Science Fiction Studies

#132 = Volume 44, Part 2 = July 2017

Symposium on Spanish Science Fiction

Edited by Juanma Santiago                                           

We all know how hard it is to leave aside the models and patterns set up by the major authors in a genre. When these additionally belong to a cultural system promoted by the leading economic power, the need to distance oneself becomes so complicated that a situation of split, of radical rupture, must be assumed. Accommodation and imitation may be deliberate (out of acceptance and submission, due to commercial intentions and market trends, as the market is never invisible) or not (in the case of authors lacking quality). The truth is, however, that the absence of a road of one’s own in the field of Spanish science fiction—with features and risks established on a specific, singular foundation—seems notorious. Much more so if we consider that the field of the fantastic in Spain has managed to make singular contributions with authors such as Enrique Lázaro and José María Merino, even Jorge Luis Borges and Julio Cortázar, if we consider the whole Latin-American community of speakers. In contrast, in Spanish sf the exceptional authors have formed just a small series of stars, distant from each other, rather than a single, continuous path.

Most likely, difficulties in transatlantic communication did allow the pioneering works of Spanish sf to feel their way, to explore the land, and to open new avenues alone. Later, not even Francoist autarchy could prevent the growing influence of American pulp sf. Significantly, the Spanish sf writers who practiced a type of narrative quite faithful to foreign pulp often had to use Anglo-American pseudonyms and apply the same anglicizing procedures to characters and locations. Some of these obvious fixations collapsed with the end of the Dictatorship in 1975. Even so, and despite the general improvement in quality of the books published—discounting a few exceptions—too little work was done to find an original, distinct line that would separate Spanish sf from the plotlines, styles, and themes addressed by the great Anglo-American authors. It is to be concluded, then, that Spanish sf accepted and followed the star maps already drawn by Anglo-American writers, magazines, and markets. Generally speaking, we might say that Spanish sf lacks ambition.

When discussing narrative genres with a profound speculative ambition such as sf, and articulated, in addition, by prospective and imaginative developments, it might seem contradictory to build any work on an imitative foundation. If, besides, the author is invited to enjoy the ever-widening openness of the genre’s limits, such as that offered by sf, it might even seem that an imitative writer manifests a certain incomprehension of sf itself. Ideally, we should seek to enrich sf by bringing into it the plurality, heterogeneity, and diversity of contexts and traditions from each language and territory. This leads us to consider whether, in the case of Spanish sf, we need to speak of lost opportunities, of willing renunciation, or of insurmountable obstacles (a result of an inevitable cultural pressure) in the local practice of, paradoxically, one of the most flexible and polyvalent narrative genres.

Despite all this (reality is, fortunately, quite complex), we must highlight the important role of uchronia, a subgenre which has happily shown a better capacity to develop within our literature, using an autonomous Spanish perspective. No doubt, having to work on the material afforded by specific historical events, and having to speculate about it on the basis of singular social conditions, allows authors to shed alien models and explore resources and paths of their own. In my view, then, the problem is not the use of foreign models as starting points or as coordinates. The problem is limiting Spanish sf to them without bursting the frame—accepting the straitjacket of the epigonal, the self-sufficient, the self-referential—and seeking to reach at most the same peaks, without introducing new mountain ranges.

The rich Spanish literary tradition and Spanish sociological, political, and cultural circumstances have constituted and still constitute a strong enough foundation to explore on our own. But will the talent and daring of the Spanish writers suffice to make new inroads into sf?—Alberto García Teresa, author and critic (translated by Sara Martín)

Spanish science fiction ... is there anything that really answers to that label?

Sf, indeed, has never been massively welcomed among Spanish readers (has it been welcomed in other countries?). Even today, when we are being bombarded by all kinds of audiovisual products connected with this genre, and even though a good number of well-known mainstream authors have dabbled in sf, this is not a majority taste.

Sf, like other minority genres in which authors are just fans inspired by foreign sources, started as an imitative literature. This, the fact that early Spanish sf reproduced mainly the Anglo-American sf of the 1950s and 1960s, is not necessarily negative. Originality and a style of one’s own are essential but not indispensable elements to tell good stories, and of those we’ve had a good share. Nevertheless, I can’t help feeling that the national Spanish production of sf up to the mid-twentieth century, or even up to the 1970s, was often a mere replica of what was being produced in the US and UK. Plenty of (mostly) interesting space opera; few, if any, approaches to New Wave sf, and, no, not much we could call “ours.” There was no clear Spanish identity in the texts. Of course, there are exceptions. The excellent, unclassifiable stories of Gabriel Bermúdez Castillo quickly come to mind as examples of a neatly local product and surely the specialists can name a few more cases.

