Science fiction and comic books often look towards the future to fulfill dreams and fantasies. Popular icons like Batman, Superman and X-Men inspire fans all over the world to become the heroes of tomorrow—better, stronger versions of themselves with the help of technology and evolution. But can one Cuban author boldly go where none have gone before and inspire American readers?
Heavy metal rocker turned science fiction writer José Miguel Sánchez (known for his pen name, Yoss) believes he can. Restless Books translated and published his novel “A Planet for Rent” for the first time in the United States. Science fiction fans, especially those attending the San Diego Comic-Con (running July 9-12), will be interested in the way Yoss addresses important questions about the future: Who are we? What does it matter to be human? And, what is our place in the universe?
While many U.S. science fiction fans look optimistically towards the future, Cubans and Latin Americans often see science fiction as a time machine for the past. Yoss transforms Earth into a tourist destination for aliens (known as “Xenoids”) to describe how Cuba’s colonial past as well as its more recent tourism expansion prioritize foreign interests at the expense of natives.
In the first vignette “For Rent, One Planet”, the Cuban writer describes how humans (natives) look back to a time before they became a government-run tourist industry for aliens (foreigners). “One planet whose inhabitants have stopped believing in the future,” he writes, “all they have left is the pride of their solitary past to help them face up to their irksome, everyday, xenoid-filled present.”
While the book is a window into Cuban history and politics, the tension between Xenoids and humans is familiar to science fiction fans from different backgrounds and can remind readers of other ideological clashes, whether they be British colonialists versus American revolutionaries, Cold War tensions between the United States and Cuba, and economic pressures between centralized and local banking systems in the European Union and Greece.
Another interesting comparison for Americans can be found in the Cuban author’s description of “Mestizos,” which in the book focuses on hybrids of mixed human and alien heritage. Because Yoss describes humanity as one race, readers everywhere can relate to the way his characters feel excluded. The condition of “not belonging” and having “one foot in each camp” produces an identity crisis that leads Mestizos to the “lowest life expectancy of any known ‘human’ group.”
Yoss’s novel is part of an international literary cannon of science fiction classics that makes invisible walls visible by showing everyday readers how inequality segregates people by class, politics or ethnicity.
Yoss doesn’t offer any solutions, but science fiction writers aim to inspire readers to come together for a higher purpose. And it is that shared consciousness, or force, that drives Yoss and others to illuminate readers outside their own countries' borders.
Restless Books, which was founded by the noted Mexican-American author, essayist and Amherst professor Ilan Stavans, also published the Cuban science fiction classic “A Legend of the Future”. The author, the late Agustín de Rojas, is considered one of the fathers of Cuban science fiction.
The novel, a space mission to Saturn’s moon Titan which has gone terribly wrong, is often compared by fans with Arthur C. Clarke’s “2001: A Space Odyssey”.