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The socialist singularity of Cuban novelist Agustín de Rojas


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Originally published in 1990, and finally translated into English this year thanks to Restless Books, The Year 200 by Cuban novelist Agustín de Rojas portrays a tech-enabled communist utopia of the future. The communist “Confederation” has defeated the capitalist “Empire,” and sophisticated entertainment devices help fill the endless free time of the utopia’s inhabitants. But as Geoff Shullenberger writes in the LA Review of Books, this communist utopia curiously resembles the capitalist civilization it supposedly left behind. Read an excerpt of Shullenberger’s review below or the full text here.

There could scarcely be a more opportune moment, then, for the appearance in English of the late Cuban science fiction master Agustín de Rojas’s epic novel The Year 200. This final and most ambitious installment of a trilogy is now being published for the first time in English by Restless Books. De Rojas’s book, first published in 1990 as the Soviet Bloc collapsed, has the potential to reintroduce English-speaking readers to the suppleness, complexity, and productive ambiguities of the left-utopian tradition in science fiction. The Year 200 speaks the language of cybernetics, that mostly forgotten ancestor of Silicon Valley futurism, and reveals some of the ways in which it did and did not anticipate our present dilemmas. De Rojas’s lucid fictional world intersects with many of our contemporary technological obsessions but charges them with remarkably distinct political valences.

The Year 200 is a riveting narrative of espionage and geopolitical turmoil set 200 years after the communist Confederation has defeated the capitalist Empire. In de Rojas’s imagined communist future, the human environment is integrated with holographic virtual reality, and advanced cybernetic systems take on most of the functions of government. Yet capitalism’s defeat, we learn at the beginning of the novel, was not as final as it seemed: the Hydras, units of a secretly developed artificial intelligence network, have reawakened after lying dormant for centuries and begun to carry out a counterrevolutionary scheme programmed in the Empire’s last days. Appropriately for a book deeply engaged with transhumanist possibilities, the first “characters” to appear are in fact “bionic brains” buried beneath the Earth’s surface and “exploratory microbots” sent out by the Hydras on reconnaissance missions. De Rojas was known as a practitioner of hard SF, and the opening chapters weave meticulous technical description with briskly paced action; co-translators Nick Caistor and Hebe Powell nicely preserve the efficiency and precision of the author’s prose.