mount_oregano: Let me see (Default)
In 2005, I was living in Madrid, Spain. Here’s my blog post from that year’s eclipse. The map below from the Planetarium of Pamplona, Spain, shows Universal Times, and the Madrid peak time was 10:58 a.m. Luckily, I still have my Eclipse Shades™ to witness next week’s eclipse here in Chicago. Many suppliers are sold out already.

This morning, October 3, was cool and cloudless. My husband and I were sitting on the grass next to some rose bushes at the esplanade of Madrid's Planetarium. More than 2,000 people had come to witness the first annular eclipse of the Sun visible in Spain since April 1, 1764. It was about 10:30 a.m., still 25 minutes away from the big moment, but the Sun already had become a remarkable crescent.

One of the young women sitting behind us looked up. “¡Ay! ¡Qué chulo!” she said to her friend: Wow! It's so neat!

An LED screen in front of the Planetarium offered a live view of the Sun, or from time to time, explanatory videos. The orbit of the Moon placed it a bit far away from the Earth at that moment, so it wouldn’t cover all of the Sun as it does during a total eclipse. People on the ground in a narrow band from Spain to Somalia would see it cover 90% the Sun and create a ring of light in the sky.

Of course, no one should look at the Sun directly, so the Planetarium gave away 1,600 Eclipse Shades™, cardboard glasses with plastic lenses so dark nothing dimmer than the Sun could be seen through them. Someone had put a pair on the statue of the late, beloved Madrid Mayor Enrique Tierno Galván that presides over the esplanade, and groups of friends photographed each other standing beside it, everyone in their Shades.

Other people held the glasses as an improvised filter over the camera lens of their mobile telephones. More professionally minded photographers, there in abundance, used real filters. School groups, retirees, but most of all young people had come out: unemployment is high among young adults in Spain, so they had the time and the proper finances to appreciate a free show.

Refreshments, so to speak, were provided by Wrigley's, which introduced a new brand of chewing gum that day to Spain: Trex Eclipse. Representatives handed out free packs. The advertising campaign called the gum “intensely refreshing.” It tasted very minty.

Over loudspeakers, an astronomer described other eclipses as the heavens continued to move above us. By 10:45 the light was noticeably dimmer, like a cloudy day, and, next to us, the light diffracting through the tiny spaces between the leaves of the rose bushes dappled tiny crescent shapes on the ground.

A Telemadrid TV station helicopter began to circle the Planetarium, photographing a sea of people staring through cardboard glasses at the sky. Some people waved.

The moment approached. The crescent shrank into a tiny sliver.

The Planetarium had arranged for a violinist, Ara Malikian, to play his composition, Moon Shadow, during the peak minutes of the eclipse. He was introduced to applause. The work made use of the ability of a violinist to play two strings at once, the two notes representing the two heavenly bodies as they reached harmony — though he was hard to hear over the TV helicopter.

The Moon kept moving, and, finally, to more applause and shouts of “¡Vamos!” All right!, it made a ring out of the Sun.

For 4 minutes and 11 seconds, a beautiful halo of light floated overhead, too brilliant to see without shades, wonderful but weird. The shadows under the rose bushes became rings. The light was dimmer, and shadows sparkled with a new geometry. People looked up and around with delight.

Then, the ring thinned at the bottom, and there was a flash of a Baily's bead, a pearl of light that marked the rays of the Sun passing through a valley on the edge of the surface of the Moon. The Sun became a crescent again, to more applause.

The violinist explored the slow separation of the two spheres, ending with two sustained, simultaneous notes, to yet more applause. The crescent gradually grew, and eventually people began to drift off to the street, pausing for one last observation of the Sun through their souvenir glasses before they entered the subway and returned to their normal Monday routine.

— Sue Burke

mount_oregano: Let me see (Postage stamp)

I’ll be at MIRcon this weekend, Spain’s 31st national science fiction, fantasy, and horror convention, also called HispaCon. It’s being held this year in Montcada i Reixac, a suburb of Barcelona.

Activities will include panels, conferences, an awards dinner, children’s activities, a Catalan-language track, exhibits, sales stands, signings, meetings, a zombie walk, a Night’s Watch Oath, and videos. Guests of honor are Nina Allan, Aliette de Bodard, Christopher Priest, Karin Tidbeck, Carlos Sisi, and Félix J. Palma. A lot of other Spanish authors will be there, too.

I’ll be on a panel with Mariano Villareal at 10:30 a.m. Monday presenting Castles in Spain / Castillos en el aire. We’ll hold a Kickstarter campaign starting in January to get this “best of” Spanish anthology translated into English. (You’ll hear a lot more about this.)

If you happen to be in Barcelona, you’re welcome to drop in. Events are free and open to the public. We’ll have fun.

— Sue Burke

mount_oregano: Let me see (Picasso)

“I am myself and my circumstances...”

If you know nothing else about José Ortega y Gasset, remember that phrase, his most famous, written in 1914. The Spanish philosopher died in Madrid on October 18, 1955, at age 72. He was active in the Second Republic and went into self-exile at the outbreak of the Civil War, although after 1945 he returned frequently to Spain.

For him, “Yo soy yo y mi circunstancia” expressed the constant conflict between every person and the time and place where he or she is born: the drama or tragedy between necessity and freedom, of living with a reality that “forms the other half of myself.”

For him, freedom meant “being free inside of a given fate,” with a necessity to act. “I am myself and my circumstances, and if I do not rescue my circumstances, I do not rescue myself,” he wrote. “Life is what we do and what happens to us.”

Within fate, we can choose our destiny and create “a project of life.”

Some may find their philosophy of life in religion, existentialism, or nihilism. He created a philosophy based on pragmatism.

“Living is a constant process of deciding what we are going to do.”

What are you going to do?

