Science Fiction Studies

#132 = Volume 44, Part 2 = July 2017

Fernando Ángel Moreno and Cristina Pérez

An Overview of Spanish Science Fiction

To better understand Spanish science fiction, an understanding of the nation itself is useful. Nevertheless, not even Spaniards know how properly to explain the diversity and “otherness” of Spanish sf, much less of the nation. Some of the features of this genre in Spain are the predominance of space opera, a predilection for cultural and literary allusions and for comedy, and less focus on dystopias, robots, and political-cultural criticism.

An initial examination of Spanish sf may offer the impression that the most significant leaps within the genre are due to specific authors in certain contexts, rather than being related to specific periods of significant historical change. Each point of historical change, however, has arguably coincided with a literary change. A key issue, then, has always been identifying whether key works and movements in sf correspond with, or indeed were influenced by, key historical events. There are some specific parallels. For example, it is obvious that the active, fast-growing Spanish sf field diminished after the Civil War (1936-1939); indeed, it almost disappeared. It should also be noted that after the death of Francisco Franco (1975), which ended his long dictatorship (1939-1975), there was an upswing in sf, with specific stylistic changes, although this may be attributable to current fashions as much as to political change.

This brief overview of the sf produced specifically in Spain will focus especially on the most significant groups and particularly relevant work. We aim to explain trends and common areas, along with providing brief historical notes to offer some context, thus allowing the reader to identify the parallels between historical context and literary developments.

Early Years in Spanish SF: 1870s-1930s. Spanish sf enjoyed good health in its early stages over several decades, from the last third of the nineteenth century until 1936 when the Civil War began. Spain underwent two monarchic periods with Alfonso XII (1874-1885) and Alfonso XIII (1886-1931), a regency with Maria Cristina (1885-1886), and two Republics (1873-1874 and 1931-1939), as well as the traumatic loss of Cuba in 1898 after a three-year war with the US that put an end to any imperial aspiration. The upheaval of these periods significantly influenced all the texts of the time offering social comment. The ensuing sixty years of Civil War and its aftermath were extremely traumatic in Spain, with numerous internal conflicts connected with the country’s insularity, manifested by its difficulty in adapting to the new industrial Europe. These were due to the negative legacies of a conservative monarchy and a very powerful nobility, as well as to an extremely powerful—both politically and socially—Catholic Church.

During the last years of the nineteenth century and the early ones of the twentieth century, an intense public and intellectual debate on the political, economic, and social spirit of the country occurred, known as “Regenerationism.” In many works of early Spanish sf (often of Regeneratist inspiration), technology was finally seen as an asset and not as an enemy, a view that, in turn, aided the Regenerationist defense of positivist science. This link between technology and utopia was very popular during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The influence of utopian literature—novels by Jules Verne and H.G. Wells and those by Samuel Butler and Edward Bellamy—can be appreciated in the Spanish sf literature of the time. The pioneering work of Nilo María Fabra provides us with a fair example of the good health of early sf of a Regenerationist cast. As for the “hardest” sf lines, an interplanetary trip with a sociopolitical critique stands out: Una temporada en el más bello de los planetas [A Season in the Most Beautiful Planet, 1870-1871] by Tirso Aguimana de Veca.

The utopian and dystopian tradition was of greater interest to the authors of the early twentieth century than to those who came later. A group of Spanish writers and journalists based in London for a couple of years also tried to introduce sf to Spain, with some success among their peers. Dystopias and sociopolitical criticism were developed by some of the intellectual elite, but often went unpublished. It was not uncommon for these writers to circulate their writings among friends or literary circles, which gave them a degree of prestige, despite not being considered suitable for a general audience (see Martín Rodriguez, “Science Fiction as Mainstream Literature”). For this reason, the works of authors such as politician Luis Araquistáin have remained unpublished to this day. The “London Group” was formed precisely by future politicians and prestigious writers: Ramiro de Maeztu, Araquistáin, Salvador de Madariaga, and Ramón Pérez de Ayala. They published utopian novels such as Sentimental Club (1909) (retitled La revolución sentimental [The Sentimental Revolution] in its second 1928 edition) by Pérez de Ayala; El archipiélago maravilloso [The Wonderful Archipelago, 1923] by Araquistáin; and La jirafa sagrada [The Sacred Giraffe, 1925] by Madariaga. These works united experimentation with humorous criticism of the topics of the time (see Martín Rodriguez, “Géneros futuros”).

