The Spirit of Science Fiction is the latest in a string of posthumous publications by the Chilean author Roberto Bolaño. Written in 1984, this novella would have been one of the first that Bolaño had written, but it never made it to print in his lifetime. This is quite a surprise given that it is another fine example of Bolaño’s evocative power for storytelling. It is also interesting in another respect, in that the concepts in this book evidently had a profound influence on his career in general, as some of the narratives and ideas in Spirit feature in his later works. Like much of his other writing, this novel focuses on two main protagonists: in this case, Remo and Jan are two avid readers and writers of science fiction and poetry, and the novella follows their aimless journeys with the young literati of Mexico City.
While reading this, one cannot escape the fact that this novella is a precursor to The Savage Detectives, which is a much longer work, but deals almost identically with the themes in Spirit. This is obvious when reading of an increasingly melancholic scene of a drunken and depressed party, which even features the same characters found in The Savage Detectives. In fact, the book is littered with references to other works that Bolaño had yet to write, but that doesn’t mark it down as being unoriginal, or a hack job that is an embarrassment to the later masterpieces. Rather, this is arguably one of the first incarnations of these projects, and like in so much of Bolaño’s other work it involves quite a high degree of strangeness. Such strangeness manifests itself through inventions like idealistic letters to science fiction writers, an interview between an unknown journalist and an unknown writer, and tales of increasingly surreal and vivid dreams.
Bolaño’s fascination with dreams and nightmares are just as potent here than in any of his other novels, though here they veer into hallucinatory realms where it can be difficult to identify what’s happening or whether it’s particularly relevant. So while images of hurricanes opening up to reveal a factory making motorcycles, or holes in clouds where rain come through, are certainly vivid and magically alluring, it can be difficult to keep track of the plot. On some occasions it’s even difficult to keep track of who’s talking. Not that it is a bad thing per se, the wandering of Bolaño’s beautiful miscellany is always enjoyable. Like much of Bolaño’s writing, it’s chaotic and irrational in places: like a dream or a pocket universe with its own laws.
The book as a whole mirrors the aimlessness of much of Bolaño’s life, and while long extended conversation between a journalist and a writer taper off and are eventually lost in the narrative, it somehow reflects the protagonists who are also seemingly lost in their charming and sordid habits, eventually sinking into the city and their melancholic lives.
The Spirit of Science Fiction by Roberto Bolaño