Khordoora or Paradise Lost before Found
by Roxana Doncu
When Montesquieu wanted to criticize the narrow-minded, self-satisfied French society he chose to do it through the voice of a foreigner, Usbek, in The Persian Letters (1791). The objectivity of a foreign, neutral perspective was also Jonathan Swift's choice when targeting the petty political fights between the Whigs and the Tories in Gulliver's Travels. Both Montesquieu and Swift owed the success of their novels to the popular taste of the age, an age of colonial conquest, for exotic characters and journeys. Mocking this taste for the exotic, Voltaire chose to criticise human society and Catholic megalomania by means of two aliens (one from Sirius, the other from Saturn) paying a visit to our planet in his novella ''Micromegas'' (1752), one of the earliest pieces of science-fiction. Nowadays, due to technical progress and the discoveries of quantum physics, the genre is considerably richer in strange, hybrid characters: robots, mutants, cyborgs, androids, transformers, as well as in things like teleportations, parallel worlds, cyberspace, and so on. The subjects of science-fiction have changed, too, adapting to the technological world we live in. Yet the classical tradition of the critique of human nature has never disappeared: it gained new insight and profound ethical connotations in the works of such a giant of SF like Stanislav Lem. The two stories of the uruguayan writer Carlos Maria Federici, reunited in the bilingual volume Llegar a Khordoora/Sosirea la Khordoora in the collection Bibliotheca Universalis are part of this classical tradition of reflection on the imperfections of human nature and human society.
The first story, ''A road accident'', is a short but eloquent parable of the end of the world, or perhaps of the fall from paradise. Vaevar – the anagram of her name in Spanish is made up of Eve and the first syllable of the word 'man' – woman and androgyne symultaneously, is devoured by a morbid curiosity: she wants to find out the ultimate nature of things, to discover the meaning of the Bolar, a huge pyramid that represents the triad enormity-mystery-eternity. Vaevar and Danahem (the anagram of which is made up of Adam and the first syllable of the word 'woman' in Spanish), the androgyne-man, are a human couple living on Dene (Eden), together with the Boravians (from the Spanish word for viper), a slave population exhibiting serpentine features. Tanassa (Satan) assists Vaevar in her research and urges her to enter the Bolar and steal the black hexahedrons, where the two complementary principles, that of creation and destruction, are hidden. The words which Tanassa uses to determine Vaevar to commit a forbiden act remind us of the biblical parable of the tree of knowledge: ''We, the boravians, think that those on Dene have a right to know. Those on Dene instead think that you should discover.'' Under Tanassa's careful guidance, doctor Vaevar reaches the place where the hexahedrons are hidden and manages to take them; and, as the woman is capable of tricking even the Devil, Vaevar annihilates Tanassa at the end of her mission, when he claims the hexahedrons. All alone, contemplating the mystery of universal energy, of the fountain of Life, Vaevar, like another Pandora, opens the two hexahedrons one after the other. Unfolding in successive stages from '-seven' to 'zero', the last chapter is a biblical meditation on the end which will bring about a new beginning, a new world, where the role of woman will be different: ''And, when (by the hazard of the new evolution), the human race will re-emerge, the woman, the cause of the return to Origins, will not become a mother unless she serves the man; nd he will be her master; and her pains during pregnancy will be more intense, and she will give birth to her children in pain”.
If the first story turns out to be a critique aimed at the inquisitive spirit of Eve, unexpectedly associated with the scientific research spirit (in the great narrative of modernity the man is the hero of progress, of discoveries and tehnical innovation), the second story, ''Sosirea la Khordoora'' (Arriving in Khordoora), analyses the subtle mechanism through which desire can lead to self-delusion. Moved (again!) by curiosity, Cordoba, nicknamed 'Coop' (because of his physical likeness to Gary Cooper), the actor that plays Major Thorn in the movie They came to Cordura), a lonely wolf whose job is intergalactic transport in a Cosmic Community the pushes globalization to the last boundaries of space, looks into a strange load and discovers he is carrying a charming android, modelled after Rita Hayworth. The world of Cordoba 'Coop', although definitely superior to our own by the technical and communication means it possesses, is a closed universe, carefully supervised by the Cosmoplanners, and also a totalitarian one, where the guidelines of the Great Project of Total Cosmoplanning are faithfully obeyed. The only freedom that these beings retain is the freedom to dream, to escape in the realm of illusion, since, as the end shows, desire itself, the origin of uncontrollable instinct and resistance against bureaucratic regimentation, becomes a mechanism of control. Trying to control backward planets like the Earth (renamed Terrasolar by the new cosmic authority), the Cosmoplanners create two androids, prototypes of Hollywood stars like Erol Flynn and Rita Hayworth. Rita's charm is so powerful that even the brain behind this project, Cosmoplanner Choxco Vull falls in love with her and has to undergo psychoremodellation. Consequently, the Stellar Security decides that the two prototypes should be carried to a remote corner of the galaxy, using Cordoba's spaceship. Yet 'Coop' will also fall prey to Rita's beauty; he revives her and tries to escape the Cosmoplanners by going to Khordoora, a deserted asteroid in the Suntleones sector (an allusion to the unchartered territories on the ancient maps). After he defeats the pirate Harka Dynn, who tried to capture his ship and the android, Cordoba dreams of settling down, together with Rita, who is gradually humanized by his love. But Rita is just another instrument in the hands of the Cosmoplanners: her beautiful eyes are the windows through which Cordoba is permanently traced by the Security. When, eventually, conscious that he is going to be found and subjected to psychoremodellation, he tries to have one last taste of freedom and happiness, he will discover that ''dreams are smooth and impenetrable, distant and untouchable'': the beautiful Rita is asexual, made of ''one continuous piece, without any cut, without any hole that would have soiled her supernatural perfection''. Coming to Khordoora, a paradise that is already lost before being found, turns thus into a parable of what life is like in a totalitarian universe, where looking for meaning makes no sense.
The stories of Carlos Maria Federici, in the lively and captivating translation of the writer Daniel Dragomirescu, is a must not only for the fans of science-fiction literature and totalitarian distopias, but also for any reader with an interest in philosophical reflection, the borders of the human, and the eternal imperfection of human nature, which turn out to be, in the end, our most valuable assets.
English version by Roxana Doncu
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