Vampires, Werewolves and Strong Women: Alternate Histories or the Re-Writing of Race and Gender in Brazilian History

Article excerpt

As Andrea Bell has noted, Brazil's contemporary generation of science fiction writers have attained a high level of sophistication by writing in every genre and subgenre of science fiction (442). Familiar with Anglo-American classics and in contact through the Internet with international science fiction, they offer a broad range of outlooks and approaches to science fiction. The principal authors of this generation exemplify distinct ideological lines, among them: a universalist stance characteristic of hard science fiction (Jorge Luiz Calife), a literary approach borrowing from the tradition of fantasy (Braulio Tavares), the cultivation of strictly nationalist themes and a straightforward prose style (Roberto de Sousa Canso), the formal experimentation characteristic of the Brazilian modernist movement of the 1920s (Ivan Carlos Regina), and finally, the promotion of literary nationalism via the subgenre of alternate histories (Gerson Lodi-Ribeiro). Having spent most of their lives in modern Brazil where technology and industrialization are part of dally experience, these authors often criticize modernization, without resorting to the Edenic tropical landscape that is part of Brazilian identity.

In fact, Brazil's myths of identity constitute an excellent point of departure for analyzing Brazilian science fiction because, as we shall see, they are often satirized by contemporary science fiction writers. An initial list of the most recurrent myths would include: Brazil as a tropical paradise, Brazil as a racial democracy, Brazilians as a sensual and docile people, and Brazil as a country with potential for national greatness or grandeza. (1) Whether in literary or popular form, these myths offer a sense of continuity and serve as the basis of what Benedict Anderson has called a nation's "imagined community."

The science fiction subgenre of alternate history provides an effective way to examine the origins of myths of Brazilian nationalism and its consequences. As "a rather limited, yet appealing sub-genre of science fiction" (13), according to Brian Aldiss, alternate history is based on the premise that the changing of one historical fact could lead to radical changes in the present. Brazilian science fiction author Gerson Lodi-Ribeiro sees this subgenre as a rich vein for science fiction in Brazil, both because Brazilian writers can draw on the country's unique historical experience, and because Brazil is lacking in a firm scientific tradition, which might underpin more hard science fiction. (2) Accordingly, he has actively encouraged the younger generation of Brazilian science fiction authors to cultivate the alternate history subgenre, as demonstrated by his anthology Phantastica Brasiliana (2000), which he published in commemoration of Brazil's 500th anniversary. The stories of the anthology offer diverse images of an alternate Brazil, as a society with more social justice, more political clout, or even more conservative political institutions, e.g., in one case, a contemporary monarchy. (3) The anthology shows how this historically-based science fiction subgenre can provide a venue for exploring Brazilian history and its myths, thus offering diverse literary and cultural definitions of Brazilianness.

In this article, I will examine two stories and one novella that exemplify the alternative history subgenre in Brazil. The first of these to explore the myth of Brazilian greatness--half seriously and half tongue-in-cheek, is Carla Cristina Pereira's "Xochiquetzal e a Esquadra da Vinganca" (Xochiquetzal and the Squadron of Revenge) (2000). (4) This is one of the few stories written by a woman to appear in Phantastica Brasiliana and one of the few recent Brazilian texts to be translated into English (in which form it appeared in an Australian science fiction magazine, Altair). (5) The story is of interest because it explores how the Portuguese crown might have gained total hegemony in the New World, if, after Bartholomew Dias failed to locate the route to India, the Portuguese had sponsored Christopher Columbus's voyage to the New World, supplanting Spain in this function. …