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Catalan SF

Entry updated 28 March 2022. Tagged: International.

Catalan is not just the language of Catalonia, but a language shared with other areas of Spain, France, and even Italy. Catalan is also the official language of Andorra, the small country set in the middle of the Pyrenees. Most Catalan speakers are bilingual, with Catalan being used as a first language by fewer than half of them. There is a certainly very solid literary tradition in Catalan, which includes a long list of sf works – among them an indispensable masterpiece, Manuel de Pedrolo's Mecanoscrit del segon origen ["Typescript of the Second Origin"] (1974).

Science fiction entered the domain of the Catalan language in the last quarter of the 19th century. Some nineteenth-century highlights are the short stories "La darrera paraula de la ciència" ["Science's Last Word"] (1875), a Parody of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein by Joan Sardà Lloret; "El moviment continu" ["Perpetual Motion"] (1878) by Antoni Careta Vidal, a satire of the search for the perpetual motion machine; and "El radiòmetre" ["The Radiometre"] (1880) by Joaquim Bartrina and Narcís Oller, about the dangers of transgressing certain scientific principles. The first translation of Edgar Allan Poe and Bret Harte, Noveletas escullidas de Edgart Poe y Bret Harte ["Selected Novelettes by Edgart [sic] Poe and Bret Harte"] (coll 1879 chap), included "L'home girafa" ["Four Beasts in One: The Homo-Cameleopard"], "Lo gat negre" ["The Black Cat"] and the short essay "Génessis d'un poema. Lo corb. Método de la composició" ["The Philosophy of Composition"]. Also very popular were some stage plays influenced by Jules Verne, such as De la Terra al Sol ["From the Earth to the Sun"] (1879) by Narcís Campmany and Joan Molas; Quinze dies a la Lluna ["Fifteen Days on the Moon"] (1890) by C Gumà and L'any 13.000 ["The Year 13,000"] (1893) by Miquel Figuerola Aldofreu.

Sf grew in Catalan under the influence of translation, which mixed novelties with the Victorian classics. The list of sf works translated into Catalan in the first third of the twentieth century (we give here the translation dates) include Camille Flammarion's Urània ["Urania"] (1903), H G Wells's L'home que no es veu ["The Invisible Man"] (1908), a selection of short fiction by Nathaniel Hawthorne (coll 1908), Karel Čapek's play RUR ["R.U.R."] (1928), H Rider Haggard's Ella ["She"] (1931) and Robert Louis Stevenson's novella El cas misteriós del Dr. Jekyll i Mr. Hyde ["Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde"] (1934); plus best-selling novels by Jules Verne and other French pioneers. Early twentieth-century Catalan sf is also influenced by the work of Catalonia's pioneer filmmaker, Segundo de Chomón (whom see). Together with the playwright Adrià Gual (1872-1943), de Chomón started the local Catalan fantastic film tradition with titles such as Magatzem d'invents ["Store of Inventions"] (1905) and Física diabòlica ["Diabolical Physics"] (1911), comprising together only some of his work for the Barcelona branch of Pathé Films which he himself founded (de Chomón was also the local delegate of Georges Méliès's Star Films). This fantastic film tradition is still alive today with Catalan directors such as Jaume Balagueró (1968-    ) and José Antonio Bayona (1975-    ).

Still in the first third of the twentieth century, short stories in Catalan dealing with sf multiplied, expanding into varied territories: "L'ull acusador" ["The Accusing Eye"] (1905) by Antoni Careta (1834-1924) deals with a supposedly functional technique to print the images of a murderer captured by his victim's eyes; "Una resurrecció a París" ["A Resurrection in Paris"] (1908) by Diego Ruiz narrates an experiment to keep the heart of a dead person beating; "Com va caure la Marta Clarissa" ["How Marta Clarissa Fell"] (1919) by Joan Santamaria – an author of Gothic and fantasy stories influenced by Poe – is a story about an Antigravity device; "El llamp blau" ["Blue Lightning"] (1935) by Joaquim M de Nadal (1883-1972) focuses on a machine to control lightning; "Els habitants del pis 200" ["The Residents of Apartment 200"] (1936) by Elvira Augusta Lewi (?1910-?1970) is a tale of sociological anticipation; "Tres arguments" ["Three Arguments"] (1938) by Francesc Trabal (1889-1957) conveys a surrealist, theatrical atmosphere. Other anticipation stories using the literary device of the prophetic dream are "Un somni" ["A Dream"] (1906) by Manuel de Montoliu and "La fi del món a Girona" ["The End of the World in Girona"] (1919) by Joaquim Ruyra (1858-1939).

