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Jana Bianchi by Jessica Liar

There are also other (ghosts), mainly present at the beaches, usually close to the sea and by the riversides. They’re called baetatá, which means “made of fire”. One can’t see nothing besides a flashing beam running around; they quickly seize people and kill them, like the curupiras, whatever it is—we don’t know it for sure.

Joseph of Anchieta in 1560, in one of his letters from Brazil to Portugal

Introduction

While I write these words, the Amazon rainforest is burning. Backed up by new anti-environmental legislation approved by the Brazilian president, big players of agribusiness simply set the forest on fire.

It’s impossible not to think about our country’s name. It’s said to come from a native tree of bright red wood, so bright Portuguese colonizers thought it resembled an ember—a brasa. They overwrote its local tupi name (ibirapitanga), decided to call it pau-brasil—literally wood-of-ember—and, later, named this place after the resource they mercilessly explored disregarding all native people who lived here. Who would imagine white, rich European descendants would be literally burning the forest down five centuries later, disregarding all native people descendants who still live here?

This may seem a bitter introduction, but it says a lot about our current sociopolitical context—and, consequently, about the state of play of Brazilian SFF. And, if I’m to talk about it, I necessarily need to talk about the colonization, cycles, and politics. So, I’ll start with the past.

Before

It’s hard to pinpoint when Brazilian SFF started. According to the book Fantástico brasileiro: o insólito literário do romantismo ao fantasismo [Brazilian Fantastic: the Uncanny, from the Romantism to the Fantasism] by Bruno Anselmi Matangrano and Enéias Tavares, nineteenth-century Brazilian literature had only sporadic manifestations of works with fantastic elements—usually, subtle ones. 

However, it’s now broadly accepted that our first SFF novel was Rainha do ignoto [Queen of the Unknown]—written in 1899 by Emília Freitas, a feminist and abolitionist woman from the Northeast of Brazil. It tells the story of a secret society of righteous women, who call themselves Paladins of the Mist and live on an island on the coast of the state of Ceará, which is concealed from unwanted eyes by a mysterious fog. Unfortunately, the book and Emília sank into obscurity until the 1980s, hidden like the island itself—except it was not a voluntary concealment, but a deliberate erasing due to the very fact Freitas was a feminist and abolitionist woman from the Northeast of Brazil.

Besides other occasional fantasy and science fiction works in the following years (mainly short fiction from mainstream authors), a structured production of science fiction started in the 1930s, with Jerônymo Monteiro—who, during the 1960s, was one of the founders of the Brazilian Society of Science Fiction. He belongs to what is retrospectively known as the First Wave of Brazilian Science Fiction, together with writers such as André Carneiro, Gumercindo Rocha Dórea, and Dinah Silveira de Queiroz.

In 1970, Monteiro created the Magazine de Ficção Científica, the Brazilian version of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Portuguese has a word to refer to “magazine,” “revista,” but the anglicized term was the one chosen to name the first national venue to publish Brazilian SFF (along with translated stories). And I highlight this because although these writers’ works were marked by the Brazilian settings and themes that could already be read as “ours,” the First Wave was still situated in a strongly colonized context, with references and analogies to anglophone works. Big trees, deep roots.

Then came the 1980s/1990s, and the Second Wave of Brazilian Science Fiction arrived. It brought fanzines, a significant fanbase, science fiction conventions, and regular production and publishing by names still in activity, such as Fábio Fernandes, Roberto de Sousa Causo, Finisia Fideli, Octavio Aragão, Bráulio Tavares, and Ivan Carlos Regina. The Second Wave also brought the first manifesto of the genre—the Anthropophagic Manifesto of Brazilian Science Fiction, proposed by Regina in 1988.

Exactly sixty years before, in 1928, poet Oswald de Andrade had written the original Anthropophagic Manifesto, which stated Brazilian artists should “swallow” the European cultural legacy and “digest” it in order to produce a legit, “non-catechized” Brazilian art. De Andrade dated it as from the “Year 374 after the swallowing of Bishop Sardinha,” an allusion to the story of the first bishop to come to Brazil, who allegedly was killed and devoured by “anthropophagic natives” in 1556.

