Fosfax, Issue 205, Part 1, Page 51


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Fosfax, Issue 205, Part 1, Page 51


Science Fiction


Fifty- First page of Fosfax, Issue 205, Part One: A review of the horror genre in Brazil Cont.


Roberto de Sousa Causo


Fosfax, Issue 205, Part 1, July 2002




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But then, when one wants to produce a horror comedy, his or her needs will swing to the opposite — it is necessary to emphasize genre tropes, which are mercilessly mocked, as in Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett’s 1990 Good Omens. Something alike happens for satirical purposes in the recent O Vampiro que Descobriu o Brasil, by Ivan Jaf, a 1999 short novel that follows a vampire who, on his turn, is fol¬lowing from Portugal to Brazil the master vampire who turned him into a cursed creature. Being immortal and having a hard-time to find his target, the vampire Antonio Bras witnesses the history of Brazil, meeting other vampires along the way, most of them as major politi¬cal figures resembling the premise of Kim Newman’s Anno Dracula.
Another historical satire is Alexandre Raposo’s Memorias de um Diabo de Garrafa (1999), a sweeping hidden history epic narrated by a "bottled devil" that witnessed a lot of the world history since his conjuration back in 1526. An enjoyable reading with some hilarious moments, the novel nevertheless sometimes becomes a boring history lecture. A bit more of humorous spice and sense of plot would have given it a stronger appeal and narrative force. It is one of the best books of its kind, though, to appear in many years.
Vampires are also present in a series of novelettes written by Ger- son Lodi-Ribeiro, in the so-called "Palmares Universe". This is an alternate reality in which the Quilombo of Palmares, a big Brazilian community of runaway slaves in the 17th century, became an inde¬pendent nation. It is in this context that Lodi-Ribeiro puts his Stable- fordian "scientific-vampire", the last of a kind that inhabited South America. The first in the series is "O Vampiro de Nova Holanda" (in his 1998 collection with the same title), a novelette crippled by same really big info-dumps. In "Assessor para Assuntos Funebres" (part of the 1997 collection Outras Histdrias), the vampire travels to London and meets there the first and only Jack the Ripper. The third in the series is "Os Canhoes de Palmares", with fewer horror motifs and more political and military maneuvers. It is clear that Lodi-Ribeiro invested a lot in these stories, but they are clumsily written and shal¬lowly characterized, not standing for what the originality of concept demands.
In the remarkable case of O 3L° Peregrino by Rubens Teixeira Scavone, the historical setting of England in the 14th century helps to reinforce the horror quality of this 1993 novelette, which is a homage to Geoffrey Chaucer framed as a science fiction piece that tells us something about cognition as shaped by social and historical contexts. The story happens within Chancer's Canterbury Tales, as a new tale introducing a 31st pilgrim to the party that is heading for the Thomas Becket pilgrimage site. She is a peasant woman who tells her com¬panions how she was apparently impregnated by demons. She hopes to purify herself with the pilgrimage, but during the journey she is abducted, her baby is taken away, and her mutilated body is dumped for the shocked musing of Chaucer himself and other pilgrims. Sca¬vone projected to the past the pattern of the so-called abduction by UFOs of our times, and created an unsettling horror tale of abuse and helplessness. Scavone’s virtuoso performance with style and conven¬tions proper of a late medieval language also contributes to make the book re¬markably believable.
Some fairly recent novels have com¬bined dark fantasy to a genuine Brazilian ethos. Ivanir Calado’s 1990 novel A Mae do Sonho is one of the best exam¬ples. Set in the 1970s, when Brazil was under a military dictatorship, it follows the anthropologist Jorge Damatta on his expedition to the Amazon jungle, in search for a lost Indian tribe. His group is attacked by in¬visible monsters and he is the only survivor. Eventually he finds the Indians and starts living with them. Later on the village is attacked by a company of prospectors which demanded their land. Only Dam¬atta and a curumim (a small Indian child) are left alive, and now all the tribe’s "defenders" ghostly creatures attached to every Indian as his or her spiritual protector have only the boy to protect, grimly overreacting when Damatta takes him to Rio de Janeiro.
There is a metafictional trick in the defenders concept, since they come out of the lost tribe belief system, which is syncretic and in¬cludes not only as defenders beings of nature but entities from the Afro and Portuguese folklore as well legends and narratives become real. When Damatta and the boy retreat again into the forest, in order to perform the last rites for the dead tribe that will disband the defenders, they are followed by military forces that are too dumb to realize they are dealing with the supernatural (mostly because the Na¬tive culture is oblivious to them). This way Calado exposes the in¬herent stupidity of the dictatorship apparatus and the obtuseness of Western capitalist society when dealing with non-Western beliefs.