In this early period sf can be found not only in Catalan short fiction but also in drama, a bit tongue-in-cheek. L'escudellòmetre ["The Stewmetre"] (1905) by Santiago Rusiñol (1861-1931) presents a machine which might solve the problem of hunger for good; Un somni futurista espatarrant ["An Astonishing Futurist Dream"] (1910) by Pompeu Gener i Babot (circa 1846-1920) deals with a cosmic revolution; Temps ençà... temps enllà ["Time Here... Time There"] (1926) by Ambrosi Carrión i Juan (1888-1973) and Enric Lluelles (1885-1943) focuses on Time Travel; Molock i l'inventor ["Molock and the Inventor"] (1930), also by Carrion, imagines the invention of the 'definitive' explosive; Les gàrgoles de la seu ["The Gargoyles of the Cathedral"] (1935) by Lluís Masriera connects with Huxley's Brave New World (1932).

A growing range of Fantastika began to become evident around this time in the Catalan literary novel, with, among others, El gegant dels aires ["The Giant of the Airs"] (1911) and L'extraordinària expedició d'en Jep Ganàpia ["Jep Bigboy's Extraordinary Expedition"] (1922) by Josep M Folch i Torres (1880-1950), adventures of Vernian inspiration. Homes artificials ["Artificial Men"] (1912, from a previous short story, 1904) by Frederic Pujulà i Vallés (1877-1893), narrates the creation in the laboratories of diverse hominids; La vida del món ["The Life of the World"] (1925) by Clovis Eimeric centres on an expedition to the Sun which causes a catastrophe back on Earth; L'illa del gran experiment ["The Island of the Great Experiment"] (1927) by Onofre Parés (1891-?   ) tells of a social and scientific experiment to Terraform the Moon between 1950 and 2000, while Retorn al Sol ["Return to the Sun"] (1936) by Josep M Francès i Ladrón de Cegama (1891-1966) deals with an Underground society founded by the survivors of a future worldwide conflict.

Tragically, just when the label 'science fiction' was becoming consolidated in the United States to define a new genre born with the new techno-scientific society of the twentieth century, the outcome of the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) destroyed the existing movement created in Catalan fiction around the genres of Fantastika. Many of the authors active before the war were forced into exile to avoid the repressive policies of Franco's new right-wing, militarist regime. Many books in Catalan were destroyed and all public manifestations of the Catalan language forbidden. One of the main consequences was the destruction in the popular memory of sf production prior to the war. From the cultural catacombs created by this thorough linguistic and cultural repression, all had to be started again – with renewed impetus and eventual success.

Only in 1953, fourteen years after the end of the war, could volumes of fantastic short stories by three significant earlier authors – Manuel de Pedrolo, Antoni Ribera (1920-2001) and Joan Perucho (1920-2003) – be published to general acclaim; they would soon become leading names. Joan Perucho's Amb la tècnica de Lovecraft ["Using Lovecraft's Technique"] (1956) not only introduced H P Lovecraft to Catalan speakers but also defined Perucho's own peculiar brand of sf, which includes elements of Gothic and fantasy in books such as Llibre de cavalleries ["The Book of Chivalry"] (coll 1957) and Les històries naturals (1960; trans David H Rosenthal as Natural History 1988). Pere Calders (1912-1994), exiled in Mexico, published L'espiral ["The Spiral"] (1956), an anticipation story directed against the arms race (see Cold War), and Demà, a les tres de la matinada ["Tomorrow, at Three in the Morning"] (1959), which narrates an expedition to the Moon.