While it cannot be said that these concerns occupied the center of all commercial tales, top writers such as Miguel de Unamuno, Jose Antonio Ruiz (Azorín), Leopoldo Alas Clarín, and Pío Baroja did devote their energies to sf. Santiago Ramón y Cajal, a Nobel Prize-winner for Medicine, also wrote several sf stories in these years. The most successful highbrow sf novel in this period was El paraíso de las mujeres [Women’s Paradise, 1922] by Vicente Blasco Ibáñez, a story that functions as a sequel of sorts to Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (1726). Here the protagonist reaches an island governed solely by women. Reflecting contemporary concerns and prejudices, Blasco Ibáñez’s book is not a conventional narrative but an examination of social conflict that adopts an experimental and controversial approach to exploring the relationship between the sexes.

As for adventure narratives, many were published by Catholic publishing houses after the success of Elois y morlocks [Elois and Morlocks, 1909] by Carlos Mendizábal, based on Wells’s The Time Machine (1895). The greatest influence was Verne, however, who enjoyed an enormous popularity in Spain. His most faithful followers were José de Elola and Jesús de Aragón. Elola was the star author of the first Spanish series specializing in sf: the Biblioteca Novelesco-Científica of the publishing house Sáenz Calleja (Tarancón). From 1916, he published his famous stories there under the pen name Coronel Ignotus, including such titles as El amor en el siglo cien [Love in the 100th Century, 1922].1 He was later succeeded by Jesús de Aragón (a.k.a. Capitán Sirius), whose stories narrate future history from a twenty-second-century perspective. He achieved a good deal of fame in the 1920s and 1930s. Aragón’s best-known work is Una extraña historia de amor en la Luna [A Strange Love Story on the Moon, 1929]. Neither Elola’s nor Aragón’s work, sadly, has aged well. It should, however, be noted that Spanish scientific fantasy (as it was called at the time) was in some cases ahead of genre developments in other countries as regards concepts. An excellent example is the original novel by Enrique Gaspar y Rimbau, El anacronópete (1887, translated as The Time Ship in 2012), which focuses on a time machine eight years prior to Wells’s novella.

The Years of Francoism: 1939-75. Despite this early display of energy, the influence of early Spanish sf on later works of the genre and on mainstream literature has been, regrettably, only marginal. The Civil War, which the progressive Republic lost to a fascist military rebellion, brought a sudden end to this early sf movement. The literary scene during Francoism (1939-1975) had little to do with that of the early twentieth century. Major Spanish author José María Merino attributes the bad press of literary fantasy from 1939 until today to the clash between two strong ideological tendencies: national-Catholicism (which fomented exclusively religious fantasies) and the Marxist currents (obsessed by social realism) (62). If we add the long-lived Spanish reluctance to accepting the rational, scientific exploration of the world (attributable to the lack of a strong Enlightenment movement), the abrupt change in the consideration of sf seems inevitable. In addition, the Spanish academic tradition has always ignored this genre, displaying what was assumed to be a natural Spanish antipathy to fantasy. The greatest promoter of such theories was the academic Ramón Menéndez Pidal, who argued that Spaniards simply despised everything that was not realistic because of our hard and strict nature, a stance today dismissed (López Estrada, 88-103; Merino). Spanish academia was also slow to introduce new approaches to literary studies, such as structuralism. As literary sociologist Juan Ignacio Ferreras has noted, in the twentieth century Spain went straight from the Middle Ages into Postmodernism, bypassing Modernity (41).

For these reasons, the period through the 1940s and into the 1960s was complicated for the genre. Among the tsunami of cheap, low-quality novels, a story or novel by an important author who wished to experiment within the genre, sporadically appeared, often following English-language sf authors. Occasionally there were other special contributions to the genre, often dealing with interesting subjects. It can be argued that Spanish sf in general was not so bold, and one of the most interesting of its rare examples remains problematic insofar as it was written outside Spain. This is the only novel written by the respected Spanish poet Pedro Salinas while in exile in the US: La bomba increíble [The Unbelievable Bomb, 1950]. It initially focuses on a conventional materialistic dystopia—a bitter criticism of what Salinas saw as the US’s economic and intellectual model—then posits a traumatic end of fantasy literature and of pure idealism. It is an experiment without main characters, with no defined plots (beyond the bomb itself), and with a lyrical narrative (see Moreno, “Recursos genéricos” and “Repercusiones literarias”).