— Sue Burke

mount_oregano: Let me see (Picasso)

The Spanish Association for Fantasy, Science Fiction, and Horror (Associación Española de Fantasía, Ciencia Ficción y Terror, AEFCFT) has announced the nominees for the 2014 Ignotus Awards, which are the national version of the Hugo Awards. The awards originated in 1991, and each year they honor the best works of Spanish speculative fiction and translations from other languages. The winners of the 2014 Ignotus Awards will be announced at Hispacon/MIRcon, Spain’s 2014 national science fiction and fantasy convention, which will take place from December 6 to 8 in Montcada i Reixac, a suburb of Barcelona.

After the first round of voting for the 2014 Ignotus Award, the candidates for each category are:

Translated Novel

2312, by Kim Stanley Robinson (Minotauro)

El vacío de la evolución [The Evolutionary Void], by Peter F. Hamilton (La Factoría de Ideas)

Embassytown, by China Miéville (Fantascy)

La casa de hojas [House of Leaves], by Mark Z. Danielewski (Alpha Decay)

El ladrón cuántico [The Quantum Thief], by Hannu Rajaniemi (Alamut)

Las luminosas [The Shining Girls], by Lauren Beukes (RBA)

Tierras rojas [Red Country], by Joe Abercrombie (Alianza)

Translated Short Story

“26 monos, además del abismo” [“26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss”], by Kij Johnson (Cuentos para Algernon Vol I)

“Araña, la artista” [“Spider, the Artist”], by Nnedi Okorafor (Terra Nova Vol 2. Fantascy)

“El hombre que puso fin a la Historia: documental” [“The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary”], by Ken Liu (Terra Nova Vol 2. Fantascy)

“Las manos de su marido” [“Her Husband’s Hands”], by Adam-Troy Castro (Terra Nova Vol 2. Fantascy)

“Separados por las aguas del Río Celeste” [“Scattered Along the River of Heaven”], by Aliette de Bodard (Terra Nova Vol 2. Fantascy)

“Sueños imposibles” [“Impossible Dreams”], by Tim Pratt (Hic sunt dracones. Fata Libelli)


Esta noche arderá el cielo [The Sky Will Burn Tonight], by Emilio Bueso (Salto de Página)

Gente muerta [Dead People], by J. G. Mesa (aContracorriente)

La canción secreta del mundo [The World’s Secret Song], by José Antonio Cotrina (Hidra)

Los nombres muertos [Dead Names], by Jesús Cañadas (Fantascy)

Memoria de tinieblas [Memory of Darkness], by Eduardo Vaquerizo (Sportula)


“En el filo” [“On the Edge”], by Ramón Muñoz (Terra Nova Vol. 2. Fantascy)

“La edad del vuelo” [“The Age of Flight”], by Alberto Moreno Pérez (Zaibatsu / La edad del vuelo. Juan José Aroz, Espiral)

“La montaña” [“The Mountain”], by Juan González Mesa (Bizarro)

“La penúltima danza del Griwll [“The Second-Last Dance of the Griwll”], by Ramón Merino Collado (De monstruos y Trincheras. Juan José Aroz, Espiral)

“Rafentshalf,” [“Rafentschalf”] by Jesús Fernández Lozano (Reyes de aire y agua. Cápside)

Short Story

“Dariya” [“Dariya”], by Nieves Delgado (Ellos son el futuro / Web Ficción Científica / Revista Terbi nº 7)

“El aeropuerto del fin del mundo” [“The Airport at the End of the World”], by Tamara Romero (Visiones 2012. AEFCFT)

“El enemigo en casa” [“The Enemy Within”], by Concepción Regueiro (Historias del Crazy Bar. Stonewall)

“La última huella” “The Last Footprint”], by Miguel Santander (La costilla de Dios. Libralia / Revista TerBi nº 6)

“Los orcos no comen golosinas” [“Orcs Don’t Eat Candy”], by Carlos López Hernando (Visiones 2012. AEFCFT)

“Wendy de los gatos” [“Cat Wendy”], by Jesús Fernández Lozano (Reyes de aire y agua. Cápside)


Cuentos para Algernon Año I [Stories for Algeron, Year I], edited by Marcheto (Cuentos para Algernon)

Hic sunt dracones, Cuentos imposibles [Hic Sunt Dracones: Impossible Dreams], by Tim Pratt (Fata Libelli)

La bomba número seis [Pump Six and other stories], by Paolo Bacigalupi (Fantascy)

Reyes de aire y agua [Kings of the Air and Water], by Jesús Fernández Lozano (Cápside)

Terra Nova Vol. 2 [Terra Nova Vol. 2], edited by Mariano Villarreal and Luis Pestarini (Fantascy)


Cómo escribir ciencia-ficción y fantasía [How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy], by Orson Scott Card (Alamut)

El poder de la sangre [The Power of Blood], by Pedro L. López (Dolmen)

Jack Kirby. El cuarto demiurgo [Jack Kurby: The Fourth Demiurge], by José Manuel Uría (Sportula)

Japón sobrenatural [Supernatural Japan], by Daniel Aguilar (Satori)

La biblia steampunk [The Steampunk Bible], by Jeff Vandermeer and S. J. Chambers (Edge Entertainment)

La 100cia ficción de Rescepto [Rescepto C_ience Fiction], by Sergio Mars (Cápside)

La literatura fantástica argentina en el siglo XIX [Fantastic Literature in Argentina in the 19th Century], by Carlos Abraham (La Biblioteca del Laberinto)

Silencios de pánico [Panicked Silences], by Diego López and David Pizarro (Tyrannosaurus Books)

Steampunk Cinema [Steampunk Cinema], by various authors, (Tyrannosaurus Books)


