Academic journal article Chasqui

Apocalyptic Visions in Contemporary Mexican Science Fiction

Academic journal article Chasqui

Apocalyptic Visions in Contemporary Mexican Science Fiction

Article excerpt

The concept of "apocalypse" in the West has its origins in Judeo-Christian mythology according to which the fallen and imperfect world we live in will be destroyed in order to make way for a more perfect realm of existence for true believers in God, as described in Revelation, the last book in the Bible. Lois Parkinson Zamora reminds us that ever since the early days of Christianity artists have been fascinated by apocalypse, and she adds that in the later Middle Ages a significant body of literary and artistic works were inspired by John's apocalyptic visions in Revelation (1). Our modern world, in spite of its faith in scientific certainty, is not excepted from imagining end-of-the-world scenarios, as can be evidenced by the steady Hollywood production of apocalyptic scenarios involving asteroids, extraterrestrials, climactic changes, etc. However, far from its hopeful historical and religious origins, in modern coinage apocalypse denotes the very real possibility of the sudden demise of everyone regardless of our religious orientation. (1) David Dowling notes that "the language of Biblical apocalypse has been transferred effortlessly and wholesale to the description of late twentieth century angst" (115). Apocalypse may flash its face in moments of national crisis provoked by strained international relations or a sudden natural disaster, such as the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and the tremendous triple threat of earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown in Japan in 2011.

The theme of apocalypse has been creatively explored in art and literature, and science fiction (sf) is no exception. Robert Scholes' succinct definition of sf is rather complete: "a fictional exploration of human situations made perceptible by the implications of recent science" and its impact "upon the people who must live with those revelations or developments" (55). Applied science, or technology, in this type of fiction may be "human or extra-terrestrial in origin" (Atais 11). David Ketterer adds that sf is a "response to abruptly changing social conditions [...] it is an outgrowth and an expression of crisis" (154-55), Ketterer's observation makes sense when we remember that sf emerged as a creative and critical pushback against the rapid transformation of European societies during the Industrial Revolution in the nineteenth century, and so, from its beginnings, an innate leitmotiv in sf is apocalypse, whether initiated by human activity or extraterrestrial beings and forces. While in H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds (1898) human civilizations are brought to the brink of extinction by Martians, in Nevil Shute's On the Beach (1957) human civilization is annihilated by man-made nuclear weapons.

In this study, however, I will analyze descriptions of apocalypse in contemporary Mexican science fiction as represented by four stories and one novel: "Llamaradas para fechas vacias" (1973) by Paco Ignacio Taibo II, "Arbol de la vida" (1981) by Edmundo Dominguez Aragones, "El que llego hasta el metro Pino Suarez" (1986) by Arturo Cesar Rojas, "Prediccion cumplida" (1988) by Federico Schaffler and La destruccion de rodas las cosas (1992) by Hugo Hiriart. Now, the production of sf in Mexico was not given serious critical attention by scholars until fairly recently, so it may surprise some to find out that Mexican sf actually harks back to the eighteenth century to Friar Manuel Antonio de Rivas's short story "Sizgias y cuadraturas lunares" (ca. 1775). (2) In this story the author employs a now classic science fiction trope--space travel: a man makes it to the moon on a flying machine he has invented, displays his scientific knowledge to the moon's inhabitants and circles the moon before returning to earth. What may strike us as a curious tale from colonial times in Mexico is, in fact, a veiled critique of the anti-scientific and religiously conservative Spanish regime of the time. (3) Regarding Rivas's story Gabriel Trujillo Munoz, a prominent scholar of Mexican science fiction, states: "Asi es posible ver que, en Mexico, la ciencia ficcion comienza como una aventura del pensamiento en libertad [. …

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