Colombia

Tagged: International

Colombian sf has gone through at least four stages in its history. The first stage runs from the late 1800s to 1930 (these and other dates are approximations). One cannot speak of science fiction literature per se during these decades, but rather of the isolated appearance of sf motifs and short stories, such as "Phrazomela" ["Phrazomela"] (December 1892 Revista Gris 1:3) by Emilio Cuervo Márquez (1873-1937), "Bogotá en el año 2000" ["Bogotá in the Year 2000"] (1 March 1905 Lecturas para el hogar 1:1) by Soledad Acosta de Samper (1833-1913) and Él ángel del bosque ["The Forest Angel"] (1876) by Bernardino Torres Torrente (1813-1886), a realist novel whose story lies somewhere between science fiction and Fantasy.

The second stage covers 1930 to 1950, when authors who for the most part worked sporadically, in isolation and against the grain of the prevailing literary canon penned the nation's first sf novels, thereby sowing the genre's seeds in Colombia. One of these is José Félix Fuenmayor (1885-1966), who wrote Una triste aventura de catorce sabios ["A Sad Adventure of Fourteen Sages"] (1928), a satire after the fashion of Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels (1726; rev 1735) or Voltaire's Micromegas (in Le Micromégas de Mr. de Voltaire ..., coll 1752; trans anon 1753) that pokes fun at the fetishes typical of Scientists. Also from this period are Barranquilla 2132 ["Barranquilla 2132"] (1932) by José Antonio Osorio Lizarazo (1900-1964), in which a man falls asleep in the twentieth century and awakens in the twenty-second (see Sleeper Awakes); and M F Sliger's Viajes interplanetarios en zeppelines que tendrán lugar en el año 2009 ["Interplanetary Zeppelin Voyages That Will Take Place in the Year 2009"] (1936), Colombia's first national Space Opera. More than aesthetic achievements, the works of Fuenmayor, Osorio Lizarazo and Sliger document how Colombian sensibilities were being modified by the mercantilism and rationalism of the times, which accompanied the socioeconomic modernization the country was just beginning to experience.

The third stage of this evolution begins in the mid-1900s and continues, more or less, into the early 1990s. By the 1950s and 1960s, Colombia had entered the age of mass communication; urbanization and cultural pluralism were on the rise. Colombian writers found themselves in a modern setting and tried, with increasing frequency, to make connections with avant garde and international literary movements. It is in this more favorable climate that, for the first time, works and authors self-identified as sf engaged the genre with a clear awareness of the great international tradition in which they sought to share. Germán Espinosa (1938-2007) published La noche de la trapa ["The Night of the Trappist Nun"] (coll 1965), containing a number of fabulations and sf stories, but perhaps more significant was the publication by René Rebetez of La nueva prehistoria y otros cuentos ["The New Prehistory and Other Stories"] (coll 1967), the first work in Colombian literary history wholly dedicated to fantasy and sf. Given that Rebetez had published a book in Mexico one year earlier, La ciencia ficción: Cuarta dimensión de la literatura ["Science Fiction: Literature's Fourth Dimension"] (1966), in which he analyses sf as a genre and that in 1964 he and Alejandro Jodorowsky (1929-    ) had founded Crononauta, one of the first Latin American magazines devoted to fantasy and sf, it is easy to understand why Rebetez is considered the father of Colombian sf.

The other essential author whose works were becoming known during these decades is Antonio Mora Vélez (1942-    ), author of three important collections, Glitza ["Glitza"] (coll 1979), El juicio de los dioses ["The Judgment of the Gods"] (coll 1982) and Lorna es una mujer ["Lorna is a Woman"] (coll 1986). These three volumes assemble different varieties of fantasy and sf stories that show the marked influence of the Soviet sf produced under communist governments. Also belonging to this period is Pedro Gómez Valderrama (1923-1992), who, in collections such as La procesión de los ardientes ["The March of the Burning"] (coll 1973), explores sundry variations on the fantastic and offers what is perhaps Colombia's first uchronia or Alternate History, "En un lugar de las indias" ["Somewhere in the Indies"] (in La procesión de los ardientes above), which speculates about a Miguel de Cervantes who leaves Spain in order to live out the rest of his life in Cartagena de las Indias, on Colombia's Caribbean coast.