“Howard Koch, el guionista tras la magia de La guerra de los mundos de Orson Welles” “Howard Koch, the Scriptwriter Behind the Magic of The War of the Worlds by Orson Wells”], by Luis Alfonso Gámez (Web Magonia)

“La ciencia ficción española”[“Spanish Science Fiction”], by Mariano Villarreal (Web El rincón de Koreander)

“Literatura Fantástica en cifras. Estadística de producción editorial de género fantástico en España durante el año 2013” [“Fantastic Literature in Numbers: Statistics on Genre Publishing in Spain in 2013"], by Mariano Villarreal (Web Literatura Fantástica)

“Sobre la fantasía feérica” [About Fairy Fantasy”], by Sergio Mars (Anthology Reyes de aire y agua)

“Ucronía” [“Alternate History”], by Asociación Cultural ALT+64 (Revista TerBi nº 7 / Web alt+64 Wiki)


Cover art, De monstruos y trincheras, by Koldo Campo (Juan José Aroz, Espiral)

Cover art, El dirigible, by Carlos Argiles (Dlorean)

Cover art, El mejor de los mundos posibles, by Alejandro Colucci (RBA)

Cover art, Memoria de tinieblas, by Eduardo Vaquerizo (Sportula)

Cover art, Reyes de aire y agua, by Olga Esther (Cápside)

Cover art, Terra Nova Vol. 2, by Ángel Benito Gastañaga (Fantascy)

Cover art, Zaibatsu / La edad del vuelo, by Koldo Campo (Juan José Aroz, Espiral)

Audiovisual Production

El cosmonauta [The Cosmonaut], by Nicolás Alcalá (movie)

Fallo de Sistema [System Failure], by Santiago Bustamante (radio program)

Los últimos días [The Last Days], by Álex Pastor and David Pastor (movie)

Luces en el Horizonte [Lights on the Horizon], by Luis Martínez and Pablo Uría (podcast)

Los VerdHugos [The Hugo Hangmen], by Miquel Codony, Pedro Román, Elías F. Combarro and Joseph María Oriol (podcast)


Category cancelled this year due to a failure to reach the minimum number of candidates specified in Article 26 of the rules.

Obra poética

Category cancelled this year due to a failure to reach the minimum number of candidates specified in Article 26 of the rules.


Alfa Eridiani (Asociación Cultural Alfa Eridiani)

Barsoom (La Hermandad del Enmascarado)

Delirio (La Biblioteca del Laberinto)

miNatura (Asociación Cultural miNatura Soterrània)

Planetas Prohibidos (Grupo Planetas Prohibidos)

Scifiworld (Inquidanzas Ediciones)


Alt+64-Wiki, by Asociación cultural Alt+64 (

Cuentos para Algernon, by Marcheto (

La tercera fundación, by Asociación para la difusión de la literatura fantástica ‘Los Conseguidores’ (

Literatura Fantástica, by Mariano Villarreal (

Sense of Wonder, by Elías Combarro (

Congratulations to the nominees! It's an especially fine selection this year, and it will be hard to pick a winner.

mount_oregano: Let me see (Weather vane)
There's been a lot of discussion lately about sexual harassment policies at science fiction conventions. They're talking about the same thing at the fiesta in Pamplona, famous for the running of the bulls. It's eight days of activities of all sorts -- music, dancing, parades, theater, children's activities, and fireworks -- but also crowded with tourists who think "anything goes."
mount_oregano: Let me see (Weather vane)
King Juan Carlos I did not want his son to “wither” like Prince Charles of Great Britain waiting for the crown to pass to him. So on June 2, after 39 years on the throne, he announced his abdication, and seventeen days later Felipe VI was proclaimed (not coronated) the new King of Spain.

Madrid’s mayor called on its residents to decorate their balconies with the flag to show support for the new King. A few in my neighborhood did, but most balconies went unadorned.

His new Majesty looked happy at the brief, “austere” ceremony, but that probably won’t last long. He’s already been called a dynamic force, a hope, fresh air – and a scapegoat.

These days all institutions have lost prestige, and the Crown has long been associated with the Catholic Church and politicians. Both poll poorly in Spain. Felipe left out a Bible, crucifix, and Mass from his proclamation, but he’s stuck with politicians.

The Constitution specifies (Article 64): “The acts of the King shall be approved [refrendados] by the Prime Minister of the government and, as necessary, by the appropriate ministers.” They even approve his speeches, which is probably why his and his father’s have always avoided controversy and the merest hint of inspired rhetoric. We don’t even know what Felipe really thinks.

Felipe could be a superman – he received excellent preparation for his new job – but he’s wrapped in Kryptonite chains. He’s subject to politicians who at best achieve mediocrity. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy earns a confidence rating of 23%, while Felipe got 58% right after taking the throne.

A lot must be done:

• Revitalize Spain’s political institutions. If the United States were like Spain, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney would have hand-picked the candidates for Congress and Senate for their parties – no primaries, just backroom deals. Obama and Romney would pick their successors. This has been going on in Spain for decades: Tammany Hall and Boss Tweed at all levels of government. Corruption is rampant, and no one in office, from municipalities to the Prime Minister, has to care about what citizens think or want.

Not one word about corruption appeared in Felipe’s speech at his proclamation.

Articles by my friends Alana Moceri and Fernando Betancor get a little deeper into Spain’s problems with democracy.

• Revitalize the economy. Between 2007 and 2011, the poorest Spaniards lost 42.4% of their income and now earn €2,685 per year, while the richest 10% saw a 5.6% decrease, and the top 1% lost hardly anything, according to the OECD. This was the largest increase in inequality among the world’s 30 most advanced countries. Unemployment is still around 25%. The one thing that could save the economy in the long run is education, which is systematically being undercut both in finances and policy.

