Cuba

Tagged: International

Cuban sf is generally associated with its flourishing after the revolution of 1959, although the genre was already present in the island as early as 1875 with samples of the scientific novel. Francisco Calcagno (1827-1903) published the novel Historia de un muerto ["Story of a Dead Man"] (1875). Calcagno also published in 1888 En busca del eslabón: historia de monos ["Pursuing the Link: Story of Monkeys"] (1888). Some three decades later, the engineer Juan Manuel Planas y Sáinz (1877-1963) published the novel, La corriente del golfo ["The Current in the Gulf"] (1920), followed by El Sargazo del Oro (El Vellocino Verde) ["The Golden Sargasso (The Green Fleece)"] (1938).

But as stated, it is not until the 1960s that Cuba experienced a significant growth in the genre's production. Perhaps propelled by the revolutionary utopia, the acknowledged "fathers" of the genre published the most renowned Cuban sf classics. In 1964 Oscar Hurtado (1919-1977), published his long poem La ciudad muerta de Korad ["The Dead City of Korad"] (1964) and edited the collection of international stories Cuentos de ciencia ficción ["Science Fiction Short Stories"] (anth 1964); in that same year, Ángel Arango, wrote his first collection of short stories ¿A dónde van los cefalomos? ["Where do the Cephalhoms Go?"] (coll 1964), followed by El planeta negro ["The Black Planet"] (coll 1966), and Robotomaquia ["Robotomachy"] (coll 1967). In addition, Miguel Collazo (1936-1999), published El libro fantástico de Oaj ["The Fantastic Book of Oaj"] (1966) in 1966, and El viaje ["The Journey"] (1968) in 1968. Other authors in the 1960s were Arnaldo Correa, who wrote Asesinato por anticipado ["Murdered in Advance"] (1966) and El primer hombre a Marte ["First Man to Mars"] (1967), and Rogelio Llopis, who in 1968 published the collection Cuentos cubanos de lo fantástico y lo extraordinario ["Cuban Short Stories of the Fantastic and the Extraordinary"] (anth 1968).

The decade of the 1970s was very controversial for the arts in Cuba. Due to the dramatic ideological changes that came with the sovietization of the regime, the cultural authorities on the island tried to impose the tenets of socialist realism, and the country experienced what later was called "el quinquenio gris" [the grey five years], five years of severe intellectual and cultural repression which in actuality affected the entire decade. According to the famous study "Para una bibliografía de la ciencia-ficción cubana" (1988 Letras Cubanas) by writer and critic Daína Chaviano (1960-    ), no work of sf was published on the island from 1971 to 1977, although in 1977 the crime novelist Daniel Chevarría published the novel Joy ["Joy"] (1977), mixing both spy and sf tropes. Notwithstanding, sf was still appearing in Cuba, but it was not locally produced. During the 1970s, the Soviet publishers Mir, Progreso and Ráduga published a considerable number of Soviet and other socialist works in Spanish in Cuba. These included sf by Ivan Yefremov, the Strugatski brothers, the Abramovs, and Alexei Tolstoy, and some selections of short stories, such as Viaje por tres mundos ["Journey Around Three Worlds"] (anth 1974) and Café molecular ["Molecular Coffee"] (anth 1974). Even the Cuban Editorial Dragón published the collection of Soviet writers, Excursiones al cosmos ["Excursions to the Cosmos"] (anth 1978) edited by José A Fernández.

Raúl Aguiar (1962-    ) – editor of the sf E-Zine Qubit – has also listed a large distribution of films from the socialist bloc that appeared in Cuban theatres in the 1970s and 1980s, with films by Soviet directors like V Tchabotaev and G Kazanski, Pavel Klushantsev, Yevgeni Sherstobitov, Andrei Tarkovsky, or Richard Victorov. In addition, this Soviet presence also meant having scientific fairs, scientific journals, and even the possibility for Cubans to become cosmonauts (as did Arnoldo Tamayo, flying in Soyuz 38 in 1980). This overwhelming presence of Soviet and socialist science and culture created the perfect atmosphere for a new generation of writers, who decided to experiment with a genre like sf.