The end of the twentieth century, in particular the two last decades, saw many new sf authors emerge, all commanding a distinct style of their own: Juan Miguel Aguilera, Rafael Marín, Rodolfo Martínez, Javier Negrete, Eduardo Vaquerizo, and León Arsenal, et al. Since they appeared in a relatively short period, this seemed to suggest that there was a particularly Spanish movement within the fantastic. We must bear in mind, however, that all this happened within a very small, specialized market; most Spanish readers didn’t even notice the changes.

Leaving aside the abundant production and often exceptional quality of their works, can we really speak of a new, well-defined Spanish sf born in the 1990s? Perhaps. This is a type of sf with more humor, sarcasm, perversity even, and somewhat darker than anything reaching us from beyond our borders, mostly through the Anglo-American texts. There was not, however, much social or political criticism. Rather, writers offered new space opera, hard sf with sound scientific foundations, fascinating approximations to the then-fashionable cyberpunk, and the odd weird experiment—always for me the most interesting kind of writing. I don’t want to give the wrong impression that the genre’s boom became the jewel in the crown of Spanish literature. Despite the avalanche of new writers with new ideas about sf, each different from the other, sf remained a minority pursuit.

And so we reach the twenty-first century. Things are no longer the same for the genre, but they’re not worse. Arguably, it makes little sense to search for the distinctive traits of any literary genre, particularly in a fast-moving world. Fanzines, the small publishing houses, and the collections issued by major publishers have quickly vanished to make room for the global network that make texts instantly available to readers. There is less chance to imitate what comes from abroad, because there is less and less “abroad.”

Today, the new writers and those from previous generations enjoy constant feedback from national and foreign colleagues. National sf thus enjoys an ideal time to grow, a time still to be examined with the fine tools of the genre in general and specifically of its local version, if indeed Spanish sf exists as such. At any rate, the problem is not whether there is a Spanish sf and whether it has a future; the problem, seeing the general state of the book market, is whether writing itself, in any genre, has a future.—Daniel Mares, author (translated by Sara Martín)

Most of the Spanish fantasy and sf writers who published their main works in the 1990s used to write sf. They wrote fantasy as well, but their most important works, and especially their novels, were science fiction. As years went by, however, many began to focus on other genres: historical, juvenile, adventure, or fantasy fiction. Not epic fantasy, but fiction closer to what is now called “dark fantasy,” a contemporary urban fantasy, so to speak.

If I may use myself as an example, my early works are mainly sf: my first novels—La sonrisa del gato (1995, available in English as Cat’s Whirld, 2015) and Tierra de Nadie: Jormungand [No Man’s Land: Jormungand, 1996]—all my novellas, and most of my short stories. With the new century, however, I began to write more and more fantasy short stories and novels, such as El abismo en el espejo [The Abyss in the Mirror, 2008], Los sicarios del cielo [Heaven’s Hitmen, 2005], and Fieramente humano [Fiercely Human, 2011]. In the last ten years, I have scarcely written any sf at all.

I am not an isolated case. Many writers of those earlier years, such as Rafael Marín, Juan Miguel Aguilera, and Elia Barceló, now focus their attention on fantasy rather than science fiction.

And if we take a look at the new generations of writers, that seems also to be the trend. Most of them write fantasy and many prefer epic fantasy. As head of Sportula, my small press, I receive many unpublished novels and most are epic fantasy (some, the beginning of a trilogy). I must confess that every time I receive science fiction I read it with more interest. I cannot avoid being a little less strict when I consider its good and bad points. After all, sf was my first love (as a writer, but as a reader as well) and though it’s not now my main concern it still has a special place in my heart. Every time I find a writer who still writes sf, instead of trying to be the Spanish George R.R. Martin, my heart rejoices; and if she is a rookie, someone taking her first steps, I barely can contain my joy.

What has happened? In the 1990s we had in Spain a budding science fiction that was finding its way and its voice—a powerful, promising, and very interesting sf. Sixteen years later the number of sf novels and short stories by Spanish authors is nothing in comparison to the figures for fantasy: dark fantasy, urban fantasy, epic fantasy … all kinds of fantasy.

