The publishing house Restless Books has been quietly translating some stellar Cuban science-fiction as of late. From the venerable Augstín de Rojas, author of the Espiral (Spiral) trilogy to the rocking trailblazer Yoss (real name José Miguel Sánchez Gómez), they’ve translated some of the best sci-fi from the island into English for the first time.
This month, I picked up a copy of Yoss’ Super Extra Grande (translated by David Frye) with high expectations after having previously read his excellent A Planet for Rent (also translated by Restless Books). Unfortunately, while I found its approx 150 pages to be an energetic and often humorous read, this book does not live up the serious satire Yoss so skillfully exhibited in A Planet for Rent.
Set one hundred or more years in the future, Super Extra Grande takes place in a universe where a number of intelligent species (humans included) stumble onto faster-than-light travel at roughly the same time. This of course brings them into contact with one another before reading a level of social, technological, ethical and sexual(?) maturity commensurate with their space-faring abilities. Inhabiting this universe is one Dr. Jan Amos Sangan Dongo who makes his living as a ‘Veterinarian to the Giants’, dealing with anything from titan leeches to cloned dinosaurs, Sangan’s slogan runs “The Bigger the Better!”. We first met him in medias res, as he plumbs the intestines of an eighteen-hundred-metre long sea-worm searching for a missing bracelet while being assisted by his alien assistant, Narbuk. After narrowly avoiding digestion, he is summoned by the government to assist on a top secret mission – in order to resolve a major diplomatic incident, Sangan must travel inside an enormous amoeba-like creature to locate two ambassadors, both of whom being former assistants of his.
Super Extra Grande is a fast-paced and an easy read (I finished it myself in a single sitting). Yoss excels at riffing on the colonial politics of space-drives or in the creation of bizarre biologies (he does have a degree in it!). That said, while Super Extra Grande may be boisterous and good fun, the book never escapes from the fact that at heart, it is a teenage boy’s fantasy-piece. The two former assistants of his, who he seeks to rescue, are of course, both madly in love with the protagonist and one is even an alien whose physiology perfectly suits oral sex. Among the juvenile sexual fantasies, hero role-playing and even scatological humour, Yoss’ creative powers are simply lost. What should have been another hard-hitting satire from one of Cuba’s premier writers becomes in the end a simple adolescent daydream.
I’d say read Super Extra Grande if you want a quick diversion, but if you are looking for a more serious read, there are better contenders from island of Cuba, even from Yoss himself.