The word “unemployment” did not appear in Felipe’s proclamation speech.

• Negotiate a solution to the Catalonia independence movement. A survey taken right after Felipe’s proclamation found that 90% of respondents agreed that “what is really urgent now is to have the different political powers engage in dialogue and search for pacts and agreements to solve the country’s current problems.” They want him to intervene to persuade politicians to sit down and talk about this and other issues. But Prime Minister Rajoy has expressed reticence to the King’s involvement.

• Reform the Constitution. Properly done, this could solve many problems and serve as a “Second Transition.” Felipe’s father, Juan Carlos, guided the country through the Transition from the Franco dictatorship to democracy 39 years ago. Juan Carlos could make things happen back then because he had real power until he had a Constitution written and placed himself under it. Now the King is limited to “arbitrating and moderating” the function of its institutions. But a lot of political deals had to be cut in 1978, and the weaknesses of the Constitution and its institutions have become clear. Unsurprisingly, politicians don’t want to open that can of worms.

That’s why pundit José Ignacio Torreblanca warned of the temptation to expect the new King to implement a “Second Transition,” and said that Felipe “ought to avoid the role of superhero.” The King might be able to provide momentum, Torreblanca said, but it will take the efforts of the entire society to carry out the change.

But how can society change things if its political system deliberately stymies change?

What about a republic – no king at all? Thousands of people have protested for a republic since Juan Carlos announced his abdication. Yet, when polled, 62% want a referendum on the monarchy, but only 36% would vote for a republic. People just want a say in their government.

In the end, that’s the issue. People want more, better democracy. Better government. They hope Felipe VI can somehow change the course of the nation. But will he have the freedom to act? Or will he be under the thumb of bad politicians, just like everyone else?

I worry that if we have to ask, the answer is no.

— Sue Burke

Also posted at my professional website,
mount_oregano: Let me see (Weather vane)

Spain’s 2014 national convention, the 32nd HispaCon, will take place December 6 to 8. Each year, it’s held at a different site and organized by a different group. This year, the Colectivo Urânik will host it in Montcada i Reixac, a city on the outskirts of Barcelona.

The name of the town gave rise to the initials MIR, and “Mir” or Мир was the name of a USSR/Russian space station: this begot “MIRcon” and artwork incorporating science-fictional ideas.

The Colectivo Urânik discribes it as “the space station that orbits in the silence of space, waiting in each corner of the genre, in fantasy, in the dark corners of horror, for all readers who quiver with the love of stories. Our logo welcomes you to a meeting point: the multi-genre space station MIRcon.”

I have plans for December.

More information:

— Sue Burke

mount_oregano: Let me see (Postage stamp)
Easter is the most important religious holiday in Spain, more significant than Christmas. Christ was born at Christmas, but he brought salvation at Easter. So this week throughout Spain, solemn religious processions mourn Jesus’ suffering and death.

Here is a song about that by Joan Manuel Serrat. The words are by Antonio Machado (1875-1939), a poet from Seville, and the poem is La Saeta.

It opens by quoting a popular saeta. These are songs for Easter week processions in Andalucia, in southern Spain. Northern Spain has different songs, but the drums are the same everywhere to mark the pace of penitent funeral processions for Jesus. The saeta asks for a ladder to take the nails from Jesus on the wooden cross. Machado’s poem goes on to lament that this song is always the same, always about Jesus’ death. “... It is the faith of my forefathers. Oh, you are not my song! I cannot sing it, I do not want this Jesus on the wood, I want the one who walked on the sea! ... You are not my song!”

Here is “La Saeta” sung by Joan Manuel Serrat:

Here is a version by Camarón de la Isla (1950-1992), one of the greatest flamenco singers ever:

— Sue Burke
mount_oregano: Let me see (Amadis)
A true tale involving a boy, a knife, a castle tower, and a subway station in Madrid.

In 1294, the nobleman Alonso Pérez de Guzmán ruled the city of Tarifa, near Cadiz at the southernmost tip of Spain. He received dire news from King Sancho IV that Prince Juan of Castilla, his rebellious brother, was approaching to take the city. The King asked Guzmán to remain loyal.

Juan arrived with Beber and Nasrid troops – and with a page, Guzmán’s oldest son, 10-year-old Pedro.

A siege began, but the mighty walls of Tarifa’s castle held strong – and the King’s reinforcements were on their way. In a desperate move, Juan brought Pedro before his father, who stood at the top of the tower of the castle. If Guzmán did not surrender, Juan said, he would slit his son’s throat.

Legend says that Guzmán replied:

“I did not beget a son to be made use of against my country, but that he should serve her against her foes. Should Don Juan put him to death, he will but confer honor on me, true life on my son, and on himself eternal shame in this world and everlasting wrath after death.”

And, he added, if Juan needed a knife, he could have his. Guzmán threw his knife down from the castle tower.

That reply may be legend, but contemporary reports confirm that Pedro was not only killed, Juan had the boy’s head catapulted into the castle. He and his troop soon retreated.

Among other rewards for his loyalty, King Sancho granted Guzmán the use of “el Bueno” as part of his name, meaning “the Good” or “the Noble.”

This is why, in the subway of Madrid, the stop named “Guzman el Bueno” has knives and castle towers outlined in the tiles paving its platform.

— Sue Burke

Also posted at Amadis of Gaul, an ongoing translation of a Spanish medieval classic.
mount_oregano: Let me see (Salamanca)

I’d like to suggest a few stories for consideration for Hugo, Nebula, or other awards for 2013. These aren’t stories I wrote. Instead they’re stories from an anthology I helped translate from Spanish into English, Terra Nova: An Anthology of Contemporary Spanish Science Fiction. It won Spain’s highest award, the Ignotus, for best anthology this year, and it faced some stiff competition. (Its cover art also won an Ignotus for best illustration.)


