Fiction Reviews

Typescript of the Second Origin

(1974/ 2016) Manuel de Pedrolo, Institut d'Estudis Ilerdencs, Limited Eurocon 2016 edition,
hrdbk, 489pp, ISBN 978-8-416-45214-9


This is the review of the first translated-to-English edition of the Catalan SF classic novella Typescript of the Second Origin. While it is not yet commercially available in English it may very well soon be due to two things: first this 2016 edition produced especially for Spain's first Eurocon in 2016 held in Catalonia's principal city, Barcelona, and that in 2015 the film, Second Origin based on the book came out in both English and Spanish versions. Consequently, I thought you might appreciate this heads up especially as this book was something of a Catalan cultural phenomenon in the late 1970s but which has become over the past quarter of a century a little forgotten. But first a word about the author.

Manuel de Pedrolo was a very prolific Catalan writer with over a hundred books to his name. He was caught up in Spain's civil war (1936 – 1939) and fought on the Republican side, for which later he felt betrayed when Francisco Franco set about culturally disenfranchising Catalonians banning the teaching and publishing of Catalan in addition to the more general relegation of women in Spanish society. Franco died in 1975 and the ban on teaching Catalan in schools was lifted. This book was published the following year and quickly became a best-seller, spawned a TV series and then recently became the 2015 film (which has a slightly different feel to the book). However, knowing the context in which the author wrote this novella does give it extra dimensions.

The story itself concerns a 14-year old girl (20 year old in the film) Alba and the younger Dídac. Alba is cycling by a weir pool when she sees two schoolboys beating up a third whom they throw into the water. Alba stops and asks why they did that and the kids reply because their victim was black and they did not want him with them.

Dídac is struggling in the water and Alba dismounts to go to help him. However the three school children are distracted by three flying ovals. Alba dives into the water to rescue the now-submerged Dídac, but above them both passes a huge shockwave. Finally, Alba surfaces with Dídac to find the pair of school children motionless on the ground; they are dead! Indeed, looking around, every mammal appears dead and in the distance it looks like a huge hand has swatted their village. Something terrible has happened: the end of their world and possibly the end of the whole world!

As they explore the ruins of their village they find no other survivors and have to look after themselves. Further exploration the next few months uncovers nothing but the detritus of civilisation with only the contents of buildings only superficially damaged to forage for supplies. Life is desolate…

The Typescript of the Second Origin is at its core a staple of golden age SF being a tale of a new Adam and Eve. Yet as with any story, it is the treatment that counts as well as what was in the author's mind when it was penned. Here it is not difficult to see that Pedrolo was commenting on the futility of war being a veteran of the civil war that ruined communities dividing them, whose flames were fanned by (political) prejudice, and which resulted in a nearly-successful attempt to wipe out Catalonian culture with the imposition of a patriarchy. Conversely, with its two protagonists being of clearly different race and a female lead protagonist in Alba, Typescript of the Second Origin is very much an anti-racist story of gender equality and heritage value. As such it was tremendously progressive, and especially so for its time. That it was tremendously popular, selling in hundreds of thousands in its initial years, is telling as to how its message fitted in with its time of a new beginning.

The title Typescript of the Second Origin seems a bit of an oddity, especially the term 'typescript'. It is explained in the book's concluding chapter which is kind of afterword set thousands of years in the future. The Spanish and Catalonian titles use the word 'mecanoscrito' and 'mecanoscrit' which to the innocent non-lingual Brit might suggest 'manuscript' but it is clear from the book that 'typed document' – hence 'typescript' – is what is truly meant. (And I also checked with two of SF² Concatenation's Spanish contacts one of whom was born in Catalonia.)

The novella is primarily aimed at 14 year-olds and as such is what is technically termed juvenile SF as opposed to young adult (YA) fiction (for those in their early 20s). Personally, aside from the desire to be technically and biologically correct, I do not hold much store by such designations when it comes to my own reading: I tend to go with C. S. Lewis, whom, if I recall vaguely correctly, said if a book is not worth reading at 60 it is not worth reading at six. Be assured, Manuel de Pedrolo's novella is most certainly worth reading especially if you have an interest in sampling non-Anglophone SF. My one qualm is a bioethical reproductive concern, but that is a 'founder effect' problem which springs naturally to the biologist's mind and would not necessarily to the average reader (though such are addressed in a number of genre novels from Faraday's Orphans (1996) to Dark Eden (2012)). What we get with Typescript of the Second Origin is a very readable novella that draws on core SF tropes and memes and which builds on the author's own social context. As such it is an exemplar of its kind and I hope that a commercial publisher does pick this one up. If they do then I commend this particular edition with its introductions: one by a 2016 Eurocon committee member on this edition and one on the author and his works, as these really add value for non-Catalan and non-Spanish readers.

Jonathan Cowie

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