Latin@ Rising

Matthew Goodwin ed.,  Latin@ Rising: An Anthology of Latin@ Science Fiction and Fantasy
Publisher: Wings Press
2017, 272 pages, paperback, $17

I WAS RAISED ON science fiction and fantasy. I reveled in diving into the minds of wizards, intergalactic heroes, and spaceship captains. I was thrilled to go on quests, time travel, and chase after white rabbits. I had found the niche for me, or so I thought. While my experiences with sci fi and fantasy has grown through the years, what I still find profound about these genres is how much they help us escape from reality. But for many years, the stories I read were not mine in that they did not come from authors who were born into the same culture and society I came from. Usually that is what we want from escape: a place where no one is like you. But it became harder to escape into a world where everyone was described in the image of white straight men, and here I was, the daughter of a Mexican immigrant, living in a single parent household, and queer.

Latin@ Rising: An Anthology of Latin@ Science Fiction & Fantasy houses many writers who have broken this monocultural trend. Writer and professor Fredrick Lusi Aldama opens the collection with a confession that will relate to many others still wracked with Catholic guilt. Aldama’s confession is he did not find his love for world literature in the Austens or Twains, but in science fiction comic books. Aldama also eloquently states how academia portrays science fiction and fantasy as lowbrow, thus leaving the analysis of its works to the professors on the fringes. But his point is not falling on deaf ears. The reasons why so many adults like myself still love science fiction and fantasy is because of the new kinds of storytelling it produces. Aldama says, “isn’t it here that the most incredibly innovative storytelling is taking place?” This collection really is if nothing else a testament to the sheer imaginative style of language, characters, and stories.

What I cannot stress enough is how innovative the storytelling is in this anthology. This should tell you how precise the editor, Matthew Goodwin, had to be in choosing the works to include, and they are many and beautifully varied. It is also clear Goodwin wanted to let the stories speak for themselves. In his foreword, Goodwin writes how Latin@/x authors have been contributing to science fiction and fantasy for some time. However, since the beginning of the literary world’s obsession with magical realism from One Hundred Years of Solitude, Latin@/x authors have been misidentified with the style or forced into writing it. Goodwin says, “it has been common among readers to unthinkingly categorize a story written by a Latin@ as a magical realist when there is just a hint of something strange or even when the story is flat out science fiction and fantasy. At its worst, this imposed magical realism is a way to relegate U.S. Latinos and Latinas to the realm of the irrational, the mythological, effectively cutting off the ability to engage in science and technology.” Goodwin is able to articulate the struggles of Latin@/x writers while simultaneously bringing up deep issues that will resonate with many U.S. Latin@/xs.

Knowing that the authors come from extremely different parts of the Latin@/x experience shows how important representation was for the collection: Ana Castillo (Illinois), Ernest Hogan (California), Daína Chaviano (Cuba), and Daniel José Older (Massachusets) to name a handful. As well, if you’re looking for an anthology for the hard working contemporary authors of Latin@/x science fiction and fantasy, you’ll find them here. Many of Latin@ Rising’s authors have new books coming out this year. This anthology is place where you can explore how all of these different authors relate to one another and to new and emerging science fiction and fantasy.

This brings me to how strong of a pull these stories will have on you. The expanse of voices gives the reader more than one world perspective to explore. The stories are emotional and liberating. Take Junot Díaz’s “Monstro.” The Dominican-American writer and winner of the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction for his novel The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is known for making his readers cut their teeth on his style. At first, “Monstro” is classically science fiction: a group of people are facing the end of the world. What we expect: chaos, then cool high-tech solution/miracle, and tears for the heroes. But this story isn’t by the science fiction writers we’re used to, and it’s definitely not telling the story we’ve come to expect. In Díaz’s style, the story is narrated by a “don’t-touch-me-bro” male point of view. This is nothing out of the ordinary for Díaz as many of his readers have come to know this familiar voice featured in his other works, such as Yunior in Oscar Wao. Díaz’s bold perspective choice has become something his readers have embraced, and this is no different for “Monstro.” The narrator suffers from tunnel vison—he’s a little too obsessed with chasing a girl while the world is ending all around him. While this seemingly testosterone-driven plot could lend itself to the banal, Díaz innovates his own trope of the womanizer in order to unveil a surprising messenger of a terrible but avoidable apocalypse. The narrator begins by describing a virus so awful the only way you could handle it was to laugh about it. He says, “A disease that could make a Haitian blacker? It was the joke of the year.” But in nearby Haiti, they call it “La Negrura,” or the Darkness, and there is nothing funny about this new killer of humankind. Unfortunately, the virus strikes the wrong country. Haitians who fall ill are taken to quarantine camps like cattle. Western countries send their researchers, and when the spread slows down, the researchers go home. And as we’ve come to expect from humans, the world goes on as Haitians’ laughter fell silent. As an avid reader of science fiction and fantasy, Díaz was most likely 100% aware that calling the virus “the Darkness” has resonances of Sauron from the Lord of the Rings. However, the real killer of the human spirit here is not the darkness, but the privilege of the people from the light who refuse to share it with those in need.

As seen in “Monstro,” some of the authors in this collection entertain our desire for imaginative worlds while focusing on specific Latin@ and Latinx issues. Violence against women, as seen in Carmen Maria Machado’s “Difficult at Parties,” has fracture lines on the community as well. Machado, like Díaz, tells her readers rather matter-of-factly about the fantastical attributes of her fictional world. Machado is less forthcoming in her revelation than Díaz, however. It takes reading a few pages into the story to learn the female protagonist has discovered that she possesses strange new powers in the aftermath of a sexual assault. Finding the world anxiety-ridden, she closes herself off to everyone except visits from her boyfriend. She no longer wants to engage in the sexual part of their relationship, and for the most part, her boyfriend is understanding.

Machado most aptly comments on violence against women and sexual violation through the fantastical parts of her story. When the protagonist begins to watch adult videos by herself to cope, she starts to hear the actors’ thoughts. This strange new power makes the reader experience the tremendous pain and burden of coping with the aftermath of sexual assault. Machado’s indescribable way of unsettling her readers is masterful. The candor with which she describes her characters shows the respect she has for them, as well as the amount of work she does as an artist.  And as her reader, you won’t want to look away from this dark, psychological fantasy where one’s super powers are used not to save society from itself, but to save the self from society.

The stories in the anthology answer the wishes of so many with a solid collection of science fiction and fantasy from contemporary Latin@ and Latinx writers. More than other genres, science fiction and fantasy keep expanding their potential, but it is only possible as long as we ask more from these worlds. Latin@ Rising is a collection of wishes granted in this regard.

— Marilyse V. Figueroa

Matthew David Goodwin is an Assistant Professor in English at the University of Puerto Rico in Cayey. His work is centered on the topic of migration in Latino/a literature. In particular, he looks at the ways that science fiction, fantasy, and digital culture have been used to express the experience of migration. He completed his PhD in Comparative Literature at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst in 2013. He has published a number of essays on Latino/a speculative fiction for journals such as MELUS and for a number of essay collections including Black and Brown Planets, Alien Imaginations, and The Routledge Companion to Latina/o Popular Culture. He has co-authored an article for Oxford Bibliographies on “Latino/a Science Fiction” with Ilan Stavans. Goodwin has travelled and worked throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and has long been involved in the Latino/a community. From 1997 to 2006 he worked in the Latino/a community of Northwest Arkansas, serving as the director of two non-profit organizations, one focused on legal aid for immigrants and the other focused on worker rights. He now lives in Cayey, Puerto Rico where he teaches courses on Latino/a literature, science fiction, and digital literature.