Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Buenos días!

Monday night I read chapter 6 of my novel, which introduces the fact that the main setting (for the first half of the book, or thereabouts) has a large Latino presence. One of the comments I got was, to paraphrase, "Yes! Finally a sci-fi book with Latinos."

It's not a bad comment at all. There are definitely a lot of Latinos in key parts of my novel, with a stated rationale as to why. I wouldn't say I've got any particular affinity for the Latino culture, but I do think it's a little odd that so much sci-fi seems to involve white males, followed by aliens that behave generally like white males, then white females, then pretty much every other ethnic group, species and gender in a little wedge jammed into a corner of the pie chart. There certainly ought to be a fair number of Latinos, blacks, asians, etc. in contemporary sci-fi, as they represent sizeable portions of our world population. The funny thing is that this novel isn't really even sci-fi. It's a bit hard to fit into a single genre, but "post-apocalyptic urban fantasy" probably comes closest. My next novel, though, will be very modern-era sci-fi and will run the gamut of human races, cultures and ethnicities.

One of my biggest challenges in writing this novel, though, stems from the fact that I'm so damn white. My exposure to Latino culture is pretty much confined to what I've seen on TV, and that's pretty minimal. Sci-fi isn't the only place where Latinos are minimally represented. So here I've got a population where I don't know all that much about their culture and, worse, they don't speak English. Well, actually a lot of them do, but culturally it's not their primary language if they're coming from outside the US.The problem is that I don't speak a lick of Spanish. I know a few words that I picked up from Chavez y Chavez on Young Guns or from watching the gang episodes of The Shield, but that only gets you so far. Web searches have been a blessing, as has the translation tool on iGoogle. Yet, those can only get you so far, because they're not always right and, more, they don't reflect how certain words and phrases are actually used. Idiomatic expressions are mostly beyond their reach.

Luckily, my brother spent several years as a vagabond traveling around Central America and is fluent in Spanish. I occasionally kick him over an email that lists various Spanish words and phrases that I'm trying to use and he lets me know if I've gotten them right. Often I find I'm in the ballpark, but he's been able to offer me a bunch of alternate suggestions and some key changes. I'm overdue to get him another of those lists, but his help has already been immeasurably helpful in getting me on the right track. And who knows, maybe my book will really speak to all of the disaffected Latino sci-fi fans who have been looking for familiar faces in the books they read and finding only gringos who don't "speak" to them on a cultural level. It's not my primary focus - I'm just trying to spin a fun yarn - but I think any author's going to be gratified to find that their book touches someone or some group in an emotional way. If that happens, I'll say maravilloso! But first I'll run it past my brother to make sure it's the right word.

On a related note, there's another dose of Latino-Sci-fi inbound. If you haven't already, take a peek at the clip for the movie "Monsters,"  in which alien life forms are infesting big chunks of Mexico and have to be quarantined. It's being called "Mexico's District 9," though from the description there doesn't seem to be much of an actual comparison once you get beyond the fact that they're both sci-fi movies that take place in countries which are not the United States.

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