Today’s Tuesday Fiction is by Rodolfo Martínez, from Spain. Rodolfo published his first short story in 1987 and his first novel (a cyberpunk space-opera called La sonrisa del gato – “Cat’s Smile”) in 1995 and soon became a leading writer of fantastic literature in Spain, although a feature that defines his work is the blending of genres, mixing them shamelessly with deceptive simplicity and on numerous levels, from science fiction and fantasy to crime fiction and thriller. This makes his work difficult to classify.
Winner of the prestigious Minotauro Novel Award with his novel Los sicarios del cielo (“Hitmen from Heaven”), he has won numerous other awards throughout his literary career, such as the Asturias Novel Award, the UPV Award of Fantastic Short Stories and, on several occasions, the Ignotus Award (in the categories of novel, novella and short stories).
His Holmesian work, consisting so far of four books, has been translated into Portuguese, Polish, Turkish and French and several of his stories have also appeared in French publications.
“Eternal Return” was published in Spanish in Porciones individuales (February 2013, Sportula). This is its first publication in English.
Too late. Again.
The other passengers were holding him down while the flight attendant asked for help over the intercom, and Stephen Perrulla realized that if they got away with it, this time he wouldn’t be able to escape. They were going to sedate him, and that was something he could not afford. He had to stay conscious.
He checked the time.
Only thirty seconds and then he could try again. He could…
He stopped struggling and allowed the other passengers to return him to his seat. He saw the flight attendant coming towards him.
“I’m fine,” he said. “There’s no need to…”
But she was not listening and he could not move.
He saw the hypodermic syringe and felt how she removed his shirt sleeve. No. He could not allow it.
Ten seconds. Just ten seconds more.
“Please,” he said.
The hostess looked at him and hesitated. Then her eyes hardened and she pushed the syringe into his arm.
No, damn it. Only five seconds more.
He tried to squirm in his seat, but the two passengers who held him pushed him back and kept him still.
“Wait!” he shouted.
And, suddenly, everything began to shake, as if the plane had entered a zone of turbulence. The stewardess stopped and looked up. Stephen saw the horror spread across her face and realized it was time.
He blacked out.
* * *
It was like falling and never getting to the bottom.
Only he did.
He opened his eyes.
He was back on the plane, sitting in his seat by the window, looking at the same landscape of clouds he had last thirty times.
He had one minute.
Sixty seconds to prevent the bomb from exploding.
He shook his head.
Take it easy, he said to himself. Try to think. Find a way.
But there wasn’t one, was there?
After all, he had tried thirty times. He had tried to reason with the crew, to get to the captain, to provoke a riot, to…
He had tried everything.
And failed. Again and again the seconds had passed one after another and the bomb had exploded.
And he… he had done all he could: going back in time sixty seconds and trying again.
He looked around. By now, he knew the faces of those around him by heart, and knew exactly how they would react.
They would stop him, as they had done the last thirty times.
And even if they didn’t, he thought, what could he do?
What could he do in a minute?
He had to find the bomb, find it and disarm it. And that was impossible.
He dropped his head back against the seat and looked out the window. There was a break in the clouds and, for a moment, he stared a restless and empty sea.
What could he do in a minute, he asked himself again.
Again he felt the rattle. He closed his eyes and, as the plane fell to pieces around him, he jumped back again.
* * *
When they were children, he and his friends told each other the stories they had read in comic-books. And then they argued. Who was better, Batman or Superman? Was Wolverine cooler than Spider-man? Were mutants better than meta-humans? Did they prefer Justice League or Avengers? Was Power Girl hotter than the Black Widow? Was Catwoman sexier than the Black Cat?
And then they began to talk about ridiculous characters. Petty villains with a pathetic disguise, a silly name and skills that were a bad joke. Yeah, remember the guy with the ball and chain. And what do you think of Paste-Pot-Pete?
Stupid superpowers. Ridiculous superpowers. Useless superpowers.
He had participated, of course. Like the others, he had proposed absurd skills that were of no use.
“Being able to step back a minute in time,” someone said one day.
“A minute?, asked another. “What can you do in one minute?”
“Well,” a third one said, “if you are mugged, you can step back a minute and then go home another way. Or you can avoid a passing car splashing you while you’re waiting for the bus.”
“Or kick someone’s butt, go back a minute and pretend nothing happened… because it never had.”
He joined the game, of course. And kept his secret, as he had been keeping it since he had first discovered it, and would keep it forever.
* * *
In the plane again. Again the landscape of clouds. Again all these people around him flying to their deaths.
He could try to stop it again. And fail, again.
Or he could just wait. Close his eyes and let the sixty seconds pass.
And, then, he would step back another minute.
And he would wait.
And he would step back.
And he would never leave that bloody carousel that could only lead to death.
* * *
Through the years, he had managed to find small uses for his stupid ability.
One minute was not a long time, certainly. But it was enough to take a look at the correct answers to a test, wait for the teacher to throw him out of the class and then go back one minute and write the right answers.
