Latin American sci-fi, with zombie dissidents and aliens in the Amazon


A spaceship lands near a small town in the Amazon, leaving the local government to deal with an alien invasion. Dissidents who disappeared during a military dictatorship return years later as zombies. The bodies suddenly begin to fuse on physical contact, forcing the Colombians to navigate newly dangerous salsa bars and FARC guerrillas that have fused with tropical birds.

Across Latin America, shelves labeled “ciencia ficción,” or science fiction, have long been filled with translations by HP Lovecraft, Ray Bradbury, William Gibson, and HG Wells. Now they may have to compete with a new wave of Latin American writers who are appropriating the genre, re-rooting it in their lands and their stories. Ignoring the rolling cornfields and New York skylines, they confront their stories with the dense Amazon, the rugged mountainous landscapes of the Andes, and the unmistakably Latin American urban sprawl.

The flurry of quirky sci-fi comes at just the right time, as many Latin American readers and writers feel suffocated by folkloric tropes of magical realism and desensitized by realistic portrayals of the region’s struggles against violence.

“Latin America has been a region today,” Rodrigo Bastidas said in a phone interview. He is co-founder of Vestigio, based in Bogotá, one of the few small independent publishers of Latin American science fiction novels. “People don’t have time to think about the future because they were too busy surviving the present – civil wars, revolution, dictatorship – so much of our literature was realistic. We had a need for testimony .

The current storytelling starburst casts a different light on the region, he said: It is emancipatory, offering the freedom of recycled stories and alien heroes.

“We realize the future is not something we have to borrow or take from other people,” Bastidas said. “We can appropriate it, strong in science fiction. We can create it ourselves.

The writing, in Spanish and Portuguese, is radical and idiosyncratic, teeming with technoshaman and futuristic indigenous aesthetics while also being influenced by the region’s European and African heritages. Troubled histories and the urgency of the present also inspire him with the themes of colonization, the climate crisis and migration.

“We have to reclaim our future and stop thinking that we are a little forgotten place in history, somewhere even the aliens would never come,” said Colombian author Luis Carlos Barragán, star of this wave, during an interview. ‘a telephone interview. His work is Douglas Adams meets Jonathan Swift, feet firmly planted on Colombian soil but head held high in the cosmos.

Latin American science fiction writing dates back more than a century, but has often been isolated, less popular than the English-speaking titans of the genre, and without an integrated regional tradition or market. Due to the labyrinthine export requirements that made it almost impossible to sell books outside the country of printing, publishers and writers carried their work across borders themselves, dragging suitcases full of books.

Political and economic crises in Latin America in the 20th and early 21st century have repeatedly devastated compensated writing and production. Few publishers would take a chance with a new or local author when Philip K. Dick was a sure seller. High paper prices and devalued local currencies made publishing even more difficult.

But energetic fans supported the work, with zines distributed on floppy disks, photocopied and then read online. Increased digital access expanded the space for science fiction readers and writers, and then the pandemic accelerated the sharing and discovery of what had become a sprawling and passionate community.

“We’ve seen that we’re not the party freaks anymore,” Bastidas said. “Similar things were happening everywhere.” Bigger publishers like Minotauro (an imprint of Planeta) are starting to release more original work, though the smaller ones are still the lifeblood of the genre. The bets on unknown authors and original writing are paying off: sales are on the rise.

As the galaxy of local sci-fi communities grew closer, they shared ideas and developed tactics: publishers began seeking investment in book production through platforms such as Kickstarter and began to publish online or simultaneously with other publishers, helped by expanding book sales. by Amazon in the region.

After pounding their own path for years, Latin American science fiction writers are winning awards beyond their borders, including Spain and the United States, and attracting scholarly interest, including in North America. : Yale held its first conference on Latin American science fiction in March.

The writers also draw from an array of tropes and influences that are often rendered anarchic, feminist, queer or hellish, including noir, fantasy, Lovecraftian New Weird and Latin American punk styles – grimy steampunk, urban cyberpunk, reality in slums or pirates flying over the Andes in zeppelins.

There’s even rural “gauchopunk” with gaucho androids dreaming of electric emus, conjured up by Argentinian writer Michel Nieva in a tongue-in-cheek reference to “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” by Philip K. Dick.


