This article was originally published in Bit2Geek, the portuguese portal for advanced trends in science, technology and space: Cinco Livros Para Descobrir a Ficção Científica Portuguesa.
Is there such a thing as Portuguese Science Fiction? Over here, this has been a genre traditionally despised by cultural elites. Has a small editorial expression today, although in the past it was larger (proving it are numerous editions of now extinct collection, found in second-hand bookstores). However, our small and dynamic community of fans and authors does not give up. There are many dedicated events, between Fórum Fantástico, Sci-Fi Lx, Festival Contacto, among others. There are recurring fan gatherings and successful editorial projects. This is a small but vibrant community, that is not without its controversies and internal divisions. We consistently complain about the lack of visibility and poor expression of Science Fiction in the Portuguese cultural milieu. However, it exists, moves, creates, disseminates, influences and inspires.
In this article, we will look at five books that are an excellent gateway to Portuguese FC. But caveat lector: the smooth boundaries of categorization of literary genres is dissolved. Don’t be surprised if you encounter spaceships among medieval spaceships. Is there anything more suited to the character of fantastic fiction than a dissolution of boundaries between parallel worlds?
Terrarium, João Barreiros and Luís Filipe Silva
If there is a book that can be said to be THE book to read in order to discover portuguese Science Fiction , this is it. Written as a partnership by those who are recognized as the best Portuguese SF authors, it is an ambitious work that clashes João Barreiros’s iconograhy of devastation with Luís Filipe Silva’s classical SF vision. Beyond a good story in a comprehensive fictional universe, it also has astriking editorial history. Terrarium was originally published in 1996 in the classic Blue Cover collection by Editorial Caminho. This excellent SF collection, now extinct, translated contemporary authors and dared to give voice to Portuguese and Brazilian authors. When the publishing house was sold to a large publishing group, the problem cause by its stock of unsold books was resolved with, using an expression that Barreiros is very fond of using, extreme damage: they were burned. Among the burnt books was a large quantity of this seminal novel of Portuguese SF.
If, by chance, you come across this bulky blue book in a bookstore, don’t hesitate. You have a Portuguese science fiction legend in their hands. But if you are not so lucky, do not despair. It was reissued in 2017 by Saída de Emergência in a revised edition, with the bold cover that is the style of this publisher.
Two Essential Authors
Leaving Terrarium behind, we must dive into the works of Barreiros and Luís Filipe Silva. The first is a rare thing of its kind in Portugal. Obsessively focused on the science fiction literature, he never lost his voice and regularly edits on his own and as an anthology coordinator. He collaborates with literary projects and assumed the roles of eternal enfant terrible and wise yet merciless uncle of contemporary fandom. If you want to experience a good Freudian nightmare, we recommend its latest edition, Crazy Equoids, published by Imaginauta.
Apart from Terrarium, another compelling book is the Se Acordar Antes de Morrer short story collection, of which Barreiros is a master. They are genial, eschatological, fun and light years away from commercial SF, written by a truly living encyclopedia that delights in torturing the minds of its readers. Mortal commons can approach him at Fórum Fantástico, or other regular fandom events. If he’s in a good mood, he won’t zap you with his raygun.
Luís Filipe Silva is another unavoidable name of Portuguese FC. In recent times he has stood out as editor of some of the best anthologies of fantastic literature by Portuguese authors. Also as a translator and researcher on the history of Portuguese CF. As an editor, there would be much to recommend. Perhaps his truly unmissable anthology is The Golden Years of Portuguese Pulp Fiction. In it, the participating authors were challenged to write as vintage writers of alleged portuguese pulp fiction magazines that never existed. They did it so well that the most unwary readers wondered what unknown writers and entertainment magazines of the past were these, actually believing that they existed. His biggest contribution to the Portuguese science fiction literary landscape is another classic, A Galxmente. Also edited in the legendary Caminho collection, it was recently reissued by the Saída de Emergência.
Anjos, Carlos Silva
With this novel, Carlos Silva cemented his status as one of the most dynamic and interesting new voices in the national literary landscape dedicated to science fiction. The book is a concerted and successful effort to create a solid fictional world, underpinning a story that draws directly into classic cyberpunk, and ultimately touches on the core of structuring issues in our contemporary digital society. Builds upon reflections on panopticon societies, resulting from the progressive intrusion of digitization on social spaces.
