Spanish Science Fiction: A Round Table Discussion with
Spain's Top Contemporary Voices
Though I spent my first decade or so in Madrid, where I was born, I didn’t discover science fiction until I was a teen, by which time I was living in Germany, where the available supply was all in German or English. As a result, it wasn’t until I returned to Spain in my twenties that I really grasped the existence of Spanish science fiction as its own unique entity and proceeded to read original Spanish SF anthologies and novels. When I recently heard that Mariano Villareal, editor of the Terra Nova anthology series, was going to be working on Castles in Spain / Castillos en el Aire, a new Spanish-English bilingual anthology of Spanish science fiction, fantasy, and horror, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to speak with him and ask if he could help set up a roundtable with some of the anthology’s contributors. Mariano was extremely helpful in connecting us across time zones and facilitating the conversation. And so I’m going to let him introduce our roundtable members:
Elia Barceló, prolific award-winning author of science fiction, fantasy and horror stories and novels, is the genre’s foremost Spanish-language female writer.
César Mallorquí is the author of the short story collection El Círculo de Jericó, the single most awarded book in the history of Spanish science fiction, as well as young adult novels, novels with historical settings, and Jules Verne-style adventures.
Juan Miguel Aguilera is the award-winning co-author, along with Javier Redal, of Mundos en el Abismo and Hijos de la Eternidad, two canonical Spanish space operas; he is also a prolific illustrator, screenplay writer, and soon-to-be director.
Rafael Marín, a scholar of science fiction and the history of comics, is the author of the novel Lágrimas de Luz, considered a classic of modern Spanish science fiction, and several other key works.
Rodolfo Martínez, the publisher of Sportula books, has written, among other things, cyberpunk, space opera, urban fantasy, Sherlock Holmes pastiches and alternate history secret agent romps, in the process earning the field’s top Spanish awards.
Eduardo Vaquerizo, a prolific contributor to short story magazines and anthologies, is the author of Danza de Tinieblas and Memoria de Tinieblas, both of which won the Ignotus (the Spanish equivalent of the Hugo), as well as other well-regarded works richly informed by history.
Javier Negrete, one of Spanish science fiction’s premier stylists, is the author of several critically-acclaimed novels inspired by classical history and mythology, as well as La Espada de Fuego, the first in a bestselling epic fantasy series.
I’d like to start by asking you about your greatest literary influences.
Rodolfo Martínez: They are many and they are quite varied. Authors like Robert Graves, Isaac Asimov, Gabriel García Márquez, John Le Carré, Philip K. Dick, J. R. R. Tolkien.
Eduardo Vaquerizo: The main ones for me would be Cortázar and Borges. I admire them greatly. After that, I love many others, most of them science fiction writers: Le Guin, Bradbury, Lem, Ballard and others.
Elia Barceló: Authors who are or have been influential in my writing: Ray Bradbury, Ursula K. Le Guin, Julio Cortázar, Stephen King, Philip K. Dick, Gonzalo Torrente Ballester, Edgar Allan Poe, Leonard Cohen, and John Fowles. And many individual novels, poems and theater plays.
Rafael Marín: Non-genre writers: García Márquez, Vargas Llosa, Francisco Umbral. From within the field: Stephen King, Robert Howard.
Javier Negrete: Honestly, it changes over time. Within science fiction, I like the imagination of Jack Vance, the speculative audacity of Vernor Vinge, Will McCarthy and Charles Sheffield, the style and character development of George R. R. Martin. I’m also fascinated by Dan Simmons, whose Hyperion and Ilium sagas I have read and re-read. It’s grand stuff, though at times so grand that it can be a bit exhausting.
César Mallorquí: Many of my influences are North American, such as Ray Bradbury and Fredric Brown, but I could also name Jorge Luis Borges and Julio Cortázar.
Juan Miguel Aguilera: Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, Larry Niven and Joe Haldeman.
What is the most exciting thing happening in Spanish science fiction today (authors, movements, editors, etc.)?
Eduardo Vaquerizo: I’d say there are two exciting things going on. On the one hand, and little by little, science fiction is becoming more respectable. More mainstream readers and writers are coming to the genre, which for me is a positive thing. The second item is the growth of small publishers, combined with the presence of more writers. It’s leading to an increased focus on the quality of Spanish science fiction.
Rafael Marín: We’re living through an implosion. Bad times aren’t particularly exciting.
