A new story collection by Brazilian hard SF writer Jorge Luiz Calife

One of the latest 2012 releases in the field of Brazilian SF, Trilhas do Tempo (Devir Livraria, 174 pages) is the second story collection by Jorge Luiz Calife, known as “Father of Brazilian Hard Science Fiction.” Calife’s first collection As Sereias do Espaço appeared in 2001, but Trilhas do Tempo gathers for the first time his early stories, published in the 80s and 90s in men’s magazines such as local EleEla and the Brazilian issue of Playboy.

In the early 1980s Calife became a minor celebrity when Arthur C. Clarke acknowledged owing Calife the inspiration for a sequel to 2001: A Space Odissey. That sequel, 2010: A Space Odyssey II (1982), didn’t thoroughly follow Calife’s argument but the Brazilian’s ideas proved to Clarke that a sequel was possible.

In 1985, the Brazilian publishing house Nova Fronteira, which had published Clarke’s 2010 two years earlier, released Calife’s first novel, Padrões de Contato, a hard science fiction fix up that on its turn owed a lot to the hard SF written by Clarke and Larry Niven in the 1970s.

Padrões de Contato presented Calife’s hero, Angela Duncan, a young woman turned immortal by a collective super-being known as Triad. Released in 1986, Horizonte de Eventos was the second installment in a planed trilogy—this time with more of a novelistic story arc, centered on space opera action between a galactic confederation and a rogue space-faring race who wants Triad’s secrets, and with other immortal women being introduced. Finally released in 1991, Linha Terminal was published by another publishing house, Edições GRD. With a plot that includes time-travel and the reappearance of a character who went missing in the first novel, Linha  Terminal wrapped up the trilogy—in fact, the first and only hard SF trilogy written by a Brazilian.

Yet, the Padrões de Contato Trilogy—published as an omnibus volume in 2010 through the same Devir Livraria—is just a moment in a history of the future that includes several short stories and a fourth novel, Angela entre dois Mundos (Devir), a prequel to the trilogy published for the first time in 2011.

Trilhas do Tempo includes “Angela e o Golfinho”, a novelette that bridges the situations between the prequel and the trilogy. It also offers for the first time a timeline of the “Triad Universe,” as Calife calls his series.

Most of the stories though are standalone pieces that share something of the series ideas but are distant from its main events and characters. One of my favorites is “Viagem ao Interior do Halley,” in which a couple of astronauts tries to prevent the core of the Halley’s Comet from splitting up, a short story first published in 1985 at Playboy. “Trajetória de Fuga” (1984) deals with a global network whose terminal points allows the female hero to augment her senses, projecting them even to space when she is neutrally connected to the net. In “A Sereia do Espaço” a solitary female astronaut is transformed in a giant living spaceship by an alien symbiont, while in “A Derradeira Paixão” a couple makes love while plunging into a black hole’s event horizon, thus eternally prolonging their climax.

Having appeared in men’s magazines, most stories here have an erotic thing about them, but less centered on sex or seduction and more on the female nudity. The stress on female beauty and sensuality, usually presented against marvelous landscapes on Earth and beyond, became Calife’s trademark throughout the whole series, offering a very Brazilian twist to the sometimes cold and prude hard SF tradition.

Calife’s stories often lack thrilling moments and plot values—everything falls smoothly in place and emotions are subdued, as they also tend to be in Clarke’s stories—but have plenty of sense of wonder and nice scientific and technological ideas, and a fine sense of irony tends to emerge. With a great cover art by Vagner Vargas—who did covers for Calife’s other books with Devir—, Trilhas do Tempo is a tribute to this singular author, who began his career almost thirty years ago and who also appeared a few times in France and Portugal.

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