The slow work of consolidating sf in Catalan continued in the 1960s and 1970s, no doubt reaching a climax with Pedrolo's aforementioned extremely popular Mecanoscrit. Prominent examples of 1960s Catalan sf novels are El misteri de Clara ["The Mystery of Clara"] (1962) by Ferran Canyameres i Casamada (1898-1964), a tale about artificial reproduction; La gesta d'en Pamoressi ["Pamoressi's Feat"] (1964), a Hollow Earth tale by Antoni Muset i Ferrer (1892-1968); La gran sotragada ["The Big Shock"] (1965) by Nicolau Rubió i Tudurí (1891-1981), a story within the catastrophe sub-genre; El cronomòbil ["The Chronomobile"] (1966), a time-travel tale, and El mirall de protozous ["The Protozoan Mirror"] (1969), on molecular plasticity, both by Pere Verdaguer (1929-    ); also, Paraules d'Opoton el vell ["The Words of Opoton the Elder"] (1968), a uchronia about the discovery of Europe by the Americans. Sebastià Estradé i Rodoreda (1923-2016) introduced in 1967 the sub-genre of Space Opera to what we would call today a Young Adult readership with Més enllà no hi ha fronteres ["There Are No Borders Beyond"] (1967) and Més enllà del misteri ["Beyond Mystery"] (1970). This proved to be the beginning of a field within Catalan sf that remains very productive today.

As regards short fiction, between 1966 and 1970 Tele-Estel ["Tele-Star"] – the first (weekly) magazine in Catalan authorized by Franco's regime – published sf by Pere Calders, Antoni Ribera, Lluís Busquets i Grabulosa (1947-    ), Màrius Lleget, J Ministral, Pere Verdaguer and J B Xuriguera (1908-1987). Articles by Ribera, Lleget and Sebastià Estradé constituted a first attempt to establish Catalan Fandom. Catalan theatre also offered a handful of sf plays in this period: Llibre dels retorns ["The Book of Returns"] (1957), dealing with time transgressions, by Antoni Ribera; Calpúrnia ["Capulrnia"] (1962), on a Robot spy, by Alfred Badia i Gabarró (1912-1994), and Tot enlaire ["Up in the Air"] (1970), focused on an interplanetary agent, by Jaume Picas i Guiu (1921-1976)

The 1970s generated a rich crop of sf in Catalan: La ciutat dels joves ["City of the Young"] (1971), a futurist Utopia by Aurora Bertrana (1892-1974); the novels by Llorenç Villalonga i Pons (1897-1980) Introducció a l'ombra ["Introduction in the Shade"] (1972), about unknown Dimensions, and Andrea Víctrix ["Andrea Victrix"] (1974), a Dystopia imitating Brave New World; the media dystopia L'enquesta del Canal 4 ["The Survey of Channel 4"] (1973) by Avel·lí Artís-Gener (1912-2000); Àngela i els vuit mil policies ["Angela and the 8,000 Policemen"] (1974) by Maria-Aurèlia Capmany (1918-1991), a utopia inspired by the political activist Angela Davis (1944-    ); La finestra de gel ["The Ice Window"] (1974) by Anna Murià (1904-2002), a novel about Cryonics; La vedellada de Mister Bigmoney ["Mr. Bigmoney's Bullfight"] (1975) by Pere Verdaguer and Trajecte final (1975) [Final Trajectory (1985)] by Manuel de Pedrolo. Apart from Pedrolo's own Mecanoscrit the other outstanding sf novel to emerge from the 1970s is the dystopian Memòries d'un futur bàrbar ["Memoirs of a Barbarian Future"] (1975) by Montserrat Julió (1929-    ).

