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Latin America

Entry updated 31 August 2018. Tagged: International.

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The Latin America entry in the 1993 edition of this encyclopedia was divided into sections on individual countries – now replaced by more specific international entries for each country or region within or linked to Latin America and Iberia, as well as detailed entries for selected authors. Relevant international entries are Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Catalan SF, Central America (covering Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama), Chile, Colombia, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Spain and Venezuela. Still awaited or in preparation are new entries for Paraguay and Uruguay.

When the second (1993) edition of this encyclopedia was assembled, space was at a premium and information on sf written in Latin America was much scarcer on the ground. Two decades later, when page limits are no longer an issue and the serious study of Latin American sf has moved well beyond its infancy, the first priority was to provide updated, extended, and/or new entries for each country or group of countries listed above, in order to represent the diversity of Latin America and of the sf produced there. As Mauricio-José Schwarz wrote in the 1993 encyclopedia, "although there is a certain overall Latin-American identity, it is not always easy to generalize. Argentina, Cuba and Mexico, for instance, have such widely different histories, geographies, political systems and inhabitants that sometimes the Spanish language (and some universal aspirations) are the only common ground shared by their literature; in the case of Portuguese-speaking Brazil there is also the language barrier." At the same time, the nations of Latin America share linguistic ties, Iberian colonial pasts, and – with exceptions – histories of recurring political unrest. They have also tended to be on the periphery of global politics, economics, and scientific research, and faced the external pressures and influences that such a position entails. Such commonalities have often led anthologists, editors, and critics in Latin America and elsewhere to publish and study Latin American sf on a regional level as well as in national contexts.

Works of science fiction written in Latin America share a number of tendencies, and a general overview of them is helpful, if only to establish a point of departure for the many exceptions. Although deeply influenced by Anglo-American sf, modern sf in Latin America is also affected by the fantastic traditions of pre-Columbian and colonial times, by national literary traditions, and in some instances by a conscious decision to depart from English-speaking traditions. "Anglo-Saxon sf explores in one way: the way in which Anglo-Saxons think and feel," writes Argentinian critic and author Claudio Omar Noguerol. "Latin-American sf explores as only a person immersed in the turbulence of Latin America can do it."

Since the continent produces relatively little technology and scientific research but is a consumer (and sometimes victim) of technological advance, its twentieth-century sf has often stressed the social, economic and political costs of progress. In that respect, Latin-American sf has paralleled the New-Wave movement of the 1960s in the US and UK, with the added advantage (albeit dubious) of not being restricted by the market pressures of publishing: in most Latin-American countries publishers have yet to exploit the commercial potential of sf. Sf as a literary pursuit is more notable than in countries where mass-marketability is a requisite. Sf novels are relatively scarce; sf is more often than not in the form of short fiction. Its authors are commonly social scientists or professional writers, with fewer coming from the ranks of the hard sciences. The strength and relatively greater literary prestige of neighbouring genres such as lo fantástico ["the fantastic", not in the broad Anglo-American sense but as a specifically Latin American and Iberian subgenre], Fantasy, Horror, and Magic Realism have led to a greater degree of genre hybridity than in Anglo-American sf but also to occasional misrepresentations of Latin American contributions to the genre as primarily magic realism or as fantastic or as soft sf.

Likewise it may be useful to sketch out some national and regional characteristics of sf written in Latin America, though, again, these represent generalities to which the exceptions are legion. The country with the most consistent sf tradition is likely Argentina. Other countries with relatively strong sf traditions are Brazil, Cuba, and Mexico and, increasingly, Chile, with several others on the rise. The hardiness of a national sf tradition is affected by many factors, but among the impetuses behind the implantation and growth of sf in Latin America have been access to science and to sf, geopolitical circumstances, and (in)stability. Such factors also necessarily influence national and regional genre variations as well.

The degree of access to works of sf and thus to the genre conventions inherent in the global sf intertext have impacted the development of sf in Latin America since the eighteenth century (for the earliest known work of Proto SF written in Latin America see Manuel Antonio de Rivas), as has the footprint of science and technology in national and daily life. Geography as well as the strength of economic and political power and ties also influence themes and attitudes represented in Latin American sf. For example, themes of Climate Change and biodiversity appear with particular frequency in the science fiction of countries such as Brazil and Costa Rica (see Central America) where rainforests occupy significant portions of the national topography. The sf written in Mexico often reflects Mexico's proximity to the US, both in terms of themes and of genre activity, and the sf of Cuba has been especially influenced by Soviet sf since the 1970s. Political unrest and economic instability have also affected production and content of Latin American sf: at times impeding production due to uncertain conditions for writing, publishing, reading and to preferences for literary realism (for example, during and after the Mexican Revolution of 1910-1920); at times increasing genre presence, when sf has been seen as a vehicle capable of slipping political content past censors or as popular fiction that was not threatening to the regime in question (for example, Argentina during the Dirty War of 1976-1983); and always provoking reactions to the national situation during or after the fact in the form of Utopias, Dystopias, Alternate Histories, etc.

Some of the other factors affecting style and content of sf produced in Latin America are national literary traditions, histories, and sf communities. Strong traditions of the literary fantastic and Magic Realism in countries such as Argentina and Colombia have contributed both to interesting genre hybrids and to ghettoization of Genre SF; likewise the strength of literary realism and Indigenismo and Neoindigenismo in Peru and other countries with significant indigenous populations has frequently made it difficult for sf to gain acceptance in literary and academic circles, though the genre has also proved an interesting vehicle to reflect upon race and ethnicity in Latin American sf Race in SF. In addition to the presence indigenous populations, Slavery and immigration have also impacted Latin American sf in the representation of perspectives on miscegenation and of legacies of racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic stratification. Iberian colonial legacies have led to interesting twists in Latin American sf on tales in subgenres such as First Contact and Alternate History, and national myths have produced unique takes on the icons of the genre (see M Elizabeth Ginway, "A Working Model for Analyzing Third World Science Fiction", listed below). The development of local sf communities – and the ensuing workshops, Conventions, SF Magazines and literary prizes – has also had a tremendous effect on the history of the genre in Latin America. With the advent of the Internet these local sf communities are becoming more and more regional and international (an example being the pioneering Webzine Axxón).

The field has expanded rapidly in recent years, but much work remains to be done to attain a clearer understanding of Latin American sf. In the interest of encouraging such efforts, we once again refer the reader to individual country and author entries newly written or expanded for the present edition of this encyclopedia, as well as to suggestions for further reading below. [M-JS/RHF]

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