Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


Crystal Love
by Francis Marion Soty

A Little at All Times
by David R. Bunch

Bounded in a Prison Pod
by Alan Rader

Isolated Incidents
by Nick Nafpliotis

by Barbara Krasnoff

Kella Vector
by Henry Szabranski

Growing Pains
by A.L. Sirois

It’s the Last Ice Shelf!
by Anthony Langford

Time Out at the Café Metropole
by Guy T. Martland

Canvas of the World
by Frederick Obermeyer

by Louis Shalako


Science Fiction and Fidel Castro
by Ricardo L. Garcia

Ebola’s Deadly Path
by John McCormick




Shorter Stories

Comic Strips



Science Fiction and Fidel Castro

By Ricardo L. Garcia

IT ALL BEGAN WITH THE IMPORTS. While science fiction in America is usually considered to have started as a more or less serious—in intent if not stylistic—trend around the 1930s-1940s, with her neighbor just ninety miles south of Florida the genre took some time longer to be appreciated and acquire both followers and practitioners.

Then, by the end of 1950s, two things happened to change it all.

First, there was a gradual process of literary infiltration, so to speak. Science fiction was becoming a more respectable genre in the U.S. For instance, Ballantine Books, a major book publisher, put out its landmark anthology—featuring Arthur C. Clarke, Murray Leinster, Isaac Asimov, Robert Sheckley and others—in 1955. But language was a barrier to many otherwise would-be eager readers in Cuba. The editorial boom in Mexico, Argentina, and Spain at the same time filled the void, with a flood of translations of some of both the best and worst of science fiction in English reaching the island, and even a trickle of translations of budding Soviet science fiction (notably, Georgy Martynov’s “220 Days on a Spaceship”) via a Buenos Aires editorial house. Conversely, collections of cheap Spanish science fiction paperbacks arrived monthly on the shelves of Havana’s toniest bookstore, La Moderna Poesia (Modern Poetry).

These were novelette-length works that borrowed heavily from American science fiction classics, with authors sporting such pseudonyms as Clark Carrados, Edward White, or Johnny Garland, to appeal to their readers. Quite often the imitation became more like open appropriation, though—Carrados routinely used Asimov’s three laws of robotics, taking care not to exactly quote them verbatim, even featuring his own Daneel Olivaw, the robot Kabe, in a series of novels.

By the late 1950s, a couple of nationally circulated weekly magazines published the occasional short science fiction piece by a national author, even if the quality remained elusive and the names soon faded into merciful oblivion.

Second, there was the ouster of dictator Fulgencio Batista and the beginning of what many hoped—oh so naively—would be a new era of national reconciliation and progress under the young rebel leader who had forced Batista to flee the island in haste: Fidel Castro. The triumphant revolution soon meant the arrival of other imports, though—of a more sinister nature.

The Father, the Clown, the Dean, the One-Timer, the Vanished

A lawyer specializing in aviation law, Angel Arango was considered until his death in 2013 the indisputable dean of Cuban science fiction, and a role model for aspiring authors breaking into the field. His A Donde van los Cefalomos? (“Where Do the Cephaloms Go?” 1964), was the first science fiction book by a national author ever published on the island. Influenced by Asimov and Heinlein, among others, if decidedly more of a “soft” science fiction author, he followed with a long list of both novels and short stories: among them El Planeta Negro (“The Black Planet,” 1966), Robotomaquia (“Robotomachy,” 1967) and El Arcoiris del Mono (“The Monkey’s Rainbow”). By 2011, already a Miami resident, Arango authored one more book, La Columna Bifida (“Spina Bifida”). His short story “An Unexpected Visitor,” 1966, is widely regarded as a classic of Cuban science fiction.

Full disclosure: In 1992, in the midst of a severe editorial drought on the island after the end of the subsidies from the Soviet Union, a modest chapbook with “Visitor” was still published and flew off the shelves. I wrote the other short story in this two-piece chapbook, Factor Cuantitativo (“Quantitative Factor”). We represented the newer generation of authors.

