Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Author Talk- Yoss @ City Lit

Last week City Lit Books in Logan Square hosted a cool author event with Yoss, a Cuban science fiction author whose work has started being translated and published in English, to some acclaim.

Despite apologies for his poor English, Yoss was actually quite a fluent speaker, and gave us some cool history on both science fiction in Cuba, and his own personal writing history. He noted that while magical realism has received a lot of attention and praise in Latin American traditions, more speculative forms like science fiction and genre fantasy have largely stayed outside the spotlight.

While Cubans did have access to Soviet-sphere SF, Yoss noted that a lot of it had a very homogeneous "capitalism fails, socialist utopia" look. However, talking about censorship, he also pointed out that "usually the political police don't read science fiction", and that it was in some ways easier to publish socially critical works as SF—but, speaking of counter-cultures like rock & punk, he noted that it's still "difficult to be counter anything in Cuba".

Speaking of his personal history as a writer, he talked about the confidence boost of winning the Premio David award and the irony of getting big right before the Soviet downturn, which made it very difficult to publish anything in Cuba just because of the evaporation of the market & funds. However, after the golden age of early Soviet/Cuban SF, and the "silver" of the 80s and 90s, he's hoping they're moving into a new "platinum age"—with all the social changes in Cuba and the increased international SF scene.

I was really fascinated by him talking about the history and current state of getting access to SF in Cuba—the difficulty of getting American & British SF under the embargo, of friends going to places like Spain & coming back with suitcases of books, of carefully hoarding and sharing novels from each US visit. But he also talked about the huge difference today with e-readers and e-books: apparently Cuba has an extremely efficient pirate/sneakernet, so electronic media is quite easy to get, which is really changing the amount of works people can get their hands on. And, in terms of his personal influences, he talked about trying to read as many different writers as possible—"when you copy one author, you're a copycat. When you copy many authors, you're original."

I also really liked the sentiment that "the hard part is not to write but to stay"—to keep writing, to find how to keep living while writing.

Yoss also talked a little bit about some of the inspirations for his books, including how Cuban sex tourism inspired "A Planet for Rent", and a real-life inspiration for the protagonist in "Super Extra Grande": a member of his biology program who was a physically very large person and had problems with microscopes, petri dishes etc.

Yoss posing with members of
City Lit's "Weird & Wonderful" book club.
Yoss is also a singer in a metal band, and he laughed when we asked him about that—saying that he's comfortable saying he's a good writer, but he knows he's a pretty bad singer. However, he also talked about really loving the instant feedback of live performance, as opposed to waiting a long time for feedback on written works. This also segued in to a talk about time delay with publication, with many of his novels languishing for years before seeing print, and, in fact, some of his books are getting translated and published in English before being printed in Cuba.

He also talked a bit about the process of getting work translated, and gave a lot of credit to his translator, David Frye, for helping with the futuristic Spanglish spoken in "Super Extra Grande". This is an exciting time for international SF—look at things like Cixin Liu's Hugo win or the success of the World SF anthologies—and Yoss also seemed excited by the possibilities offered by easier travel to and from Cuba. He's going to a trilingual SF conference in Santo Domingo next year.

A funny, informative, and at times emotional talk, really glad City Lit hosted it. By the way, there is a pretty cool portrait of Yoss on Vimeo. I really enjoyed "Super Extra Grande"—a comedic, mildly raunchy adventure featuring an international giant-animal veterinarian, and other Weird & Wonderful members had high praise for "Planet for Rent" as well. And he has many more!

Keep up with more events on the City Lit website.

No comments:

Post a Comment