Chile

Tagged: International

This entry provides an overview of Chilean sf during its early, classic and contemporary periods.

The Initial Phase (late-1800s to late-1950s)

In Chile, as in much of Latin America, scientific fiction imported from Europe and North America inspired local authors to apply the genre's themes and tropes to a regional or national context. By the late 1950s, Chilean authors had published some thirty works of sf, and although these texts appeared only sporadically and had no discernible impact on mainstream literary trends, it is possible to identify a few common threads.

Several early works used sf as a means of critiquing Chilean society and charting the nation's possible future. The earliest of these are Utopian novels: El espejo del futuro o la visión del futuro en el año 1975 ["The Mirror of the Future or The Vision of the Future in the Year 1975"] (1876) by David Tillman and Desde Júpiter: Viaje de un santiaguino magnetizado ["From Jupiter: The Voyage of a Magnetized Man from Santiago"] (1877), by Francisco Miralles (1837-?   ). Both of these novels have been scanned and made available to the public on the Chilean National Library's website [see links below]. Desde Júpiter critiques Santiago culture from the perspective of highly advanced Alien scholars from Jupiter, who study the City via extraordinary telescopes and through their interactions with the mesmerized protagonist. Miralles's narrative shines a harsh light on Chile's perceived deficiencies while offering the Jovian example as a corrective.

Novels with a similar positivist agenda include Tierra Firme ["Terra Firma"] (1927), by Julio Assman, writing under the pseudonym R O Land, and Ovalle: El 21 de abril del año 2031 ["Ovalle: April 21, 2031"] (1933), by David Perry. Both works envision a socially and environmentally progressive future for Chile as a result of enlightened government, a civic-minded populace and marvellous technological advances. The First Contact novel Visión de un sueño milenario ["Vision of a Millennial Dream"] (1950), by Michel Doezis, imagines Chile as a world leader in space exploration, and although the encounter with Selenites serves as a platform for severely criticizing Chilean society, the prevailing sentiment is one of optimism and national pride. In contrast, Enrique Bunster uses humour to ridicule the notion of Chilean grandeur in his sharply satirical novel Un ángel para Chile ["An Angel for Chile"] (1959).

Several works during this period are Lost World narratives that take as their starting point either the myth of Atlantis or, more interestingly, Chile's own legendary lost City, la ciudad de los Césares [the city of the Caesars]. The name supposedly derives from a sixteenth-century expedition captained by Francisco César, who claimed to have found an indigenous city rich in silver and gold. Novels in this vein include Thimor ["Thimor"] (1932) by Manuel Astica Fuentes (1932-1995); La Atlántida pervertida ["Atlantis Corrupted"] (1934) and El mundo en ruinas ["The World in Ruins"] (1935) by Luis Thayer Ojeda; Pacha Pulai ["Pacha Pulai"] (1935), a novel for younger readers by Hugo Silva; La ciudad de los Césares ["The City of the Caesars"] (1936) by Manuel Rojas; En la ciudad de los Césares ["In the City of the Caesars"] (1939) by Enrique Délano; and Kronios: La rebelión de los Atlántes ["Kronios: The Rebellion of the Atlanteans"] (1954) by Diego Barros Ortiz. Fernando Alegría, who would go on to become an internationally-respected writer and critic, published a novella, "Leyenda de la ciudad perdida" ["Legend of the Lost City"] in issue #166 (1942) of Revista Aventura ["Adventure Magazine"]. The legend continues to inspire Chilean writers such as Juan Ricardo Muñoz, who in 1983 published a short novel titled Fuegana: La verdadera historia de la Ciudad de los Césares ["Fuegana: The True Story of the City of the Caesars"] (1983).

Of the remaining works of sf during this early period, the stories of Alberto Edwards and Ernesto Silva Román deserve special mention. Both authors published a series of fast-paced adventure stories in rival magazines – Pacífico Magazine and Zig-Zag, respectively – during the 1910s and 1920s, many of which featured Scientists both evil and heroic, Space Flight, interplanetary threats, futuristic Weapons and ships (see Transportation), paranormal Psi Powers and other elements borrowed from the US Pulps. Edwards's short fiction can be found in Historias fantásticas ["Fantastic Stories"] (coll 1953), edited by Manuel Rojas. Silva Román's tales were collected in El dueño de los astros ["Lord of the Stars"] (coll 1938) and El Holandés Volador ["The Flying Dutchman"] (coll 1946). He is also author of a religious-themed alternate reality novel, Jristos ["Jristos"] (1959).

