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Monday Original Content: Mexican Science Fiction: The Northern Corridor

Mexican Science Fiction: The Northern Corridor

By Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Gabriel Trujillo-Muñoz

Latin American science fiction has had a long trajectory, though it is little known beyond its borders. Similarly, Mexican science fiction has steadily developed since its colonial beginning, eventually leading to a state of boom and bust in the 90s. After offering a chronology of Mexican science fiction in the article titled “Terra Incognita: A Brief History of Mexican Science Fiction”, we now turn our eyes towards northern Mexico and the development of science fiction in this region of the country.

The north of Mexico – that region spanning from Baja California to Tamaulipas – is hot, arid and known for the accent of its inhabitants. To be someone of the North means to be someone of the frontier, to exist in a peculiar, particular kind of culture which mixes bastardized English words with a certain gusto (‘vamo a parkear la troca’) and rolls semi-close to cowboy culture.

As Juan Carlos Ramírez-Pimienta and Salvador C. Fernandez explain in El Norte y su Frontera en la Narrativa Policiaca Mexicana (The North and its Border in the Mexican Detective Narrative), in the past two decades there has been a discussion of North and frontier literature, focussing on its geographical limits, definition and identity, separate from the rest of the country. “The North of Mexico is not simple geography…it is a way of thinking, acting, feeling and talking against the medium and the culture of the United States, bizarre and absorbent.” [1]

The Mexican North, is an odd space, trying to find a balance and a sense of self between the two opposing forces of Mexicanism and Americanism. Perhaps due to this odd conjunction, the North has tended to develop genre[2] fiction more arduously than other parts of the country. It is well-known, for example, for its thrillers (inspired by the drug activity in that region of the country) and “hard-boiled” books. [3]It has also produced science fiction books, stories and novels.

Guillermo Samperio, considered one of the best living short story authors in Mexico, once stated that fantastic or science fiction scenarios “have been expanding in the North of the country, a fertile ethno-geographic spot for imagination and invention.” [4]

Mexican science fiction expert Miguel Ángel Fernández wrote in Panorama de la Ciencia Ficción Mexicana (Panorama of Mexican Science Fiction) that “some states of the frontier with the United States have had much [science fiction] activity since the decade of the 1980s…Tamaulipas is one of the principal producers of science fiction of our days.”[5] Miguel Ángel Fernández recognize several “centres” of Mexican science fiction: Yucatan (southern state), Tamaulipas (in the north) and Puebla (centre) are the three most important ones.[6]

Not surprisingly, the proliferation of Northern science fiction coincides with the Mexican science fiction boom of the same time period. However, the genre was not entirely new to the region.

The oldest Northern Mexican science fiction story is likely “El Barco Negro” by José María Barrios de los Ríos, posthumously  published in El país de las perlas y cuentoscalifornios (1908). It was written at the beginning of the 19th century in La Paz, Baja California, when Barrios de los Ríos worked in the courts of this port and liked writing down legendary stories of the sea of Cortez. The story, taking place in 1716 in the mission of Loreto, relates the appearance of a fantastic ship, piloted by an aristocrat who is half Faust and half captain Nemo.

Almost half a century later, Narciso Genovese, an Italian-born novelist and journalist then living in Baja California, wrote a novel titled Yo he estado en Marte (1958) about an encounter with Martians and a trip to outer space. It is a utopic work which contrasts with the nuclear arms race of the time period, in which the Martians serve as an example of kind, sensitive society looking for universal peace. In the 70s, Genovese also published La nueva aurora, another science fiction book, this one focusing on the theme of immortality.

Genovese died in the 80s, at a time when a new generation of writers from the North was blossoming. These included Jesús Guerra, Daniel Gómez Nieves, Gerardo Cornejo, Gabriel Trujillo  and Lauro Paz. There were also anthologists like Federico Schaffler and Guillermo Lavín, who would found important magazines like Umbrales and publish anthologies like Más allá de lo imaginado (1990-1993, a total of three volumes), all part of the boom. Schaffler, in particular, would become one of the most important faces of science fiction by virtue of leading the Fantastic Literature Workshop “Terra Ignota” (1990 to 2003) and publishing 50 issues of Umbrales (1992 to 2000).

Guillermo Lavín, for his part, founded the award-winning magazine A Quien Corresponda and his work appeared in a number of anthologies and magazines. He also won several speculative fiction awards (Kalpa, Alberto Magno, Axxon Primordial) for his science fiction work.

