El Dedo De Oro (The Golden Finger)
A Novel by Guillermo Sheridan
Do you like obscure subjects? Recondite knowledge, yes? Well, here’s a little post about a Mexican satirical Science-Fiction novel that’s been out of print for decades and is unavailable in English. Impressed? Thought not.
So, let us begin. El Dedo De Oro (The Golden Finger) is more satire than Sci-Fi. Its main thrust is the critique of Mexico’s one-party state. At the time of publication (1996), the PRI government only had four years to go, but had dominated Mexican politics since the 1920s (admittedly the party had mutated in that time, changing its name and its organization quite radically, but still maintaining its status as the sole party in power). The story is set in 2026. Mexico City is darkened by a cloud of smog so thick that helicopters have attempted to tow it away. The rich live in skyscrapers tall enough to pierce the cloud of pollution, the rest live in permanent semi-darkness under the smoggy murk.
A lot of the best Sci-Fi and fantasy holds up a mirror to contemporary life. The distance from the object offered by speculative fiction allows, I would argue, a better perspective on society than a lot of straightforward realist treatments. A more accessible example of this type of speculative fiction (for all you non-Mexicans) is China Mieville’s Perdido Street Station. The portrayal of the fictional Dickensian/Peake-ish city, ‘New Crobuzon’, holds up a mirror to contemporary London that compares with strictly realist interpretations of Britain’s capital (Monica Ali, Zadie Smith, Martin Amis, etc), which cannot (or won’t) offer the breadth of vision that Mieville does. Mieville’s city is a heaving, multi-cultural, grimy, violent place underpinned by hidden slavery and industrial strife. Its corrupt parliament, brutal Metropolitan Police (sorry, militia), Glasshouse (combination of Crystal Palace and Millenium Dome) and station that is a hub of a crumbling urban rail network – eerily familiar to users of the Northern Line – are some of the more intriguing parallels. All in all, the ‘step back’ that you take when exploring the fictional city, brings you closer to the real one. Back to Sheridan, though, enjoyable though this digression was.
A recent overview of Mexican Science Fiction in Strange Horizons magazine concludes that what little exists tends to be dystopian and at times satirical. Not surprising, given the history and politics of the country. El Dedo de Oro fits neatly into this scenario. The plot centres around an old, decrepit union boss, Hugo Atenor Fierro Ferraez. He is over a hundred and fifty years old and heads a council of four ‘Substitute Leaders’ who run the country behind the scenes. The actual presidents are, by 2026, so weak and powerless that the government party just clones them.
Hugo Atenor is based on a real-life political figure, Fidel Velazquez, leader of Mexico’s government-controlled trade unions (he was head of the union movement for over fifty years, until his death, aged 97). The satire on the old, lumbering, corrupt scumbag is wonderfully savage. In the novel, the old man’s power springs from his possession of a talismanic object; the golden finger of the title. This object (a statuette of a pointing finger, made from pure gold) has a spooky effect on Mexicans; it makes them subservient and obedient to its wielder. Any Mexican who wields it, has power over his compatriots.
Again, the finger has a political significance [see this on the Dedazo]. Hugo Atenor keeps the source of his power jammed up his rectum. It is when making love to his teenage Argentine pop-star girlfriend, Solida Soleil, that the finger is taken from him. At the point of orgasm, the old man suffers a serious spasm which causes him to be rendered unconscious and for the finger to shoot out of his ass and smash into the bedroom wall – along with a snake-like cable of shit that points toward the finger. When Solida emerges from underneath the comatose, walrus-like centenarian monster, she assumes he is dead and decides to leave before the police find out (and blame her for his death). She finds the finger cleans it and takes it with her. The hunt is then on for this allegorical mcguffin, which takes the plot to all kinds of strange places.
The strength of the book is in the pungency of its satire and its ear for dialogue and different registers of Mexican Spanish. It is, I’m afraid, an almost impossible book to translate (the Mexican political in-jokes would be baffling to most readers). I loved it. How refreshing to read something so angry, so political, so fucking defamatory… no British writer or publisher would ever dare imagine a book like this. Not ever .
Posted on March 17, 2011, in Latin American Stuff, Writing Stuff and tagged El Dedo De Oro, Fidel Velazquez, Guillermo Sheridan, Mexican Science Fiction, Perdido Street Station, PRI. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.