Cuba – Red Dust

The United States has been doing its best to isolate Cuba for a very long time. It started in the fifties with an arms boycott because Cuba hadn’t signed the correct piece of paper (admittedly, it was important). After the government fell due to a lack of guns, the US extended the boycott to sugar – so Cuba sold it to the Soviets instead. The Soviets also sold Cuba guns. The Soviets were nice!

During the sixties, the US severed all relations, but failed to overthrow the Cuban government. Instead they blackmailed all of Cuba’s friends to sanction the country until they stopped flirting with Communists (and agreed to respect basic human rights). The Cuban government was rightfully miffed so they signed a nuclear weapon rental agreement with the Soviet Union, and that precipitated a crisis.

Anyway, the restrictions continued intermittently until Obama relaxed them, and Trump reimposed them, and then Covid. Meanwhile the rest of the world continues to trade freely with the country, and as far as I know Cubans have access to the Intergalactic trading station parked outside Saturn. Raymond, the positronic robot who narrates Red Dust, didn’t mention anything specific about Cuba. Therefore, I’m assuming the aliens in charge don’t really care. 

Nothing Gets in the Way of Profit

“The aliens have a saying: ‘Routine is the mother of efficiency and the grandmother of profit’”

According to Asimov, positronic robots are human looking artificial beings who cannot harm humans, must obey humans, and must protect their own existence. According to the aliens who run the William S. Burroughs trading station, positronic robots (pozzies) are a very deadly, very heavily armed law-enforcement force in charge of customs. Asimov is rolling in his grave.

Each pozzie is different. They have free will. They can get bored, and they do have fun. Pozzies are essentially living beings, except they have computers for brains, and those brains are located in their torsos. Their personality is determined by their name.

The aliens set up the trading station because they’re interested in profit. They haven’t given humanity any great technological advances like hyperspace travel, AI, immortality serum. They also haven’t exterminated us as a species. That’s because the aliens view humans as “unpredictable”, which means limited trade yes. Everything else no. The trade must take place on the William S. Burroughs, and the pozzies are in charge. 

When an alien prisoner is rescued by a human who murders two pozzies and a bounty hunter, Raymond the detective robot is placed in charge of the investigation. Named after Raymond Chandler, the famous detective fiction author, our protagonist is going to have to team up with a dangerous human felon in order to locate another dangerous human felon. There is no other choice. The aliens’ profits are at risk!

So Much Fun!

“Sometimes reality makes literature look small, even science fiction.”

This book is an extremely funny space opera homage to Raymond Chandler and Asimov, except that the book kind of ruins Asimov. Or maybe it makes him awesome? Anyway, I loved this book, and how it made fun of pretty much all the tropes. 

On a cosmic scale, humans are nothing. We’re not even a speck of dust. At least that’s how the book portrays us. Yet we still have resources that the aliens want to trade (ahem, ahem US-Cuba) so they do it on their own terms, which means we get a pittance of the aliens technology, and they get whatever they want, and only the aliens know how much things are actually worth on a galactic scale. Capitalism at its finest.

In the book, humans are indeed a poor degenerate species from an alien and pozzie perspective. We’re full of irrational racial, xenophobic, and religious prejudices which inhibit trading. At the same time, we also have a huge wealth of culture, which the pozzies are more than happy to adopt, and we see this throughout the book.

Raymond the pozzie is basically a robotic Dick Tracy who frequently quotes Raymond Chandler. Achilles and Zorro, the murdered pozzies, mimic their namesakes, except they’re much better armed. Italian mob-bosses live forever in space, and Samurai armor is still apparently in fashion.

I really couldn’t stop laughing with this book, and I now want more. Fortunately Yoss is very prolific, and also someone I definitely want to meet (see bio below)

The Omer today is Kingship in grandeur, which more than works with our alien trading partners controlling our destiny from space. The book drives home the power of those who have overwhelming power, while also asking some very strong existentialist questions. These points are hammered home through the grandeur of space, the great emptiness to which we don’t have access, but contains so much. Humans are explorers though, and I trust that one day we’ll find a way to hopefully colonize another planet. Until then, long live our alien trading partners!


About the Author and Translator

Born José Miguel Sánchez Gómez, Yoss assumed his pen name in 1988, when he won the Premio David in the science fiction category for Timshel. Together with his peculiar pseudonym, the author’s aesthetic of an impenitent rocker has allowed him to stand out among his fellow Cuban writers. Earning a degree in Biology in 1991, he went on to graduate from the first ever course on narrative techniques at the Onelio Jorge Cardoso Center of Literary Training, in the year 1999. Today, Yoss writes both realistic and science fiction works. Alongside these novels, the author produces essays, reviews, and compilations, and actively promotes the Cuban science fiction literary workshops Espiral and Espacio Abierto. His novels in English include A Planet for Rent, Super Extra Grande, Condomnauts, and Red Dust, all translated by David Frye.

When he isn’t translating, David Frye teaches Latin American culture and society at the University of Michigan. Translations include First New Chronicle and Good Government by Guaman Poma de Ayala (Peru, 1615); The Mangy Parrot by José Joaquín Fernández de Lizardi (Mexico, 1816), for which he received a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship; Writing across Cultures: Narrative Transculturation in Latin America by Ángel Rama (Uruguay, 1982); and several Cuban and Spanish novels and poems.

Red Dust

Author: Yoss

Translator: David Frye

Publisher: Restless Books

Published: 2020

Pages: 169

Format reviewed: Digital