If viewed as merely an sf technothriller, La red de Indra [Indra’s Net, 2009], by Valencian writer Juan Miguel Aguilera, might appear to be a break in his literary trajectory.1 He started his career by writing co-authored works with Javier Redal, beginning with the story “Sangrando correctamente” [Bleeding Correctly], published in the important journal Nueva Dimensión [New Dimension] in 1981. Aguilera’s and Redal’s collaborative work includes the creation of the vast human civilization in the globular cluster Akasa-Puspa, set twenty-five million years in the future, first explored in the now classic novels Mundos en el abismo [Worlds in the Abyss, 1988] and Hijos de la eternidad [Children of Eternity, 1989], and reworked and continued by the pair in “Ari, el tonto” [Ari, the Dimwit, 1992], “Maleficio” [Curse, 1995], Mundos en la eternidad [Worlds in Eternity, 2001], and later by Aguilera alone in Mundos y demonios [Worlds and Demons, 2005]. They have also penned El refugio [The Refuge, 1994], later recast as Némesis (2011). All of these works fuse hard sf with elements of space opera and religious and metaphysical ruminations, to induce the sublime, which affects both characters within the texts and readers as well; Mundos en el abismo and Hijos de la eternidad show clear influence from such novels as Dune (1965), Ringworld (1970), The Mote in God’s Eye (1974), and Rendezvous with Rama (1973).
On his own, Aguilera wrote the much-anthologized hard sf story “El bosque de hielo” [Forest of Ice, 1995], the masterpiece La locura de Dios [The Madness of God, 1998]—a medieval steampunk novel about a (successful) search for Prester John’s kingdom—and two other historical fantasies, Rihla [Quest, 2004], originally in Arabic, and El sueño de la razón [The Sleep of Reason, 2006]. Aguilera regularly collaborates with other authors besides Redal, writing the brief novel (almost an outline) Contra el tiempo [Against Time, 2001] and the juvenile novel Oceanum (2012) with Rafael Marín; the novelization of his script for the film Náufragos (a.k.a. Stranded, 2001) with Eduardo Vaquerizo; and his recent zombie-plague novel La zona [The Zone, 2011] with Javier Negrete.
The purpose of this article is to show that Aguilera’s short story “Todo lo que un hombre puede imaginar” [All a Man Can Imagine, 2005], composed separately as an homage to Jules Verne on the centenary of his death, is in fact both a source of inspiration and the natural conclusion for the novel La red de Indra, in which it appears as an appendix. This case study will illuminate the ways in which all of Aguilera’s individual writings reflect and influence each other. The story’s title refers to the famous, yet apocryphal, quotation attributed to Verne, “Anything one man can imagine, other men can make real.”2 Like many authors, Aguilera writes entire novels to explore themes and motifs originally proposed in his earlier texts. Intelligent dolphins in space, first mentioned in Mundos en el abismo, are important elements in Némesis; a colossal Bronze Age galley in Contra el tiempo is thematically resurrected in Oceanum; likewise, cometary impacts and an encounter between ancient Cretans, a time-travelling “goddess,” and natives of Mexico in Contra el tiempo are all transformed into Rihla’s tale of immortal, alien “gods” imposing Aztec human sacrifices to stave off real threats of comets, and Andalusian Moors and Turks travelling to pre-Columbian Central America. A parasite/implant enabling telepathic communication in La locura de Dios and Contra el tiempo becomes a key plot element in La red de Indra. Some of the principal technological marvels postulated in the Akasa-Puspa saga—Von Neumann self-replicating machines and a Dyson swarm surrounding Sol—are reiterated in the time-travelling machines in La red de Indra and in the Omega Point of “Todo lo que un hombre puede imaginar.” Aguilera and Negrete’s exploration of the grotesque aspects of contemporary technoscience in their zombie novel La zona recalls the resemblance of the “deadies”/”Geekks” to the denizens of George Romero’s “Living Dead” films, as noted in La red de Indra. That Aguilera reworked versions of his Akasa-Puspa novels (Redal’s contribution to the later works is limited to consultation on scientific points) underscores the notion that he views his past work as a mine for future ideas.