Or, if a conversation was going wrong, he could try again, working out what to say to get what he wanted.
Small advantages. Tiny successes.
But he had grown accustomed to them, and they were good enough. His ridiculous skill had not made him rich or famous, but had allowed him to gain small privileges, to reach a slightly higher position than he could have gotten otherwise.
He was not the king of the world, but had found his little corner.
And it was a comfortable corner.
* * *
The plane. The clouds, the syringe.
He was trapped forever in the same sixty seconds, doomed to repeat them over and over again. He had lost count of the times he had gone back to the minute before the explosion. He had stopped counting.
How much time had passed?
One minute. Only one minute, that passed again and again and again.
He had been caught in that trap for days. Days that would become weeks that would grow into months that…
Would he grow old? Would he get older while he dwelled in that eternal minute? Would he feel his body gradually decline to death?
What if he did not?
He could give up and die, of course. Let the bomb blow him to pieces.
Only he could not. He had tried. But the moment he heard the explosion, he could not avoid jumping back, back that damn minute. His fear, again and again, took the decision for him.
So he was doomed to repeat that minute forever.
There was no way out.
Or maybe there was.
It had happened… when? Yes, the thirtieth time he had tried, when the other passengers fell on him and the flight attendant tried to inject him with a sedative. If she had succeeded, if she had managed to put him to sleep, then he would not be able to go back. He would have died there with everyone else and everything would be over.
Was that what he wanted? To end, forever?
I want to get out, he said to himself.
No matter how?
He took a breath and looked around. In his mind, he summed up what the other passengers and the stewardess would do.
I have to get out, he thought once again.
Then the bomb went off and he fell.
* * *
Small satisfactions. Petty pleasures in an unremarkable existence.
But enough for him.
After all, he was a small man, with small goals and aspirations. And his small skill had been enough to get him all that.
* * *
The clouds. The plane.
It was fast, so fast it almost frightened him. The other passengers overpowered him quickly, and almost before he knew it, the flight attendant was at his side with the hypodermic syringe.
Everything was going to end, finally.
And suddenly, something stirred within him.
Not that way. He did not want to die, despite everything; he did not want to surrender. Not yet. Not that way.
But the syringe was approaching his arm. Twenty seconds, there were still twenty seconds before the plane began to fall apart. He felt the syringe touch his skin.
Suddenly, he was falling back. Falling without ever reaching the bottom.
Only he did reach it.
* * *
His head against the back of the seat. The purr of the engines. The landscape out of the window. All the same, again.
Dazed, he looked out the window.
They were passing over clouds, but the clouds were not the same. He remembered their configuration perfectly, he had seen them over and over again, always the same white landscape, still, vaguely threatening.
Only it was not the same.
Stunned, he shook his head. What the…?
Had he gotten out? Had he escaped the loop? How?
Then he saw it. There it was, the familiar cold view that had accompanied him all those times, and he knew that everything would happen over again, that he was caught, once more, that…
But he understood something else.
He had jumped back, but not to the same moment. However, he was sure he had fallen exactly a minute. But he had started to fall before the previous minute was up. Twenty seconds before.
And that meant…
It was as if something hit him and, for a moment, he sat stunned, unable to absorb what had happened.
Then, with a smile (the first time he had smiled in thousands of years, the first time in a minute), he jumped back again.
And again and again.
* * *
The flight had been delayed nearly two hours, but Stephen did not mind. Not a bit. He acted with the same calmness and indifference when the Police entered the waiting room and arrested a passenger.
The speakers announced a few minutes later that the flight would leave in half an hour.
Without hurry, Stephen took his boarding pass and walked towards the gate. He shook his head and smiled, as if he had heard a good joke, while around him the other passengers were wondering what had happened and speculating about it.
What had happened? He had a few ideas.
The police had received an anonymous call saying there was bomb on the plane. They had investigated the luggage and had found the device. And then they must have found who owned it and arrested him.
After all, there were at least two people who knew there was a bomb on board.
The guy who had set it.
The stewardess processed his boarding pass and wished him bon voyage.
“Thanks,” Stephen said.
Yes, he would have a good trip. Now he would.
And if he didn’t, he could go back and try again.
A minute? Sixty seconds?
Yes, as many times as he wanted.
Idiot, he said to himself, still smiling.
He crossed the walkway toward the plane. Someone noticed his smile and the way he shook his head and asked him if anything was wrong.
“No, everything’s fine, thanks.”
If he hadn’t panicked, he would never have discovered it. He had jumped twenty seconds before the bomb had exploded, before the loop was complete, at the moment a syringe was about to make him unconscious and end his life.
He had jumped.
Just a minute.
Which had taken him twenty seconds further into the past than he had gone before.
Idiot, he said to himself again.