“The Texture of Words,” by Felicidad Martínez. Women seek leadership despite being blind and dependent, while men fight constant wars. This story is set in the universe of the Akasa-Puspa saga, a landmark in Spanish science fiction.

“Greetings from a Zombie Nation,” by Eric J. Mota. The stagnant society of Cuba deliberately turns its citizens into the walking dead. Mota lives in Havana. Although all the stories in this anthology are strong, this is my favorite.


“Deirdre,” by Lola Robles. Robotics creates made-to-order lovers, which may be what a shy woman needs.

“Bodies,” by Juanfran Jiménez. In a globalized and pseudo-democratic Europe, the rich practice sex tourism by means of mind exchange. Criminals can also use mind exchange as an escape route.

“Memory,” by Teresa P. Mira de Echeverría. Personal relationships and sex roles evolve in radical ways on Mars, which has been terraformed in spite of the Martians.


“Light a Single Candle,” by Victor Conde. Social networks want too much and never let go, but they can be fought.

You can get Terra Nova here:

Smashwords, in a variety of electronic formats:

Amazon, in Kindle format:

Amazon, in paperback:

Sportula, the Spanish publisher:

— Sue Burke

mount_oregano: Let me see (GreenAsAThumb)

The winning number for Spain’s El Gordo Christmas Lottery this morning was 62246. My number was 75573.

In addition, of the more than 15,000 smaller prizes in the lottery, I won not a single euro.

Oh, well. At least I still have my health. That’s the traditional thing to say, and it’s true: health is priceless and cannot be won in a lottery. (But that might make in interesting premise for a science fiction story.)

Holiday celebrating is now underway. And here in Spain, we’ll keep celebrating until the Three Kings come on January 6. So if you’ll excuse me, I feel the need to go decorate something.

¡Felices fiestas!

— Sue Burke

mount_oregano: Let me see (Carmencita)

Tomorrow morning, the Christmas season in Spain begins in earnest with the drawing for El Gordo, the Christmas lottery.

It will take about three hours to award the jackpot of €2.5, or US$3 billion, which is split into more than 15,000 prizes.

I bought my ticket at my newspaper kiosk. This year, numbers that end in 13 are considered lucky since the year is 2013. However, I graduated from high school in 1973, so that might be lucky, too.

Last year, I won €20, which is what the ticket cost. This year, maybe I’ll break even again. Or maybe I’ll win €400,000. I’ll let you know.

— Sue Burke

mount_oregano: Let me see (Picasso)

Cenital [At Zenith]

by Emilio Bueso
(Salto de Página; 2012; ISBN 978-84-15065-26-5; €18)
Cover photo by Christian Nadales

I bought this book after hearing it praised during the Celsius 232 festival for science fiction, fantasy, and horror in August in northern Spain. In fact, I bought one of the last remaining copies from a bookseller at the festival, and Emilio (we were all friends there, even if we had never met before) autographed it for me.

Cenital had already won the Celsius Award at the Semana Negra Festival. (The coincidence in the “celsius” names involves a long story that doesn’t matter here.) Bueso’s previous novel, Diástole [Diastole], a horror novel about a vampire with a different twist, also won the Celsius Award last year. Since then, Cenital has been nominated for a 2013 Ignotus Award, the Spanish equivalent to the Hugos, which will be awarded on December 14 at Hispacón 2013: Quartumcón in Quart de Poblet, near Valencia.

In a newspaper interview, Bueso said he wanted to write an unconventional dystopia, one that didn’t involve an autocratic, evil government. Instead, he was drawn to the consequences of energy use in modern society, particularly to the idea that petroleum won’t last forever. You could call the resulting novel science fiction, or you could call it an alternate history. You can’t call it pretty.

The novel opens in 2008 when a young man called Destral gets a job managing spy satellites for an espionage agency, which alerts him to the fact that petroleum production has reached its peak: oil companies, especially government-run ones, which are the lion’s share, have found it strategic to lie about how much reserves exist, while in fact the reserves are close to zero.

This inspires Destral to act. He starts to blog(!), ranting about the coming energy crisis and inviting people to join him in creating a self-sustaining hippy eco-village. In the next chapter, set in 2014, the little settlement is running successfully, almost idyllically. Or so it seems.

Short chapters interweave the past, the present, the blog, and citations from real life by Thomas Friedman, Mad Max, H.G. Wells, and Richard Heinberg, among others. In flashbacks, we’re introduced one by one to some of the members of the eco-village and learn how they came to be there.

For example, Teo had been a priest who lost his parish to the disaster when cheap oil ran out in 2012, which meant the end to trade and even farming, since farms needed fuel to run tractors and petroleum-based fertilizers, which were brought by ships and trucks that needed fuel to move. Cities starved, violence broke out, Teo lost his parish and nearly his life, and “when the last dog in the municipal dog pound had been devoured and every can of food had been emptied,” he remembered something he had once read on the Internet. He stumbled out of the city and its piles of corpses, and arrived at the eco-village, where he was accepted, and while he had no luck converting its members to Jesus, he was able to organize a school.

Except for Teo, though, the inhabitants seem to be good for little more than smoking weed, having sex, and growing dreadlocks. But crises loom: by mistake, there’s no seed for the wheat fields, and worse yet, they’re running low on condoms.

Perhaps because I’ve spent too much time on the Internet, Destral’s rants seemed a little tedious, although they were more compelling than the average angry blog. Still, they’re flashbacks, and the chapters that introduce characters are also flashbacks, so the actual time moving the plot forward is limited. The novel resembles a mosaic more than a conventional story-driven narrative, although each little part is told well enough to keep the book interesting. And, slowly, something ugly starts to loom in the distance.

