miércoles, 27 de marzo de 2013

Cristina Jurado interviews Erick J. Mota

It is a pleasure for me to publish today an interview of Cristina Jurado with Cuban author Erick J. Mota, whose story “Memories of a Zombie country” is one of my favorites of the first volume of the Terra Nova anthology. This interview was originally published in Spanish on the miNatura magazine and now it has also been published on Más ficción que ciencia, Cristina's blog on Libros.com, which I strongly recommend if you read Spanish

Cristina Jurado: What drives a graduate in Physics to try his luck in the literary world? Your education, was the reason behind your decision to write science fiction?

Erick Mota: To answer this, first I have to explain why I became a Physics student when I was a voracious reader. I believe that scientific research is thrilling, because allows you to find the truth and learn about how the world works. In my university years, I spent more time creating stories than studying. When I finally graduated, I started to write SF. The reason why I chose this genre has to do with the way I see the world. I perceived my daily life in fantastic terms and create stories in every step I take. My education helps… and also my city.

CJ: I read in a previous interview that you consider Robert Heinlein and Stanislaw Lem early influences in your work. How about authors in Spanish?

EM: In my education as a writer, I had very few influences regarding SF authors in Spanish. Some are from my own country: I´m proud that that´s the case. I have to mention Agustín de Rojas and his wonderful utopia/dystopia “The year 200” and Daína Chaviano with her “Fables of an extraterrestrial grandmother”, which gave me a lesson in humility. Time came and went and I´ve read other Spanish writers, but those two are the ones that help forge my ideas about the genre in my native language.

CJ: You feel for alternative stories, because most of your work addresses uchronias. Is reality so disheartening that we need to re-define it?

EM: I don´t think so. But we are so close to our reality that trees don´t allow us to see the forest. When we depart from a rewritten story, if we add elements of our actual reality, we can reflect properly about it. In SF, uchronias are the most effective way to make people think about themselves and the world around them. If we choose a story set in the future, readers will perceive it as out of touch, because it hasn´t happened yet. If we pick a story that takes place in space or in an alien planet, the unique features of that universe or technology will distance audience and story.
But if we tell something about a universe that could be possible, in another present, things change. Its not the same to share a story questioning -this is only an example- and talking about my country´s patriotism and how it has been manipulated by some people. Confronting this story, the history that every Cuban learned in school, would prevent him or her to embrace it. In Cuba we are accustomed to symbolic patriotism and the epic stories of our independent wars against Spanish colonialism. Let´s say that I questioned patriotic feelings in an alternative world resulted from the English conquering La Habana in 1572, and this city is part of East Cuba where there´s an independent movement called West Cuba Republican Army (with the same patriotic manipulations taking place in today´s Cuba). Let´s assume that there is a situation close to the one in Ireland. Then, the readers can understand and think better about how their reality is been manipulated. They can question the roots of patriotism and the political manipulation related to the concept of nation, without having the historical prejudges taught in schools. The same can be applied to each country and theme. My example is just an illustration, because it´s about the country and reality that I face daily. Uchronias offer infinite possibilities to analyze/question our current reality.
This is something that needs to be applied depending on the reader. If I write an alternative story in which September 11th never happened, it could be interesting if I set it in USA or Iraq, but in Cuba or Miami would not have as much impact as a story in which changes took place in 1959 or 1962.

CJ: What are the elements than differentiate and characterize sci-fi in Latin America?

EM: In my limited experience, because I still have a lot to read, Latin America has different perspectives about the world and the technology. Therefore, its science fiction is very different. The cyberpunk made in countries like Mexico comes from the way poverty views the Anglo-Saxon alienation or the enthusiasm about computing technology. They are stories written from the bottom of a bottle full of violence and despair. I call it ciberpunk with an “i”.
Another feature of our SF is Latin America´s tumultuous political history, filled with dictators, guerrillas and death squadrons. When a classic Heimlenian hero lands in a jungle-like planet, the Anglo-Saxon writer would portray marines walking around with high technology. In Latin America, soldiers hide their weapons and take out their machetes. The use of those tools/guns misses some SF aesthetic aura, but in Latin America we all know that the machete in the hands of military, paramilitary, guerrillas or fanatics is more deadly than any light saber.
SF in Latin America uses religion and theosophy as scientific elements. Magic and religion in Anglo-Saxon SF are simple parts of misinterpreted technology. In Latin America, spirits are real or are hacked by operators through Ouija-keyboards, like in the works of Chilean author Jorge Baradit.
We still have a lot to say about SF in Latin America. Our culture is the result of, at least, three others (Indigenous, European and African), divided in many more. If authors apply only 3% of their country´s culture (radically different from North America and Europe) a much more original SF will emerge.