After all, if you jump back a minute, you can jump as much as you want. If you can go one minute into the past, from there you can go another minute — into the past of the past — and from there another minute, into the past of the past of the past…
He boarded the plane and sat down. While they were taking off and the hostess began her life jacket demonstration, he wondered what to do with his life.
After all, he had all the time in the world.
In convenient minute-long portions, of course.
Hi Marian! Thanks for agreeing to do the interview. First off, how did you first become acquainted with speculative fiction?
Well, of course, on some level all fiction is speculative fiction, and one of the great developments that has taken place over the course of my life is that some of the themes and ideas that have been traditionally considered as “belonging” uniquely to what was called “science fiction” have expanded beyond their genre boundaries (of course, genres don´t have boundaries, but that is another question…). So, a lot of what I read when I was a child or a young woman was speculative fiction “without knowing it”, as it were. For example, some of Lovecraft’s purer horror stories are very much based on a speculative fiction premise: what if we could re-animate the dead? What if we could come into contact with creatures from other dimensions?
When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
It’s always been there in the background: I’ve always liked words, and putting words together, but there are a handful of key experiences that really led me to want to devote my life to it: reading Crime and Punishment for the first time at the age of thirteen or so, discovering Borges… In a way the idea that it is what I’d do has always been there, even amongst my family and friends. It was sort of understood I would work with books… And in fact I have been a librarian, I’ve done academic research, I translate, publish and write. Short of having my own bookshop, I think I have always been surrendered to books and have lived not only through them, but also from them… Or at least that’s what I try to do!
Who are some of your favorite writers or what are some of your favorite works?
I believe in a healthy reading diet, and my list of “favourites” is perhaps unmanageable… I am also very indecisive… A great many things: from Alice in Wonderland to An Awkward Age by Anna Starobinets.
Where can we find some of your fiction?
I have contributed to a number of anthologies and have published a novel, which I describe as “with a ghost included” rather than being a straight horror story, which is not. The anthologies I have contributed to tend to focus on speculative, fantasy or horror topics, and amongst them I am extremely proud to be one of the only three female authors featured in a seminal horror anthology recently published called Akelarre: Antología del cuento de terror español actual, full of incredibly amazing writers. I cannot tell you how many times I have complained to my publisher that he should have searched for more Spanish female horror writers! All these anthologies fall within the very Spanish trend now for “high-literary” genre writing… This need to specify-redefine can be sometimes a bit silly, in my view… Genre writing doesn’t need to be “saved” by straight literature. There is some amazing writing out there… But perhaps more in the Anglo-American scene than here, I guess.
How would you describe your writing?
I think I’ve got quite a dark mind, and that is reflected in what I write: I am fascinated by the obscure, the half-hidden, what you might in general call “the gothic”. A lot of my friends say that I write in quite an “English” way: perhaps what this means is that I am not as keen on baroque circumlocution as some Spanish prose writers.
How did you get involved with translation?
I was broke. I submitted a speculative translation (of a whole book) to a publisher. It was Lady into fox, by David Garnett, a book I have always been fascinated with… He didn’t take it, but things started coming my way.
What are the challenges in translating into Spanish, especially since you translate both English and Russian works?
More than other European languages, Spanish gets beautiful results on a fairly limited spectrum of emotional tone and nuances of vocabulary. I often feel when I am translating from English that I am trying to fit the Ocean into a bathtub. On the other hand, when something works in Spanish it works in a way that it is impossible to fake. Bad Spanish prose calls attention to its own inadequacies much more than bad English or bad Russian does. I should qualify here that when I translate from Russian it is as half of a translation team, of which I am the “native” Spanish speaker.
Who are some of the speculative fiction authors from Russia that we should be reading? From Spain?
Our Russian list is characterised by publishing gothic or science-fiction alongside more “traditional” Russian writers. One of the last books we have published is a collection of short stories by Anna Starobinets, published in English as An Awkward Age, which are speculative fiction-horror stories that really repay the Russian press’s description of her as “the Russian Stephen King”. Andrei Rubanov is also name to conjure with. In Spain I would highlight a recent anthology called Prospectivas: antología del cuento de ciencia ficción española actual. It’s got lots of major names in it, and it is a very well put together book.
What made you decide to pursue publishing?
We weren’t enjoying academia as much as we thought. We wanted a change of scene and decided to move to Madrid, a place neither of us knew, and to start a publishing house. We began with a list of about one hundred and fifty authors we liked and who weren’t published in Spanish, and went from there…
Could you tell us more about your press?
We started out publishing Russian fiction. We then decided to expand and open up an English Gothic line, so now we essentially have two distinct collections. We are hoping to open up even more to other literatures in the future. We have been going now for over three years, and have published about ten books a year. I don’t know how much longer we’ll keep this rhythm going, but at the moment we’re happy.
Could you tell us more about the anthology Steampunk: Antología retrofuturista?
