Science fiction and fantasy literature

Image: Joan Miró


Considerations about the recently released book “Nonfictions”, by Bráulio Tavares

In his very interesting book Non-fictions, a collection of essays and articles about science fiction, fantasy literature and writers, polygrapher Bráulio Tavares scrutinizes the intricacies of literary creation, comparing authors and styles, analyzing attitudes towards the challenge of creating fiction, and presents delicious examples of Brazilian fantasy literature from XIX century.

Have you ever heard of the writer from Ceará Emília de Freitas (1855/1908), author of the fantasy novel The queen of ignorance? Published in 1899, it was reissued in 1980, with 364 pages, by the Official Press of Ceará. And by Lucas José de Alvarenga, a writer from Rio who perpetrated an oriental fantasy called Statira, and Zoroaster, in 1826? Did you know that Joaquim Manuel de Macedo wrote a “romantic epic” called the nebula, where a character (the Troubadour) goes to live on an islet in Guanabara Bay, where the ghost of a woman who sings ballads on the edge of the cliff supposedly lives?

One article in particular caught my attention, as it addressed an essential issue for any fiction writer. Bráulio Tavares, who also wrote What is science fiction, from the much-missed Brasiliense pocket collection, talks about the issue of verisimilitude, and quotes Isaac Asimov. For the “teacher”, as he calls it, “we should call it FC hard those texts in which, regardless of the science(s) or scientific activities involved, the elements had a severely credible use of the material used, whether from nuclear physics or psychology. The stories soft would be those in which scientific elements (from these same sciences, or any others) would be used in a, let's say, more liberal way, following (and subject to the whims of) literary mechanisms”.

In Brazil, science fiction still occupies a very restricted niche. But every fiction writer, a field that encompasses a wide range of styles, proposals and approaches, should reflect on the use of reality, of verism, in their work.

Bráulio Tavares recalls a case that occurred with Eça de Queiroz. In romance The Relic (1887), somewhere around the time a character sees the moon “curved like the cutlass that cut off Yokanaan's head”, one night. The next day, in another chapter, the moon is full, a fact that was pointed out by a reader, so respectfully that it ended up being incorporated in subsequent editions of the work.

Agatha Christie seems to have studied several chemical and medical treatises to poison her characters, which caused the admiration of more attentive critics. Guimarães Rosa had several notebooks, in addition to traveling the paths of Minas Gerais on horseback before (and during) the creation of his works. Tolkien obsessively studied the details of his fantastic writing, from preparing rabbit stew to “how many minutes the moon varies to appear on the horizon when it is close to being full”.

The contemporary Edmar Monteiro Filho, an excellent short story writer, traveled the streets of the center of São Paulo many times, noting all the geographical and architectural characteristics, to write a short story that received the Guimarães Rosa award, from Rádio França Internacional, in 1997. Personal experience it helps to compose scenarios, situations and even emotions, establishing a kind of game with the reader, who in turn identifies with scenarios, situations and even emotions that seem “real” to them.

But did Machado de Assis know the inside of a sanatorium? Did Érico Veríssimo set foot in Antares? Did Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who presented himself as a journalist, know Macondo up close? Did Jorge Luis Borges see anything? To perfectly describe a crime, is it necessary to have witnessed or committed one? Can a man write in a female voice, and vice versa?

The answers are obvious, there is no doubt, with the exception of Jorge Luis Borges, who couldn't see but saw. Fictional creation allows for many hypotheses. But the more fiction has anchors in reality, the more it seems believable. Telling a story where Sugarloaf Mountain is covered in snow won't be very convincing, as will describing an ideal family, where all the siblings love each other and the parents are role models.

Dealing with the borders between fiction and reality, between description and invention, is a challenge that spans centuries, poking at our conscience. Not only in literature, but in the visual arts, in theater, cinema and in the daily newspaper.

* Daniel Brazil is a writer, author of the novel suit of kings (Penalux), screenwriter and TV director, music and literary critic.


Braulio Tavares. Non-fictions – literature, science fiction, writers and their writings. Paraty, Bandeirola Editora, 2023, 192 pages. []

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