Central America

Tagged: International

This entry deals with sf in the Latin American countries Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama.

In 2003, the sf novel Primum (2003) by the Panamanian Ramón Varela Morales (?   -    ) won the prestigious Central American literary award named for Rogelio Sinán. Until then, the genre had not received critical attention, although the origins of Central American sf go back over a century. According to Professor Angela Romero Pérez, one of the judges of the Rogelio Sinán award, Central American sf was considered a literary curiosity. Its circulation was almost relegated to a few books, magazines, and a hardcore Fandom. Primum competed against thirty-two regional novels, and won thanks to its literary quality. By doing so, it broke that misperception about Central American sf.

Since the nineteenth century, with Rubén Darío (1867-1916) – the most acclaimed Modernist poet – as its starting point, many authors of the Central American isthmus have written sf. However, so far no author has dedicated his entire literary career to this genre. As a rule, most authors have published one novel or just one short story that can be regarded as sf. Ruben Darío himself is included in this Central American entry thanks solely to his short story "Verónica" (1896 La Nación, Argentina).

In addition to this lower volume of production, Central American countries vary considerably in their output. As shown in the individual sections below, there is a clear imbalance among the six countries analysed here. While we can find examples in Guatemalan literary history, Nicaraguan and Honduran literature have very little sf production. There are not enough published works to form a regional sf tradition of any kind. On the other hand, both El Salvador and Panamá register a larger sf production than Nicaragua and Honduras. Regionally speaking, Costa Rica is clearly the main contributor to Central American sf.

Costa Rica

Costa Rican sf started in 1899 with the novel El Problema ["The Problem"] (1899) by Guatemalan Máximo Soto Hall (1871-1944). Although published in Costa Rica, it was only rediscovered by Costa Rican scholars during the 1980s. The novel narrates a future – in 1928 – when Costa Rica has been taken over by the US and a young Costa Rican coming back from Europe realizes the extent of the US cultural advance over his country. In 1908 León Fernández Guardia (1871-1942) published a short story titled "El número 13,013" ["Number 13,013"] (in El libro de los pobres ["The Book of the Poor"], anth 1908) which refers to the use of mental powers (see Psi Powers) to manipulate a man's life and death to win a lottery prize. In 1920 Carlos Gagini (1865-1925) wrote his novel La caída del águila ["The Fall of the Eagle"] (1920), a book about Future War between a Central American alliance and the US, fought to prevent the latter from taking over Central America. Due to its nationalistic approach, Gagini named his story's characters after Costa Rican national heroes and recreated a naval warfare featuring futuristic Machines and Weapons. In 1926 the Catalan (see Catalan SF) priest Ramón Junoy (1875-1951) published the novel El Dr. Kulman ["Dr Kulman"] (1926). In this novel, a scientist invents a machine to solve crimes by reading and reproducing images from the memory of a person and from an entire society (see Psionics).

Later on, in the second half of the twentieth century, a few authors wrote sf texts, although not necessarily identifying them as belonging to this genre. Among them, it is important to mention Alberto Cañas (1920-    ), Alfredo Cardona Peña, Louis Ducoudray (?   -?   ), Fabián Dobles (1918-1997), Carmen Naranjo (1928-2012), Luis Bolaños Ugalde (1944-    ), Fernando Durán Ayanegui (1939-    ), Linda Berrón (1951-    ), and Alí Víquez (1966-    ). As the historian and sf author Iván Molina has argued, contributions to Costa Rican sf were until the 1990s limited to sporadic experiments like those made by the aforementioned authors.

However, one can certainly talk in wider terms about a generation of Costa Rican sf writers from the 1990s to the present. In this late period, there is a dynamic working group writing sf. They continually publish books and public opinion identifies them as sf writers, maybe for the first time in Costa Rica's literary history. This generation comprises authors consistently working with sf themes, such as Jessica Clark (1969-    ), Laura Quijano Vincenzi (1971-    ), Antonio Chamu (1979-    ), Evelyn Ugalde (1975-    ), Emilia Macaya (1950-    ), Iván Molina (1961-    ), Laura Casasa (1976-    ), Manuel Delgado (1952-    ), Daniel Garro (1983-    ), Alberto Ortiz (?   -    ), Miguel Rojas (1952-    ), and Alexander Obando (1958-    ). These writers do not necessarily share a specific background or focus on similar topics, but they all write with their own concept of sf in mind. Moreover, while they have made important individual contributions they have also published Anthologies as a group. As a result of that group work, five collective books have appeared: Posibles futuros: cuentos de ciencia ficción [Possible Futures: Science Fiction Short Stories] (San José: EUNED, anth 2009), Objeto no identificado y otros cuentos de ciencia ficción ["Unidentified Object and other Short Science Fiction Stories"] (San José: EUNED, anth 2011), Poe siglo XXI: ciencia ficción costarricense ["Poe 21st Century: Costa Rican Science Fiction"] (San José: Club de Libros, anth 2011), Marte inesperado y otros relatos costarricenses de ciencia ficción ["Unexpected Mars and other Costa Rican Stories of Science Fiction"] (San José: Grupo Nación GN S.A., anth 2012), and El fin del mundo: cuentos apocalípticos ["The End of the World: Apocalyptic Short Stories"] (San José: Club de Libros, anth 2012). All these books collect original short stories intentionally shaped as sf. It is easy to see two contrasting tendencies. First, Costa Rican sf writers like using their country and its local political, social, and economic struggles to imagine futuristic scenarios. Second, these writers attempt to write in more "universal" terms, locating their stories in different parts of the world. Their stories problematize climate issues (see Climate Change), sexual contacts (see Sex), Aliens, Fantasy scenarios, social problems, social struggles, possible Ends of the World, reflection on Identity, pessimism about politicians and their political decisions (see Politics), and doubts about their country's and world's future.