This anthology has been in preparation for more than four years now: it is the first compilation of its kind in Spain. It was put together by Félix J. Palma, the writer of the bestselling The Map of Time and its sequels, and it aims to do two things: to familiarise Spanish readers with the genre, and also to provide them with an idea of what Steampunk could do in a Spanish environment.
What’s the speculative fiction scene in Spain like? The publishing scene?
I lived in England until recently, and so in some ways I feel like I am a newcomer to all of this, but my impression is that the speculative fiction scene in Spain is healthy: there is a good number of conventions and discussion groups online. The only thing I would suggest is that there is no obvious key figure around whom other authors congregate: not that this is a bad thing, just that the Speculative fiction community seems a little decentred sometimes, or over-focussed on Anglo-American developments. As far as publishing is concerned, the main development over the last few years has been the rise of small unaffiliated publishing houses, a group among which we are proud to count ourselves, which are willing to break down the previously rigid barriers between ‘popular’ and ‘literary’ fiction: the idea that a company such as ours might publish a Soviet novel about a journey to Mars in the same collection as the memoirs of Dostoevsky’s roommate is thinkable now in a way it wouldn’t have been five or ten years ago.
What are the challenges in juggling writing, translating, and publishing?
Everything is tidal: the publishing season in Spain runs from January to June and from September to November; the translation work I get tends to be required within the same period; my writing is something I can only do when the conditions are right (I don’t think I’m a diva, but I have found that unless I can get a good run at a piece of work, unless I know I have a solid week to do nothing apart from write, then I don’t get much done)… So we go from periods of inactivity to periods of immense and complex work, and all the time-management in the world isn’t enough to make everything go smoothly all of the time.
What projects are you currently working on?
We are currently launching the first Spanish translation of Gladys Mitchell, a jewel in the crown of Golden Age English detective fiction. I am working on a series of young adult steampunky novels with the Spanish fantasy writer Sofia Rhei, am preparing a compilation of my anthologised stories, and am starting to take the first steps in writing what promises to be an extremely large-scale literary project, but I don’t want to mention more than that, as it might be years before anything appears. Before that I hope that an anthology I am preparing now, sort of “Spanish-writers-Lovecraft-homage”, will be published. You wouldn’t imagine the number of writers here who are a bit obsessed with him, who worship his work. We are quite a substantial community!
Anything else you want to plug?
For everyone who reads Spanish, Steampunk is an indispensible anthology. We are also about to publish El vivo, a novel by Anna Starobinets, which is amazing. Please visit our website: www.nevsky.es, and thank you for the interview.
Charles Tan interviews Spanish author Rodolfo Martinez, whose novel The Queen’s Adept is now available for the Kindle in an English translation by Jordi Balcells.
An Interview with Rodolfo Martinez
By Charles Tan
Hi Rodolfo! Thanks for agreeing to do the interview. First off, how did you first become acquainted with speculative fiction?
I was very young, 9-10 years old. My father was an avid reader of science fiction and I was very curious about those books he read, with those striking covers of space ships and stars and nebula and so forth. Then one day I took one of his books and began to read it. It was a short stories compilation (from F&SF, if I recall correctly) and there was too much there I didn’t understand, but I was fascinated with the material. My father caught me reading, he smiled, and said he would give me something more suitable.
So he gave me The Early Asimov and shortly after that the Foundation Trilogy, both by Asimov, and The City and the Stars by Arthur C. Clarke…
That was the beginning. And, after that first contact I became… well, a fan. We could almost say an addict.
That was a long time ago (before the Internet, but after The Beatles, we could say, paraphrasing William Goldman) and, as time went by, another literary universe and genres appeared for me to discover: fantasy, and noir novel, and 19th Century adventure novel, and historic novel, and the classics, both Spanish and abroad. And… well, almost everything. But genre literature (popular literature, as the one 19th English and American writers wrote: Conan Doyle, Stevenson, London, Twain…) was always my favorite. But my first love was science fiction and I never really left it, both as a reader and as a writer. We could say I sometimes visit other rooms of the same house but, sooner or later I go back to the SF room.
Who are some of your favorite authors or favorite books?
Well, it’s hard, there are so many. But, let’s try.
In science fiction: Isaac Asimov, Philip K. Dick, the first Orson Scott Card (Ender’s Game, Hart’s Hope, Wyrms… those first novels, I mean), Frank Herbert, Richard Morgan, Connie Willis…
In fantasy: Borges, Cortázar, John Crowley, Clive Barker, Tolkien, Lovecraft…
In other genres: Robert Graves, Raymond Chandler, John le Carré, García Márquez, Alexandre Dumas, Mark Twain, Arthur Conan Doyle…
As you can see, the list could be endless.
There a few books that mark in a special way some moments of my life: Watership Down, Cien años de soledad, I, Claudius, The Mote in God’s Eye, The Lord of the Rings, The End of Eternity, Tinker, Taylor, Soldier Spy, At the Mountains of Madness, Little, Big…
And let’s not talk about comics because then I had to mention Watchmen and Swamp Thing and From Hell by Alan Moore, or Sandman by Gaiman, or Thor by Simonson or Fantastic Four by Byrne, or…
Well, I believe you can get an idea of my literary tastes, more or less.