The restrictions on Catalan were gradually lifted in the years following Franco's death in 1975, coinciding with the arrival of democracy in Spain in the period known as the Transition. Pedrolo contributed new sf with the novels Aquesta matinada i potser per sempre ["This Dawn and Perhaps For Ever"] (1980) and Successimultani ["Simultaneousevent"] (1981), on parallel universes and Time Travel. Pere Verdaguer published Nadina bis ["Nadina Twice"] (1982), L'altra ribera ["The Other Shore"] (1983) and Quaranta-sis quilos d'aigua ["Forty-Six Kilograms of Water"] (1983), works based on his axiomatic concept of sf, which abandons the certainty of classical science in imitation of the axioms of modern mathematics. For his part, Joaquim Carbó (1932-    ) published the apocalyptic Calidoscopi de l'aigua i del sol ["The Kaleidoscope of Sun and Water"] (1979).

The younger Catalan writers of the following generation involved themselves in popularizing sf through Anthologies such as Lovecraft, Lovecraft! (anth 1981) and individual efforts such as the genre-subverting short story collection Qualsevol-cosa-ficció ["Anything-fiction"] (coll 1976) by Josep ("Pep") Albanell (1945-    ), or the novel Grafèmia ["Graphemia"] (1982) by Margarida Aritzeta (1953-    ) about the obliteration of writing. Plenty of new sf was directed at young readers, such as La Principal del Poble Moll any 2590 ["The Poble Moll Orchestra in the Year 2590"] (1981) by M Dolors Alibés i Riera (1941-2009), on Time Travel, and El secret del doctor Givert ["Dr Givert's Secret"] (1981) by Agustí Alcoberro (1958-    ), on Robotics. Sf drama continued with the very successful plays by Josep M Benet i Jornet (1940-    ): Taller de fantasia ["Fantastic Workshop"] and Supertot ["Superall"] (both 1976), Helena a l'illa del baró Zodíac ["Helena on Baron Zodiac's Island"] (1977) on a mad doctor (see Mad Scientist), and La nau ["The Ship"] (1977), about the trope of the Generation Starship. Other notable plays were Josep M González Cúber's L'abominable home de la Neus ["Neus's Abominable Man"] (1976), dealing with brain transplants, and the collective plays of the avant-garde theatre company Joglars: M-7 Catalònia ["Catalonia M-7"] (1978), Laetius ["Laetius"] (1980) and Olimpic Man Movement [original title in English] (1981).

The commemoration of Orwell's masterpiece in the emblematic year 1984 inaugurated the modern period of Catalan sf. The first series of books from a Catalan publisher, simply called 2001, started publication with translations into Catalan of Isaac Asimov, Joanna Russ and other great sf authors. Rosa Fabregat i Armengol (1933-    ) published an indispensable novel on artificial reproduction, Embrió humà ultracongelat núm. F-77 ["Ultrafrozen Human Embryo F-77"] (1984), followed by Pel camí de l'arbre de la vida ["On the Road of the Tree of Life"] (1985). Montserrat Galicía, the most prolific Catalan sf writer so far – above all, for Young Adult readers – started her career with the space adventure PH1A Copèrnic ["Copernicus PH1A"] (1984); like her, Xavier Borràs (1956-    ) addressed a YA audience with Manduca atòmica ["Atomic Grub"] (1984). The next year an essential short story collection was published: Essa efa ["Ess Ef"] (coll 1985), and the first anthology surveying the field of Catalan sf, Narracions de ciència ficció ["Science Fiction Stories"] (anth 1985), edited by Antoni Munné-Jordà (1948-    ).

