Imagine a distant future where Latin Americans travel faster-than-light through space, Spanglish is an intergalactic language, and the fate of the universe depends on one veterinarian who treats giant alien animals, including massive cave-dwelling crustaceans and long sea worms that could swallow entire people whole.
Some readers will say that this story is pure fantasy. But for award-winning Cuban writer José Miguel Sánchez Gómez—also known by his pen name Yoss—science fiction is not just about telling fantastic stories set in the future. His new novel “Super Extra Grande,” published by Restless Books on June 7, aims to help readers understand who they are today.
“Sometimes people say that science fiction tries to predict the future,” Yoss said in a phone interview with NBC Latino. “The future cannot be predicted. Science fiction sets up a mirror in the future to better understand who we are today, to become more aware of the consequences that our actions could have tomorrow.”
Yoss’s previous book “A Planet for Rent,” published in 2015, was a political critique about Cuba and Latin America set in the future after aliens have colonized Earth. And “Super Extra Grande” is another funny critique about Western politics, which follows veterinarian Jan Amos Sangan Dongo as he travels through space to save two ambassadors who were accidentally swallowed by a giant creature.
For readers in Cuba, Yoss’s new novel about exploring the insides of leviathan beasts could remind them of their independence leader José Martí. The poet described living in America as the experience of a very small person living inside of a much bigger animal.
And for Latinos, “Super Extra Grande” could similarly be a story about immigrant families who have to dig in the bowels of a much larger United States to find their piece of the American dream.
Yoss explained how books challenge both writers and readers to explore themselves and create alter egos to better understand who they are. And for the Cuban author, science fiction is a powerful tool to connect with his heritage.
“When I was a boy I had the false idea that you had to write science fiction by imitating the greatest writers,” Yoss told NBC Latino. “But over time, I realized that you can tell better stories when you write about what you know. And what I know best is Cuba.”
When Yoss writes about Cuba—which for many Americans today seems like a galaxy far, far away—and describes the island-nation as a parallel world, a hyper-reality of what the future could be, he transforms Cuba into a familiar place for everyone.
In this sense, “Super Extra Grande” is an enormous mirror that unearths deep roots connecting Cuba with the United States and the universe. And reminds readers that everyone has an alter ego, a veterinarian who needs to wade through the intestines of large animals to find something meaningful.
“I think it’s important to look towards the future,” Yoss concluded. “But you have to do it with your feet firmly planted on the ground, rooted in the past.”