I am as guilty as the next guy for this situation (though I try to fight it in Sportula as much as I can), and I am not sure why it happened. I see the influence of Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice (1996-) and the success of other epic fantasy sagas in the new generations. But I cannot help thinking that if we, the sf writers who started publishing professionally in the 1990s, hadn’t abandoned sf in search of new narrative territories, things wouldn’t have reached this point. Each of us had our own reasons to do what we did. In my case, I just wanted to try things I had never done before and that took me to a land where sf was just a tiny bit of the landscape. Yes, I have not abandoned science fiction entirely, but in what I write now many other things are mixed. I must confess also that every time I try to go back and write just sf, I have the feeling that I’m not up to the task anymore, that sf has been evolving all these years and I cannot follow its pace anymore. Maybe I’m wrong. In fact, I hope I am wrong; because I really want to write just science fiction again.

But I digress.

Some well-informed acquaintances tell me that this is something also happening abroad. In the last few years, epic fantasy has become the genre calling the shots. The media phenomenon generated by Martin’s work and the HBO series that adapted it to the television screen has a lot to do with this, not to mention the successful work of some very interesting and vigorous fantasy writers such as Patrick Rothfuss, Brandon Sanderson, and Joe Abercrombie. They also tell me that this trend is reversing and that, outside Spain, science fiction is gaining strength again. I hope they’re not mistaken. I would love to see sf again in its rightful place, at the forefront of speculation, asking once more those questions no one else dares to ask and opening our eyes wide with that sense of wonder no medieval fantasy can create, no matter how hard it tries.

We are in the middle of one of the darkest periods of our history: a deep economic crisis with a hijacked, gagged democracy and mass media at the service of the great factual powers. It was in times like these that sf flourished and gave its best. Why should it be different now?—Rodolfo Martínez, author and publisher

At the beginning of the twenty-first century, widespread, simple, and inexpensive access to information technologies has profoundly affected the literary community. In sync with this general trend, Spain has experienced a progressive shift in reading habits, publishing styles, and the way opinions are shared. The current landscape of Spanish science fiction is a reflection of those changes.

In terms of subgenres, the recent popularization of dystopia and alternate history suggests an interest in social issues, fueled by Spain’s economic crisis and political instability. La polilla en la casa del humo [The Moth in the Smokehouse, 2016] by Guillem López is a dystopian tale of social ascension in a subterranean world, while the award-winning novel Challenger (original title in English, 2015) has shaken Spanish science fiction. Eduardo Vaquerizo has also boosted the scene thanks to his version of alternate history in Danza de Tinieblas [Dance of Darkness, 2012] and Memoria de Tinieblas [Memory of Darkness, 2013]. His latest work, Nos mienten [They Lie to Us, 2015], explores a dystopian future in Madrid. Reinventing Spain’s history is the premise of Retrofuturos [Retrofutures, 2016] edited by Guillem López. The stories in this collection combine sf, new weird, and horror, imagining an alternative 1970s of floating cities, mechanical limbs, organic toys, and esoteric surgeries performed on dictators.

Another new phenomenon is the rise of stories with ingredients borrowed from hard sf, such as the collections Quasar (2015) and Exilium (2016), as well as works by authors such as Santiago García Albás and his Cybersiones (2014), Felicidad Martínez with Horizonte lunar [Moon Horizon, 2014] and La mirada extraña [The Alien Gaze, 2016], Miguel Santander with El legado de Prometeo [Prometheus’s Legacy, 2012], and Rodolfo Martínez with La sonrisa del gato (2011; translated into English as Cat’s Whirld, 2015) considered Spain’s first cyberpunk novel.

Women have also begun to acquire visibility as publishers and authors. Silvia Schettin and Susana Arroyo run the e-publisher Fata Libelli. Marian Womack, at Nevsky, is responsible for translations into English such as the collection The Best of Spanish Steampunk (2015). We should mention, as well, Nova’s editor Marta Rossich, Cristina Macía—translator, event organizer, and manager of the e-publisher Palabaristas—and my own task as editor of SuperSonic, a bilingual quarterly magazine of sf, fantasy, and horror. Womack is also an author in both Spanish and English, and the only Spanish graduate so far of the Clarion Writers Workshop (2014). Her fiction in English can be read in Apex, SuperSonic, Weird Fiction Review, and the anthologies Spanish Women of Wonder (2016) and The Year’s Best Weird Fiction, vol. 3 (2016).

Short stories have lately captured both publishers’ and readers’ attention, as the increasing number of anthologies and collections shows. Sportula’s association with editor Mariano Villarreal has proven to be instrumental, with volumes such as TerraNova (2012), A la deriva, en el Mar de las Lluvias [Adrift, in the Sea of Rains, 2015], and Mariposas del Oeste y otros relatos [Butterflies from the West and Other Stories, 2015]. Villarreal also edited Castillos en España and its English translation Castles in Spain (2016), which showcase the best short stories by veteran Spanish authors. Volumes 2 and 3 of TerraNova (2013, 2014), combining the works of Spanish and international authors, were also coordinated by the tireless Villarreal. The collections Ácronos I, II, III, and IV (2012, 2013, 2014, 2016) reflect the literary community’s growing interest in steampunk.

