Rodolfo Martínez Guest Post–“Twenty Years Ago…”

Note: Special thanks to Steve Redwood for his assistance with the translation of this piece.

Between 1985 and 1994 I wrote, more or less, a novel a year. All of them, except Cat’s Whirld and Jormungand, have been lost. Although not completely; somewhere there are typed copies of a few of them, or parts of them; and many of the themes, situations, and incidents of the majority of those novels have been used in later works; an example would be Where the Shadows Lie, which twenty years later became the embryo of  my novel Fiercely Human (Fieramente humano).

But in terms of published books, which is what might interest readers, those novels do not exist, apart from the two mentioned.

You might be wondering why I let them get lost, why I didn’t send them to publishers, or enter them in literary competitions. Believe me, I did! The discouraging result was a pile of rejections—or simply silence.

The first time a publisher replied with something other than the usual rejection letter was with Cat’s Whirld. So what did it have that the others didn’t? Had I perhaps somehow made a great qualitative leap, and changed from being a bad writer to an acceptable one?

I don’t think so. If I analyze my work from that period, the difference in quality between this novel and the one before it is small. As is the difference between that earlier novel and the one before that. As is the difference… Yes, I believe there was a certain progression from one novel to the next, but such progression was slow, unhurried, quiet, and constant: with each novel I wrote, I was learning to do it a little bit better. And one day, without realizing it, I crossed the frontier, I passed from being a collector of rejection notes (or deafening silences) to being someone about to publish a novel. It was a gradual process, during which, it’s true, I almost threw in the towel more than once.

I didn’t do it. I suspect it’s because by then I couldn’t. I’d been writing since I was twelve, and I simply couldn’t stop now. I was always thinking up stories, characters, situations: they’d be forever going round and round in my head, and in one way or another I had to free myself of them, let them out, put them on paper. And the moment that was done, my head would begin to fill up again with new stories, characters, situations….

I was a writing junkie. I think I’d been one almost from the very beginning, from the moment when, at the age of twelve, and armed with one of those BIC cristal biros and an A5-size ringed graph notebook (yes, PC’s were far in the future, to say nothing about the internet), I sat down to write my first story. From then on, from the moment when what was in my head took shape on paper and I realized how incredibly entertaining the process was, I was doomed. I was condemned to continue writing for the rest of my life, whether I managed to publish anything or not.

In the end, obviously, I managed it, but things might easily have gone the other way. The road to publication isn’t a straight one, nor a cursus honorum whereby if you do A, you will get B, and that will lead to C. It depends partly on how good you are, of course, but also to a large extent on chance, on being in the right place at the right time, and being able to offer the publisher what interests him at that particular moment, not a year before or two years afterwards. So yes, I’m aware I might well have spent my whole life as an unpublished author. Or maybe resigned myself to publishing short stories in fanzines without ever making the leap into novels and the world of professional publishing.

Who knows?

But the fact is, at the start of 1995 Miraguano Ediciones decided that Cat’s Whirld was right for their Futurópolis collection, they offered me a contract, I signed it, and a few months later the book was on sale.

So, did my life change?

Not in the sense that the cinema or the sensationalist press would have us believe. I didn’t strike it rich, I didn’t produce the bestseller of the decade, and suddenly become a person not merely able to make a living from his writing, but able to live well, surrounded by groupies, and with Hollywood licking his feet and begging to be allowed to adapt his novels to the screen.

No, I went on working as a computer programmer, and in general my life was just the same as it always had been. A few small things changed, but nothing substantial.

But in my mind, in that real world which was what really mattered, everything had changed. I had published my first novel! I had arrived; I wasn’t at the finishing line, because it’s a journey without an end, but I was well on the first stage of the journey. Here I am and here I stand, as Duke Leto Atreides is reported to have said on reaching Arrakis.

Cat’s Whirld was the beginning of a journey I’m still making and which, I suspect, I’ll be making the whole of my life. It wasn’t the first step, of course, but perhaps it was, to use a metaphor I particularly like, my official entry submission, the exam which allowed me to move on from being an apprentice to becoming a qualified practitioner, a journeyman, we could say.

Indeed, I have always viewed literature more as a craft than as an art. Maybe that thinking comes from my rejection of the idea of the artist as someone above the rest of the mortals, a kind of superior being with a special sensitivity that cannot be judged as a common person. To hell with that! We are just people, subject to the same misery and greatness everyone else is. I am not an artist, I cannot see myself as one: I am just a craftsman—of course, I like to think I am a skillful one, but I am not qualified to judge that. It is you, the reader, who has to decide if my work is good enough or not.

Cat’s Whirld was very well received by Spanish SF fans, a small but enthusiast group in those days, and they proved it the following year when the novel won the Ignotus Award for Best Novel. The Ignotus are, so to speak, the Spanish version of the Hugo Awards: back then, they were voted on by the members of Spanish Science Fiction & Fantasy Association and were announced during the Spanish SF & Fantasy Convention, the HispaCon. Today the voting has been opened to everyone, but they still are announced in the HispaCon.

Even today, twenty years later, I find people who tell me that it’s their favorite of my novels. Well, I like to think that I didn’t stop improving and that I have written better novels: several prizes and numerous books might be indicative of this. But I understand those readers: yes. I think I’ve written better novels, but Cat’s Whirld has a special place in my heart.

I hope that, twenty years later, people enjoy the novel as much as those who read it in 1995. I hope they like the hybridization of spy thriller, cyberpunk and space opera and the combination of adventure, drama, humor and character interplay. And, of course, I hope they find the Whirld (that space station with the shape of a spinning top where everything happens) spellbinding.

I confess that I have: while I was revising the novel for the 20th anniversary Spanish edition, and despite being aware that there were many things I would now have written quite differently, the style, the story, the action, the ambience, and the characters still work, at least for me. I am not the same person that wrote it, yes, but I still like that guy and the way he made things.

I cannot finish without talking about the great work Steve Redwood has done in translating the novel into English. Steve is a terrific writer and a good friend. During the translation he worked very closely with me and was very careful in his efforts to get same effects in English I was trying to achieve in Spanish, specially, but not only, with the slang I invented for the novel. I think he succeeded: when I read myself in English I recognize my voice. Yes, it’s me, I wrote that novel–or at lest it is the novel I would have written if my English were good enough.

It’s always a pleasure for me to read my work in English, a language I’ve loved since I was a boy, when I received my first English lessons; and without Steve that wouldn’t have been possible. I only hope that my Spanish version of some of his work lives up to the same standard.


About the Author

Rodolfo Martínez (Candás, Asturias, Spain, 1965) published his first short story in 1987, and soon became a key figure in Spanish fantastic literature; although if one characteristic defines his work, it is the fusion of genres, as with he unashamedly mixes numerous registers, from science fiction and fantasy to the crime novel and thriller, making his books difficult to classify.

Winner of the Minotauro Prize (awarded by Planeta, Spain’s biggest publishing house) for Los sicarios del cielo (Hitmen from Heaven), he has won many other awards during his literary career, such as the Asturias Novel Prize, the University of País Vasco Short Story Award, and—several times—the Ignotus Prize (awarded by the Spanish Association of Fantasy, Science Fiction and Terror) in the categories of novel, novella, and short story. His novels based loosely on the Sherlock Holmes canon have been translated into Portuguese, Polish, Turkish, and French.

In 2009, with El adepto de la Reina (The Queen’s Adept) he began a new narrative cycle which combines elements of the spy novel with some of the themes and settings more characteristic of fantasy.

More recently, he has collected his Drímar cycle (the universe in which Cat’s Whirld is set) into four volumes, and has also published the fourth novel in his City cycle, Las astillas de Yavé (The Splinters of Yahweh), under the Fantascy imprint of Penguin Random House.

One thought on “Rodolfo Martínez Guest Post–“Twenty Years Ago…”

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