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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