Elia Barceló: I don’t follow Spanish science fiction as closely as I did twenty years ago, but I still try to read current novels and anthologies. It has become impossible to read everything, and that’s good news, because it means that there are lots of new things.
Some great developments are: Gigamesh and its big new bookshop, Lektu and the possibility of buying buys online at moderate prices, the Terra Nova anthologies and all the work Mariano Villarreal is doing, the existence of HispaCon, Sportula as a new publisher, and the new Random House imprint, Fantascy. And there are exciting new voices like Emilio Bueso, Ismael Martínez Biurrun, Felicidad Martínez, Sofía Rhei, Santiago Eximeno.
Rodolfo Martínez: Perhaps the most exciting phenomenon is the appearance of many small publishers who are willing to bet on national authors.
Juan Miguel Aguilera: I would say that one exciting development is the increasing presence of women in our field. Recently I was talking with a friend who wrote a story for my next Akasa-Puspa anthology, and I told her that I thought her approach was fantastic, really innovative. I think female writers are going to help refashion the field.
César Mallorquí: The single most important development is something Elia alluded to: there are more and better writers than ever before.
Let’s take a step back and talk about some Spanish publishing history. John W. Campbell is perhaps the single most influential editor in the history of English-language science fiction. Is there a Spanish John W. Campbell? Who were/are the most important Spanish science fiction editors?
Eduardo Vaquerizo: I could name the people from Nueva Dimensión; Domingo Santos was the principal figure, and the magazine set the standard for science fiction in our country. But for me the single most influential editor was Francisco Porrúa, who had a gigantic presence through the Minotauro publishing house and helped it deliver world-class science fiction. It’s true that Porrúa didn’t publish Spanish writers in his collections, but I think his books opened many minds and led to careers whose goals were high-quality genre writing of literary merit.
Elia Barceló: Domingo Santos and Luis Vigil can be considered, in my opinion, the two most influential science fiction editors in Spain. They started Nueva Dimensión and kept it going for two generations of readers; they opened the world of international science fiction to Spanish readers when Spain was a Third World country, a dictatorship where everything was forbidden. They introduced us to the great American and British writers who were still alive and writing wonders. They even published Russian stories! I really think science fiction exists in Spain because of them.
Later, there were others, of course: Miquel Barceló (fanzine Kandama and then the Nova collection in Ediciones B., and the UPC Award), Alejo Cuervo (Martínez Roca and then Gigamesh). Now Rodolfo Martínez also works as an editor (Sportula). But Santos and Vigil were the old guard and we have lots to thank them for.
Rafael Marín: Domingo Santos, without a doubt. He was a writer, translator, and director of various collections throughout the 70s and 80s. It is to him that we owe the credibility gained by Spanish science fiction authors.
César Mallorquí: As mentioned, I think the two most influential editors in Spain have been Domingo Santos, who among other things founded and co-managed the magazine Nueva Dimensión, and Francisco Porrúa, creator and editor of the magnificent Minotaur collection. I’d also like to mention Miquel Barceló, who edited the Nova collection for Ediciones B.
Juan Miguel Aguilera: No question about it, our John W. Campbell—at least my generation’s—was Domingo Santos. His work enabled the 90s generation to change the face of science fiction in Spain, and this is recognized with the Domingo Santos award, which is issued yearly. After Santos I’d place Miquel Barceló as a critical editor in our history.
The Orbis Library of Science Fiction (1985-1987) collected one hundred titles, mostly translations of English-language science fiction classics, with a few Spanish novels mixed in. Domingo Santos helped curate the selection. How did this collection affect you personally, if it did? What did it do for science fiction in Spain?
Eduardo Vaquerizo: For me the Orbis collection was a kind of mental tin-opener. I was always interested in science and literature and had read Verne and Asimov, but until the Orbis Library came along I hadn’t encountered the big names of English-language science fiction. The collection provided me with concentrated access to top writers. The result was discovery: new ways of thinking about the genre, from poetry to radical adventure, from social criticism to human conflicts. With the Orbis Library Domingo Santos did for novels what he had done for the short story with Nueva Dimensión.
Elia Barceló: I am too old to have been really affected by this collection, excellent though it was. The one which really touched my mind, heart, and soul was the Nebulae series, which I had the good fortune to read in my hometown’s public library when I was in my teens. Later, the publishers Orbis, Nova and Martínez Roca helped me discover new writers and novels, but I was already hooked.