His second novel was Imperatriz no Fim do Mundo: Memorias Dubias de Amelia de Leuchtemberg (1992), a historic novel which combines again dark fantasy and metafiction. The main character is the second Empress of Brazil, married then to D. Pedro I, the first Brazilian Emperor (by the first half of the 19th century). She is the narrator, while she wanders the corridors of the Brazilian National Library in search of her history, to the purpose of keeping her identity and self alive. The novel is subtitled "dubious memories" because Amelia looks up contradictory biographical accounts of her, thus mak¬ing the whole narrative experience both literary and historical, also contradictory and uncertain. Calado makes a representation of death and decay to visit her in different moments of her life. Unfortunately this novel, which gives off the influence of Stephen King in its de¬scriptive moments, reads as an abridged or compressed novel, rather than a fully accomplished one.
Calado employs another Brazilian cultural feature more effectively in the novelette "Tia Moira" (in the 1994 anthology Seis em Ponto). This is a story about telenovela, the Brazilian soap opera, a modern incarnation of the 19th literary feuilleton. A collective mania, it is regularly watched by viewers from all over the country. The viewers interact with the telenovela's production by responding to pools and writing letters. Aunt Moira, who is pretty old and apparently weak in the mind, obsessively writes letters to the novela das seis, the highly popular one broadcasted at six P.M., and her nephew Carlos notices that his life becomes more and more similar to the telenovela plot, which seems to be really shaped by Moira's letters. "Moira", of course, is the name of a Greek deity associated with destiny and fate, and in Calado’s story she eventually assumes her powers of life and death. In this third metafictional work, the skillful Calado (also know as a science fiction writer) combines the telenovela as a local cultural feature, Greek myth, and the Brazilian middle-class ethos in an un¬canny story. He is certainly one of the best writers working in the narrow horror field in Brazil, and his A Mae do Sonho would find a publisher in any country with a strong market for dark fantasy.
Also influenced by Stephen King, Dean Koontz, and other North American dark fantasy authors in her substantial 1997 novel O De- monio do Computador, Marcia Kupstas comes out of the young-adult field in Brazil (a much richer market than the one aimed for adults), where she gained much success writing fear-stories for kids. Her novel is about Tadeu, a young man from the outskirts of Sao Paulo (the biggest city in South America), who aspires to become a writer, and who starts to see his incipient stories edited by an entity that in¬habits his newly bought PC. So this is also a metafictional story (there is certainly a trend here, in resonance with King’s works such as Misery, The Dark Half, and Bag of Bones, and Peter Straub’s Hell- fire's Club), and Kupstas depicts Tadeu's reactions with great ability, though with shortcomings in the language she employs (it sounds still as young-adult). A demon and two witches will appear later along with explicit eroticism, and though Kupstas has done a good job with the naturalist texture we find in King, Koontz, and Straub, and in de¬picting the lower classes ethos, she fails with the characterization and in giving her complex tale the many layers of relationships and psy¬chological depth it required.
This metafictional trend finds another bad moment in the 1999 novella by Luiz Antonio Aguiar, Urdboro, that has a demon called "Asimov" [sic] sponsoring a nondescript family of magicians in a con-temporary world. The work mixes narration with essay, against which the fictional elements are too weak and basic, and the overall characterization is too vague.
On the other hand, Tabajara Ruas, author of the fine 1997 novella O Fascmio, inverts the equation and does a great job in characteriza¬tion and mood construction, but a not-so-good one with texturing this story of a middle-class man who inherits a rural estate haunted by a bizarre and violent historical background. This might be called a Gothic novel, in the sense that it is from the walls of the old manor house that spur the psychological horrors that will impregnate the pro¬tagonist, Bertholino Rodrigues, who discovers that the house was the witness of the almost-ritualistic killings of prisoners that his grand- grandfather, a General in one of Brazil’s wars of the 19th century, performed for revenge of a suspected cheating by his wife. What happens to Bertholino, who is able to see the old General's ghost, is that he embraces murder in his life, and then turns his son into an accomplice. So, the taste for killing is transmitted in the family line, and the historical violence of the Brazilian man (frequently called "cordial" and "peace-loving") is brutally exposed. But at the end the reader understand that, with more texturing, he would have felt the very harshness of the walls of that butchery-house, instead of just hearing about it.
(Concluded on next

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