Saturday, May 03, 2014

A Day of Latino Science Fiction - thoughts & info

Wednesday this week, I joined other Latino writers for the workshop sponsored by Science Fiction and Technoculture Studies Program at Univ. of California, Riverside, organized and hosted by Sherryl Vint, Professor of Science Fiction Media Studies. Appended are the 2. La Bloga Spec Lit Directory, and 3. links I promised to post. [photos by Michael Sedano]

Prof. Sherryl Vint
1. The workshops were great, a great hostess and audience for the event. Being there with Mario Acevedo, Ernesto Hogan, Rosaura Sanchez, Beatríce Pita, Jesús Treviño and La Bloga's Michael Sedano was uplifting. What immediately follows are my notes, only some of which I shared there:

Latinos have had to follow Anglo-Americans; they kept invading our lands, our Aztlán and our islands. That's their history and why we had to adopt and follow the ladder of the American Dream, even when forced to assume the role of Boogie Man. As U.S. society "allowed" Latinos to enter, we worked our way up, saving money, buying homes, sending kids to college, becoming professionals, established or famous. Our relatives the immigrants do the same, getting a credit card, a home, buying a big black truck, etc.

As our gente's educational level rose and Latino spec writers emerged. We weren't uneducated before; the problem was the literary establishment's English-only prejudice about accepting Spanish. Getting past the East Coast/White Boy publishing curtain, latinos' SF works were/are being published, winning awards as best sellers, even making their way into movies; no Nobel Prize winners, yet. In the SF Hugo Awards for Best Professional Artist, Daniel Dos Santos and John Picacio were nominated this year and last year, with Picacio taking it in 2013.

However, latinos haven't always followed the exact path of Anglo writers, and this speaks to why we may not need to and maybe shouldn't follow in their footsteps.

Anglo sci-fi lit arose in the 1930s with John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Damon Knight, Frederik Pohl, Robert A. Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke, Ray Bradbury. They called it the Golden Age of science fiction--golden as in blond-haired--with stories centered on scientific achievement and progress, like at the first World Science Fiction Convention held in NY in 1939.

5 of the 6 Latin@ authors
My father grew up in those times and with that technological awareness; he read SF pulps every day. He never became a Rudy Rucker mathematician or David Brin scientist and never wrote SF. He rose as he could, up to supervisor of military jet maintenance, a prestigious position for a tejano in the 1950s. But, as a Mexican, he was tracked into Tech High School, otherwise he might have graduated from college and written SF, and I could've pimped off his fame.

Decades later, the "forward-thinking" SF establishment opened its white-man's club to women and then, people of color. The rear, kitchen door was always open, but now the front door is ajar. Now that Latinos have a foot in the door so they can't close it on us, what directions will we take or even create?

In a recent interview, YA novelist Matt de la Peña asked, "Where's the African-American Harry Potter or the Mexican Katniss?" Elsewhere, author Armando Rendón asked where are the "guidelines appropriate to writing aimed at Latino children, created by Latino literati who understand their needs?" And a member of our better, mestizo half, Sherman Alexie, said, "I want to see more brown kids as characters!" Such statements made me begin to wonder if there are different paths Latino SF could take.

We know Latino youth need Latino-authored stories about Latino heroes and heroines. If you need backup to convince your principal, school board or politicians, just check the recent and ongoing #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign.

Focusing on mainstream, YA sci-fi (and fantasy), there are five, frequent themes: Good vs Evil, Love Triangles, Paranormal Beings, Dystopian futures and the Superhero. What perspectives do Latinos bring to these themes? I'll skip the struggle of good vs. evil that could be the topic of a whole conference. I'll also skip Twilight's love triangles of two hunky boys competing for one hot girl because I was never the former nor did I get the latter.