Destral notices that the roads, which had been clogged to uselessness by abandoned cars, have been cleared to the point of being passable in one lane. Someone wants to go somewhere and has the sustained manpower to push aside all those hulks. The flashbacks also grow increasingly brutal, a hint of what’s to come. It’s no secret that the anarchy following the collapse of civilization has left most people dead and too many of the survivors reduced to savagery and cannibalism.

I had suspected from the beginning that the eco-village’s inhabitants would be put to a test. And they are. Bueso’s earlier works have been horror, and this book returns to horror at the end.

The odd structure works well enough, giving it an air a bit more like a documentary than a novel. At times the dialog sounds false, especially in the final conflict. But that final conflict makes all the parts in the book fall suddenly and satisfactorily into place. Cenital faces tough competition for the Ignotus, but it’s a worthy contender.

— Sue Burke

Also posted at my professional website,
mount_oregano: Let me see (Postage stamp)
(I recently obtained my Spanish driver’s license, which inspired this parody. The italics indicate genuine traffic law.)

Congratulations on receiving Spanish residency! You now have twelve months to obtain a Spanish walking license. This involves a theory test and a practice test, and your license will be recognized in many European Union countries with similar requirements.

While you may think there is nothing special to walking, Spanish laws and customs are distinctive. Special “andaescuelas” will provide the needed instruction (for a fee) and will take you out for practice walks (for an additional fee per session), during which you must wear a reflective green “L” (included in the fee) on your shoulder to alert other walkers.


Spanish citizens normally receive this instruction as part of their “bachillerato” education during ages 17 and 18. The 25% school dropout rate after age 16 explains a lot about what you see on the sidewalks of Spain.

Before you can go on practice walks, you must pass an official theory test (for a fee), which involves 30 questions. You must get 27 questions correct. The test is conducted at special regional centers on computers, and your andaescuela will let you practice (free of charge) on special computers at its school. If you fail your test, you can try again (for another fee). Here is a sample of the 15,500 possible questions (these are actually driving test questions):

1. How should you cross a traffic circle?
A. By the shortest means possible, even if it means crossing the road.
B. Walking in the direction to face oncoming traffic.
C. Walking around the traffic circle on the sidewalk or, if there is no sidewalk, on the shoulder. Correct.

2. A sign with a black silhouette of a person walking on a white background surrounded by a red circle means:
A. The roadway is for pedestrian use only. False. That would be a round blue sign with a white silhouette of a pedestrian.
B. You are approaching an area that is frequented by pedestrians. False. That would be a sign with a black silhouette of a pedestrian on a white background surrounded by a red triangle.
C. Pedestrians are prohibited from entering. Correct.

3. When walking at night outside of populated areas, a pedestrian:
A. Must walk on the left shoulder.
B. May walk on either shoulder, but must wear a reflective element such as a vest visible from 150 meters.
C. Must walk on the left shoulder and must wear a reflective element such as a vest visible from 150 meters. Correct.

Once you have passed the theory test, you have permission to practice supervised by a qualified instructor on public sidewalks (don’t forget the fee). Your instructor will give you guidance on how to pass the practice test, which is stringent.

The test will take place at a special regional center (for a fee), probably the same one where you took the theory test. An indoor course will involve about 20 minutes of walking. You may wear any shoes, although comfortable footwear is advisable. If you have special needs, such as a cane, wheelchair, personal caregiver, or seeing-eye dog, these will be accommodated. Tests are available in a variety of languages, but all the road signs you encounter will be in Spanish.

Among the many things to remember, here are some common mistakes:

• On an escalator, remember to stand to the right and walk on the left. Your examiner will tell you if you are “in a hurry” or “on a Sunday stroll.”

• When you approach a stairway, turn to face the stairway directly, not at an angle. Be sure to place your entire foot firmly on the riser. Do not walk on tiptoes or let your heel hang over the edge. Falling down stairs, even just two or three steps, is an automatic failure of the exam.

In construction zones, obey all signs and follow all detours in the sidewalk. Construction workers assigned to direct automotive and pedestrian traffic must be obeyed as if they were police officers, with corresponding penalties for failing to follow instructions.

Remember that you may cross anywhere on “residential streets,” which are marked by a blue rectangular sign that shows a pedestrian, a child playing with a ball, a house, a curb, and a car. You also have priority in “Zona a 30,” which are zones where automobile traffic is limited to 30 kilometers per hour and which are marked by a white rectangular sign with the word “ZONA” in black and a black number “30” surrounded by a red circle. At zebra-striped crosswalks without stop lights, pedestrians have the right of way over oncoming automotive traffic. Your examiner will expect you to know when you may cross a street and will expect you to cross with resolution if you have the right to do so. Excessive hesitation will cause you to fail the exam.

You are no longer required to walk to the right on sidewalks as if you were a car on a road, but it’s a nice touch.

As you can see, there’s a lot to know. Don’t lose heart if you fail to pass the first time because this is common. You may take the test as many times as necessary (for a fee each time). When you pass, you will receive a temporary walking license immediately and your official license will arrive by mail within four weeks (included in the fee, although any subsequent changes to the license, such as a change of residency, involves another fee).

Remember, walking is excellent exercise and Spain is a beautiful country, so once you have your license, put it (and all the money it cost) to good use. Happy walking!

— Sue Burke

Also posted at my professional webpage:

And check out this music, "I'm Walking," by Fats Domino
mount_oregano: Let me see (Postage stamp)
A review of Terra Nova: An Anthology of Contemporary Spanish Science Fiction, edited by Mariano Villareal, has been posted at Strange Horizons.

