lunes, 27 de octubre de 2014

A Legend of the Future, by Agustín de Rojas

(Disclaimer: English is my second language, so I want to apologize in advance for there may be mistakes in the text below. If you find any, please let me know so that I can correct it. I'd really appreciate it. Thanks.)

Review Soundtrack: I suggest reading this review while listening to In The Blind, written by Steven Price for the original soundtrack of Gravity (Spotify, YouTube).

My father is very fond of a joke about a Spaniard that is traveling to London for the very first time. He is quite nervous because he doesn't speak a single word of English. A friend of his tells him that he shouldn't be worried: all he has to do is speak (in Spanish) veeeeeeery slooooowly and everybody will be able to understand him. So, he arrives to Heathrow and stops a woman to ask for directions and such. He speaks, as commanded, veeeeeeery slooooowly and the woman answers in the same way. After some minutes, when he has asked where to get a taxi, have something to eat and that kind of thing (all veeeeeeery slooooowly) the woman asks him: "Where are you from?" and he replies: "I'm from Barcelona, and you?". "I'm from Madrid", she says, again, veeeeeeery slooooowly, in Spanish. Then, he replies, now very quickly: "Then.... why the heck are we speaking in English??!!"

So, why the heck am I, a native Spanish speaker, reviewing A Legend of the Future, a book originally written in Spanish by Cuban author Agustín de Rojas, in its translation into English? It turns out that the novel was published almost 30 years ago in Cuba and it is almost impossible to find in Spain, but Restless Books is publishing soon a digital edition of the book and I had the chance of getting an ARC (the novel will have editions both in English, translated by Nick Caistor, and Spanish, but only could get the English ARC). 

A Legend of the Future tells the story of the crew of spaceship on a mission to Titan. When they are going back to Earth, the ship is hit by an asteroid and three of the six astronauts die while the others are quite badly injured. The setting is, thus, similar to that of recent movies such as Gravity or novels such as The Martian, by Andy Weir, but here the focus is more on the psychological aspects than on the technical or engineering problems. 

In fact, A Legend of the Future explores the idea of how to best prepare a team of astronauts to work and stay together for the long periods of time that trips to the outer planets of the Solar System would take. Using frequent flashbacks (that integrate very well with the plot for reasons that I won't detail to avoid spoilers), the author explains the process of selecting the candidates to space explorers and their training, one of the most interesting parts of the novel. 

When the tragedy strikes, the psychological training of the astronauts is put to the test. The tone of these scenes is similar to that of movies such as 2001 and Moon, for instance, and also reminded me of some of the works by Stanislaw Lem. The author also manages to link the problems that the crew face with the political situation of Earth in the near future, raising some interesting questions about empathy, our perception of reality and the role of the individual in the society. The ending is a bit clichéd, but quite satisfying and ties all the open threads nicely. 

The novel is a very quick read (I finished it in less than two days), but it can also be a bit confusing, especially in the first chapters. There are constant changes of point of view and flashbacks and, sometimes, it is difficult to realize what is happening (or where or when). This may very well be an intended effect, but it takes some time getting used to. Also, the interior monologue of the characters is presented in the same format as the dialog, and in the first part of the book I felt myself at a loss because I didn't understand what was being said aloud and what not.       

As I have mentioned above, I haven't been able to get a copy of the book in the original Spanish, so it is a bit difficult to judge Nick Caistor's translation. Apart from my difficulties telling apart thoughts and dialog (something that, I suppose, comes from the original work), I didn't find any problem with the text, which flowed nicely enough. I regret not having read it in Spanish, though, because all the Cuban expressions and mannerisms (which I would have loved to see) are unavoidably lost in translation.

All in all, A Legend of the Future is a very interesting read, fast-paced and with some thought-proving ideas. I especially like the fact that is only the first of a series of translations of SF works by Cuban authors, with at least two books by Yoss coming from Restless Books in the next few months. I hope that this is only the beginning and that we can see soon much more science fiction and fantasy books originally written in Spanish being translated into English. 

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