Ernesto Hogan & Mario Acevedo
#3. Paranormal beings, like aliens, vampires, werewolves, mermaids, zombies, shape-shifters, fairies. Latinos bring indigenous Taíno zemí spirits and the huracán god, and La Llorona and El Cucui from Mexican heritage. But we didn't stop there, even as Anglo SF writers appropriated our monstruos. Mario Acevedo gave us a Chicano vet bitten by an Iraqi vampire. Ernesto Hogan gave us sentient, gaseous life-forms on Jupiter. Magical realism regularly emerges from the latino heritages.

Theme #4 in YA SF- Dystopia, which includes futuristic, dismal settings where teens battle tremendous odds, and sometimes, adults, in order to save humanity. What I'd like to see from Latinos is more about our dystopias. A future where there's no electricity, no lights or power, no gas for cars or food on store shelves? Hey, Latinos (and all the poor) have been living that dystopia before Anglo SF writers even knew how to misspell the word.

What about portraying the barrios, when mamá can't pay the utilities because she only has a lowly typist job. Zombies stomping all around in the future? Try making it to the baño in the middle of the night when the rats are playing all over the sink, without crunching the cucarachas that're running all over the floors! You want hunger games? How 'bout your familia doesn't qualify for food stamps, and the only things in the cupboard is cans of lima beans and garbanzos. I don't think Latinos have even begun to exhaust the contemporary dystopias we could write for mainstream U.S. readers.

I believe theme #5 is the biggest challenge--and opportunity--for Latino SF writers. The lone hero on a quest to save the world or to defeat the forces of evil.

Only a part of the Riverside audience
To take just one old white-guy SF, R.Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land, the character Michael Smith was raised by Martians to have psychic powers and superior intelligence and battles evil, church forces and starts a new religion that will remake and save human, gringo society. In another of my favorite readings, The Foundation Trilogy, Hari Seldon develops the statistical math to save the intergalactic empire but he's outflanked a human mutant named The Mule, who's even more gifted and powerful.

Catniss in Hunger Games (2008) or Frodo in Lord of the Rings (mid 50s) are slightly different. These heroes need allies because they are not superhuman enough to accomplish their deeds, alone. They need help, they need to gain or win friends for that. They're like today's kids. Actually, they're also like my 30-year-old kids when they were growing up with friends of other colors--white, Asian and multi-ethnic.

So what can Latinos bring to this theme? In Afro-6, maybe the first Chicano SF novel, blacks form a military alliance with Latinos of NYC, the Boricuas. Think on that for a second. The first latino SF book. Wasn't just about Latinos. It was not about a Latino Robin sidekick for an ethnic Batman vato--it was about two ethnic groups, communities uniting, about black and brown solidarity.

In another examples, Jesus Treviño's screenwork includes Ed Olmos in Battlestar Galactica--as the admiral, not a drug lord. Treviño also wrote for the multinational cast of Star Trek.

Afro-6 didn't come out of the civil rights struggles; it pre-dated them. However, ethnic mixing is not surprising for NYC. Remember, the book Afro-6 came out 50 years ago. Realize how many decades it took the old white-guy SF writers to have characters, peoples cross that line. Some still never leave their fictionally colorless Gringolandia where many characters are still college-educated scientists. So, what different routes have Latinos taken?

As in all Latino lit, our SF includes the successful, middle-class Hispanics. But a lot of it doesn't. Looking at today's panelists, The Techos and Migros in Lunar Braceros were the homeless and unemployed; Mario Acevedo's Felix Gomez character and my protagonist didn't graduate from college; Ernesto Hogan's character Pablo Cortez, a self-educated dropout, probably spent most of high school in detention or suspended. And Jesus Treviño's characters in The Fabulous Sinkhole live in a poor, border town colonia. Qué. Curioso. Somos. How different the Latino SF protagonists--no?