In 1978 the collection of stories Aventuras en el laboratorio (coll 1987) by Bruno Henríquez participated in the David award for new and unpublished writers, but it was not allowed to win (allegedly) because it was sf. This provoked much controversy, and in 1979 the David inaugurated a sf section of the national award. Daína Chaviano won this first edition with the collection of short stories Los mundos que amo ["The Worlds I Love"] (coll 1980). The David award initiated a new era in the history of the genre in Cuba. From 1979 to 1990, the David for sf ran ten times, and promoted sf in a way that no other state had in the Western hemisphere. As a consequence, Cuban production of sf in the 1980s became an impressive one. Some of the young writers who won the David, or were finalists, later became important writers in Cuba – among them the award winners Chaviano, Agustin de Rojas, Yoss, and Gina Picart Baluja (1956-    ), plus 1981 honorable mention, F Mond (1949-    ). Chaviano published some of the most notable works to date, such as Amoroso planeta ["Loving Planet"] (coll 1983), Historias de hadas para adultos ["Fairytales for Adults"] (coll 1986), Fábulas de una abuela extraterrestre ["Fables by an Extraterrestrial Grandmother"] (1988) and El abrevadero de los dinosaurios ["The Waterhole of the Dinosaurs"] (coll 1990). Agustín de Rojas, who had won the David in 1980 with Espiral ["Spiral"] (1982), continued this saga with Una leyenda del futuro ["A Legend from the Future"] (1985) and El año 200 ["Year 200"] (1990). Finally, F Mond published humoristic sf novels like Con perdón de los terrícolas ["You'll Excuse Us, Earthmen"] (1983), ¿Dónde está mi Habana? ["Where's my Havana?"] (1980), Cecilia después o ¿Por qué la Tierra? ["Cecilia after That, or, Why Earth?"] (1983), and Krónicas Koradianas ["Koradian Kronicles"] (1988).

Although Arango did not win any major award in Cuba, he stayed active throughout the 1980s and published a collection of stories titled El arco iris del mono ["The Monkey's Rainbow"] (coll 1980), and began one of the few sf sagas of Cuba with Transparencia ["Transparency"] (1982), and Coyuntura ["Juncture"] (1984). The saga presently comprises four books. In the 1990s, Arango published the third instalment, Sider ["Sider"] (1994), and in 2011, now living in Miami, he published La columna bífida ["Bifid Column"] (2011). Although all of these novels are related to the 1964 short story "¿A dónde van los cefalomos?" (title story of collection cited above), that thematically belongs to a more traditional sf that denounces the dangers of science, this saga and its author would become one of the strongholds of socialist realism á la cubana. This ideological shift is also present in his essays, mostly in "La joven ciencia-ficción cubana. (Un lustro dentro del concurso David)" ["Young Cuban SF (Five Years of David Awards)"] (23.41 1984 Unión), where he writes that the new generation of authors see themselves as carrying the torch of communist values in their stories.

Close to the literary tenets of Chaviano, which break the traditional generic limits of sf and fantasy, were the David winner Gina Picart – who published mostly after the 1990s – La poza del angel ["The Pond of the Angel"] (coll 1994), El druida ["The Druid"] (coll 2000), Malevolgia ["Evilogy"] (coll 2005), and El reino de la noche (coll 2008) – and the couple Chely Lima (1957-    ) and Alberto Serret (1947-2000). Together Lima and Serret published Espacio abierto ["Open Space"] (coll 1983). Alberto Serret later became later a well-known name in Cuban bookstores, publishing another two collections of short stories, Un día de otro planeta ["A Day on Another Planet"] (coll 1986) and Consultorio terrícola ["Earthling Consultant"] (coll 1988). Further authors who published several books in the 1980s were Rafael Morante, with Amor más acá de las estrellas ["Love This Side of the Stars"] (1987) – 1984 David award winner – and Desterrado en el tiempo ["Exiled in Time"] (1990); and Eduardo Barredo, with Los muros del silencio ["Walls of Silence"] (1987), El valle de los relámpagos ["The Valley of Lightning"] (coll 1984), and Encuentros paralelos ["Parallel Encounters"] (1987). Like Arango, these two authors kept on publishing sf after the 1980s: Morante published the novelette La memoria metálica ["The Metallic Memory"] (1993), and Barredo El pez volador ["The Flying Fish"] (coll 2006). Finally there are Gregorio Ortega (1926-    ) with Kappa15 (1982), Roberto Estrada Bourgeois with Trenco ["Trenco"] (1986), Julián Pérez with El elegido ["The Chosen"] (1988), Félix Lizárraga (1958-    ) with the novelette Beatrice ["Beatrice"] (1982) – 1981 David winner – and Gabriel Céspedes (1946-    ) with La nevada ["The Snowstorm"] (1985) – 1982 David winner.