CJ: Spain is learning little by little about more sci-fi authors coming from the other side of the Atlantic ocean and, more specifically, from Cuba. What is the current landscape of the genre in the island?

EM: Science fiction in Cuba has moved forward in terms of themes and style. When I speak about this, I like to think of it as an epic battle. We had a Glorious Age in the ´60s when our SF movement was born. The Golden Age came in the 80´s, and in the 90´s we had our Dark Ages. I believe that SF from the island has overcome many demons and still has many others to defeat. We detached from the dark side of the Soviet science fiction, a sort of pulp literature focused on morals and politics. It took many years for our publishing companies to accept stories with more optimistic and hopeful views about the future. In the first decade of this century, many short stories and novels -covering the most diverse and amazing themes- were published. We captured the attention of our publishing companies and, even if we are not in a competitive market, there is a progressive evolution on themes and style. We left behind the Socialist utopia and the UFOS, which is a great achievement.

CJ: In one article that you wrote about Unicómix 2011, you explored a presentation by Argentine writer Angélica Gorodischer, who talked about the exhaustion of science fiction -an opinion shared by Ursula Le Guin-. This is a recurrent debate among SF fans. Can you share your opinion about it?

EM: When I read that opinion by Gorodischer, I felt insulted. Afterwards, I thought hard about how many stories with truly interesting themes I´ve read in the last decade. I was forced to agree with Angélica. Finally, my analysis came to a different conclusion. Almost everything that I had read was American/English SF or copies of it by Spanish speaking authors. I realize that what we call SF it was just a category, very popular in North America, successfully exported to the rest of the world. The majority of themes, stereotypes and conflicts from French, German, Czech or Russian SF before World War II are not exhausted. We have focused on the last 40 or 50 years in repeating the American formula (Campbell, hard sci-fi, new wave, cyberpunk). The world has changed and the way we interact with one another is radically different. The fact that I´m in Socialist Cuba and somebody from Spain is interviewing me through a computing network connected via satellites and that you can download it through a cell phone… That IS science fiction! From this point, there is no theme limits, and the future of this kind of literature turns to be boundless and hopeful.

CJ: In your wonderful short story “Memories of a Zombie country”, included in Terra Nova anthology (Sportula), you are able to bring a new and fresh look to an exhausted subject. How did you come up with the idea? Do you think that social denunciation is one of sci-fi future ways?

EM: The moral responsibility for this story comes from my friend and “brother” Ricardo Acevedo. He asked me to write something using zombies for an anthology. One only does this for a friend, so I told myself: how am I going to write anything about zombies? I went to the streets and I started to observe people. I found an old propaganda poster saying: “This street is Fidel´s”. My mind filled up with slogans like: “This Zombie is Fidel´s”, “Our Zombies are revolutionaries”, “If you are Zombie and don´t jump, you are a Yankee”. I continued walking and reading every propaganda poster, “seeing” zombies everywhere and witnessing policemen “asking” zombies their documents. I wrote a very short story titled “A well known secret” because I made a promise to Acevedo. Afterwards I wrote relaxed and without format limits. That is how “Memories of a Zombie country” was born. And I believe that social denounce is one way towards the future. It is mandatory to do it one way or another, and science fiction cannot be oblivious to it. In fact, SF allows us to amplify without losing the good sense and that is very important.

CJ: Can you describe for our readers your last book “La Habana underguater”?

