Books

Ménageries of an unstable Canon: Some Notes on Portuguese SF Short-Story Anthologies Compiled by Portuguese Editors

Though it is debatable, anthologies, considered as literary objects, can be perceived as a medium of transition. They present or represent their own material without ever becoming it. They’re a gateway, a bridge to the land of novels and complete works where the real action really happens.

An anthology of British writers from the 20th century might not contain the most important texts of those authors but it can become a sample, presumably representative, that can be used as an hors-d’ouevre to the literary main course. Besides, wider scopes and tighter selections result in lesser representations: the same 20th century anthology will exclude more writers than perhaps will an anthology of English stories taking place in Manchester on the summer of 1990. Casanova calls the anthology:

The concentration camp par excelence, and a great mechanism of canonical hygiene.

It’s precisely the enforcing of criteria that creates an illusion of boundaries. In my other role as an author and anthology editor, I frequently have to deal with some resistance from publishers because books that contain short stories apparently do not sell easily. However, when cleverly set up, the anthology can be used as a tool to engage new marketplaces and join separate readerships, especially when it is presented as a sample of new things to discover (“there’s something for every taste”).

It is nevertheless revealing that the anthology also plays an important role. As Baubeta tells us, 

anthologies are valuable elements for a history of literature, functioning simultaneously as the building blocks and as the key to understanding the nature and structure of the edifice» (Baubeta 13). 

Then she makes a comment that the process of selection always depends on a specific point of view, and she reminds us that Anthology Studies are a growing field, namely in the north american academia:

a sucession of academics have felt impelled to comment on processes of inclusion/exclusion, as well as the relative merits of those works that prevail by finding a place in anthologies and thus, by extension, the canon

This sentence describes perfectly what inspired us to look at the decades of what can be described as the rise of (modern) SF within the Portuguese literary milieu, by identifying some anthologies and their contents. We’re talking about the 1950s and the 1960s.

Besides, SF in Portugal being an imported literary trend that went through a process of adoption (and it still does), we tried to question some parts of it. The anthologies we chose had to contain (mostly) translated short stories, they had to exist in a Portuguese edition and their editors had to be Portuguese. And of course, we could only analyze a limited number of books.

We ended up with 4 (2 of them will be discussed in this article):

PALLA, Victor, ed, O que é a ficção científica?, Coimbra : Atlântida, 1959

FREITAS, Lima, ed, Os melhores contos de F. C. de Júlio Verne aos astronautas, Lisbon: Livros do Brasil, 1965

COSTA, Eurico, ed, Os melhores contos fantásticos, Lisbon: Arcádia, 1959

SILVERBERG, Robert, RODRIGUES, Lima, eds, Terrestres e estranhos, Alferragide : Galeria Panorama, 1968

Lima de Freitas – Very briefly, a portuguese painter and writer that illustrated several portuguese and foreign book editions.

Please take into account that this are just some notes and we’ll only skim some of the main themes. The analysis is still under way. The first of the anthologies was already discussed in another article called Portuguese Science Fiction Anthologies – The Beginning (1).

A very different proposal (from Pallas approach) is Os Melhores Contos de FC – De Júlio Verne aos Astronautas (The Best SF Stories – from Verne to Astronauts – 1965, Livros do Brasil), an anthology with 14 stories collected and translated by Lima de Freitas, who also designed the cover. It is the 100th volume of Argonauta, a long running SF book label, a commemorative double-sized volume that intends to present

An overview of the several trends in SF through a representative selection of world authors

It’s a large book, over 400 pages long that includes some novellas. Three of its stories fill up to half of it (Verne, Capek, Efremov). In the back of the book we can read this presentation:

Commemorating the 100th volume of Argonauta, here’s an unprecedented initiative. For the first time in Portugal, in a double-sized book but under the price of a single volume, we offer a complete overview of Science Fiction from Jules Verne to the Astronauts. Among hundreds of writers, and thousands of stories, we selected the most representative authors in the world, to enter an anthology about the several trends in the most significant literary genre of our times.

It’s curious to see how this anthology in some ways is the opposite of Palla’s, and in other ways, its complement. 

Where Palla doesn’t inform us of sources, Freitas takes great care in revealing next to each page the precise source, including year of edition and venue of publication. Most of these venues are French, with only some English ones. In fact, Freitas uses French sources not only for the French authors, obviously, but also to obtain the translations of Borges, Capek and Efremov, and even Lovecraft, Anderson and Keyes – these last ones from Planete, a magazine that was edited between 1961 and 1971 in France by Jacques Bergier and Louis Pauwels, authors of the famous Les Matins des Magiciens (Morning of the Magicians) who used the magazine as a way to speculate about fantastic realism, including SF. It’s safe to assume that Freitas read it and was influenced by it in his choices – in a direct manner with the 3 American authors and indirectly with others (ex: Borges). 

