A zippy read set in the same universe as his English language debut, A Planet for Rent, Cuban s-f writer Yoss’ Super Extra Grande (Restless Books) is a comic look at the travails of far-famed intergalactic veterinarian Jan Amos Sangan Dongo. “Freakishly large by human standards,” Dr. Sangan specializes in working on otherworldly creatures who also fit the book’s title.
When we first meet him, he is travelling through the intestinal tract of a tsunami, one of the largest known aquatic life forms in the galaxy, in pursuit of bracelet dropped by an ambassador’s wife. Sangan’s trip inside the massive sea worm, monitored by his ungrammatical alien assistant, is comically scatological, but it’s only a preliminary to an even bigger assignment.
On the planet Brobdingnag (those who know their Swift will get that ref) is a species described as the “Largest Life Form in the Known Universe,” the Laketon, unicellular amoeboid creatures that are like living lakes moving across their planet. When two of our hero’s ex-lovers, one Earthling and one a six-breasted Cetian, are accidentally swallowed by a particularly huge Laketon, Sangan is tasked with extricating them.
Complicating matters beyond the duo’s history with the space vet: the pair were working together as ambassadors, negotiating a sensitive interplanetary dispute between two hyper-touchy planets. Sangan must rescue these two from the creature’s innards without drawing attention to their presence.
Though set in the same future as Yoss’ prior American debut, Super Extra Grande has a markedly lighter tone than that pitch black dystopian satire. Where Planet for Rent’s series of short tales focused on protagonists oppressed by a system meant to parallel Castro’s Cuba, the narrator hero of Grande has successfully made a place for himself in this universe. This shift in stature gives Yoss room to focus on the more playfully comic aspects of his imaginative future without violating what he’s already shown us.
Thus we get discourse on the physical and emotional aspects of interplanetary sex (specifically, the physiological makeup of Cetians), miscommunications fostered by pidgin Spanglish (as proffered by his present assistant Narbuk), and the comedy of size disparity. The results prove closer to Terry Pratchett than they do Jonathan Swift, only without the joking footnotes.
It helps that Yoss’ narrator is an amiably cynical companion, aware of his own foibles and those of his otherworldly clients. Sangan’s fantastic voyages inside the bodies of vast beasts are fun to follow – as are his flashbacks to his complicated relationships with his exes. His experiences with the workings of misbegotten planetary politics equally prove both comic and potentially treacherous, though we never doubt our hero’s abilities to emerge from any of this unscathed. Grande adventures, indeed . . .