Jesús Treviño on media panel
The indio Sherman Alexie also said, "With YA, you can make real, significant, social change." In general, the same is possible with sci-fi and spec lit. Latino SF is politically and socially more progressive because of our shared histories dominated by U.S. Manifest Destiny, oppression and exclusion. Again, looking to the panelists' novels, this is developed in Lunar Braceros to a great degree. Cortez on Jupiter is about a Chicano artist dealing with an unbelieving, white establishment. The Chicano protagonist of Nymphos of Rocky Flats doesn't just get screwed over like so many latino Iraqi War vets, he returns home vampire-bitten! And my hero in The Closet of Discarded Dreams has one goal--to get out of a mad, consumer-goods-worshipping world where americanos' dreams are his nightmares.

But speaking about the lone hero in SF, in Afro-6, Lunar Braceros and in my novel, there's something else--united action, popular uprisings, mass movements like those of the 60s and 70s. The last Hunger Games novel has rebellion and urban guerilla warfare and the defeating of the establishment, much like Afro-6. But that's still an old, white-guy SF story. It's not new.

I'll pimp my novel to get to a new theme different from the lone hero. Not to do a spoiler, in the book, the hero is only part of a mass movement. That movement is spontaneously organized, works by democratic consensus and volunteer brigades. They don't have Twitter or Facebook, but they use a crowd-sourced Grapevine to organize themselves. The multinational population divides up based on their skills and abilities. Their efforts succeed in helping stall the forces of evil long enough for others to realize how my hero plugs into their struggle. If the book had been published when I finished it, I could have taken credit for predicting the Occupy Movement.

I don't think Latino SF writers have tapped into our roots of communal action enough yet and there's reasons we should. From our indio roots, come many traditions of councils of elders, some matrilineal, where it wasn't just one, big warrior who saved his people. Also, all latinidad have familial, even clan, traditions where mass action helps everyone survive (not to romanticize us as perfect). From the annual communal clearings of acequías in the Southwest to almost magical way families contribute to a tamalada, we have historically proven methods of accomplishing almost anything. If you've never seen one, try describing the dynamics of an Easter celebration at abuela's house.

One great, black author who went beyond the lone hero theme was Octavia Butler in her Parable of the Sower series where the Oya heroine begins a religion, a movement to "shape God and the universe." Now there's something mass(ive)--a peaceful, though not passive, movement.

Some Latino SF writers will explore developing our own themes to shape the future, something going beyond the lone hero, however much the Hero's Quest must be used as a narrative approach. I don't know all of what might come out of that. I do know the Afro-6 revolution isn't necessarily it, but not because I'm a pacifist. My first published novel began my thinking that I further developed in a just completed YA manuscript, Hearts bruised, dreams mended.

UC-Riverside grad students on panel
But we don't need a new jefe, caudillo, chingón Supermacho imposing his will, followed around by his bodyguards, having his pick of the women, and leading and saving his people. A female one, either. We need Latino heroes and heroines for the 21st Century.

Dystopia, economic collapse, unaffordable college, homelessness, Global Warming catastrophes, even the heightened racism against immigrant and "legal" Latinos--this isn't some futuristic SF, it's what many young people face now and for their foreseeable futures. In our small way, Latino SF writers can give all children something--new themes, methods, paths. Hope. Esperanza. Poder. Fuerza. We can't follow in the footsteps of the East Coast, Anglo-male dominated publishing industry, anymore. We need our own Latinonautica, we need to show others a multinational effort for change, what Ernesto Hogan terms, "an international, Latino New Wave in speculative fiction."

