Translated by Amalia Gladhart.
Angélica Gorodischer’s Trafalgar: A Novel was first published in 1979 but in Argentina and in Spanish, which is why I missed it. The subtitle is a lie; this isn’t a novel but a collection of short stories. That the subtitle is a lie is foreshadowing; Medrano Trafalgar is a charming raconteur who entertains his friends with amusing tales of his adventures trading on alien worlds, rambling accounts told over endless cups of coffee, and he does not come across as a man much inhibited by the truth.
You might ask “what’s so unbelievable about a series of stories about trading with other worlds?” The answer is in Trafalgar’s Who’s Who entry:
MEDRANO, TRAFALGAR: Born in Rosario, 2 October, 1936. Only child of Doctor Juan José Medrano Sales, the city’s eminent clinician, who was chaired professor of Physiology in the College of Medical Sciences of the Universidad Nacional del Litoral and president of the Medical Society of Rosario, and his wife, Doña Mercedes Lucía Herrera Stone.
How an Argentinean of the 1960s and 1970s got his hands on a starship, even one he dismisses as a mere “clunker,” is never explained. It doesn’t really matter how or even if; the stories are what people want from him.
“By the Light of the Chaste Electronic Moon”
Trafalgar finds himself in hot water for importing retroactively forbidden materials into Veroboar, an authoritarian world run by a thousand very beautiful but not very nice women. For reasons that seem reasonable at the time, he believes that fate has handed him the chance to seduce his way out trouble, an opportunity the compulsive womanizer leaps at.
Alas, after the fact he and his lover discover that neither of them understood what was going on and rather than saving himself, Trafalgar has made a bad situation much worse.
Trafalgar has a well-evolved capacity for running away. I guess if he didn’t, he’d be dead by the time of this story.
“The Sense of the Circle”
Anandaha-A is a useless world from the point of view of a trader like Trafalgar, for its peculiar inhabitants have no concern for anything save their enigmatic dance. Chance brings Trafalgar to Anandaha-A at the same time as a party of researchers hoping to learn more about the planet and its seeming primitive inhabitants. As researcher Vera Halabi discovers to her own cost, it’s possible to come to understand too deeply one’s subject matter.
The universe is very large, large enough that a man who dares can eventually find a near duplicate of Earth, albeit one five centuries behind our Earth. Trafalgar arrives in the court of the Catholic Monarchs [link] just before Christopher Columbus’s voyage in search of Asia. Trafalgar decides to lend the Spanish a helping hand, with consequences for history he cannot predict.
Alas for Trafalgar, while he sees the Spanish of 1492 as easily manipulated primitives, at least one member of the court is far more cunning than Trafalgar.
You might ask “does Trafalgar do anything to curb the excesses of the Catholic Monarchs or the Spanish in the New World?” Yeah, not so much. He’s barely aware of them and much more concerned about making sure Columbus does not die poor than he is about convincing Columbus not to commit atrocities.
This story does raise the possibility that our Earth is yet another Earth, one where Argentinean millionaires do not own starships.
“The Best Day of the Year”
Although time travel is impossible (well, in general, but there are exceptions), the planet Uunu has a curious local phenomenon that tosses the unfortunate Trafalgar from era to era. Some are advanced and pleasant; others, like the war-torn world under the rule of the Captain, very much the opposite.
Yeah, no subtext in the depiction of Uunu under military rule at all. But you can critique governments in SFnal form and only run a small chance of being kidnapped, tortured, drugged, and dropped from a great height into the sea.
“The González Family’s Fight for a Better World”
Tricked into a futile trading expedition to the planet Gonzwaledworkamenjkaleidos, Trafalgar discovers a world trapped in eternal stasis, a world where the unquiet dead refuse to allow any aspect of life to change from the customs of the days when they were alive. Unfortunately for the unquiet dead, Trafalgar has nothing like a non-interference Prime Directive and this is one of those rare social problems with a straight-forward technical solution.
There is nobody actually named González in this story. Trafalgar just can’t be bothered to use the local surnames.
“Trafalgar and Josefina”
Most of the stories are as told to the narrator, Trafalgar’s friend. This one is as told by Trafalgar, filtered through the narrator’s aunt Josefina. Since she has no concept of other planets, Josefina believes Trafalgar’s “clunker” is a plane and she assumes Trafalgar’s tragic tale of forbidden lovers on the planet Serprabel happened somewhere off in Asia or Africa.
Josefina very much disapproves of Trafalgar’s incessant womanizing so she probably would find what happens to Trafalgar a few stories down the road very amusing.
Josephina’s also a racist who never saw an African or Asian nation she didn’t think would be better off with a European boot on its neck.
[This will drive me nuts if I don’t mention it. This is the sole story in a section called Interval With My Aunts]
Trafalgar lands on a world inhabited by people who lack the slightest bit of imagination or creativity. Although they can imitate other people’s good ideas well enough, they are sadly a rather dull lot. Or at least most of them are….
Accompanied by his friend Side, Trafalgar travels to Donteä-Doreä, which turns out to be entirely uninhabited save for one woman, the Constancia of the title,who spins a tragic tale of enslavement and flight. Side is smitten with Constancia and takes her story at face value but the more experienced Trafalgar is left wondering if the castaway isn’t as much a monster as those she is fleeing.
“Strelitzias, Lagerstroemias, and Gypsophila”
Trafalgar’s friend is astounded to discover that Trafalgar has a daughter, but not half as astounded as Trafalgar was when he learned he had a daughter. She is the product of the assignation way back in “By the Light of the Chaste Electronic Moon.” Forced to choose between raising his daughter Eritrea himself or consigning her to an orphanage, Trafalgar very reluctantly takes on the role of parent — only to discover, much to his surprise, that he utterly adores Eritrea, who is bright and brave and daring and in all ways a suitable child for Trafalgar.
But little girls eventually grow into young women with an interest in men; Trafalgar’s personal habits incline him to dread the day his daughter begins courting since he knows all too well what men can be like. The reality of her taste in men is, if anything, worse than his worst fears.
Actually, Eritrea’s boyfriend isn’t as terrible as all that but there’s no way anyone could be good enough for her in her father’s eyes.
Trafalgar and I
Some experiences cannot be properly expressed in words, which Trafalgar explains in just 149 words, not counting the title.
Trafalgar may be the bold interstellar trader he claims to be or he could be an Argentinean Münchhausen. Either way, these are amusing little confections and I don’t hesitate to recommend that you buy the English edition from Small Beer Press.