The most interesting work of this transitional period is arguably La nave [The Ship, 1959] by Tomás Salvador, a well-known author during Franco’s dictatorship. The novel operates within the conventions of the generation starship in which the crew has lost the memory of its origin and mission. This is a highly experimental novel built from different narrative voices and multiple perspectives and speech styles, from traditional narrative to epic canto. While it could be considered a precedent of the anglophone New Wave, its actual influence was negligible. Salvador, a big fan of the genre, also published two entertaining books of juvenile stories about Marsuf, the space vagabond, and in the 1970s he published his very complex pop trilogy Y... (1972), T (1973), and K (Killer) (1974).

The use of sf for experimentation continued in sporadic examples such as Corte de corteza [Bark Strip, 1969] by Daniel Sueiro, that won the literary Alfaguara Prize and, in a later phase, the uchronia En el día de hoy [On This Day, 1976] by Jesús Torbado, winner of the Planeta Prize.2 Both are at best fringe sf. The former deals with the issue of identity based on a brain transplant in a strange future society. The latter narrates the aftermath of an alternate Spanish Civil War won by the Republican troops. It was written by a journalist at a key moment in Spain’s national debate, when there were significant doubts about the possibility of overcoming the deep differences among Spaniards to build a common democratic state.3 Another noteworthy example of fringe sf was a stage play: La fundación [The Foundation, 1974] by Antonio Buero Vallejo, one of the best Spanish dramatists of the twentieth century. As Franco’s regime was almost at an end, Buero’s critical work revolved around questioning reality, coinciding with similar themes in the work of Philip K. Dick.

The lingering popularity of sf, together with the success of American sf cinema, eventually led to the publication of the so-called novelas de a duro (five-peseta novels) from the 1950s onwards, very similar to American dime novels at an earlier period. These were aimed at volume sales, by consensus of the authors, editors, critics, and distributors; quality was deemed irrelevant. Still, they were consumed by many readers. In the 1960s they were renamed bolsilibros [pocketbooks]. The writers themselves often regarded their work as just a job, without much aesthetic value (Barberán and Gimeno 165-67, 169; Canalda and Cantero 79). Often they had to deliver a novel every week; these were, therefore, hastily typewritten, using several sheets of carbon paper to produce the number of copies that the publisher demanded. In addition, these writers were required to sign their work using an Anglophone pseudonym, weakening the role of authorship as motivation to write. Moreover, few, if any, had a true understanding of literary sf, using instead American movies of the 1950s and 1960s as their point of reference.4 The thousands of different titles in these series, nationally distributed between 1953 and 1989 (Tarancón 451-509), is, however, a testament to their popularity. Why such success? Perhaps in the disenchanted society under Franco’s dictatorship, the conspiracies, the exoticism, and the alternative politics provided a necessary relief from oppression.

Furthermore, the fast turnover demands of the industry meant that the writers’ narrative skills were refined to produce entertainment effectively, quickly, and consistently.5 Among all these popular authors, the most outstanding was perhaps Pascual Enguídanos, who published under the pseudonym George H. White. His famous Saga de los Aznar [Aznar’s Saga] consisted of 32 titles (1953-1958), reprinted with 24 other unpublished novels (1973-1978); it reached 56 volumes (Saiz and García Bilbao). The Saga appeared in the highly popular series Luchadores del espacio [Space Warriors], developed by Enguídanos himself for Editorial Valenciana (Canalda). The readers’ vote during the 1978 Brussels Eurocon earned his Saga an Award for the Best European Science Fiction Series. Enguídanos narrates a formidable cosmic epic that begins with the straightforward destruction of planet Earth, followed in subsequent centuries by the struggle for survival of a Spanish family, the Aznar, aboard the Autoplaneta Valera. Its many volumes (usually one-hundred-pages long) are filled with exciting adventures but also with stereotypical characters, often lacking in depth. Plot consistency is seemingly a minor concern, while scientific consistency is almost nonexistent.

