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Entry updated 24 June 2020. Tagged: International.


Inspired by literary trends of the period, Portuguese Proto-Sf novels in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries depicted future or remote Utopian societies that are visited and discussed at length by travelers from the present world and time. Great care is given to the shifts in world order and morality and less to scientific achievements, including the modes of Transportation to those far-away lands. Protagonists travel in time through the simple method of deep-sleep (see Sleeper Awakes), as in O Que Há-de Ser o Mundo No Ano 3000 ["What the World Will Be in the Year 3000"] (1859-1860), a loosely-translated version of Émile Souvestre's Le Monde Tel Qu'il Sera to which the translator, Sebastião Ribeiro de Sá (1822-1865), adds a substantial amount of his own writing, in the course of which he unfolds his personal, pessimistic vision of a Portuguese future. Hypnotism also appears in Lisboa no Ano 3000 ["Lisbon in the Year 3000"] (1892) by Cândido de Figueiredo (1846-1925). On the other hand, the Mars of História Autêntica do Planeta Marte ["The True Story of the Planet Mars"] (1921) is reached by simply stepping into a Balloon and catching a ride on a passing Comet shower – this novel, presented as a translation of an obscure French manuscript by a certain "Henri Montgolfier", is nowadays believed to have been written by its presumed translator José Nunes da Matta (1846-1945). História Autêntica do Planeta Marte starts as a travelogue but soon turns into an essay on Mars and its advanced civilization, before pontificating fiercely on the innumerable human sins that Martians have successfully overcome through harsh discipline, mirroring the author's own personal views on the matter.

Invariably, peace in Utopia relies on enforcing strict rules of behavior and belief upon its citizens; those who dare break those rules face severe punishment. Perhaps the most accomplished example of this pattern – one that actually tries to tell a story amid the ideology – is AD 2230 (1938) by Amílcar de Mascarenhas (1895-?   ), published in the heyday of the Estado Novo, the fascist regime that ruled Portugal for the better half of the twentieth century. It describes a future in which the Portuguese Empire, shown to be the last bastion of a (proper) society governed by men, goes to war against the rising menace of the main Feminist countries (the USA and United Europe), which allow women to hold positions of power. The war is brief (given Portugal's superior military technology) but winning had ceased to be a concern to the two female representatives of the enemy countries, for they had fallen in love with the twin Portuguese male governors; the novel ends with a double wedding that seals the peace between men and women.

Nevertheless, if utopia bewitches the faithful, it frightens the unbelievers. A decade of political and social turmoil, following the Regicide in 1908 that turned Portugal into an uneasy Republic, inspires some highly pamphletary Dystopian fiction: in A Cidade Vermelha ["The Red City"] (1923) by Luís Costa, the misguided Portuguese people welcome a full Republican/Communist government, only to see the country devolve into absolute chaos; it is not surprising that the people then cry for the return of the unjustly deposed monarch, who comes back from exile and sets things right again.

Amid such strong ideological trends, any text that pictures an ideal future based solely on the workings of science and technology becomes a rarity: in the landmark vision of Lisboa no Ano 2000 ["Lisbon in the Year 2000"] (1906), Melo de Matos (years) turns Lisbon into a major world economic hub thanks to advances in Transportation and Communication made by Portuguese Scientists.

But dreams of empire were not the only fuel for writers' imaginations in the mid-twentieth century. There was obvious influence from Jules Verne and Pulp Space Operas in the first examples of Portuguese texts to use recognizable sf tropes, moving stories and plots away from the mundane. In Através do Espaço ["Crossing Space"] (1942) by Frederico Cruz (1903-1972), a trio of adventurers build a Spaceship and travel to a Dinosaur-riddled Venus and a Mars inhabited by (again) a technologically and socially superior race; in Vieram do Infinito ["They Came From Infinity"] (1955) by Eric Prince (pseudonym of A Maldonado Domingues [?-2010]), Alien tourists visit our planet with humorous results; and in the collection O Construtor de Planetas e outras histórias ["Planet Builder and other stories"] (coll 1956) by Alves Morgado (1901-1980), vignettes with sf elements appear alongside mainstream material.

It is important to understand that though texts such as these were being written and published throughout the 1940s and the 1950s, there is no reliable evidence that the general readership knew of their existence (some, being self-published, were certainly missed by all but the most tenacious of fans) or even that there was an awareness of the emergence of a Portuguese sf. The fact that none of these authors developed a consistent body of writing in the genre sadly turns these one-time efforts into fan experiments not to be taken too seriously.

The 1960s saw a rising international interest in space exploration (see Space Flight) to which Portugal was not immune. Back in 1953, publisher Livros do Brasil had started Argonauta, a new paperback line of translated French and American sf novels. Argonauta kept a steady monthly publication schedule for fifty plus years until cancellation in 2006, an impressive feat in a country without a solid fantastic tradition. After a decade Argonauta had built up a faithful readership, thus showing other publishers that sf could be a viable proposition. Readers were provided with a constant flow of novels and were introduced to writers, themes and classic novels under the common label of Science Fiction, which promoted a growing awareness of genre.

