Go ahead, ask them: in the country of Carnival, geeks, nerds, and science fiction buffs are usually not different from what you would find in, say, U.S., Canada, Australia, or the U.K. They’d rather be reading a good book or watching a TV series marathon than getting dressed in costumes and having fun with samba in the streets, for instance. But is samba so far removed from science fiction these days? Maybe not: in February 2009, a well-known samba school from Rio, the União da Ilha do Governador, chose as its theme the wonderful world of Jules Verne!
Until two of three years ago, most literary SF fans would recoil in horror if someone tried to relate them to “those geeks who get dressed in Kirk and Spock costumes in cons.” (Yes, we have them too. Lots of.) But along came a steam engine—and that, interestingly enough, seemed to change everything.
There was no specific, major event of cosmic proportions in Brazil to which we can attribute the inception of steampunk in these lands. Many of the traditional science fiction fans who read English have been well acquainted with steampunk tropes since the early 90s—especially since the publication of The Difference Engine, although we had also read James Blaylock, Michael Moorcock, and K. W. Jeter (none of whom have been published in Brazil to this day, with the exception of one single Moorcock’s Elric story...and that was almost thirty years ago, mind you).
But maybe things were slowly set into motion here with other media: movies, anime, and comics. Katsuhiro Otomo’s Steamboy, Hiromu Arakawa’s Fullmetal Alchemist, and Alan Moore’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen come to mind, among other examples.
And suddenly, a new generation has come to join us old writers and fans (I’m 44, and most of these steamers are in their early twenties, which is really refreshing) with a retro style and a new way of seeing things and running the house. And things are running smoothly in the Brazilian steamer subculture: no lack of coal to feed the furnaces here.
Today, Brazil has no less than seven Steampunk Lodges—something slightly akin in organization to Masonic Lodges, but without all the secrecy and conspiracy—in a country with 26 states. The fact that those lodges have all been created in the past two years is a huge accomplishment. Those Lodges have even caught the ever-attentive eye of Bruce Sterling, who has now and again written about them in his blog. There is also a Brazilian Steampunk Council, which serves as a hub for these lodges and maintains a web community, the Ao Limiar, which now hosts approximately 60 steampunk-related blogs.
And, at the end of the day, this has generated an unexpected effect, a reversal of expectations, so to speak: in 2009 we published for the first time a Brazilian Steampunk anthology, featuring original short stories from both known and new names to the genre. Just last month, we published Vaporpunk, a Brazil-Portugal collaboration featuring original stories ranging from novelette to novella extension. (Both will be reviewed by me here in the next few weeks.)
Several steampunk novels from abroad are beginning to be published here in Brazilian Portuguese translation: The Difference Engine will finally be seen in Brazilian bookstores in December, and I’m currently translating Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker (which was nominated for Hugo Best Novel earlier this year) for publication in early 2011. (I also translated the Absolute Edition of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, published this month in Brazil).There is also an abundance of original Brazilian steampunk stories. Funny for a tropical country, you might wonder? You’ve never been to São Paulo, or to the southernmost states. It can get really cold there, and to dress up like in the eighties (the eighteen-hundred-and-eighties, of course) is all the rage now.
Fábio Fernandes is a writer and translator living in São Paulo, Brazil. He has translated approximately seventy novels of several genres into Brazilian Portuguese, among them A Clockwork Orange, Neuromancer, and Snow Crash. You can read some of his writing in Steampunk Reloaded and in the upcoming The Apex Book of World SF, Vol 2.