The late 1980s and the 1990s saw the overlapping of two generations. Senior literary authors like Pere Calders, Avel·lí Artís-Gener and Joan Perucho were still active; as were others specializing in sf. Antoni Ribera published, among others, El dia dels mutants ["Day of the Mutants"] (1992); Sebastià Estradé wrote A l'espai no hi volem guerra ["We Want no War in Space"] (1993) and Quan tornis, porta una mica de pluja ["Bring Some Rain When You Return"] (1996), whereas Pere Verdaguer penned Àxon ["Axon"] (1985), La dent de coral ["The Coral Tooth"] (1985), La gosseta de Sírius ["Sirius' Little She-Dog"] (1986) and Arc de Sant Martí ["The Rainbow"] (1992). Members of the following generation also published new works, such as Josep Albanell's L'implacable naufragi de la pols ["The Implacable Wreck of Dust"] (1987), Víctor Mora's Barcelona 2080 (1989) and El parc del terror ["Horror Park"] (1996). Among the younger authors Ricard de la Casa Pérez (1954-    ) published Més enllà de l'equació QWR ["Beyond the QWR Equation"] (1992) and Sota pressió ["Under Pressure"] (1996); Xavier Duran wrote Traficant d'idees ["Idea Dealer"] (1994) and Jordi Solé-Camardons (1959-    ), Els silencis d'Eslet ["Eslet's Silences"] (1996). YA Catalan sf continued to expand with Robòtia ["Robotics"] (1985) and L'esquelet de la balena ["The Skeleton of the Whale"] (1986) by David Cirici i Alomar (1954), Lior ["Lior"] (1995) by Núria Pradas (1954-    ) and Montserrat Canela's trilogy Deserts asteroidals ["Asteroid Desert"] (1997-1999). The 1990s were also a decade when new sf awards were established: The Juli Verne (in Andorra, now discontinued), the prestigious Premi UPC (1991-    ) and the Manuel de Pedrolo Award (1997-    ). Also in 1997 the 'Societat Catalana de Ciència-ficció i Fantasia' (SCCFF) ["Catalan Society of Fantasy and Science Fiction"] was established with the goal of uniting Catalan Fandom.

The year 2000 brought a renewed impulse for Catalan sf with the beginnings of the series Ciència-ficció published by Pagès Editors and directed by Munné-Jordà. In 2002 the enormously popular La pell freda ["Cold Skin"] (2002; trans Cheryl Leah Morgan as Cold Skin 2006) by Albert Sánchez Piñol (1965-    ) gave Catalan sf its second masterpiece after Mecanoscrit. Víctor Martínez Gil's anthology Els altres mons de la literatura catalana ["The Other Worlds of Catalan Literature"] (anth 2004) brought the Catalan fantastic to a wide mainstream readership. At present, more veteran Catalan sf authors, such as Montserrat Galícia (1947-    ), are still maintaining their careers, and for the new writers reading and writing sf is no longer a marginal pursuit. The list of remarkable novels is, fortunately, long: Testimoni de Narom ["Narom's Testimony"] (2000) by Miquel Barceló (1957-    ) and Pedro Jorge Romero (1967-    ), El cant de les dunes ["The Song of the Dunes"] (2006) by Jordi de Manuel (1962-    ), El cogombre sideral ["The Space Cucumber"] (2000) by Sebastià Roig (1965-    ), Hipnofòbia ["Hypnophobia"] (2012) by Salvador Macip (1970-    ), Jordi Navarri i Ginestà's Les cartes de Nèxiah ["Nexiah's Letters"] (2009), La febre del vapor ["Steam Fever"] (2011) by Jordi Font-Agustí (1955-    ), La mutació sentimental ["The Sentimental Mutation"] (2008) by Carme Torras (1956-    ), L'any de la plaga ["The Plague Year"] (2010) by Marc Pastor (1977-    ), Joan Marcé's El visitant ["The Visitor"] (2015), Sírius 4 ["Sirius 4"] (2012) by Alfons Mallol Garcia (1980-    ) or Jordi Gimeno's El somriure d'un eco ["The Smile of an Echo"] (2013). Finally, the 2000s also saw the emergence of new fanzines such as Miasma ["Miasma"] (2006-2008) and the still on-going Catarsi ["Catharsis"], La lluna en un cove ["Promise the Moon"] and Les males herbes ["Weeds"], all founded in 2009.

To sum up, despite the small number of Catalan speakers, there is a very rich Catalan sf tradition, awaiting the critical and academic attention it certainly deserves. The selection of Barcelona to host the 2016 Eurocon, as well as several of the stories assembled in Barcelona Tales (anth 2016) edited by Ian Whates, may signal an international arousal of interest in this literature. [AM-J/SMA]


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