As you know, I am one of the translators of this book.Review of Terra Nova anthologyReview of Terra Nova anthology

The reviewer, Alexandra Pierce, says (among other things):

“This is an eclectic anthology. It suggests that place can have a major influence on fiction — ‘Greetings from a Zombie Nation’ has aspects that sounds distinctly dystopian but actually reflect lived Cuban experience — but also that some science fictional ideas transcend place, as with the impact of technology on everyday lives. It's marvelous to see Spanish work being translated and made accessible to English speakers, and I hope that translators can be kept in work bringing more to our attention.”

I would be delighted to bring more Spanish work to English readers, and in fact I’m trying to do that.

— Sue Burke
mount_oregano: Let me see (Postage stamp)
What do genre fans do in other countries?


Here’s my report on Celsius 232, a festival of horror, fantasy, and science fiction held in Avilés, Spain, this summer.

The report appears in The Science Fact & Science Fiction Concatenation.

— Sue Burke
mount_oregano: Let me see (Postage stamp)

I’m looking for work as a translator, so I’m sending out resumes, and yesterday morning I needed postage stamps. Here in Spain, you can buy stamps at estancos, government-licensed stores that sell tobacco and (for historical reasons) stamps.

There’s an estanco around the corner from my house, so I headed there. According to a sign on the door, it was closed until Sunday for vacation. That was no big surprise. August is vacation month in Spain (and Europe), and a lot of businesses are closed.

I also wanted to buy a newspaper, but the newspaper stand across the street from the estanco has been closed all month. The next-nearest newspaper stand is closed until August 19, so I had already planned to go to the one a few blocks farther away.

I knew of another estanco on Cavanilles Street, which was a few blocks out of my way to the newspaper stand, but I thought I’d try. It was closed.

Then I checked the estanco next to the newspaper stand where I was headed, which I was pretty sure was closed for August vacation and which was why I didn’t go there first, and I was right, it was closed.

I asked the señora at the newspaper stand where I could find an open estanco. She directed me to the one on Barcelona Avenue next to the basilica. That was only a few more blocks out of my way on the trip home, so I went there. It was open, but it was out of stamps. The señora there suggested going to the post office.

Of course, I can’t do that today because it’s a public holiday, the Assumption of the Virgin, and the post office is closed.

Have a happy August. It’s very quiet here because no one is doing anything.

— Sue Burke

mount_oregano: Let me see (Salamanca)

Lágrimas de luz [Tears of Light] by Rafael Marín is often called the “before and after” novel in Spanish science fiction. Published in 1984, and written a few years earlier when Marín was only 22 years old, it proved that a Spanish author could write an ambitious literary work of science fiction.

This might sound odd. Of course Spanish authors could – but they had to believe that themselves, and they had reason to doubt it. For the previous two centuries, realism and naturalism had reigned supreme in Spanish literature. Despite “futurist” authors like Nilo María Fabra, Spanish science fiction (and fantasy and horror) didn’t exist and wasn’t possible.

In the English-speaking world, science fiction set down its roots in the early 20th century, first as pulp and then as more serious works. Spain had its pulp too, starting from the 1950s, although its authors usually wrote under Anglo-Saxon pseudonyms like Louis G. Milk or George H. White at the behest of publishers, who did not think openly Spanish authors, pulp or serious, would sell. Top English-language authors like Alfred Bester and Roger Zelazny were available in translation, though, and they made their mark.

From 1968 to 1982, a fanzine with a professional attitude, Nueva Dimension, edited by Domingo Santos, provided budding authors with a chance to grow, and some solid works began to appear. But nothing caught readers’ attention like Lágrimas de luz.

The novel’s plot

During the Third Middle Ages, a young man named Hamlet Evans, living in a small town that manufactures food, aspires to more in life than toiling in a factory, numbed by drugs and sex. He wants to be a poet, specifically one of the bards whose songs celebrate the Corporation that expands the human empire and protects it from its enemies. He is accepted, trains at the bards’ monastery, and is assigned his first military ship.

Soon he learns that the glorious triumphs of the empire are anything but: indigenous life forms are cruelly wiped out and the planets’ resources are stripped as the Corporation expands its iron grasp. Disillusioned, Hamlet can no longer compose acceptable epic poems. He resigns and is set down on the first available planet, which turns out to be under punishment for a rebellion against the Corporation. He barely survives, eventually escaping to join a small theater group and then a circus. The Corporation, meanwhile, decides that no entertainment that fails to extol its greatness can continue to exist, and sends troops to wipe them out.

Hamlet escapes again, and he decides to continue an outlaw artistic existence to defy the Corporation.

Ambitious and Spanish

Marín himself has called the novel an “ambitious space opera,” which it is, offering careful characterization and thematic development. Hamlet matures as a man and an artist in a fully-imagined universe. Like most first novels, it’s not perfect, especially some of the wooden and long-winded dialogue, but the action scenes are riveting and the prose is polished, at times even soaring.

As critic Mariela González pointed out in her analysis, Lágrimas de Luz: Postmodernidad y estilo en la ciencia ficción española, the novel makes a clean break from pulp. It features protagonist who is hardly a hero, and its themes include the search for beauty, and the crisis and alienation of youth. Rather than save the universe, Hamlet can barely save himself, and the universe might not even merit saving: no lightweight escapism here.

The story also draws on Spain’s own medieval past and brings it into the future. The bards’ songs echo works like El Cid that had once been popularly sung throughout the land – a past oral culture updated for the novel’s present. The novel also responds in its own way to Robert Heinlein’s Space Troopers and openly draws on themes from Moby Dick and other classics.

The next steps

The surprise of Lágrimas de luz didn’t usher in a sudden boom in Spanish science fiction. That waited until the 1990s with works by authors like Juan Miguel Aguilera, Elia Barceló, Javier Negrete, and Rodolfo Martínez, among many others, but the door had been opened. The genre continues to struggle, especially in the current economic crisis, and I have witnessed that too many Spanish science fiction fans do not yet believe that Spanish authors can write as well as English-language authors. (I try to convince them otherwise.) The road still heads uphill, but the problems are economic now, not artistic.