Rafael Marín: Yes, one hundred volumes of a collection primarily dedicated to American science fiction. My novel Lágrimas de Luz appeared as volume sixty-five. An accomplishment and a surprise.
Javier Negrete: I was twenty years old when the collection started, and my interest in science fiction was at its peak, so it was like a godsend. I bought the whole thing, of course, and read most of it. Thanks to Orbis, I discovered authors like Dick and Vance, with whom I’d only been vaguely familiar. And that goes for Spanish authors too, like Bermúdez Castillo—I still remember how much I laughed reading Viaje a un Planeta Wu-Wei or El Señor de la Rueda—and Rafael Marín, an author I would later befriend.
I’ve talked with my friends about this, and a lot of people got hooked on science fiction thanks to the collection’s famous blue volumes. Some of these folks became loyal readers, and some went further and became writers. In my case, I was already writing at the time (I was working on the first draft of my novel La Espada de Fuego), but the Orbis collection sparked my imagination and fueled my creative energy.
César Mallorquí: When this collection appeared in Spain I was already a big genre fan, familiar with almost every title that they included, so it didn’t affect me much personally. But it was an extremely important collection in terms of disseminating science fiction among readers who barely knew it.
Juan Miguel Aguilera: A lot of the Orbis collection was based on the Ultramar collection, also spearheaded by Domingo Santos. The Orbis Library received more publicity and its impact abroad was larger, but here in Spain the Ultramar books, with their wonderful covers by Toni Garcés, are held in higher regard, and I think my peers would agree that they marked the beginning of our Golden Age.
On that subject: It’s been said that the Spanish Golden Age of science fiction occurred at the end of the 1990s. What was your involvement in that Golden Age, as writers and readers?
Elia Barceló: My first story was published in 1980 and my first book in 1989, when I was already living in Austria. I’ve been working in the field of science fiction ever since, though I must admit only part of my work can be considered science fiction because in the intervening years I have expanded into different literary genres.
In any case, 1992 was the moment when, for the first time, I got together with other Spanish science fiction writers in Barcelona, at a short event organized by BEM (the fanzine) that allowed us to meet Joe Haldeman and gave us three days to talk about our favorite literary genre. In the nineties the SF world in Spain seemed to bloom. It was one of these wonderful times when you feel everybody is doing his/her best to contribute. There were lots of fanzines and magazines, new possibilities for publishing, new writers with new ideas, Hispacon every year, the Asturcon in Gijón (held the first weekend of the Semana Negra), the Semana Negra itself (which up to then had been a festival for crime literature), which allowed us to present our latest books, the UPC Award . . . It really was a great time.
I was very active during that decade, although having two kids and not living in Spain didn’t help, but I published three books and a dozen stories, won an Ignotus, contributed stories and articles to all the fanzines and magazines, compiled Visiones Propias II, the yearly anthology of the Asociación de Fantasía y Ciencia Ficción, was guest of honor at a couple of conventions, translated stories from English and German into Spanish, presented lots of books of fellow writers in Gijón, was on many panels, and so on. I was invited twice to Utopiales—the great French Festival held in Nantes—though that might have happened a bit later. Anyway, I was in touch with everybody, I tried to read everything that was being published and to help science fiction in Spain come into its own.
Rafael Marín: I would say that our Golden Age started in the mid-80s, then there was a brief parenthesis at the start of the 90s, and it resumed from the early 90s through to the mid-00s.
Juan Miguel Aguilera: For me it was the start of the 90s, or, more precisely, with the publication of Domingo Santos’ Ultramar collection at the end of the 80s. The first sign of the changes upon us was a novella by Rafael Marín, “Nunca digas buenas noches a un extraño,” which was published in the magazine Nueva Dimensión. At the time I didn’t know Rafael, but I remember thinking that that story was something new, unlike anything that had been published in Spain before. Later the novel Lágrimas de Luz appeared, also by Rafael. The 1987 novel I wrote with Javier Redal, Mundos en el Abismo, is considered by many to be one of the defining moments in the formation of Spanish science fiction as we know it today.
Eduardo Vaquerizo: I think that literature, as any art, happens in short bursts or waves that combine passion with state-of-the-art craftsmanship. The thing is that in the 90s large groups of young people fell deeply in love with the science fiction and fantasy that was being published in Nueva Dimensión, along with the Orbis and Minotauro publishing imprints. We were baby boomers, a generation of youngsters who had grown up reading Verne, Wells, Asimov, Clarke, Sturgeon, Le Guin, Lem, Bradbury, Ballard, Dick and many others. There weren’t a lot of us, but we organized gatherings, usually at cheap Chinese restaurants, where we talked and ate and drank a lot.
We were enthusiastic conversationalists. At these gatherings there would almost always be a publisher present, or someone who produced a fanzine, or perhaps someone who hosted a radio talk show about science fiction and fantasy. We were a hardcore, very active group of fans. I think that was the secret: we were competing, judging each other’s works passionately, and publishing in small, even non-professional markets. But these markets turned out to be a good training ground, and they were quite professional regarding the selection of stories and the editing of fiction. Another powerful lever was the literary prizes, the only way to obtain some money writing science fiction and fantasy for us at the time.
The result was a noticeable rise in quality and in the number of active writers. The changes in the 90s happened as a result of the work done by previous genre fans. They paved the way for us. I’d like to believe that in the 90s we similarly paved the way for newer writers who are flourishing today.
Javier Negrete: I’m a bit skeptical about “Golden Age” labels, as well as those that allegedly define literary generations. That being said, the 90s wasn’t a bad time for science fiction. The UPC award, with its shortcomings—like paying inordinate attention to foreign authors, suggesting an attitude of deference—was really important in getting young or not-so-young authors to write short novels like crazy. The short novel, or novella, is an interesting form, because it forces the author to condense full plots and compelling characters into a small space, and that kind of discipline helps a writer grow.
Conventions like those of Cádiz, Burjassot and Gijón helped diverse authors meet in person. Besides leading to friendships, many of which continue to this day, the cons allowed for an exchange of ideas, projects, dreams . . . An interesting period, to be sure.
César Mallorquí: I was one of the writers that formed the 90s generation we’ve been discussing, so my involvement was significant. Nevertheless, at that time we didn’t have any “generational awareness” whatsoever. We simply wrote what we wanted to write, though we did notice that we were living in a period of great creative stirrings. It was beautiful.
In his 2007 survey of the history of Spanish science fiction (“Notas para una historia de la ciencia ficción en España”), Fernando Ángel Moreno Serrano writes that the 90s saw a growing appreciation for the “importance of language.” Agree/disagree? How important is this awareness today?
Rafael Marín: Writers and readers in the 70s were used to reading translations, in some cases very poor ones. Writers like me who arrived on the scene in the 80s read more mainstream novels by Spanish or South American writers. That influenced our style. Now we write knowing that form and language are important.
César Mallorquí: Until the 90s the few science fiction writers who published in our country were, in general, fans, happy to contribute but somewhat limited from a literary perspective. In the 90s a new generation appeared, better equipped with literary technique, and that was visible in the quality of the texts. Science fiction is, above all, literature, so the importance language is fundamental. That notion continues to be in play today.
Javier Negrete: Yes, I think that in the 90s several authors appeared who, without sacrificing story or plot, paid greater attention to the use of language than in previous decades. Of course, all generalizations are unfair: a writer like Bermúdez Castillo had already written brilliantly.
I suppose the cause of the improvement was that by this time there were more people writing science fiction than before. And with a greater base of writers, it makes sense that even in a statistical way there should be a rising number of authors with a heightened sense of style (I’m thinking of Rafael Marín and León Arsenal) as well as more efficient storytellers who didn’t sacrifice quality (like Juan Miguel Aguilera, César Mallorquí o Rodolfo Martínez).
The same seems to be happening now with authors who emerged after the year 2000. Some of them, like Emilio Bueso, have very well-developed and personal styles, while others like Virginia Pérez create a lot of tension and immediacy—these are just a few examples, of course there are many others. And there’s a great many authors who despite their best intentions don’t reach a quality of craft that I would consider professional. Which is to say, the same situation as twenty years ago. And you see it in other genres too, as confirmed by my experience as a judge for various young adult and historical novel awards.
Eduardo Vaquerizo: I agree. As I said before, thanks to the new wave of Orbis and Minotauro people in the 90s read a lot of new science fiction writers. And we read other things too—other genres, literature in our mother tongue, classics of world literature. Our interest was in literature first and foremost; with science fiction as a special case, unlike more conservative academics and mainstream writers who argue that literature and science fiction are distinct. Science fiction and fantasy are the literature of the marvelous. Literature is created through language, so of course we became interested in language. Writers must hone their artistic and communicative intentions and abilities to push language beyond its formals limits.
