For the Bolaño devotee, reading The Spirit of Science Fiction is a little like glimpsing the graceful form hiding within the block of marble. The book’s loose, associative style, wounded idealism, and tender carnality anticipate many of his later novelistic preoccupations. The book’s very premise—two young poets drift around the literary underworld of Mexico City—reads like a dress rehearsal for The Savage Detectives, similarly soaked in poetry, disillusion, and longing. The novel is dappled with recognizably Bolañan pleasures, though they are mostly incidental. What The Spirit of Science Fiction offers most is the tingle of the nascent. It allows us to perceive the avalanche in the snowball before it rolls downhill ... In The Spirit of Science Fiction he is already...testing the narrative pliability of poetic delirium and oracular grimness ... The Spirit of Science Fiction functions as a kind of key to the jeweled box of Bolaño’s fictions, an index of the images that would come to obsess him. While new readers may wish to start with the famous works on which his legacy rests, longtime Bolaño fans will doubtless enjoy this familiar cocktail of sorrow and ecstasy.
... Natasha Wimmer’s [translation is] superb ... With words alone, Bolaño summons a visual world, creating in this book, as in his others, what Mario Vargas Llosa has called 'images and fantasies for posterity' ... The Spirit of Science Fiction serves as a key to Bolaño’s later work, unlocking clues to his abiding obsessions ... [The book] is not unripe juvenilia; it is a hardy forerunner that stands on its own.
... the book can be seen as a template for The Savage Detectives ... Plotwise, there’s not a lot of linear velocity. It’s a picaresque by a poet more concerned with notating startling moments than crafting a multibraided saga ... The Spirit of Science Fiction never attains the full dimensions of heartbreaking tragedy of which Bolaño is capable ... Bolaño’s lusty, laughing passion for art and literature, for women and Mexico City, is tangible here, but would find its richest expression only with the author’s maturity.
The Spirit of Science Fiction lacks the gemlike precision of Bolaño's other short novels, and replaces the latent doom that fills his later work with a sense of possibility ... The Spirit of Science Fiction is not the right place to start reading Bolaño. It doesn't have the astonishing force of 2666 and Distant Star, the momentum and humor of The Savage Detectives, or the formal perfection of By Night in Chile and Last Evenings on Earth. But once you've read those books, come back to this one. It's a joy to watch such a brilliant stylist practice his moves, and to see such a brilliant mind expand on the page.
... a youthful and, at times, delirious bildungsroman ... The Spirit of Science Fiction feels like a fully realized work. It’s also a fascinating blueprint of Bolaño’s poetics and of the extent to which he drew from the Beat literature of William S. Burroughs and Jack Kerouac ... The book is not perfect: it gets silly at times, and there are often excessive sentences or stray clunkers. It’s an early novel, and the author is no longer around to make it better. But it also has achingly beautiful passages, and its lessons about the reach of American policy resonate to this day. A superbly talented young man wrote it, in 1984, believing that truth reached through art was the only means to revolution. In this sense, it reads like a dispatch from beyond the grave.
The Spirit of Science Fiction is structured unconventionally, enticing the reader to solve its mysteries. Bolaño adroitly braids three related narratives ... Heralding things to come when originally written, [the book] remains an entertaining, lyrical and accomplished novel.
... an interesting, but by no means essential addition to the Bolaño canon ... This novel feels unfinished — it is more a series of impressions than a coherent narrative. While that’s probably partly design, I suspect it’s also down to the way it was pieced together out of Bolaño’s archive. The best of these impressions is the book’s extraordinary, dream-like final section in which Remo and Laura go to a dubious bath house ... Hardcore Bolaño fans will want to get their hands on The Spirit of Science Fiction. However, if you have not read him before, you would be better off starting with his brilliant 1998 novel The Savage Detectives...
Melancholy and despair are offset by comedy, wonderfully present in scenes from a poetry workshop: one of Bolaño’s microcosms of choice, and the ideal space for intellectual strutting and sparring. An intriguing cast, mostly vagabond in spirit, enters and exits the novel like spectres, part of the picaresque multitudes that populate his oeuvre ... Everything feels fleeting and precarious, and it’s this sense of the fugitive, the restless characters and their obsessions, that both buoys the narrative and ultimately lets it down. Too many roads lead nowhere; this brand of absurdity is itself a theme in Bolaño’s work, yet here the various aborted journeys don’t feed into a larger project ... Every now and then, little islands of visibility appear within the fog, clear-eyed glimpses into the books to come.
Despite its billing, The Spirit of Science Fiction reads less like something new and introductory, and more like a promising turn taken too soon ... Thanks to Wimmer, the English translation of The Spirit of Science Fiction retains the mercurial poetry and quiet, satirical humour of Bolaño’s voice and style ... The complexity of Bolaño’s later writing works because it is precise. The Spirit of Science Fiction lacks this precision ... Bolaño does his signature pirouettes around the pages of The Spirit of Science Fiction, but they are his small-stage practice. The true performance was yet to come.
With a story line so thin it only narrowly constitutes a plot, Bolaño relies on the quirks and capers of his characters to propel the novel forward ... Less a finished product itself than a blueprint for Bolaño’s subsequent work, this title is recommended for devout fans of the author who can’t get enough of his expansive oeuvre.
It’s easy to see why this novel was never published in Bolaño’s lifetime. It’s a rambling, dispiriting mess, symptomatic of the way publishers have dredged up substandard work from this great writer’s past in the hope that it might catch some of the reflected glory of his two great novels. Let us hope The Spirit of Science Fiction is the last of these tawdry outtakes that can only serve to diminish the legacy of one of the most remarkable literary voices of the past 50 years.
... isn’t an early work of science fiction, but its fantastic prose and unusual conceits contain the kernels of a much larger and more beguiling book, The Savage Detectives ... belongs in that category of novel that documents first contact between a great writer and a great city ... Although these various situations and scenarios seldom cohere, they light the way for Bolaño’s chief project: to make high art out of the low-brow material of Mexico City’s bars, bookstores and bathhouses ... isn’t for everyone, nor is it the best place to start in Bolaño’s oeuvre. It is, however, a beguiling introduction to the Mexico City he’d dreamed of for so long, both on and off the page.
The Spirit of Science Fiction, now appearing in the US in Natasha Wimmer’s translation...has the charm of being a sort of raw spinoff of the extraordinary initial section of the first of Bolaño’s international hits, The Savage Detectives ... There is no way to know if the novel was unfinished or abandoned ... The book itself, now quite readable as an archival fragment, may not have had much of a chance as the product of a living author ... The fact that the novel doesn’t have an end is less problematic, in the first place because the reader is aware of its origins: it is a book found abandoned in a hard drive ... his books tend to adhere to the tradition of open-ended entropic writing that leaves the reader with the exquisite sensation of having read a story in which nothing else need be said ... Maybe it’s precisely the sense of reading a work under construction that makes The Spirit of Science Fiction such a pleasure.
t’s unclear if Bolaño didn’t finish this novel or deemed it unfit for publication, but either way it’s an unshaped apprentice work, hinting at his particular brilliance—emotional expansiveness, dry humor, passion for the intersection of words and life—but only sketching it out. An abstracted and loose minor work that only glancingly addresses the author's favorite themes.
... [a] striking, meandering novel ... Though more a collection of scenes and impressions and thinner than his other novels, this is an intriguing and dreamy portrait of two writers taking different paths in their pursuit of their love of literature, hoping to discover their voices.