de Pedrolo, Manuel

Tagged: Author

(1918-1990) Catalan author of an immensely varied series of works in all genres (poetry, journalism, drama, short fiction and the novel); his full range of accomplishments has not yet been fully acknowledged. Despite his staunch resistance against the repressive policies of Franco's regime (1939-1975) – he was a Republican soldier during the Civil War (1936-9) – Pedrolo mistrusted the Catalan literary establishment of the democratic era, choosing to play the role of cranky outsider rather than accept political compromise. He died convinced of his failure as a writer, ignored by official culture. He enjoyed, nonetheless, a large readership, ready to welcome the constant innovation offered in his works, which exhibit a constant experimentation with new forms and content, and a disregard for Francoist censorship, often at a high personal cost. His masterpiece is the unfinished nonfantastic eleven-volume series Temps obert ["Open Time"] (1963-1969). Starting with the bombing during the Civil War of the family house in Barcelona, each volume explores a different outcome of this event in the life of the protagonist, Daniel Bastida.

Pedrolo's greatest contribution as an author of sf is Mecanoscrit del segon origen (1974; trans Sara Martín Alegre as Typescript of the Second Origin 2016) [for details see Checklist below], which was followed by Successimultani ["Simultaneousevent"] (1980). Although not addressed specifically to Young Adult readers, Mecanoscrit del segon origen has been particularly successful among them. This accessible, atmospheric tale became in fact compulsory reading for secondary education in the late 1970s, and has remained popular. It is no exaggeration to claim that Mecanoscrit has contributed more than any other book in Catalan (and certainly in Spanish) to convince Catalan readers that the fantastic deserves as much respect as realism.

Mecanoscrit del segon origen is a short novel (only 45,000 words). It narrates in an agile, unadorned prose of great effectiveness the survival of Alba, a 14-year-old girl, and Dídac, then 9, after the brutal destruction of their world through an Alien Invasion, which indiscriminately kills mammals (both humans and animals), affects all machinery, and badly damages most buildings; this assault on the planet is a preliminary to colonization, though that project is eventually abandoned. Ignoring the actual extent of the catastrophe, Alba and Dídac struggle for survival with unusual maturity for their age. After taking small, cautious steps that initially limit them to their original rural surroundings, they eventually reach the outskirts of a totally ruined Barcelona, a ghostly Last Man or even End of the World cityscape full of rubble and skeletons, with the few survivors that the couple encounter either deranged or locked into terminal violence.

In the midst of this grimness, a Utopian note is soon heard in Mecanoscrit. Scavenging for anything that will help them survive, Alba begins to realize that the future of humanity lies in her hands and depends on her body. She convinces young Dídac that their only hope, and the only hope for the future, is for them to become a new Adam and Eve as soon as he is ready to procreate. Dídac is a mixed-race character (his father was black): their baby will hopefully erase racial differences for ever.

Alba's clear-headed determination and practicality – she perfectly embodies Catalan seny, or moral good sense – make her absolutely memorable, a model to follow. She is, arguably, a more solid version of the girl heroes now popular thanks to such American sf young adult Dystopian series as Suzanne Collins's The Hunger Games opening with The Hunger Games (2008). In the novel, the memory of her legend persists for thousands of years. Mecanoscrit itself seems to have become a permanent part of Catalan literature. [SMA]

Manuel de Pedrolo

born L'Aranyó, Segarra, Eastern Catalonia, Spain: 1 April 1918

died Barcelona, Spain: 26 June 1990

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