Three Messages and a Warning - By Eduardo Jimenez Mayo

When one talks to Mexican science fiction writers, the subject of “Mexican national content” commonly comes up. Mexican science fiction writers all know what that is, or they claim to know, anyway. They commonly proclaim that their work needs more national flavor.

This book has got that. Plenty. The interesting part is that this “Mexican national content” bears so little resemblance to content that most Americans would consider “Mexican.”

Americans, being the neighbors of Mexico, have a pretty fair idea of what Mexicans are up to. Some people would deny that, and claim that the norteamericanos only know the tourist-shop cliches, but that does Americans a disservice. Americans know about as much as any other non-Mexicans: they get it about Mexican food, Mexican music, the Fifth of May, hats and ponchos and serapes, snake and eagle flags, masked wrestlers, wealthy families, the oil business, seaside tourism, tequila, pulque and beer, cactus, jungles, fiestas, histrionic soap operas. . . .

Not only do Americans get it about that stuff, they admire those characteristics; they accept that as a kind of triumphant Mexican cultural imperialism, in a form of yanqui malinchismo. Americans can’t do that stuff very well, so they know they ought to gracefully accept it.

But there’s none of that in this story collection. Scarcely a trace of it, of that all-too-apparent kind of “Mexican-ness.” Instead there are ghosts, mermaids, mutant fireflies, alien vampire bats . . . an obsession with buried treasure that leads a man straight to hell, an artist who vanishes into her own painting, an eerie plague of urbanized lions. . . .

That’s what Mexican science fiction looks like when it’s being most Mexican, and also most modern.

Mexican SF is intensely fantastic, but it’s not very sci-fi. It’s a New World science fiction without the stabilizing presence of American engineers and American gadget magazines. The structure of publishing in Mexico has always been Mexican; it lacks any middle-class. So there’s a popular street level of wild-eyed fanzines, tabloids, and comic books, and an empyrean of Mexican fantastic literateurs who show an impressive awareness of Borges and Kafka. There’s no middlebrow. Mexican SF is a science fiction with no popular mechanics, no problem-solving stories, and very little ideational extrapolation. “Hard SF” never took root in that soil.

Instead, this book offers what science fiction offers to Mexicans: a fantastic laboratory for identity issues. Most of these stories are brief, heartfelt, and low-key. They do not yowl from the rooftops at the multitudes; they have an epistolary, diaristic, or confessional air.

Melancholy ghosts abound, commonly treated with black humor.

There are no Mexican futuristic utopias on offer, but there are post-apocalyptic landscapes where Mexico itself becomes the ghost.

Artistic figures are everywhere in these stories, but they never claim any great fame or wealth; instead, they claim great secrets. The visionary maestro has blind eyes; the president has no organs. They seek dignity. Dignity and meaning, but dignity above all else.

Mexico and the USA have a somewhat fraught relationship, but we’ve always been there for one another, and by the standards of most nations our size, it’s amazing how rarely we shoot each other. A European or Asian would have to conclude that we really do have a camaraderie, almost a sisterhood. It might not always feel that way on the ground, but the historical facts speak otherwise.

In today’s conditions of rampant globalization, that kind of physical intimacy between nations takes on a different meaning. While the border between the nations grows taller and harsher, much abetted by the ill will of global guerrillas, the civil populations grow more intimate. Two literatures, based in different forms of paper, nurtured, sheltered, and neglected by their national presses and publishers, now see publishing in collapse—not just nationally, but most everywhere that ink ever hit paper.

The societies are radically changing, and, with them, the genres. It’s about time to give the neighbors a second look. Things are not turning out the way the 20th century thought they would.

The United States of America is Mexicanizing much faster than Mexico is Americanizing. Ultra-wealthy moguls, class divisions, obsessions with weird religious cults, powerful factions who shun scientific fact, an abject reliance on fossil fuels and narcotics—these formerly Mexican characteristics have become USA all the way.

In conditions of globalization, you can always find new markets—or lose the ones you have—but you can never find old friends.

The face of an old friend can be better than a mirror, sometimes.

When Fixed Ideas Take Flight

Eduardo Jiménez Mayo

Probably no other anthology of contemporary Mexican short stories has accomplished

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