This is a solid influence in Freitas selection whose taste was shaped not only with the stories themselves but also with the intellectual debate around them sparked by the magazine. It’s not surprising that, unlike Palla’s discomfort, Freitas fills with praise his opening notes:

This “science fiction” anthology was conceived to provide the reader the delicious pleasure of devouring a few crafty stories filled with bold and original fantasies. It’s great merit will be the pleasure of reading it. But that doesn’t prevent it from describing in its pages flows of reasoning that might influence those of us more inclined to wonder, to think of some topics for a fruitful meditation. 

Apart from this double claim – the mere pleasure of reading with the ability of SF to spark curiosity and wonder – we find in the title «From Jules Verne to the Astronauts» the most telling element of this collection. We can assume from it the search for a continuous narrative of some kind, a showcase between 2 end points, with all the stories somewhat lined up between them following its reasoning. A time narrative, most likely – a history of the genre. Verne’s story opens the books and we know he wrote in the 19th century about scientific discoveries and technological inventions that had some plausibility. The astronauts were in 1965 all too real already, for Gagarin had travelled in orbit 4 years before. In other words, the dreams of SF enabled mankind to leave this planet and aim for the stars.

We understand that the stories are aligned as a scale, and probably some kind of evolution between them, even if it’s not explicit. But in fact, in this specific element, neither the choices nor Freitas’ lineup match up. He does place the oldest stories at the beginning, and after these the most recent ones, but this order is not strict. Apart from that, most of the original venues of publication are reprints and translations of the original texts so the given year of publication doesn’t inform us of the proper year of its first publication (the Lovecraft story had been written in 1925 but the book used a 1962 translation). Therefore, we have a gap: of the 14 total stories, 3 were written by the turn of the 20th century, 2 in the 1920s and the rest belongs to the 1950s, even if Freitas read them only 2 years prior to the preparation of this book.

Strictly speaking, the theme that Freitas intended doesn’t even survive in his introduction, which ends like this:

May the reader of this anthology feel the pleasure of reading it and dreaming it, these are our wishes. 

He doesn’t provide context to his choices apart from a description of what each story is really about. About RUR, Freitas says:

“Capek – who created the term robot – was aware of the dangers that Mankind faces from the amoral use of technical resources created by Science. That Man can find survive in the robot is a surprising feat (considering it was written in 1920) fertile in its implications

And yet the introduction is very important because it offers hints to the less experienced reader, helping him or her to navigate beyond a literal understanding to find the hidden metaphors or observations

After the heartbreaking Flowers for Algernon, the loneliness of a brief intelligence, the optimism of Efremov is the dream of a definitive victory of survival through the social being.

Freitas is cautious not to comment on any stories that he did not select. He states his opinion about SF in a clear manner:

We are responsible for the future, to the future (…) We look at the present through the lens of utopia, we dwell in Man’s biggest dreams from the extreme border of fantasy, we psychoanalyze the reality of daily life using the sense of wonder. What is reality? What unknown worlds our wise blindness hides from us?

And yet, if we want to know how this book helped present the Portuguese readers with a sample of the international SF canon (considering in this case the most basic definition of canon, of writers who have became classics) anyone who had only read Freitas would not know about Asimov or Heinlein, and would have to turn to Palla, even if Freitas included 2 of the most important texts in the genre (RUR and Flowers for Algernon). 

In fact, a Portuguese reader would need to get his hands on both books in order to gain a full picture of the themes and possibilities of SF because none of these books provided it single-handedly.

«Terrestres e Estranhos» (Earthmen and Strangers) is the last and most recent example of this small group. It stands out from the others for several reasons: first, because the origin for the story selection is not unknown: in fact, it reproduces the full content of an anthology edited by the well-known SF author Robert Silverberg, Earthmen and Strangers, first published in 1966 (NY: Duell, Sloan and Pearce). Collecting nine short stories by American and English writers published during the previous decade, the origin of this material is presented in the copyright page and Silverberg’s name appears as the book co-editor of an assumed partnership with the Portuguese Lima Rodrigues. Considering it was supposed to be the first ever of its kind, the nature of this collaboration however isn’t even mentioned in the introduction, which offers no explanation on how it had come to fruition, leading us to suspect that Rodrigues might have changed the original version on his own. Recently, I had the chance to ask Silverberg on an online forum about his involvement with the Portuguese edition, to which he replied:

«I received a copy of TERRESTRES E ESTRANHOS a long time ago and of course I noticed that some Portuguese stories had been added to my original anthology. The Portuguese publisher never asked my permission to do this, but I thought it was an interesting thing to do and did not make any objection to it. (Since I can’t read Portuguese except in the most limited way, I had no idea whether the extra stories were good ones, but I hoped they were.) I know of no other occasion when one of my anthologies was expanded in this way by an European publisher.»