Elia Barceló: Moreno Serrano is quite right, in my opinion, but I think this awareness had already formed in the mid-eighties, especially with writers like Rafael Marín, César Mallorquí and myself, all three of us coming not from “scientific” studies but from an academic training in the humanities.
Up to 1980, the average science fiction reader read only science fiction and lacked any (or almost any) knowledge of classical or mainstream literature. Most of the novels he had read—I say “he” because the typical science fiction reader at the time was male—were badly translated American novels by translators who couldn’t even write good Spanish prose. With this “school,” the few Spanish genre writers used to focus on story, idea, usually a simple plot. Style wasn’t a consideration.
When our generation started to write, many of us had university training and a few of us had majored in philology or history. We had read the classics, the great poets, and modern Latin American authors (García Márquez, Vargas Llosa, Cortázar, Borges, etc.). Some of us could also read texts in different languages and were not forced to rely on the terrible translations that were typical of the genre.
We developed an awareness of the language we were using and not only that: we became aware that, when writing science fiction, we were writing literary texts. Ideas are important and plot is important, as are all elements in a story or novel, but in literature the core is language: its richness, its appropriateness, the way it is used to convey emotions, ideas, feelings . . . But at that time we had to fight against readers (and publishers, “critics,” etc.) who didn’t see the importance of writing “well.”
I think this awareness is still present today and most young writers know you can only write a good novel if you can use language as a writer, if you’re writing literature. But I also fear that this awareness might disappear in the near future because nowadays anybody can write anything, put it on the Internet and hope it is read by thousands who don’t care if it is literature or not.
Juan Miguel Aguilera: I completely agree with the observation. Rafael Marín, Elia Barceló, Rodolfo Martínez, Javier Negrete, and I, part of the 90s generation, understood that good ideas weren’t enough to write science fiction novels or short stories. The way in which a story is told is as important as the idea. In the end science fiction is a literary genre and there are no excuses for bad writing.
In the essay “Science Fiction from Spain” Mariano Villareal observes that one out of ten new genre releases in Spain is written by a woman. Why are there so few women in Spanish science fiction? Do you see this changing anytime soon?
Eduardo Vaquerizo: At least there is one in this conversation (Elia). I remember my first fan days, my first conventions. There was always was a panel titled “Women and Science Fiction.” These days, women are becoming more interested in science fiction in Spain, because they are taking on more active roles in Spanish society. But yes, there is still a lot of room for improvement.
Elia Barceló: This is one of the most frequently asked questions in Spanish science fiction and one without a clear answer. One often hears that the name of the genre has made girls think science fiction is primarily about science and they have the idea that science is not a girls’ domain. But I don’t really think so, because there are lots of women scientists in Spain, which means that there are lots of women interested in science. But apparently not in fiction or in the mixture of both.
Like most mainstream readers, women do not generally read science fiction and this means that when women readers get to the point when they want to become writers, they write what they usually read: mainstream, crime, mystery, historical novels, romance, etc.
I was lucky enough to be a science fiction reader from the start, and not only that, I had the good fortune of discovering the great women writers of the United States in my youth: Ursula K. Le Guin, James Tiptree, Jr., Joanna Russ, Marion Zimmer Bradley, later Connie Willis. They were amazing! Much more importantly, I didn’t have to be an engineer or an astrophysicist to do it. I could write science fiction with my imagination, my heart, my use of language and any knowledge I might possess about the world.
Nowadays I have the impression that more women are having this kind of experience and getting to write science fiction. But this is only something you do when you are deeply in love with the genre; if that’s not the case, as a young inexperienced writer you try to get as many readers as possible, you want your first novel to be a success and make lots of money . . . and that is not usually true for science fiction, so you try to do something more like El Tiempo Entre Costuras 🙂
César Mallorquí: The same thing was true in the United States, for example during the Golden Age. In the beginning science fiction had a predominantly male readership. Pulp covers, after all, would show BEMs kidnapping beautiful girls who were scantily clad, rather than hot semi-naked young men. Modern science fiction reached Spain in the 50s, so we’re behind when it comes to being more inclusive of women in the genre. But slowly and surely the situation is improving and each year there are more female readers and writers. In fact, one of the best Spanish science fiction writers is a woman—Elia.
Javier Negrete: I don’t know the reason, so I can only guess. As a professor, I’ve noticed that more women tend to study humanities than sciences, and in some way—even if it’s just because of the name—they tend to associate science fiction with science. Maybe that’s why the young female writers I know tend to gravitate more towards fantasy than science fiction, or even historical novels, which is also I genre I work in. Will the situation change? I’m not sure. In a way, I’m not sure it needs to: every writer, male or female, should be free to choose whatever genre they like best and to fashion whatever fictional worlds they want.
