Somewhere north of what was once the river Douro, where Port twine barrels, vineyards, and ancient traditions delved, lie the undersea ruins of the Monarchy of the North, the Winepunk Realm that lasted from 1919 to 1922. Caught between the deep resentment post World War I against the Portuguese Republic, with Lisbon as capital, and the momentum of newly developed technology from the most unexpected origin, the Monarchy of the North was the stuff dreams and myths are made of.
And is suited that such is the case, as still there is land above the river Douro, as still there is the proud city of Oporto and the records state that the Monarchy of North lasted only three weeks in 1919, and never was a Winepunk realm. As such, it is not only the stuff of dreams but the product of imagination.
This particular Monarchy of the North stands in an alternate history universe, where not only pivotal battles favored the Northerners but they also were able to discover answers for the fuel shortage they faced when comparing with their Southerners enemies. On March, 12th, 1919, the Russian scientist Ilyallich Mechnikov, a real historical figure, fictionally present as a guest at the Pasteur Institute of Porto since the beginning of the year offers the production of biofuel from the Port wine, based on a new yeast species, the Saccharomyces monarchica. With such biofuel, new belic weapons and vehicles are made possible, such as the Mechas, heirs to the World War I tanks, but with a fruit flavor from the Touriga grapes of Douro vineyards.
The first anthological volume (of predicted three, one for each year the fictional Winepunk War lasted) of the Winepunk Universe was released on 14th February, 2019, exactly one hundred years and one day after the end of the real Monarchy of the North. Had the Northerners succeeded, 14th February 1919 would have been the first day of enduring. The launching, at the Ateneu Comercial do Porto , an amazing building, original used as a rather bourgeois gentlemen’s club for the elites, political, commercial and intellectual of the city of Oporto, witnessed the birth and death of the original Monarchy of the North and was logical that would witness the phoenix-like rebirth of that old rebellion.
At the launching were present four of the persons responsible for the Winepunk book becoming a reality: two of the members of Invicta Imaginaria, the team responsible for developing the Winepunk concept and chronology (AMP Rodriguez and Joana Neto Lima), the graphic designer of the book, Sandra Maria Teixeira of the RARO Studio, one of the cornerstones of the book, intended from the very beginning to be a work of art, of beauty and graphical enchantment, and one of the seven authors, João Barreiros, the most consensual name when speaking of Portuguese science fiction authors. The panel was introduced by Henrique Dória, member of the Ateneu Comercial do Porto, the host of the event.
And the public’s questions were themselves the beginning for the narrative of another chronology: how did the Winepunk idea begin? And how did it grow into a book?
The beginning of an Alternate Universe
It began in December 2012, when AMP Rodriguez was challenged, via social networks, by Luis Filipe Silva to coordinate an anthology located at the city of Oporto. Though not being an Oporto native, this author’s love for the city is common knowledge and it led to some weeks of brooding. Because AMP Rodriguez did not want to simply collect Oporto-based stories. The city and its history were much richer and deserved another terrain to develop narratives than just geography. And during lazy net research, AMP stumbled in a historical event that was not mentioned on the present school textbooks, the rebellion of Porto against Lisbon in 1919 and the establishment, during twenty-five days, of the Monarchy of the North.
The sheer insanity of the enterprise, the details of the battles and of the intervenients, the whole concept of a civil war hidden from the contemporary memory of the general Portuguese, was the flame that started the Winepunk fire. And the fuel for it, of course, was not steam but Port wine, the riches that still holds the Oporto city name throughout the world. AMP Rodriguez formed a team with Joana Neto Lima and Rogério Ribeiro, and the latter was responsible for finding the solution for the wine biofuel to match the oil combustion capacity. Ribeiro, a biologist and a researcher, imagined the already mentioned yeast bacteria, the Saccharomyces monarchica, that overcome the wine disadvantage regarding oil (or steam). In fact, and Rodriguez made the point of enhancing it, Ribeiro can be considered the father of the Winepunk Chronology, as so much of it has his ideas.
Meanwhile, and as Rodriguez insisted that the book should be illustrated, much to the likes of nineteen-century books, Neto Lima sends Rodriguez an email with a small work sample of an illustrator, Rui Alex. There was no need to look further, the Winepunk illustrator was chosen. When all pieces were considered and on their right place, the team liberated the chronology in a fandom Facebook group, Trema, and open the submissions of stories for the first anthological installment, Winepunk Year One – The Wine Barrels Wars.
The writing process in the Winepunk Universe
There was some curiosity of the writers would feel compelled to write in a universe so distinct from the usual Victorian steampunk scenarios, but in the words of João Rogaciano, author of the A Dangerous Conspiracy, a spy versus anarchists themed Winepunk tale, “the ‘crazy’ concept of using grape must to produce the available fuel won me for the Winepunk universe’. And an even greater curiosity if the authors would be willing to accept the restrictions, as the Invicta Imaginaria team was adamant that the chronology was respected and the yeast solution was the fuel foundation. Joao Ventura, author of In Vino Veritas, that mixes Indian gurus, music and rather feisty vineyards, commented that it was a challenge to introduce other historical figures in coherence and Barreiros added that with was an added value to have such restrictions, and in the case of a second installments, which would incorporated the events of the first installment’s stories on the official Winepunk Chronology, that certainly would not stop him from creating “new monsters. Human and non-human”. Considering the array of monsters already created by Barreiros in the first installment, it can worth a second anthology only to see what follows.
And when the submissions ended, there was indeed enough evidence that authors did enjoy the Winepunk universe as creative departure. The team started a process of several email exchanges with the authors, to adjust a few details of the original stories to the Winepunk universe and even work with them if there was a promising narrative but it lack still some aspects. In the end, there were seven: The Zero Company, by Joel Puga; The Wrath of Ferreirinha, by Carlos Eduardo Silva; In Vino Veritas, João Ventura; A Dangerous Conspiracy, João Rogaciano, Nevermore!, by João Barreiros; The Knees of Kionga (Part One: The Knees of Kionga and Part Two: The Buying and Selling of Bittersweet Longing), by Rhys Hughes; and Illustrated Dictionary of the Monarchy of the North (Fragments), by AMP Rodriguez. And the list of the seven, together with the original illustrations, were presented on Forum Fantastico 2013.
The case of Rhys Hughes and his two-part novelette is particularly interesting. The Winepunk Universe is extremely rooted in Portuguese tradition, culture, and historiography, which is far from being a pop-culture staple as the Steampunk premises. The team, as AMP Rodriguez mentioned on the FF13, had laid out the hypothesis of being ‘too strange and too foreigner’ to be appreciated by non-Portuguese writers. Hughes gave the answer. Not only it is not alienated from another culture interest by being from another culture brought new ideas and concepts that escaped the Portuguese team.
The Winepunk Chronology officially ends with the full destruction of all the land above the river Douro, including Galicia, and plunging the remains of the Monarchy of the North on the sea. No reasons are provided for the cataclysm and the Winepunk chronology merges with the real chronology onwards, an aspect pointed out by Prof. Fátima Vieira, on the anthology’s preface. As such, the Invicta Imaginaria members believed all the stories of the anthological trilogy of the Winepunk Wars would be confined to the three periods of alternate history. In fact, that is the reason why it was decided to be three part instalments of the accounts of the Winepunk Civil War between North and South. But the Welsh author imagined something different.
During the years of the Winepunk Wars, as in all wars, there was mobility of persons, spies, fugitives, or even common folk fleeing from destruction. And where there is mobility there is diffusion of knowledge, one way or another. Not all the subjects of the Monarchy of the North were in its soil and it turned into sea mist mud. Not all that knew about the secrets of Winepunk technology met their demise while the Oporto land broke in pieces and the air muffled in hot despair. Some were in Spain, France, Germany, and even outside the European continent. Some were in Africa, which at the time, between the two World Wars, still was a chess play for the European countries.
Hughes creates a fantastika tale of Winepunk technology in Africa, in the early years of the Second World War, as an African-Portuguese village is about to face destruction by the Nazi troops. The story proofed a few things, namely that a writer from another culture could appreciate and create within the Winepunk premises and that the Winepunk Universe could be expanded into the future, in sequels to the Wine Barrels Wars, or into the past, in prequels to the events that took place during it.
The unexpected twist of this approach was discussed not only among the team members of Invicta Imaginaria but also with the publisher, Pedro Cipriano, of Editorial Divergência. Cipriano had been interested in the project since the team had released the Winepunk chronology in the Trema group and even had thought about writing a story for the first anthology. As a publisher, he did not fear a risky project such as Winepunk, which not only had new and unfamiliar premises but demanded the monetary cost of an illustrated book, with challenging design. Rather, he was enthusiastic about it and was the ideal partner for the Winepunk adventure, which is heading now for the second installment.
The future of Winepunk Universe
As the launching event of the Winepunk Year One – The Wine Barrels Wars was ending, there were two questions made. The first, what would happen on the second volume? Rodriguez answered that the first anthology focused on the point of view of the North and on the problems that had faced developing the Winepunk technology and moving between the European powers and the Republican South, led by Lisbon. The second would be dedicated to the Southerner perspective, the reaction of Lisbon and the Republicans to the Northerner rebellion and attacks. And as such, it would be entitled Winepunk Year Two – The Republic Strikes Back. Details for submitting to the anthology would be released during the fall of 2019.
The second question was less literary. During the event it had become clear that some authors and members of the Invicta Imaginaria were Monarchic and others were Republican. And a member of the audience asked if it had not been difficult to work together with such difference in political values. And the answer was that it did not even have it occurred to anyone that such a difference could be cause for discussion. In all wars, said Rodriguez, whatever the side, being their reasons right or wrong, everyone gets tainted. There is no sanctity in a war and all sides commit disgraces, to say the least, even if they have started with the purest of intentions. And all of the team members and all of the authors seemed to be aware of that. As such, empathy and respect were a common trace during the creation of the Winepunk universe and the anthology. Even because, added Barreiros, the monsters were so fluffy!
And because between fluffy monsters and horrid humans beings, or otherwise, there can be platforms of understanding, the second installment of the Winepunk Trilogy intends to challenge authors of another culture, other than British or Anglophone, to bring their creativity to the Winepunk universe. And because war is the theme, the choice will likely be that of a country that has a repertoire of battles with the Portuguese. The Republic is already preparing to strike back!
By AMP Rodriguez
Pseudonym of Ana da Silveira Moura, teacher, author and researcher. As AMP Rodriguez is one of the founding members of Invicta Imaginaria, the team that created the Winepunk concept, and has short stories in anthologies such as ‘Os Anos de Ouro da Pulp Fiction Portuguesa’ or ‘Lisboa no Ano 2000 – Histórias Assombrosas duma Cidade que Nunca Existiu’.