3. A book written in South America: Trafalgar by Angélica Gorodischer, translated by Amalia Gladhart
List Progress: 23/30
The structure of Trafalgar, the interconnected short story collection by Argentinian author Angélica Gorodischer, is fascinating. This sci-fi story technically all takes place in Rosario, Argentina, mostly at a table in a single coffee shop, as the titular bon vivant, Trafalgar Medrano, drinks coffee, smokes cigarettes, and tells stories to his friends. But each of those stories is of an intergalactic voyage he took as a merchant, selling and trading treasures from planet to planet, and all of the new worlds and fascinating aliens he met there. There is no other indication that humans have made contact with aliens and that this is anything but the actual city of Rosario, so Trafalgar could be the champion of first contact or a raving madman, but either way, he tells a good story and keeps his friends entertained. It’s a solid structure that leaves a lot to consider, but I found myself left cold by the contents this structure supports.
The alien worlds Gorodischer creates are very much part of a trend in 60’s and 70’s sci-fi: basically inhabited by humans, but with one or two Big Differences that the author can use to interrogate an aspect of our own culture. Originally published in Spanish in 1979 (translated into English in 2013 by Amalia Gladhart), it has a very retro feel that is interesting to step back into. Plus it makes sense in-universe: people in the cafe might not want to listen to a man raving about incomprehensible space slugs, but would get caught up in a story about visiting a planet of people controlled by the reanimated dead. His spaceship, referred to as “his clunker”, has no explanation, no real description, no reason why a salesman has Earth’s only intergalactic flying machine: he just does, because that’s how the stories can happen.
With all of that said, the stories themselves feel quite rote, and many of them drag on for far too long, making you want to hurry up both Trafalgar and Gorodischer. Trafalgar himself wasn’t that entertaining to me, with his casual sexism and overall smarm. The first story has him seducing (read: tricking and raping) the beautiful queen of an all-beautiful-women planet, and it took me a bit to remember that this was written by a female author. The narrative calls out his sexism enough that you could argue it is a critique on the stock male sci-fi characters of the time, but that didn’t make it any more enjoyable to read.
Angélica Gorodischer is a big name in South American science fiction, and I’ve noticed even some fans of hers weren’t huge fans of this book in particular, so I might need to revisit her work at some point to see if Trafalgar is an outlier. But some interesting ideas and good framing couldn’t make up for the meat of these stories.
Would I Recommend It: Not really.