Rafael Marín, by the way, has continued to write and now has a long list of outstanding works to his name. Lágrimas de Luz is still in print after all these years and is available at Sportula, Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble, Casa del Libro, Ender, and Smashwords.

— Sue Burke

Also posted at my professional website,
mount_oregano: Let me see (Postage stamp)
What is Spain’s science fiction like: its themes, its scope, its authors? That’s a big question, and for a fast answer, we can look at the novels that have won the Ignotus Award over the last decade.

The Ignotus Awards are presented by the Spanish Association of Fantasy, Science Fiction, and Horror at the annual national convention, Hispacon. In many ways, they resemble the Hugo Awards presented at Worldcon; the Ignotus recogizes works in many categories, including novels, short stories, magazines, poems, artwork, and websites.


The Ignotus Award is a black marble monolith. It shares the Hugo’s strengths and weaknesses: relatively few people vote (starting this year, the voting base has been dramatically expanded), but those voters are intensely engaged, so while the choice of winners might generate controversy, no one can argue that they don’t rank among the year’s best.

2012: Fieramente humano [Fiercely Human] by Rodolfo Martínez. This complex urban fantasy returns to a city that has appeared in other novels, and it is a character in itself. An assassin arrives in the city to settle a thirty-year-old debt with Doctor Zanzaborna, a sorcerer, and police officer Gabriel Márquez learns that he was involved in supernatural events in his past without his knowledge.

2011: Crónicas del Multiverso [Chronicles of the Multiverse] by Victor Conde. Part of the Multiverse saga. The Variety is a small universe surrounded by a cosmic void and filled with a different life forms and civilizations. A space pirate steals an object from the Urtianos that is so valuable that they will go to war against all other intelligent species to recover it. The Urtianos also know that their universe is about to die.

2010: Última noche de Hipatia [The Last Night of Hypatia] by Eduardo Vaquerizo. A tragic love story framed by the city of Alexandria. A new disciple arrives from a far-off land, and Hypatia suspects he has a secret. In fact, he is from the future and knows that she will soon face a losing battle with fanaticism.

2009: Día de Perros [Dog Day] by David Jasso. Two teenagers spot a stray dog and decide to take it to its master and ask for a reward. In this novel about friendship and psychological suffering, their simple plan soon spirals down into suspense and horror.

2008: Alejandro Magno y las Águilas de Roma [Alexander the Great and the Eagles of Rome] by Javier Negrete. Alexander, the best military strategist in history, survives an attempted poisoning and decides to turn west and conquer Europe. To do that, he must defeat the incipient Roman Empire. Multiple points of view enrich this alternate history.

2007: Juglar [Jongleur] by Rafael Marín. In medieval Spain, the orphan Esteban survives in the rough world of the Spanish Reconquest by his wits, poetry, knavery, and magic. Torn between good and evil, he uses his skills to fill the post of troubadour for Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, “El Cid.” When El Cid dies, Esteban’s black arts might help win a crucial battle.

2006: Danza de tinieblas [Dance in the Shadows] by Eduardo Vaquerizo. In this alternate history, the Spanish empire forged in the 16th and 17th centuries lasts until 1927, the year in which the book takes place. Schemers, dissolute nobles, and inquisitive monks populate Madrid, while a series of murders in Salamanca threaten to reveal a mystery that could bring down the empire. There is nothing Victorian about the novel’s steampunk setting.

2005: El sueño del rey rojo [The Red King’s Dream] by Rodolfo Martínez. Andrea finds a computer disk next to a dead man that contains the code to create an artificial intelligence. Alex recognizes the code as the one used to recreate his associate Lurquer as an artificial intelligence shortly before his suicide. Amid their personal rivalries, they discover that the dead man does not seem to have existed, but a worldwide conspiracy does.

2004: La espada de fuego [The Sword of Fire] by Javier Negrete. This epic fantasy, part of a trilogy, centers on Zemal, a legendary sword of fire and symbol of power that every warrior aspires to possess. Seven aspirants fight for it in a battle that eventually threatens to break the peace between gods and men. Warriors and sorcerers must unite to defeat chaos and destruction.

2003: Cinco días antes [Five Days Earlier] by Carlos F. Castrosín. In the near future, a police officer recovering from injuries in a bomb blast is assigned to investigate the murder of an alderman in Supra Beni, a megalopolis suffering from rampant corruption. Supra Beni is a single giant building that developed from today’s Benidorm, a tourist city filled with skyscrapers on the Mediterranean coast near Valencia.

— Sue Burke

Also posted at the AEFCFT website,
mount_oregano: Let me see (Postage stamp)

A story I translated into English for Terra Nova: An Anthology of Contemporary Spanish Science Fiction, has been nominated for an Ignotus Award in its original Spanish-language version. This is the equivalent of a Hugo in Spain.

The story is “La textura de las palabras” [“The Texture of Words”] by Felicidad Martínez. It tells of a woman’s fight for leadership on a planet where women are blind and dependent, and men fight constant wars.

Terra Nova: Antología de ciencia ficción contemporánea has also received seven other Ignotus nominations: best anthology, best novella, best short story (two nominations), best cover art, and best foreign short story (two nominations).

Winners will be announced at HispaCon, the Spanish national science fiction convention, in fall.

— Sue Burke

P.S. Buy your English-language copy now.

Smashwords, in a variety of electronic formats:

Amazon, in Kindle format:

Amazon, in paperback:

Sportula, the Spanish publisher:

September 2017

345 6 789
101112 13141516
171819 20212223


RSS Atom

Most Popular Tags

Page generated Sep. 24th, 2017 02:06 pm
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags