Published in Chasqui 41.1 (May 2012): 191-92
Rudyard Alcocer’s Time Travel in the Latin American and Caribbean Imagination. Re-reading History. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011. 238 pp. ISBN 978-0-230-11798-3
University of California, Merced
Time Travel is a very original and insightful study written in a jargon-free and accessible English. This interdisciplinary study belongs within the fields of cultural studies and comparative literature, and deals with the topic of time travel in cultural production (regular literature, children’s literature, film, television shows, etc.) of the Americas. The exploration of this topic is connected to a veiled reaction to serious sociopolitical issues in today’s world: “fictional time travel within Latin America and the Caribbean contexts is motivated largely because of a lack or a perceived lack of practical, political agency in the present day. Fictional time is, in many instances, the final recource of those seeking radical change” (XIV). A pessimistic view of the present, therefore, triggers these returns to the historical past. Time travelers in these revisionist narratives are trying to rewind the clock of history and undo the Conquest, the slave trade, and their effects. In some cases there is redemption and revenge, while in others, a deterministic status quo remains unchanged. As the author explains in the epilogue, these fictional time dislocations suggest that "Latin America and the Caribbean have taken the wrong turn and are in need of fixing. Occasionally, the only possible remedy for historically profound social ills seems to lie in--or be informed by--the fictional mechanism of time travel" (187).
The book also explores the texts from a historiographic perspective, presenting them as alternative re-writings of history or escapist alternatives to a painful memory of the historical past. In particular, several texts imagine alternative outcomes or scenarios of the Conquest and the slave trade. In Alcocer's words, "These visitors--often victims of the Conquest or slavery--seek to inspire and empower those in the present who in some (often symbolic) manner have taken up battles and challenges that resemble those from centuries ago" (197).
Alcocer points out how some authors' fixation with the figure of Columbus seems to be a simplification of history. Indeed, one wonders whether the North American authors’ fictional critiques of the Spanish Conquest in the Americas analyzed in this study, such as Orson Scott Card’s Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus and S. M. Stirling’s Conquistador: A Novel of Alternative History (who could have easily condemned the treatment of Native Americans in North America instead) are only a continuation of the Black Legend. It would have been interesting to explore why, rather than looking at the English conquest of North America, they choose to highlight only the genocides committed beyond what are today’s US borders.
The first chapter, "Continuing Encounters: Journeys to (and from) the 'Discovery' and Conquest of the Americas," outlines a history of science fiction in Latin America and, within the overarching topic of the book (time travel), the “discovery” of the Americas by Christopher Columbus takes center stage. separate subchapters deal with North American texts, such as S. M. Stirling's Conquistador: A Novel of Alternate History (2003) and Orson Scott Card's Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus, and time travelling in Hispanic cultural production, including Gustavo Loza's Al otro lado/To the Other Side and Homero Aridjis's La leyenda de los soles. Rather than concentrating on a literary subgenre, the second chapter, titled "On Island Time? Temporal Displacement and the Caribbean," looks at a region, the Caribbean, and its peculiar relationship with temporality. Among the texts selected to analyze time travel and slavery in this chapter are Octavia Butler's Kindred (1979), Kevin Baldeosingh's The Ten Incarnations of Adam Avatar (2005), and Daína Chaviano's El hombre, la hembra y el hambre (1998). Chapter 3, "The Ghost of La Malinche: Time Travel and Feminism," deals with the figure of La Malinche from a feminist perspective in texts such as Marcela del Río's play El sueño de La Malinche (2002), Gioconda Belli's La mujer habitada (1988), and Inés Arredondo's Historia verdadera de una princesa (1984). In turn, chapter 4, "Not just Kids' Suff: Time Travel as Pedagogy in the Americas," focuses on time travel in popular culture, particularly in children’s literature, television shows, and pedagogical texts. Among these texts are Me oh Maya! (2003), written by Jon Scieszka and illustrated by Adam McCauley, Mark Acres's Temples of Blood (1985), and Elías Miguel Muñoz's Viajes fantásticos (2000) and Isla de luz (2001). An afterword that explores links between fictional time travel and the contemporary social movement of Taino revival in Puerto Rico closes the book.
The study has a solid theoretical base, drawing from concepts from comparative literary analysis, postcolonial and cultural studies, the field of psychoanalysis (Freud, Jung, Lacan), Stuart Hall's studies on postcoloniality and race, Derrida’s deconstruction, and Latin American and Caribbean thinkers, such as Octavio Paz, Alejo Carpentier, Leopoldo Zea, and Roberto González Echevarría, among others. Although, of course, many other texts could have been selected, I find Alcocer’s choice of texts (literary and visual) quite appropriate. In fact, Alcocer’s study would be an outstanding tool to analyze any of the other novels dealing with time travel (García Márquez’s The Autumn of the Patriarch, Graciela Limón’s Erased Faces, Sesshu Foster’s Atomik Aztek, and Mario Acevedo’s X-rated blood suckers, for example) that are not included in this study. Although Time Travel does not exclusively deal with science fiction literature, I believe that it will become a widely read, frequently cited, and well respected book in this subfield, as its methods of cultural critique are unquestionably unique. This book strengthens the study of Hispanic (and American, in his case) science fiction that had previously been studied in Yolanda Molina-Gavilán’s Ciencia ficción en español: una mitología moderna ante el cambio (2002) and in Cristina Sánchez-Conejero’s Novela y cine de ciencia ficción española contemporánea. Una reflexión sobre la humanidad (2009). One of its most original contributions is the fact that Alcocer does not limit himself to analyzing the selected works, but he also discusses the subgenres themselves from a theoretical perspective. Students of English and Spanish-language literature, Latin American Studies, Cultural Studies, as well as scholars interested in Latin American and American literature, or science fiction and film will find this study interesting.