Part of the success of the 1980s is indebted to the creation of the first literary workshops exclusively dedicated to sf and fantasy writers. The most important ones were the Oscar Hurtado and the Julio Verne, and later, in the 1990s, Espiral. Literary workshops became sheltered spaces for new ideas that the literary commissars could not access and censure. In the literary workshops authors read their short stories and received feedback before sending them for publication. Although before the 1990s, there were no Cuban SF Magazines in circulation, sf stories were well received in most periodical publications and dozens of titles were published every year until the 1990s, after the fall of international communism. The end of the Soviet Union meant the beginning of the called Special Period in Time of Peace (Special Period), a time of general scarcity, including paper. However, the journal Juventud Técnica ["Technical Youth"], which initiated a national award for sf short stories in 1985, has maintained constant support for the genre to date, and has even published a selection of stories that appeared in its pages: Tiempo cero: Quince años de ciencia ficción en Juventud Técnica ["Zero Hour. Fifteen Years of Science Fiction in Juventud Técnica"] (anth 2012) edited by Iramis Alfonso and Dania Ramos.

The difficulties of the 1990s were overcome, in some cases, with the help of publishers abroad, and by publishing collections of short stories instead of novels. Among these collections are Polvo en el viento ["Dust in the Wind"] (anth 1999) edited by Bruno Henríquez and published in Chile, and Horizontes probables ["Probable Horizons"] (anth 1999) edited by Vladimir Herández and published in Mexico.

In the 1990s there also flourished a new group of authors. Yoss, who had won the 1988 David award with the collection Timshel ["Timshel"] (coll 1989), is the most veteran, and perhaps the most international of them all, with his fixup novel Se alquila un planeta ["Planet for Rent"] (fixup 2001) published in Spain, and with his participation in the prestigious Spanish UPC award. Yoss was the UPC runner-up in 2003 with Polvo rojo ["Red Dust"] (2004); and the winner in 2011 with Súper Extra Grade ["Super, Extra Large"] (2012). He has also published the anthology Reino Eterno ["Eternal Kingdom"] (anth 1999) and the novel Pluma de León ["Lion Feather"] (2008).

Other Cuban authors who have been finalists in the international UPC award are Vladimir Hernández Pacín (in 1997) and the veteran Roberto Estrada Bourgeois (in 2000), whose manuscript Bosque ["Forest"] (2006), was later published as an independent novel. Hernández was also the runner-up with Yoss in 2003 with Sueños de interfaz ["Interface Dreams"] (2004). Hernández became one of the main promoters of the Cyberpunk movement in Cuba, and published his own cyberpunk collection, Nova de cuarzo ["Quartz Nova"] (coll 1999), and an anthology of Cuban short stories, Onda de choque ["Crash Wave"] (anth 2005), before moving to Barcelona. Cyberpunk had a significant following in Cuba, and new and veteran authors embraced cyberpunk in the 1990s and the 2000s. Among these were the above-mentioned Yoss and Vladimir Hernández, Erick J Mota Pérez (1975-    ), with the novelette Bajo Presión ["Under Pressure"] (2008), the collection Algunos recuerdos que valen la pena ["Some Worthy Memories"] (coll 2010), and the collection of short stories and novel Habana Underguater, completa ["Havana Underwater. Complete"] (2010); and in particular Micheal Encinosa Fú (1974-    ), with Niños de neón ["Children of Neon"] (coll 2001), Veredas ["Trails"] (2006), Dioses de neón ["Gods of Neon"] (coll 2006), Enemigo sin voz ["Voiceless Enemy"] (2008), and Vivir y morir sin ángeles ["Living and Dying Without Angels"] (2008).

The end of the decade of the 2000s marks another milestone for Cuban sf with the publication of the anthology Crónicas del mañana. 50 años de cuentos cubanos de ciencia ficción ["Chronicles of Tomorrow. 50 Years of Cuban Science Fiction Short Stories"] (anth 2008) edited by Yoss. This collection features a history of Cuban sf by Yoss, and both old and very new authors: Anabel Enríquez (1973-    ), Juan Pablo Noroña (1973-    ), Jorge E Lage (1973-    ) – who also wrote El olor de la sangre diluida ["The Smell of Diluted Blood"] (coll 2007) – Haydée Sardiñas (1966-    ), Raúl Flores (1977-    ) – who also wrote La carne luminosa de los gigantes ["The Luminous Flesh of the Giants"] (coll 2007) – or Carlos Duarte Cano (1962-    ).

Although the David award for sf no longer exists, there are new, different awards, like the Premio Calendario and La Edad de Oro, which are helping promote Cuban sf. In addition, E-Zines like miNatura – co-edited in Spain by the Cuban Ricardo Acevedo Esplugas (1969-    ) – and the local Korad are helping to maintain the genre vibrant. The editors and publishers of Korad are the same ones who created the literary workshop Espacio Abierto, and also organize the annual international colloquium of the same name in Havana. The main promoter of this latest group of sf creators is the young and promising Elaine Vilar Madruga (1989-    ), who received a 2006 honourable mention in the Calendario award with Al límite de los olivos ["By the Limit of the Olive Trees"] (2009). [JCTR]

see also: Latin America.

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