Luiz Bras: Paraíso Líquido
This is a book you won’t be able to read in English in the near future. Published as a free edition under the auspices of the government of the State of São Paulo, Paraíso Liquido (Liquid Paradise) is the latest collection of short stories by Luiz Bras.
The curious fact about this book (one of many surrounding this book) is that Luiz Bras doesn’t exist.
Luiz Bras is the pseudonym of Nelson de Oliveira, a well-known, award-winning Brazilian writer who, suddenly in his life, decided, like the Japanese writers of the Edo period, to change his name when he decided to change his narrative style and genre approach.
Knowing Nelson personally as I do, I talked extensively with him on this subject, although I never really interviewed him. But, one afternoon in a coffee house, he told me about his reasons for this radical change: he was well-known as a mainstream author, but he felt that there was more to life than this. And he wanted to experiment with a genre he loved since childhood: science fiction. A genre that is still frowned upon by the literary critics and his mainstream peers. (Even though, for the record, I must say that Nelson has written at least one novel that can easily be considered a kind of New Weird precursor in Brazil: Subsolo Infinito [Infinite Underground], a strange view of an invisible São Paulo inhabited by the dispossessed.)
As Luiz Bras, Nelson has also published a YA novel, Babel Hotel, which has just been awarded the Jabuti Award, Brazil’s greatest literary prize. Paraíso Líquido is a book two and a half years in the making: it presents thirteen stories, ranging from a very unusual first contact (“Primeiro Contato”) to a tale of the Crusades (“Cruzada”).
In “Primeiro Contato,” a group of well-intentioned schoolchildren (think of the kids in Stand by Me) start having very good reasons to believe one of them may be an alien. Then things start going downhill very fast, and Stand By Me turns into Lord of the Flies. And are they really sure the boy is an alien?
In “Nuvem de Cães-Cavalos” (“The Horse-Dog Cloud”), a man, probably a detective, tracks a girl who escaped from a mental institution. It turns out that the girl apparently can manipulate the space-time continuum, and, even though the man probably can’t, he at least can still see where she’s going to. But after he loses her in a crowd, he starts having doubts about his ability, to the point that we start doubting his entire story, which is narrated by himself. Is he a kind of quantum-shift-tracker or just a madman?
“Aço Contra Osso” (“Bone Against Steel”) is maybe the best story in the collection. It’s one of the shortest stories in the book, but one of the most intricate too: thirty-one clones play a deadly game inside a mathematical cathedral (a “gigantic system of equations”, as the protagonist says in the beginning of the story) reminiscent of Greg Egan or even Hannu Rajaniemi (whose excellent novel The Quantum Thief I’m reading right now) which is in fact a Guantánamo of the mind, a simulation created for torturing mentally and physically not only those guilty of terrorism but even slightly suspected of it.
In “Crusada” (“Crusade”), a group of boys and girls, Jewish and Muslim orphans in the middle of the Second Crusade in Jerusalem, must fend off the attacks of crazy soldiers and try to survive in the ruined city while keeping a deadly secret among them: a strange, glowing entity who fell from the sky who may be an djinn, or an angel, or simply a being deeply uninterested in the ways of men and who will never lift a finger (or a tentacle) to help humankind. The discovery of love and compassion by the youngsters in spite of all the terror and utter indifference around them is one of the most beautiful things in this story.
“Singularidade Nua” (“Naked Singularity”) is another compelling story in this collection. Reminiscent of Robert Reed’s Brother Perfect and Sister Alice stories, it tells the story of a project devised to send a seedship with three pilot children to a new Earth ten light-years away via a new engine, akin to a game environment, that involves the pilots in a kind of dreamscape which gives them something to do (because the ship pretty much does everything by itself) and at the same time energizes them to power the ship – that’s what they are needed for, after all. This, however, is far from being a safe procedure, and the pilots start going crazy during the long trip. They lose sense of their purpose, of their identities, and they start having, among many other things, homicidal and suicidal thoughts.
“Paraíso Líquido” (“Liquid Paradise”) is a novella that mixes Surrealistic and some old-fashioned New Wave tropes in order to transport the reader to a psychedelic landscape where nothing can be taken for granted. This is apparently a very far future, and the characters we can see are three post-human beings, called only by the handles Solid, Liquid, and Gas, who must obey to some larger-than-life entity self-styled as Zeus (but who never appears in the narrative), who by his turn manipulates them relentlessly when all they want is to die. This is one of the most weird (in all the senses) stories in the book, but it’s highly rewarding to see that a writer like Nelson (or Luiz, I should say) has managed to keep in touch with recent science fiction and fantasy instead of most SFF made in Brazil until just a few years ago, when all we had was Asimovian and Clarkean pastiches (a reality that, fortunately, seems to be definitely gone for good now).
All in all, Paraíso Líquido is an excellent book, well above the average for the run-of-the-mill Brazilian SF short-story one-author-collection. And, if you are a little bit frustrated because it’s a Brazilian collection, written in Portuguese, and maybe you won’t be able to read it, I’m glad to tell you that some of its stories are going to be translated to English soon.