Moving back to Brazil was hard in so many ways. I had friends in France that I would never see again. My only good friend prior to moving to France who became my pen pal when I was there started attending a different school 6 months after I moved back.
As usual, I read a lot, although I didn’t have access to French libraries anymore, so I had to resort to my dad’s personal collection. Before we moved back my dad bought lots of ultra-cheap public domain classics of French literature which I devoured. Some where proper for my age like Mallot’s melodramatic “Sans Famille” (Without a Family, literal translation, not sure if that’s the title in English), about an orphan raised by a benevolent peasant spinster but then forced to become a minstrel who would perform across France as he grew up. It’s a novel that by all means, glamourizes poverty, an anti-Dickens/Zola sort of work, even though in my home we had a much more humanized vision of stray kids since my dad worked with the issue for a while.
Most books, however, were for adults, but I would read them anyway. Victor Hugo’s “Notre Dame de Paris” (I think it was translated as “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”) became my favorite novel until today for the way it conveyed my emotions and gave me a taste for beautiful prose (the segment that portrays Frollo’s death is maybe the most beautiful piece of description that I can remember). The list is long and I won’t mention every author and novel but, to keep it in track, as I’m talking how I became so passionate about science-fiction, there were also Jules Verne and Villiers de L’Isle-Adam. I don’t think I need to explain how Verne was influential, even people who never read him surely read about him and his huge contribution to the Science-Fiction and Adventure genres. L’Isle-Adam is way less-known, and somehow I don’t think we would have Adams, Pratchett and other masters of SFF satire without him. Most people know him mostly by his L’Ève Future (Future Eve), which is an important work in terms of concept (and how it was foundational to the concept of robots) but quite cringy considering the politics it conveys. His Contes Cruels (Cruel Tales/Short Stories, again, just guessing the titles in English), on the other hand, are a master piece that is still an engaging read today. It contains short stories that can go to Flaubert/Balzac’s realism (with an extra-pinch of hopelessness) to properly fantastic stories describing machines vowed to manipulate our consciousness, such as a giant spotlight that would project ads on the Moon’s surface or a theater filled with gadgets (like mechanic clapping hands) that would ensure that any play would be received with tremendous success no matter how shitty the performance was. Outside that personal French language library I would read a lot from my dad’s collection of horror novels (he was a big fan of the genre). He had every Stephen King book translated to Portuguese and was a big fan of Clive Barker (that he would read from Spanish editions). He had all the works of Lovecraft too, which he personally didn’t like and, for some reason, I liked it much more than Barker or King. Obviously I would read lots of Brazilian literature too, but I’m trying to stay on track here.
And then my uncle Luis Francisco (Desco) died of complications associated to AIDS, maybe one year before the big pharmaceutical revolution that made an HIV+ diagnostic no longer result in a death sentence. Tio Desco liked science-fiction and I wish my contact with him wasn’t only sporadic (he lived in a different city and we only saw him very eventually) before he passed away so early. We got maybe 30 science-fiction novels translated to French from his library (I think another uncle claimed the books in English). My memory of the short-stories anthologies were a blur when it’s up to authors but I’m sure I read all the golden age stories (I can tell the plot of many of them even if I can’t associate them to authors). For some reason he had lots of Ray Bradbury novels, and I read them all.
I would buy books too. It felt, to me, that Brazil was becoming more intellectualized in the late 90s. In the state of Goiás that happened mostly with the fall of a political oligarchy that was very averse to culture as Governor Perillo was elected in 1997. Governor Perillo became a a political oligarch on his own terms, but in his early years in power we saw a cultural boost as he was sincerely engaged in leaving his mark and shake things up in the state. That’s when Goiânia developed a symphonic orchestra that would perform in the spacious, new Rio Vermelho theater, and a literary contest offering publishing to local writers allowed me to release my literary novella Vazão, and I wouldn’t be able to release Vazão if, in the country as a whole, the editorial market was back in track, translating and releasing for affordable prices public domain classics that could go from early SFF like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Bram Stoker’s Dracula to high literature like Dostoevsky. I read them all.
But I never forgot that crazy ass book that gave me a literary high in the Massif Central. My memory of it was a blur, true. Couldn’t remember for sure the title, or even the author’s name for sure. Not that it mattered since Google was not a thing (and Altavista was shitty, let’s all agree on that). One thing I never forgot was the name of one character. The French have this tendency to translate English names, what wouldn’t be a problem if the translation was to make a joke that worked in French. If Zaphod Beeblebrox was named Monsieur Baguette Camembert I wouldn’t be mad. But no, the fucking French named him Zappy Bibici (pronounced Beebeecee), because you know, the translator thought he was funnier than Douglas Adams (they do that a lot to Hollywood movies too, giving different English names that are often corny and/or nonsensical). Knowing about the book wouldn’t have made a difference, though, as I don’t think it was ever translated to Portuguese. Until it was. I found it in a bookstore, just hanging in there, waiting for me in a super glossy cover with a fun art and a really cool font design: O Guia do Mochileiro das Galáxias. They released the first book. And then they would release another one of the new tomes every 3 months or so, which I would purchase and read and reread like a junkie.
The big issue with my SF passion was that it was a very lonely one. My dad was weirdly supportive, as he was not into Science Fiction but would eye me having an interest with satisfaction. For example, I fell in love with Babylon 5 (still my favorite SF TV show) when my family signed up for cable and the Warner Channel would broadcast (terribly) subtitled episodes. The problem was that after season 2 the show was moved to mornings, when I was at school, so my dad helped me set up the VCR to record it so I could play the tape after I came back from school. My dad was also a big advocate of my writing. I didn’t write SF back then. SF was my lonely, guilty pleasure, after all. I wanted to communicate with people, so I wrote literary stuff. My dad was my beta reader, the nicest one could have. He would return my typed drafts covered in red marks and notes. If something had potential he would say so. If something was shitty he would say that “it was a good exercise”. He helped me with a short story that won the biggest/only state-wide literary contest. I was 16 and the contest was for adults. The price was 500 reais (in a time when 1 real = 1 American dollar, I bought a Playstation console that cost me 250 reais). I never got to see my dad’s red marks and notes on an early draft of my novella Vazão though, since I finished it a few months after cancer took him away from me. He was my best and only advocate and I stopped writing for many years.