Despite this collective work, individual contributions are the true hallmark of this generation. In 1995 Laura Quijano Vincenzi's Una sombra en el hielo ["A Shadow in the Ice"] (1995) won the prize "Joven creación" of the Editorial Costa Rica. It takes place in 2195, and features research about an important Scientist who disappeared in the past. Since then, Quijano Vincenzi has published several short stories and two volumes of her electronic trilogy A través del Portal ["Through the Portal"]. In 2003, Alberto Ortiz published Azor y Luna ["Azor and Moon"] (Argentina: Lumen, 2003) an interesting experiment combining Magic Realism and sf in a futuristic story set in the Caribbean. In 2006, Jessica Clark Cohen published Los salvajes ["The Savages"] (coll 2006), a collection of short stories. Her best known work is Telémaco ["Telemaco"] (2007) which came out in Spanish but is part of a trilogy that will appear in English with the title Betrayer Saga as by Tessa MacCord. Daniel Garro wrote and published Deux ex machine (San José: EUNED, coll 2009) a book comprising two short novels: Objetivo madre ["Mother Objective"] and El niño mariposa ["The Butterfly Kid"]. And Manuel Delgado published El vuelo del Ra ["Ra's Flight"] (San José: Uruk Editores, 2010), a novel about life inside a Spaceship in 2070.

Finally, historian Iván Molina Jiménez is probably the most active sf writer in Costa Rica at present. He has used the term sf to identify his series of short stories. Molina has published four books collecting those stories: La miel de los mudos y otros cuentos ticos de ciencia ficción ["The Honey of Mutes and other Tico (Costa Rican) Science Fiction Short Stories"] (coll 2003), El alivio de las nubes y más cuentos ticos de ciencia ficción ["Cloud's Relief and More Ticos Science Fiction Short Stories"] (coll 2005), La conspiración de las zurdas y nuevos cuentos ticos de ciencia ficción ["The Conspiracy of the Left Handed Women and New Ticos Science Fiction Short Stories"] (coll 2007), and Venus desciende. Relatos de ciencia ficción ["Venus Descends: Science Fiction Stories"] (coll 2007). Molina has also contributed to several anthologies and SF Magazines in Latin America. His stories can be catalogued into three types: stories about the future, stories of Time Travel, and stories of Aliens. As with other Costa Rican sf writers, Molina does not pay too much attention to the description of futuristic Machines, Weapons, or Technology. Instead he focuses on human relationships and how they are framed in different sf scenarios.

El Salvador

In 1963 Álvaro Menén Desleal (pseudonym of Álvaro Menéndez Leal [1932-2000], television script writer, diplomat, Professor of Economics, and Director of the National Theatre of El Salvador), published the short story collection Cuentos breves y maravillosos ["Brief and Wonderful Stories"] (coll 1963). This marked the beginning of his significant literary production. In 1972 he published two other collections, Hacer el amor en un refugio atómico ["Making Love in an Atomic Bomb Shelter"] (coll 1972) – which includes his most famous short story: Tribulaciones de un americano que estudió demografía ["Tribulations of an American who Studied Demographics"] – and La ilustre familia androide ["The Illustrious Android Family"] (coll 1972). Thanks to these works, Desleal not only has become the most renowned sf author in El Salvador, but one of the most read sf authors in Spanish. He is also the only Central American author featured in Cosmos Latinos (anth 2003) edited by Andrea L Bell and Yolanda Molina-Gavilán, the only anthology to date of short sf from Latin America and Spain in English translation: his story "Una cuerda de nylon y oro" from La ilustre familia androide appeared here as "A Cord Made of Nylon and Gold".

