Whenever I’m asked for recommendations of Puerto Rican literature in English, my first reaction is to lament how few of the island’s best authors are translated. When I was doing research in preparation for my novel Five Midnights, I found that this shortfall is particularly a problem in the fields of science fiction, fantasy, and horror, but the quality of those that are available almost makes up for the lack of availability. Almost.
In compiling this list I pulled from writers from the island and those of Puerto Rican heritage in the United States. I included suggestions in different forms, short stories and novels, classic and recent works, and books written for young adult and adults.
The first Puerto Rican author that pops to mind in science fiction is Pedro Cabiya. Probably the most well-known author in terms of Caribbean and Hispanic sci-fi, a couple of his books have been translated into English. Most recently, his Wicked Weeds: A Zombie Novel takes on the question of identity with its big Pharma zombie protagonist on a Pinocchio quest to regain his humanity. It was translated and published by Mandel Vilar Press, a publishing house founded by Irene Vilar whose family has deep roots in Puerto Rican history.
I cannot create a list in this genre without including a classic, one of my favorite stories of all time, Rosario Ferré’s The Youngest Doll, which headlines a collection of the author’s short stories (Latin American Women Writers collection of University of Nebraska Press). Ferré was born in Ponce and was the daughter of an island Governor. This collection walks the line between magical realism and fantasy—a line that is often blurred when talking about island writers—and has left indelible images in my mind. The story deals with issues of politics and feminism, and though I don’t want to give anything away, the images of prawns still make me shudder.
There are also quite a few gems from mainland Puerto Rican authors I’m excited to share with you. The recently released Dealing in Dreams (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2019) by Lilliam Rivera is a dystopian young adult novel that deals with issues of feminism and society, drugs and identity, and takes world-building to an entirely different level. In an interview for The Rumpus she spoke of how she was inspired by the drug testing that was done on the Puerto Rican people, an issue that has long haunted me. Rivera has taken real life dystopia, put it in a fascinating speculative world, and brought it to a new generation. Not to mention that her writing is GORGEOUS.]
I also loved Lily Anderson’s Undead Girl Gang (Razorbill, 2018). This sharp, comic, young adult novel brings together witchcraft, zombies, and a whip-smart, curvy Latina protagonist. There are so many things I love about this book, but I was particularly touched by the way the protagonist Mila dealt with her grief at the death of her best friend. Grief and loss are issues that come up often in my own work, but I was inspired by the way Anderson didn’t shy away from showing Mila’s anger. The character’s emotional wall-building and distrust are so realistically portrayed and poignant they made my chest hurt. And god bless her for addressing body image face on, particularly from a Latinx perspective.
And finally, those of us who are Geekricans, anxiously await the first high fantasy offering from Adam Silvera titled Infinity Son. The first in a promised series called Specters will be released January 14, 2020 from Harper Collins. Silvera is no stranger to speculative fiction. His poignant novel They Both Die in the End (HarperTeen, 2017) is set in a dystopian future and also deals with themes of death, loss, and grief (I’m sensing a trend in my choices here). I find his work haunting, deep-felt, and unlike anything I’ve ever read.
These are just a few suggestions from my weird Gringa-Rican genre-loving mind, but ultimately I dream of a bridge between island literature and the mainland so this list continues to grow longer and longer. Where my Caribe-futurists at?
Do you have another SF/F book in mind from a Puerto Rican author in English? Please share below!
Ann Dávila Cardinal is a novelist and Director of Student Recruitment for Vermont College of Fine Arts (VCFA). She has a B.A. in Latino Studies from Norwich University, an M.A. in sociology from UI&U, and an MFA in Writing from VCFA. Every January she runs VCFA’s Writing residency in Puerto Rico. Cardinal co-wrote Sister Chicas (2006), a contemporary YA novel. Five Midnights is her first solo novel.