Yee Heng Yeh on the English-language magazine of Brazilian SFF
Wikipedia will tell you that ‘A city is a human settlement of a notable size.’ Click on the hyperlinked phrase ‘human settlement’ and you will see that it is ‘a community of people living in a particular place’. The cities we encounter in Eita! Magazine #3, though they fit these definitions reasonably well, might not be cities that you necessarily recognise at first glance. Through the fantastical, the futuristic, and the horrifying, each of the stories in this bilingual issue of the Brazilian sff zine – edited by André Colabelli, André da Cunha Melo, Iana A., Jayne Oliveira, Vanessa Guedes, and Júlia Serrano; and translated from the Portuguese by André Colabelli, Júlia Serrano, Marina Ferreira, Natalle Moura, Renata Torres, and Vanes sa Guedes – expands and challenges the construct of a city with its own refreshing take.
We begin with ‘The Maker of Duramere’ by Lis Vilas Boas, which introduces us to the reptilian Cipriano, an artist who specialises in creating entire cities from scratch. This is a cosmopolitan world, where different species mingle across different solar systems – yet this advancement in technology has also allowed beings ‘to live alone in a spaceship or in cohabitation facilities where no one meets.’ Cipriano receives an unusual request from an old woman for a ‘nostalgic city’ called Duramere, one that exists only in a novel… Thus unfolds a wistful, light-hearted story that explores memory and grief, artistic ambition, and falling in love. I particularly enjoyed the sections that describe Cipriano’s process of constructing Duramere, which shine with the same imagination and whimsy that permeate the rest of the story’s world building. The ending is perfect, too – like the last piece of a puzzle clicking into place.
The next story, Elisa de Magalhães e Guimarães’s ‘Tânia (Rio de Janeiro)’, is probably my favourite due to its inventive form: it is written as a Wikipedia article. Its combination of an absurd event (a 63-year-old retired realtor melting into and merging with an area of land) and a formal tone of writing is reminiscent of entries you may find on the SCP Foundation, but what truly sells it as a Wikipedia entry in its own right is the attention to tiny details: the order of subheadings; the citation of news articles, each with its individual headline; the specificity of the timeline; the comprehensive inclusion of perspectives from conflicting parties. As someone who avidly peruses Wikipedia myself, the brilliant imitation is immediately recognisable. The story balances the tension between such a far-fetched incident and its dispassionate, news-like presentation, and the effect is both satisfying and hilarious. On the thematic level, ‘Tânia’ can be read as an investigation into the boundaries of the self. It also functions as a gentle satire of bureaucratic and administrative processes, suggesting perhaps that those are what is actually absurd.
This absurd streak continues with the very funny ‘Aguanambi’ by Márcio Moreira, the difference being that the humour draws from the surreal and the deadpan. The premise is almost Ghibli-esque: we have a city quite literally transformed by nature – human-made buildings and infrastructure begin behaving like plants and animals, moving and growing of their own will. The city is thrown into chaos as various factions attempt to throw different solutions at the situation and come up with their own theories on why this is happening. Filled with continual escalation – a madcap episode involving a cardinal’s visit is particularly amusing – the story encapsulates the frantic, mindless ways in which people respond to something that turns their world upside down. Yet it remains grounded by a personal story, and ends on a hopeful note that firmly situates it in the solarpunk genre. The message is simple – we must make peace with living alongside nature, not eradicating it – but the vivid images and zany humour make it persuasive, not preachy.
The darkest story in this issue is the chilling, tragic ‘There Used to be Birds’ by Moacir Fio. Allison and his cousin Dalva are building a makeshift, miniature city, using bricks, twigs, mud, and leaves. Once it’s completed, Dalva tells him, the ‘mud man’ can whisk them away to an alternate, idyllic city where there’s beauty, and space to breathe… Who the mud man is, how real he actually is, is never made explicit, but that ambiguity only creates more suspense and ultimately breaks our hearts in the uncanny climax. For this is a story about how children can feel trapped by the circumstances of their lives, whether it’s thanks to complicated sibling dynamics or absent father figures. It shows them wrestling with huge, complicated feelings of jealousy, admiration, love, loneliness. Having no way to process them properly, these children will seize at anything resembling redemption, even if it comes in the form of a humanoid who has emerged from the depths of some nightmare.
‘Heart of Others, Land of None’ by Bruno Vial is unique in that it tells the story of two star-crossed lovers from the perspective of the land itself, which is sentient. I’m always a fan of unusual personas, and using a narrator like this elevates a straightforward love story into something more broad-sweeping and epic, as the land essentially acts as the hands of fate, nudging Hulú Otávio and Diogo Coco into encounters with each other. Through this perspective, the story also questions whether the definition of a place is truly static – if a city is defined by its people, the fluidity of human movement indicates a fluidity of the city’s identity, too. The two protagonists are polar opposites, hot and cold, coming from different races and lineages and countries – this, in essence, is the weight of history that they must contend with to make their relationship work. In the English translation, the initial switches in focalising perspectives (from Hulú to Diogo, or vice versa) can be disorienting, and I had to read the story a few times to figure out who ‘he’ is referring to in certain passages. That quibble aside, the story works well, blossoming from a sweet meet-cute to an optimistic exploration of social progress and personal growth.
The final story, Aluísio de Azevedo’s ‘Devils’, is described by the editors as a work of weird fiction; it also strikes me as a powerful tale of cosmic horror: the protagonist discovers that everyone around him is dead, and as he walks around in search of any sign of life, the entire world gradually descends into utter darkness… I particularly appreciated the translator’s note, which provides some insight into the history of Brazilian fantastic literature as well as the context surrounding the selection of this story, and why it could not be published in full. Though it is only an excerpt, it is not hard to see why the editors were so captivated – the story unravels, in careful detail, the gradual psychological decline of a man trying to cope with an unfathomable horror. As readers, we are placed in his shoes, trapped by the inexorable approach of doom; like him, we wish desperately for a glimmer of hope, of light.
I could only read these stories in their English translation, which is overall very strong and displays a keen awareness of how much language – whether in its voice, rhythm, or diction – shapes a story. No easy feat, as the stories span such diverse formats and genres, but the language flows well and successfully conveys (to this reader, at least) a sense of what makes each story so striking.
Across each tale, the characters tell themselves stories about the places they are from, or the places they wish to escape to; the places themselves challenge this, reacting and growing alongside the actions of its inhabitants, fulfilling or subverting their expectations. So: a city can be lifted from a novel, a Wikipedia entry, a child’s daydream. It can be a protest, a social media storm, an expanding darkness, a sentient land with its own tricks up its streets. We see that a city, in the end, is a story of people: human, once-human, or otherwise. ∎
Yee Heng Yeh is a Malaysian writer and Mandarin-to-English translator. His work is featured on adda, Strange Horizons, Nashville Review, Guernica, and Apparition Lit, among others. He also writes for Penang Art District and Penang Monthly. He is on Twitter as @HengYeh42
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