In addition to Enguídanos, another popular author of the Luchadores series was Ángel Torres Quesada, who wrote the saga of the Orden Estelar [The Star Order] under the pseudonym A. Thorkent. He was one of the few authors seeking to publish novels in higher quality series. Worth mentioning is his Trilogía de las Torres [Trilogy of the Towers, 1988], a saga of sordid and decadent adventures with human beings caught up in fights among extraterrestrial races. This tradition, more concerned with the sense of wonder than with stylistic excellence, is continued today by authors such as Carlos Saiz Cidoncha and the duo formed by Eduardo Gallego and Guillem Sánchez, who enjoy a small but faithful fan base.

The Francoist period also witnessed the emergence of several new sf book series. The first one, Futuro [Future], was founded by José Mallorquí, author of the stories about “El Coyote” [The Coyote], a popular character at the time, in the tradition of “El Zorro.” In its 34 volumes, Futuro combined adaptations of important American works, signed with lavish pseudonyms, with works written by Mallorquí himself, such as the series starring Captain Pablo Rido. The best of these new series was Nebulae (published by Edhasa), which mostly published translations of the major Anglo-American authors. The 1970s was a time of great expansion, with series such as Bruguera, Superficción (published by Martínez Roca), Acervo CF and the second Nebulae, among others. Minotauro, a publishing house based in Argentina that later relocated to Barcelona under its manager Francisco Porrúa, was instrumental both for the quality of its choice of authors and works and for its editorial policy of keeping its backlist available. Porrúa was the great promoter in Spain of Ray Bradbury, J.G. Ballard, Ursula K. Le Guin, Gene Wolfe, and William Gibson, among many others. Eventually acquired by Grupo Planeta, after the massive success of The Lord of the Rings (1954-1955), Minotauro continues its task to this day (offering since 2004 the Minotauro Award), though now less focused on the sf genre.

The first years of Minotauro coincided with the gradual emergence of key sf fanzines and periodicals, including Nueva Dimensión [New Dimension, 1968-1983] edited by Domingo Santos, the most important ever published in Spain.6 Nueva Dimensión was the longest-running magazine in Spanish sf, with 148 numbers and 12 bonus issues published between 1968 and 1983. It won a special award at the 30th Worldcon held in Los Angeles in 1972 and another one at the Trieste Eurocon that same year.

The First Years of Democracy: 1975-90. The 1970s brought new ways to address sf, while Franco’s dictatorship weakened. These were problematic years with exciting openings onto political and cultural phenomena that had already developed in the rest of Europe and the US, but that were barely known at the time in Spain. In tune with the new times, during the 1970s there appeared several series devoted to Spanish sf authors, such as those published by Acervo and Castellote Editor.

The best among the few Spanish authors who managed to publish regularly during this decade is one of the most prestigious writers in the genre’s history: Gabriel Bermúdez Castillo. Bermúdez wrote several critically well-regarded novels and stories, but he is above all remembered for first introducing Spanish references in the storylines, names, and settings of his works. His two best-known novels are the mischievous Viaje a un planeta Wu-Wei [Journey to a Wu-Wei Planet, 1976] and El señor de la rueda [The Lord of the Wheel, 1978], a satirical space opera about the motorized knights of the Round Table. His works are well narrated and contain harsh social criticism with a touch of irreverent and humorous anarchism. Bermúdez also wrote several excellent stories, including “La última lección sobre Cisneros” [The Last Lesson on Cisneros, 1978], “Cuestión de oportunidades” [A Matter of Opportunities, 1978], and the novella “La piel del infinito” [Infinity Skin, 1978].

Returning to the magazines, Zikkurath 2000, although not mainstream, should be cited; born as a fanzine, it was published as a magazine for eight issues (1975-1976). This publication (in a similar vein, though of a lower quality, to Michael Moorcock’s New Worlds magazine) emerged from the countercultural movements that converged in the controversial and famous movida madrileña.7 Zikkurath 2000 had a marginal influence but was the most experimental project ever attempted in Spain until the twenty-first century. Its most accomplished author was possibly Mariano Antolín Rato, with his novels Mundo araña [Spider World, 1981] and Cuando 900 mil mach aprox. [When 900 Thousand Mach Approx., 1973], winner of a Nueva Crítica award.

An even greater influence than Bermúdez Castillo in the late 1970s was the publication of Lágrimas de luz [Tears of Light, 1982] by Rafael Marín, which influenced the 1980s. The author strives here for a very lyrical language and a focus on the personal to narrate the adventures of a bard traveling from one planet to another in search of fortune. Direct and indirect references to Spanish classical literature are a constant feature. Structurally, Lágrimas was perhaps irregular and inconsistent in its construction of the characters, but it represented a major step forward in promoting much more literary science fiction that was read by many fans who had not previously engaged with Spanish sf. Marín is also the author of the excellent short-story collection Unicornios sin cabeza [Headless Unicorns, 1987].

Mundos en el abismo [Worlds in the Abyss, 1988] and its sequel Hijos de la eternidad [Children of Eternity, 1989] were even more successful and prominent. These works byJuan Miguel Aguilera and Javier Redal spearheaded a clear evolution of the genre in Spain. The two epic space operas were notable for allusions to religion, politics, technology, biology, and a sense of wonder; in them, the entire planet Earth has been locked in a space sphere. Unlike Marín, Aguilera continued to write sf, subsequently publishing interesting but less influential works. Foremost among them is La locura de Dios [God’s Madness, 1998], which narrates, in an innovative manner, how the medieval real-life personalities Roger de Flor and Ramón Llull would live in a nineteenth-century city, amid amazing wonders of alternative technology (see Knickerbocker, “Science, Religion and Indeterminacy”).

Institutionalizing the Genre: The 1990s. A false economic growth, based on the privatization of public assets and real estate speculation, occurred during the last decade of the twentieth century and the first decade of the twenty-first century. This ersatz prosperous period generated a growing disinterest in politics, as well as a strong cultural decline that affected literature. Nevertheless, the 1990s saw a major increase in Spanish sf, though it lacked a high level of social criticism. Apart from the risks taken in a few of the works of this period, writers in general did not show great interest in experimenting.

While the extent of the contribution made by the sf writers of the 1970s and 1980s on the subsequent 1990s sf explosion may be open to debate, they certainly were significant predecessors. The main reason, however, for the sf boom of the 1990s was the fast growth and proliferation of fanzines and the fact that this was a period of profound sociopolitical and cultural change in the country. Within a Spanish sf context of low-quality expectations but high demand for material, many authors had time enough to learn their trade and even to experiment with convention. Among the many magazines worth mentioning are Kandama, Space Opera, Máser, Tránsito, Cyberfantasy, Kembeo Kenmaro, Ad Astra, Parsifal, Elfstone, Bucanero, and, of course, from 1990-2000, BEM, the longest-lasting and most interesting fanzine ever published in Spain. Two other fanzines of the late 1990s were extremely relevant: Artifex, produced by Luis G. Prado, and Gigamesh (with an emphasis on quality essays and reviews), first produced by Julián Díez and, later, by Juan Manuel Santiago.

Another essential factor in the development of the genre is the national fan convention, or Hispacón, celebrated each year in a different city. Hispacón began in 1969 but has been held annually only since 1991, when the Asociación Española de Fantasía, Ciencia Ficción y Terror [Spanish Association of Fantasy, Science Fiction and Horror, AEFCFT] was founded. Hispacón grew in attendance and interest throughout the 1990s, perhaps culminating in 2016, when it was jointly celebrated with Eurocon in Barcelona. As for AEFCFT, among its many other activities the association has since 1992 published annual anthologies of short stories by new authors, Visiones [Visiones], and since 1999 a yearly anthology of published work, Fabricantes de Sueños [Dreammakers]; it also awards the Ignotus Prize in numerous categories, chosen by popular vote. Its consistency, however, has been uneven, with a strong dependence on the membership of its greatly changing board.

As for book publishing, new publishers and series flourished in the 1990s, such as Martínez Roca, Júcar, Destino, Edaf, Grijalbo, Miraguano, Ultramar, and Ediciones B, although only the last three published Spanish authors regularly. This success confirmed the “pendulum theory” about the publication of sf: a saturation of series for a few years is next followed by the subsequent accumulation of unsold books. The remaindered volumes, cheaply sold, encourage the dissemination of the genre once more, and the market is once again saturated (Cuevas and Pallarés 19).