2. La Bloga Spec Lit Directory 
[Speculative literature = science fiction, fantasy, horror, magic realism, a lo menos]
Below is the latest list of Latino spec novelists, only their first books, publishers, and websites in chronological order. I welcome contributions to making this more complete and current and will periodically update.
[Self-described: Chicano, Cubano, Hispanic, Mexicano, Mexican American, Puerto Rican, Sudamericano, American y más, expanded as needed. ?? = undetermined by us. Publisher in parens.]
1922 Campos de Fuego - breve narración de una expedición a la región volcánia de "El Pinacate", Sonora Gumersindo Esquer [M]. "A Mexican Jules Verne." This came out after the Border got put up, but we could claim Esquer as a precursor.
1969 Afro-6, Hank Lopez. [MA?] (Dell Publishing) According to NYTimes obit, Lopez was "born in Denver of parents who had emigrated from Mexico." A futuristic thriller about a Black, armed take-over of Manhattan. [Copyright includes Harry Baron, not listed as co-author.]
1972 Bless Me, Última, Rudolfo A. Anaya (Ch] (Quinto Sol)
1976 Victuum, Isabella Rios. (Diana-Etna Inc.) Where psychic development epitomizes with the encounter of an outer-planetary being. O.O.P.
1978 The Road To Tamazunchale, Ron Arias (Ch) (Bilingual Press)
1984 The Rain God: A Desert Tale, Arturo Islas [Ch]  (Alexandrian Press)"
1984 The War of Powers, Victor Milán [??] (Hodder & Stoughton Ltd.)
1990 Cortez on Jupiter, Ernest Hogan [Ch] (Tor Books) A Ben Bova Presents publication. "Protagonist Pablo Cortez uses freefall grafitti art--splatterpainting--to communicate with Jupiter's gaseous forms of life."
1992 Mrs. Vargas and the Dead Naturalist, Kathleen Alcalá [Ch] (Calyx Books)
1993 Like Water for Chocolate, Laura Esquivel [Ch] (Random House Black Swan)
1993 Afterage, Yvonne Navarro [A] (Overlook Connection Press) Dark fantasy & horror.
1995 The Fabulous Sinkhole, Jesus Treviño [Ch] (Arte Público Press) "Stories into magic realism: spunky teen Yoli Mendez performs quadratic equations in her head." Film/TV Director/Writer of Prison Break, Resurrection Blvd. Star Trek Voyager, Babylon Five, Deep Space Nine.
2000 Clickers, J.F. Gonzalez [??] (DarkTales Publications) Horror.
2000 Places left unfinished at the time of creation, John Phillip Santos [Ch] (Penguin Books) "A girl sees a dying soul leave its body; dream fragments, family remembrances and Chicano mythology reach back into time and place; a rich, magical view of Mexican-American culture."
2000 Soulsaver, James Stevens-Arce [PR] (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
2001 The New World Border, Guillermo Gomez-Peña [??] (City Lights Publishers) News reports from a borderless future where whites are a minority and the language is Spanglish.
2003 Matters of the Blood, Maria Lima (Cu-Am?] (Juno Books)
2004 Unspeakable Vitrine, Victoria Elisabeth Garcia [??] (Claw Foot Bath Dog Press) Chapbook collection of short magic realist fiction
2004 Devil Talk: Stories, Daniel A. Olivas [Ch] (Bilingual Press) These twenty-six stories bring us to a place once inhabited by Rod Serling . . . only the accents have changed; Latino fiction at its edgy, fantastical best.
2004 Creepy Creatures and Other Cucuys, Xavier Garza (Piñata Books)
2005 The Skyscraper that Flew, Jesus Treviño (Arte Público Press). An enormous crystal skyscraper mysteriously appears in the Arroyo Grande's baseball field. Then the stories begin.
2006 The Nymphos of Rocky Flats, Mario Acevedo [Ch] (Rayo Harper Collins)
2006 Gil's All Fright Diner, A. Lee Martinez [A] (Tor) Born in El Paso, he has other books, but may not consider his books or himself anything latino.
2007 Firebird, R. Garcia y Robertson [A] (Tor)
2007 Abecedarium, Carlos Hernandez [??] [w/D. Schneiderman] (Chiasmus Press)
2007 Moon Fever, Caridad Piñeiro [Cuban American] (Pocket Books)" Paranormal romance.
2008 Happy Hour at Casa Dracula, Marta Acosta [L] (Pocket Star)
2008 The King's Gold: An Old World Novel of Adventure, Yxta Maya Murray (Harper Paperbacks)
2009 Lunar Braceros, Rosaura Sanchez, Beatrice Pita & Mario A. Chacon. (Calaca Press)
2012 The Witch Narratives, Belinda Vasquez Garcia, [??} (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform) The little-known world of Southwestern witchcraft.
2012 The Closet of Discarded Dreams, Rudy Ch. Garcia [Ch]. (Damnation Books) A Chicano alternate-world fantasy. Honorable Mention, SF/F category, 2012-13 International Latino Book Awards.
2012 Spirits of the Jungle, Shirley Jones [H] & Jacquelyn Yznaga [H] (Casa de Snapdragon)
2012 Virgins & Tricksters, Rosalie Morales Kearns [PR +Dutch] (Aqueous Books) Magic and folklore pop out of everyday encounters.
2012 Joe Vampire, Steven Luna (Booktrope Editions) [??]
2012 Summer of the Mariposas, Guadalupe Garcia McCall [Ch] (Tu Books) Pura Belpré Award winner; Andre Norton Award nominated. .
2012 Roachkiller and Other Stories, R. Narvaez [PR] (Beyond the Page Publishing) Winner of 2013 Spinetingler Award for Best Anthology/Short Story Collection and 2013 International Latino Book Award for Best eBook/Fiction.
2012 Salsa Nocturna, Daniel José Older [??] (Crossed Genres Publications)
2012 Dancing With the Devil and Other Tales From Beyond, René Saldaña Jr. [MA] (Pinata Books)
2012 Ink, Sabrina Vourvoulias [L] (Crossed Genres Publications)
2013 The Miniature Wife & Other Stories, Manuel Gonzales [??] (Riverhead Books)
2013 Spirits of the Jungle, Shirley Jones & Jacquelyn Yznaga [??] (Casa de Snapdragon) Kindle version, 2012.
2013 The Odd Fellows, Guillermo Luna [?] (Bold Strokes Books)
2013 This Strange Way of Dying: Stories of Magic, Desire & the Fantastic, Silvia Moreno-Garcia [M] (Exile Editions) Collection of fantasy, science fiction, horror—and time periods.
2013 Infinity Ring: Curse of the Ancients, Matt de la Peña [??]. (middle-grade, Scholastic Inc.) "Sera sees the terrifying future, but can’t prevent the Cataclysm while stranded thousands of years in the past. The only hope lies with the ancient Maya, a mysterious people who claim to know a great deal about the future."

