An award-winning cyberpunk novel set in mid-twenty-first century Cuba, Freeway: La Movie crosses the absurdity of American pop culture with the deep, fragmented unease of Cuban-US relations.
A novel-in-stories set in mid-twenty-first century dystopian Havana, Freeway narrates the adventure of two misfits wandering the construction site of a colossal freeway-to-be—a mysterious feat of engineering that slices through Havana, designed to connect the US and Cuba. The two embark on a futile journey, overlaid with the elusive filming of a documentary about the freeway construction. Both film quality and interior monologues drift aimlessly, haunted by Cuban history and US pop culture.
Freeway: La Movie is a satirical novel that attempts to reconcile what might be hopelessly irreconcilable: the body and the machine; analog and digital; post-industrial overdevelopment and post-socialist underdevelopment; Cuba and the US; reality and fiction; the plasticity of personal identity and rigid categories such as gender, class, and nationality. Through the clash of utopian promises and dystopian realities, Freeway reveals the unease of contemporary culture from the US to Cuba.
Freeway: La Movie is coming in October 2022 from Deep Vellum.
The Freeway needs builders. The locals need money.
El Autista goes into the employment office. A robust woman, carved out of marble with a chisel and hammer, greets him.
El Autista comes out a bit later, shaking:
“They’ve let me go.”
They never even hired him. The woman gave him an IQ test and then a psychometric personality test. She told him he wasn’t fit for the job.
“The job only requires moving things from one place to another,” El Autista argued.
Signing a little piece of paper, the woman told El Autista that she was referring him to a place where they could help him. They had specialists. She told him High Command had established clear guidelines for determining who could build the Great Freeway and who couldn’t.
“High Command,” repeated El Autista, with his peculiar way of repeating words that immediately confirms his diagnosis, whatever it may be. For her part, the woman couldn’t tell him who was in the High Command, or from where they commanded, or what the guidelines were.
Now I go into the office. The woman looks at me and asks me not to waste her time. She can’t offer me a job.
“You very well know why. Next!”
We can’t work in construction, but we can look at Los Transformer robots. Los Constructicons, they’re called. They’re enormous. They walk across the ravaged land like beasts of war. They’re the heavyweights of the nonfiction engineering film. They look like toys from a distance. They lift and move structures, and every so often, they gracefully transform into bulldozers, excavators, dump trucks, cement mixers, steamrollers, cranes, etcetera.
The workers are careful not to get trampled by Los Transformers. Attracted by this work of historic proportions, they don’t just come from the North but from all the surrounding areas. They swarm in: Mexicans, Central Americans, Dominicans, Haitians, Puerto Ricans, natives of the Bahamas, from Grand Cayman, from Jamaica, from the Islands and coasts trampled by the fury of hurricanes.
A guy with a Mexican accent approaches me:
“What team are you on, compañero?”
“I’m not working.”
“They didn’t cast you?”
“Those sons of a chingada madre don’t even show their faces.”
“They sent my friend straight to the psych ward,” I add to his complaint. “They’ve probably confined him to a cell by now.”
“They do have good medical facilities, that’s for sure. Great camps where they have everything. Any drug you want. What do you need? I can’t help you, but I know some guys.”
“I’m not looking to buy anything. I don’t have any money.”
“Oh, so do you want to make some cash? I need another assistant.”
El Mexicano, Hu Jintao, had come to the Island with a beardless fifty-something who responded to the name “Poppy.” Hu Jintao was an engineer who belonged to Los Tecnócratas, the ones known for controlling and repairing Los Transformers. Poppy assisted him with as much dedication as ineffectiveness. He didn’t understand machines. He didn’t understand Los Transformers.
“But Poppy cooks very well, and I care about him,” Hu Jintao tells me. “A bit after we met, he confessed he had fallen in love with me. I made it clear I was 100 percent heterosexual but that we could be friends. Since then, he has been a faithful companion. The thing is… he makes me nervous. I don’t know anything about his past except that he’s from the United States. I don’t think Poppy is his real name. I think he’s a fugitive.”
A rumor that something is approaching circulates in English and in Spanish among the workers. The radars have picked it up. Nobody knows for sure what the radars are, or where they are, or even what it is they’ve seen. But it’s approaching.
And one fine day it appears on the horizon, to the west, under the clouds, in the Gulf. It is a gigantic woman, colossal…
It is a woman of tropospheric proportions.
“She’s a robot,” some shout.
“She’s a blow-up doll,” others shout.
“She’s a hurricane,” Hu Jintao says, and they all stare at him, agape. El Mexicano turns to me, his face deformed with terror, and adds: “This is what I was trying to warn you about. This is what the Island Machine makes.”
At Universidad Tecnológica de Cancún, Hu Jintao had been the student of a brilliant scientist. More than brilliant: a scientific genius. Hu Jintao referred to him simply as “El Profesor.” A feeble old man with a white beard and an aura of local celebrity that followed him everywhere. Hu Jintao professed absolute admiration.
