In this newly translated 1990 book from de Rojas, one of Cuba’s pre-eminent sci-fi writers, sleeper agents emerge from the past to wrest control of the future.
Two hundred years after the Communist Federation defeated the capitalist Empire, two tiny robots awaken underground and burrow to the surface. When 9-year-old Bennie touches one of the robots, it wipes out his personality and memories and replaces them with those of Thomas Babson, a sadistic Empire torturer who lived hundreds of years ago. Now awakened in the future, Babson injects agents’ identities into unsuspecting others. Bennie’s mother becomes Candy, a veteran spy, while psychosociologist Harry becomes Stephen, a man with desires so peculiar (though never described) that he reprograms women’s minds to suit his perverse needs. When Aisha arrives for an appointment with Harry, he hypnotizes her, and she awakens with the personality of Alice—plus Stephen’s additional, depraved sexual programming. Unbeknownst to the agents, Alice is also a spy for the Communists. She escapes from Stephen and the others and eventually teams up with Maya, a “cybo,” whose cybernetic implants have left her emotionless. Together, they forge a plan to take down the newly awakened operatives. Along the way, this bloated story crams in every moth-eaten sci-fi cliché readers can think of—romantic love is aberrant behavior, artificial intelligence gains sentience, people abandon technology to become “primitives”—and limps through them with zero urgency. The female characters are also depressingly retrograde; for example, Alice doesn’t seem to care that her sexual agency was brainwashed away and spends much of her time shrieking about her “love” for Stephen, often while naked or at least topless. Indeed, de Rojas describes virtually every female character’s bare breasts at least once: small breasts, pert breasts, prominent breasts—this book’s got more boobs than a Porky’s film. Meanwhile, the worldbuilding is glutted with details, with tiresome infodumps that go on for pages. Characters drift in and out of the story even as new players keep appearing. With everyone changing names and bodies, keeping track of who’s who becomes a chore.
This outsized so-called classic should have stayed in the past.