By Dennis Abrams
With last week’s announcement of the reestablishment of diplomatic ties between the United and States and Cuba, it’s nice to know that literary ties between the two nations are being reestablished as well.
In an article for Boing Boing, publisher Ilan Stavans talked about his love of science fiction, of Cuba, and looking for sci-fi writers:
Latin America, especially, has always had a traumatic relationship with its past and an almost non-existent one with the future. Scientific thinking entered the region rather late and only took hold among a small group in the educated elite. And technology is seen as invariably imported from elsewhere, even if the big corporations invest in factories that manufacture it at home.
This might explain why I have a special weakness for Cuban Sci-Fi in particular. Cuba is the only country in the Spanish-speaking word that has built itself—for better or worse—following a scientific model. My weakness, for the most part, has been nothing but a desire to find out if Cubans, during Fidel Castro’s half-century of control, have dreamed Sci-Fi dreams.
Fortunately, on a recent trip to Cuba, Stavans was introduced to Yoss, a highly regarded science-fiction author and rocker. It was a most fortuitous meeting.
…Yoss gave me details about the Cuban Sci-Fi tradition. He told me it dated back to before the Communist regime but that it had flourished in the seventies as a result of the cultural exchange the country had with Russia and the Soviet Bloc. He talked at length about Agustín de Rojas, how he was a biologist by training who lived in a city of Santa Clara, where he taught the history of theater at an art school, how Espiral had won the most prestigious Sci-Fi prize in the island, called the Premio David, how he was influenced by Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury but also by Soviet Sci-Fi authors like the brothers Arkadi and Boris Strugatsky. He told me that toward the end of his life, de Rojas had either lost his mind or become a hyperrealist, since, as Yoss put it, he would go around telling people that Fidel Castro didn’t actually exist. Finally, he said that at the time of his death he had left an unfinished novel and that Yoss had agreed with the de Rojas estate to conclude it someday.
And even better, Stavans didn’t leave Cuba empty handed:
Happily, he gave as presents two of his books, Se aquila un planeta and Super extra grande. The former is a gallery of stories reminiscent of Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles, in which Cuban social types are charmingly ridiculed. The second is a satirical adventure about an outsized galactic creature whose stomach mishaps need to be stopped in order for peace to be brought along. A courageous hero is asked to perform the purges with all sorts of sophisticated technological equipment.
As a publisher, I feel I have stumbled upon a treasure box. Restless Books acquired the de Rojas trilogy as well as the two novels by Yoss. Publication of the translations begins this fall. I’m sure English-language readers will be astonished by the visions of the future these authors offer. Cuba is just ninety miles away from Florida yet the cultural divide is enormous. The United States is obsessed with the future; it builds its identity around the idea that tomorrow will be better than today. Cubans aren’t that presumptuous.
Read more about Stavans’ adventures in Cuba by clicking here.