Yoss is one of the most controversial and successful of Cuba's science fiction writers. As well known for his rock-and-roll style as he is for his portrait of Cuba under Communism, his work is modern, dynamic and yet deep and thoughtful. A Planet for Rent is set in the near future where Earth, wracked by environmental and ecological problems is "rescued" by Aliens.
This rescue however turns the planet into a tourist attraction and humanity little more than slaves, dispossessed from their own planet. The aliens have undone many of the man-made disasters humanity subjected the Earth to but the people don't get to be a part of this new society. They are denied access to the superior technology and live in poverty, not even able to leave the planet unless they get sponsorship from an affluent alien. Some turn to crime, others hire their body as a host to alien consciousness for those who want to holiday but can't or don't want to appear physically. As you can imagine most feel envy, anguish and anger over the injustice; the unfairness perpetrated by the new owners of Earth.
The book is a collection of short stories, all themed around this premise and the format works well. There is a dark, almost bleak tone to the novel but with small sparks of hope, along with a good deal of dark humour. It is of course an allegory of Cuba in the 1990's (the stories were originally written back then) and more broadly an allegory of Communism in general. You can feel the frustration and sometimes the anger the author must have felt living in such a regime.
It's wildly inventive, imaginative fiction, with a real edge to the writing — there is an energy to the prose that is almost tangiable and to get all this through a translation is nothing short of remarkable. It's great to be able to finally see fiction from other cultures without the language barrier and Restless Books are leading the charge in this regard.
A Planet for Rent is a window into a different world in many respects. It's bold, beautiful, brash and bizarre but above all its science fiction at its best.
Written on 14th July 2015 by Ant.
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