How did you get involved with writing fiction?
I began to write when I was twelve, three years after having begun to read SF. It was 1977, the year the first Star Wars movie was released and, shortly after that, Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind. 2001: a Space Odyssey was re-released by that time in Spain, and there were a handful of American SF TV series as well on Spanish TV, so there was science fiction not only in books, but everywhere. And, when I began to write, I wrote SF, the genre I love reading and watching in movies and in TV (series like Star Trek, TOS and Space 1999, and U.F.O. and Thunderbirds…)
Why did I begin to write? I really don’t know. I remember when I was a kid I used to create (just for myself, never told anyone) new adventures of my favorite comic-book characters or my favorite TV series. And one day, I suppose, I just decided to put them on paper. So I wrote a… well, we can call it a hard space opera, I guess, or the idea a 12-year-old kid could have of what space opera and hard SF were.
And, once I began I just couldn’t stop. If I was an addict to reading I soon became an addict to writing.
As a writer, my first works where SF, but I soon began to write fantasy as well, and mystery stories and, in the end, what I was doing was a half-breed literature that had ingredients from every genre I love: SF, fantasy, mystery, adventure. My novels usually are a strange cocktail where things that, at a first glance, seem impossible to blend but go hand in hand. Though there always is some SF element in almost every one of them: a rationalist point of view that, in the same way, makes even my fantasy to be some kind of science fiction.
A good example is my four Sherlock Holmes novels, where the detective becomes a swivel upon which I create a universe where Lovecraft myths and pulp literature, and western and even superheroes, can exist. The first one, La sabiduría de los muertos (The Wisdom of Deadmen) was published in 1996 and the last one in 2007… a long and satisfactory journey for me as an author.
Could you tell us about your novel, the Queen’s Adept?
Like most of my work, it was born from the desire of blending two things that, at first glance, do not seem very much… “blendable”, so to say. One day I told myself: “What would a James Bond adventure be like in an epic fantasy scenario?” I began to play with the idea, and the more I did it, the more I liked it. So I designed the main character, the plot, the pseudo-historical setting (I took some Historical moments I liked, such as the Renaissance, the 19th Century, the Middle Ages and the 20th Century Cold War and put them all together). And I began to write.
And, as I was writing, the story grew, and so did the main character; everything began to be more complex and I soon realized I was creating a character and a scenario that I could not put in just one novel. In fact, there are now two novels about Yáxtor Brandan (the main character) and three short (or rather medium-large) stories; and a third novel is on the way.
In your acknowledgements, you mention the importance of maps. Could you elaborate on this?
Well, it’s more or less as I say in the acknowledgements. There were elements that I put in the map that, at first, had no more role than to give the lands a realistic aspect: some mountains and rivers and forests, for instance. But then I took a second look at the map, I saw those large woods I had created and thought: “Well, yes, menialbodies could be born there, why not?” From that thought, Darkwoods were created and became a pivotal element, not only for this novel but for the entire scenario and its development.
It was originally published in 2009. What made you decide to translate it into English?
I had been considering for some time the idea of trying the English/American market. Some years before, it had been very hard (you had to find a publisher interested in translating and publishing your work, a thing that, unless you were a big best-seller in your homeland, it was very unlikely to happen), but electronic publication and print on demand had eased things. In paper there is still the big issue of distribution, but in ebook you can reach almost the entire world with no effort.
So I began to translate some of my works. Short stories, at first, and one day I decided it was time for me to try a full novel. The Queen’s Adept series was my most recent work (and one of my best, at least that’s what I think) so I tried it.
What was the translation process like, since you translated it yourself? What was the role of Jordi Balcells?
It was hard, almost exhausting sometimes, but at the same time it was refreshing and fascinating. In some ways I was not translating myself, but writing again the same story from a new and fresh point of view. And I discovered I liked very much how my work sounded in English.
Jordi was an invaluable part of the process. Not matter how good my English was (if in fact was any good), I needed someone else to revise what I had done. My eyes were too close to the text, we could say. Jordi is a professional translator and he jumped aboard the project with enthusiasm: he translates from English to Spanish, so to revise and correct a translation from Spanish to English was a challenge for him, in a way.
What were the challenges, both in writing, publishing, and translating the book?
As I began to write as a very young boy, I was never aware that there was any challenge at all. I mean, at that age, you really don’t think about those things: you just want to do it, so you do it. As time went by, of course, things change and you begin to think about what you do and how you do it and why you do it. The main challenge, for me as a writer, is to be able to make things real to the reader: while he’s reading my book he must forget the world outside the pages he reads, he must feel he’s there, inside the book, and the characters seem real to him or her.
