Andean Science Fiction: If Everything Unites Us… Does Nothingness Separate Us?

Photo: Pedro Lasta, Unsplash.

“Madness is always about to happen. It seems normal that this interests us…”
Pola Oloixarac

1. Ubiquitous Uchronia in the middle of Urubamba

The Fourth Tahuantinsuyo Empire extended from Pasadena, in Nova-California, to Mount Erebus, in the Independent Antarctic Republics; it was, so to speak, war paint on the left cheek of the still-colossal Trans-Andes. They say that they were the Mozarabic tactical engineers who, in 2532, made an unconquerable tectonic cover while trying to destroy the last remaining lithium deposits of the greatest purity according to known laws. The high profile, transnational repudiation was such that it managed to shore up the hundreds of operatic regimes in a triad of city states: Tech-Titlán, Mega Tikal, and Caos/Cusco, all ruled by the iron-fisted administration of the Holy Apostasy. It swore that it would be eternal, like the Fall of the Likeness. They believed that they would last at least 1000 years after the advent of autonomous AIs. Nothing was unequivocal or constant in these imaginary places, not even the evolutionary entropy that had been moving successively toward the horizon for eons.

Even though the meta-Incas tried—devastating vast dimensions with their furtive guerrillas on the blade of the first digital world, their tenacious psycho-political-secret organization watering every HiltonRitz Temple-terrace of the exclusive Urubamba Resort with blood—they did not even manage to approach the morbidity of the Indo-Europeans and Post-Americans. A single weekend ended up satisfying them, as if it were all just some casual holographic vacation from a catalogue. Thus, they managed to increase failed mutinies en masse, along with broken splendor, dark cults in plain view, joining the gangs of castes, lineages, and families buried and demolished by the forced march of memory.

There, in one of the infinite self-valued dwellings of one of the poorest sections on the extreme southern edge of this super city, contemplating interminable sunsets that never died, he felt growing within himself the unresolved tension of the micro-peasantry migrating to the ultra-cities that would soon absorb and deconstruct them, reprogramming them just as was done centuries before. An uncertain fury, only recently floating through his conscience, began to forge within him a prototype for omni-intellect. Still in its larval phase, it ended up terming itself “sciencefictionionado by the grace of Hate.” There, late but aggressively, he was eager to dream of this free Ex-America once again…

 

2. A Holographic Codex in the Hands of a Techno-Scribe

“[Father condor, take me, Brother hawk, guide me, Intercede for me before my mother and my father. I have been here for five days. Without eating, without drinking… Carry, I beg of thee, my words…] And he dies by hanging.
Huamán Poma de Ayala, “Nueva corónica y buen gobierno” [New Chronicle and Good Government] (1615)

It shall not be until José María Arguedas, the restorer of indigenous literature, that we shall rely upon a single mechanism to detach a century of imposters and/or confrontation: joyous guilt. The blog En las nubes de la ficcion [In the Clouds of Fiction] (Universidad del Pacífico, Lima), says it best: “Arguedas is, from the mestizo, modern, and urban perspective of Peru, the conscience of Apu, of the ancestral; the memory that we are always invaders of lands that respond to a spiritual logic that is much more than ancient, sister and daughter of the steep, difficult geography of the Andes”. Following that same conceptual thread, we can cause a ripple in extremis when considering that many of the themes addressed by fantastical literature in our countries elevate us beyond the common appearances and influences of the critical mass of “First World” letters. Thus hidden, with clear conscience and certain sociopolitical implications from the middle of the Twentieth Century, the way has been cleared for fantasy, science fiction, and horror genres.

They share a place for enunciation of the “wrong but happy” while they develop their singularities (often infiltrating children’s and young adult literature for lack of a more adult audience, until it is accepted by media and academia). There, in local plots, human temperatures are mixed with physic geographies (calling themselves Andean or Amazonian). They become unsuspecting heirs/illegitimate children of certain traditions (their utopian fictionalization), reused without arrogant paralysis or fantasy, reviving DNA chains and cloning the social dynamics of mestizo and contaminated cities. The latter do not await a splendid future; rather, they yearn for a rancorous past that is impossible to resurrect. Precisely there – in a hyper-codified no-man’s-land – new authors of Andean Science Fiction will be developed. Let us consider an early Colombian case: the novelette Barranquilla 2132 (1932) by José Antonio Osorio Lizarazo. In it, a man awakens from two hundred years of hibernation, only to learn that mighty futuristic changes, from architecture to food, are only superficial; the thirst for destruction still resides in the heart of his fellowmen, reflected in a mad scientist that, literally, wants to blow up the world. In is juxtaposed to a work from this century: the great novel Vagabunda Bogotá [Drifter Bogota] (2012) by Luis Carlo Barragán. He creates/designs a sympathetic and anonymous character that melts into a city that drifts along, losing himself in decoding until he becomes one more internal pulsation. In short: dystopia and post-humanity in a regional key, certainly against the grain of global futurism.

 

3. This Terrestrial Spine Adorned with Orthopedic Fiction

“The Central Andes occupy Western and Southern South American, including the territories of Peru, Bolivia, northern Chile, northwestern Argentina and southern Ecuador. The region is characterized by topographical and climactic diversity… Paradoxically, this external diversity constitutes one of the fundamental bases for the unity of the Andean territory, where great heights and plains, valleys and peaks, coasts and mountains, constitute the complementary segments of mutual contrast.
Ramiro Matos M.

 

I shall only focus upon three paradigmatic texts: Las Crónicas del Breve Reino [Chronicles of the Brief Kingdom] (2006) by Santiago Páez, a sage novel divided into four journeys which, over the course of 130 years, narrate the collapse of an imaginary Andean country. In the fourth installment, we see a dystopian Quito; the geography and urbanity are devastated. Rather than bestowing a sense of ascendency, time presents a freefalling spiral; as a result, the characters revolve around a singular enterprise: survival. The fictional board is divided between those who have everything (millennialist strongmen), and the rest, who have nothing left to lose (post-apocalyptic mercenaries). Nevertheless, uncontaminated life continues its struggle for victory, as journalist Juan Secaira points out: “…the most relevant character is Cosmo, the image of beauty, banned but gorgeous, seductive… sometimes, he transforms into the destroying angle, and later, into a tiny, protective devil; he plays and unsettles everyone”. As the author himself states, “… the genres employed (historical, crime, adventure, and science fiction) are realist, even the last, which might appear fantastical… They allowed me to show the same reality (of that imaginary country: Ecuador) from four different perspectives, however related and strict”. It is a novel that seeks nothing more or less than to undermine the realist mold from the “historical truths” imposed upon it.

El Primer peruano en el espacio [The First Peruvian in Space] (2016) by Daniel Salvo is an instant classic of Peruvian science fiction. It includes a variety of references to the pop imagination of the genre; it does not seek agreement with the “New Age” that insists upon some ignored extraterrestrial origin for Pre-Columbian cultures. The last short story in the volume, “Quipucamayoc”, presents us with a protagonist that seeks to avenge his village of Incan tyranny; to that end, he becomes an expert in quipus (an mnemonic system that uses wool or cotton cords with knots of one or more color, developed by Andean civilizations) to be able to alter their messages and topple the accounting system of the empires. In other words, we meet an ancient hacker and, perhaps, the only Andean pre-cyber story written up until the present day. The author thinks of the text as “retro Andean science fiction” or “cholopunk”, and instead of appealing to the stereotype of divinely-ordained oppression of the dominant local cultures, it plants a much more reasonable (though unthinkable) theory: What if the Incas mastered technology that we are incapable of understanding or using today? In this manner, his notable story “Quipucamayoc” carries his literary concern about the information saved in that complex Inca data storage system. He turns it into a metaphor of the reason to write science fiction in Peru and Latin America, as though it was about a hacker-scribe that uploaded viruses to the informational systems of the publishing empire.

The short novel Los muros del silencio [The Walls of Silence] (1987), published in Havana, Cuba, tells us the tale of a young linguist that climbs in a mountainous region of Chile until he reaches a lost village where an archaic version of Spanish is still preserved, which he hopes to make a central focus of his future academic research. Thus, without even trying, this group of young and carefree students find a lost civilization, a troop of advance Spanish conquistadors that maintain their roles and customs intact. This archaeologist’s dream can only end in disaster (just like Jurassic Park). The Cuban writer Yoss (José Miguel Sánchez Gómez) explains what he knows about the work: “The Chilean author Eduardo Barredo was already known to Cuban Sci-Fi aficionados for two volumes of short stories: El Valle de los Relámpagos [The Valley of Thunder] and Encuentros Paralelos [Parallel Encounters] and for his superior short novel: Los muros del silencio… This author from Valparaiso, a resident of our country for decades, constituted in the eighties the best example of (Cuban?) science fiction”. Ignored, isolated, facing bias, it gained a visionary sheen with the passage of years and with its hidden presence in studies and critiques of the genre; the same thing that happens to us with the contemplation/negation of the Andean range. This generates dim-wittedness, a stalled textual insularity that will only be bailed out with manual self-satisfaction.

Marcelo Novoa
Cancun, June, 2018

Translated by Michael Redzich

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LALT No. 7
Number 7

The seventh issue of Latin American Literature Today highlights indigenous voices with dossiers dedicated to three Wayuu writers from Colombia and Zapotec poetry and prose. We also pay homage to renowned Venezuelan poet Eugenio Montejo with a special dossier, as well as returning to the strange worlds of Latin American science fiction and opening a new space for Brazilian literature in Portuguese and English.

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