One of two novels initiating the English publication of Cuban s-f novels, Yoss’ A Planet for Rent (Restless Books) is a dark collection of interlocking stories set on an Earth that has been colonized by capitalistic aliens known as Xenoids. Already environmentally and economically bankrupt by its political and business leaders, the planet has devolved into a sort of interplanetary Third World vacationland, its with inhabitants scrambling to eke out a hard-scrabble existence.
Thus, in opening story “Social Worker,” we’re introduced to Buca, whose job title denotes a different type of free-lance occupation than we initially expect (the emphasis in the “social”). Other leads in later tales include an “artist” who relies on advanced technology for him to be able to perform physical atrocities on his body, gambling that he’ll be put back together safely after the show; a corrupt but honorable Planetary Security officer, teaching a newbie the ways of their job and not incidentally revealing the rot in the system; the desperate members of a sports team playing their last big game against a team of hulking aliens; an anti-social young scientist who is frustrated by the restrictions placed on Earth research, looking to sell his services to the best bidder.
Few of the characters in this book dream of staying on their bankrupt home world. In “Escape Tunnel,” for instance, we meet a threesome who attempt to flee the planet in a self-made space craft that can barely withstand the rigors of space. Any comparisons that the reader might make between this trio and Cuban raft refugees is purely intentional.
Yoss (born Jose Miguel Sanchez Gomez) clearly means his book to be taken as a metaphor for contemporary Cuba, but you don’t need to focus over much on the allegorical aspects to enjoy this dystopian work. At times, I was reminded of John Brunner’s classic cautionary s-f work Stand on Zanzibar, in the way it combines its socially sharp and inventive commentary with characters that we care about. His discussion of alien class distinctions prove particularly acute, as one might expect it to be, and he shows a surprisingly empathetic eye toward even the most grotesque creatures.
Not a book for the faint-hearted (it contains some calculatedly disturbing, very adult scenes, particularly in “Performing Death”), Yoss’ English language debut provides a challenging taste of contemporary Cuban literature.