This scenario of fanzines, Hispacón, remaindered books, and new publishers encouraged many sf authors, who formed new networks seeking to consolidate the genre. The most “literary” among them, writers interested in style and in moving away from the classic space operas, were César Mallorquí and Elia Barceló, who now publish sf only occasionally. Mallorquí, the son of author and editor José Mallorquí, has worked for decades in juvenile literature, for which he won the distinguished Premio Nacional de Literatura [National Literature Award] in 2013. He has published one of the best Spanish sf collections, El círculo de Jericó [The Circle of Jericho, 1995], which includes small masterpieces such as the novellas “El coleccionista de sellos” [The Stamp Collector, 1995]; “El rebaño” [The Herd, 1993], a wonderful, lyrical postapocalyptic story; and the hypnotic “La pared de hielo” [The Wall of Ice, 1992]. Elia Barceló obtained a doctorate with a dissertation on Julio Cortázar and is currently a literature professor at the University of Innsbruck in Austria. She has always been a great experimenter and continues successfully to develop her passion for lyricism in her fantasy prose. Within sf, she has proven to be a great storyteller from the early collection Sagrada [Sacred, 1989] to Futuros peligrosos [Dangerous Futures, 2008].8 Barceló has published two sf novels, El mundo de Yarek [Yarek’s World, 1993], a complex analysis of identity and otherness (which some critics consider the best sf novel ever published in Spain), and Consecuencias naturales [Natural Consequences, 1994], a humorous entertainment and a biting critique of machismo.

Rodolfo Martinez must also be named as one of the authors most faithful to sf. His 1990s books, including his first novel, an experimental cyberpunk work with different narrative voices, La sonrisa del gato [The Cat’s Smile, 1995; English translation Cat’s Whirld, 2015], deserve a new audience. His style has become lighter over the years, with much simpler writing, always resulting nonetheless in an elegant, effective narrative, as in El sueño del rey rojo [The Red King’s Dream, 2012] and the saga comprised by El adepto de la reina [The Queen’s Adept, 2009] and El jardín de la memoria [The Garden of Memory, 2010]. In recent years, he has employed the resources of his own publishing house Sportula on the commendable and important project of rescuing classic books, both fiction and criticism, and putting them in digital format.

The generation of the 1990s—the “Hispacón Generation,” thus named because most of these writers interacted a great deal with each other through these conventions—includes other authors such as the classical literature specialist Javier Negrete, today focused on the historical novel and fantasy. Negrete wrote appealing works such as La mirada de las furias [The Furies’ Gaze, 1997], a futuristic spy novel taking its inspiration from classical tragedy, and Estado crepuscular [Twilight State, 1993], a mischievous comedy dealing with artificial intelligence, which is among the greatest successes of this type of humorous Spanish sf.

Beyond specialized genre publications, it is worth noting that during the 1980s and 1990s various literary authors showed an interest in sf. The most relevant were Gonzalo Torrente Ballester, with an interesting novel on robots, Quizás nos lleve el viento al infinito [Perhaps the Wind will Take us into Infinity, 1984] (see Knickerbocker, “Technology and Technophobia”); José María Merino, with his metanarrative Novela de Andrés Choz [Andrés Choz’s Novel, 1976]; and Rosa Montero, with her hybrid, postapocalyptic story Temblor [Tremor, 1990] and her remixing of the Blade Runner (1982) world in Lágrimas en la lluvia (2011; translated into English as Tears in Rain in 2012) . Her third venture into sf was El peso del corazón (2015; translated into English as Weight of the Heart in 2016);9 Suso de Toro published La sombra cazadora [The Hunting Shadow, 1995]; and Ray Loriga produced the genre novel Tokio ya no nos quiere (1999; translated into English as Tokyo Doesn’t Love Us Anymore in 2004). Of these, only Merino has shown a constant interest in the genre, as evidenced by the stories collected in Las puertas de lo posible [The Doors of the Possible, 2008].

Contemporary Spanish SF. Since 2007 Spain has been undergoing a deep economic crisis, resulting in the emergence of new sociopolitical movements (Podemos, Ciudadanos) which reflect the decay of the traditional parties (Partido Popular, Partido Socialista Obrero Español). Without a doubt, this has strongly influenced Spanish sf, which now rejects the previous generation’s lukewarm sociopolitical and literary attitudes.