But exposure to professionally written Genre SF, regardless of the quality of the translations then available (which was low), meant that any occasional experiment by an amateur Portuguese author would be unfairly judged. It is not surprising that stories from that period closely follow plot templates taken from the classic SF Megatext or take place in countries other than Portugal as a strategy for increased legitimacy. Mensageiro do Espaço ["Space Messenger"] (1957) by Luís de Mesquita follows the premise of The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) though not as effectively. A Ameaça Cósmica ["The Cosmic Threat"] (1962), also by Mesquita, can be seen as a variation on When Worlds Collide (1951). Em Busca de Novos Mundos ["Searching for New Worlds"] (1965) by Oliveira de Fontemar (?   -    ) echoes A E van Vogt's The Voyage of the Space Beagle (fixup 1950). Legitimacy, or increased exposure, seems also to be the basis of the Anthology Terrestres e Estranhos (anth 1966), the Portuguese version of Earthmen and Strangers edited by Robert Silverberg, to which Lima Rodrigues (1934-?   ), the self-proclaimed Portuguese "co-editor", added six original stories commissioned from Portuguese writers.

Special mention should be made of the Antologia do Conto Fantástico Português ["Anthology of the Portuguese Fantastic Short-Story"] (anth 1967; rev 1974), a collection of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century fiction that supports the argument for an emerging Portuguese fantastic tradition; it contains some works of interest – in particular by Natália Correia (1923-1993) and Mário de Sá-Carneiro (1890-1916) – with fantastic elements. Curious omissions from this collection are Romeu de Melo (1933-1992), author of "AK": A Tese ou o Axioma ["'AK': The Thesis and the Axiom"] (1959) and of the collection Não Lhes Faremos a Vontade ["We Will Not Do as They Ask"] (coll 1970); and Mário Henrique-Leiria (1923-1980), a surrealist writer and a controversial figure in the art world, author of Os Casos do Direito Galáctico – O Mundo Inquietante de Josela: Fragmentos ["The Cases of Galactic Law – the Disturbing World of Josela: Fragments"] (1975), a funny speculation about Alien encounters in legal scenarios, with artwork by his friend the surrealist painter Cruzeiro Seixas (1920-    ). The omission of Henrique-Leiria is repaired in the 1974 revision of the Antologia, but not that of Romeu de Melo. The continued omission from Antologia of José Saramago, the most significant Portuguese author of twentieth-century Fantastika, may stem from the fact that he wrote few short stories.

Importantly for the consolidation of the sf genre, a new, biennial award for original sf in Portuguese was inaugurated in 1982: the Prémio Caminho de Ficção Científica (Caminho sf award), sponsored by the publisher Editorial Caminho (currently part of the LeYa group). The prize includes publication of the winning work (and any honourable mentions the jury nominates) in addition to a monetary award. The first authors to win this award – João Aniceto (?   -    ) with Os Caminhos Nunca Acabam ["The Roads Never End"] and Daniel Tércio (1954-    ) with A Vocação do Círculo ["The Calling of the Circle"], both 1982 – were still published under a mainstream label; but in 1983 Caminho FC, began as a specialized sf label; though not as long-lived as Argonauta, this label presented an exceptional selection of European titles (a shift from the usual choices of Anglo-American fiction), as well as building the presence (and awareness) of Portuguese SF, a first among sf labels in this country. Most of the original Portuguese publications were by winners of the Caminho award: António de Macedo (1931-    ), João Barreiros (1952-    ), João Botelho da Silva (1968-1995), Ana Godinho (?    -    ), Luis Richeimer de Sequeira (1969-    ), Luís Filipe Silva (1969-    ), Isabel Cristina Pires (1953-    ), Miguel Vale de Almeida (1960-    ) and Artur Portela Filho (1937-    ).

The high point came in 1993 when every title published that year in Caminho FC was by a Portuguese author, including the first mixed Portuguese-Brazilian short-story anthology O Atlântico Tem Duas Margens ["The Atlantic Has Two Shores"] (anth 1993), edited by José Manuel Morais (1955-    ). In practice, as the label had moved to a bimonthly schedule, only six books were in fact published, but this still represented the biggest support of Portuguese sf by a major publisher to date. A subsequent move to trade paperback format, bringing higher prices, caused distribution and production problems for the label, from which it never recovered. But before being cancelled, Caminho FC managed to publish Terrarium – Um Romance em Mosaicos ["Terrarium – A Mosaic Novel"] (1996) by João Barreiros and Luís Filipe Silva, a genre-savvy self-referential novel widely praised by critics as an essential text for the understanding of modern Portuguese sf. Perhaps oddly, the text did not receive a Caminho sf award (no award being given for the year of its publication); and the Prémio Caminho de Ficção Científica (Caminho sf award) was terminated in 1999.