Yet maybe, just maybe, Juan Luis Herrero (1937-??) could have reached similar heights as Arango, or better. For one thing, his style seemed right out of the best of “The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction” or “Galaxy” at the time. One of his debut stories in 1964, Ese Ruido Como de Piedras que Caen, (“That Noise Like Rocks Falling”) can give Ridley Scott’s “Alien” a run for its money. He could have, yes. However, soon after that, he left the island for good and was never heard of again. (The compilers of the 2008 “definitive” anthology of Cuban science fiction were unable to contact him or even any relative of his; he was included anyway.)

There was the irreverent Miguel Collazo (1936-1999), whose El Libro Fantastico de Oaj (“Oaj’s Fantasy Book”) tells of Saturnian visitors walking the worst streets of 1960s Havana, and being bossed around by the neighborhood pimps. And Arnaldo Correa (1936), who after a couple of science fiction stories—notably Retroceso (“Going Back”), praised by Castro himself—pivoted to become one of the founders of Cuban crime fiction, and never looked back.

The son of a fisherman, Oscar Hurtado (1919-1977) brings up the rear of the pioneer wave, although his role was more like that of a Cuban John W. Campbell. A self-taught engineer and long-time U.S. resident, Hurtado headed back to the island in 1959 as the young revolution seemed to indeed presage a bright future. He was a firm believer in the existence of Sherlock Holmes and UFOs, and boasted an hurtadoencyclopedic culture. Hurtado’s literary contribution to science fiction was mainly his controversial 1964 La Ciudad Muerta de Korad (“The Dead City of Korad”), a patchwork of poems and references to Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Martian sagas in a style that went from tragic and serious to sarcastic. (Arguably the world’s second science fiction poetic work, it inspired the ballet piece Mision Korad, “Korad Mission,” which premiered at the time of the joint Soviet-Cuban spaceflight in 1980.) In 1983, the whole of his work was edited by Daina Chaviano and published as Los Papeles de Valencia el Mudo (“The Papers of Valencia the Mute”).

While Hurtado’s production was only so-so, his influence in putting science fiction on the forefront of national literature and spreading the taste for the genre was decidedly immense. He launched Coleccion el Dragon (Dragon Books), the first Cuban editorial venture devoted to science fiction both national and foreign (plus fantasy and crime fiction) which introduced the public to some of the very best of the genrein the world. Widely acknowledged as the father of Cuban science fiction, his was the name taken by the literary workshop that would revitalize the genre in the 1980s.

The Imports Again, Yes

Even as Hurtado and his friends were busy writing the kind of science fiction that the reading public adored, the young Castro regime busied itself with importing a new, culture-stifling ideology. On the eve of the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961, the regime officially declared itself “socialist” (its euphemism for “communist”) and started cracking down on what it deemed were values antithetical to the goals of the new society it sought to create.

Science fiction by its very nature questions and challenges, is iconoclastic and imaginative—traits that a totalitarian regime abhors and fears. Because a communist society was declared to be the peak of humankind’s historical evolution, no other futures could be ever possible, and even literarily postulating other possibilities was frowned upon. Furthermore, future communist societies were supposed to be inherently conflict-free; with no man’s-exploitation-by-man, no wars, poverty, ignorance, plots became hard to come by.

Alien intelligences also took a hit. As per the convoluted logic of Marxist doctrine, imaginary alien societies would have perforce to be either crassly backward socially and technically (i.e., non-communist and at pre-Earth 20th century levels) or communist and technically advanced. (But not too advanced, lest they presupposed social solutions not sanctioned by official, real-world contemporary ideology.) Stalinist prejudices added a new twist: approved alien intelligent creatures would have to be humanoid. The highest conceivable social order had been developed by a human society; it followed that any other intelligences out there then had to be humanoid if they were to arrive at the same social stage.

By the mid 1960s, science fiction began to be regarded as escapist at best, and heretical at worst; a newly imported artistic doctrine—“socialist realism”— became the official credo. Art should reflect the realities of the struggle against the decadent capitalist order; it should become an ideological reminder of the class struggle. This was no time for wishy-washy literature. Editorial resources, always scarce in a poor, underdeveloped nation, would be best put to other uses than idle fantasy.

By 1971, Cuban science fiction was, to all practical effects, dead.

The Long and Winding Road to Resurrection

While there wasn’t a gulag for Cuban science fiction writers, during most of the 1970s the genre stopped being granted editorial opportunities. These, instead, were given to crime fiction depicting brave law-and-order agents chasing and inevitably catching capitalism-influenced lawbreakers, or heroic counterintelligence operatives defeating CIA plots against the Revolution. (This in a system where any publishing proceeded according to rigid five-year plans that had to be authorized at the top levels of the government, to boot. Approved books took years to appear in print. And publications were, and still are, essentially a one-shot deal, regardless of demand; reprints are rare.) The void in the genre was filled overwhelmingly by imported science fiction: Soviet publications translated into Spanish. Readers were treated to a diet of harmless, simplistic, tasteless, and mostly forgettable pieces that turned many away from the genre altogether. It was only rarely that the public was presented with the works of the real masters of the science fiction written in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe—themselves struggling with censorship issues—the Strugatskii brothers, Anatoly Dneprov, the Evgenyi Voiskunskii-Isai Lukodianov duo, and Polish colossus Stanislaw Lem, to mention only a few.

Then, quite unexpectedly, in 1978, a feeble light was seen at the end of the tunnel.

The David Prize contest for young unpublished writers happened to award an honorable mention to Aventura en el Laboratorio (“An Adventure in the Lab”), a collection of stories by geophysicist Bruno Henriquez—science fiction stories. (Though the stories were not exactly groundbreaking, they were a welcome respite from the monotony of mainstream “socialist realism” works.) In the end, it was decided by the powers that be not only to add the book to the already long list of others awaiting publication years in the future, but also to thereafter include science fiction among the genres covered by the David Prize. The following year the newly-minted David Science Fiction Prize went to a young woman named Daina Chaviano—and suddenly Cuban science fiction started clawing its way back from the grave.

Los Mundos que yo Amo (“The Worlds I Love”), Chaviano’s book, while naïve and simplistic, hit the right note for a public thirsting for some science fiction. She followed it with Amoroso Planeta (“Loving Planet”), and some other pieces of a more fantastic nature. These and her charismatic personality made her virtually the face of Cuban science fiction for most of the 1980s. In a first, she was allowed to briefly host a summer TV show featuring science fiction films, and launch the only ever Cuban science fiction magazine, “Nova” (which had just one issue). The soft, romantic (“pink”) style of science fiction she introduced, largely unconcerned with scientific or technological verisimilitude—and politically safe—became widely imitated, and one of the main trends of the period.

It was then Agustin de Rojas (1949-2011) offered up a real challenge. His novel, Espiral (“Spiral”), which won him the 1980 David Prize, not only featured a nuclear war (which official doctrine stated couldn’t ever happen because the proletariats of capitalist countries wouldn’t allow it) but a nuclear war that the Soviet Union would not win.

There was no denying him the prize, in view of the quality of his novel; there was no denying he would forever be suspected of political heresy, either. For all that, Rojas remained a Marxist believer until his death. Posthumously, he was more tolerated than promoted. (Rojas wrote two other novels of a decidedly lesser quality. Upon the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, he stopped writing science fiction altogether, in disillusionment). The rest of the David winners in the decade were politically correct, little-appealing works.

