El tercer mundo después del sol: Antología de ciencia ficción latinoamericana. Edited by Rodrigo Bastidas Pérez. Bogotá: Minotauro, 2021.
For anyone not following the precipitous growth of science fiction production in Latin America of recent years, the anthology El tercer mundo después del sol captures well the impressive breadth and depth the genre has achieved in the new century so far, while also offering a useful summary of decades of scholarly interpretation of what characterizes this kind of literature from the region.
Fittingly printed by Minotauro, a small publisher specializing in fantastic literature and science fiction that began in Argentina in the 1950s, this volume boasts a wondrous title, an eye-catching cover, and a distinctive variety of short stories from eleven countries—all serving to bring any curious genre outsider up to speed regarding the overall high-quality science fiction proper to the region. While previous decades and numerous anthologies have offered ample discussion as to what denotes Latin America’s contribution to the genre, editor Rodrigo Bastidas Pérez’s adroit synthesis of this ongoing debate in the introduction provides a valuable, concise starting point of its major traits over time. His approach makes the introduction an uncommon and indispensable addition to the anthology rather than obligatory and superfluous, as introductions can sometimes be, and it properly sets the stage for the reading experience that follows. In addition, following each story the authors offer a brief commentary on how they conceive of what Latin American science fiction does and signifies.
One oversight merits mention in the story selection: the anthology has pairs of tales from Cuba,
Mexico, and Argentina, thereby excluding the possibility of including other countries—say a different Caribbean country, like the Dominican Republic and/or Puerto Rico, and another from a frequently overlooked region, such as the six countries that compose Central America. The latter case shows, once again, that the isthmus has been invisibilized by this move, even though notable writers of the genre abound there. Despite this omission, however, the anthology proves to be one of the most substantial volumes released from the region so far in this century.
The first story in the compilation, “The Magical Conquest of America,” by Chilean Jorge Baradit, serves as a calling card of what makes the region’s science fiction characteristically local: a kind of alternative history that considers the encounter between the indigenous peoples of the Americas and the colonizers, narrated largely from the perspective of Mapuche shamans and mediums on a mythical, marvelous plane. This tale pairs well with another by Argentine Teresa P. Mira de Echevarría, “Les Pi’yemnautas,” which follows two indigenous sibling astronauts on separate, yet intertwining, fantastic journeys in and around black holes, bending and relativizing space, time, and, surprisingly, gender—in what must be considered part of the region’s new weird tendency. A complementary story in this register would be Uruguayan Ramiro Sánchez’s “Fracture,” an eerie metafictional tale of a writer-narrator who visits Lima and meanders through the city fantastically altered by an enigmatic dome, an artifact that anchors the story, along with a hallucinogen that splinters his temporal and spatial experience. Such bizarreness also marks “Exodus X,” penned by Colombian Luis Carlos Barragán, which immediately plunges the reader into a world of radical alterity where people transmogrify into other people or animals while their subjectivity remains intact, dissolving distinctions between identities, races, genders, and species—a posthuman potpourri.
Mexican author Alberto Chimal offers “The Grand Experiment,” an eerily familiar climate fiction in the form of a list that counts from one to one hundred, beginning with a highly polarized world in which numerous nations illegalize immigration just before the poles melt and provoke massive numbers of climate refugees—all actions which only get the reader to number twenty. In “The Synchrony of Touch,” Chimal’s compatriot Gabriela Damián proposes a provocative story that takes as its novum a rare flower that induces not simply a psychoactive state in those who ingest it, but one that leads to a realization of the interconnectedness of all beings, both human and non-human. One of the volume’s most original tales, “A Man in My Bed,” by Ecuadorian Solange Rodríguez Pappe, teems with themes that emerge from an overheated globe, which requires everyone to stay indoors and brings about an ultra-mediated world with widespread social anomie that is assuaged by addiction, escapism, and the profound need to sleep.
Brazilian Fábio Fernandes pens a tale titled “Love: An Archeology,” reminiscent of Borges’s forking paths, in which a device, thirty years into the future, gives two sisters the ability to visualize alternate timelines of their father and see how choices made resulted in different lives for him and, ultimately, them. In “Slow Motion,” Cuban author-scholar Maielis González narrates from the perspective an Artificial-Intelligence entity who finds herself enmeshed in a kind of espionage story that posits a familiar opposition of A.I.-versus-humans where substantial double-crossings abound. Pairing well with this story is Argentine Laura Ponce’s “Through the Avatar,” a tale that aligns with nineties cyberpunk aesthetics—hackers, cyborgs, urban decay, street life, video games, addiction, and the well-known blurred-line trope between virtual reality and reality—and boasts a female protagonist ineluctably drawn toward a wholly new experience and an enigmatic character. “Other Voices,” penned by Bolivian Giovanna Rivero, offers a densely narrated, neogothic story that brims with tortured souls and is set in Manhattan on September 11, 2001. The narrative, underpinned by a speculative orientalist technology, carries a tone of youthful disaffection that is inspired by lyrics from the eponymous song by The Cure.
In one of the collection’s most original stories, “Constellation Nostalgia” by Peru’s Juan Manuel Robles, nanotechnology erases traumatic memories within a narrative that evokes both hard and military science fiction set within inner space. Venezuelan Susana Sussman pens “Two Transmigrations,” two seemingly separate short stories whose only connection resides in the element of a soul passing into new bodies; together, they offer an example of how a magical realist mode can fuse with science fictional settings. Finally, “Khatakali” by Cuban Elaine Vilar Madruga closes the anthology with a young, deformed woman born into a rigid, normative, able-bodied hierarchy set within a social world where holograms and cyborgs coexist alongside a form of knowledge comprised of alchemy and magic. What’s more, these latter two practices bring about a hybridization of mathematics and language to create a cure that is somehow both a new form of communication and maybe a science that heals deformations.
If this brief description sounds mystifying, it should, since “Khatakali” exhibits a core trait of Latin American science fiction as a whole: it frequently troubles rigid generic boundaries and challenges Western notions of what constitutes science and knowledge. Put another way, it challenges traditional conceptualizations of what constitutes both science fiction and science, as understood by the North. All in all, the volume consistently offers surprising and innovative short narratives that represent some of the best the region has to offer.