|Spanish SF & Genre Roundup Selection|
Considering that Spanish literature has traditionally been dominated by realism, it is refreshing to see that the new releases sections in bookshops are more and more filled with books in the fantastic mode, horror writing or speculative fiction. The increasing numbers of books being published in these genres is down to three factors: the work of indie presses, ever active and helping to normalise the inclusion of “genre” fiction within “literary” collections (this follows on from Stephen King’s maxim that there are only two “genre labels, good and bad literature”); the “discovery” of weird literature, a literary niche in which a variety of authors are now active, including figures from science-fiction and fantasy backgrounds as well as more standard literary writers; and the rise of the slipstream. To these you need to add the major groups which are taking their cue from indie presses and publishing genre writing, adding to its normalisation, but also with the idea and hope of selling “literary” science fiction to mainstream readers.
This is what has gone on in the past few months, a roundup of titles which represent these three trends, as well as marking the unstoppable emergence of writers who put their literary skills to the service of genre fiction.
Airean, Angel Luis Sucasas (Spórtula, 2013): A short story collection by one of the youngest authors here. Sucasas is a stylist without fear, capable of addressing any topic without blushing, and creating his own language as he goes along. He elegantly mixes weird fiction, horror, and dark fantasy, to create his own brand of speculative fiction, basically establishing the rules of the game for any kind of future “Spanish new weird” to come. His beautiful prose is measured and assured, but by no means unctuous, and it flows with the security of its own lyrical realism as it dares to go anywhere. Perhaps the only flaw to the overall collection may be that not all the stories flow at the same level of excellence, a minor consideration judging by what he can do with a wide range of fantastic material.
Un minuto antes de la oscuridad – A minute before darkness, Ismael Martínez Biurrun (Fantascy, 2014): Biurrun is, arguably, the best writer of speculative fiction to appear in Spanish letters in recent years, judging him only at the level of the quality of his prose. But he has other things going for him: good plotting, excellent cliff-hangers, and an assured use of all the tropes of genre fiction, put to use within the framework of writing of the highest quality, as effective as it is precise. Here, a Madrid on the verge of the collapse of civilization, but where sometimes even mobile phones work (a much more difficult to navigate and more interesting plot devise than a mere post-apocalyptic capital) is dissected under the gaze of characters who still don’t understand what is happening around them, trying desperately to fix some humanity to their lives, to live by their human desires and to commit very human mistakes. It is full of adrenaline, desperate at times; the ending is devastating, an ending parallel to the end of civilization which it maps, but it occurs almost quietly, as the only possible option. Cloning is here more than a gimmick; it is central to the questions of duality and identity in a world in which who you are starts not to matter, a premise which moves the novel along. An intense reading, you read it with your heart in your mouth, and are not disappointed a jot.
El show de Grossman – Grossman’s Show, Laura Fernández (Aristas Martínez, 2013): The only woman in this article, but by no means the only one writing genre fiction of the highest quality, Laura Fernández is my Spanish discovery of the past year. A shamelessly, let’s even say a proud, writer of the most flamboyant space opera, as funny as it is insightful. Charting with panache the dysfunctional world of teenagers and high school (on another planet), she reinvents with humour and nostalgia a universe of adolescent problems, crushes, famous science fiction writers, and love stories which need fixing, in the process establishing new and meaningful connections between our very “human” problems and our interaction with the world. And who better to fix it all than a bunch of teenagers in a spaceship disguised as an old van? And is there a more climatic ending than during a rock concert? A refreshing an interesting writer, with an imagination all her own, skilful in making us believe that her craft is all in the surface of things, but who is touching on deeper issues, all presented in a beautiful illustrated edition by indie press Aristas Martínez.
Terra Nova (vol. 2), Mariano Villarreal y Luis Pestarini (eds.) (Fantascy, 2013): An interesting an extremely worthwhile experiment, this is the sequel to Terra Nova (vol. 1), a very successful attempt at showcasing the best Spanish speculative fiction alongside its Anglo-Saxon practitioners. The first volume was published with specialised press Sportula and was done under reader subscription, going to earn reap rave reviews, as well as seven nominations for the Ignotus prizes, the major science-fiction literary award in Spain. The second has graduated to a major publishing group Random House, being published under its new fantasy and sci-fi imprint, Fantascy, proving that the experiment was highly successful. In this volume, the Spanish writers not only hold their ground, but they graduate with flying colours. It goes to show the excellent form of Spanish genre writing right now, with at least two discoveries to take into account: Felicidad Martínez and Pedro Andreu, names to follow up in the future. Bonus Track: Terra Nova (1)has been translated into English and it is available in e-pub. It can only be hoped that the exercise is repeated with this volume.
Los nombres muertos – The Dead Names, Jesús Cañadas (Fantascy, 2013): The past year has seen a revitalised interest in H. P. Lovecraft and his legacy here in Spain, partly because of new translations of his work, partly because of the rise in the weird “mode” of literature. Spain, a breeding-ground for both gothic and surrealism, was the perfect space for the emergence of the “weird”. Meanwhile, several volumes of “homage” to Lovecraft in the form of short stories have appeared in small indie presses, but only one novel in which he is made to be the protagonist of his own adventure: finding the Necronomicon, a book which, he knows better than anyone, does not exist. This is a fine adventure novel, written with deep knowledge of the author, his writing and the world around him, but also with care and respect. Lovecraft is not a caricature of himself; he emerges as the unlikely hero we all know he was deep inside. Cañadas writes also with the same assurance and high standards as other slipstream authors, and it is a pleasure to read, far beyond its entertainment value. An unlikely road movie which show us Lovecraft as we never expected or imagined we will see him, and which is, nevertheless, highly believable. No easy feat to perform, and one from which the author emerges more than successfully, triumphant.
El hombre sin rostro – The man without a face, Luis Manuel Ruiz (Salto de Página, 2014): This novel is a rare treat: a seemingly old fashion adventure folletín, or old Spanish adventure story, charting the progress of charming characters in an early xxcentury Madrid filled with secret governmental programmes, eccentric scientists and a ghostly Frankenstein-esque assassin with a secret weapon at his disposal only Jules Verne could have dreamt of. Ruiz is not a recent arrival to the literary scene; he’s been translated into English before, and was the recipient of the International Novel Prize at the Frankfurt Book Fair some years back. Now he returns after an hiatus to what he does best, putting to good use his well-honed literary skills in the service of a text which entertains without being superfluous, crafted with an elegant prose style which has been called “retro” by some reviewers, but which goes beyond formal considerations to read joyously. It gains points by having one of the best female characters ever imagined in Spanish letters, although it loses out somehow by its length, short, almost novella-esque, leaving the reader wishing for more. It has been said that it is the first in a series, and, that being the case, this reviewer cannot find fault with it.
Deshielo y ascension – Thaw and Ascent, Alvaro Cortina Urdampilleta (Jekyll & Jill, 2013): A highly unusual proposal, this novel is a philosophical treatise, a gothic roman, and a meditation on the disintegration of modern civilisation. In an Earth covered by frost, where we’ve mastered interstellar travel, but find ourselves lonelier than ever amongst the stars, more devoid of the ever-protecting embrace of God, humanity barely manages to survive, in a society founded on the remains of a humanist cultural heritage, which now proves useless and outmoded. Special mention should be given to Cortina Urdampilleta’s chosen style, a rich prose inherited from the C.xix novel, and with the gothic mode as its flying ship. Bonus Track: a full review (in Spanish) of this novel can be read here.