Gabriel García Márquez (1928-2014), who is not usually treated as an author of sf, must all the same be mentioned. He reached world fame with his works of the 1960s and 1970s, including Cien años de soledad (1967; trans Gregory Rabassa as One Hundred Years of Solitude 1970), La increíble y triste historia de la cándida Eréndira y su abuela desalmada (coll 1972) and Ojos de perro azul ["Eyes of a Blue Dog"] (coll 1973), stories from each collection being assembled as Innocent Eréndira and Other Stories (coll trans Gregory Rabassa 1978), and El otoño del patriarca (1975; trans Gregory Rabassa as The Autumn of the Patriarch 1976). With these novels and story collections, García Márquez became one of the pillars of Magic Realism. He influenced works of fantasy and sf in Latin America and throughout the world and wound up becoming a literary phenomenon in and of himself. Even though in Colombia, years after he became famous, several mainstream authors tried to clone García Márquez's formulas for writing books, Colombian fantasy and sf writers generally struck out in different directions. Almost all of them wagered on taking different poetic paths – a sound decision. These days, Colombian fantasy and sf writers do not copy García Márquez; rather, they read and try to assimilate him in the same way one reads and tries to assimilate any other universal classic, such as Cervantes or Shakespeare.

Any survey of this period, during which the foundations of a national sf were laid, should mention other authors and works that explore the genre – such as Alberto Gaviria Coronado (1931-    ) with Brujos cósmicos ["Cosmic Warlocks"] (1974); Jesús Arango Cano (1915-    ) with Mi gran aventura cósmica ["My Grand Cosmic Adventure"] (1976); Rubén Ardila (1942-    ) with Walden Tres ["Walden Three"] (1979); and the reappearance of Germán Espinosa with the first full-length Colombian Alternate History, El signo del pez ["The Sign of the Fish"] (1987) a work that speculates about the non-existence of Jesus of Nazareth (see Christ).

Beginning in the 1990s and continuing until the present day, fantasy and sf have taken off in Colombia. While it is true that works in these two genres still have low distribution and readership rates, it cannot be denied that writers and texts have been increasing in quality, quantity and international presence. In 1990, Rafael de J Henríquez published Los dioses descienden al amanecer ["The Gods Descend at Dawn"] (1990) and in the following year La señal ["The Sign"] (1991), books – especially the latter – where fantasy and sf are means for preaching the gnostic ideas of the anonymous El libro de Urantia ["The Book of Urantia"] (1955) (yet another of many books that claim to reveal a supposed road to salvation, like Dianetics). René Rebetez reappeared during this phase with Ellos lo llaman amanecer y otros relatos ["They Call it Dawn and Other Stories"] (coll 1996) and Cuentos de amor, terror y otros misterios ["Stories of Love, Terror and Other Mysteries"] (coll 1998), books that critique Western rationality and, in its place, promote mystical ideas and motifs taken from other traditions ranging from Islamic sufism and Zen to certain gnostic systems. Los geógrafos ["The Geographers"] (1999), by Julio César Londoño (1953-    ) is a work that includes fantastic texts, transfictions, uchronias, sf and absurdist literature. Iménez ["Iménez"] (1999), a short novel by Luis Noriega, clearly fits the Cyberpunk aesthetic. Punto ciego ["Blind Spot"] (2000) by Juan Alberto Conde Aldana (1973-    ) is a curious story halfway between fantasy and sf. Also worth recommending are the stories of Andrés García Londoño (1973-    ): Los exiliados de la arena ["Exiles of the Sand"] (2001) and Relatos híbridos ["Hybrid Tales"] (2009), texts that explore a range of fantasy and sf subgenres. To this period also belongs Campo Ricardo Burgos López (1966-    ), with two novellas: José Antonio Ramírez y un zapato ["José Antonio Ramírez and a Shoe"] (2003) and El clon de Borges ["Borges's Clone"] (2010), the first being a text that explores the "sf of interior space", as J G Ballard once called it (see Inner Space), and the second – as its title states – dealing with the Cloning of the Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges.

