Spanish Dystopian Fiction[i]

Diana Q Palardy


Although Spain is not typically known for its dystopian fiction, an increasing number of dystopias has been produced in recent years, especially in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis and the 15-M protest movement. When I first started this research back in 2006, it was hard to even find a work of Spanish fiction that would fit my criteria for a dystopia. However, prominent science fiction authors like Elia Barceló, César Mallorquí, and Juan Miguel Aguilera agree that the genre is currently thriving in Spain, due in large part to the shadow of pessimism cast by the 2008 financial crisis and the international success of Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games (2008) and the deluge of dystopian fiction that followed.

2014 was a signature year for dystopias in Spain. Highly-esteemed author José María Merino played an instrumental role in helping get the word distopía, officially defined in Spanish as a “representación ficticia de una sociedad futura de características negativas causantes de la alienación humana” (fictional representation of a future society with negative characteristics that cause human alienation), introduced into the 2014 edition of the dictionary of the Real Academia Española (Royal Spanish Academy). That year also marked the publication of Mañana todavía: Doce distopías para el siglo XXI (Still Tomorrow: Twelve Dystopias for the Twenty-First Century) edited by Ricard Ruiz Garzón, which is generally recognized as the first anthology dedicated exclusively to Spanish dystopias and the one most well-received by the press (though technically not all the stories are dystopias). According to data provided by Literatura fantástica, approximately 30 translations (and re-editions of translations) of dystopias and 10 dystopias by Spaniards poured into the market in 2014.[1] This contrasts starkly with the data provided for other years around that same time frame, as the number of Spanish dystopias per year from 2013 until 2016 (excluding 2014) averaged around 4. In my own database of Spanish dystopias, the numbers differ but the pattern is similar, as there was a marked uptick in the production of dystopias starting in 2011 (averaging around 11 per year) and then a significant increase in 2014, reaching up to 29 works (if you count the collection Mañana todavía as one work of fiction).

This growing fascination with the genre in recent years in Spanish society is also evidenced, in part, by a dramatic rise in Google searches in Spain for the term “distopía” starting in 2012.[2]  Moreover, Spanish dystopian novels and films, which in the past rarely received any recognition outside of the domain of science fiction, have begun to make their way into the mainstream, even competing with other genres to win prestigious awards like the 2016 Premio Biblioteca Breve for Ricardo Menéndez Salmón’s novel El sistema and 2017 Premio Alfaguara de Novela for Ray Loriga’s novel Rendición. These are just a few of the indications that the genre has been gaining more attention in popular Spanish culture in recent years.

[i] I would like to thank Eric Fischer for making his photograph, “Toward the Transbay Tube in San Francisco” taken on Feb. 28, 2010, available for reuse and modification.

[1] It should be noted that the lists provided in the catalog of Literatura fantástica are not exhaustive and that it is entirely possible that the tendency of publishers to increasingly identify more texts as dystopias may have been influenced by marketing interests, as well as the official coinage of the term in 2014.

[2] Google Search s.v. “distopia,” https://www.google.com/trends/explore?date=all&geo=ES&q=distopia.