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After an excellent article written last week by our friend and contributor Mihir Wanchoo on Indian Speculative Fiction, now it´s my turn to deliver a piece on Brazil. The article you are about to read is a kind of follow-up to a very similar (almost identical, in fact) piece I did last year for Romanian magazine Nautilus. If in that article my tone was very optimistic, I´m afraid things had changed drastically in the twelve months or so since its publication. (Fourteen months, in fact. Just checked.)
The title in Romanian, marile speranţe, means something like "great expectations". Some of them were fulfilled, some not, as it´s supposed to happen normally. In a country as big as Brazil, however, you should think that things already could have developed in a far better way that they did. Sadly, that´s not the case. Below, part of the original article, with (many) additional remarks.
Brésil n´est pas um pays sérieux: Brazil is not a serious country. that quote, all too famous in Brazil, was always considered to having been said by former French President Charles de Gaulle – which, in itself, is a very good mirror of our condition, because it shows how we see ourselves: that the French liberator of WWII, a respectable man in every respect, should say that about us, should surely mean something, shouldn´t it?
Maybe. The funniest thing is, though, that de Gaulle never said those words: according to a thorough research made by late Brazilian journalist Marcos de Vasconcellos in the 1980s, this infamous choice of words was really uttered, but not by the French President: a Brazilian diplomat who paid him a visit in the 60s told him those words, when complaining about his own country.
But that doesn´t matter anymore. Even if it´s not exactly true, this quote became so popular in Brazil that it is almost a substitute for the Positivistic motto “Order and Progress” of our flag.
Because Brazilians themselves doesn´t consider Brazil a serious country, every time someone tries to do something other than humor in Brazilian culture is met with – naturally – laughter.
That doesn´t mean Brazilian science fiction should be looked upon so despondently; all he have to do is remember that the Austrian writer Stefan Zweig, who moved to Brazil fleeing Hitler, wrote a book called Brazil, Land of the Future, in 1941, something that made us all very proud: Zweig was already well-known among us, and he just wouldn´t say those things lightly. He was very excited because he saw in Brazil the seed of something that could be built in an environment of tolerance and – most important in a world in war – peace . (Before that, he had written an autobiography called The World of Yesterday, a paean to the European culture he considered lost.)
The irony was that Zweig didn´t live much longer to see the big evolutionary jump of Brazil in the 1950s, symbolized by the construction of an entire city (Brasilia, now capital of the country) in the middle of nowhere in Brazilian Central Plains – a work of our President then, Juscelino Kubitschek, a forward-looking man who had as his campaign slogan “fifty years in five”; the fifties were also the times of the massive industrialization of automobile industry, the first oil fields began to be explored in Brazil, to name but a few things. In culture, the 1950s saw the birth of Bossa Nova.
But Zweig and his wife, despairing of Hitler´s continually advances on Europe and the dark prospects facing Europe, committed suicide in 1942, still living in Petropolis, then a small but fashionable city in the hills, less than 90km from Rio de Janeiro.
Perhaps that was the turning point, intellectually speaking, for the decline and fall of Brazil´s self-esteem. After all, if the very man who wrote so excitedly about the future of Brazil, maybe the first foreigner to see in Brazil potentialities beyond soccer and Carnival, killed himself not an year after, how on Earth were we supposed to trust him? Zweig´s suicide was the intellectual/cultural equivalent for Brazil´s soccer team defeat at the finals of 1950 World Cup. It buried deeper the knife in the heart of our people.
(Of course we know Brazil didn´t have anything to do with it, but it never pays to underestimate an entire people´s mindset.)
Caveat lector, though: I have no intention whatsoever in the course of this small article to do a great, deep analysis of this literary genre, for trying to do so would be a Sisyphean work. After all, SF is a genre that was born approximately eighty years ago (reckoning by Hugo Gernsback creation of the word scientifiction, in 1926), and didn´t stop growing ever since. When I stopped subscribing Locus magazine in 2000, its annual report informed that more than 700 SF/Fantasy/Horror books were published in the English-speaking market each and every year. That´s almost two books a day.
Or course the philistines will say (and they will be right): but most of it is crap. And I answer quoting Sturgeon´s Law: "Ninety percent of everything is crap." I repeat: I have no intention to make a deep quality analysis. A much more important question we should ask, I think, is: is there a legit science fiction made in Brazil? And, if it does exist, why it is virtually unknown even inside Brazil?
We had many founding fathers of the genre (maybe forebearers is a better word), but almost all of them wrote pieces in a key we would today relate to Fantasy , and not with Wellesian scientific romances, like Gastão Cruls and Coelho Netto. Machado de Assis also wrote several short stories in a fantastical key, as Uma Visita de Alcibíades (A Visit from Alcibiades), in which the protagonist, a man of the year 1875 (a modern man, because the story was written a few years later that that) is visited by Athenian politician Alcibiades, who simply appears in his office, as if teleported from V Century b.C. In 1994, anthropologist Alba Zaluar found an unpublished manuscript written in 1875 by her grandfather, Augusto Emílio Zaluar. This book, Doutor Benignus, was a scientific novel directly inspired by Arthur Conan Doyle and Jules Verne.
But these works, when were originally published, were almost always viewed as satirical (in Machado´s case, definitely so, for he was a devoted reader of Sterne), or as cautionary tales. A science fiction that really dealt with science concepts would have to wait a long time – no magazine of the genre would see the light in Brazil until the 1950s (not coincidentally, Brazil´s post-war hi-development phase).
Two names would be essential for this to happen: Jerônymo Monteiro and Gumercindo Rocha Dórea. Monteiro, journalist and editor (he was Donald Duck´s first Brazilian editor in 1950), and founded the "Sociedade Brasileira de Ficção Científica" (Brazilian Society of Science Fiction) in 1964. In the early seventies, he published the Magazine de Ficção Científica, the Brazilian edition of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction.
Monteiro wrote three books that are out of print now, but are still being avidly searched by fans in used books´s stores: Três meses no século 81, (Three Months in the 81st Century, 1947), A cidade perdida, (The Lost City, 1948), and Fuga para parte alguma (Escape to Nowhere, 1961). (I just happened to know that Três meses no século 81 will be republished until the end of 2009.)
Monteiro died in 1970, but even before that the fire was being carrried by another man, who would already in the 1960s begin a long, hard (and pretty good) work as publisher and editor: Gumercindo Rocha Dórea, a baiano living in São Paulo and who published for the first time ever, authors as Rubem Fonseca (High Art). His publishing house, GRD, published Fonseca´s first novel, O Caso Morel (The Morel Affair, 1973), and Nélida Piñon.
Gumercindo paid his editions with his own money and never profited from his job; he published dozens of books with themes ranging from politics to fiction, with a special fondness for science fiction, his favorite genre. In the 1980s, Gumercindo approached the new generation that was beginning to publish their stories in fanzines (the paper kind; you must remember there was no Web yet) and offered to publish fresh material from unpublished authors.
This time new names were published, as José dos Santos Fernandes, Roberto Schima e Cid Fernandez, among others. (Unfortunately, most of them published only one novel each and virtually disappeared from the market.) It was at then that the term “Second Wave” was created to label this new generation, treating it as a follow-up to a supposed First Wave led by Jerônymo Monteiro and Gumercindo Rocha Dórea.
