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  • Ralph Villanueva

Aldama & Itzel Usher in a Sci-Fi Worldbuilding Paradigm Shift: A Review of Labyrinths Borne

Updated: May 22

Image of Jacket Cover for Labyrinths Borne
Labyrinths Borne Jacket Cover

Totalitarian states are nothing new. Neither are sci-fi novels. Taken together, authors (Butler, Orwell, Huxley, Herbert, Delany, to name a few) have weaved tales of warning that highlight the potential of totalitarian states becoming the future, permanent human condition, or worse, one that is already the present, permanent human condition. The insidious totalitarian ideology looks to dismantle, separate, and utterly annihilate: the people and the land. Ignorance and intolerance reigns supreme while confusion and mistrust spread across communities.

 

Today one only has to quickly glance around the globe to ascertain just what kind of state humanity is living in, or rather trying to survive under; whatever of ‘humanity’ might remain. One could ask where to look for guidance or commiseration. Have we been here before? Can I trust my neighbor? Is everything going to be ok? Should I still be hopeful? The answer to all these is a resounding ‘Sí! Joining the list above is Frederick Luis Aldama, whose recent Latinx sci-fi libro, Labyrinths Borne (Ad Astra Media, 2024), has managed to assess los tiempos en que vivimos and has pointed to a path forward by offering readers an emotional, intellectually spirited and collectivist minded tale that rides the line of the dystopic, but ultimately settles in the horizon of the optimistic.

Today one only has to quickly glance around the globe to ascertain just what kind of state humanity is living in, or rather trying to survive under; whatever of ‘humanity’ might remain.
Images of protestors standing up to injustices of world
Papá Reflects on World Falling Apart

The backdrop for Aldama’s story is a world ‘out of joint,’ either the present, or not too distant future. What is unclear throughout is whether this is an actualized reality or one that is dream-inspired; the reader closes the libro having to decide. The actual story, told through a series of letters and journals (readers stitch these together in their mind to form an exchange) is about a papá and daughter who have been separated by an ‘event.’ The former has been left behind to deal with the ‘event’ while the latter, Luna Casandra Coatlicue, has emerged out of a cocoon with other young survivors somewhere at the edge of the world, to figure out how to establish a new society.

 

The elderly, sick papá begins to write to Luna, to share and express what he is facing (oppression, militarization, epidemics) and what he has been able to accumulate throughout his years of reading, learning, and self-reflection in letters which he cannot be sure she will even read. Luna, or Cassie as her friends call her, and the others have had to learn to work and rely on each other, raise crops, make shelter, use technology to their advantage, and “have created a center of learning that includes the arts and humanities along with existing sciences and many new areas of inquiry that follow rigorous methodologies” (16).

 The elderly, sick papá begins to write to Luna, to share and express what he is facing (oppression, militarization, epidemics) and what he has been able to accumulate throughout his years of reading, learning, and self-reflection in letters which he cannot be sure she will even read.

The juxtaposition between papá’s letters and Cassie’s journals not only create an intimate loop between them of shared memory and experience, but more importantly for the reader, foregrounds the connectivity of those elements with their self-expression/understanding out of thought and writing, which in turn influences their relationship to the dis-jointed time/world they inhabit. Aldama, with the help of artist/penciler Itzel Argil Aguilar, emphasizes in this tale that no matter what is happening, no matter how the world crumbles around us, and how we ourselves might be made to feel as though we are crumbling, it is of the utmost importance to recall that “there is no individuality outside of sociality. To be human is to belong to a greater whole” (44). 

 The juxtaposition between papá’s letters and Cassie’s journals not only create an intimate loop between them of shared memory and experience, but more importantly for the reader, foregrounds the connectivity of those elements with their self-expression/understanding out of thought and writing. . .

There are various passages and drawings in this libro to analyze, but I’d like to end on two notes:


First, Aldama argues for the importance of an interdisciplinary approach to living and learning. That is, we cannot understand ourselves nor the world around us if we continue to separate us from those systems of knowledge which we believe to not be in conversation with each other, for instance, science and poetry. Integrating the disciplines, seeing how they fit in with one another and how we connect with them will allow us to take the necessary steps to address those issues that threaten humanity and the world.

We cannot understand ourselves nor the world around us if we continue to separate us from those systems of knowledge which we believe to not be in conversation with each other, for instance, science and poetry. . .

Second, Cassie at one point asks, “Pero qué soy? Quién soy? De qué estoy hecha? De quiénes estoy hecha? Cómo soy lo que soy” (35)? The labyrinth which is our ‘worldself,’ through which we exist and construct, that thereby maintains the life we feel, think, and carry out is not only a personal, but a collective odyssey that Aldama weaves via pen and imagination. Rather than remain cut off from one another and our access to understanding, to comfortably hide in fear and ignorance, Aldama assures us that “hope allows us to transcend fear and to go beyond the present moment into the active pursuit of a better life, a better future” (14).




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