translated by David Frye
June 7, 2016
Thanks to Restless Books and translator David Frye, we have yet another Yoss novel out of Cuba to brighten our year. Remember my review last year of A Planet for Rent? Well, Super Extra Grande brings all of the sardonic humor, unconventional characters, and fast-paced plot we’ve come to expect. As one of Cuba’s best-known and beloved writers of speculative fiction, Yoss continually inspires us with his visions of alternative realities.
In Super Extra Grande, he introduces us to Dr. Jan Amos Sangan Dongo, “Veterinarian to the Giants”- that is, the guy who treats the galaxy’s largest organisms: eighteen-hundred-meter-long tsunamis, titanic amoebae of the planet Brobdingnag…you get the idea. Luckily, the good doctor himself is pretty large, for a human, so he can tackle cases other vets wouldn’t approach with a ten-foot pole.
But let me step back a little and explain that in this future world, faster-than-light space travel has finally been achieved, and it’s all thanks to an Ecuadorian Jesuit priest named Father Salvador González in 2054. Because of this discovery, humans have made contact with several other intelligent alien species and explored a number of fascinatingly weird planets. Once in a while, a gigantic creature living on one of these planets swallows an expensive bracelet, or a manned spacecraft, and that’s where Dr. Sangan Dongo comes in. It can get pretty messy sloshing around in all those leviathan intestines.
When we first meet the doctor, he’s working his way through the innards of a Nerean tsunami, searching for a bracelet that belongs to the governor’s wife (she supposedly dropped it into the water). After much gross rummaging about, Dr. Sangan Dongo retrieves the bracelet and returns it to its rightful owner. He barely has time to recover, though, before he’s out on another mission, this time to rescue his two former female assistants who have been tasked with negotiating peace between a human colony and an alien race over the right to occupy part of the planet Urgh-Yhaly-Mhan.
Apparently, their ship has been swallowed by a laketon named Cosita: an amoeba almost two hundred kilometers wide. This is not going to be easy…
You can tell that Yoss had fun writing Super Extra Grande. Dr. Sangan Dongo’s thoughts on interspecies relations, women, massive intestines, and other subjects are marked by a mixture of wit and rancor. At once proud of his own size and his chosen profession, the doctor is also angsty and easily irritated, his intellect pulled in two different directions by the radically opposed academic views of his brilliant parents. And, since it’s always hard to find good help these days, his newest assistant, a Laggoru named Narbuk, grates on his nerves.
Just as the plot is over-the-top, the novel’s very structure is quite playful. Along with straightforward dialogue and commentary by the narrator, we also have notes toward a hypothetical autobiography, part of a play, and a series of syllogisms. Oh, and the characters communicate with one another in a form of “Spanglish.” (For example: “Boss Sangan, please mira check. Ves now. Si el gobernador spoiled wife damn bracelet be there, us probablemente nos leave.”)
So if I haven’t yet convinced you to check out this work of witty Cuban speculative fiction, then you’re as alien to me as the insides of a laketon digestive tract.