In the 1980s and ate least half of the 1990s, paper fanzines prevailed in Brazil, being published mostly in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. The most famous of them were SOMNIUM (the official publication of the Clube de Leitores de Ficção Científica (Science fiction Reader´s Club), association created in 1985 by Roberto Nascimento to unite fans of the genre), MEGALON, created by Marcello Simão Branco, HIPERESPAÇO, by César Silva and Renato Rosatti, and SCARIUM, by Marco Bourguignon. Of these, only SCARIUM made the transition to the Web without quitting publication in paper. Both MEGALON and HIPERESPAÇO chose to close their activities without trying the Web format. After a few years´s discontinuation, SOMNIUM is making a comeback in June, inside the CLFC site, but just in digital format. (NOTE: for reasons unknown, this site is currently offline, for months now)
The beginning of the new millenium was a landmark for Web-based publications. Things started very slowly, but, in 2004, with the creation of Orkut and its community-making tools, people from all over Brazil started to talk and join forces (even though Brazilians acted shamefully as barbarians at the digital Gates of Orkut and virtually expelled most of English-speaking users to MySpace, and now Facebook and Twitter, thus setting back for a few years a more prolifical dialogue with other peoples).
But, even before this, we can say that there´s one successful case of a well-organized SF multimedia project in Brasil: that was the Intempol site.
Intempol is a shared universe created by the graphic designer and writer Octavio Aragão. This corrupt, trigger-happy time-travel law-enforcement agency was created in 1998, for a short story written especially for Outras Copas, Outros Mundos, (Other Cups, Other Worlds), an anthology published by the indie publishing house Ano-Luz (created by a collective of SF writers, such as Carlos Orsi, Gerson Lodi-Ribeiro and Octavio Aragão). Spurred by several friends (me included) Aragão decide to “open-source” his universe, that is, share it with whoever wanted to write Intempol stories.
This started a project which is still alive and kicking today: the first work was a original story antho featuring eleven stories, published in 2000, a site with more stories and interviews with Brazilian and foreign authors, an RPG game (written by Aragão and me), a graphic novel which was a runner-up to the Prêmio HQMix (HQMix Award), the “Oscar” of Brazilian comics, and still have some fruits to bear: another graphic novel is in the making and there are plans for a second anthology. As for the website, a mainframe problem deleted its entire content last year, and Intempol dropped off the air. Fortunately, however, most of that material was saved, and Intempol´s Web space is returning slowly, temporarily hosted in http://intemblog.blogspot.com/.
But the story is far from finished for Brazilian SF. Thanks to the abovementioned Web communities, brand new authors, who didn´t even know of the existence of a SF readers´s club, appeared and occupied a fundamental niche in the genre literature and in its critical debate. The difference of this new kids on the block as Flávio Medeiros, Tibor Moricz, Christie Lasaitis, Ana Cristina Rodrigues, Ludimila Hashimoto, and Jacques Barcia is that most of them not only did never published a story in a paper fanzine, but also started straight to novel publishing, which is already spreading ripples in the pond (now apparently growing into a lake) of Brazilian SF, involving the authors of the so-called Second Wave and these young ones, already called for some as the Third Wave.
But, today, these labels aren´t sticking any longer. This possible Third Wave is less monolithical than the Second one, because it contains writers from the 20s to the 50s, and also of several sexual orientations (straight and gay authors now are treated equally in the SF community, a thing that never happened before). And some of them, like Barcia and Hashimoto, are even starting to publish twitterfictions and flash fictions in English - for, though the Brazilian market was starting to become interesting by the end of 2008, now it´s something of a question mark: there are too many small presses who demand that the writers pay for publishing their books, something we didn´t see in Brazil since the 80s - and, since many of these young writers were BORN in the 80s, they seem to be completely clueless about it - even when you teach some History to them.
[NOTE: an exception can be made to the Project TAIKODOM, a multimedia venue created by Hoplon Infotainment, a Brazilian gaming company who comissioned a famed Second Wave writer, Gerson Lodi-Ribeiro, to do their worldbuilding. Lodi-Ribeiro created a whole galaxy-spanning set of adventures and has just published his first novel in this universe , Taikodom - Crônicas (a book trilogy by him is scheduled to be published by the end of the year)]
So, the fundamental question about the existence of a Brazilian Science Fiction can be met with a sound YES. On the other hand, the matter of its publication is a different story. And a story that has yet to be told.