The second of two Cuban science fiction classics receiving an English language publication, Agustin de Rojas’ A Legend of the Future (Restless Books) is a grim account of three astronauts’ attempt to survive a catastrophic exploratory mission to Titan. En route to Saturn’s moon, the spaceship Sviatagor collides with a meteor, leaving all but three crew members dead. The trio, one of whom has been paralyzed and is kept alive in a stasis pod while the other two slowly succumb to radiation poisoning, struggle to pull together to return home to a warring Earth. Complicating this is the fact that each crew member is holding back dire information from their colleagues.
Philosophically dense and hallucinatory in the manner of later Philip K. Dick, Legend of the Future takes some effort breaking into: the book shifts perspective between all three characters, who may be reliably reflecting their reality or may be flashing into an alternate mental reality created by their psychological conditioning. (Compounding the confusion at first: characters’ thoughts are presented in quotes so you’re sure at first if they’re speaking them aloud or just keeping them inside.) Our three protagonists initially come across rather flat – in part because one of them, the sole surviving woman Gema, has been partially taken over by the ship’s bio-computer – though once we get into the flashbacks showing their training/conditioning, they become more recognizable.
Legend works as both suspenseful survival sci-fi (much like the current Matt Damon film The Martian) and a philosophical reflection of what it means to be human. Rojas’ beleaguered astronauts definitely get put through the wringer, both physically and mentally: as his radiation poisoning becomes more acute, for instance, crewman Thondup begins conversing with dead crewmembers and later becomes convinced that there are hostile aliens ready to attack. Gema grows progressively more machinelike, while the crew commander Isanusi ultimately is forced to meld with the ship itself. As with Restless Books’ other Cuban s-f release, A Planet for Rent, there doubtless are metaphorical comparisons to be found in this book to the psycho-social pressures of life in communist Cuba, though I’ll admit that these slid past me.
A strong blend of hard science and psychological fiction, A Legend of the Future should prove engrossing for admirers of Philip Dick or Stanislaw Lem.[amazon template=iframe image&asin=1632060353] [amazon template=iframe image&asin=1632060361]