Juan Miguel Aguilera: Fortunately the situation is changing. As I see it, the most interesting stories in the two anthologies set in my Akasa-Puspa universe are written by women. I’ve always believed that female writers bring a new, fresh perspective to science fiction, something that hasn’t happened in Spain but which is now—perhaps because of the influence of female fantasy writers—underway. My third Akasa-Puspa anthology will feature an even greater number of women.
What impact has the Spanish financial crisis had on science fiction in Spain, besides reducing publishing?
Eduardo Vaquerizo: I think that we have lived through several intermixed crises. The publishing crisis is a paradigm shift crisis. We are at the start of an all-digital world, but we’re lacking the industrial and cultural knowledge to sustain this new direction. Technology has developed more quickly than society has, and now we have new ways of distributing literature without a support system in place, a way to make it economically sustainable. Music has experienced a similar crisis, as well as cinema, and, with 3D printers, the manufacturing industry will be next.
In Spain, I think that the financial crisis has led people to read more, not less, looking for distraction and, perhaps, insight. They read more but don’t pay for what they read, because the system has not adapted to the new paradigm.
Elia Barceló: I’m not sure I’m qualified to answer this question; I live too far away to be aware of everyday life in Spain. The only thing that comes to mind—and I’m not sure if it’s really related to the crisis or to the general state of the world—is the abundance of dystopias we are reading and writing of late. There seems to be a sort of “end of times” feeling that promotes the writing of dark futures full of destruction, ecological chaos, etc. Optimism and a belief in science are things of the past.
César Mallorquí: Yes, I think the main impact can be seen in the themes writers choose, often laden with pessimism. Nowadays dystopias and catastrophes are thriving.
Rafael Marín: The crisis has returned us to the place where we started. Publishers have cut down their publications enormously. A new phenomenon has arisen, that of the fan who self-edits his work and seeks crowd-funding. Or small publishers. There are more people writing, there are lots of small publishers, but we’ve lost some quality along the way, and the chance to chance a wider audience.
Javier Negrete: The combination of the crisis with internet piracy and new pastimes is proving to be devastating for the publishing world and for writers. Midlist authors have practically vanished. And that’s true in SF as well as other genres. Will we bounce back? I’m not sure.
Juan Miguel Aguilera: The first impact was that a lot of readers ran away to fantasy, a more escapist genre. Maybe the crisis made it harder to believe in the future, or real life was deemed depressing enough. But now the opposite is happening and dystopias are proving the most successful subgenre. The most recent anthology to which I contributed is Mañana Todavía (edited by Ricard Ruiz Garzón and published by Fantascy) and it deals with dystopias from the point of view of very different writers, like Rosa Montero, Elia Barceló, José María Merino, Javier Negrete, and me. It’s doing very well.
If I wanted to read the best Spanish science fiction short stories, where would be a good place to start?
Elia Barceló: There are a couple of people you could ask: Julián Díaz, Juan Manuel Santiago, Fernando Ángel Moreno, Santiago Solans, Rudy Martínez and, of course, Mariano Villarreal. They have probably read every SF short story ever published in Spain. I would also recommend the stories published in Artifex and now in Terra Nova. There are also lots of them—very good ones—in forgotten magazines and fanzines, and in Nueva Dimensión if you wanted to start at the beginning.
Eduardo Vaquerizo: The Nueva Dimensión magazines, for older stories, and the fanzines edited in the 90s. The problem, though, is that these are almost impossible to find. Recently the publisher Cyberdark has started a collection of anthologies whose goal is to rescue the best short stories of this period. Cyberdark published an anthology called Dulces Dieciséis with my strongest short fiction of the 90s, along with another volume called El Noveno Capítulo that collected some of Armando Boix’s best stories. They’re planning to edit about twenty more anthologies covering that time. It’s a great idea to make these stories available again.
Of course, there’s also more recent short fiction that’s very good, but it’s pretty easy to find. The logical starting point would be the Internet. There are also several interesting themed anthologies containing strong recent work by current writers as well.
Rafael Marín: Yes, there are good anthologies and author collections out there. Anthologies depend a lot on the tastes and biases of their editors. I think author collections are better at showcasing what writers are capable of, so I prefer collections.