“Todo lo que un hombre puede imaginar” takes this process one step further. Considered as a standalone story, in terms of style, theme, and aesthetic qualities, the text ranks with Elia Barceló’s “La estrella” [The Star, 1991] or “Piel” [Skin, 1989], Arsenal’s “El centro muerto” [The Dead Center, 1994], Aguilera’s own “El bosque de hielo” [The Ice Forest, 1995], and César Mallorquí’s “La pared de hielo” [Wall of Ice, 1993] and “El rebaño” [The Flock, 1993], arguably Spain’s all-time best sf story. In his important anthology Prospectivas [Speculations, 2012],Spanish scholar Fernando Ángel Moreno writes in his brief introduction to “Todo lo que un hombre puede imaginar” that he believes “this anthology contains no greater love song to the cosmos, to human beings, to life and above all, to the genre of science fiction. It is not prospective, it is not alternate history. It is but a story of the Omega Point, that spot at the end of time, where the entire universe is the protagonist, and humankind is its lover” (128). The same critic elsewhere argues that “El refugio and La red de Indra ... are novels with lesser ambitions than [Mundos en el abismo and Hijos de la eternidad]and more oriented towards adventure. La red de Indra, for example, combines a thriller plot with hard science fiction to create a series of adventures on a cosmic scale, along the lines of the most classic science fiction, in an entertaining update of BEM novels” (Teoría,423-24). Moreno’s comments are not invalid. If we consider the story as a source of inspiration for the novel, we find elements repeated and elaborated in the same fashion as many other texts in Aguilera’s oeuvre. We also must agree with Moreno’s contention that La red de Indra spends more time in elaborating adventures and gun-battles against BEMs than does most of his other work. If we imagine that the two texts, composed separately, belong together as a single text, we find that the novel completes and is completed by the story; their sum is greater than the parts. La red de Indra offers a plot of adventures motivated by realistic problems posed through hard sf, and it sets the stage for the more sublime finale of “Todo lo que un hombre puede imaginar,” which in turn raises the stakes and gives transcendent meaning to the action in the novel. If the novel were ever to be republished in a new edition, it should include this short story as its conclusion.
The term “Omega Point” was coined by French Jesuit Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and later adopted by such diverse thinkers as physicist and cosmologist Frank J. Tipler and inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil. The end result of the workings of Teilhard’s theory of the evolution of the universe (the Law of Complexity and Consciousness) is the Omega Point, the moment and site of maximum complexity and consciousness, the final state of the universe (The Phenomenon of Man 257-72; The Future of Man 113-16). Darwin himself foresees this sublime destiny for the evolving universe in the closing sentences of The Origin of Species:
Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved. (408)
The sublime entails vastness and awesome physical power, that of nature and also of advanced technoscience. Darwin’s references to the “grandeur” of evolution and its “endless” possibilities, together with the superlatives “most beautiful and most wonderful,” fired the imaginations of Teilhard, Tipler, and Kurzweil. Tipler argues (see especially 205-68) that by the end of time the universe will be replete with, and controlled by, sentience, and that the asymptotically infinite amount of information infusing the universe will be processed by this sentience in so infinitely complex a fashion that all possible realities (or all possible multiverses) will be realized, from the beginning of time until the Omega Point. All past beings will be informationally resurrected to relive their lives in their own worlds and live again in new ones (255-56). Without referencing Tipler, Kurzweil also regularly ruminates on the possibility that intelligence (usually posthuman, post-singularity intelligence) will someday fill the universe:
