Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Microreview: Sordidez by E. G. Condé

Sordidez address community survival in the face of empire and the climate crisis, offering a future centering Indigenous power and queer resilience.

a book cover with dark colors featuring an androgynous person. The title Sordidez is scrawled in white cursive over the top of the picture.

E. G. Condé’s novella Sordidez is an important intervention in climate fiction and speculative fiction because of the focus on Indigenous reclamation and critique of empire, particularly around Puerto Rico. Through multiple narrators, Condé unravels a complex story of Indigenous resistance, colonialism, climate weapons, dictators, and queer power. 

The novella begins and ends with Vero, a trans man who is a leader in his community while simultaneously disregarded and hated for being trans. When a superstorm destroys the community in Puerto Rico, Vero and his family (both blood and found), design different technology and alternate ways of living to survive the aftermath. 

Part of that aftermath is the abandonment of Puerto Rico by the U.S. Empire to China, and subsequently to a one-world government called the United Nations Parliament. Resources are only handed out to those who assimilate, and Vero and his community resist. One aspect the novella does well is not to hand-wave away the difficulty of that resistance. One member of the community is eventually given over to the settlers because of the lack of insulin. Additionally, Condé doesn’t shy away from depicting the violent tactics empires use to put down Indigenous resistance. 

Through the different voices and narrators, the empires are revealed for their lies. Only those who assimilate have access to the protection, services, and food available in climate-controlled areas, as Doña Margarita discovers. She works among refugees and those impacted by the androvirus, a virus that caused memories to be forgotten. Doña Margarita is largely left alone to her work among the refugees until the U.N. Parliament discovers she has seen the Loba Roja, a Mayan leader working to help the people and violently force out the U.N. It is only then that Doña Margarita is brought to the Green Zone, under the guise of protecting her and those she cares for from rejuvenating rains, that she is questioned against her will. She witnesses the plenty that is available to those who assimilate. 

Through the different depictions of empire, Condé demonstrates how people are stripped of their sovereignty. Climate change plays a role through the superstorm Teddy that destroys Puerto Rico at the beginning of the novella (which mirrors Hurricane Maria in 2017), but also through technology, such as the “hydrophage,” which was supposed to help capture water but turned out to be hydrophobic and deployed as a weapon. Similarly, while the U.N. Parliament claimed to be helping restore the land from the hydrophage's desertification, instead the drones were spreading chemicals that were potentially harmful. Condé demonstrates the different tools of empire, from familiar forms of violence to the new technologies that will emerge in response to climate change. As SFF writers continue to imagine alternate futures, Condé demonstrates the value in imagining these visions of imperialism in order to form resistance.

Importantly, the novella ends on Taíno power. Without giving away too many spoilers, one of my favorite sections was at the end as Condé creates a world of Taínofuturism combining technology, Indigenous practice, and community protection. Vero thrives when he embraces this future and takes on his leadership role not in a sense of hierarchy but as a guide and protector of his community.

Condé does a great job handling the form and weaving together the multiple viewpoints. More linear plots cannot always capture the complexity of empire and climate change. While this novella may not be for all readers, Condé’s structure emphasizes these complexities while still creating a satisfying reading experience for each character. These characters come together in the end to create an alternate vision of the future that foregrounds the Taíno community.

Condé’s vision of the near-future recognizes the ways imperialism will fluctuate in response to climate change and what that could mean for colonized communities. It can open pathways for resistance, like Vero’s community after the storm. It can also open pathways for dictators, renewed imperial violence, and climate weapons. What I appreciated so much about this novella was the response that Condé imagines as blooming from occupations. As Vero says near the end of the novella: “I will show them that our myths live on in us.” I look forward to reading more of Condé’s #Taínofuturism.

Posted by: Phoebe Wagner is an author, editor, and academic writing and living at the intersection of speculative fiction and ecology.