Above all, the thing that worries me most when I begin to write new material is: who is telling it? Who tells the tale? Seeking a narrator suitable for the story you want to tell is sometimes hard, but when you find him, when you feel the voice you have chosen to tell the tale, it’s the voice the tale is demanding, you know everything will be fine. In The Queen’s Adept it soon became obvious to me that third-person narrator wasn’t enough, I needed something more. From there arose the quotations that begin every chapter, and that helped me, in some ways, to feel that the material was more real, more plausible. It was a way of giving the novel a denser background.
I began to publish (first myself and then other people) three years ago, after having been publishing with others for fifteen years (my first novel was released in 1995, so do the math). It was something I wanted to do, specially because there was some material I could not find a publisher for. I’m talking about my SF written and published in the Nineties: short stories, novelettes, novellas and novels that had been published many years ago in many different places and were sold out. All of them shared a common scenario (my Drímar universe) and I wanted to bring all that material together and publish it in three of four chronologically ordered volumes. And I wanted to try electronic publication also. So, Sportula, my very-very-very-very small press, was born that way: it began with a couple of books in paper (printed in POD) and half a dozen ebooks. Things went well and the project began to grow and sometime later I found myself publishing other people.
It’s a work I enjoy, not only the, well, “intellectual” part of the process but the physical as well: composing the book, working with the illustrator and the designer, sometimes designing the cover myself, those things. The real challenge is to reach an audience, specially in paper publications and working without a professional distribution, but little by little, with patience and thinking long-term, we are getting it. Translating into English is just one step more in the same direction.
And about the translation, we can say my main fear is that I’m not really sure if it will be good enough for the potential readers. I mean: it’s those people’s language, for heaven’s sake! And there I am, daring to translate without being a native.
How would you describe your fiction?
The word that suits it the best is “half-breed”, “mestiza”, as we say in Spanish. I write a “mestiza” literature that picks from here and there, everything I like, and put all those things together fearless of the possible results. With a special predilection for popular genres: SF, mystery, fantasy, adventure… Though as I said, there is always, or almost, some SF element. The Queen’s Adept, for instance, can seem fantasy at first glance, but it could be SF too, just switching your point of view. The novel (and the entire scenario, in fact) is deliberately in a kind of no man’s land that can be F or SF depending on the reader’s choice.
Have you considered translating your other novels, novellas, and short stories?
Yes, of course I have. I’ve translated a couple of short stories and surely in the future I’ll translate a few more. Another novel? Hard to say: it takes time, it’s hard and… well I have to write new novels as well, and time is limited. When I can afford, I guess I will hire a professional translator for the second novel of The Queen’s Adept series. And, from there… well, we’ll see.
How would you describe the genre scene there?
In Spain, the SF market is a very tiny one. If your book sells 1,500 copies you’re doing good, and if it sells 5,000 you’re almost a best-seller. So Spanish science-fiction landscape is full of small and medium-size presses and a couple of big publishers. It’s very difficult to earn a living just writing SF.
On the other hand, there are certain writers that are successful writing SF (or novels that have SF elements) for the mainstream… but without saying that’s SF. People like José Carlos Somoza or Félix J. Palma, for instance.
It’s a perception problem, we could say. SF label is discredited and it’s hard to fight against prejudice. But if you’re smart enough you can disguise your SF as… well, tecno-thriller, cyber-fantasy… things like that, and you can get the mainstream reader to read your book.
There are a dozen authors that, like me, began to publish in the ’90s, and in time they had fled from pure SF to less “problematic” genres, like historical fantasy. Juan Miguel Aguilera, for instances, has done well there and, in fact, has succeeded beyond our borders and achieved success in France with his Historical fantasy.
New generations of writers prefer horror, dark fantasy or just fantasy and SF is maybe a little abandoned. In fact, I haven’t write pure SF since 2005, with my cyberpunk novel El sueño del Rey Rojo (Red King’s Dream). I’ve moved from there to that half-breed literature I mentioned before that contains elements of several genres. And many of my colleagues have done the same.
My experience says that the audience, the mainstream audience, likes certain kinds of SF… when they’re not aware they’re reading SF.
Anything else you want to plug?
Just thank you this chance to make a first contact with American audience. I hope you’ll enjoy The Queen’s Adept and I hope this will be just the first of my books published in English.
Sue Burke writes on Castles in Spain: fantasy writers and publishers have high hopes:
Big changes are on the horizon, and they’re going to be good. That’s what many Spanish fantasy authors and publishers believe. Fantasy is luring more and more readers, and soon, they hope, Spanish readers will believe that “made in Spain” novels and stories are as good as those by Anglo-Saxon (English-language) writers.
Raúl Gonzálvez sees “an upward spiral that just five or ten years ago would have been almost impossible.” His small publishing company, Grupo AJEC, focuses almost exclusively on Spanish writers, especially new ones, and has given some well-known authors their start.
