Thursday, August 31, 2017

Chicanonautica: Underwater Aztecs of the Cuban American Jules Verne

There’s been whining recently about sf/f making it seem like there will be a “white genocide in the future.” This is at the same time when I’ve been celebrating the death of the vision of the all-white future that made it look like all non-white people are scheduled to be exterminated any day now. Does this explain El Presidente's fondness for certain political organizations?

Maybe we should look back to a simpler, more innocent time for some perspective. So, like in the introduction to the Lone Ranger (who we now know is just a whitewashed version of that great African American lawman Bass Reeves), “Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear!” As in 1904, and no. 92 of Frank Reade Weekly Magazine, Containing Stories of Adventures on Land, Sea & in the Air,” The Sunken Isthmus; Or, Frank Reade, Jr., in the Yucatan Channel by “NONAME.”

NONAME? The Gutenberg ebook I read lists the author as Luis Senarens. Luis? Sounds kinda Hispanic. I did a quick Google search, and found out that, according to Wikipedia, “an American dime novel writer specializing in science fiction, once called ‘the American Jules Verne.’ He grew up in a Cuban-American family in Brooklyn.”

A Cubano pioneered American sci-fi? Pardon my boggle.

Frank Read, Jr. is a stalwart young inventor, a precursor to Tom Swift. He comes off as very white and Anglo. Not to mention a little dull. He has a best friend who seems to exist to have Frank’s astounding inventions explained to him.
In the dime novel tradition, there are comedy relief characters to liven things up.

There’s Pomp, a stereotypical negro servant with the appropriate dialect--“Yes, sah: I done reckon Marse Frank been lookin' fo' yo' two days, sah.” and comical fear reactions, who falls victim to slapstick mayhem.

Then there's Barney, a redheaded, angry leprechaun who demonstrates how the Irish weren't considered “white” at the time. He bares no resemblance to my own New Mexico Irish cowboy ancestors who brought books along to read while riding the range, and drew their visions of the Wild West on tablecloths. He says things like, “Begorra, I only wish we had our electric gun wid us!”

The story is essentially a Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea ripoff prompted by a theory about a sunken isthmus that predates knowledge of continental drift and plate tectonics, complicated by pirates.

Ruins of a lost civilization is identified as Aztec, even though the Yucatan is closer to the lands of the Maya, Olmecs, and other tribes, but Senarens was probably well-versed in his audience's knowledge and interest in such things.

No natives or even residents of the Yucatan show up, though the Spanish and Cubans are typical foreign enemies—the Spanish American War was a fresh memory, and probably the reason for the “NONAME” pseudonym--and Carib Indians are described as “possibly” being cannibals. Frank and crew were busy with other concerns, like science and sunken treasure.

An interesting read, if more for the “past shock” than the science fiction.

Gutenberg has made a a number of Luis Senarens' works available. I'll probably check out a few more, to remind myself that things do change.

Ernest Hogan is on vacation in the wilds of New Mexico. He'll be back, crazed with inspiration, soon.


Frank S Lechuga said...

Wow, this is a mindblower. So, there was a Grandfather of Latino science fiction who was actually a "Father" of American science fiction. Well, Mr. Hogan, in my humble opinion - you continue to be the Father of Chicano Science Fiction and a Father of CONTEMPORARY Latino science fiction in these here United States.


Once again, I am humbled, Frank. I am also glad for a chance to show that science fiction in America has Latino roots.