There’s nothing more human, I’d posit, than telling stories – no, scratch that. There’s nothing more human than sharing stories. I’m as much of an authoral work fan as the next guy, but there’s something nearly visceral about group storytelling: having an universe where everyone can play, a set of characters that everyone can help shape and develop, a tome of stories that never ends.
And, of course, we cannot talk about group storytelling in sci-fi without dwelving into space opera: space opera’s not only a fancy term for “melodramatic, soap-opera-ish sci-fi” – it’s also about how these fun, far-away universes are shared by multiple writers, told and retold again, shaped and reshaped beyond recognition.
And mind that word: fun. Space opera as group storytelling is fun in an almost indulging manner. Sure, storytelling has to worry about plot, and characters, and coherency, and narrative – but hell, storytellers should, first and foremost, enjoy what they’re doing!
There was a time where anglophones had all the fun – sure, alright, they invented space opera, point taken. But those times are over: if there’s a ragtag group of rascals that knows how to have fun, it’s the Portuguese sci-fi writers. And they want you to know about their very own Portuguese space opera: Comandante Serralves.
How it started
Comandante Serralves (Commander Serralves) is a concept birthed (no, I couldn’t think of a better word) at Imaginauta, a Portuguese indie publisher also known for Lisboa Oculta, the translation and reissue of Amadis de Gaula (arguably the first Portuguese medieval fantasy book), the Devoradores de Livros (Book Devourers) monthly literature group and and the f/sf festival Contacto.
And since being introduced to the writing community, Comandante Serralves has already garnered a plethora of installments, not only in literature but in games and art. However, before we dwelve into those, it might help to understand who the Commander is, and how this universe works.
Commander Serralves‘ stories are set in a universe where Earth was invaded by an alien species called the pahoehoentes (say that three times fast). The invasion took a toll on human society, so the Human Alliance stepped up to rebuild it and restore peace and order, and with its reign started an era of prosperity and colonization of the solar system.
Which would be all fine and dandy, if it wasn’t by the Alliance’s methodology of “restoring peace” – which is, in short, to supress the diversity of human cultures to try and homogenize humanity as a single entity. Less ideal, in fact. And as such, there’s a group of rebels that opposes the Alliance and fights for freedom. That rebel group is lead by the nearly legendary Commander Serralves.
And here’s where things get interesting.
The man(?), the myth, the legend: Commander Serralves isn’t mythical in this universe merely because he’s the Commander of a rebel ship, an enemy of the Alliance, a figurehead for the defenders of freedom all across the galaxy: it’s also because his name goes way back. So back in History, in fact, that some wonder how he’s still alive; is it actually a lineage of Commanders, a mantel of sorts? Or is he an immortal creature, as alien as the first Earth invaders? Perhaps a robot, an experiment? It doesn’t help that he seems to sometimes have different faces, although he is always recognized as the Commander.
It’s difficult to explain further who the Commander is without spoiling some of the stories and breaking a little bit of the mystery – so this is all you need to know for now. There’s a lot of stories whispered here and there about Serralves, the Commander of the Maria spaceship – who’s to say which are true, which are fictional?
The first installments
The first installment of the Commander Serralves stories was Despojos de Guerra (Spoils of War) – yes, like that Game of Thrones episode. Except this book was published years before GOT S7, so D&D might have been the ones browsing around. It featured seven stories stories by six writers: Carlos Silva, Vítor Frazão, Inês Montenegro, Ana Filipa Ferreira, Joel Puga and Rui Leite. The cover art is by Ana da Silva Monteiro.
This is the book that introduces the universe, the main players and the game rules, so to say: it answers the question of who Serralves is (but just enough, not entirely), who’s his crew, and what enemies they’re facing on their quest for freedom.
And as it happens in these kinds of space opera, several-writers books, Serralves and his crew develop and mature not despite of having six different people with six different visions for them – but because of it. It’s one thing to have a writer hurl obstacles and hardships at their characters, basically yelling “go on then! Learn something with this!” – now multiply that by six.
Sure, one might argue that there can be incongruences with the character’s behavior, since it’s so new at this point and writers are still pulling at the strings, figuring out what works. Honestly, it might be just me, but I think it’s part of the charm; mutability is the only constant of life, and all of that.
It was followed by Comandante Serralves – Expansão (Commander Serralves – Expansion), which is… pretty self-explanatory, featuring stories by Rui Bastos, Fernando Queirós and Ricardo Dias – who basically took the oportunity offered by Imaginauta of exploring this “open source” universe and expanded the Serralves’ lore. The cover art is by Edgar Ascensão.
Pouso Forçado (Forced Landing) – the FATE system boardgame
On January 2015, Imaginauta challenged Solar Entretenimento and the Grupo de Roleplayers de Lisboa (Lisbon Roleplayers Group) to create an RPG scenario in Commander Serralves’ universe. And Jean da Silva and Rafael Weber fired back with Pouso Forçado (Forced Landing), a Commander Serralves adventure for the FATE RPG system.
Forced Landing was then submitted to a test game by Sávio Cordato from Solar Entretenimento (responsible for translating FATE to Portuguese) and feedback from Felisberto Lagartinha from Grupo de Roleplayers de Lisboa. After some tweaks and the pagination and cover art work by Priscila Santos, Forced Landing was ready to play.
This FATE adventure is, by the way, free – anyone can download it and play. So if you’re curious about the universe but are more of the roleplaying type of sci-fi fan, here’s a treat just for you.
Commander Serralves is a space opera, an open-source universe, an infinitely expansive story – therefore, who’s to say what comes next? Keep an eye out for new additions.
In the meantime, have some useful links if you want to explore the publisher who’s responsible for the Commander Serralves expansive universe:
Self-described as state-of-the-art idiocy, Gazervici is a 22-year-old communicologist, freelance content creator and jack of all trades living in South Portugal. Can be found working a day job as a Head of Communication, talking about books on the YouTube channel Cabo Cinético, writing about LGBT stuff, ranting on Twitter about anything at all or waiting for the next bus back home.