“Spanish writers are starting to lose their complexes,” Gonzálvez says, “and even more importantly, to seek their own voice outside of Anglo-Saxon literature, which was the reference for readers for decades.” These days small publishers, and even some larger ones, are offering a full range of fantasy literature; he hopes this will overcome a long-standing barrier.
“Soon, frequent fantasy readers who usually read only Anglo-Saxon novels may give Spanish authors a chance – or at least treat them the same as a translated novel – and I think that sooner rather than later we can speak of a more normal situation in the production of national fantasy literature, compared to other European countries.”
This abnormal situation goes back four centuries – to Don Quixote. Cervantes’ book satirized the fantasy adventure novels of its day, and ever since then realism has reigned in the Kingdom of Spain, despite a rich oral tradition of tales of fantastic events and beings.
In the last half of the 20th century, popular genre works translated from English began to capture readers, but the few Spanish genre writers of those decades often had to use British- or American-sounding pseudonyms. Then in the ’80s and ’90s, a new generation of writers appeared, proud to use their own names, including Rafael Marín, César Mallorquí, Elia Barceló, Juan Miguel Aguilera, Javier Negrete, and Rodolfo Martínez. They wrote what in Spain is known as “fantastic literature,” which encompasses science fiction, fantasy, and horror. Their quality inspired more writers.
However, quality wasn’t enough. Luis G. Prado heads Alamut and Bibliópolis, small genre presses that publish mostly translations – but from many languages, not just English – along with some Spanish authors. For many years he edited an important fanzine, Artífex. In the 2002 book La Ciencia Ficción Española, he noted that some fine writers were leaving the genre. “It isn’t a field that welcomes authors with ambition, and its survival in Spain has been based more on the personal efforts of a handful of unyielding writers than on favorable conditions.”
The money wasn’t there ten years ago, and not much has changed. But a loyal fandom has always filled in somewhat for the lack of professional money and recognition. Fan groups have published anthologies and magazines, and sponsored conventions and awards. As in the US and Britain, writers and readers mix freely, and often fans became writers or publishers.
National conventions, called HispaCons, occurred intermittently before 1980, and in 1991 they were revived and are now held annually, sponsored by the Spanish Association for Fantasy, Science Fiction, and Horror (AEFCFT, in its Spanish initicials).
Two other groups especially strong now are TerBi, a Basque association for science fiction, fantasy, and horror; and the Spanish Epic Fantasy Association, a grouping of local clubs, whose website name,espadaybrujeria.com (“swordandsorcery.com”), explains its focus.
“Thanks to social networks, digital tools, Creative Commons licenses, etc., contact and mutual support among Spanish writers is increasing visibly,” says Nuria C. Botey. Her works include fantasy, science fiction, horror, and gay romance; she’s also won several prizes. She points to the Spanish Association of Horror Writers, Nocte, as another example of a community for writers. – continue reading!
Over at Sue Burke’s blog, she posted the results of the Ignotus Awards. In her own words:
“The Ignotus Award is Spain’s equivalent to the Hugo, awarded at the annual convention, called Hispacon, sponsored by the Asociación Española de Fantasía, Ciencia Ficción y Terror. The 2010 awards were presented October 11 during Hispacon XXVIII, held this year in Burjassot, Valencia.
Here are the winners:
Última noche de Hipatia (The Last Night of Hypatia), by Eduardo Vaquerizo.
“La cosecha del centauro” (“The Harvest of the Centaur”), by Eduardo Gallego and Guillem Sánchez.
Best Short Story:
“Victimas Inocentes” (“Innocent Victims”) by David Jasso.
De mecánica y alquimia (Of Mechanics and Alchemy) by Juan Jacinto Muñoz Rengel.
Best Nonfiction Book:
W de Watchmen (W for Watchmen), by Rafael Marín.
“La historia que no fue: a propósito de ‘Cuatro siglos de buen gobierno’ y la otra historia de Nilo María Fabra” (“The Story That Never Was: regarding ‘Four Centuries of Good Government” and the other story by Nilo María Fabra”), by Alfonso Merelo.
El adepto de la reina (The Queen’s Adept), by Alejandro Terán (Sportula).
Best Audiovisual Production:
Planet51, by Jorge Blanco and Javier Abad.
Las calles de arena (The Streets of Sand), by Paco Roca.
Best Poetic Work:
“Napalm Satori,” by Francisco Javier Pérez.
Calabazas en el trastero (Pumpkins in the Back Room).
Best Foreign Novel:
Diáspora, by Greg Egan.
Best Foreign Short Story:
“El imperio invisible” (“The Invisible Empire”), by John Kessel.
NGC 3660 http://www.ngc3660.es
Domingo Santos Award:
“El Taxidermista De Bradomín” (The Taxidermist of Brandomin”) by Javier Molina Palomino.
RetroIgnotus Award 1988:
Hijos de la Eternidad (Sons of Eternity) by Javier Redal and Juan Miguel Aguilera, a landmark space opera.
