Sunday, March 26, 2017

Chicago Nerds- A Planet for Rent

For the March meeting of the Chicago Nerd book-club, we discussed A Planet for Rent (2001; English translation 2015) by Yoss.

More of a loosely-braided collection than a single-plot novel, A Planet for Rent follows a motley crew in a future where contact with extremely technologically advanced aliens has reduced Earth to a tourist attraction, with humans semi-permanently stuck as galactic second-class citizens. Drawing on a host of classic SF inspirations, Yoss creates a bitterly satiric world that we found enjoyable in its own right, made even richer by the parallels to and commentary on Cuban history.

Extremely brief notes below!

We appreciated the amount of euphemisms in the novel—"social workers" for "prostitutes", which is apparently an actual Cuban convention—since we had to keep this meeting on the PG side of the discussion. While we liked the frank discussion of sex work and how that tied into a theme of general bodily oppression & self-alienation, we weren't particularly thrilled by the novel's somewhat-dismissive attitude towards women & homosexuality.

We had very different reactions to some of the extreme violence & gore here—some of us reading it semi-humorously, with others finding it a bit too much body-horror. Yoss uses some of the same writing techniques in the decidedly more humorous Super Extra Grande, also recommended.

We had lots to talk about in terms of how this novel is working on three different levels—as a really deep homage to a few different eras and figures of science fiction, as a pointed satire of some aspects of Cuban life (or, more properly, the outside forces that shaped Cuba), and finally as a work that's enjoyable without relying on either of those first two angles.

We liked the slice-of-life approach to character and world-building, and compared both the structure of this novel and its science-fictional/cultural homages to Lavie Tidhar's Central Station, which we read last year. As in our discussion of Central Station, we compared A Planet for Rent to other pastoral/collage works that don't rely on standard plots, including Le Guin's Changing Planes, Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad, and multi-author works like the Wild Card anthologies.

Interesting comparisons made to The Fifth Head of Cerberus, Gene Wolfe's novella "trilogy" that tangles with a lot of post-colonial issues in obscure and surreal ways. Some comparisons were also made to Get Out, the recent horror film from Jordan Peele—the point of comparison being that both Get Out and A Planet for Rent use genre techniques to metaphorically convey their terrible subject matter, but state of the world remains very much the same at the end of the story.

All in all, a book we definitely enjoyed. We ended talking about the recent (and welcome) rise in the availability of non-English science fiction translations, which Yoss himself also praised when he talked at City Lit last fall.

For next time, we're reading Caitlin R. Kiernan's Agents of Dreamland. Keep up with CNSC on their website and Facebook page.

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