Cosmologists argue about whether the world will end in fire (a big crunch to match the big bang) or ice (the death of the stars as they spread out into an eternal expansion), but this does not take into account the power of intelligence, as if its emergence were just an entertaining sideshow to the grand celestial mechanics that now rule the universe. How long will it take for us to spread our intelligence in its nonbiological form throughout the universe? … waking up the universe, and then intelligently deciding its fate by infusing it with our human intelligence in its nonbiological form, is our destiny. (282)
Kurzweil’s talk of the singularity often resembles Teilhard’s semi-mystical speculations about the Noosphere, but Tipler fills his book with equations and notes. In a fascinating exchange with the famed cosmologist Kip Thorne at the 1995 Skeptics Society Symposium, Tipler expounds his theory and yet admits “my prediction [is] that the universe is closed and it has to recollapse.... I am sticking my neck out by saying that one of those measurements—the age of the oldest stars, or the Hubble constant—has to be wrong. And the current density measurements (i.e., the calculation of the total mass of the universe) must be wrong” (Thorne and Tipler 64). As shown below, Aguilera solves Tipler’s density problem in La red de Indra and thus provides firm scientific ground (i.e., a collapsing universe instead of an open-ended one) for the universe to, as Kurzweil says, “intelligently decide its fate” by creating the Omega Point described in “Todo lo que un hombre puede imaginar.” Interestingly, Darwin’s phrase “the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving” expresses an idea quite similar to the dictum attributed to Verne about “all a man can imagine”; both invite an encounter with the sublime.
Aguilera is no stranger to the sublime. The discovery and exploration of a solar system comprised of an artificially-ringed planet and accompanying Trojan planets englobed within a Dyson swarm propels the action in Mundos en el abismo and Hijos de la eternidad. The novels portray massive terraforming, genetic engineering spanning millennia, the presence of multitudes of ancient space elevators (“Babels”) throughout Akasa-Puspa, the existence of gargantuan space-dwelling creatures (“Juggernauts”), as well as the diminutive, highly evolved and unrecognizable descendants of human colonists of cometary Oort clouds (“Colmeneros” [Hivers]). The Colmeneros command immense weaponry and make plans on the scale of millions of years to protect the Dyson system—our erstwhile Solar System—they control. At the climax of Hijos de la eternidad, the Colmeneros coordinate an immense graphic projection of a human face on the interior surface of the Dyson swarm, across hundreds of millions of kilometers of gigantic “pixels,” to demonstrate their strength.
Aguilera’s imagined worlds evoke the sublime beyond the universe of Akasa-Puspa. For example, in Némesis, a highly focused beam emitted from the Oort cloud obliterates all human life on Earth in a few hours. In La locura de Dios, Ramon Llull and his companions combat vast hosts of “demonic” legions.In Oceanum, three teenagers survive a hurricane in a small catamaran and cross into a parallel world to encounter a city-sized wooden ship. In Contra el tiempo, a pair of beings documenting the last days of Earth’s existence cross billions of years of time to examine the past, only to crash land near the Yucatán peninsula and wipe out the dinosaurs and most of the Earth’s other species in the subsequent nuclear winter. The female survivor becomes the “White Goddess” to two ancient civilizations—an idea carried into La red de Indra, whose character Kaplan, an immortal time-traveling “collector of souls,” explains that he is at the root of least three earthly religions (250).
The titles of both La red de Indra and “Todo lo que un hombre puede imaginar” evoke the sublime. The maxim “all a man can imagine” clearly resonates with Kant’s Critique of Judgment, in that our mental resistance to the perception of the infinite succeeds not because we place limits on the powers of our imagination or the awe inspired by natural or mathematical infinities, but because our rational faculty can judge the experience, distance us from the danger of the infinite, and hold up the mind as a force superior to nature (Kant 100-02; Pratt, “Tattered Edges,” 51-52). The myth of Indra’s Net comes from the Avatamsaka Sutra, one of the chief texts of East Asian Buddhism, and serves as the epigraph for Aguilera’s eponymous novel: 3
Far away in the heavenly abode of the great god Indra, there is a wonderful net which has been hung by some cunning artificer in such a manner that it stretches out infinitely in all directions. In accordance with the extravagant tastes of deities, the artificer has hung a single glittering jewel in each “eye” of the net, and since the net itself is infinite in dimension, the jewels are infinite in number. There hang the jewels, glittering like stars in the first magnitude, a wonderful sight to behold. If we now arbitrarily select one of these jewels for inspection and look closely at it, we will discover that in its polished surface there are reflected all the other jewels in the net, infinite in number. Not only that, but each of the jewels reflected in this one jewel is also reflecting all the other jewels, so that there is an infinite reflecting process occurring. (Cook 2)
The infinitely multiplying images of the jewels forever reflecting each other are a paradigmatic case of the mathematical sublime. Unlike Borges’s story “El Aleph” [The Aleph, 1945], in which a small spherical object contains the entire universe, Indra’s Net has infinite extension, and in both La red de Indra and “Todo lo que un hombre puede imaginar” it actually constitutes the universe, which expands for much of its life, ultimately to contract into the “Big Crunch.”
As if they were two jewels in Indra’s Net reflecting each other, the story and the novel are mutually complementary. Given Aguilera’s frequent reworking of previous material, coupled with the metacommentary implicit in writing an imaginative text titled “All a Man Can Imagine,” a close reading of the story can serve as a map of all of Aguilera’s texts and methods in their expansive detail. To that end, a careful summary of the novel and story are in order. In La red de Indra, a small military and scientific team investigates a huge mysterious alien artifact (called a Geode) buried in two-billion-year-old Laurentian strata under the Canadian tundra. The team pierces the Geode, which holds at its center a top-shaped structure enclosing a micro-singularity, only to find themselves trapped in a “containment region” separating them from the rest of the universe (including its heat). When the ambient temperature plummets, the desperate team flies their small plane through the singularity to what they subsequently discover is Earth 236 million years in the future. The Geode now rests on the surface of the planet. Everything has changed beyond recognition, even the positions of the stars, save for the Moon which remains recognizable despite its smaller apparent diameter and the visible remains of cities on its surface. Adventures ensue. The bipedal Geekks, intelligent yet primitive evolutionary descendants of birds in the new world, are being harvested by time-travelling “Crabs,” really machines piloted by “Spiders,” small, ten-legged creatures that, through the miracle of evolutionary convergence, have evolved the capacity to manipulate the material forming the Geode and even to control the Geode’s micro-singularity.4 Part of the team, including the youthful geniuses Neko and Kaplan—later revealed to be time-travelling agents of the Geodes (which are not actually alien artifacts but alien beings themselves)—is captured by the Crabs and taken to their native time, five billion years further into the future, where they rule the Earth during the death throes of the Sun. The other members of the team make discoveries about the Earth of 236 million AD, including evidence of the existence of many layers of past civilizations, and the shamanistic yet effective medical knowledge of the Geekks.