Cuentos desde el otro lado [Tales from the other side, 2016] is Spain’s first anthology of the new weird; in it sf, dark urban fantasy, horror, and slipstream join forces to produce unsettling and disturbing stories. Alucinadas, translated as Women of Wonder, and Alucinadas 2 (2014, 2015) present for the first time together sf stories written by Spanish and Latin-American women writers; a third call for submissions is underway for 2017. Mañana todavía [Still Tomorrow, 2014] gathers together a selection of twelve dystopian stories, strengthening the interest in this subgenre.

In the second decade of the third millennium, to sum up, the state of Spain’s sf is subjected to the same trends and challenges faced by other national markets: more gender diversity, a proliferation of short fiction, a growing interest in subgenres exploring the effect of technology in our lives, and the permutations of past and present history.—Cristina Jurado, writer, editor, and publisher

The old Casa de la Caritat [House of Charity] is one of the most beautiful buildings in the now gentrified downtown neighborhood of El Raval in Barcelona; it also serves to illustrate the progress of Spanish sf. The first Hispacón, after a 10-year break, was celebrated there in 1991. The Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona [Barcelona’s Center for Contemporary Culture], which runs the Casa de la Caritat, rejected the proposal to house the 2002 Hispacón, however, which was eventually celebrated in Sants, a popular working-class neighborhood in Barcelona, far from downtown CCCB. Ironically, CCCB did stage that same year, 2002, an edition of Kosmopolis—its mainstream literary festival—in which William Gibson shared the stage with Amos Oz, Mario Vargas Llosa, and even Lou Reed. In November 2016, CCCB and Casa de la Caritat welcomed the first Eurocon ever celebrated in Spain.

One of the Eurocon events was the roundtable (available on YouTube) “La ciencia ficción española actual: ¿tradición o revolución?” [Current Spanish Science Fiction: Tradition or Revolution?], which this contribution summarizes. Cristina Martínez, author of a brilliant PhD dissertation on the profile of Spanish fandom (or frikis), described the main sociological features of today’s fans. Lola Robles, a fiction and essay writer, and a well-known face of the LGTB movement in fandom, surveyed the history of Spanish sf by female authors, arguing that the problem is not their scarcity but their scarce visibility. Finally, Fernando Ángel Moreno, a historian of the genre and a member of Podemos—the left-wing political party founded after the 2011 anti-crisis protests—lamented the scant critical and political content of Spanish sf.

Despite Moreno’s critique, in general terms the participants gave a positive impression of the current state of Spanish sf. The less marginal social position occupied today by frikis means that sf is less beset than in the past by an inferiority complex, and also better connected with recent literary trends. This is the context in which we need to read works such as El barbero y el superhéroe [The Barber and the Superhero, 2016] by Colectivo Juan de Madre, Transcrepuscular (2017) by Emilio Bueso, and Challenger (2015) and La polilla en la casa del humo [Moth in the Smokehouse, 2016] by Guillem López—currently sf’s most esteemed author, together with the multi-award winner David Luna and the unclassifiable Francisco Jota-Pérez. The same new openness towards sf explains the sales success of El dios asesinado en el servicio de caballeros [The God Murdered in the Gents’ Room, 2016] by Sergio S. Morán, Hijos del dios binario [Sons of a Binary God, 2016] by David Gil, and the YA fiction by young authors Gema Bonnín and the duo Iria G. Parente and Selene M. Pascual. The increasingly greater presence of women in sf and fantasy is evident thanks to collections such as the two Alucinadas [Women of Wonder, 2014, 2015] volumes, the role of editors such as Cristina Jurado (SuperSonic magazine), publishers such as Marian Womack (Nevsky), and the new publishing houses Fata Libelli and Cazadores de Ratas. There is also the ascending career of Sofía Rhei, whose novel Róndola (2016) revisits fairy-tales with the same commitment shown by Angela Carter, Kelly Link, or Andrezj Sapkowski. As for politics, Nos mienten [They Lie to Us, 2015] by Eduardo Vaquerizo and De acero y escamas [Of Steel and Scales, 2015] by Juan González Mesa attest to the politicization of at least one crucial sf subgenre: dystopia.

Other relevant issues were discussed. First were the merger of fandom with other disciplines, such as psycho-geography, hyperstition (coined from “hyper” and “superstition”), and digital culture, analyzed by Layla Martínez and Elisabeth Roselló. Next were the obvious connections with Latin America: Las visiones [The Visions] by Bolivian author Edmundo Paz Soldán might well be the best collection published in 2016 by a Spanish-language author. Third were the growing numbers of academically trained critics such as Cristina Martínez, Mikel Peregrina, Jordi Llavoré, Sara Martín Alegre, Alberto García-Teresa, Fernando Ángel Moreno, Mariano Martín Rodríguez, and Teresa López-Pellisa, who habitually contribute to Brumal (edited by David Roas) and Hélice (edited by Mariano Martín). These, together with the American Alambique (edited by Juan Carlos Toledano), form a Holy Trinity of journals devoted to the fantastic with Spanish connections. Fourth were the proliferation of theme-related anthologies such as Cuentos desde el otro lado [Tales from the Other Side, 2016], edited by Concha Perea and focused on the “new weird”; Retrofuturo [Retrofuture, 2016], edited by Guillem López and focused on the 1970s image of the future; and WhiteStar (original title in English, 2016), edited by Cristina Jurado in homage to the late David Bowie. More aspects to consider include the reconfiguration of the list of Spanish publishing houses with small independent presses, such as Israel Arroyo’s Apache and Hugo Camacho’s Orciny (essential to understanding the re-emergence of Catalan sf), the return to the front line of classic sf publisher Minotauro (in contrast with Fantascy’s refusal to publish new Spanish authors in their specialized series). Last, but not least, new translations into English are appearing (e.g., Castles in Spain [2016] edited by Mariano Villarreal), and even writing directly in English by authors such as Tamara Romero.

I hope that this is the beginning of the new boom that Spanish-language literature needs: the acknowledgment of Spanish sf and fantasy beyond our borders.—Juanma Santiago, critic (translated by Sara Martín)

Spanish sf and fantasy fandom, as a subculture, possesses its own infrastructures, habits, and jargon. It is, however, very difficult to generalize about its sociopolitical component, since beyond the leisure habits that define the fans, this is a highly heterogeneous collective. We can only identify and describe a few recurrent or salient traits.

To begin with, sf fandom is in Spain a middle-class collective, with most individuals aged between 20 and 39. These are educated persons, highly knowledgeable, often pushed by their fan preferences to learn foreign languages (English, Japanese). They are all keen readers and have a good command of the so-called new technologies of information. Hence, they are highly visible on the Internet, through which they are certainly influencing other areas of culture. The sf and fantasy fans were the first in Spain to see the advantages of Internet forums, social networks, podcasts, and video podcasts; they also love creating memes and will try their hand at any new consumer tools, including crowdfunding. Ironically, although their online presence is strong they tend to undervalue their influence, arguing that everyone is active this way, and to downplay their weight as a collective.

Regarding their political interests, these are not relevant in their identity as fans. My own surveys show that fans are not, politically speaking, different from average Spaniards, particularly the young. 25% identify themselves as apolitical, whereas 33% claim they are left-wing sympathizers, 15% prefer a left-wing/center position, 9% are center/right-wing supporters, and only 3% prefer right-wing positions. Extreme left- and right-wing positions amount to about the same percentage, just 1%.

To measure other aspects, I asked fans (known as frikis in Spain) to value the following, which they ranked in this order: friendship, family, health, humor, leisure, education, work, sexuality, money, the couple, their physical appearance, politics, and religion. Politics and religion were considered important by just 25%. Their main concerns, regarding the problems currently besetting Spain, are also the same as for any average Spaniard, in this order: unemployment, corruption, the political class, the economic crisis, and education. It must be noted, however, that frikis show a deeper concern for the general loss of interest in culture evident in Spain (they believe that culture is a primordial value), for the passivity and dependence of individuals living an easy life shaped by a uniform ideology, and for intolerance against alternative preferences.

Despite their critical vision, Spanish fandom does not see itself as a countercultural group, nor are fans organized as such; their choice seems to be, rather, escaping through leisure. Not all are conformists, yet their fan identity seems marginal to their political activism, if they are engaged at all. Nonetheless, I found obvious friki traces in different ideological manifestations, particularly in the left-wing, such as the use of the V for Vendetta (2005) mask by the collective Anonymous. During the popular anti-crisis rallies and demonstrations of 15 May 2011, the crowds often chanted slogans inspired by popular fictions (the Monty Python-inspired “Nobody Expects the Spanish Revolution,” among them). Certainly, Spanish politics is colored with allusions of friki origin, both left- and right-wing. A famous viral video, “Spain Wars: The Change Awakens,” connected the “rebels” in the new left-wing party Podemos with the rebels in the Star Wars saga. Yet, even the Spanish Army has been using Pokemon in their Twitter account to attract new recruits: “If you wish to travel around the world to capture them all, we can help you.” Since, as I have noted, frikis are very active in the social networks, anything that originates with them ends up reaching a very wide audience, usually colored by a distinctive Spanish sense of humor.

