A few months ago, I was offered a review copy of Os Anos de Ouro da Pulp Fiction Portuguesa: Os Melhores Contos do Séc. XX (The Golden Years of Portuguese Pulp Fiction: The Best Stories of the 20th Century), edited by Luís Filipe Silva. It is an anthology of stories that never were, but perhaps could (should?) have existed if Portugal had the type of pulp/SF/F scene that thrived in the United States and the UK from the 1930s-1960s. In his introduction, Silva makes an interesting point:
Somos uma espécie narrativa. Contar histórias está-nos no código genético, atravessa culturas e eras. Usamo-las como espada contra o esquecimento, contra a passagem do tempo, transmitindo para as gerações seguintes a experiência de pertencer à geração anterior. Com maior eficiência do que listas de factos e datas, a ficção dá primazia ao contexto, estabelecendo um paralelo entre o íntimo da audiência – e todas as suas convicções, anseios, desejos ou buscas – e o íntimo do criador. O pequeno e contínuo milagre da linguagem atravessa as eras e permite a única e genuína viagem no tempo.
É esta a viagem que a presente obra propõe realizer – uma viagem que nos leva a conhecer a história secreta, por assim dizer, da ficção popular portuguesa. (p. 13)
We are a storytelling species. Telling stories is in our genetic code, traversing cultures and eras. We use them like a sword against oblivion, against the passage of time, transmitting for succeeding generations the experience belonging to the previous generation. With greater efficiency than that of lists of facts and dates, fiction gives primacy to context, establishing a parallel between the intimacy of the audience – and all of their convictions, yearnings, desires, or searches – and the intimacy of the creator. The small and continuous miracle of language crosses eras and permits an unique and genuine time travel.
This is the journey that this work proposes to accomplish – a journey that leads us to know the secret history, so to say, of Portuguese popular fiction.
The stories contained within The Golden Years of Portuguese Pulp Fiction by design resemble those published in the US/UK during the mid-20th century, but with some key differences that reflect, as if from some dim and slightly distorted mirror, events that were transpiring in Portugal during this time. The amount of time spent by Silva and other collaborators (I seem to have failed to find their names listed, unless those are not pseudonyms given for titles such as Ruy de Fialho's "O Segundo Sol"?) in writing introductions for divers fictitious authors and creating stories such as an anti-Nazi spy plot, credited as being from October 1948, is impressive. The look of the pages, which contain vintage-looking reproductions of the presumed "original" stories, furthers the deception that is taking place.
Yet forgeries, whether they are as well-designed as this one or not, can only go so far if the stories themselves do not meet expectations. For the most part, the stories here do capture well the tone and feel of mid-20th century American and British pulp publications. This is not necessarily a "good" thing from a literary viewpoint (the hackneyed plots are a bit much even in the best of the pulps), but in terms of The Golden Years of Portuguese Pulp Fiction feeling as though it could really have been a collection of espionage, SF, weird, and other pulp fictions, it certainly does replicate that sense, warts and all.
If there is a weakness to the anthology, it might be that there is actually too much within it. There were a few stories, that if I hadn't read similar fictions earlier in the anthology, I probably would have enjoyed more if I had not had this sense that I had just read something similar. However, this complaint is a common one for me when it comes to large-scale anthologies (The Golden Years of Portuguese Pulp Fiction contains 15 stories, some of them novella length, spread over 415 pages), so it is a minor detraction from what otherwise was one of the better pulpish anthologies, real or forgery, that I have read recently. After all, as Silva said in his introduction, sometimes we do yearn for that giving of "primacy to context" that some of the best pulp fictions can provide their readers. The fact that Silva and his collaborators have replicated many of the "fun" and "enjoyable" elements of pulp fiction and have made subtle alterations to fit more within a Portuguese cultural context is an impressive achievement.