A kaleidoscopic jumble

Stencil in Barcelona of Roberto Bolaño (Farisori, CC BY-SA 3.0)

The Spirit of Science Fiction
(El espíritu de la ciencia-ficción)
by Roberto Bolaño,
translated by Natasha Wimmer (2018).
Picador 2019.

It’s sometime in the last quarter of the 20th century. Two poets reside in a couple of rooms on the top of an apartment block in Mexico City. One, Jan Schrella, is in his late teens and effectively a recluse, penning letters to North American writers of SF; the other, Remo Morán, is 21 and supports the pair with occasional journalism.

The Spirit of Science Fiction consists of a series of episodes, mostly recounted by Remo, interspersed with the text of letters sent to the likes of Alice Sheldon, James Tiptree Jr, Robert Silverberg, Philip José Farmer and Ursula K Le Guin. The novella ends with what feels like an incomplete and inconsequential coda set in Mexico City’s bathhouses which testifies to this being an early unfinished work published posthumously.

As a whole it comes across as a kaleidoscope of autobiographical elements, magical realism, hedonism and streams of consciousness, defying the reader to make sense of it all yet conveying very vividly the kind of Bohemian life that Bolaño knew well when he travelled from his native Chile to Mexico and elsewhere.

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