To conclude, even though Spanish sf and fantasy fandom has a great potential to influence culture generally, it tends to use this potential on an individual rather than a collective basis, always avoiding confrontation. Spanish frikis, in short, do flock together but tend to express themselves individually, using humor and enjoying the relative anonymity of digital media.—Cristina Martínez, sociologist (translated by Sara Martín)

I was for many years the only woman writing sf in Spain. When I started—my first short story was published in 1979—only two other women were doing similar things: Cristina Fernández Cubas (writing stories in the tradition of the mainstream fantastic) and Pilar Pedraza (producing bizarre novels in the tradition of the macabre). It wasn’t until much later that Rosa Montero, a journalist and mainstream writer, decided to join the club with a couple of very successful novels that weren’t advertised as sf because at the time there weren’t many women reading sf. The general assumptions at the time were: 1) that sf was something for boys (or for very strange men); 2) that sf was for scientists and engineers; and 3) that sf wasn’t literature (and that’s why no self-respecting student of the Humanities would dare be caught reading such rubbish). That was the time when an adult reading sf in public would cover the novel so nobody could guess what sort of genre he was devoting his time to.

Fortunately, as a young girl, and thanks to my father, I already knew that points 1 and 2 were not true, and I was discovering that 3 was also at least partially false. There was rubbish, of course, as in any other genre, but there were great sf novels too, which I read in my home town’s public library, first, of course, translated into Spanish; then in English. All of them were written by men.

It wasn’t until later, already at the university, that I discovered the amazing women writers, an incredible novelty for me: James Tiptree, Jr., Joanna Russ, Joan Vinge, Vonda McIntyre, Marion Zimmer Bradley … and most important of all for me, Ursula K. Le Guin.

Of course, men called what women writers were doing “soft” science fiction because it wasn’t based on “hard” disciplines such as physics and engineering, but these novels and stories were undoubtedly more literary and, mostly, more profound than the hard sf, reflecting upon our world, human problems, and the place of humanity in the universe. Science fiction written by women opened my eyes to gender issues, to present and future problems of racism, reproduction, parenthood—to many ethical questions which were at the time new to me.
                These women showed me what I could do, despite being a Spaniard, a girl, and a student of the Humanities. They told me through their works that I could do whatever I wanted to do. So I started doing it: finding my own voice as a first step and raising my voice as a second.

Now, over thirty years later, I feel happy and proud when I look around and see so many other women—all of them younger—writing sf and fantasy in Spain. There are also many women and girls present at festivals or conventions, and nobody covers their books anymore to read on a bus.

But not everything has been achieved yet. Women still find more difficulties than men in being selected for anthologies. Frequently, there are two or three female names out of twelve, and often just one. A novel written by a man gets more reviews than one written by a woman, but this is also the case on the mainstream scene. Apparently, in the twenty-first century we are still fighting to be accepted as equal.

Nevertheless, in sf women are better received that they are in mainstream fiction. When I started I was an oddity, but I never felt rejected for being a woman as I would probably have been in other genres. Nowadays, women writers have taken a very important step in the right direction: we appreciate the work of our women colleagues and help each other through social media; there are all-female anthologies, blogs, and sites devoted to novels and stories written by women. And there are more and more men—editors, reviewers, readers—who do not discriminate between works by men and by women.

I always feel happy when I see tweets by “La nave invisible” [The Invisible Ship]—a women’s collective devoted to spreading news and reading advice about works by female writers; they have helped me discover new names, not only Spanish ones but also from other countries, and they also allow readers to share their recent reading experiences of sf and fantasy by women.

Names such as Susana Vallejo, Felicidad Martínez, Sofía Rhei, Carmen Moreno, Lola Robles, Cristina Macía, Marian Womack, Laura Fernández, Aránzazu Serrano, Cristina Jurado, Layla Martínez, Nieves Delgado, Tamara Romero, Melisa Tuya, and many more—the women of wonder of today—are now as important in the Spanish sf scene as the male names we were used to hearing mentioned. And they are not confined to writing soft sf or sf by women for women. They use all the themes, all the subgenres, all the possibilities that the literary world has to offer: space opera, mystery, crime, horror, humor, hard sf … everything readers can dream of, in a very satisfying cross-fertilization.

