From Socialist Realism to Anarchist Capitalism: Cuban Cyberpunk

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Toledano Redondo, Juan C. "From Socialist Realism to Anarchist Capitalism: Cuban Cyberpunk." Science Fiction Studies #97 = 32.3 (November 2005): 442-67. As of June 2022, Abstract on-line here.[1] As of June 2022 "FULL TEXTS OF SOLD-OUT BACK ISSUES" does not include Issue #97, but in case it's added, the link is here.[2]


Cuban cyberpunk developed during the Special Period in Time of Peace of the 1990s. After the fall of the USSR, Cuba went through its worst economic and social crisis since 1959. The Revolution seemed to be falling apart. At the same time, capitalism became the economic credo for the new globalized economy. Cuba was completely isolated. Among its youngest generation of sf writers, some adapted the cyberpunk style of the US in the 1980s to express their new reality. Yoss [see below], Vladimir Hernández, and Michel Encinosa created a new hero, defiant of the late capitalist world and impregnated with a traditional anarchist view against the state. The new socialist man was replaced by the new anarchist hero/ine. (p. 466)

Notes Bruce Sterling in the introduction to the Mirrorshades: The Cyberpunk Anthology describing cyberpunk "as 'the unholy alliance of the technical world and the world of organized dissent — the underground world of pop culture, visionary fluidity, and street-level anarchy' (xii) [...]." But,

When cyberpunk entered Cuba [...] it was recharged with historical perspective and ideology — an ideology that embraces some of the values of the bourgeois individual who faces the oppression of the imposed norms of socialist realism,[3] but that also shares the fears of multinationals taking over Cuba and draining away the wealth of the country. Anarchism, as the DIY[4] symbol of original punk and as an expression of nonconformity, became very appealing to a Cuban generation in crisis during the "Special Period in Peace Time" during the 1990s. This does not mean that the Cubans who wrote cyberpunk during the 1990s were anarchists themselves or even punks. What cyberpunk offered them was a literary style suitable for the representation of a particular Cuban reality. [... Among other issues,] Technology was becoming the new reality that was allowing big corporations to achieve their imperialist dreams across the planet; and Cuban authors were ready for a change from socialist realism to something else. (p. 448)

"Among the Cuban authors who have experimented with this now style are Ariel Cruz (b. 1969), Michel Encinosa, Frbricio González (b. 1973), María Elena Durán (b. 1975), Yoss [sic: pen name of José Miguel Sánchez], and [Vladimir Pacín] Hernández" (p. 450). Of these, Hernández, Encinosa, and Yoss are the most significant, though he labels Yoss's style "proto-cyberpunk" (p. 451).

Works dealt with by Toledano Redondo include:

• Yoss's "Historia de gladiadores," collected Timshel (La Habana: Editions Unión, 1989): The contract-gladiator "Johnny becomes a guinea pig for Martin Marietta and IBM, who are experimenting with a new brain implant, an electrode that holds the memories of new combat techniques (56). The armed forces are behind the research, because they want to create hombres robots or 'robot men' (56)." Toledano Redondo sees this story as porto-cyberpunk (p. 451).
• Hernández's "Mar de locura" ("Ocean of Madness"), in unpublished Interfase: Selección de cuentos cyberpunk (1997) and the anthology Nova de cuarzo (Quartz Nova see below), 1999, "clearly shows the influence of Gibson's Neuromancer on the early production of Cuban cyberpunk"; Toledano Redondo quotes the story's opening in Spanish, relegating the translation to a note (pp. 455 and 463-64, n. 14). With Hernández's Sharp, like Gibson's Case, "to roam by" means of "cyberspace was his second nature. To submerge in that neuroeleltronic universe [...] while he fell floating towards the center of an infographic landscape mathematically generated by his computer" — "the three-dimensional Matrix that was cyberspace" (p. 463). So see for Gibson's suggestion of cyberspace flight replaced by a fairly literal image of floating and underwater movement. Toledano Redondo points out that both this passage and Gibson's introduction of Case in Neuromancer "refer to drug abuse, separation of body and mind, cyberspace, big corporations controlling the world, hackers or thieves, and alienated youth, and both use vast urban spaces as the backdrop of the character's material world" (p. 455). "Mar de locura" also includes dialog with "a sentient AI," who turns as to be "Minotauro," a "cyber-collective in search of a new era of rational life in the universe" (Toledano Redondo p. 456).
• "Nova de cuarzo" [Relato Corto] 1999, by Ariel Cruz Vega and Vladimir Hernández Pacín.[5][6] — "emphasizes a Cuban landscape. Most of the action occurs in a futuristic Ciudad Varadero (90) and in Ciudad Havana, described as a megalopolis open io the power of the multinationals (94)" (Toledano Redondo p. 457).
• Michel Encinosa Fu, Niños de neon (collection of nine stories), La Habana: Letras Cubanas, 2001 — In many ways not clichéd or derivative c-p, but still "Encinosa's stories retain some major cyberpunk elements. His main characters are loners, and their world is marked by violence, sex, and technology," including "brain implants" (p. 457). In "Un puñado de lluvia," we see the c-p city of Ofidia and encounter a plot that "includes many more references to mainstream cyberpunk: ice [or ICE][7] and military black ice (26) drug use (21), Japanese symbols (15), and cyberspace (14, 16, 23)" (p. 458). 

RDE, finishing, 24/25Jun22