A telepathic interface makes possible several conversations and sublime oneiric visions shared by Neko and Kaplan about the origin, nature, and destiny of the universe. Kaplan explains that “our” universe is but a fragment of a previous, much larger, universe, the original home of the Geode-beings. Neko witnesses the multiplication of the Geode-beings in the energy-rich environment at the birth of “our” universe, and the subsequent formation of a universe-spanning nexus of Geodes connected by wormholes. Neko exclaims: “It is like Indra’s Net, from Hindu mythology. An infinite net with a jewel in each of its knots” (248). Kaplan explains that in the far future, the nexus of Geodes has lost contact with a single jewel in the net (which happens to be the Earth’s Geode), creating “the Dark,” a lacuna in the recorded memories of the Universe. Kaplan was sent to Earth before the rise of humanity to discover and resolve the problem, because, he says, “there is nothing more scarce and valuable in the universe than an intelligent mind. There are no two alike and they do not repeat, and the loss of each one is comparable to the death of an entire universe” (La red de Indra 249). When humans finally developed the technology to locate and penetrate the Geode (in the first decade of the twenty-first century), Kaplan insinuates himself onto the team investigating it. After many adventures fighting the Crabs, Kaplan and Neko escape, the former to his home in the far future with news about the nature of the “Dark,” the latter “back” to 236 million AD Earth. With Crabs about to follow him through the micro-singularity, Neko uses the interface to change a portion of the Geode’s structure and induce a cataclysmic implosion of the Geode, inadvertently creating “the Dark” and forever trapping the remnants of the team hundreds of millions of years from home. In the novel’s epilogue, the team accompanied by a group of Geekks sets off on a voyage downriver following clues about potential human-like creatures inhabiting their new world.5 The last sentence of the novel, before the appended “Todo lo que un hombre puede imaginar,” reads: “[Neko had the fleeting thought], that perhaps there was something marvelous awaiting them at the end of the journey” (296), likely one of the greatest understatements in Spanish sf. The sublime message of both La red de Indra and “Todo lo que un hombre puede imaginar” is that, indeed, the greatest marvels of all await us at the Omega Point (La red de Indra 262-63; “Todo lo que ” 315ff).
“Todo lo que un hombre puede imaginar” is told in the first person by a young man who in 1899 visits the elderly Jules Verne at his home in Amiens. We learn along with Verne that the narrator is the eighteen-year-old Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, who has not yet entered the Jesuit Order. Teilhard struggles to express his excitement at meeting Verne: “How does one describe his first meeting with a person he has admired for so long, whose books he has devoured since childhood? I had always tried to imagine such a giant of the imagination, capable of writing such works, and now he stood before me” (298).6 Teilhard stammers out a greeting, truly impressed to be in Verne’s presence. He tells Verne of the latter’s impact on his life and imagination: “for me, and for millions like me, you are a great teacher, the artist whom I have admired since childhood. Your novels have delighted my generation, and I am convinced that they will continue to amaze coming generations more than any other novelist of our time” (299).7 At this moment in his life, Verne was suffering physically from the poorly healed gunshot wound to his leg inflicted by his crazed nephew Gaston, and mentally and emotionally from professional and familial disappointments. Interestingly, given what we later learn about the narrator of this story, Teilhard marvels at the author’s study as the birthplace of many of Verne’s works: “I tried to record in my mind all that I saw, to not miss a single detail” (300). Teilhard tells Verne that his novels led him to his religious vocation: “I discovered [it] contemplating the wonders of creation, Mr. Verne, and your books helped open my eyes to those marvels that were far distant and unknown” (302). He cites Verne’s characters Dick Kennedy and Samuel Fergusson, from Cinq semaines en ballon [Five Weeks in a Balloon, 1863], remarking that “Fergusson symbolizes the strength of the man of science and his enthusiastic wish to discover ever new horizons” (302). The disillusioned Verne urges Teilhard to not confuse fiction with reality, and continues: “life is much more unjust and cruel than any novel, and there are few happy endings for those characters who inhabit the real world. What is certain is that we all lose in the end. All of us” (302). But in his rescue of the embittered Verne, Teilhard is following the old maxim about how all one man can imagine, other men can bring to pass.
Although Verne tries to end the interview, Teilhard invites him to leave his home and walk through the streets of Amiens. Verne, and the reader, begin to suspect that something is amiss. Teilhard’s reflection in a window shows not a young man, but a much older person. The reader may begin to suppose that she is reading a story about a time-travelling Teilhard de Chardin, but throughout the story the narrator forces readers to expand their horizons, just as Verne did for his original audiences, and as Verne must do now in the story. They board a hot-air balloon piloted by Verne’s famous friend, “Nadar” (Gaspar-Félix Tournachon), whose real-life exploits helped to inspire Verne’s Cinq semaines en ballon, and the character Michael Ardan in De la terre à la lune [From the Earth to the Moon, 1865]. As they rise impossibly high above the Earth, Teilhard de Chardin reveals the sublime truth that Verne has been inhabiting a simulation of the world of 1899 englobed, along with countless other possible worlds and times, within a Dyson sphere at the edge of time and space. Verne exclaims, with tears in his eyes, “Thank you. I never could have imagined.” The now-aged Teilhard responds, “Of course you could have, Mr. Verne ... Was it not you who said ‘All that a man can imagine, another man can make real’? Well, that is the truth behind all of this. With enough time, the power of intelligence can bring to pass everything that can possibly be imagined” (313). Verne opens his eyes to eternity’s potential under the guidance of Teilhard, just as the young Teilhard had learned to marvel at the cosmos through Verne’s books. Teilhard explains, “in this, a point of utter fulfillment, beyond the limits of time and space, every creature that has ever existed in the universe is reborn in body and soul” (315). The sublimity of universal evolution is the Omega Point that restores all as it once was, with the opportunity to learn, grow, and create forever.
The ever-imaginative Jules Verne manages to surprise the seemingly all-knowing Teilhard: he asks Teilhard to show him the Omega Point. The narrator says: “for a moment I doubted. This was something that had not been foreseen. But, wow! [caramba], we were talking about none other than Jules Verne. If anyone merited seeing the Omega Point, it was he” (317). In a scene reminiscent of the famous “Flammarion engraving,” in which a kneeling medieval pilgrim pushes through the firmament to see the functioning of the spheres ruling the cosmos, Teilhard takes Verne outside the Dyson sphere to view the Omega Point, which happens to be a brilliantly shining network of such spheres: 8
Standing out against the flaming light was an immense mesh interwoven of living, black, changing fibers. It was like a net in spherical form, in which each one of its knots was a sphere three hundred million kilometers in diameter, precisely like the one we had just left a moment before behind us.
And there were billions of those knots. (318)
Not jewels, but Dyson spheres, with the surface area of billions of planets within each one.
The cosmologist Tipler sees a fundamental flaw in our contemporary science: “[a]lmost all of space and time lies in the future. By focusing attention only on the past and present, science has ignored almost all of reality” (2). According to Tipler, even at the dying moments of the universe during the “Big Crunch,” all of reality and eternity is spread out before the intelligences at the Omega Point. In the words of the flesh-and-blood (we might call him “our”) Teilhard de Chardin: “The end of a ‘thinking species’: [is] not disintegration and death, but a new breakthrough and a rebirth, this time outside Time and Space” (The Future of Man 303). In Aguilera’s story, as Verne returns to explore his own sphere in “Nadar’s” balloon, he declares his desire to one day accompany Teilhard to meet the makers of the spheres. The priest responds, “some day. We have all eternity before us, my friend” (318-19).
Sf scholar Istvan Csiscery-Ronay Jr. argues that, in most sf, “the mathematical technosublime merely establishes the ultimate questions and stakes—the pretexts for action” (163). Aguilera’s hard sf revels in the sublimity of its technological and natural marvels. Aguilera’s time travels are not a few weeks, decades, or even millennia into the future; rather they take place on the scale of hundreds of millions of years.9 The immensely long temporal displacements in La red de Indra destroy all vestiges of our civilization; there can be, for example, no Charlton Heston damning humanity before the ruins of the Statue of Liberty. This absolute erasure of any vestige of human existence makes the promise of the Omega Point more delightful. The Appendix to La red de Indra at first appears to be atime jump backwards, from the last lines of the novel to 1899 AD in Amiens, France. In fact, it is the longest single time jump possible from the year 236 million AD to 100 billion years in the future (the final moment of our collapsing Universe). The sublime network of billions of Dyson spheres awes Verne into silence, yet he can still imagine a day when he will learn enough to appreciate it all. His own possibilities of growth in personal intelligence and imagination trumps what Csicsery-Ronay calls “the dramatic arc of the technosublime, [the] recoil at the unutterable power and extension of technology” (161). There is minimal “recoil” in “Todo lo que un hombre puede imaginar”—instead, there is a constant celebration and delight in the powers of imagination, what Csiscery-Ronay terms the “recuperation through ethical judgments about [the technosublime’s] effects in the future” (161). The fact that the informationally resurrected Verne, Teilhard, and “Nadar” can walk the same streets of Amiens, even as every other possible real or imagined world co-exists with them in the same timeless state, restores human dignity to its proper, “most exalted” place in the universe.