“We don’t leave anything ‘pure’,” said Cuban author Erick Mota. “We have contaminated things par excellence, and it is only by accepting the mixture that we become ourselves and our own. There is not a single science fiction concept that we have not taken and adapted to our context, which has become métis‌.

In the high Andes of Peru and Ecuador, works inspired by neo-Indigenism proliferate, advancing cosmologies and aesthetics in time to flourish such as space travel, robotics or virtual reality.

Argentinian and Colombian writers created a wave of body-horror-influenced science fiction known as splatterpunk, little more gag-inducing than Colombia’s Hank T. Cohen or Argentina’s Agustina Bazterrica, including “Cadaver Exquisito.” (“Tender Is the Flesh”) was a phenomenon on TikTok. It has been translated into multiple languages ​​and a TV adaptation is in the works.

In Brazil, Afrofuturism has taken off, with an explosion of science fiction inspired by African heritage and culture. The works are closely linked to a growing movement against structural racism in the country, including by writers like Ale Santos, published by HarperCollins Brasil.

In Mexico, writers like Gabriela Damián Miravete are using science fiction to address the epidemic of violence against women in their country. In “They Will Dream in the Garden,” which was translated into English and won the Otherwise Award, Damián gives victims a second life, building a world in which the minds of murdered women are digitally captured in holograms that “live together in a garden.

Latin American experiences of otherness and progress permeate the new writing, especially the label of “developing countries”, rendered meaningless in distant futures or by alien invasions. Bastidas’ ironically titled anti-colonial anthology “El Tercer Mundo Después del Sol,” or “The Third World of the Sun,” has been published across the Spanish-speaking world, including Spain, where Latin American science fiction has rarely gained ground.

In Barragán’s telescopic satire “Tierra Contrafuturo” or “Earth vs. Future”, the United States threatens to invade Colombia to deal with the arrival of aliens, claiming that Colombia is not up to it. Intergalactic Councils require Earth to apply for membership. The planet does not meet the criteria to be considered civilized, and their application is rejected.

Mota finds uncharted ground not only by reimagining the future, but by rewriting the past. “Habana Undergüater” imagines that the Soviet Union won the Cold War and that Americans took refuge in Cuba, arriving on boats to try to rebuild their lives in dilapidated or flooded neighborhoods. Pushing back further, Mota’s most recent novel, “El Foso de Mabuya”, or “Tomb of Mabuya”, envisions leviathans destroying Christopher Columbus’ expedition before it arrives in the Americas and depicts the continents as united under the indigenous peoples.

“We live in a time when the United States and Europe are reconsidering their histories of slavery and colonization,” he said. “With this scripture, we can overcome some old traumas.”

Immediate crises fueled subgenres like Latin American climate fiction, or cli-fi – speculative works concerned with the environment – including the work of Ramiro Sanchiz from Uruguay, Edmundo Paz Soldán from Bolivia and by Rita Indiana from the Dominican Republic, whose books are available in English. They weave climate apocalypses, time travel and virtual reality with Yoruba mythology, Amazon deforestation and ayahuasca-inspired psychedelic plants.

Viral fiction born during the coronavirus pandemic is also on the rise; call it vi-fi. A new novel by O. Henry Prize-winning Nieva is “La Infancia del Mundo” (“The Childhood of the World”), a Kafkaesque fable about dengue fever. And Uruguayan writer Fernanda Trías won international acclaim with “Mugre Rosa” (“Pink Slime”), a prescient combination of climate and pandemic fiction that has been translated into seven languages, in which a plague arrives on a toxic red wind and a food crisis leaves humanity with nothing to eat but pink paste.

Short stories that play with science fiction attract the attention of writers like Liliana Colanzi from Bolivia and Samanta Schweblin from Argentina, which is now widely translated and whose “Seven Empty Houses” won the National Book Award for Literature. translated last year.

Even Mars is being rewritten: Colanzi’s publishing house has, as it puts it, “one foot in the jungle, the other on Mars”, and it has trod the planet in its new collection, “Ustedes Brillan en lo Oscuro” or “You Glow in the Dark.”

“Mars was already heavily colonized by English-speaking science fiction,” Colanzi said. What she wanted, she says, was “to have the freedom to really create my own Mars colony.”

Whether rewriting old worlds or designing new ones, the region is experiencing “a burst of imagination,” Barragán said.

“The shadow of Anglophone science fiction has been over us for a long time,” he said. “But we are rethinking what it is to be Latin American.”

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