SFScope reports that Spanish writer Domingo Santos has sold a novella to Analog, to be translated by editor Stanley Schmidt himself:
Analog editor Stanley Schmidt tells us he’s completed translating a novella called “The First Day of Eternity”, by Spanish author and editor Domingo Santos. Schmidt expects to publish the story in Analog‘s January/February 2011 double issue.
SFScope asked Santos to tell us a bit about himself, since he may be mostly unknown to English-speaking audiences.
The story is Schmidt’s first publication as translator, but it’s not Santos’ first sale “to the Anglo-Saxon market. A long time ago, the short story ‘The Song of the Infinity’ (a philosophical story about an astronaut lost in space) was published in UK in New Writings of SF 14 (edited by E.J. Carnell in 1969). And some years later Donald A. Wollheim included ‘Turn and Turn and Turn Again’ (a sarcastic story about the problems of circulation) in his anthology The Best of the Rest of the World.” He’s also had stories translated into French, Italian, Swedish, Hungarian, Bulgarian, Russian, and Japanese. Additionally, his novel Gabriel “was translated to French from Denoël (40 years ago!), and my anthology No lejos de la Tierra (Not Far from the Earth) was translated into Bulgarian, from an editor and with an unknown title (I no read Bulgarian!)”
The current story, “The First Day of Eternity” is “part of a voluminous book (175,000 words), titled Homenaje (Homage), that pays homage to some to the authors of sf and fantasy that have inspired my literary career (Asimov, Ballard, Bradbury, Clarke, Hodgson, Hoffmann, Lovecraft, Matheson, Orwell, Poe, Tolkien, and Wells; in this case the author is, evidently, Clarke). It is in process of publication in Spain, but should not appear before January 2011. Ergo, the publication in Analog will be the first in the world.”
Asked about himself, Santos says, “My literary career covers 50 years. In this time I have published more that a dozen books (novels and anthologies), and I have translated 200 or 250 books from English, all of them sf and fantasy. I have also been an editor for several Spanish publishers (Acervo, Martinez Roca, Ultramar, Destino, Jucar, Planeta deAgostini), which has allowed me to select books and authors to translate. And for 15 years (148 issues), with Sebastián Martínez y Luis Vigil, I was the publisher/editor of the magazine Nueva Dimensión,” which won a special Hugo Award in 1972. Santos notes that, though he’s been intimately involved in the Spanish sf field for the last four decades, his editing work has significantly curtailed his writing, though he has no regrets.
This discussion came about because Santos doesn’t have a web site or blog to which we could direct readers.
Over an Concatenation (a very valuable resource), there is an article entitled Unseen Mainland European SF Classics which was “written as a precursor to the Euroconference Odyssey 2010 in London and a panel on this topic”. They highlight various works from France, Germany, Hungary, Portugal, Russia, and Spain.
Here’s an excerpt:
If you happen to frequent many of the various major international SF gatherings, be they in France, Russia, or wherever, the chances are that a good proportion of SF books in the dealers hall will be by British and North American authors. Indeed if you go to that very Anglophone of conventions, the SF Worldcon, then virtually 99% of the books on sale in the dealers hall will be in English by English-speaking writers even if their nationality is Scottish, Canadian or Australian, let alone English. What you do not see in British and N. American bookshops (outside of French-speaking Canada) that often are foreign SF/F books translated from another language. Yet all mainland European countries, and nations further afield, have a substantial history of SF publishing and many have had SF and fantasy classics that have sold well over the years.
Over at Sue Burke’s Livejournal, she posts a translation of the studies made by Literatura Fantastica, a Spanish website specializing in science fiction, fantasy, and horror. Here are some of the facts that she mentions:
- -In 2009, 486 books were published by large publishers, 362 by small publishers, and 35 by non-professional publishers. Of those, 378 were fantasy, 160 science fiction, 241 horror, 22 mixed, 62 other, and 20 unknown/not applicable. Over the five-year-period, fantasy titles have grown by 40% and horror by 100%, while science fiction has remained steady.
- From 2005 to 2009, 832 books were published in Castillian, 110 in Catalán, 2 in Euskera (Basque), 7 in Gallego (Spain has four official languages), and 2555 in translation. Of those 3506 books, 70% were by men, 20% by women, and 10% by unknown/not applicable. Over the years, the number of women has been slowly increasing due to more juvenile fantasy and paranormal romance titles.
Over at SF Signal, there is the first in a multi-part discussion on international SF by various contributors, including Apex Book of World SF editor Lavie Tidhar, all answering the question What is going on right now in the international sf/f scene that anglophone readers might be missing out on?
We’ll be following the discussion and commentary, of course, and plan to offer you some new links to available material. Meanwhile, to add just a little: translator Sue Burke (one of the contributors above) discusses more of the issues surrounding translation and its costs, and for those interested in French writer Pierre Bordage (recommended in the comments), there is a short introduction to his work – including a translation of the first two chapters of Bordage’s novel, Les Guerriers du Silence (The Warriors of Silence).