César Mallorquí: There are two more-or-less recent books that offer an interesting panorama of Spanish science fiction short stories: Prospectivas (Salto de Página, 2012), edited by Fernando Ángel Moreno, and Historia y Antología de la Ciencia Ficción Española (Cátedra, 2014), edited by Julián Díez and Fernando Ángel Moreno.
Juan Miguel Aguilera: We’re all very different, so it really depends on what kind of SF subgenre you enjoy. Since we’ve talked about women and science fiction, I’d recommend the story “La textura de las palabras” by Felicidad Martínez, which is set in my Akasa-Puspa universe, and which is so original in its approach that it astounded me. I’d also recommend the anthology we mentioned before, Mañana Todavía, in which you’ll find just about every author who is currently relevant in Spanish science fiction.
Do you think Spanish science fiction has been more influenced by U.S. or European (including U.K.) authors and works?
Juan Miguel Aguilera: At one point U.S. science fiction dominated the Spanish scene completely. But since the 90s I’d say we’ve been finding our own voice. I’m interested in French science fiction—all of my novels appear in France, sometimes even before they do in Spain, and I know a lot of French authors, who unfortunately aren’t as popular in Spain as they ought to be.
Javier Negrete: In my case, I’ve read a lot of U.S. science fiction, some U.K. stuff and a little from the rest of Europe. I think that’s been mostly due to availability. So yes, I suppose the U.S. has exerted the most influence. I tend to like English-language literature in general, not only science fiction but other genres.
César Mallorquí: I concur, the United States has influenced Spanish SF the most, and then the U.K. in second place. Fortunately, one of the accomplishments of the 90s generation we’ve been discussing was to put that influence to good use and adapt its best elements towards the sensibilities and realities of Spain.
Eduardo Vaquerizo: I think that English science fiction—and I’m not separating between British and North American here—led the genre for years. There are a lot of great writers and some masters. That was the principal influence in Spain, but the European tradition has also played a part. For me, for example, Stanislaw Lem was very important. And of course we shouldn’t forget Jules Verne.
Elia Barceló: Science fiction in Spain has been until recently (and probably it still is, though not so strongly) a branch of English-language science fiction that is science fiction originally written in English. The influence of French, Russian, Italian, German, Polish or Scandinavian science fiction is insignificant compared to the influence of North American and British authors.
The greatest influence is probably American, although in the 90s the influence of the British New Thing was important too.
Until 2012 the Ignotus prize, an important Spanish science fiction award, was voted on by members of the Spanish Association of Fantasy, Science Fiction, and Horror (AEFCFT) and by HispaCon attendees. Now anyone can register and vote. What prompted this change? Do you think the Hugo awards should similarly be opened up beyond Worldcon members?
Juan Miguel Aguilera: I’m actually the Spanish writer to have won the most Ignotus awards in the history of Spanish science fiction, as writer and illustrator. It is quite prestigious and particularly helpful when you’re starting out. Making the voting process accessible to more people has perhaps been a move to increase the number of voters, to make things more democratic. I’m not sure if that’s good or not; we’ll see during the next award season!
Elia Barceló: I have not given much thought to the question because I don’t really believe in such things—especially now, with so many ways of influencing the voters’ opinions and the sudden fashions that lead people to vote for this or that just because everybody is talking about it on Twitter.
Eduardo Vaquerizo: Yes, the idea was to obtain more votes, which should in turn make the Ignotus more representative of what people like, more universal in a way. I don’t think the Hugos have this problem because Worldcon fandom is larger. An open voting process could make the prize less specialized, which might be good or bad according to one’s preference. Would you prefer winners who are more famous—more bestsellers maybe, more mainstream writers—or not?
César Mallorquí: As the others have pointed out, I suppose that the reason for the change in the way the Ignotus is selected was the low number of Association members. Regarding the question of the Hugos . . . I’m not sure, to be honest. Worldcon has a lot of members, so it may already represent the general opinion of fans. I don’t think a change is necessary, but I also wouldn’t really see any downside to it.
What single work of Spanish science fiction would you most like to see translated into other languages (including English)?
Rodolfo Martínez: Definitely Viaje a un Planeta Wu-Wei by Gabriel Bermúdez Castillo.
Elia Barceló: I think the best way to show what Spain has to offer is to translate a dozen (or twenty) stories and providing a panorama of different styles and ways of thinking. All of the authors mentioned in these conversations have very interesting visions to share with non-Spanish readers. And, of course, if I do say so myself, my trilogy Anima Mundi might be a candidate for translation.