3. Websites relevant to the Latino SF workshop:

"Speculative fiction is at its core syncretic; this stuff doesn’t come out of nowhere. And it certainly didn’t "spring solely from the imaginations of a bunch of beardy old middle-class middle-American guys in the 1950s." from N.K. Jemisin's Continuum GoH speech last year in Australia, calling for "a Truth in Reconciliation commission, such as encouraging blind submissions, demanding diverse characters on book covers. Women and people of color have our own suggestions for change. . . . Who has the greater stake in teaching mainstream U.S. sci-fi "how to be multicultural, and in tune with the world?" Women and POC have learned from the mistakes and successes in sci-fi "to truly become the literature of the world’s imagination."

"According to the Cooperative Children's Book Center, fewer children's books were written by Latinos or African-Americans in 2013 than in previous years. . . . Publishers turn down 97% of manuscripts they receive, regardless of the topic."

"55% of young adult books purchased in 2012 were bought by adults between 18 and 44 years old, according to Bowker Market Research.

A summary of sites about Racefail 09

Daniel Jose Older's article "Diversity Is Not Enough"

12 Fundamentals about writing the Latino Other

Junot Diaz’s article on the POC failures of MFAs

Es todo, hoy,
RudyG aka Rudy Ch. Garcia
Author FB -         Twitter - DiscardedDreams


Dr. MJ Hardman said...