Angosta ["Narrow"] (2003) by Héctor Abad Faciolince (1958-    ) is a Dystopia that serves as a metaphor for contemporary discriminations in both Colombia and the world at large. Gustavo Wilches-Chaux (1954-    ) published El universo amarrado a la pata de la cama ["The Universe Tied to the Foot of the Bed"] (coll 2004), a collection of deliberately aporetic stories that succeed in tying fantasy and sf to motifs from history, geography and Colombian myths. El asunto García y otros cuentos ["The García Affair and Other Stories"] (coll 2006) by Orlando Mejía Rivera (1961-    ) comprises a notable reissue of stories that waver between fantasy and sf. During this period Diego Darío López Mera published Los hombres que aterrorizaron al mundo ["The Men who Terrorized the World"] (2007) and Calien ["Calien"] (2009); both short novels importing into the literary field the sort of gruesome, unrealistic action-movie scenes that Hollywood has patented in recent decades. In this same phase of Colombian sf, Antonio Mora Vélez returned to the fray with Los caminantes del cielo ["Skywalkers"] (coll 1999), El fuego de los dioses ["The Fire of the Gods"] (coll 2001), Los jinetes del recuerdo ["The Memory Jockeys"] (coll 2005), Los nuevos iniciados ["The New Initiates"] (2008) and Helados cibernéticos ["Cybernetic Ice Cream"] (coll 2011). The first three are sf Poetry collections; Los nuevos iniciados is a novel about a post-apocalyptic world (see Post-Holocaust); and Helados cibernéticos is a volume of stories both fantastic and science fictional.

Several Anthologies, SF Magazines and critical works concerned with fantasy and sf should also be noted during this fourth phase in Colombia's sf. In 1997, the city of Bogotá convened the country's first national sf contest and as a result, Cuentos de ciencia ficción ["Science Fiction Stories"] (anth 1998), containing the six winning texts, was published in the following year. Contemporáneos del porvenir ["Contemporaries of the Future"] (anth 2000) was the first Colombian sf anthology to be compiled by René Rebetez. The first decade of the new century also saw Antología del cuento fantástico colombiano ["Anthology of the Colombian Fantastic"] (anth 2007), a volume of Colombian fantasy and sf stories selected by Campo Ricardo Burgos López, and the 2009 marked the debut of Cosmocápsula, an E-Zine devoted exclusively to bringing fictional and critical texts to a wider audience. Unfortunately this publication folded in July 2010, after four issues (numbered zero through three). As far as genre criticism goes, a few works that appeared in recent years bear mentioning: Ciencia ficción: El humanismo de hoy ["Science Fiction: Today's Humanism"] (1996) by Antonio Mora Vélez; De clones, cyborgs y sirenas ["On Clones, Cyborgs and Sirens"] (2000) and Cronistas del futuro: Ensayos sobre escritores de ciencia ficción ["Chroniclers of the Future: Essays on Science Fiction Writers"] (coll 2012) by Orlando Mejía Rivera; and Pintarle bigote a la Mona Lisa: Las ucronías ["Painting a Moustache on the Mona Lisa: Uchronias"] (2009) and Otros seres y otros mundos: Estudios en literatura fantástica ["Other Beings and Other Worlds: Studies on Fantastic Literature"] (2012) by Campo Ricardo Burgos López.

In general, the balance sheet on Colombian sf from 1990 to today is bittersweet. Without doubt, the frequency of works in the field has grown, as has their quality, but the truth is that the Colombian sf writer still produces texts for a mere handful of readers. There is neither an internal market for the genre nor interested editors. In Colombia there are sf writers with cult followings but, except for some popular mainstream authors like Héctor Abad Faciolince who have made brief incursions into sf (see Mainstream Writers of SF), all of these authors are part of the underground, unknown by the vast majority of Colombians. Certainly, there is more interest in fantasy and sf today than there was a few decades ago (as evidenced by the appearance of some fan clubs and the increase in academic studies and dissertations on the genre), but a national literature of science fiction and fantasy has not yet reached the masses.

Finally, it should be noted that Colombian fantasy and sf follow two main tendencies: one, to copy – with few original contributions – the great currents and movements that have distinguished mass-marketed US/UK fantasy and sf; and the other, to utilize that same English-language fantasy and sf as inputs that can be mixed with other, new materials and perspectives, in order to explore unfamiliar avenues (as happens with El clon de Borges). On the whole it seems that this latter tendency is the one to bet on. [CRBL/AB]

see also: Latin America.

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