We women are still a minority—sf itself is in Spain a minority genre—but I believe we are now starting to grow. I just hope men won’t disappear as writers and readers when they realize that there are more and more women taking over. It would be a real shame.—Elia Barceló, author and university lecturer

It is easy to see that most female Spanish sf writers have defended a feminist perspective. They have dealt in their works with the problems and circumstances specific to women and have presented alternatives to the sexual stereotypes so often present in the genre. This has been the case from the very beginning, since two of the first women authors to write sf (albeit only  occasionally) were firm defenders of women’s rights: Emilia Pardo Bazán, at the end of the nineteenth century, and Ángeles Vicente, at the beginning of the twentieth century. Their stories, it must be noted, are part of the “prospective” and “scientific” fiction currents within a turn-of-the-century European movement concerned with social and political issues and hence often focused on utopia and dystopia. This was a tradition cruelly disrupted in Spain by the Civil War (1936-1939), which resulted in Franco’s military regime (1939-1975), and it was only reborn in the second part of the twentieth century under the influence of American science fiction.

Whereas men’s production in the field of sf steadily grew between the 1950s and 1970s, we only find a handful of women writers; for the most part, they published just one or two stories and then vanished, leaving no trace (with few exceptions). Only in the 1980s did women start publishing sf regularly, and not only in Spanish. Catalan author Rosa Fabregat, for example, published three pioneering novels in 1984, 1985, and 1995 (grouped in 1997 as the trilogy La dama del glaç [The Ice Lady]), dealing with artificial human reproduction. Elia Barceló, the best-known, most international Spanish woman writer of sf and fantasy also started her career in the 1980s, with her collection Sagrada [Sacred, 1989]. In this novel, women are the protagonists and Barceló evidences a clear intention to subvert gender stereotypes. Her novel Consecuencias naturales [Natural Consequences, 1994] is a great parody of machismo in which radical alternatives to our current motherhood and fatherhood are imagined.

Despite Barceló’s example, only in the twenty-first century is the number of published women sf authors increasing significantly. Mainstream author Rosa Montero, who has always shown an interest in women’s issues through her fiction and journalism, published two sf novels, Lágrimas en la lluvia (2011; English translation, Tears in Rain, 2012) and El peso del corazón (2015; English translation, The Weight of the Heart, 2016), both rather obvious allegories of our reality. Among the writers born in the 1960s, we need to name Conchi Regueiro, author of a decidedly feminist oeuvre. Her novels Reclutas de guerras invisibles [Recruits in Invisible Wars, 2006] and La moderna Atenea [Modern Athena, 2008] are set in the Spain of the transition from the nineteeth to the twentieth centuries, a territory hardly touched by Spanish sf. Likewise, the collection I co-authored with Regueiro, Historias del Crazy Bar [Crazy Bar Stories, 2013], mixes sf with LGTB themes, feminism, and social concerns. Another relevant author, Nieves Delgado, deals with technology, artificial intelligence, and the condition of women (both human and gynoids) in situations of oppression in the stories collected in Dieciocho engranajes [Eighteen Cogwheels, 2016].

The number of women authors should not be the only element under consideration. Among other factors enhancing the visibility of sf women writers, we must highlight the support they receive from women publishers, fans, specialized web managers, anthology editors, award juries, magazine editors, reviewers, and academics. Also crucial are projects such as the two volumes thus far of the collection Alucinadas [Women of Wonder], websites such as La nave invisible [The Invisible Ship], and Fantástikas, or the Goodreads group #YoLeoAutoras [#IReadWomenAuthors]. There have always, of course, been men supporting Spanish sf women writers, but a certain inertia has prevented them, generally speaking, from publicizing women’s work as much as that of their male peers.

The youngest women authors, born in the 1970s and 1980s (Cristina Jurado, Felicidad Martínez, Sofía Rhei, María Zaragoza, and Gabriella Campbell, among others) are either openly feminist (as attested by their declarations in the social networks) or have assumed the tenets of feminism, presenting it in their themes and characters as something “normal.” This sense of gender “normality” is, of course, one of the strongest points of sf.—Lola Robles, author and blogger (translated by Sara Martín)

Science fiction for young readers is not a popular genre in Spain, and never has been. According to data gathered by Teresa Colomer, in 1998 sf titles for children, including translations from other languages, were less than 10% of all published titles. These days this figure is probably lower. Unlike Catalan culture, which has benefited from the impact of the best-selling sf novel by Manuel de Pedrolo, Mecanoscrit del segon origin (1974)—the English translation by Sara Martín, Typescript of the Second Origin, is forthcoming in 2018—we lack a classic sf title for children in Spanish; this is why this genre has never really taken root. Because of this absence, Spanish language middle-grade and YA publishers distrust the commercial potential of sf; writers do not even attempt to write new books in the genre, knowing they will be very difficult to sell.

