A little after 2 p.m. yesterday, a science fiction author from Cuba came to speak about his recent publications, as well as meet with the audience and sign copies of his books. This all took place in the very back of the Barnes and Noble bookstore in Storrs center on Dog Lane.
The small black-painted venue filled with about 50 red plastic chairs with a small podium in the front was hardly half full of listeners. Among those who arrived early appeared to be mostly non-students. Quiet conversations could be heard before the author arrived, all in fluent Spanish. These people were gathered to hear the words of a man who goes by the pen name Yoss.
Yoss’s most successful book “A Planet for Rent” puts a sci-fi spin on a “very direct allegory of Cuba” after the communists left the country, and how that changed everything from the people, to the politics. Because there was so little science fiction writing in Cuba, Yoss helped define the genre there. Cuban science fiction now is written to be social commentary almost exclusively, as opposed to the American sci-fi style of space adventures.
“During this revolutionary time I thought to myself, you can get a gun and kill a dictator OR write a book and kill the respect for the dictator in the minds of your readers,” Yoss recalled. “Maybe now it is clear why this book was not published in Cuba until now.”
Upon the first look of Yoss, we can see that he is of Latin American descent but is dressed like an American 80s hair metal band member. Bleached denim, black leather and silver jewelry composed his outfit for the speech, topped off by a bandana head band to retain his long unkempt hair: not your typical look for a successful author of science fiction.
Yoss went on to explain his unique look and personal individuality and how it affects all of his work throughout his life in pre and post communist Cuba. When asked, “How does he remain the same, how is teenage Yoss here today?” by one of his Cuban peers, he replied, “My mental age is truly 16 years old. This was the age I discovered my purpose in life, I wanted to be a writer. This is why I am more or less ‘stuck in the 80s.’ Another reason why I continue to dress like this is because of how I was viewed by the government. People who looked like me were viewed as suspicious and dangerous by the government. Individuality was not celebrated in Cuba, so I wear these clothes as an old rebel uniform, which is still very much a part of me today.”
“He had such interesting perspectives on his writing style; how his science fiction writing ‘looks into tomorrow to see today more clearly.’ After hearing him speak, I am definitely more likely to buy his books,” third-semester psychology major Alexander Gutierrez said.
At the end of his unique story recalled in a thick Spanglish accent, Yoss finished with “Questions? Critics? Tomatoes?”
Born Jose Miguel Sánchez Gómez, Yoss was born in Cuba and went to college to obtain a degree in biology in 1991. Only later did he pursue his original passion of writing. He wanted to write science fiction because there was no science fiction writing in Cuba in the 60s and 70s. Yoss finished his book “A Planet for Rent” in 1995 but it was not published in Cuba until just recently due to the change in government. His books are available worldwide now, in most major languages. You can pick up copies of his book on sale at the Storrs Center Barnes & Noble.
Dan Wood is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org