Carlos Silva takes into the book the impacts of the loss of privacy stimulated by social networks, the unprecedented ability to crosscheck information, define and aggregate individual profiles in massive databases, in a fun but well measured way. A novel awarded the Divegência prize, Anjos surprises you with his ambition, and seduces by the way it guides the action by its assumptions. Fundamentally an action storythat does not deny reflections that directly impact our perception of the contemporary world.
Carlos Silva has been one of the new and most dynamic voices of the new generation of authors of Portuguese fantastic literature. Not only as an author, but as a tireless promoter of editorial projects, including creating the independent publisher Imaginauta. A project with a sustained growth, which edited Comandante Serralves, the first portuguese consistent shared scifi universe, joining the efforts of different authors, wich spawned a tabletop game adaptation.
Nome de Código Portograal, Luís Corredoura
Within our small panorama, there are strands and sub-genres of SF and fantastic where it is very rare to find works written by Portuguese authors. Alternative history is one of them. There is very little, apart from short story collections A República Nunca Existiu, organized by Octávio dos Santos, Lisboa no Ano 2000, edited by João Barreiros, or Winepunk, with AMP Rodriguez, Joana Neto Lima and Rogério Ribeiro. Alternate history looks at key historical moments and tries to imagine what might have happened if the facts had unfolded differently.
Portugal under Nazi Occupation
Nome de Código Portograal is a grand splash in the still waters of portuguese alternative history. In this book, Corredoura imagines what would happen if Portugal had been forced to abbandon neutralty during World War II. And does it in grand geopolitical style: puts a Wehrmacht division rolling over Portuguese defenses, the dictator Salazar in exile but emerging in the post-war as a Democratic force supported by the Allies, and a puppet regimes in Lisbon led by quislings portraying some of the most radical real personalities of Estado Novo, the very real and very long portuguese fascist dictatorship that spawned from 1928 to 1974.
As a guiding thread, there is another story of searching for Templar secrets. But what makes this book worthwhile is the solid narrative and rigorous way in which Corredoura describes the possible military operations and life under occupation in this story of a history that never happened. Speculations are well founded and the author’s knowledge of the time is of enviable solidity. The geography of fictional space mirrors that of real places. Lisbon under the Wehrmacht’s boots could have happened, and this bool tells the tale of what could have been.
Corredoura takes his premise to create an impressive novel that provokes the reader, leading to reflection about the forge of contemporary Europe that was World War II. This novel was awarded the Adamastor Prize, a literary prize that distinguishes Science Fition and Fantastic in Portuguese. Unfortunately for fans, Corredoura prefers to write noir thrillers set in the worlds of espionage. This work stands as a striking literary epiphenomenon.
Lovesenda, António de Macedo
It may seem strange to suggest a work of fantastic and medievalist style on a list dedicated to Science Fiction. But in a medium as small as ours, genre frontiers are blurred (we did warn you, earlier). Also, because that’s the way we have to highlight the last book edited by this writer, teacher, filmmaker, and major figure of Portuguese culture. Macedo perhaps best embodied the Portuguese fantastic fiction, with a dedication that cost him his career as a filmmaker.
He dared to make Science Fiction and Fantastic movies, and paid a high price. He was ostracized by the institutions that finance Portuguese cinema, without the support of which it is practically impossible to make cinema in Portugal. Macedo, who started as one of the directors of the Portuguese Cinema Novo, stopped filming at the turn of the century, his films mostly forgotten by a cultural elite that despised them. Only in the last years of his life did he return to the public eye, thanks to the efforts of João Monteiro, organizer of the Motelx film festival, to rehabilitate his work. But for the core of national Science Fiction fans and practitioners, his work has never fallen by the wayside. Macedo’s humble presence, full of humor, sympathy, and mind-boggling stories, was assiduous in gatherings and events. This dedication to fantastic fiction, and his unique work, was recognized with the first ever Adamastor career award.
A Very Personal Imaginary
In Lovesenda one can feel very strongly Macedo’s ability to make tangible his strong scholarship of Portuguese history, in this book focused on a distant middle age where the country was still in formation, with rough borders disputed between feudal lords of time, nominally loyal to Leonese kings or Mozarab emirs, accomplished strategists who knew how to use war and peace as a political weapon. Its narrative capacity places us in the village squares and manors, in the hovels of the people, marking the hardness of landscapes that, if they still seem harsh to us today, were much more so a thousand years ago. It is this deeply visual and compelling sense of immersion that endures from this reading.
The fantastic in Macedo has always been peculiar, a mix of history with esotericism, far from the expected iconography of the genre. His ideas lead us into the fields of gnosis, occult and alchemical myths. This is at the heart of the story, with its rituals, enchanted ladies, dark knowledge, misty mysteries, and millenary knowledge contained in forbidden codices.
Beyond this Book
From Macedo, we reccomend more than books. His film work is highly interesting, especially Os Abismos da Meia-Noite and Os Emissários de Khalôm. These two films are, practically, all our science fiction film heritage. Or, for more subtle tastes, the delicious fin de siècle ghost story Chá Forte com Limão. His bibliography is extensive, and we suggest classical books like O Limite de Rudzky or Sulphira & Lucyphur. And there is much more to discover from the work of this singular artist.
Man:Plus Electric Memory, André Lima Araújo
To finish this tour of portuguese Science Ficitin and Fantastic books, we end with comics. And with a work that was firstly edited abroad by Titan Books, before reaching Portuguese readers with an edition by Kingpin Books.
Man: Plus wears his references very well and without fear. It is an admittedly derivative work, honoring classic cyberpunk, SciFi manga, and procedural police televission. It does not copy elements of these genres in disguise, trying to pass as new and unpublished work. The copy is visible, intentional and assumed. The story is original, but not afraid to cite stylistically, thematically and visually the influences that clearly fascinate André Araújo. This book is a pure cyberpunk adventure. But its character as a tribute, almost a fan-fiction from a knowledgeable and talented fan, is what piques the interest. This, and the author’s graphic style, which has been described as a kind of Portuguese Masamune Shirow.
Five Books Aren’t Enough To Discover Portuguese Science Fiction
We can’t resist finishing this article with more reading suggestions to discover the small but vibrant panorama of fantastic literature in Portuguese. Where to continue? Perhaps because with the surrealism of Mario Henrique Leiria’s Casos de Direito Galáctico, which we have already seen in a bookstore inexplicably filed in the Law section. Or the city that swallows its inhabitants of Dormir Com Lisboa, by Fausta Cardoso Pereira. Tudo Isto Existe, which brings together the pearls of the short fictions of João Ventura. The classic Europeaist dystopia of Euronovela by Miguel Almeida. The devious bilingual tourist guide Lisboa Oculta – Guia Turístico. Or the fun, old school space opera of A Batalha da Escuridão by Bruno Martins Soares.
Other suggestions: the unhinged political satire of Por Vós Lhes Mandarei Embaixadores de Jorge Candeias, aka George R. R. Martin’s Portuguese translator. And we finish, because we have to, with the delicate interweaving of past, present and future of Nuvens de Hamburgo by Pedro Cipriano.
And, In the Comic Book Realm…
In portuguese comics, there is also much science fiction and fantastic to discover. A Pior Banda do Mundo by José Carlos Fernandes is an unavoidable work of the fantastic, without spaceships but many bows to literature. Cidade Suspensa, by Penim Loureiro, surprises by his grand master visual style. The duo Filipe Melo and Juan Cavia gave us three volumes of dark adventures by Dog Mendonça and Pizzaboy, which were even edited by Dark Horse. Joana Afonso is one of the most outstanding portuguese artists working on comics today, and her latest book, Zahna, is a modern foray into the field of cloak and sword fantasy. The horror graphic environments of Fabio Veras’s Jardim dos Espectros is also a must-read.
Since we’re talking about terror (remember that blurred frontiers warning, earlier?, SINtra by Tiago Cruz and Inês Garcia makes us think twice before entering the roads of Sintra’s mountains, a landscape beloved by Byron, after reading it. In a lighter tone, there is Pepedelrey’s alternative futurism of Futuro Proibido and Viagem da Virgem. Or the new, fresh but sometimes inexperienced voices brought to us by the H-alt project.
Fantastic Science Fiction in Portuguese: A Universe to Discover
Much was left out. Only the field of anthologies, which collects short stories written by a large community of authors, would give a long reading list. If Portuguese Science and Fantastic Fiction suffers from a justified minorization complex in a country where culture is not given much value, it does not translate into a lack of creativity. Although, for fans, everything you devour always feels too little.