Eduardo Vaquerizo: I’ll be honest and say that I’d like my own steampunk imperial adventure, Danza de Tinieblas, published in English. Also, El Ciclo de la Luna Roja by Jose Antonio Cotrina (a trilogy), Seis by Daniel Mares, Mundos en el Abismo by Juan Miguel Aguilera and Javier Redal, Consecuencias Naturales by Elia Barceló, and Alejandro Magno y las Águilas de Roma by J. Negrete.
Rafael Marín: Would it be rude to suggest my own work?
Javier Negrete: I’d suggest my Tramórea saga (one has to self-promote, after all), and I’d also pick Mundos en el Abismo by Aguilera and Redal. It’s already been translated into other languages, but not English, and I think it would work well in the U.K./U.S. markets.
Juan Miguel Aguilera: As it happens, a few years ago one of my novels was mentioned on the Locus blog in this context. My 1998 novel La Locura de Dios was quoted as being the winner of the Somebody-Please-Translate Award. So I’m going to listen to the author of that piece pick the same novel for translation into English. It’s already been translated into other languages, by the way; it won the Imaginales award in France and the Bob Morane award in Belgium.
What are your current and forthcoming projects?
Eduardo Vaquerizo: In June Random House, through its Fantascy imprint, will publish my novel Nos Mienten, written in the mood of political turmoil in which we live in Spain today. I’m currently writing a prequel to Danza de Tinieblas, my steampunk uchronia about a Spanish empire that survives into the present. The jonbar point occurs in the 16th century, following a war of succession caused by the death of Felipe II in a hunting accident. It was a very ambitious project because of the richness of the real Spanish Renaissance, mixed with the steampunk and uchronia propositions. I hope to have the prequel finished in half a year or so.
After that, I’m considering writing a techno-thriller about big transport airplanes. But that’s just one of several possible ideas . . .
Elia Barceló: I just finished writing a science fiction trilogy, Anima Mundi, which is a sort of crossover/hybrid novel for readers of all ages. It starts as a kind of love story for young people and gets darker and darker and more science-fictional with every page. The third part, Hijos de las Estrellas, will be published at the end of March.
I’ve started writing a dystopia with a strong gender theme, but there is another (mainstream) novel competing for my attention and I still don’t know which one will get written first.
I’ve almost finished compiling a collection of my short stories (in different genres), and that will be probably published before the summer.
Finally, I’ll be participating in two forthcoming SF anthologies with two short stories. One is finished, the other still in my mind.
Rafael Marín: I’m writing a historical novel. Adventures in the 16th century.
Rodolfo Martínez: I’m finishing La Sombra del Adepto, the fourth novel in a sequence that started with El Adepto de la Reina in 2009. I’m also working on a novel that takes as its starting point my short story “En el Ático,” which appeared in the anthology Mañana Todavía. And in the not-too-distant future I’d like to return to my Encrucijada series: police stories in a pseudo-Roman setting.
Javier Negrete: I’m currently continuing the history of Rome which I began in Roma Victoriosa and continued in Roma Invicta. I can’t talk about other projects I’m working on right now, but I hope to return to science fiction, which continues to be my favorite genre.
César Mallorquí: In September of 2015 a new collection of my fantasy and short stories will appear, Trece Monos, published by Random House. Right now I’m working on a young adult novel, still untitled, which—remember the pessimism we were talking about before?—chronicles the life story of three brothers during the collapse of civilization.
Juan Miguel Aguilera: In addition to my new Akasa-Puspa anthology, which I’ve already mentioned, I’m working on the script of a science fiction movie called Mindgate, which will be filmed in the U.S. The protagonist will be played by Rachael Leigh Cook. This will be my second film; my first was Stranded. However, this time I’ll be directing as well.
Note: A special thank you to Alicia Amaro, who helped with the translation.
Alvaro is the co-author, with Robert Silverberg, of When the Blue Shift Comes, which received a starred review from Library Journal. Alvaro's short fiction and poetry have appeared or are forthcoming in Analog, Nature, Galaxy's Edge, Apex and other venues, and Alvaro was nominated for the 2013 Rhysling Award. Alvaro's reviews, critical essays and interviews have appeared in The Los Angeles Review of Books, Strange Horizons, SF Signal, The New York Review of Science Fiction, Foundation, and other markets. Alvaro currently edits the blog for Locus.