We can find the reason for Rodrigues to present himself as co-editor in the contents list, because it contains contemporary Portuguese authors. This second distinctive feature of the anthology is explained in the presentation text that, though signed by «Galeria Panorama» undoubtedly was written by Rodrigues himself, as he was the editorial director: 

   «Seven stories are by local authors, which, in itself, will surprise many of our readers. Contrary to what has been the case, this time they do not hide behind the guise of a foreign byline but appear under their own birth name. To each what he or she is due. Precisely. Would the foreign byline increase the quality or the worthiness of their stories? Would it improve sales? Surely it would. But man does not live by bread alone».

Much more could be read from his words than this brief paper allows, not only because of his strongly defensive stand against what he expected was a demeaning reaction from the critics but also because it attempts to go against the practice of accepting Portuguese writers only if they were hidden «behind the guise of a foreign byline»: by using «their own birth name» he is defending a new strategy of legitimizing them. 

Cover from the original anthology edited by Robert Silverberg

Nevertheless it might be a telling sign that even this strategy seems to have its limitations, for here we find them, the Portuguese writers, not within an anthology comprised only with them but mixed with stories by well-know international names, therefore sales must have been (understandably) on the publishers’ mind, despite his claims of «man does not live by bread alone». Next, Rodrigues informs us that «whenever possible, we will have Portuguese authors, stating that “we also exist”», but there will be no other Portuguese short-story in any of the following books in this series. «Terrestres e Estranhos» will be a one time event.

Our analysis will lead us now to the third distinctive characteristic, which is a very subtle editorial action from Rodrigues: he changed the original order of the stories. Silverberg had presented us with Russell, Garrett, Silverberg, Anderson, Asimov, Knight, Budrys, Ellison and Clarke, but Rodrigues alters it radically to Budrys, Clarke, Knight, Russell, Ellison, Asimov, Anderson, Garrett and Silverberg without any explanation. Then he fits the seven Portuguese stories in this lineup but not evenly, beginning with Dordio Guimaraes in fourth place, after Knight’s story, which forces Rodrigues then to group several Portuguese stories (his own, Campos, Montenegro and Correia) near the end, between Asimov and Anderson.

This means that the Portuguese readers have yet another different experience from the English-speaking audience. For them, it is «Lower than Angels» by Algys Budrys that opens the book (the title «Falsos Deuses» doesn’t translate the Biblical reference), a story about a First Contact with a primitive tribe in a faraway planet for whom the advanced medicine and the technology of the humans turns the human protagonist into a god. But an incomplete god for when their dwelling is destroyed by a storm, he is incapable of saving them, lacking the science to do so (therefore, humans only seem to be gods). Complex issues such as explaining how an automatic translator could be able to understand a new language immediately upon hearing it, or how a universal vaccine might be effective against unknown and untested diseases are dismissed to give way to an uneasy moralistic plot. It is undoubtedly a more simplistic narrative than the longer and richer «Dear Devil» by Erik Frank Russell, telling the arrival of Martians on Earth (reversing the idea of the Other) only to discover a post-apocalyptic human society whom they help steer on the path back to civilization. 

A quick bibliographic search informs us that Russell’s story has a larger reprint and translation history than Budrys’, from which we might assume a greater fame and acceptance. Was this the reason Silverberg had selected it as the opening story for the anthology? And is it reasonable to assume that Rodrigues had considered instead «Lower than Angels», because it was simpler and shorter, more fitting for the Portuguese audience, and could be interpreted as a tale about colonization? Did he reorder the stories because, after adding the Portuguese material, he perceived common themes and approaches between them? Or did he simply try to imprint his own personal taste, different from the American editor? The lack of further information makes us be cautious in our assumptions. But this we can tell: that Rodrigues could have simply replaced some original stories with the Portuguese material; instead, he kept intact the full contents of American edition so that the Portuguese readers ended up not with a lesser version but with a different, albeit interesting one.

One final comment that is relevant to our analysis: this book was supposed to be the first volume of the Antologia Panorama Antecipação, published by Galeria Panorama, which had been publishing translated SF in the Série Antecipação (about twenty books between 1967 and late 1968). This new books series was dedicated only to anthologies for different themes – its presentation in the introduction of “Terrestres e Estranhos” tells us that «this is the first “Antologia Panorama”. We begin this series with the theme of anticipation». Sadly, it will last only three more books, including another Silverberg-edited anthology, one by Moscowitz and the last one by Singer. None of them with any Portuguese fiction.

By Luís Filipe Silva

Luís Filipe Silva (b. 1969) is a Portuguese SF author of O Futuro à Janela (Caminho award winner in 1991) and several novels, including Terrarium with João Barreiros (1996, redux edition in 2016). He’s also a translator and editor of anthologies, and his short fiction has appeared in several venues in Portugal and abroad. Lately, he’s been researching the history of Portuguese literary SF, having written the entry about “Portugal” for the online SF Encyclopedia

One comment

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: