International: SF in Brazil

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil [by Wolfhardt under a CCSA 3.0 license]
Since 2014, Brazil has been plunged into a political and economic crisis triggered by unprecedented levels of corruption, plots against the democratic order, and numerous state acts of budget recklessness. Book-buying habits were affected, of course, but during the current slow economic recovery the book selling market was hurt again when major bookstore chain Saraiva decided to hold payments to publishers.

Saraiva has been Brazil’s biggest bookstore chain since 2008, when it bought rival Siciliano. In March 2018, Saraiva imposed a deal on publishers that gave the chain three months to pay bills already existent, due to “a delay in tax-credit recovery action and ongoing renego­tiations with financial institutions,” according to PublishNews.

According to that site, the National Book Publishers Union received the measure with resignation. Chairman Marcos da Veiga Pereira said the union “acknowledges the company’s restructuring efforts and supports Saraiva, while at the same time it will work on minimizing the impact those renegotiations may bring to the book publishing market.” Among publishers and market observers, though, many people saw the fact as a “default” quite damaging to their operations, since it strongly affected their cash flow.

Despite the justifications, some people won­dered whether the measure would be a result of the megastores-opening race that characterized the competition between bookseller chains and franchises in the last years. In mid-race, those chains were caught undercapitalized by the po­litical and economic crisis. According to a report by Ruan Gabriel & Roberto Scrivano in weekly newsmagazine Época, a “discount war” among the chains might also explain Saraiva’s current predicament – “average discount practiced by bookstores was 27.2%.”

A more likely hypothesis is that the measure was aimed at guaranteeing Saraiva’s financial health during that crisis. Indeed, in May Pub­lishNews reported that “the company’s net profit grew an impressive 370% when compared with the [first three months] of 2017.” The maneuver caused some publishers to stop selling to that chain.

Another important bookstore chain, Livraria Cultura, has also delayed payments and in May altered its commercial rules, including payments after 120 days.

Considering that speculative fiction has be­come in the last 20 years a necessary line for most mid-sized and big publishers, the field has felt the impact of the insecurity caused by that shift in commercial praxis. According to Época, “lean publishing houses with more time in the market are the ones more hurt by the bookshop crisis.” That is basically the case of Aleph, the leading SF publisher in Brazil. Adriano Piazzi, Aleph’s publisher, told me that besides the new practices adopted by Saraiva and Livraria Cul­tura, there was “an abrupt cut in credit from [the Brazilian National Bank for Economic and Social Development] Bank of Brazil, that we employed to print quantities books. That forced us to reduce printouts and the number of releases along the years.”

Adriano also said that in this bleak context the arrival of Amazon Brasil in 2014 gave a second wind to small publishers in trouble, as it introduced a new outlet for book sales and part­nership in special editions. On the other hand, according to a report quoted by the Época story, “in the last four years – a period that coincides with Amazon’s arrival in Brazil – at least 20% of the country’s bookstores were closed.”

It is amazing then that the major news for the speculative field in Brazil would be science fiction publishing becoming a trend with two fronts: the publication of classic novels – an area so successfully pioneered by Aleph that one could credit it with showing other local companies the viability of SF publishing – and the translation of recent titles by authors previ­ously unseen here.

Aleph itself has fired off a burst of classics in recent years: Daniel Keyes’s Flowers for Alger­non (for the first time in Brazil), Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Frank Herbert’s Dune series, Michael Crichton’s The Andromeda Strain, Isaac Asimov’s Pebbles in the Sky and the Foun­dation series, Arthur C. Clarke’s Moondust, Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We, Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris, and many others. Aleph also trailblazes the pub­lication of recent titles, such as John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War, The Ghost Brigades, and Lock In – in rapid succession, Ann Leckie’s Ancilary Justice, and Brandon Sanderson’s YA trilogy The Reckoners.

Newcomer house Morro Branco follows in Aleph’s steps, but emphasizes feminist authors such as Octavia E. Butler, whose Kindred and Parable of the Sower have already appeared. Kindred was a critical success, appearing in lists of the best releases of 2017 as chosen by major newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo and liter­ary tabloid Quatro Cinco Um. Other important SF novels of the past mentioned in those lists were Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (through Rocco) and Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Dispossessed (through Aleph). Morro Branco is committed to the translation of the whole But­ler oeuvre, but the new company also brought Charlie Jane Anders’s All the Birds in the Sky.

Connie Willis has also appeared for the first time in book-form in Brazil. Suma published in 2017 her 1992 award-winning novel Doomsday Book, followed by the recent Crosstalk. Suma is heavily investing in SF, having published a number of H.G. Wells’s works and now walking the same path taken by Aleph – which keeps a strong catalog of Philip K. Dick’s books – with the release of Dick’s Time Out of Joint. Invest­ing in recent titles, Suma has also published Cixin Liu’s Three-Body trilogy. Finally, though more focused on horror fiction, DarkSide Books also brought out a new SF release with The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers.

In spite of the current crisis and after de­cades of being down and out, science fiction has become one of the new hot editorial areas in Brazil.

Brazilian science fiction, on the other hand, still lags behind. In the last 20 years, fantasy and horror writers have written bestsellers and become household names in the field: André Vianco, Orlando Paes Filho, Raphael Draccon, and Eduardo Spohr. Last year, Felipe Castilho’s high-fantasy novel Filhos da Degradação (Children of Degradation), published by In­trínseca, was a bestseller and one of the most promoted products seen at the Brazilian Comic Con – which broke all attendance records with about 227,000 people attending. Castilho gave more than 1,100 autographs during the four days of the event.

Nothing similar will be found in the science fiction genre, even though the work of Alexey Dodsworth keeps getting attention: he was the winner of the 2017 Argos Award for best novel with his O Esplendor (The Splendor, from Editora Draco), a retelling of Asimov’s “Nightfall” balanced with YA prose and touches of sexual diversity. Other winners were Best Anthology: Medieval (Editora Draco) edited by Ana Lúcia Merege & Eduardo Kasse; Best Short Story: “O Grande Livro de Fogo” (“The Great Book of Fire”) by Merege; and Life Achievement Award: Douglas Quinta Reis (1954-2017), an editor and cofounder of Devir Brasil. Another writer that deserves critical recognition is Cirilo S. Lemos, whose second novel, E de Extermínio (E of Extermination, 2015), demonstrates his fine craft.

In June, Porto Alegre in the Brazilian South held its V Odyssey of Fantastic Literature, after skipping 2017. Its international guest was Dutch author Thomas Olde Heuvelt, whose horror novel Hex was published in Brazil by DarkSide, which brought him over and booked him for the event and for a book tour that included Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, major Brazilian cities. Heuvelt attended the four days of the event and spoke to fans, translated by Christopher Kastens­midt, a US author living in Brazil.

During the event its organizers gave the very first Odyssey Trophy to Southern writer Simone Saueressig, honoring her 30-year career writing fantasy and science fiction – mostly directed at children and teenage readers. Saueressig gave me a statement:

I received the 2018 Odyssey Trophy with plenty of emotion. It is comforting, in a year of crisis that was preceded by an equally awful year, to see my work recognized. More than that, to get this recognition from people who also produce fantastic literature in Brazil and who face the same challenges. Years ago, when I began to take writing seriously, I imagined how nice it would be to see fantastic literature really happening in Brazil, and taking part of that movement fills me with joy.

Once again, given the circumstances, it is remarkable that literary actors in the field are now finding it in such a positive moment, that some speak of touchstone facts that announce a new age of fantastika (to use John Clute’s en­compassing term) by Brazilian writers. Bruno Anselmi Matangrano & Enéias Tavares, authors of the huge and inclusive Fantástico Brasileiro (Brazilian Fantastic, out from Arte & Letra), a research volume that pursues Brazilian instanc­es of fantasy, horror, SF, and the fantastic all the way from the 19th century to the present. It concludes with the proposition that this long line of production equals a true-to-the-letter literary movement, called by the authors “Fantasism.” The book and its proposition were covered by the mainstream media. Certainly, this literature is more than a market circumstance.

Roberto de Sousa Causo

This report and more like it in the December 2018 issue of Locus.

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