In his Manifesto, Regina evokes de Andrade’s and says:

A boitatá of Cesium eyes lurks in the country’s central plateau. […] We urgently need to swallow, besides Bishop Sardinha, the laser gun, the mad scientist, the good alien, the invincible hero, the space folding, the bad alien, the lady with perfect legs and a tiny-bit brain, the flying saucers—which are so far from Brazilian reality as the farthest star. […] A caipora clad on green and yellow devours hamburgers, destroys satellites, swallow guns, break technologies apart. A native Brazilian will disembark from a bright, colorful star.

This time, the Manifesto is dated as from the “Year 1 after Goiânia accident”—a reference to the second largest radioactive disaster of the world after Chernobyl, which happened right at the center of Brazil when a radiotherapy source full of Cesium-137 was recklessly abandoned, just to be later found and dismantled by laypeople. It caused four direct deaths and contaminated more than 1,600 people.

It is very significant that the ground zero for this new Brazilian science fiction was set around an incident that says so much about Brazil and our troubled love-hate relationship with science.

The Third Wave of Brazilian Science Fiction came in, carried by the winds of the internet and social media. It’s the wave we’re currently surfing.

The work it encompasses is entrenched with the anthropophagic ideas proposed by Regina and includes names such as Cristina Lasaitis, Ana Cristina Rodrigues, Lady Sybylla, Cirilo Lemos, Vic Viera (formerly known as Alliah), Santiago Santos, Andréa del Fuego, and Luiz Bras—the penname of Nelson de Oliveira, who, in 2018, edited Fractais tropicais [Tropical Fractals]. The awarded anthology has thirty short stories from all three waves and a robust introduction about the current Brazilian SF panorama.

In parallel with that, Brazilian fantasy followed a similar—but more explosive—trajectory. The first Brazilian SFF writer to make the best-seller lists, André Vianco, published Os sete [The Seven] in 1999 and soon became known by his books about vampires, all set in Brazilian cities and soaked in our very unique humor, cynicism, and mongrel syndrome. Eight years later, Eduardo Spohr published A batalha do apocalipse [The Battle of Apocalypse], mainly set in a Rio de Janeiro populated by angels and demons—important fantastic elements in a country where almost 90% of the population identifies as a Christian.

In 2002, Jovem Nerd was created. In 2007, this nerd portal was responsible for selling the first indie version of Spohr’s book, and in 2011 they launched their first RPG podcast, NerdCast Especiais RPG, which certainly helped boost awareness/knowledge of SFF amongst the broader public. Currently, each RPG series has about three million downloads, and original novels featuring some of the podcast’s characters were published.

To this day, it’s known Vianco and Spohr together have sold more than 1.7 million books—impressive numbers in the context of the Brazilian publishing market. The standard first run for SFF is about two thousand to three thousand books, and big publishing houses have tough times even with award-winning titles and acclaimed authors on their rosters. I will get back to the market later, but almost two decades later, the broader access to great-quality translated fiction, combined with years of political unrest, turned the new generation of Brazilian SFF writers into truly cultural anthropophagi.

We finally seem to have reached a legitimate, recognizable set of Brazilian SFF themes and features. Let’s tour through it.

Now: Main Themes, Features, and Major Writers

The first thing to note is that we’re finally producing more diverse fiction—not only starring more diverse characters and themes, but also written by more diverse authors. By “more diverse,” I unfortunately don’t mean “as diverse as it should be.” Even in a country with great ethnic and social variety, we still have a mainly male, white, cishet market. However, following the global trend, our SFF fiction (together with young adults) has been pioneering in bringing stories full of diversity to a larger public.

One example is Lavinia Rocha, who started publishing her dystopic trilogy in 2015, with Entre 3 mundos [Between 3 Worlds]. It’s an example of a fantasy story deeply rooted in social issues, featuring a young black girl and set in a physically and socially segregated Brazil.

Another example is the first book published by Jarid Arraes—a new talent of Brazilian mainstream literature. Although her career was later consolidated as mostly non-SFF, she published As lendas de Dandara (The Legends of Dandara) in 2016. It retells the stories of Dandara de Palmares—a historic character of Brazilian colonial times, a black warrior known for standing against slavery together with Zumbi—with touches of fantasy and magical realism.

Cirilo Lemos is an exponent of the Third Wave of Brazilian Science Fiction, born and raised in the suburbs of Nova Iguaçu (Rio de Janeiro). His highly praised work is deeply rooted in politics and social criticism. For instance, his short story “Entre as gotas de chuva, encruzilhada” [“Amongst the raindrops, the crossroad”] (published in the Aqui quem fala é da Terra [We’re Calling from Earth] anthology), is an emotive and crude magical realism story which discusses the violent life of the homeless people and their rights to dreaming. In 2019, it was shortlisted for two of the most important Brazilian SFF awards.

Brazilian Afrofuturism is also gaining momentum. Fábio Kabral started publishing his series of Afrofuturistic books in 2017, with O caçador cibernético da rua 13 [The Cybernetic Hunter of Street 13], followed by A cientista guerreira do facão furioso [The Warrior-Scientist of the Furious Machete] in 2019. They’re set in the futuristic complex of Ketu Three—in his own words, “home of melaninated people, daughters and sons of the Orishas; a metropolis ruled by priestess-businesswomen and full of technologies fueled by ghost-matter.” In parallel with that, Lu Ain-Zaila published her Sankofia: breves histórias afrofuturistas [Sankofia: Short Afrofuturistic Stories] in 2018, a collection of twelve short stories of different subgenres and inspirations, united by the Afrofuturistic atmosphere and aesthetics.

We expect two more important Afrofuturist books for 2020 and 2021: a novel from Ale Santos, an anti-racism activist known as @savagefiction on Twitter, where he regularly posts threads about black culture and history, and a novelette from Waldon Souza, who researches Afrofuturism at the University of Brasilia. Santos’s book will be set in a universe strongly influenced by hip-hop culture, already explored in his short story “Cangoma”. Souza’s novella Oceanïc is set in a technological metropolis built in the back of a huge oceanic living creature and stars melaninated characters involved in politics and nanorobotics.

Another new non-white voice to look out for is Sergio Motta. After publishing the novelette Ciberbochicho [Cyberbuzz]—a very acid and critical cyberpunk story set in a futuristic Brazil—in the SFF magazine Mafagafo, he has a short-fiction collection scheduled for 2020, with magical realism stories about the influence of African ancestralism and mysticism with multiple origins on the lives of people at favelas and outskirts of contemporary São Paulo.

Jim Anotsu is probably the most prominent name when we talk about non-white Brazilian SFF authors who write non-white characters. In 2014, he published Rani e o Sino da Divisão [Rani and the Division Bell], a middle-grade urban fantasy set in the Minas Gerais countryside and starring Rani, a black girl who discovers she’s a shaman. 

Together with Vic Viera, Anotsu also wrote the Irradiative Manifesto in 2015, asking for “diversity in Brazilian speculative fiction.”

Besides a call for even more ethnically diverse stories—regarding native Brazilian peoples, for instance, as they have been systematically neglected by the literary market as a whole—the manifesto includes a call for more works with characters (and from authors) with diverse sexual orientations and gender identities, such as Metanfetaedro, by Vic Viera, and Neon Azul [Neon Azul] and Exorcismos, amores e uma dose de blues [Exorcisms, Love and a Shot of Blues], by Eric Novello.

The literary agency Página 7 is also doing very important work for the publication of LGBTQIA+ stories. Besides representing very diverse authors inside the big Brazilian publishing houses, they’re also publishing their own anthologies and standalone e-books edited by Gui Liaga and Taissa Reis, many of them featuring SFF short stories by LGBTQIA+ and ethnically diverse authors—such as the short story Sabor da maré [With the Flow] by Novello.

And it’s impossible to talk about Novello without pointing out another important characteristic of our current state of play: the Brazilian political situation.

In his more recent book, Ninguém nasce herói [No One is Born a Hero]—published in 2017 by Seguinte, an imprint of Companhia das Letras, one of the biggest publishing houses of Brazil—a group of characters of different ethnicities, sexual orientations, and gender identities oppose The Chosen One, a religious fundamentalist who has seized the presidency and, aided by his urban militia, is oppressing, censoring, and prosecuting minorities. (We wish it was mere fiction.)

Other authors have been approaching our sociopolitical context in their works since the mid-2010s, when the June Journeys (or Brazilian Spring) turned it into a very hot topic.

Bárbara Morais, for instance, published her trilogy Anômalos [Anomalous] from 2013 to 2015. It stars a group of individuals with special powers who, segregated and ostracized by those with no powers, fight an openly authoritarian government. In 2018, Mensageira da sorte [Luck’s Messenger], by Fernanda Nia, features a young woman who is enlisted into a bureaucratic supernatural public department in Rio de Janeiro and discovers a corrupt scheme to siphon luck to the benefit of powerful politics.

In some works, the similarities with reality are blatant. For instance, in <deletado> [The History Crawler], a novelette also published at Mafagafo, in 2018, Rodrigo Assis Mesquita proposes a near-future Brazil on the verge of environmental collapse, where the state is using technology to overwrite the truth at its will and manipulate the citizens. Scary, especially when you consider the current Brazilian president was elected with a shameless use of fake news, social media bots, and an illegal spamming campaign using messaging apps—proof of how good SFF authors can digest the reality and project the alternative futures to the point that their fiction is almost prescient.  

Another book influenced by the current instability of Brazilian politics is Ordem Vermelha: filhos da degradação [Red Order: Children of Degradation], by Felipe Castilho. The high fantasy book has been defined by Castilho as “Cidade de Deus [City of God] meets Middle-earth.” It also made history by being sponsored by São Paulo Comic Con Experience, currently the largest pop-culture festival in the world. Even in the current adverse economic scenario, it has reached all Brazilian best-selling lists.

Castilho’s previous work has also touched on another trending topic of Brazilian SFF: the revival of our folklore, currently stigmatized as childish mainly due to the Sítio do Picapau Amarelo [The Yellow Woodpecker Ranch] series of children’s books, published between 1920 and 1940. (Even if you’re not Brazilian, you may have been aware of Sítio through the meme of the “blond alligator lady”—from which you can infer the reputation of the Brazilian myths).

Between 2012 and 2015, Castilho published three titles in his tetralogy Legado Folclórico [Folkloric Legacy], in which figures from myths are not only real, but they also systematically stand against environmental destruction and big corporations. Legado Folclórico’s good reception opened an opportunity for independent authors, such as Lauro Kociuba with the e-book Raízes de vento e sangue [Roots Made of Wind and Blood]—a collection of seven short stories about Brazilian myths, written in experimental prose—and Ian Fraser, both with the Araruama [Araruama] series and the standalone Noir carnavalesco [Carnaval Noir]. The series is based on several Native South and Central American mythologies, while the other book proposes a contemporary setting where the figures of the main Brazilian myths coexist with humans.

All Fraser’s books were first published through crowdsourcing between 2017 and 2019, collectively raising almost R$140,000 (almost US$35,000), and their success proved there is a potential market for folklore-based SFF.

Fraser is from Bahia, a state in the Brazilian Northeast. This is worthy of note because publishers are mainly buying Brazilian SFF (as well as mainstream literature) from authors from the Southeast, the wealthiest region of Brazil.

However, it’s a changing trend: currently, SFF stories either written by authors from places other than Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo or set in non-RJ/SP cities have started being published by big publishing houses and venues, reaching a broader audience.

For instance, Roberta Spindler, from northern Pará, had her Heróis de Novigrath [Heroes of Novigrath] published in 2018 by Suma, another imprint from Companhia das Letras. Aline Valek, a writer, illustrator, and activist born in Minas Gerais and raised in Brasília, published her science fiction book As águas-vivas não sabem de si [Jellyfishes Have no Self-Awareness] at big publisher Fantástica Rocco.

There are also cases such as Thiago Lee and Paola Siviero. Born in Sergipe, another northeastern state, Lee wrote O homem vazio [The Empty Man], published in 2018 through a SP municipal program of literature fomentation. It’s an urban fantasy set in São Paulo, which deals with solitude in big cities—a theme strongly related to the migration inside a continental country such as Brazil. And Siviero, although born and raised in São Paulo, published a fixup set in different small cities in the Northeast of Brazil, O auto da Maga Josefa [Act of Josefa the Witch]. It was published in 2018 and shortlisted for all three main Brazilian SFF awards, winning two of them.

And, to finish with a flourish, there is the fact that the most prized Brazilian SFF author, Socorro Acioli, is not from Rio de Janeiro or São Paulo. Born and raised in Ceará, she had her highly praised A cabeça do santo [The Head of the Saint] published in Brazil and the UK in 2014 and in the US in 2016. The book, set in Brazil’s northeastern backwoods, was a 2017 LA Times Book Prize Finalist and elected as one of the New York Public Library Best Books for Teens in 2016.

Despite this exciting panorama in terms of literary production, the Brazilian SFF market is not thriving as one could expect.

Now: The Market

Since 2015, the Brazilian literary market has been on the ropes. According to research from FIPE (Fundação Instituto de Pesquisas Econômicas, or The Institute of Economic Research Foundation), the Brazilian literary market shrank 21% from 2015 to 2018.

And, despite our low average number of books read per year (2.43 per active reader, in 2016, according to research from the Instituto Pró-Livro), it’s not due to a lack of readers: 44% of the 209 million Brazilians describe themselves as readers.

We’re in a crisis mainly because big bookshops are crashing due to years of (reckless) consignment sale; small bookshops are crashing due to predatory systems such as Amazon online sales; and publishing houses are crashing due to the bookshops crashing.

Considering that Brazilian SFF is only a niche inside another (bigger, but still a) niche such as SFF literature—and given the data previously presented about the difficulties that even the big publishing houses with great names of SFF literature are going through—this is a discouraging situation.

As a writer, translator, and editor at an SFF magazine, I could easily spend the remaining words of this essay whining about numbers and the upcoming apocalypse. However, as an SFF writer, it’s my job to look on the bright side and project a merrier, utopic future, right?

Jokes and contradictions aside, I really think Brazilian SFF has never seen such a favorable general panorama. Besides a more mature set of themes and features, Brazilian SFF writers are more and more concerned about writing education. Structured writing courses and mentoring offered either by universities or by established writers and editors, for instance, are getting more popular amongst SFF authors.

Big Brazilian publishing houses keep investing more and more in Brazilian authors, despite the high stakes. It has its advantages, after all: Brazilian books don’t need translating, and the royalties are not paid in foreign currencies (an important point considering the current Real devaluation). Besides that, new forms of publication are rising in order to overcome the market crisis while absorbing the public demand for more Brazilian SFF.

For instance, some independent SFF publishing houses are opting for small print runs and direct selling, such as Lendari, which just published the first novel by the Third Wave’s Ana Cristina Rodrigues, Atlas Ageográfico de Lugares Imaginados [Ageographic Atlas of Imagined Places]; the science fiction imprint Futuro Infinito from Patuá, which recently published books such as Fanfic (by the Second Wave’s Bráulio Tavares), Back in the USSR (by the Second Wave’s Fábio Fernandes), and Matando Gigantes [Slaughtering Giants] (by Claudia Dugim); Avec, which publishes comics and books such as Brazilian steampunk story Guanabara Real: A alcova da morte [Guanabara Real: The Chamber of the Death] by A. Z. Cordenonsi, Enéias Tavares, and Nikelen Witter; and Monomito, which just proposed the collection Universo Insólito [Uncanny Universe] and published its first book, A telepatia são os outros [The Telepathy Are the Others], by Ana Rüsche. 

There are also independent SFF publishing houses now focusing on exclusive digital publication—in which the investment is smaller, as well as the selling prices—with careful curatorship and responsible editing. Dame Blanche, for instance, published novellas like the science fiction Deixe as estrelas falarem [Let the Stars Speak] by Lady Sybylla and the aforementioned O auto da Maga Josefa, amongst other novels and novelettes, between 2016 and 2019. Plutão is also publishing digital novellas and short story collections from contemporary Brazilian authors, specifically from science fiction—such as the anthology Aqui quem fala é da Terra [We’re Calling from Earth] and the standalone novella Diário simulado [Simulated Journal], by Delson Neto.

It’s not only independent authors who have ventured into crowdfunding, but established SFF publishing houses, such as Draco, which is also using this model to finance its anthologies and comic books.

Another highly successful case was the launching of Tormenta 20, the twentieth-anniversary edition of the Brazilian fantasy RPG system Tormenta—a fantasy universe in which fantasy books are also written, such as O Inimigo do Mundo [The World’s Enemy] by Leonel Caldela and several books by Karen Soarele. Through Jambô (an SFF RPG, comics, and books publisher), the project, managed by Guilherme Dei Svaldi and Karen Soarele, was backed by 6,353 people and raised R$1.9 million (US$465,000)—the biggest ever Brazilian crowdfunding project as of September 2019.

Brazilian SFF magazines are also gaining momentum. Trasgo, edited by Rodrigo van Kampen, Lucas Ferraz, and Soraya Coelho, has impressive numbers for an independent venue: from 2014 to September 2019, it has published 113 short stories from 103 authors. Currently paid through a crowdfunding membership platform, it has more than 120 backers and is now venturing into an exclusive zine-story format, in which zines with a single short story can be bought at their website or downloaded for free.

Mafagafo, another magazine, was created in 2018 and had two editions in a serialized format before going through a reformulation. From its third issue onwards, it adopted a new editorial format, which consists of a group of twelve SFF editors from big publishers and different backgrounds to select and edit the twelve stories per issue. It also has a crowdfunding membership project with more than 160 backers and launched two spinoff projects: Faísca, a weekly newsletter with three original, curated flash fictions up to 1000 words per issue, and Pio, a newly created Twitter account dedicated to publishing microfiction.

Other SFF magazines such as Avessa and A Taverna also publish short stories regularly. Balbúrdia was just announced and promises exclusive calls for submissions for stories by authors/with characters who are LGBTQIA+, non-white, or from the North and Northeast of Brazil. And although dedicated to RPG content, Dragão Brasil magazine—an extremely popular RPG venue, created in 1994, managed by J. M. Trevisan, and currently backed monthly by 1,910 readers—also publishes curated SFF short stories and novelettes with every issue.

Brazilian SFF writers are also looking for non-conventional forms of publication. The most prominent example is Tempos Fantásticos [Fantastic Times], created by Angelo Dias in 2016. The project defines itself as a “timeless newspaper” with news, columns, and strips from “alternative pasts, presents and futures,” alongside a framing story which tells the history and day-to-day of the journal and reports the threats it suffers from a sect that stands against time traveling. After two years of monthly issues, it had a third year of bigger, trimonthly issues, and, at the end of 2019, it’s expected to pause for reformulation, after which a book with its texts and extra materials should be published.

Another good sign that SFF is alive and well is the rise of SFF events. In 2019, we had three very important spaces to discuss fantasy and science fiction production, all of them with big audiences: the second edition of the Casa Fantástica, the third Flipop, and the sixth Odisseia de Literatura Fantástica. The Casa Fantástica hosts a series of roundtables focused on SFF literature. It was created by Priscilla Lhacer to integrate the parallel circuit of Flip, the Festa Literária Internacional de Paraty (International Literary Festival of Paraty), the biggest Brazilian literary festival.

Flipop stands for Festival de Literatura Pop (Popular Literature Festival), and it’s a three-day event proposed by editor Diana Passy (Seguinte) to talk about popular literature, including SFF, with a focus on diversity and roundtables with Brazilian and international authors. And the Odisseia, created by Duda Falcão, Cesar Alcázar, and Christopher Kastensmidt, is a meeting held in Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul, where writers and readers are invited to talk about literature and hang out after the regular program.

Brazilian SFF is also going abroad. Fábio Fernandes—one of four Brazilians to graduate from the Clarion West/Clarion San Diego program—has not only published his short stories in several anglophone magazines and anthologies, but has also written articles and reviews for a number of sites and venues, including Tor.com, The World SF Blog, Strange Horizons, and SF Signal. He is currently a Tor.com collaborator with a project of rereading Gene Wolfe. Then there’s Kastensmidt, who has a long list of publications in both Brazilian and anglophone markets. Though from Houston, Texas, he lives in Brazil and has written novels, short stories, and a tabletop RPG system all based on Brazilian history and folklore, the series A Bandeira do Elefante e da Arara [The Elephant and Macaw Banner]. One of his novelettes, The Fortuitous Meeting of Gerard van Oost and Oludara, was nominated for a Best Novelette Nebula Award in 2010.

Other writers have also been publishing in the anglophone market, such as Isa Prospero (with the science fiction short story “The Artist of Enclosure 601-A” in the All Borders are Temporary anthology and the fantasy novella The Book of the Living in Issue 7 from The Fantasist); Santiago Santos with the short story “A Carpet Sewn With Skeletons” in the South American Monsters anthology; Dante Luiz, with several comic books and the novelette “Ingredient No. 5” in the Undercities anthology; H. Pueyo, with short stories and novelettes in several venues, such as “What the South Wind Whispers” in Clarkesworld and "Saligia", published in March 2019, in Samovar, and Laura Pohl, who published her debut science fiction novel The Last 8 directly in English and was shortlisted for the International Latino Book Awards.

And even while so many things are happening in the present, it seems Brazilian SFF is also looking both to the past and to the future.

Regarding the past, publishing houses are reprinting classic SFF books from Brazilian authors: Wish just announced a new edition of Rainha do ignoto by Emília Freitas, last published in 2003 and currently out of print; Antofágica published a deluxe edition of Memórias Póstumas de Brás Cubas [The Posthumous Memoirs of Bras Cubas] by worldwide-acclaimed author Machado de Assis, with original illustrations from Candido Portinari (some people may say it isn’t fantasy, but I personally think being narrated by a deceased, rotten man qualifies it as such); and Plutão not only published Sobre a imortalidade de Rui de Leão [On the immortality of Rui de Leão], an e-book with two versions of de Assis’s science fiction story, but is also planning to publish several SFF First and Second Wave works in 2020/2021.

Brazilian academics are also approaching SFF production in a more structured way. The aforementioned Bruno Anselmi Matangrano and Enéias Tavares published Fantástico brasileiro: o insólito literário do romantismo ao fantasismo after an extensive revision of Brazilian SFF history and came out with the proposal that we’re going through a new literary movement, the fantasismo (which could be translated as the fantasism). They place this new movement as beginning around 2000, with Vianco’s first books and the nomination of Síndrome de quimera [Chimera’s Syndrome], by Max Mallmann, to the Jabuti Award, the most prestigious Brazilian literary prize. According to Matangrano and Tavares, the movement is justified by the existence of a structured production of Brazilian stories with different levels of “uncanny elements”—and by “structured production” they mean more writers venturing into SFF, new specialized publishing houses and imprints, more academic research about the genres, and more divulgation channels. They’re even proposing a manifesto and, maybe, an event in 2022—the year of the hundredth anniversary of the Brazilian Modern Art Week, which marked the beginning of Brazilian modernism.

Regarding the future, the broadening of Brazilian SFF in the audiovisual market means it is reaching a large, mainly uninitiated public. For instance, the Netflix Original Series 3%, globally broadcasted, was the “first contact” for many with Brazilian SFF. One of 2019’s most discussed movies, Bacurau, is set in the near future and has SFF and horror elements. And one of the biggest Brazilian free-to-air television networks, Rede Globo, just announced an original fantasy series, Desalma [Unsoul] (written by Ana Paula Maia), for 2020.

A very exciting prospect, considering it has been only 130 years since Emília Freitas kicked off Brazilian SFF with its first novel.

Conclusion

While I write these words, days after starting to write this essay, the Amazon rainforest is still burning. And now I’m afraid books will be the next to burn—believe it or not, also while I wrote these words, the charlatan preacher who happens to be the mayor of Rio de Janeiro is attempting to ban a comic book from Rio de Janeiro’s International Book Fair because it depicts a gay kiss. Yes, you read it right. It’s 2019, not 1933. It’s Brazil, a supposedly secular country, not a theocracy.

And, while I write these words, Felipe Castilho’s new book, Serpentário [The Snake Pit], is by my side. I just finished reading it. Coincidentally or not (spoiler: it’s not), one of its characters is a charlatan preacher who tries to “cure” LGBTQIA+ kids.

Serpentário is a fantasy, cosmic horror book with a knitted network of symbols. And one of them, of course, is the snake. My parents are watching the news. I glance at the TV and I see a stream of people coming down the Book Fair corridor. They are shouting words from the Brazilian Constitution: “the expression of intellectual, artistic, scientific, and communications activities is free, independently of censorship or license.” I open Twitter to see the mob are now holding LGBTQIA+ flags and books and are shouting “we won’t allow censorship.” To make it even more dramatic, today is September 7, Brazilian Independence Day.

It’s impossible not to think about boitatá. It’s a native Brazilian myth about a huge snake made of fire. It was reported by Joseph de Anchieta back in the 1500s, in one of his first letters to Portugal.

De Anchieta says “they quickly seize people and kill them”—what he doesn’t say is boitatá only does that to those who destroy the forest. It’s the forest guardian. It gets stronger and rises when somebody is threatening its household.

I could wrap up this in many ways, but there couldn’t be a better analogy. Given its new features and our current political and economic context, Brazilian SFF is under threat.

At the same time, we are in our best shape. And, much like a boitatá, we are ready to rise and fight back whoever tries to keep burning down what we stand for.



Jana Bianchi is a Brazilian writer, translator, editor at Mafagafo magazine, cohostess of the Curta Ficção writing podcast, and werewolf walker. She published the novella Lobo de rua [Stray Wolf] in 2016, and her work has appeared in Portuguese in collections and magazines. Find her online at @janapbianchi on Twitter/Instagram.
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