The Classic Era (1959 to mid-1980s)

In 1959, Hugo Correa contributed to a regional boom in sf activity with the publication of two works, the novella Alguien mora en el viento ["Someone Dwells in the Wind"] and the modern classic Los altísimos ["The Superior Ones"]. In 1961 he became one of the first Chileans to participate in the Iowa Writers' Workshop. Ray Bradbury read some of Correa's short fiction and recommended it for The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction and other US publications. Altogether, Correa published seven sf novels and story collections. Other than Los altísimos and Alguien mora en el viento, his most important genre works are Lo que merodea en la lluvia ["The Prowler in the Rain"] (1962); Los títeres ["The Puppets"] (coll 1969), which introduced the trope of the Avatar; and Cuando Pilato se opuso ["When Pilate Refused"] (coll 1971). Recurrent themes include space exploration and Colonization of Other Worlds, First Contact, the weird and the unknown, Christian beliefs (see Religion), and the struggle against authoritarianism.

Other Chilean writers began to cultivate the genre with greater consistency, imagination and attention to style. Along with Correa, the most important names from this period are Antonio Montero (writing at times as Antoine Montaigne) (1921-    ), author of Los superhomos ["The Supermen"] (1963), Acá del tiempo ["This Side of Time"] (1968) and the collection No morir ["Not to Die"] (coll 1971); and Elena Aldunate, who published one sf novel, El señor de las mariposas ["Lord of the Butterflies"] (1967), two story collections, Del cosmos las quieren vírgenes ["The Cosmos Wants Them Virginal"] (coll 1977) and Angélica y el delfín ["Angélica and the Dolphin"] (coll 1977), and a series of five books for young readers featuring an extraterrestrial named "Ur". Other contributors to the expansion of sf in Chile at this time are Miguel Arteche, Carlos Ruiz-Tagle, Ilda Cádiz, Armando Menedín and Carlos Raúl Sepúlveda.

In 1975 Aldunate, Correa and Roberto Pliscoff founded the Club de Ciencia Ficción de Chile [Chilean SF Club], one of whose later presidents, the actor Andrés Rojas-Murphy, edited two sf anthologies. The first, El mundo que no veremos: 12 cuentos de ciencia ficción ["The World We Will Not See: 12 Science Fiction Stories"] (anth 1974) was made up exclusively of foreign sf translated into Spanish, but Rojas-Murphy's second effort, Antología de cuentos chilenos de ciencia ficción y fantasia ["Anthology of Chilean Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories"] (anth 1988) showcased local talent. The Club de Ciencia Ficción de Chile eventually morphed into Sochif, the Sociedad Chilena de Fantasía y Ciencia Ficción ["Chilean Fantasy and Science Fiction Society"]. Sochif, under the leadership of Carlos Raúl Sepúlveda, can be credited with having published a newsletter, the Sochif Boletín ["Bulletin"], a short-lived fanzine, Quantor ["Quantor"], and with organizing the country's first Convention and sf prize, the Nova, awarded only once before Sochif disbanded in 1987.

Various periodicals deserve comment, in addition to those mentioned above. Rocket, the country's first sf Comic, was created by the legendary comic-book artist, Themo Lobos, who wrote many of Rocket's early scripts. The comic debuted in 1965 and lasted 29 issues; it was produced by Zig Zag, Chile's leading publisher of genre fiction during the twentieth century. Julio Bravo Eichkoff edited two sf Fanzines during this era, Sagitario ["Sagittarius"], which folded after two issues in 1972, and Aleph ["Aleph"], which managed just one in 1973. Mampato, a beloved children's magazine published from 1968-78, carried Themo Lobos's popular comic featuring a time-traveling boy, Mampato, and his friends Rena and the caveman, Ogú. The comic-book artist Máximo Carvajal (1935-2006) was a frequent contributor to the magazine. Mampato also has the distinction of having published an illustrated, Spanish-language adaptation of Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles (coll of linked stories 1950) in ten instalments in 1977.

For readers of Spanish, a more complete and illustrated history of mid-twentieth century Chilean sf, with a focus on periodicals, can be found by reading Moisés Hassón's blog, Bibliotecajuntoalmar.com.