A few years after Desleal's collections were released, Hugo Lindo (1917-1985) published his own, Espejos parelelos ["Parallel Mirrors"] (coll 1974), although, according to Rafael Menjívar Ochoa (Qubit 41-2008, p27), some of the stories in this collection, like "La novela mecánica" ["The Mechanical Novel"] (1947 venue not known) were published many years earlier. In 1976, the lawyer and Supreme Court judge, José María Méndez Calderón (1916-2006), won the Guatemalan Juegos Florales de Quetzaltenango with the collection Espejo del tiempo ["Mirror of Time"] (coll 1974). Its title story "Espejo del tiempo" is the traditional sf narrative that ends up as a dream. However, these works of the seventies did not create a following. The next Salvadorian sf text is Rodolfo Serrano's (?   -    ) novel El Zodiaco ["The Zodiac"] (1999). Almost a decade later, Jorge Galán (?   -    ) published his futuristic novel El sueño de Mariana ["Mariana's Dream"] (2008).

Guatemala

Guatemala's sf is not abundant. Without a doubt Rafael Arévalo Martínez (1884-1975) was the first writer toying with the genre. His early novels, such as Una vida ["A Life"] (1914) and Manuel Aldano (la lucha por la vida) ["Manuel Aldano (The Struggle for Life)"] (1922), explain social and politic issues due to modernization through a scientific approach. Additionally Arévalo, a well-known author with a taste for supernatural elements, published two Utopian works, El mundo de los Maharachías ["The World of the Maharachías"] (1938) and Viaje a Ipanda ["Journey to Ipanda"] (1939). His short story "El gigante y el auto" ["The Giant and the Automobile"] (in El hombre que parecía un caballo y otros cuentos ["The Man who Looked Like a Horse and Other Short Stories"], coll 1951), in which he depicts the encounter between a Saturnian giant and a handful of terrified commuters, is his strongest contribution to the sf genre.

A decade later, Cristina Camacho Fahsen (1940-    ) released her first Poetry collection titled Siderales ["Sidereals"] (coll 1963). The main themes of her work revolve around space, Stars and galaxies. She continued to publish sf poetry for three decades. She is also known for the following poetry collections: Espacio ["Space"] (coll 1979), Cosmoalma ["Cosmos-Soul"] (coll 1985), Dimensión futura ["Future Dimension"] (coll 1990), Poesía sideral ["Sidereal Poetry"] (coll 1996) and Meridianos de luz ["Meridians of Light"] (coll 1996).

Arévalo and Camacho are probably the only two Guatemalan authors whose work is associated with the sf genre. Elsewhere, sf is only traceable in a few Guatemalan short stories and novels.

Carlos René García Escobar (1948-    ), for example, published a short story "Todos se fueron a la luna" ["They All Went to the Moon"] in (1969 Guía Comercial Zona 19). Later in the same magazine he also published his sf story "La hora perdida" ["The Lost Hour"] (1975 Guía Comercial Zona 19). Both appear in his collection El último Katún ["The Last Katún"] (coll 2000). Francisco Javier Aguirre Batres (?   -?   ) published the sf novel Juan Chapín en el siglo XXX ["Juan Chapín in the Thirtieth Century"] (1986). A few years later, Rodrigo Rey Rosa (1958-    ) released the critically acclaimed Cárcel de árboles ["The Pelcari Project"] (1992). Rey's novel is a Satire on power and violence in contemporary Guatemala, as well as a reflection on writing. On the same topic, Julio Calvo Drago (1969-    ) wrote the short story Megadroide Morfo-99 contra Samuray Maldito ["Megadroide-Morfo-99 versus Cursed Samurai"] (2010 chap). With it he won the Bancafé-elPeriódico short story prize in 1998, though it was not published until more than a decade later.

More recently, Estuardo Prado (1971-    ) and Javier Payeras (1974-    ), two authors who emerged in the nineties, have showed a deep interest in writers from the US, among them sf writers. Estuardo Prado's sf short story "La conciencia, la última frontera ..." ["The Conscience, the Last Frontier ..."] first appeared in Cuentos centroamericanos ["Central American Short Stories"] (anth 2007) edited by Francisco Alejandro Méndez. Javier Payeras has also flirted with sf in the short story "Cuando en la ficción no hay ciencia" ["When Fiction excludes Science"] (2006 Recrearte), published in the Guatemalan magazine Recrearte. Last but not least, Tikal futura ["Tikal-to-be"] (2012) is a posthumous novel by Franz Galich (1951-2007) (see Nicaragua).

