“The Spirit of Science Fiction” (El espíritu de la ciencia-ficción) is a novel written by Chilean author Roberto Bolaño around 1984 and published posthumously.
An English-language translation by Natasha Wimmer will be published in the US on February 13, 2019. The novel is seen as a precursor to “The Savage Detectives”.
Two young poets, Jan and Remo, find themselves adrift in Mexico City. Obsessed with poetry, and, above all, with science fiction, they are eager to forge a life in the literary world–or sacrifice themselves to it.
Roberto Bolaño’s “The Spirit of Science Fiction” is a story of youth hungry for revolution, notoriety, and sexual adventure, as they work to construct a reality out of the fragments of their dreams.
But as close as these friends are, the city tugs them in opposite directions.
Jan withdraws from the world, spends his days holed up in their shared rooftop apartment, reading SF books and feverishly composing fan letters letters to SF authors he admires, such as Ursula K. Le Guin, Alice Sheldon/James Tiptree Jr., Philip José Farmer and Fritz Leiber, dreaming of cosmonauts.
“Jan is devoted to science fiction and holes up in the apartment they share, “scattered papers, newspaper clippings, science fiction books, maps, and dictionaries” piled up around his mattress (“like a kind of library dump”).
He barely ventures out, his life almost entirely interior and writing-/reading-obsessed — though he has no difficulty socializing with the various people Remo has over.
Jan translates some poetry (Daniel Biga and Marc Cholodenko), but he’s obsessed with science fiction — with Remo and a friend of his stealing many of the books, many not yet translated into Spanish, that Jan lives for — and sends out letters to many of the great science fiction authors of the time, lamenting the peripheral position and role of Latin America, among other things. (A sort of inferiority complex, about provincial Chile as well as Latin America as a whole, rears its head repeatedly here.)
Even Jan’s dreams feature the science fiction greats — so also when he has one in which he encounters Soviet author Alexander Belyaev — leading to the exchange with Remo:
“Do you know who he is ?”
“No idea, Jan.”
“A science fiction writer.”
“I thought so. . . . Have you ever read Tolstoy, Bulgakov ?”
“Not much …”
“I’m not surprised. . . . You should read other Russian writers, other writers in general. You can’t spend your life reading stories about spaceships and extraterrestrials.
“Don’t bait me.”
“Meanwhile, Remo runs headfirst into the future, spending his days and nights with a circle of wild young writers, seeking pleasure in the city’s labyrinthine streets, rundown cafés, and murky bathhouses.
This kaleidoscopic work of strange and tender beauty is a fitting introduction for readers uninitiated into the thrills of Roberto Bolaño’s fiction, and an indispensable addition to an ecstatic and transgressive body of work.”
“The Spirit of Science Fiction” serves as a key to Bolaño’s later work, unlocking clues to his abiding obsessions. (…) The mayhem and energy of their embrace of the poetic life — intellectual (and hormonal) passion wedded to judgmental idealism, clinched by a sense of the absurd — vibrates on the page.” – The New York Times Book Review
Roberto Bolaño Ávalos (28 April 1953 – 15 July 2003) was a Chilean novelist, short-story writer, poet and essayist. In 1999, Bolaño won the Rómulo Gallegos Prize for his novel “Los detectives salvajes” (The Savage Detectives), and in 2008 he was posthumously awarded the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction for his novel “2666”, which was described by board member Marcela Valdes as a “work so rich and dazzling that it will surely draw readers and scholars for ages”.
The New York Times described him as “the most significant Latin American literary voice of his generation“.
Roberto Bolaño Ávalos was born in Santiago, Chile, and later lived in Mexico, Paris, and Spain.
A poet and novelist, he has been acclaimed as “by far the most exciting writer to come from south of the Rio Grande in a long time” (The Los Angeles Times), and as “the real thing and the rarest” (Susan Sontag).
Among his many prizes are the prestigious Herralde de Novela Award and the Premio Rómulo Gallegos.
He is widely considered to be the greatest Latin American writer of his generation.
His books include “The Savage Detectives”, “2666”, “By Night in Chile”, “Distant Star”, “Last Evenings on Earth”, and “The Romantic Dogs”.
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