Delve into science fiction, fantasy by Spanish writers

Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Lavie Tidhar

THE WASHINGTON POST – Spanish is one of the world’s most-spoken languages, with a long, rich literary history extending all the way back to what many regard as the first modern novel, Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote.

With authors writing in Spanish from Madrid to Mexico City to Havana, what are we English speakers missing out on? And where do we start exploring?

Lavie: I recently got back from Celsius 232, a science fiction and fantasy festival in Asturias, Spain, which usually attracts hundreds of Spanish genre writers every year.

This year, it felt somewhat apocalyptic, with compulsory face masks and authors signing books behind plastic screens while wearing gloves (and disinfecting them after each book).

I did get to meet Sofia Rhei, a prolific novelist for both children and adults, who has one collection of stories in English, Everything Is Made of Letters, published by Aqueduct Press.

While Spain has a vibrant sci-fi and fantasy scene, it is only in recent years that there has been a push into the English-language market.

Two fairly recent anthologies are Terra Nova and Castles in Spain, both edited by Mariano Villarreal.

They showcase some of that talent, including the excellent Elia Barcelo and Felix J Palma, whose books in English translation include the internationally successful The Map of Time.

There’s also cyberpunk. Rodolfo Martinez’s Cat’s Whirld was translated by Steve Redwood and is considered Spain’s first cyberpunk novel, first published in 1995. And Rosa Montero’s Tears in Rain is a hard-boiled tribute to Blade Runner.

There are writers I’m curious about, like novelist Guillem Lopez, who aren’t translated (at least, not yet), who writes ambitious fantasy.

And there are horror-tinged writers like the indefatigable Cristina Jurado, whose slim collection, Alphaland, recently came out in English.

It seems that as diverse as Spanish genre fiction is, most of it is hidden from the English-language world, and what does come out in translation is done by enthusiasts.

Small publishers like Sportula and Nevsky Prospects lead the way and do good work but without the reach of the big presses. Looking across the sea, how is the world of Latin American sci-fi and fantasy doing?

Silvia: Latin America has always been in a weird position because it’s pigeonholed into the magical realism bucket, which means we don’t see much of the other work that might be  sprouting there.

And there is the added problems that Latin America has had much less buying power than Spain, and there are few dedicated sci-fi and fantasy imprints of any major size – one of them is DarkSide in Brazil, though it obviously publishes in Portuguese, not Spanish.

Unlike in Spain, which has long-standing imprints such as Minotauro, Latin American sci-fi and fantasy have emerged generally through literary imprints.

Lavie: I’ve been reading Latin American short stories recently. Since you mention Brazil, Fabio Fernandes (who writes in both Portuguese and English) has a new English collection due next year, Love: An Archaeology, which is very good! And Malena Salazar Macia, of Cuba, has had some excellent recent stories in translation in genre magazines.

Going back to old Spain, though, I have to confess my heart belongs to an older title: Arturo Perez-Reverte’s The Club Dumas.

For lovers of adventure, mystery, the occult or, indeed, The Three Musketeers, this is a biblio-mystery possibly involving the devil and is pure joyous fun.

Silvia: Club Dumas was adapted into the movie The Ninth Gate.

But jumping back to Cuba, Red Dust by Yosscame out recently.

If you’re looking for a pulpy space opera, that’s your ticket. It’s also worth mentioning Argentine Angelica Gorodischer’s Kalpa Imperial: The Greatest Empire that Never Was, which was translated into English by Ursula K Le Guin. It’s fantasy, not magical realism, and consists of stories that form a tapestry of an elaborate imaginary land.

The magazine Strange Horizons is organising a cycle of Mexican sci-fi and fantasy stories for its website, so keep your eyes peeled for that, and I presume any day now Mexican author Alberto Chimal should be getting the collection translation treatment.