Honduras

There is no well-known sf tradition in Honduras. Only a few short stories and one novel have been written and published. Óscar Acosta (1933-    ) has written "La búsqueda" ["The Search"] and "El regresivo" ["The Regressive"], and Orlando Enríquez (    -    ) "Nacimiento último" ["Last Birth"]. According to the "Chronology of Latin American Sf 1775-2005" (November 2007 Science Fiction Studies 34-3; pp369-431), all three of these short stories appeared in Primera antología de la ciencia-ficción latinoamericana ["First Anthology of Latin American Science Fiction"] (anth 1970) edited by Rodolfo Alonso. Three decades later Orlando Enríquez also published the novel Cuando llegaron los dioses ["When the Gods Arrived"] (2001), dealing with cloning (see Clones) and survival on the planets Ul-Dom and Terra by an Extraterrestrial race.

Nicaragua

Sf in Nicaragua emerged in the work of a Modernist author: Rubén Darío (1867-1916). In his short story "Verónica" ["Veronica"] (1896 La Nación, Argentina), Darío connected the miracle of science to the religious miracle. This story, written in 1896, was later revised and published under the title "La extraña muerte de Fray Pedro" ["The Strange Death of Fray Pedro"] (1913 Mundial Magazine). It deals with the consequences of a skeptical friar's X-ray experiments on a consecrated Host. Apparently the genre did not take off in Nicaragua in the twentieth century. In this very early twenty-first century, it reappears through Franz Galich's posthumous novel Tikal futura ["Tikal-to-be"] (2012). Galich (1951-2007), a Guatemalan-born author who developed his craft in Nicaragua, did not flirt with sf during his prolific writing career. Surprisingly this novel combines sf, eroticism, and violence, while revisiting the Guatemalan Mythology collected in the Popol Vuh ["Book of the People"]. It shows a terrifying future in which Technology shapes Guatemalan society and its relationships with the First World.

Panama

Panamá's first contribution to sf was the short story "La boina roja" ["The Red Beret"] (in La boina roja y otros cuentos ["The Red Beret and Other Stories"], coll 1954) by Rogelio Sinán, winner of the Interamerican Short Story Award in 1949. The writer and diplomat Bernardo Domínguez Alba (1902-1994) used "Rogelio Sinán" as his pseudonym for his writing. The short story, heavily influenced by Fantasy, follows the steps of the psycho-zoological short stories of the Guatemalan Rafael Arévalo Martínez. It focuses on an inquiry into the death of a young female student involved with a Scientist, and it takes place on an Island where they were studying the Sex life of fish. Before dying, according to witnesses – among them a practicing voodooist – she gave birth to a siren (see Supernatural Creatures). Each of the witnesses' statements explains the event in a different way. Such was the relevance of Rogelio Sinán's literary oeuvre that in 1996 the Technological University of Panamá named their Central American Literary Award after him. Soon it became one of the most prestigious prizes in the region. The novel Primum: El principio ["Primum: The Beginning"] (2003), by the Panamanian Ramón Varela Morales (?   -    ) won this award for 2002-2003. Varela, a Computer expert from the University of Panama and the California Institute of Technology, tells Oscar's and Giselle's story, which is set in Varela's North American alma mater. The two students create an artificial intelligence (see AI) called Primum, quickly coveted by the government. Primum disappears, while the main protagonists become romantically involved. When Primum reappears, it announces great changes for humanity and reveals the existence of a primordial Intelligence ignored for many centuries.

Primum was revised in 2006, which is highly unusual in Hispanic American sf. Given its success, Ramón Varela Morales decided to write three more novels using the same universe, though sometimes in remote times and spaces, allowing them to stand alone separately. While Primum takes place in the Near Future, the second one, Cunctus: La colectividad ["Cunctus: The Community"] (2005), probably takes place in the twenty-fifth century. In this novel, all human beings are linked through a mysterious web (Cunctus), accessible directly from their brains (see Internet). Its creators are trying to stop a group of intrusive people looking for an explanation of life before Cunctus. The next novel, Praeter oriens: Más allá del este ["Praeter oriens: Beyond the East"] (2006) takes place on the planet Radiani, birthplace of an intelligent species. Its inhabitants want to alter the first human civilization's development using Genetic Engineering. Finally, Adhuc tempus: Aún hay tiempo ["Adhuc Tempus: There's Still Time Remaining"] (2009), takes place in the mid-twenty-first century. In a world besieged by terrorism, a scientific expedition to Mars discovers vestiges of Extraterrestrial Technology seemingly millennia old. Varela Morales received the Panamanian Ricardo Miró Award 2005 for this novel.

Enrique Jaramillo Levi (1944-    ) has also published a few sf short stories. This author of more than fifty books has also worked as a university professor in Mexico, the United States and Panama. Other writers who have published at least one sf short story are Justo Arroyo (1936-    ) with "La ofrenda" ["The Offering"] and Yolanda J Hackshaw M. (1958-    ) with "El nuevo paraíso" ["The New Paradise"]. Both stories were included in Enrique Jaramillo Levi's anthology Cuentos panameños ["Panamanian Short Stories"] (anth 2007). [JCTR/MAFD/DDA/VR]

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