Though not normally conceived of as part of the tradition of genre sf, utopias and dystopias continue however to be written in modern times, often by Mainstream Writers of SF. To give several examples: fears of loss of national identity in a failed European Union are present in the satirical Euronovela ["Eurosoapopera"] (1997) by Miguel Vale de Almeida (1960-    ), which demonstrated the ambitiousness of the Caminho sf award by gaining it; a new, reshaped country rises out of the trauma of a bloody civil war, with the reinstatement of the monarchy and of a perfect government, in Virgílio Castelo's (1953-) O Último Navegador ["The Last Seafarer"] (2008); and the twilight of Europe is shown in full grimness in the strangely archaic O Último Europeu ["The Last European"] (2015) by Miguel Real (1953-    ), an award-winning writer of historical fiction.

But books of this stature did not change the market. In the twenty-first century no other major publisher has been willing to take a gamble on Portuguese sf; even those with a history of translating genre fiction, such as the above-mentioned Livros do Brasil, or Publicações Europa-América, owner of the second longest running paperback label, Livros de Bolso FC, frown on the idea. Unwilling to lose momentum, a group of the former Caminho writers set up a yearly international convention (held between 1996 and 2000, followed by a final, smaller event in 2003), as well as an Association ("Simetria") dedicated to developing the genre and bringing together fans from all over the country. Alas, apart from promoting the occasional anthology, both initiatives suffered from having no publishing strategy for their members, who had to find other venues on their own; some moved online; others left the genre.

Attempting to move against the current, from 2001 António de Macedo edited a series of novels for the Hugin publishing house under the overall title Biblioteca Phantastica, with the aim of recovering classic works of Portuguese literature and interpreting them as actually being proto-SF, as well as publishing new work by contemporary writers. Alas, despite this promising editorial premise that Portugal may have a fantastic tradition after all, the series managed to publish only a couple of nineteenth-century books (by Teófilo Braga [1843-1924] and João da Rocha [1868-1921]) before its early cancellation.

Sf in translation was also declining by the turn of the twenty-first century, in part because modern marketing practices allow for only a short deadline for new material to prove its worth in sales before it is taken off display. By the 2000s Argonauta and Livros de Bolso FC, despite some desperate last-minute changes in format, were identified as old paperback labels with a reputation for bad translations. Lacking a sustained readership, they slowly disappeared within a few years, unable to compete in the new, dynamic industry. First J K Rowling's Harry Potter saga and J R R Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings (1954-1955 3vols), and later Vampire stories and bestselling epic Fantasy written by teenagers dominated the translation sales charts throughout the first decade of the new century.

It was in this environment that Filipe Faria (1982-    ) appeared with a planned seven-book epic fantasy saga, As Crónicas de Allarya ["The Chronicles of Allarya"]: the first volume was published in 2002 when the author was still in his twenties and quickly became a bestseller, developing a cult following among its young audience. This convinced publishers, even those with little or no experience in genre fiction, to be very receptive to original Portuguese fantastic works. It is a welcome, if somewhat misguided, turning of the tide, for such frenzy allowed incompetent work to be rushed into print without even minimal editing. But several good novels from newcomers appeared, of whom the best known are probably Madalena Santos, Inês Botelho, Sandra Carvalho and Fábio Ventura. Alas, the arrival of a major economic crisis in the 2010s affected the publishing industry, hindering new projects. Of the band of new fantasy authors, only Sandra Carvalho and Filipe Faria were able to publish significantly, though with mixed results, after around 2010. As fantasy rose and dwindled back throughout the decade, sf publishing suffered, with only a handful of titles being published in this period. João Barreiros led with three books from different publishers, including his retrospective collection Se Acordar Antes de Morrer ["If I Wake Before I Die"] (coll 2010). But there are a few newcomers, such as Nuno Neves (1976-    ) with O Sentido Latente ["The Latent Sense"] (2003) and Telmo Marçal (1967-    ) with As Atribulações de Jacques Bonhomme ["The Tribulations of Jacques Bonhomme"] (2009).

Some of these works were published by Editorial Presença, the Portuguese publisher of both Harry Potter and Filipe Faria, as part of a new sf label that worked as a companion to its main Fantasy line. However, despite a strong initial selection, sales did not seem to be strong enough and Presença soon cancelled it. The other main player, Saída de Emergência, is the first and only publisher in Portugal devoted almost entirely to genre fiction, publishing different subgenres under the umbrella of a single label, Bang! The label seeks to appeal to a broad readership, meaning a predominance of bestselling international Fantasy texts over Portuguese sf. But some more risky, off-beat projects have appeared, like Jeff VanderMeer's and Mark Roberts's The Thackery T Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric & Discredited Diseases (anth 2003; trans/ed João Seixas as Almanaque do Dr. Thackery T. Lambshead de Doenças Excêntricas e Desacreditadas 2010), to which Seixas (1970-    ) added original material by several Portuguese authors.

It is not without irony that an overall disenchantment with Portuguese genre fiction, from readers and publishers alike, comes at a time of rising global awareness of genre texts and traditions from non-Anglophone literatures. The selection, for instance, of "Uma Noite na Periferia do Império" ["A Night on the Edge of Empire"] (1996) by João Barreiros for James and Kathryn Morrow's anthology The SFWA European Hall of Fame (anth 2007), even if it is not the first time a Portuguese story has appeared in an international venue, is undoubtedly a milestone in the history of the genre in Portugal. A rich heritage awaits further world exposure. [LFS]

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