Eduardo Vaquerizo, Daniel Mares, Felix J. Palma, and Juan Jacinto Muñoz Rengel complete this new twenty-first century generation. Vaquerizo has won numerous awards and published some of the most accomplished novels of Spanish sf. He is undoubtedly the most important author working today. His works are characterized mainly by the precision and beauty of his language, and by his great ability to present pervasive scenarios and atmospheres. To this we must add his great knowledge of technology (he is an aeronautical engineer). Vaquerizo’s best known novels are his two uchronias, Danza de tinieblas [Dance of Darkness, 2005] and Memoria de tinieblas [Memory of Darkness, 2013].10 Despite their shared setting—a Spain that has dominated the world since the sixteenth century to the present day—they are independent narratives. An outstanding lyrical novel by Vaquerizo is La última noche de Hipatia [Hypatia’s Last Night, 2009], which chronicles the journey of a historian back to fourth-century Alexandria. Felix J. Palma has produced only a few sf works in the strict sense, but they are highly successful. He won the Ateneo de Sevilla Prize for El mapa del tiempo (2008; translated into English as The Map of Time in 2011), a neo-Victorian time-travel story which was followed by El mapa del cielo (2012; translated into English as The Map of the Sky in the same year), and El mapa del caos (2014; translated into English as The Map of Chaos in 2015]. Palma’s great attention to language enriches his passion for strange and unexpected scenarios. Daniel Mares is the most macabre author of Spanish sf humor, as well as a very interesting experimenter. Despite enjoying only limited success, he has published an excellent collection, En mares extraños [In Strange Seas, 2004], and two very interesting novels: Madrid (2007), a wild futuristic story about football fans, and perhaps his most important work, Seis [Six, 1994], a mixture of sf, Peter Pan (1904), and Alice in Wonderland (1865), combining cruelty, black humor, a love for certain childlike literary traditions, and symbolic lyricism. It is one of little gems of the Spanish sf, still undiscovered in other countries. Juan Jacinto Muñoz Rengel is perhaps the greatest talent in this youngest generation. He has written some of the best current sf stories, including “London Gardens” (2012). Rengel shows an immense love for and knowledge of literature in many of its facets, as demonstrated over time on the radio and in the press, as well as in his fascinating collection De mecánica y alquimia [Of Mechanics and Alchemy, 2009].

In recent years, major prestigious publishers such as Cátedra, Alfaguara, Mondadori, and RBA have chosen to publish sf novels originally written in Castilian. Perhaps the clearest example of a non-genre novelist who has published sf with mainstream publishers is the veteran Andrés Ibáñez. He has also been one of the few critics who dared defend the genre in the major national newspapers. Amongst his sf titles, El mundo en la era de Varick [The World in Varick’s Era, 1999] and Brilla, mar del Edén [Shine, Sea of Eden, 2014] stand out. The latter was even awarded the Premio Nacional de la Crítica. In this innovative novel, Ibáñez offers an impressive Pynchonesque retelling of the first three seasons of the television series Lost (2004-2010), adding elements of Watchmen (Moore and Gibbons, 1986-1987) to the story.

Recently, a new generation of highly experimental and difficult-to-classify authors have started publishing, among them Jorge Carrión, Francisco Javier Pérez, Óscar Gual, Laura Fernández, Colectivo Juan de Madre, and Guillem López. They have deeply altered the genre, which now ranges from the interesting thematic complexity and brutality of Cut and Roll (2008) and Los últimos días de Roger Lobus [The Last Days of Roger Lobus, 2015], both by Óscar Gual, to the innovative take on space travel of Los últimos [The Last, 2014] by Juan Carlos Márquez. These authors share a generic hybridism that always begins with an sf foundation, main characters in extreme life situations, skepticism about personal relationships, powerful and original images, a great cynicism mixed with a pop lyricism, decadent scenes, huge experimentation, and numerous references to different facets of late twentieth-century popular culture. They represent a major qualitative leap compared to all previous Spanish sf.