EM: This is a difficult task because “La Habana underguater” is full of different things. It is and it is not an uchronia, and it doesn´t happen in a close future. It presupposes that the former URRS won over the Americans in the cold war, but the story happens after 2016, when a mega-hurricane devastates La Habana. From an orthodox point of view, the story can be considered an uchronic future. In this world, Internet uses Soviet servers from space stations like Mir instead of satellites and earthling stations. The “orishas” from the Yoruba religion (originally from Nigeria, but very popular in Cuba and Brazil) have a virtual presence in the Global Net. It´s difficult to label this story. Some people call it Orisha-Punk, but it is not a very serious categorization.
“La Habana underguater” has been the novel (more like a saga, because I just finished the sequel) more fun to write for me. It´s intended to readers that love the efficiency and oversize roughness of former Soviet technology. It´s a modern extrapolation of their identical way of manufacturing everything: from a tank to a washing machine. Cubans my age know what I´m talking about.

CJ: In your opinion, what are the ingredients for a good quality SF story?

EM: There is no recipe for it. A story must surprise, it needs to be anchored in the proposed universe and, at the same time, it has to make the reader think about the world outside SF. It cannot be boring but it cannot also be just pure entertaining. And it has to touch souls, being heartrending as much as possible, without being a tragedy like the ones pictured in Soviet Realism. It must be in a middle point, a very difficult one to achieve. SF is like high cuisine: there are many recipes and every chef has his/her style. And, of course, there are may tastes.

CJ: The literary world is undergoing an important transformation thanks to the increase number of self-publishing platforms. Traditional business models are experiencing the effects of the global economic crisis. How do you see the situation at the short and long terms? How do you feel about self-publishing?

Erick Mota: There is a clear change in the editorial world. In my opinion, every change is good at a long term; I don´t believe in maintaining the same state of things for long. Since I live in a country in which traditional editing methods are not employed, I cannot talk about a topic that I don´t really know. For authors like the Cuban ones, who depend on a sole editing criteria for the island, self-publishing is the only solution to stay afloat. It is worrisome to feel that only people with money can publish. My question is: didn´t this happened already with traditional publishing methods? Could young writers from poor countries really succeed inside the former model? If you ask me, all methods have virtues and defects. I think that, the more opportunities for those who normally don´t have any, the better.

CJ: You have been honored in numerous contests with awards like “Juventud Técnica 2004”, “La Edad de Oro de Ciencia Ficción para jóvenes 2007”, el “TauZero de Novela Corta de Fantasía y Ciencia Ficción de Chile 2008” and “Calendario de Ciencia Ficción de 2009”. What advice would you give to young writers?

EM: They must be themselves. In my opinion, that is the only useful advice. They must try to be authentic and not imitate anybody else. Past authors can inspire, but you cannot stop being yourself. That is the key. They need to go to the streets and observe everything and everybody: they will know what to do afterwards. And they need to have fun, of course. Writing only works if you are having a good time. Otherwise, there are always better ways to make money. Bukowski said something about drinking beer… not a bad advice either.

About Erick J. Mota: Cuban writer Erick Mota graduated in Pure Physics by Universidad de La Habana and completed a course on narrative technics by Centro de Formación Literaria Onelio Jorge Cardoso. After publishing his first book “Under Pressure” (Editorial Gente Nueva, 2007), he won the literary contest “La Edad de Oro de Ciencia Ficción para jóvenes”. Many of his stories have been included in numerous anthologies and magazines. A collection of his short stories came out in 2010 under the tittle: “Some worthy memories”. The same year, Atom Press published “La Habana Underguater” in an anthology and later as a novel. Erick has been honored by awards like: TauZero de Novela Corta de Fantasía y Ciencia Ficción (Chile, 2008) and Calendario de Ciencia Ficción (Cuba, 2009). His short story “Memories of a Zombie country” was included in Spain in “Terra Nova, the Anthology of Contemporary Science Fiction” edited by Sportula.

About Cristina Jurado: Cristina Jurado Marcos writes the sci-fi blog Más ficción que ciencia on Libros.com. Having a degree in Advertising and Public Relations by Universidad de Seville and a Masters in Rhetoric by Northwestern University (USA), she currently studies Philosophy for fun. She considers herself a globetrotter after living in Edinburgh, Chicago, Paris or Dubai. Her short stories have appeared in several sci-fi online magazines and anthologies. Her first novel From Orange to Blue was published in 2012.

2 comentarios:

  1. Erick was like a brother for me,, i live in cuba until 2002 , we were freinds and we train martial arts together. Is a great person i hoppe se him soon

    1. Oh, thanks so much fro your comment! I greatly admire Erick's writing.