Review of Speculative Fiction for Dreamers
by Christina De La Rocha
It occurred to me the other day that I haven’t read much, much less nearly enough Latinx science fiction. By this I mean science fiction written by people living in South America, Central America, and Mexico, by people who’ve emigrated from these places, or by people who grew up in families who came from these places. That’s a pretty big umbrella in terms of number of people on this Earth (hundreds of millions!) and in terms of both the diversity of cultures and the potential mish-mash of different cultures. Honestly, the possibilities here! What an incredible pool of potential stories written from amazing perspectives, containing great characters, and filled with fresh humor, new plots, fun settings, and intriguing ideas.
So, I went looking and was shocked by how little I found out there, at least in English, compared to how much could be out there, livening up our lives. But maybe it was that I was searching with all the wrong terms. Maybe I need some names to hit a seam that will lead to a wealth of Latinx science fiction. So, where better to look but in one of the books that I did find: Speculative Fiction for Dreamers, an anthology of Latinx speculative fiction edited by Alex Hernandez, Matthew David Goodwin, and Sarah Rafael Garcia and published in 2021.
Reader, I devoured it.
For better, it turns out, and for worse. I wish I could say it was everything I’d been hoping for in the fresh and amazing department, but it both was and wasn’t.
Still, at 414 pages and nearly 40 offerings (most of which are stories, some of which are poems, and some of which are graphic narratives), you get your money’s worth and more. The bright side of such a tome is that you learn lots of names of people who are writing Latinx speculative fiction, some of them magnificently. That’s a useful trove! But, given that there are so many stories in there, there were bound to be a few ho-hum ones and a few themes that ended up being repeated too often.
To get the bad news out of the way, for me, too many of the stories imagined a grim future full of continued White supremacist repression of the Latinx people of the world. In some stories, the White people were the Trumpiest over-the-top MAGA-type villains and the Latinx characters were good, honest people just trying to get along, who do or do not overcome the oppression, repression, violence, and downright meanness. Sure, sometimes that’s the way things are, but where is the imagination in that? What I was hoping for were stories that transcended this pedestrian oh-look-at-how-mean-they-are-to-us kind of view, blew it out of the water entirely, or just ignored it, showing us instead entirely new visions.
The good news is, several stories did exactly that. These best stories in this book truly dared to dream, going offroad to create amazing, crazy, and/or totally bonkers futures. I fell in love with this handful of stories and happily report to you that they alone are well worth getting your hands on a copy of Speculative Fiction for Dreamers so you can read them.
My biggest hats off goes to “Those Rumors of Cannibalism and Human Sacrifice Have Been Greatly Exaggerated,” by Ernest Hogan, a self-described “recombocultural Chicano mutant, known for committing outrageous acts of science fiction, cartooning, and other questionable pursuits.” Absurd, anarchic, and chaotic, Hogan’s short story in the anthology is the Everything Everywhere All At Once of Chicanx speculative fiction, but without the mawkish thought that love and your family pulling together can save not just you but all of existence. Instead, a young, white anthropologist from what’s left of the American States goes hitchhiking through the United States of Aztlán‒made up of what we currently call the southwestern states of the USA‒where John Wayne is a saint, the countryside is filled with people of color, solar panels, wind turbines, wild religious rituals, and UFOs, and where those who some people might currently call illegal aliens turn out to be actual aliens from outer space. To say I howled while reading this twinkling gem of Mexican-American humor would be putting it lightly. I’m pretty sure this is the best story I will read all year, and now I’m setting off on a quest to read everything else Ernest Hogan has created. With just that one story, then, mission accomplished. I have a vein to mine.
But there was more. “Saint Simon of 9th and Oblivion,” by Sabrina Vourvoulias, a Philadelphia based journalist, hits a more serious, less Dadaist note. This could have been the typical tale of the tribulations of a young immigrant female person of color sent to the big city in the prosperous country for a better life; cue plot beats of misery, abuse, discrimination, and work as a maid or in a sweatshop. But this is not the starched, White world, it is a liminal space between the more colorful one and the more bleached. Mystical, mysterious things can happen here without seeming out of the ordinary. Within the possibilities that that affords, Vourvoulias lets her protagonist succeed, not just by being skilled, but by refusing to bow her head and accept the lowly fate that conventional society wants to push her into. Yes, the protagonist’s life contains ups and downs and bitter happenings, but the protagonist finds her own stream to swim brilliantly in and lives a life both interesting and full of wonder.
A third story that I loved in this anthology was “Madrina,” by Sara Daniele Rivera, a Cuban/Peruvian artist and writer who lives in New Mexico. This one tickled me because the trope of the wise, revered ethnic elder‒such as the abuela (grandmother) who is central to several of the stories in this anthology‒is a pet peeve of mine. I find it so uninteresting for everyone involved, because it doesn’t let either the abuela or her forlorn descendent be a full, flawed, and original human being. The trope also feels disingenuous to me. My own abuela was not exactly a moral keel and comfort zone for anyone in our family, and perhaps our familial situation was extreme, but isn’t a caged tiger of a grandmother more realistic than the sweet, kind, family-binding, kitchen-dwelling abuela of the stereotype? Thankfully, in “Madrina,” Rivera deftly turns the wise and gentle ancestress trope on its head. In this story, the mystical intergenerational connection between women leads lost interstellar people to their future from an even more distant one.
In short, if you’d like to start your own journey into the world (and otherworlds) of Latinx science fiction, Speculative Fiction for Dreamers would be a good place to start. It holds a ton of stories, all at least competently written by a ton of different authors, that spans the gamut from exactly what you might expect from something calling itself Latinx speculative fiction to the absolutely, brilliantly, mind-blowingly transcendent.
Christina De La Rocha (she/her), formerly a professor of biogeochemistry and marine sciences, is a nonfiction editor at Solarpunk Magazine. She loves reading and writing science fiction that explores what people do with the spaces opened up by science and technology and non-fiction related to how stuff works, from the origin of the Universe and then, later, life, to the complexities of the climate system, to whether or not fueling the electricity grid through fusion is an impossible long shot. Her (non-academic) writing has appeared in Analog, Toasted Cheese, and Unsustainable Magazine and in the book Silica Stories. You can find her on Twitter at @xtinadlr.