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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


The Year 200

Agustín de Rojas

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To purchase The Year 200

Title: The Year 200
Author: Agustín de Rojas
Genre: Novel
Written: 1990 (Eng. 2016)
Length: 631 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: The Year 200 - US
The Year 200 - UK
The Year 200 - Canada
  • Spanish title: El año 200
  • Translated by Nick Caistor and Hebe Powell

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Our Assessment:

B+ : impressively well thought-through and constructed

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Publishers Weekly . 30/5/2016 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "De Rojas is perfectly willing to ask hard questions, and this struggle for the soul of humankind’s future will leave readers thinking long after the last page is turned, but as a work of fiction, it never quite comes together." - Publishers Weekly

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Year 200 is set several centuries in the future, some two hundred years since the collapse of the 'Empire', which was a world roughly comparable to the present-day one. The novel's opening chapter 'When Hydra Awakes', suggests a sort of ticking time-bomb that has been lying, well-hidden, in wait, until two centuries have passed, but it's not immediately clear what the reawakened Hydras (there are several of them) purpose or function is, or even their origin.
       The story then moves to a small slice of the world as it is now -- though beginning with a touch of virtual reality, which is now apparently commonplace. Life is comfortable and safe in the appropriately named outpost of Tranquil Grove -- and made easier with a "prodigious cybernetic intelligence;" as household help. True, family structure is a bit different than might be expected: men and women almost always only stay together for a year or two, with children "the center of their mothers' only stable emotion" and relationship, with father-figures coming and going; one of the few domestic crises of this world described in the book is a child suffering from the "pathological nature" of her parents' relationship -- they've been together for ten years ! On the whole, however. life seems peaceful and idyllic.
       The world is controlled by an 'Integrated Cybernetic System', apparently designed to maximize utility. There is a Supreme Council, which considers any appeals against decisions by the ICS, but there are few of these: the system seems to work to general satisfaction, and more or less everyone seems to do well in it.
       As it turns out, the long-gone Empire -- a world of conflict and nationalism and individualism -- had brought about its own collapse -- intentionally, back in the day, hastening its own demise:

