With the United States beginning to ease restrictions against Cuba earlier this year, we’re poised to get a new peek into Cuba. One such opening is through a pair of translated science fiction novels, set to be published next week from Restless Books.
For the first time, we get our first translations of Cuban science fiction: A Legend of the Future by Agustín de Rojas and A Planet for Rent, by Yoss (José Miguel Sánchez Gómez). Each represents a fantastic science fiction literary tradition, one that we hope that we’ll see more of in the coming years. These books are part of a growing movement to translate more international science fiction novels into English. Cixin Liu’s The Three Body Problem has made a huge impression in English, and new translations of the works of Stanislaw Lem and the Strugatsky brothers have brought new traditions of science fiction before US audiences. That’s an exceptionally good thing, because these books convey a worldview that we really don’t see all that often in genre stories.
Each novel is deeply tied to the island nation’s politics with a satirical edge. In A Legend of the Future, Rojas (called the father of Cuban SF) takes us to a future where a mission to Saturn’s moon Titan goes seriously wrong: an accident cripples the ship and injures the crew, all while Earth is in danger as superpowers go to war.
Reading through this book, I had was reminded of books like Solaris, and interestingly, of Jeff Vandermeer’s Annihilation: the crew’s mental state plays a prominent role here, especially as they attempt to return home in face of enormous challenges. Before the mission, they were hardened mentally, in case they did run into trouble.
Yoss’s novel A Planet For Rent feels more satirical to me, and far more politically pointed. In this future, Earth has been invaded by aliens, who effectively save the planet from humanity by colonizing it. Earth is remade as a destination for interstellar tourists, and humanity gets the short end of the stick under their rule. Some opt to work for their new overlords, while others try and escape from Earth in illegal spaceships, trying to find a new live off of their homeworld. There’s no shortage of political parallels here.
In a release that accompanied both books, Restless Books publisher Ilan Stavans provided a short overview of Cuban Science Fiction: while Cuban SF existed prior to the current communist regime, it was helped along with cultural exchanges with the Soviet Union. Yoss noted that science fiction within Cuba isn’t taken all that seriously: the island’s literature community largely dismisses the genre as something for children. In a short article, he explained that he was angry, and that science fiction represented an excellent means to explore the problems of a post-Soviet bloc Cuba.
Both novels are interesting and entertaining reads, and I hope that with the continued easing of restrictions, we’ll see more science fiction from our neighbors to the south.