The stakes in La red de Indra are very high—Neko saves the Earth of 236 million AD from the Crabs, but has created the Dark spot in Indra’s Net, the space where one jewel/Geode has gone missing. The “Dark” is also reflected throughout all the jewels of the Net; the loss of one disfigures the beauty of all. All of Earth’s intelligent species stand to be lost—there is no record of their existence in the memory programs of Indra’s net, and so they cannot be resurrected at the end of time and space. Yet Kaplan escapes into the future; just as Teilhard in “Todo lo que un hombre puede imaginar” can work with the creators of the Omega Point to rescue Jules Verne from the painful stasis he suffers, Kaplan can confer with the “Geodites” and recover the lost information to bring about the resurrection and restoration of Earth’s many intelligent species. During their vision of Indra’s Net, Kaplan tells Neko that he has even “collected” Teilhard de Chardin’s soul: “he [was] a fascinating person. It would have been terrible for him to disappear [from the Universe]” (249). Thus, the visit to Verne’s house by Teilhard de Chardin, and their subsequent vision of the Omega Point at the end of time, is made possible by Kaplan and Neko’s vision of the origin of Indra’s Net before the beginning of time in this Universe, because it induces Neko to help Kaplan escape. The team of explorers in La red de Indra is cut off from the world they once knew, and so they must explore, after the style of a Verne novel, the world they now inhabit. In “Todo lo que un hombre puede imaginar,” Verne himself is ensconced in his old memories, at once comfortable and painful, in a virtual replica of his home in Amiens. Verne, at least, is invited to leave his past and begin exploring his present, where all he can imagine is made real.
All of Aguilera’s fiction answers what Csicsery-Ronay calls “two intertwined but distinct questions about the imaginary world represented in the [sf] text. On the one hand, [sf] asks whether the imaginary changes are possible; on the other, what their social and ethical implications might be” (187). The Akasa-Puspa saga and “El bosque de hielo,” with its miles-high trees and creatures capable of surviving in the vacuum of the cometary halo, are proof that Aguilera is a master of creating sublime ecologies; possible, yes, and filled with exotic societies, each with its own religious and ethical systems. As Moreno observes, “Todo lo que un hombre puede imaginar” is not hard sf; rather, it explores and exalts the possibilities of imagination, and the endless wonders that might be wrought by the Universe’s entire intelligence working in concert, including the restoration of all that ever was. La red de Indra, however, provides the hard sf—rational (albeit imaginative) assumptions, theories, explanations, and outcomes, from Tipler and others––that underwrites the ethical vision imagined by Teilhard, Kurzweil, and, in a sense, Jules Verne himself, and explored in “Todo lo que un hombre puede imaginar.”10 Taken together, the two sections of the tale, novel and short story, answer both fundamental questions broached by sf.
Juan Miguel Aguilera imagines a conversation between Jules Verne and Teilhard de Chardin, and La red de Indra, together with its sublime appendix, is the result. Many of Aguilera’s works are set in the same fictional universe. In a sense, all his works are set in the universe of “Todo lo que un hombre puede imaginar”: each text a shining jewel mirroring and mirrored by every other text, as they resonate in theme, technique, style, imagery, and specific detail. Indeed, the story might aptly be named “All Aguilera Can Imagine.” Thankfully, such a title would not signify a limit or end, but rather the bright promise of future “Vernian” travels through Aguilera’s imagination.