There is, however, a considerable list of Spanish sf for children. The early precedent appears to be two short tales with sf elements in Cuentos de los juguetes vivos [Tales of Living Toys, 1931] by children’s book classic author Antoniorrobles (sic). Next, we have some middle-grade bestsellers with elements of sf such as space exploration, in Óscar cosmonauta [Oscar Cosmonaut, 1962] and Óscar y los ovnis [Oscar and the U.F.O.s, 1980], both by Carmen Kurtz. Comic extraterrestrials appear in Los Batautos [The Batmobiles, 1975] and the other four titles in the series by Consuelo Armijo; there are dystopian ingredients in En un lugar llamado Tierra [In a Place Called Earth, 1983] and its sequel La nave fantástica [Fantastic Ship, 1989], and also in La fábrica de nubes [The Cloud Factory, 1991] and El espejo del futuro [The Mirror of the Future, 1992], all by Jordi Sierra y Fabra. A strange planet appears in Lumbánico, el planeta cúbico [Lumbánico, the Cubic Planet, 1987] by Cristina Alemparte, and a supercomputer is the main character and narrator in El gran juego [The Big Game, 1998] by Carlo Frabetti, winner of the prestigious Premio Alfaguara. More recent authors are Fernando Pulin, Ricardo Gómez, Gabriel García Oro, Fina Casalderrey, and Rosa Mª Huertas Díaz. In most of their titles, science fiction is often mixed with fantasy elements. Additionally, since 2008 the publishing house Hidra has published gamebook series with sf settings. Some of its most important authors are Susana Vallejo, Víctor Conde, David Lozano, and José Antonio Cotrina. Catalan authors whose middle-grade science fiction has been translated into Spanish include Montserrat Galicia, who wrote Copérnico, planeta habitable, [Copernicus, Habitable Planet, 1997] and Aterrizaje de emergencia, [Emergency Landing, 2003], and Nuria Pradas, author of Lior (1995). Galicia is one of the most prolific sf writers in Spain, with twenty titles published, all originally in Catalan.

Until recently, science fiction was not a popular genre in Spain for YA books. The best-known predecessors are Marsuf, el vagabundo del espacio [Marsuf, Space Wanderer, 1964] by Tomás Salvador and its 1971 sequel. Despite having written fantasy, crime, and horror YA, the most important female writer of Spanish science fiction, Elia Barceló, has only published one sf book for young readers: Futuros peligrosos [Dangerous Futures, 2008]. Of course, following the success of Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games (2008-2010) and later YA dystopian novels, some Spanish writers have started practicing this genre. Their most relevant works are: Tempus Fugit (2010) by Javier Ruescas; La estrella [The Star, 2011] by Javier Araguz and Isabel Hierro; B1terman (2012) by Santiago García Clairac; Enlazados [Linked, 2013] by Carlos García Miranda; El fin de los sueños [The End of Dreams, 2014] by José Antonio Cotrina and Gabriella Campbell; Arena Roja [Red Sand, 2015] by Gemma Bonín, and the Electro trilogy (2015) by Javier Ruescas and Manuel Carbajo.

Another sf subgenre growing in popularity among young readers is steampunk, with works such as Mil millones de tuberías [A Million Pipes, 2013] and its sequel, and Los descazadores de especies perdidas [The Unhunters of Lost Species, 2015], all three by Diego Arboleda; La calle Andersen [Andersen Street, 2014] by Marian Womack and myself; and my own El joven Moriarty y la ciudad de las nubes [Young Moriarty and the City in the Clouds, 2015]. To these we may add El Misterio del Profesor Elphistone [The Mystery of Professor Elphistone, 2015] by Luis Guallar.

Also worth mentioning is the very popular First Readers series (more than 34 titles) by María Menéndez-Ponte, which has an alien protagonist. Pupi y la aventura de los cowboys [Pupi and the Cowboys’ Adventure, 2008] is the first book in a franchise mixing pedagogical non-fiction and recreational fiction books featuring Pupi, the lovely blue alien, as the children’s guide. I hope that the success of this extraterrestrial character will encourage publishers and authors of young reader’s books to produce many more exciting sf titles.—Sofía Rhei, author

Back to Home