging gender stereotypes through their SF writing.

SF criticism by scholars in Latin America is still rare, as the academy does not hold the genre in high esteem. Most critical studies have been published by academics working in the U.S. and Europe. Occasionally, a mainstream periodical will cover a local SF event or profile a writer. Many of the best histories and reviews are written by fans and independent scholars who publish on websites or in fanzines.

The vast majority of SF in Latin America is short prose; comics are also popular, and there is some poetry. Although few films can be classified as science fiction, numerous Mexican movies have mingled SF iconography with vampires and masked wrestlers. Some recent films that incorporate SF themes include Argentina's Hombre mirando al sudeste (Eliseo Subiela, 1986), Moebius (Gustavo Mosquera, 1996) and La sonámbula (Fernando Spiner, 1998), and Chile's El huésped (Coke Hidalgo, 2005).

See alsoBioy Casares, Adolfo; Gorodischer, Angélica; Literature: Brazil; Literature: Spanish America; Lugones, Leopoldo; Nervo, Amado; Palma, Clemente; Quiroga, Horacio; Silva, José Asunción.


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                                          Andrea L. Bell

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Science Fiction in Latin America

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Science Fiction in Latin America