One day, El Profesor asked him to join a secret project. Hu Jintao accepted immediately, of course, and went to Isla Mujeres with El Profesor. Once there, he found himself in an enormous lab equipped with the most advanced technology. Technology he had never even dreamed of.
“Híjole, I had no idea there could be a lab like this in México,” he said when he recovered his words and accent. “Or in any other part of the world.”
“Very few know about it,” El Profesor said. “From now on, keep it a secret, or it’ll cost you your life.”
“Profesor, are you in charge of all this?”
“Yes, you can say I’m in charge. And I am the guardian angel. I am the mastermind. I am the origin. I am the creator of all this. Do you know how long I’ve been working here?”
“Working on what, Profesor?” Hu Jintao was getting nervous.
“This way. I’ll show you something you’ll like… or not.”
They descended to the subterranean levels. Hallways. Control rooms with long panels. Operators in white lab coats. Very few, given the magnitude of the place. Most were Chinese. They finally reached a type of microwave oven whose size was beyond all comparison. The schematics showed that it was connected to a funnel, kilometers long— much like a particle accelerator—that would end up in the Caribbean Sea, in the Yucatán Channel.
“Here is where we collect hurricanes, and then we transform them,” El Profesor said.
The process involved reconnaissance planes that would “capture” the hurricane, the hurricane essence, with a thorough scan of its structure and variables. All of which was then cloned in the microwave.
“What are they transformed into?”
“It depends on the name. Those with female names are transformed into women, rather exaggerated women. What else can you expect from a woman with hurricane DNA? Those with male names, however, we have never been able to transform into men or into anything else. It just doesn’t work the same way. I do not know why this happens. This is where you come in. Your job will be to figure out the problem, to help me fix this small glitch.”
But Hu Jintao found something else on that island. Love. From the moment he laid eyes on El Profesor’s daughter, he couldn’t think about the masculine transformation problem anymore.
Or even about the masculine gender in general.
El Profesor introduced her as his daughter, but Hu Jintao doubted she was. She was young enough to be his granddaughter, and, also, they didn’t look anything alike. El Profesor looked like a former Nazi official with very pale skin and little blue eyes, magnified by the thick lenses of his glasses. She, on the other hand, was a voluptuous Indian woman with big black eyes and large breasts; she was an authentic beauty, uncolonized. Hu Jintao thought of Ixchel, the Mayan goddess. Almost as if he could read Hu Jintao’s thoughts, El Profesor told him his daughter was, in fact, the goddess Ixchel, but that he affectionately called her Chely.
As one might expect, Hu Jintao and Chely became lovers. They kept it from El Profesor. Hu Jintao didn’t think they should sneak around, but Chely said it would be best if her father didn’t find out so soon. She asked him to trust her, so he agreed to keep the relationship a secret, thinking the secret would soon become public.
It didn’t take long for El Profesor to find them naked in bed together.
“Traitor! That’s how you repay me? And after all I’ve done for you? Stealing my daughter’s virginity!”
Hu Jintao, dumbfounded, was sure this had to do with a hidden camera. What else could it be? But El Profesor was now charging at him with a knife, and so, he chose to run out of the room.
El Profesor ran after him. Since arriving at the island, Hu Jintao had noticed certain changes in the scientist’s personality. It was almost as if the cliché of the mad, evil scientist who wants to take over the world had begun to seep out of his pores. He now realized the psychopath in El Profesor had completely awoken.
And he was a tireless psychopath at that. Hu Jintao, with El Profesor after him, ran through the entire maze of absurd installations until he succumbed to exhaustion. Finally, he was able to hide in a storage area and there, luckily, Chely found him first.
“You have to leave, mi amor. I drew you a map so you would know how to get to the yacht anchored on the other end of the island. Board quickly and get as far away from here as you can.”
Hu Jintao understood it was too late to act sensibly.
“Chely, you didn’t tell me you were a virgin.”
“Because I’ve never been a virgin. Which means I’ve always been a virgin. According to the Catholics, anyway, I’ve been one for centuries. Do you understand? You know, the Blessed Virgin and all of that. But none of that matters now. If you don’t leave, my father will keep looking for you, and when he finds you, he’ll kill you.”
The yacht set sail from Isla Mujeres, but it didn’t get far. As soon as the fugitive discovered (over by Cayo Largo, at the entrance of the Gulf of Batabanó) the pillars of what would be a great freeway over the sea, he completely forgot about his escape. He had found the titanic project that matched his skills.
Hu Jintao volunteers to confront the hurricane. If someone has to do it, he tells Los Tecnócratas and the workers gathered there, it has to be him. It is Hu Jintao the hurricane has come for. The hurricane is there to kill him. He is going to fight for his life, and he is going to fight for the future, so not even a meter of the construction will be delayed. We have to stop the hurricane from destroying everything. (Everything has already been destroyed.)