I would like to thank Terry Harpold, Dale Knickerbocker, and John Rosenberg for their helpful comments during the revision of this manuscript.
1. Here and throughout, all translations are mine.
2. Garmt de Vries offers a useful genealogy of this apocryphal statement on his webpage. The earliest source of the quotation is from a necrology by Félix Duquesnel.
3. It should be noted that Indra is also an important Hindu god, the leader of the Devas. He rides a white elephant, armed with a bow and a lightning bolt called the Vajra—another echo from Mundos en el abismo, in which the fusion-powered Imperial starship investigating the Dyson swarm is named the Vajra.
4. The pronunciation of the word in Spanish approximates “hay-ecks,” but the visual pun with the English word “geeks” is in keeping with the many other pop-cultural winks in the novel.
5. Another wink: Pangea Última, the megacontinent of 236 million years from now, has the form of a ring circling an interior ocean, thereby making the Earth a “ring-world” (a nod to Larry Niven, one of Aguilera’s major influences) (294).
6. The theme of visiting the aged Verne also appears in Bernard Blanc’s quirky Pourquoi j’ai tué Jules Verne (1978), which contains an account of the author/editor’s constructing a time machine to travel to 1905 Amiens and assassinate Verne, thereby preventing his overpowering influence on subsequent French sf. See Slusser’s “Why They Kill Jules Verne.”
7. La red de Indra alone has many “extraordinary” elements that echo Verne’s novels—travels to exotic lands, numerous gadgets, gunfights, strange primitive peoples, and even creatures resembling tiny hot air balloons (see 168).
8. One of Jules Verne’s posthumously published novels is titled The Lighthouse at the End of the World (completed 1901, published 1905). Though the novel shares nothing with Aguilera’s fiction, the title evokes the blinding light of the Omega Point, shining at the end of the Universe.
9. For an analysis of Spanish time-travel narratives, see Pratt, “‘Londons.’”
10. The infinite multitudes of micro-singularities within the Geodes of La red de Indra provides the mass needed by Tipler’s theory to ensure a “Big Crunch” end to our universe, and secures the necessary intelligence to complete the informational resurrection process at the end of the story.
Aguilera, Juan Miguel. “El bosque de hielo.” Historia y antología de la ciencia ficción española. Ed. Julián Díez and Fernando Ángel Moreno. Madrid: Cátedra, 2014. 315-72.
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─────. Prospectivas: Antología del cuento de ciencia ficción española actual. Madrid: Salto de Página, 2012.
Pratt, Dale J. “‘Londons,’ Metafiction and Time Travel Narratology in Félix J. Palma’s Victorian Trilogy.” Foundation 44.2 (2015): 67-78.
─────. “The Tattered Edges of Science: Cajal and the Limits of the Scientific Sublime.” Essays in Honor of Kevin S. Larsen. Ometeca 21 (2015): 51-65.
Slusser, George E. “Why They Kill Jules Verne: Science Fiction and Cartesian Culture.” SFS 32.1 (2005): 61-79.
Teilhard de Chardin, Pierre. The Future of Man. 1959. Trans. Norman Denny. NY: Doubleday, 2004.
─────. The Phenomenon of Man. 1955. Trans. Bernard Wall. NY: Harper Perennial, 2008.
Thorne, K.S., and Frank J. Tipler, “A Cosmological Dialogue between Caltech Cosmologist Kip
Thorne & Tulane Cosmologist Frank Tipler on The Physics of Immortality.” Skeptic Magazine 3.4 (1996): 64-7.
Tipler, Frank J. The Physics of Immortality: Modern Cosmology, God and the Resurrection of the Dead. NY: Doubleday, 1994.
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