Oh dear, where to begin? I’m almost nervous to review this because this book and I did NOT get on.
Will we start by saying that yes Yoss is the author’s full name? Like Madonna, Yoss has no need of a surname. Also worth noting before we begin is that this is a translated science fiction novel and it was translated from the Spanish by David Frye.
The book ostensibly explores an alternate history where contact was made between Earth and alien life, the Xenoids. The Xenoids have essentially taken over Earth which is struggling to cope with environmental and economic problems and have turned it into the go to tourist destination for various alien races. Earth is ruled over by a cruel bureaucracy which oppresses the humans who are now as as and treated like the scum of the universe. This book is essentially a collection of linked short stories following multiple Cuban humans as they struggle to survive both on and off planet through sex work, getting involved in gangs, joining law enforcement and excelling in sport or art. However, the book primarily is a metaphor for Cuba after the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the various problems which Cuba faced from environmental disasters, poverty, gang violence, corruption, brain drain, refugee production, external super powers attempting to dictate terms and economic decline.
I will start by saying that I new nothing about Cuba in this period prior to reading this book and I ended up doing a lot of extra research to contextualise everything. While reading about aliens is interesting, at its core this book is a book about Cuba, if you don’t pick up on the parallels and critiques the author is making you’re left with a one dimensional read. I don’t think this necessarily leaves the book inaccessible, it just means that if you’re not familiar with the time period you should do some googling to fully understand why this book is being written and what it seeks to achieve. I personally felt I learned a lot from this combination of research and reading.
What I did enjoy was learning about all of the alien races. They each had interesting and unique cultures, appearances, languages and traditions and even modes of reproduction. I’m a fan of learning about social and cultural anthropology so naturally stuff like this in fiction plays into those interests for me. I also liked learning about the different tech that this world had, from body spares (super scary) to the gels which had the ability to put a human in stasis so they wouldn’t age on a long journey through space.
What I didn’t like was that this was a book of interconnecting short stories. I really struggle with these type of mosaic novels and was completely unaware going into the book that this was what it was. It’s one of those situations where I had expectations for something different and I’d have appreciated if the Amazon blurb had made this fact explicitly clear. Overall, it ended up feeling fractured to me rather than a cohesive whole.
Finally I’ll mention what really made me rate this book so low on Goodreads. A lot of this book is about sex; sexual desires, sexual reproduction, sex work – you name it, it’s most likely discussed. For much of the book women are treated as vessels by males rather than human beings. I’m assuming that especially in terms of sex work that this was reflective of reality in Cuba at the time and in many parts of the world today.
What really disturbed me was the sexualisation of a young girl who was eight or nine in the final story. She was attempting to seduce this alien who was taking care of her. She was doing things to her body to make herself more attractive and walking around their house naked in heels to attempt to make him have sex with her. When she finally realises thats not going to happen she goes off and loses her virginty with another guy. In the end the guy who she was initially interested in admits that he was sexually attracted to her but couldn’t have sex with her for medical reasons (yes that’s a tad spoilery but necessary to illustrate my point) because she is a vulnerable CHILD and he’s in a position of power and this is just all kinds of wrong. No I don’t believe this story was written erotically for people to get off on but THE KID IS LIKE EIGHT YEARS OLD I DON’T NEED TO READ THIS SHIT EVEN IF IT IS REFLECTIVE OF REALITY JUST NO. I would have liked a warning that this content was in there because I’d have passed, it’s not something I want to read about and if it hadn’t been the book’s final chapter I’d have DNFed the book and moved on.
So I’m recommending a pass on this one but I still did learn from it.
Rating: 2 stars