Current Trends

It is beyond the scope of one encyclopedia entry to adequately capture the tremendous explosion in sf activity in Chile over the last decade and a half. One major engine driving the genre's growth in Chile, as well as in other parts of Latin America, has been the Internet, but there are other factors as well. A dedicated group of writers, editors and scholars – chief among them Moisés Hassón, Omar E Vega, Luis Saavedra and Marcelo Novoa – have been instrumental in cultivating new authors and promoting Chilean sf at home and abroad. Hassón published the fanzine Nadir ["Nadir"] from 1986-1994 and amassed a library of over 4000 works of Spanish-language sf and fantastic literature, specializing in Chilean/Latin American SF Magazines, Fanzines and Comics. Hassón recently sold a large part of his holdings to the University of South Florida and to the Eaton Collection at the University of California Riverside but remains active as a blogger and expert commentator on his country's sf history. Omar E Vega is an sf author and independent scholar who specializes in sf history and commentary; his most recent work, El futuro imaginado ["The Imagined Future"] (2012) studies how the future has been envisioned in world sf. Luis Saavedra, a published sf author and founding member of the now-defunct fan club, Ficcionautas Asociados ["Fictionauts Associated"], served as editor of Fanzine Fobos ["Fanzine Phobos"] (1996-2004). In addition to being a regular participant in sf round tables, Saavedra has co-edited several sf/fantasy Anthologies. He played a leading role in convening and judging Chile's second national sf writing competition, inaugurated in 2000, with the winning entries published as Fixión 2000 ["Fixion 2000"] (anth 2000); the next three competitions were sponsored by Fanzine Fobos and the winning stories published under the title, Pulsares ["Pulsars"] (anth 2002; 2003; 2004). More recently, Saavedra has co-edited four anthologies under the series title Poliedro ["Polyhedron"] [anth 2006; 2007; 2008; 2011].

Marcelo Novoa is currently the single most energetic and productive champion of Chile's sf and fantastic literature. As a professor of literature at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso, Novoa is mentoring a new generation of scholars who are making sf and fantasy respectable fields of academic inquiry in Chile. As an anthologist and publisher, he has nurtured several up-and-coming writers. Novoa is editor-in-chief at Puerto de Escape [Escape Hatch], the most prominent sf/fantasy publishing house in Chile since Zig Zag. Puerto de Escape has nineteen fantasy and sf titles by national authors to its name, with more forthcoming. It maintains a regularly-updated webpage containing popular and scholarly articles, interviews, news, links to blogs and more, and has sponsored numerous genre conferences, book launches, film festivals and workshops since its inception in 2005.

Regarding the literature itself, sf in Chile, and indeed most of Latin America, is often mixed with other genres, particularly Horror, the fantastic and detective fiction. Notable recent examples of this can be found in the work of Jorge Baradit (1969-    ); the term "ciberchamanismo" [cyber-shamanism] was coined to describe his fiction, which explicitly mixes the technological and the mystical, as for example in "Karma Police" (2004) and Ygdrasil ["Ygdrasil"] (2005). In the former, expanded and presented in 2011 as the Graphic Novel Policía del Karma, with illustrations by Martín Cáceres, energies summoned through perversions of Catholic rituals and channeled by Tibetan monks power a complex, technological system that enables an elite security force to track down fugitives guilty of crimes committed in former lives.

Another recent fashion in Chilean sf has been Steampunk. Sergio Meier (1965-2009), revered by many in Chile's sf community, wrote La segunda enciclopedia de Tlön ["The Second Encyclopedia of Tlön"] (2007), an esoteric novel featuring Sir Isaac Newton, the Victorian Age and Parallel Worlds; its title and metaphysical themes pay homage to Jorge Luis Borges. La sombra de fuego ["The Shadow of Fire"] (2011), by Alberto Rojas, revisits a famous Chilean mystery, namely, the unsolved disappearance of Lt Alejandro Bello, who took off on a training flight one morning in 1914 and was never seen again. In Rojas's novel, Lt. Bello Time Travels in his biplane to the year 1881, where he almost singlehandedly leads Chile to victory in the War of the Pacific (1879-1883). The same war serves as the backdrop for the graphic novel 1899: Cuando los tiempo chocan ["1899: When Times Collide"] (2011) by Francisco Ortega and Nelson Dániel. Sasha Hannig, part of a new generation of women writing f and sf in Chile today, includes a few steampunk stories in Misterios y revelaciones en Allasneda ["Mysteries and Revelations in Allasneda"] (coll 2011). Jorge Baradit plays with two famous figures from twentieth-century Chilean political history, Salvador Allende and Augusto Pinochet, in his uchronia Synco ["Synco"] (2008). In this Alternate History novel, Allende, with Pinochet's help, survives the military coup against him and goes on to establish the world's first "estado cibersocialista" [cybersocialist state].

Sergio Amira, Diego Muñoz, Pablo Castro, Soledad Véliz and Álvaro Bisama are just a few of the many other writers who are making this a very fertile and exciting period in Chile's sf history. [AB]

see also: Robert Bolaño.

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