Gracias. Muy útil. ¿Supongo que conoces a CBS? -- Carl Brandon Society. Un mes al año hacemos lista de obras latinas -- que hubiera colaboración sería cosa bueno creo.

Anonymous said...

Sí conozco a CBS y recibó los mensajes. Pero la lista que vi no tenía muchos latinos del E.U. Espero que la de La Bloga les sirve. Por dónde vive usted? También conoze a Ernesto Hogan? Estoy en Facebook para recibir su respuesta.


A lot to think about. I may put my thoughts in my next Chicanonautica on Thursday. Latinonautica -- I like it. I see a danger in that people want to put borders around our exploding imaginations. Why can't we surf the supernova shockwave in our barrio, eses? I could go out into a rant, but should save it for my post. To be continued . . .

Frank S Lechuga said...
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Anonymous said...

Hogan, my usage of Latinautica was a passing remark, not a proposed genre. I use the term "Latin@ Spec Lit" and would stick to that.
I'm not proposing limiting our fiction. Instead, I'm suggesting there are cultural roots to the not-often-used theme of Afro-6, and Parable of the Sowers, and my novel--where a protagonist-hero doesn't save the world on her own. That she needs more than allies; that she needs la gente of multi-ethnic origins. - RudyG

Armando Rendón said...

I'm very grateful for the feedback about the sci-fi gathering, Rudy. Still wish I could have been there(I'm working on my time machine, tho--any yesterday now...). I also want to recommend a new book for your lista, namely my own book for young adults: Noldo and his magical scooter at the Battle of the Alamo; it's a finalist in the Int'l Latino Book Awards competition, which will be finalized at the end of June in, of all places, Las Vegas. My hero, who resides in the 1950s' West Side barrio of San Antonio, Texas, builds his own scooter, imbuing it with magical powers that transport him to a point in time, two days before the final assault on the Alamo by Santa Anna's troops. He returns home, but has two (maybe three) more adventures back into time before summer vacation ends. He faces some of the dilemmas of time travel, e.g., knowing what is about to occur but unable to relate it to his hosts. Yes, I'm having a lot of fun writing about this kid. Anyway, I hope Noldo meets the criteria for your list.

Kathleen Alcala said...

Thanks, Rudi. If you want, you can add my novels, which all contain elements of magic realism: Spirits of the Ordinary, 1997 (2013 winner of the International Latino book into movie award for historical fiction) , The Flower in the Skull, 1998, and Treasures in Heaven, 2000, all from Chronicle Books. Keep us in the loop.

Anonymous said...

I've read and re-read your article about Latino Science Fiction.
I have no argument with your comments encouraging Latinos to add to the Sci-Fi genre.
I do however think that Frank Herbert, author of the Dune series, deserves a positive mention among the list of famous writers, if only because he did have an appreciation of the way Native Americans and other tribal people lived in a respectful relationship with their environment. He took spiritual inspiration from Sufi, Buddhist, and other belief systems which he incorporated into his Sci-Fi classics.
Particularly important is his foresight which appears to predict the environmental issues we are presently experiencing world-wide, such as a world-wide water shortage and the ensuing 'water wars', the use of recycled effluent as drinking water, the threat of the planet becoming one massive desert ( a dune) as a result of 'ecocide' caused by humans.
There's a Sioux proverb 'The frog does not drink up the pond in which he lives', but we're getting there! Herbert's characters wear 'suits' that recycle their own water, just like the NASA astronauts drank water recycled from their own urine, sweat and water condensed from the moisture in the air. And our government in Australia is presently considering adding recycled effluent into some of the drinking water in our cities.
- Alma Iris

Anonymous said...

Armando Rendón and Kathleen Alcalá, your books noted and I'll see about adding them, so long as they're not children's books, which I'm not prepared to explore yet. Alma Iris, Herbert's series is one of my favorites and I acknowledge his take on los indios. RudyG