La insólita reunión de los nueve Zacarías [The Unusual Meeting of the Nine Zechariah, 2012], by Colectivo Juan de Madre, also deserves attention. The plot, about time travel, is merely a pretext for narrative experimentation that at times approaches that of Julio Cortázar’s Rayuela (1963; translated into English as Hopscotch in 1966) and provides a particular vision of the cultural networks in which we live. Guillem López’s Challenger (2015) experiments from a different point of view. It shows a series of frames with very different characters linked by the temporal proximity to the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster. Its fragmentary views of reality, of narrative structure, and multiculturalism are its most important features. Even more surreal is Constatación brutal del presente [Brutal Awareness of the Present, 2011] by Javier Avilés. This novel, which went largely unnoticed, explores our cultural and aesthetic imagination in a dazzling linguistic and narrative game. Finally, it is important to highlight possibly the most ambitious work within Spanish sf so far: Jorge Carrion’s tetralogy, composed of Los muertos [The Dead, 2010], Los huérfanos [The Orphans, 2014], Los turistas [The Tourists, 2015], and Los difuntos [The Deceased, 2015]. This series brings together an academic meta-essay on soap operas and the postapocalyptic and steampunk subgenres, with sharp changes in characters, ambiences, style, and structure in each novel. Carrion’s tetralogy is interconnected on multiple narrative and symbolic levels, and by many different genres, both discursive and narrative: journalism, academic essay, realism, sf, fantasy, psychological novel, and more. It is, in short, a great dialectic experiment about identity and difference, for which a certain understanding of postmodern art and culture is necessary.

Apart from the changes in ideology reflected in the current sf produced during the last five years—changes which closely correlate to the many sociopolitical changes in the country since the onset of the 15M movement11—we must also emphasize the substantial presence, even prominence, of women in today’s sf. Many women writers have been recently recognized: Laura Fernández, Lola Robles, Sophía Rhei, Susana Vallejo, Felicidad Martínez, and Cristina Jurado.12 In addition, women established in publishing, such as Mariana Lozano in Esdrújula, Sara Herculano in Aristas Martínez, and Marian Womack in Nevsky, are promoting new authors and running sf series. In academic circles, more women than men now do research on sf: Teresa López-Pellisa, Sara Martín, Cristina Martínez, Eva Ariza, and Elisa McCausland, among many others.

Current Spanish sf, to sum up, is showing a greater interest in sociopolitical criticism, which connects (quite ironically) with the earliest Spanish sf here discussed. The youngest generation of writers has a special interest in portraying many facets of reality in each novel, integrating their futuristic scenarios with the everyday reality of our own time.

Conclusion(s). We must continue to explore the relationship between the evolution of Spanish sf and the history of Spain. We need to understand that the periods with the greatest freedom of expression in the genre have coincided with the times of highest sociopolitical criticism. This happened, for example, during the Second Republic and is also happening right now, in post-15M Spain. It can certainly be argued that the democratic transition following the death of the Franco regime, until at least 2010, is a period during which freedom of speech has gradually grown. Is politics discussed in Spain in a particular way, and has that particularity, in turn, informed the renewed sociopolitical criticism in Spanish sf? It is no doubt difficult to establish a strict relationship of cause-effect and to determine the processes of literary evolution without a host of additional comprehensive, complex historical, social, literary, and cultural studies. Yet as we have tried to show here, a comparison between Spanish history and Spanish sf is essential to understanding the progress of this genre in Spain.

The research presented here has been carried out within the Teaching Innovation Project at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (PAPIME PE 400914) and thanks to the Research Project at the Universidad de Barcelona (FEM-2014-57076-P).

1. The Ignotus Award for Spanish sf was created in 1991. Like the Hugos, it is awarded at the annual Hispacón and voted on by fans.

2. See the article in this issue by Arias.   

3. See Santiago for an approach to the many uchronias of Spanish sf.

4. Today we have some studies of these novels by fans and academics (see Canalda, and the collective volume published by Canalda and Uribe-Echeverria).

5. The histories of Spanish literature do not pay any attention to the huge success of these novels, and we are missing very important data for understanding the socioliterary trends of this era. Sara Martín, this issue’s co-editor, attributes her interest in the popular genres to the many bolsilibros she devoured during her childhood, all purchased by her father. Her case is very common in this generation of readers.

6. See the article in this issue by Peregrina and Escudero.

7. The movida madrileña was a cultural movement (through music, literature, cinema, comics, etc.) of great significance in Spain; it began in 1980 and ended in the middle of the decade.

8. See the article in this issue on Barceló by Clúa.

9. See the article in this issue by Alonso.

10. See the article in this issue on Vaquerizo by Martín Rodríguez.

11. The sociopolitical 15M movement or “movement of the indignant” occurred in a similar way to the Arab Spring or Occupy Wall Street movements, although with a very different outcome. It was characterized by a defense of socioeconomic policies focused on public institutions over private interests.

12. See the article in this issue by López-Pellisa.


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