translated by David Frye
July 7, 2020
A wild ride from the first page, Red Dust (Yoss’s latest novel in English) is a highly-entertaining space opera indebted to classic detective fiction. It also has an unusual protagonist in the form of Raymond, a positronic robot detective who is tasked with bringing some intergalactic criminals to justice.
“Raymond,” though, is just the first of Yoss’s many nods to literary history, translation, and the work of writing itself. The story is presented as a kind of diary recounting Raymond’s efforts to locate and capture a Cetian named Makrow 34 who has a terrifying ability: namely, he can manipulate the laws of physics (he’s called a “Psi” for this ability).
In the world of Red Dust, humanity has finally made contact with aliens…or rather, aliens have swooped in on planet Earth, brought it into a Galactic Trade Confederation, and then plunged humanity into a kind of technological and economic stasis. Three major alien species control the commerce in the Solar System and dole out scraps of technology to Earth just to pacify it. As part of the confederation, the aliens have constructed a trading station called the William S. Burroughs: a teeming, chaotic hotbed of commerce, crime, and conspiracy.
When Makrow and a couple of alien cronies break free from their restraints, steal a ship, and make their way out of the Solar System, Raymond is told by his alien bosses that, if he knows what’s good for him, he’ll find the criminals and recover the energy crystals that they have in their possession. What follows is a bumpy, hilarious ride from the Burroughs to an asteroid and back, with another Psi criminal who acts as Raymond’s second in command (this guy wants to give one of Makrow’s cronies a personal beat-down, plus he is one of the only creatures in the known universe who can counter Makrow’s special powers).
Like Super Extra Grande, Red Dust showcases Yoss’s talent for deadpan humor mixed with some of the most outrageous alien species you’ll ever read about.
I particularly enjoyed the following passage when Raymond thinks about what he’s getting into, chasing a Cetian with Psi powers across space:
So not only did I have to find a needle in a haystack, blindfolded…I might be turned into a frog in the blink of an eye.
So what if the frog I’d be turned into would be a positronic robot frog. I still had to try. (36)
And then there are the inter-species translation systems, which render, for instance, a Grodo’s scent-marker name as something like “Lofty Sniffer-Out of Commercial Possibilities That Will Leave His Adversaries Weeping Over Their Empty Coffers” (104). (That one cracked me up). There’s even an alien whose name is so untranslatable that he goes by the nickname “Yougottaproblem.” You have to hand it to translator David Frye, who perfectly captured the pitch of this unusual space opera.
I think I’ve made my case. You can have your pick of series, heavy dystopian wastelands and galactic battles and dark fantasies. But if you want a good story about a robot just trying to do his job and not lose too many artificial limbs and maybe even earn his secondname (which you’d think would be “Chandler” but you have to read the book to find out), then definitely read Red Dust.