Aguilera, Juan Miguel

Since I was young, books have always been an important subject to me. I have a very clear memory of what I read back then and the emotions they provoked in me. The first one (it could not have been any other), was The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Later, I became a fan of Jules Verne’s novels. My family had a list with all the available titles, most of them published by Molino, and crossed off the ones they had gifted me for a name day, a birthday, or Christmas. As a child who is a voracious reader, as was I, could not live solely off Verne novels, I also became an admirer of Mark Twain, Stevenson, and Emilio Salgari. I discovered North-American science fiction later on with Isaac Asimov and Larry Niven. This was the time of the space race and the Solar System was truly the only frontier. I remember how excited I was sitting with my father in front of the black-and-white television, on 16 July 1969, and watching the first man land on the Moon.

My first article appeared in the magazine Nueva Dimensión (New Dimension) in 1981, and, in all honesty, it was not that great. But it was the first story I had ever written and I had easily managed to get it published in a prestigious magazine, and that encouraged me to carry on. Full of optimism, what I decided to do next was something much more ambitious than a story or even a novel. In collaboration with the biologist Javier Redal, I designed a highly detailed setting in which I was going to set a series of stories. The idea was to build something broad in space and time, similar to Isaac Asimov’s Foundation or Larry Niven’s Known Space. In this universe of our own, Javier and I set Mundos en el Abismo (‘Worlds in the Abyss’, 1988), Hijos de la Eternidad (‘Sons of Eternity’, 1990), El Refugio (‘Shelter’, 1994). These novels, and various other stories set in the same stage, are considered by enthusiasts to be the first to tackle space science-fiction from a scientific perspective in Spain. In the words of philologist Fernando Ángel Moreno in his book Teoría de la Literatura de Ciencia Ficción (‘Theory of Science Fiction Literature’), ‘Worlds in the Abyss made other writers in the genre more ambitious in every sense. Its treatment of religion, space opera, of the hard, of the sublime, of personal identity, of the scientific world… I believe they have been more influential than any other author before them. It is easy to find traits from Worlds in the Abyss in later science-fiction works’.

Meanwhile, I was working as an industrial designer and founded a design and illustration studio in Valencia with Paco Roca. Individually and as a team, we created many of the science-fiction book covers that were released around that time. We worked using techniques such as reprography and airbrushing, but when our friend MacDiego returned from the United States with the innovative idea of digital design, we embraced it with enthusiasm.

In 1998, I published La Locura de Dios (‘God’s Madness’), with the aim to make something innovative. This novel was not entirely science-fiction nor historical fiction, but a blend of both. French critics called it a ‘speculative story’. The action takes place in the early 14th century, and the main character is the wise Ramón Llull from Mallorca, who sets on a journey to Asia accompanied by a group of Almogavar soldiers. In this adventure, they search for a mysterious lost civilization which had once brought the Greek fire to the byzantines. As a background story, the medieval legend about Prester John’s kingdom. This novel won the Ignotus award in Spain, and after being translated into French, it won the Gran Prix Imaginales in France and the Bob Morane in Belgium. From that moment onwards, all my novels have simultaneously appeared in Spain and France.

My following novel, Rihla, was another ‘speculative story’. It was published in 2013 and it narrates the journey of Lisán al-Aysar, an erudite from the Kingdom of Granada, to discover America, seven years before Columbus. Lisán had found and deciphered some archaic lead sheets that spoke of the ancient Minoans’ journey to a distant continent beyond the columns of Hercules. I finished the historical trilogy in 2006, with El Sueño de la Razón (‘The Dream of Reason’). The novel takes place in the 16th century, during the journey of young Charles I to take the Spanish throne after the death of Ferdinand II. Two characters travel alongside the future emperor: Cèleste, a young witch with a mission, an the Valencian Luis Vives, a converted and humanist jew, friend of Erasmus of Rotterdam, who had to flee his country due to the harassment of the Inquisition on his family.

Meanwhile, in 2001, I had participated in the project for the film Stranded by María Lidón. My script described an unfortunate first trip to Mars, based on my novel El Refugio, published a few years earlier. Along with Paco Roca, I was also in charge of the artistic direction and designing the sets and the atmosphere. The inside scenes were filmed in the Panavision studios in Los Angeles, and the outside scenes in the natural parks of Lanzarote, which gave us that desolate and fantastical aspect of the Martian landscapes. My passion for space travel (and for journeys of discovery in general) was very much apparent in that script, that wonderful madness which makes humans want to risk it all in order to find out what is beyond the horizon. Simultaneously to the production of the film, I wrote a novelisation of it with the help of Eduardo Vaquerizo. It was Eduardo who introduced me to the person who wrote the prologue for Stranded, none other than Luis Ruiz de Gopegui. Luis Ruiz de Gopegui, physic and engineer, had been director of NASA in Spain during the years of man’s journey to the Moon. That is right: in 1969, while I sat in front of the television to watch that historic event with my father, Gopegui was in the middle of it all, since the ground station at Fresnedillas was the most significant during the launch of Apollo 11, and their work was vital. It was a great honour to have him write the prologue for Stranded.

After the film and the book Stranded, I published a few novels, many of them in collaboration with other authors, something I love to do: Contra el tiempo (Against Time, 2001), with Rafael Marín; Mundos y demonios (Worlds and Demons. 2005), La red de Indra (Indra’s Web, 2009); Némesis (Nemesis, 2011), with Javier Redal; La Zona (The Zone, 2012), with Javier Negrete; and Océanum (2012), with Rafael Marín. I also wrote scripts for comic books: Road Cartoons (1998), with Paco Roca; GOG (2000), with Paco Roca; Avatar: Un regard dans l’abime (2003), Avatar: Griffes dans le Vent (2004), and Avatar: Les fissures de ma caverne (2006), all three with Rafa Fonteriz.

In 2011, and thanks to Media Vaca, I had the chance to work again with Luis Ruiz de Gopegui. This time I was the illustrator of his novel Six Children on Mars. Once again, the topics I am most passionate about: Mars and journeys of discovery, and this time working with somebody who had been part of the space race, an event that had greatly impacted me as a child. In a way, thanks to this project with Media Vaca, I had the feeling that I had closed a chapter in my life. It truly was a gift to have done those illustrations and photographic retouches for a book signed by Luis.