viernes, 2 de marzo de 2012

Forward to Novela y cine de ciencia ficción española contemporánea. Una reflexión sobre la humanidad, by Cristina Sánchez-Conejero

Forward to Novela y cine de ciencia ficción española contemporánea. Una reflexión sobre la humanidad (New York: Mellen Press, 2009), by Cristina Sánchez-Conejero. i-iv.

Ignacio López-Calvo
University of California, Merced

Philosophy, Jorge Luis Borges posited, is a branch of fantasy literature. As regards science fiction, philosophical ideas and science have been pivotal factors in this genre ever since the first works were published. Many other topics and approaches, however, are usually present. In fact, as one can notice in Sánchez-Conejero’s book, it would be quite difficult to delimit the boundaries of science fiction. Its very name suggests that it deals with fantasy from the vantage point of futuristic scientific progress and discoveries, which includes, of course, current and future space travel, futuristic space travel, and extraterrestrial life. While in some cases it deals with new versions of historical past, science fiction speculates more often about the possible consequences of contact with alien beings or scientific and technological advances (with robotics and artificial intelligence in its center stage). Environmental catastrophes in the present or future and futuristic scenarios in which humans are living in a chaotic and dystopian world are also common outcomes.

Needless to say, some of these topics (travel to the moon, contact with more advanced sociopolitical systems, the creation of creatures by humans) have been common in Western literature for centuries. French author Jules Verne immediately comes to mind. English-language science fiction has in British writer H. G. Wells, author of The Time Machine (1895), The Island of Dr. Moreau (1896) and The War of the Worlds (1898), its first major writer. Other British masterpieces of the genre, such as Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1932) and George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-four (1949), would follow. In the United States, renowned writers such as Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Philip K. Dick, Frank Herbert, and Ursula K. Le Guin would continue the tradition. For all these authors, both scientific fiction and fact become a common source of inspiration, a starting point to lucubrate about the human condition and contemporary crises from a metaphoric or allegoric perspective. Interestingly, as Mike Davis postulates in Ecology of Fear: Los Angeles and the Imagination of Disaster (1999), the apocalyptic overtones of some of these works dealing with invaders from outer space may respond to darker feelings, since they are often “rooted in racial anxiety” (281).

Meanwhile, in the Hispanic world this genre, poorly translated from English as ciencia ficción, would remain in the shadows for decades. This new volume should contribute to bringing this literary and cinematic genre into the canon. In fact, whereas not long ago this “minor literature” was, for the most part, ignored, for some time now Spanish publishers have been promoting it (in all its variants, including the New Wave of the mid-1960s, the dystopian cyberpunk and steampunk of the 1980s, “hard,” “soft,” and social science fiction, space opera, fantasy, horror, etc.) more aggressively. Perhaps as a result, authors such as Juan Miguel Aguilera, Elia Barceló, Víctor Conde, Daniel Mares, Rafael Marín, Rodolfo Martínez, Javier Negrete, and Eduardo Vaquerizo are receiving increased critical attention. In 1991, adding to this increased visibility, the Spanish Association of Fantasy, Science Fiction and Terror (Pórtico / AEFCFT) created a yearly award, known as Premio Ignotus, which is divided in different categories and given to works published in Spain. Three years later, it also began honoring life-time achievements with the Gabriel Awards.

The science-fiction cinematic world has also been dominated by the English language. After precursor motion pictures such as A Trip to the Moon (1902) by French filmmaker Georges Méliès and the expressionistic Metropolis (1926) by German director Fritz Lang, the landmarks of science fiction film come mostly from the United States: The Day the Earth Stood Still (1950), War of the Worlds (1953), The Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), The Time Machine (1960), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Star Wars (1977), and Blade Runner (1982). And the same can be said of television shows, with the success of “The Twilight Zone” (1959-1964), “Lost in Space” (1965-1968), and “Star Trek” (1966-1969), and “The X-Files” (1993-).

Although the present study deals only with Spanish novel and film, other literary genres, as well as comics, magazines, radio, television, art, video games, theater, and other media have dealt with the genre. Sánchez-Conejero’s approach complements a previous book published in 2002 also by Edwin Mellen Press: Yolanda Molina-Gavilán’s Ciencia ficción en español: una mitología moderna ante el cambio. While Molina-Gavilán focused on Spanish, Argentine, and Cuban science fiction written before 1995, Sánchez-Conejero considers Spanish novels and films published or premiered through 2007. In this regard, it will be pivotal in filling a critical lacuna in the field. In the author’s view, in order to apprehend the fruitful dialogue about human nature that has been taking place between both genres, we should consider literature and film together. Her objective, as she declares in the introduction, is to encourage the acceptance of some of these works into the Spanish literary and filmic canons. From this perspective, the first chapter of the book questions the idea of human logic as something unequivocally positive or as something that differentiates us from animals. The limits of logic are apparent in Barceló’s novel El mundo de Yarek (1994) and in Atanes’s film FAQ (2004). As can be appreciated in Amenábar’s film Abre los ojos (1997), Lidón’s film Náufragos (2002) and Negrete’s novel Estado crepuscular (2003), the creation of virtual realities can foment the emergence of different types of human logic, including madness. By the same token, Chapter 2 looks at how notions of futuristic war can be considered hyper-reality and simulacrum. With this goal in mind, Sánchez Conejero concentrates on two works: Marín’s space opera novel Lágrimas de luz (1984) and De la Iglesia’s Acción mutante (1993), a film that she interprets as a harsh criticism of Spain’s post-Franco democracy.

The third chapter focuses on the topics of nationalism, racism and feminism (all of them conceived as different takes on power struggle) as they appear in the film FAQ and the science fiction novels Consecuencias naturales (1994) by Elia Barceló and El extraterrestre rosa (1983) by Domingo Santos. In turn, chapter 4 concentrates on the treatment of historic revisionism and historiography in Rafael Marín’s Lágrimas de luz (1984) and Fernando Colomo’s El caballero del dragón (1985). In the end, the limits between history and science fiction become so blurred that science fiction itself becomes a text about the stories of History and Truth. The fifth chapter deals with the debate between science and religion, particularly regarding Darwin’s evolutionism, as seen in the novels Mundos en la eternidad (2001) by Juan Miguel Aguiler and Javier Redal, Próxima (2007) by Carlos Atanes, and Salud mortal (1993) by Gabriel Bermúdez Castillo. Moving on to the last chapter, the end of humankind is associated with the advance of technology and robotics in the cyberpunk novel Gabriel, historia de un robot (1962) by Domingo Santos and in the novel La mujer más fea del mundo (1999) by Miguel Bardem. As will be noticed, the second part of Sánchez-Conejero’s book includes intriguing interviews with several key figures of contemporary Spanish science fiction.

            It will be up to the reader to decide whether the films and novels included in this study provide enough clues to identify distinct traits and themes in Spanish science fiction that may differentiate it from its more successful Anglo-Saxon counterpart.

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