The protagonist of ‘The world’s childhood’ is the dengue child, a mosquito child. The circular adventure of that human with the physiognomy of a giant insect is the heart of the new book by the Argentine Michel Nieva (Buenos Aires, 1988), chosen in 2021 by Granta magazine as one of the best young storytellers in Spanish. It is a science fiction novel as unclassifiable as ambitious, imaginative and sharp. Unique in its way of crossing different cultural expressions, explosive in its way of talking about violence, geography and the body, and with an overwhelming sense of humor, The Childhood of the World imagines an atrocious future in which the great evils of the world end. past and present, those that spread like a virus. We speak with Michel Nieva.
What was the great challenge of The World’s Childhood?
How to narrate great times, non-human temporalities, that the novel, especially the modern novel, never considered. The modern novel is used to narrating temporalities that are usually of an individual or a family, what happens with those of a planet or a virus?
How did you do it?
Being a minor genre, science fiction has the capacity to engulf a lot of cultural expressions that great literature dismisses as inferior, such as video games or manga. The origin of the novel, for example, is a speculative map of what the Earth will be like when the glaciers melt. In the book there is also a video game that takes place in the 19th century.
It is stimulating how it incorporates the language of video games.
One of the great themes of the book is childhood, and I wanted to think about how a stage of life that is pure future can exist in a context where the future is considered to be devastated.
It’s interesting how he crosses the body and technology, how he approaches body terror.
I wanted to think about how the body, through technologies, accesses bodily pleasures or conditions in new ways. And I wanted to express that through body horror because, today, the experience of the body mediated by technology is no longer realistic, it’s virtual.
There is in his book a clear desire to deactivate inherited aesthetics.
The ability to imagine the future is political, and it is no coincidence that almost all the narratives we have of what the future will be are from North America or great empires. It is somewhat political to imagine another type of future than those who come from the north.
Although in ‘The world’s childhood’ you address many issues, climate change is at the center.
I wanted to talk about climate change as a political phenomenon that is the product of capitalist depredation of the environment, especially in the global south of the world. A historian I like very much, Jason W. Moore, says that capitalism doesn’t really arise in the factories in England but rather in the conquest of America and, say, the mobilization of slavery from West Africa to America and the indigenous extermination. This leads one to think of climate change as a colonial and capitalist story that depredated the world.
Why does contemporary literature resort to science fiction to tell the present?
We live in a time in which, in an increasingly evident way, capitalism and corporations narrate their products and aestheticize them from science fiction imaginaries. For example, Mark Zuckerberg takes the idea of the metaverse from William Gibson’s cyberpunk novels. Or Elon Musk, who reads Kim Stanley Robinson’s Martian terraforming novels to think about the environments he wants to build on Mars. That puts whoever writes science fiction in the responsibility of participating in this aestheticization of the capitalist merchandise or taking a more critical position.