     "The Empire had foreseen that it was bound to fall," Alice explained. "But it thought that the factors that made its survival impossible would disappear later on. They believed that the World Communist Federation was unstable, that it would collapse once the Empire had ceased to exist. They saw the Empire as an unintended catalyst for the Federation itself. They thought that after a couple of centuries, the centrifugal forces generated by nationalism and local interests would bring about not only the complete destruction of the Federation, but also extremely favorable conditions for the reconstruction of the Empire. That would be the ideal moment to reappear
       Obviously, the Empire miscalculated. The world -- and the winning system -- did not collapse, but rather seems to have more or less perfected itself, albeit with a great deal of artificial intelligence help. But the Empire plan to strike back was set in motion by the reawakening of Hydra -- or rather the several Hydras -- and just because the conditions they found were different than what they had expected, they weren't going to let that stop them. If expectations A -- allowing for a simple, traditional takeover of power -- aren't met, there's still a plan B to try:
If we can't control the decision-making mechanisms, we still have the possibility to change these people's way of thinking -- and thus undermine the foundations of their power.
       The Empire-holdovers are baffled by this new world, where people:
feel satisfied with their lives without knowing the pleasure of struggle and triumph. It's clear; we have to give virility back to this world of eunuchs.
       The way the Hydras work is through a technology that allows the minds of people to be transferred into other bodies -- a body-snatcher variation. Each Hydra -- there are several, but the novel focuses on one of them -- has a vanguard from the Empire that has been kept in a sort of limbo for the past two hundred years. When the machine holding these determines that conditions are ripe, it sets their revitalization into motion, finding first one body to transfer someone from the Empire into, and then working their way up from there. It's key that they assume these new identities without raising too much suspicion, and much of the early part of the novel is about how they go about this, and how they slowly establish a present-day base of operations.
       Among the tricks the Empire-leaders had back in the day already was the ability to 'condition' minds. This is a different sort of mind control, but helpful in keeping those who serve the leaders properly devoted to them. Among the other things some of the Hydra-members have been conditioned to, aside from loyalty, is to self-destruct if they are put in a position that could harm the cause -- if they are captured by the enemy and it tries to mind-probe them to get at their secrets. And there's one particularly unpleasant case of conditioning, as one of the Hydra members is so perversely sexually inclined that he needs to brainwash his subject to get her to go along with his kinks; this becomes a significant part of the story (though the perverse sex acts are mercifully only hinted at and never described), a complicating twist to the conditioning being that the subject is made particularly vulnerable, conditioned to be so deeply in love with him that if he dies she will too (of heartbreak).
       The local authorities come to learn of the infiltrators and must figure out how to combat them. Because of the uncertainty about how far the Empire-infiltrators have infiltrated the present-day world only a very limited number of people are in the know -- an approach that has its advantages but is also dangerous, because the public at large remains unaware of the threat. The dangers of the approach are nicely expressed in one warning:
Don't they realize what they're doing is like searching for gunpowder by lighting matches in the dark ?
       In any case, it makes for a quite exciting chess game, as each side tries to figure out the others' position, strategy, and possible moves.
       The new society does function well, but they've also learned that perfection is impossible: solve one set of problems, and new ones arise. And so here too they've found that:
New contradictions arise. More subtle, harder to understand ... Not as obvious as those of the Empire. But they are there, growing and developing ... And the moment will come when they must be confronted.
       So for example, not everyone has been satisfied with the status quo and some twelve thousand people have, over the past fifty years, "had cybernetic systems implanted in their brains, arguing that they need to know more, to discover more". These so-called cybos are viewed with some suspicion and live isolated from the rest of the world -- but in this crisis situation the authorities (itself largely cyber-determined) must consider asking the cybos for help .....
       The body-switching occasionally bogs the novel down some, as it is (relatively) easy to switch identities, and it's not just the characters who get confused about which person is inhabiting which body (and what that means for/to those around them ...). On the whole, however, the novel is well-constructed and thought-through -- as seen also in how the early scenes and characters, which fade from view for much of the story, resurface late on, with one character's virtual reality ambitions of an 'Enchanted Valley' central to one of the final show-downs. De Rojas is also particularly good in what he leaves unsaid, from some of the early bodily take-overs to, for example, some of the sex scenes -- the lead-ups suggestive (or disturbing ...) enough that there's no need for an explicit description of what then happens.
       Despite keeping the number of characters to a relatively small number, the novel does feel crowded, different actors pulling it in different directions. Even though they all serve a larger purpose -- practically everything does crisscross and is connected -- it can leave the reader feeling pulled in too many different directions. At more than six hundred pages, it can also all get to be a bit much -- especially when de Rojas is forced to explain details of technology or personal relationships (he really is much better when he pulls back or pans away, rather than zooms in).
       The Year 200 raises a variety of interesting questions, ranging from the ideological to the sociological to the philosophical, most of which de Rojas leaves nicely open for the reader to ponder -- there are few easy answers or prescriptions here. A nice touch, too, are breaks in the narrative that are presented as parts of an ongoing test -- quizzes of sorts, of a few questions each, regarding what has happened in the story and the reader's reaction to various aspects. It makes for a sort of readers-guide, too -- but the questions are more challenging than the usual straightforward ones. These tests are a clever expansion of and on the story, a nice twist that also serves to remind the reader, every hundred pages or so, that they are in a novel-experience, a created fiction .....
       The Year 200 has its longueurs and occasionally seems to get sidetracked in not-quite-as-interesting detail, but it is more hit than miss, and some of what de Rojas does impresses greatly. If the denouement disappoints as slightly too conventional (right down to its forced surprise twist) there's still more than enough of real substance here.

- M.A.Orthofer, 11 June 2016

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The Year 200: Reviews: Other books by Agustín de Rojas under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       The father of Cuban science fiction, Agustín de Rojas lived 1949 to 2011.

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© 2016 the complete review

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