Brazil and its Literary Tradition (science fiction notwithstanding)

The problem, I think, is the niche.

I’m talking, of course, of the problem of the ghettofication of SF, wherever you may find yourself. My case being, now, Brazil.

Earlier this morning (I’m writing this at 12:36 on November 19th), I was at Livraria Cultura, one of São Paulo’s biggest bookstores, buying a couple of books on Game Theory for my University classes and also trying to find a copy of Superman: Earth One for my nerd pleasure (as it happens, they didn’t have one there and I had to order it, which will take two or three weeks, but that’s another story).

While I was browsing the bookshelves, I was wondering about what a big market Brazil has for mainstream fiction. A week ago, I was invited to FLIPORTO, a big book fair in Olinda, a beautiful historical town in the Northeastern region of Brazil  (, where I had the chance to meet literary celebrities like Alberto Manguel, Ricardo Piglia, Camille Paglia, and Mark Dery–I even had dinner with these last two, and had the most wonderful, funny conversation, by the way.

Mark Dery asked me a lot about science fiction in Brazil. Being a digital culture researcher and critic, he’s a huge fan of J.G. Ballard, and we talked about him, William Burroughs, and William Gibson during the two and a half days we hung around in Recife.

But we were sort of two black sheep there. Because (as it was to be expected) nobody else wanted to listen about science fiction. When Dery talked about digital culture, that was okay. But, in Brazil, a book fair is not serious unless you are talking about mainstream authors and literature. Even though, ironically enough, Clarice Lispector, the late Ukranian-Brazilian writer who was the posthumous guest of honor for that book fair, wrote more than a few stories in the realm of the fantastic (not magical realism, mind you)–but you don’t want to tell that to a Brazilian literary critic.

Dery himself was invited to talk about his upcoming book of essays, to be published only in Brazil: I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts, a selection of articles from, Boing Boing, and other paper and online magazines. But he also wasn’t aware of what Brazil had to offer in terms of literature, not in science fiction, not in the mainstream.

I will finish this article with a sad but true anecdote: a few weeks ago, a Brazilian journalist, Sergio Rodrigues, received a call from a journalist from The New Yorker to talk about Brazilian literature. And she asked him this: “But does Brazil have a literary tradition?” She was asking it without irony. Candidly. Seriously.

He could have answered like a friend of mine who lived in Europe a decade ago and was asked by a woman at a cocktail party: “Oh, but you must be loving Europe! All the comforts and the electricity!” For she thought we didn’t even have electricity.

Instead, he chose to talk to her about Machado de Assis, one of our greatest writers of all time–who also happened to write fantastic stories in the late 19th Century.  I like to think that was just the beginning.

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