Also from the North is Gerardo Sifuentes, winner in 1998 of the international Phillip K. Dick prize for Perro de Luz (1998, given by Asociación Gallega de CF y Fantasía, España).

And, here is a curiosity: musician Gabriel Gonzales Melendez of Matamoros staged an opera base on Ray Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles. It was titled (what else?) The Martian.[7] Melendez also published some science fiction, including Los Mismos Grados más Lejos del Centro (1991), which is set in the north of Mexico, some centuries in the future.

One of the key reasons for development of this type of literature in the North: the proliferation of university literary workshops and classes, which led to the appearance of venues like Umbrales. Northern academic institutions were cordial to science fiction, and thus you get projects like Editorial Yoremito, which published a series of genre titles, including science fiction, starting in the 1990s (Yoremito, with funding from the Tijuana Cultural Centre, focused exclusively on frontier narratives). More recently, in 2011, the Faculty of Humanities of the Autonomous University of Baja California published a series of “minibúks” showcasing Mexican science fiction. This year, Federico Schaffler is working on assembling an anthology of Mexican speculative fiction, which will include science fiction stories, to be published through the Autonomous University of Tamaulipas.

With the bust of Mexican science fiction in the post-90s, the support of universities and cultural institutions in order to finance speculative literature has become even more vital. But the real future of science fiction may lie in cross-genre works, in short, in combining it with the thrillers, the novela negra (literally black novel), which have a stronger foothold in the country. After all, a new line of thrillers published by Almadía (called Almadía Negra) just hit bookstores this past year. [8] The future of Mexican science fiction may be in the end, found in merging its science with hard-boiled Northern narratives and crime thrillers. Only time may tell.

About the Authors:

Silvia Moreno-Garcia is an author and editor from – you guessed it – the North of Mexico. She moved to Canada several years ago, which is as North as she could get. Her stories appear in The Book of Cthulhu, Imaginarium 2012: The Best Canadian Speculative Writing and other places. Find her at silviamoreno-garcia.com.

Gabriel Trujillo-Muñoz. Born in the city of Mexicali, Baja California, in 1958. He is a scholar in science fiction studies and an author of novels and collections of stories in the futuristic genre. His most recent novel of science fiction is Trenes perdidos en la niebla (Trains lost in the mist, Jus, 2010). His non-fiction book focusing on science fiction Utopías y quimeras (Utopias and chimeras) is due out this year.

 

 


[1]El Norte y su Frontera en la Narrativa Policiaca Mexicana (The North and its Border in the Mexican Detective Narrative) By Juan Carlos Ramírez-Pimienta, Salvador C. Fernández. 2005.Page 13.

[2] The concept of genre fiction is more fluid than in the United States or Canada. Books tend to be shelved in a broad “literature” category if they are written by Mexican authors, without sub-genre distinctions (crime, science fiction, drama and magic realism may sit on the same shelf). This, however, has not stopped the development of sub-genres, the most important one being the Mexican thriller, with some important festivals and author representing this type of writing. This in turns means genre fiction is found more easily in what might be termed literary journals.

[3]Norte y su Frontera en la Narrativa Policiaca Mexicana (The North and its Border in theMexican Detective Narrative) By Juan Carlos Ramírez-Pimienta, Salvador C. Fernández. 2005. Page 15

[5] Panorama de la Ciencia Ficción Mexicana byMiguel Ángel Fernández.http://www.ciencia-ficcion.com.mx/default.asp?uid=2&cve=11:26

[6]“Los cartógrafos del infierno en México .”Publicado en El oscuro retorno del hijo del ¡Nahual! Ciencia-Ficción y Fantasía. No.8 Abril 2002 http://www.angelfire.com/va3/literatura/CIENCIAFICCION.htm

April 30, 2012 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , ,

2 Comments

  1. I’m bookmarking this. I’m working on a sci-fi piece that involves Mexico and the northern border. This could prove very useful, good to learn from the experts!

    Comment by storiesbywilliams | April 30, 2012

  2. […] The World SF Blog (Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Gabriel Trujillo-Muñoz) on Mexican Science Fiction: The Northern Corridor. […]

    Pingback by SF Tidbits for 5/1/12 - SF Signal – A Speculative Fiction Blog | May 1, 2012


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