With a Little Help From Your Friends

Soon after the success of their own books, Chaviano and Henriquez were able to talk the local Ministry of Culture in the Vedado neighborhood of Havana into allowing them to set up a science fiction literary workshop. An informal gathering of published authors, aspiring writers, artists, and fans held on Tuesday evenings, the Oscar Hurtado Literary Workshop, soon became the launching pad of many a future literary career—those of Eduardo Frank, Raul Aguiar, Ali Salazar, Arnoldo Aguila, Felix Lizarraga, Jose Miguel Sanchez, Julian Perez, Roberto Estrada Bourgeois, Ileana Vicente, and myself, among others. Both wannabe and established authors read aloud their fresh, still unpublished stories (or chapters of novels in progress) and lively debates ensued with criticism and advice given and taken freely. (Attendees weren’t in awe of reputation—either your story delivered or it didn’t, and that was that.) Books were borrowed or recommended; stories in foreign languages were occasionally translated out loud, on the fly, in order that language-challenged members could enjoy them, too.

Another vital function the workshop served was as a kind of Craig’s List, giving opportunities to writers to make a name for themselves. With chances to publish severely limited (there was and still isn’t anything akin to sending your manuscript to a publisher for consideration), that left only placing in literary contests (which occasionally offered publication) and giving readings at cultural centers or events where maybe—just maybe—you could make some useful contacts. Word was selflessly passed around; solidarity was the norm.

At this time, the monthly Juventud Tecnica (“Technical Youth”) magazine came to the rescue. The Cuban answer to “Popular Mechanics,” every issue of JT soon featured a science fiction short story with an accompanying illustration. (Salazar was also one of the magazine’s graphic artists.) As workshop members broke into print, JT became the science fiction publication; issues flew off newsstands. (Censorship was still in force, though. My own “Angels And Demons,” although accepted on the spot, took months to be printed solely because of its title. To somebody in the staff it smacked of religion. It was actually a reference to Edgar Allan Poe’s “Annabel Lee.”) Later on, JT held annual science fiction story contests, and released two anthologies, Recurso Extremo (“Last Resort”), of which I wrote the title story, and Astronomia se Escribe con G (“Astronomy is Spelled With a G”).

By the late 1980s, three more anthologies were released by the regular editorial houses, Cuentos Cubanos de Ciencia Ficcion (“Cuban Science Fiction Stories”), Juegos Planetarios (“Planetary Games”), and Contacto (“Contact”). Quality was often an issue, though. On the one hand, the need for the stories to be primarily politically acceptable placed limits on what authors could get away with. And scientific and literary accuracy were huge obstacles, sometimes. (When information simply isn’t available, or sources are hopelessly dated, it’s hard to create a plausible scenario. Imagine, say, writing a modern science fiction novel using only information from the 1950s.)

Adopting Chaviano’s soft, non-threatening style, a growing trend in the genre emphasized stories of a dubious humor that merely imitated the worst of Miguel Collazo’s work. Still, authors like Sanchez, Estrada Bourgeois, Julian Perez, Eduardo Frank and myself refused to play it safe. (For instance, Estrada Bourgeois’ Trenco introduced erotic elements into what was a rather puritanical Cuban science fiction; and Sanchez wrote of a future where capitalism simply wouldn’t go away.) For all of the hurdles, it was a veritable Golden Age for science fiction on the island. A number of works and authors from this period are still remembered—even reprinted!—to this day.

The Soviet perestroika gave hope that the door would open a crack further—but in 1991 the Soviet Union itself collapsed. On the one hand, the subsidies that kept the Cuban economy afloat came to an end; the editorial industry screeched to a halt, among many other consequences. On the other hand, censorship came back with a vengeance. The Oscar Hurtado Workshop entered a slow agony, followed by death from apathy.

And then the writers themselves emigrated from the island. In the space of a few years and through diverse circumstances, Frank, Chaviano, Aguila, Chely Lima, Felix Lizarraga, and I settled abroad, with others to follow by the coming of the 21st century. Cuban science fiction died for the second time.

The Living Dead

In 1993, Henriquez founded yet another workshop, El Negro Hueco (“The Black Hole”) to fill in the void left by Oscar Hurtado. ENH included some members of the old Hurtado gang (Henriquez, Ricardo Acevedo Esplugas, Eduardo del Llano, Estrada Bourgeois, Sanchez—writing under the pseudonym Yoss—among others) and new writers like Juan Pablo Norona, Michel Encinosa Fu, Vladimir Hernandez, Leonardo Gala, and Ariel Cruz. With absolutely no possibilities to appear in print, the group resorted to creating a free virtual magazine (“I+Real”) passed around on computer diskettes. In 1999, Acevedo Esplugas started his mimeographed micro-story magazine, “miNatura,” featuring 25-line fantasy and science fiction stories, which he shared for free with readers. (After becoming a Spanish resident, Acevedo and his artist wife Carmen Signes turned “miNatura” into a free ezine which has won praise from Spanish and Latin-American science fiction circles—while still routinely including Cuban writers residing on both the island and abroad).

Every effort was made to find foreign publishers (mostly in Argentina, Mexico, and Spain) who sometimes would put out anthologies of Cuban science fiction stories on condition of not paying the authors. Polvo en el Viento (“Dust in the Wind”) Argentina, 1999, edited by Henriquez and including both omotald hands and new authors, is the most representative of the period. In the annual science fiction short novel contest held by the Catalonia Polytechnical University (UPC) in Spain, Cuban authors placed or were finalists, like Estrada Bourgeois with his Bosque (“Forest”), and Hernandez with Nova de Cuarzo (“Quartz Nova”). Yet another workshop was founded by Hernandez and Yoss, “Espiral” (after Rojas’ 1980 novel), later headed by Norona. Still, the recovery was slow and it wasn’t until the turn of the century that Cuban science fiction started being published again with some kind of regularity on the island.

In 2008, Yoss was asked to edit an anthology of the best Cuban science fiction stories covering the first fifty years of the Revolution (1959 to 2009)—and in a surprising turn of events he was allowed to include authors who had left the island (like Chaviano, Herrero, Frank, Aguila and me). Cronicas del Manana (“Chronicles of Tomorrow,” 2009) remains to this day the definitive anthology of the genre in Cuba. (A translation into Galician was published in Spain in 2010.)

The Situation Today

Of the former members of the Oscar Hurtado group still on the island, only Estrada, Yoss, and Aguiar seem to be writing science fiction. Yoss has become the leading present-day author, and the one and only science fiction and fantasy writer there who actually lives off his work—quite a feat in Cuban society. Los Pecios y los Naufragos (“Shipwrecks and Castaways”), 2000; Se Alquila un Planeta (“Planet for Rent”), 2001; Al Final de la Senda (“At the End of the Path”), 2003—these are some of his best known pieces. His work has been translated into French, Italian and Galician. Acevedo Esplugas in Spain still keeps at it. And, in the U.S., so do I. (My own “Time of the Phoenix Man” came out in 2013. In what may be a first, I seem to be the only Cuban to write science fiction in both Spanish and English.) After his Mundos Azules (“Blue Worlds,” Vinciguerra, Buenos Aires, 2004), Frank has only sporadically concerned himself with science fiction. And after she settled in the U.S., Chaviano’s work has been predominantly in the realm of fantasy.

Albeit optimistic, poetic science fiction is occasionally written, like Leonardo Gala’s Aitana (2011). Since the late 1990s, cyberpunk has been the main trend in the works of the new authors. Censorship, though ever present, has now relaxed in a world where the mighty Soviet Union itself fell—something once undreamed of. Hence the possibility of works like Erick J. Mota’s Havana Underguater (“Havana Underwater”), a cheeky dystopia featuring an alternate history where the Soviet Union won the Cold War, and both Cuba and the U.S. are failed states. (Still unpublished in Cuba, the book can be bought on Amazon.) Hernandez’ Nova de Cuarzo (“Quartz Nova”) and Encinosa Fu’s Ofidia saga also belong to this trend. Other new authors of interest remain on the long waiting lists of the few editorial houses left on the island. It is our hope that some day soon they too will have their opportunity to make their voices heard. END

Ricardo L. Garcia has been published in anthologies and magazines and recently in what is considered the “definitive” anthology of Cuban science fiction. Now settled in the U.S., in 2013 he published his novel, “Time of the Phoenix Man.”