Review: Sordidez by E.G. Condé

My Quick Take: An original take on an intricate mix of climate change fiction and geopolitics, colonialism and indigeneity in a science fiction novella set in Puerto Rico and the Yucatan.

Thanks to Stelliform Press and BookSirens for a gifted digital copy!

“The ones who broke the world should not be entrusted with its repair.”
I’ve just come from finishing E.G. Condé's Sordidez, a wonderful and challenging novella and I cannot wait even one day to write my thoughts down because I will lose the thread of what was going on in the story. It is that intricate.

Vero is a trans man in near-future Puerto Rico, who leaves his community in the aftermath of environmental disaster to seek out the truths behind the political and ecological disasters ravaging the region. He settles in the Yucatan, where a dictator there released the Hydrophage, tech that promised to help with climate change but was ultimately weaponized to harm the environment. There is a myriad cast of characters, with multiple points of view.

One one hand, the basics of this novel are fundamental. There is the story of a Caribbean ravaged in some not too distant future by climate change, and the suffering that it brings. Hurricanes decimate and in the wake of the environmental disaster’s vacuum of power there will always be world (read: colonial) powers that step in to either “liberate” or dominate. There is a home-grown genocide as well, but it also ties back to colonialism.

However, that doesn’t begin to capture the intricacy that Condé has brought to his novella. He weaves a pattern that made my brain hurt just a bit for the complexity, though I liked the book more for it. It was smart, and after I was done I was left craving more information about the issues, history and mythology of that region.

This is not said to dissuade! Much of the book is straightforward story, and easy to digest. I liked the marriage of the old and the new as sci-fi elements: traditional masks wedded to new tech, ancient Mayan pyramids housing sophisticated defence systems. Time is linear but fractured as the chapters proceed, but the story comes together nicely with characters recurring to take up the story at different times. The climate science is, I suspect, quite realistic and presents a nearish future that is all too possible.

The complexity is seated in the injustices of colonialism meted out first by the Spanish in the Caribbean and then by the US in Puerto Rico. In the future world of Sordidez, the Chinese and the United Nations become occupiers at different times. Seemingly benevolent or overtly maleficent, it doesn’t really matter. Condé discusses the issues of manufactured dependency, perhaps a more underhanded attempt at seizing power.

Also, I think Condé spoke to the issues of extremism from many angles. My reading of the message here was that indigenous peoples must fight for their land and sovereignty, but that there is a middle path that can include compassion and forgiveness. This theme was embodied by the character of Margarita, who negotiates this “middle path” that potentially leads to lasting change. However, I can’t be sure that this is Condé’s intention; as I got deeper into the novella, I sensed that I lacked some cultural context. It’s one of the aspects that adds to the complexity of the narrative: a feature of the book rather than a flaw.

Sordidez presents a telling of things, rather than diving below the surface to show us the depths of meaningful character development. This was most apparent in the character of Aduja. She is a key figure with a complex political agenda that we learn about factually, but much of the detail of her backstory and her inner life isn’t shown. I am guessing that part of this is because of the shorter, novella format. Vero’s character is more fleshed out, adding some depth to the story.

I am also guessing…pure speculation here…that there will be a sequel or companion work to this novel.

E.G. Condé is an emerging “queer, diasporic, Boracua writer of speculative fiction and fantasy. Condé is one of the creators of “Taínofuturism”, an emerging artistic genre that imagines a future of indigenous renewal and decolonial liberation for Borikén (Puerto Rico) and the archipelagos of the Caribbean.” ( The Taíno were the indigenous peoples of the Caribbean, and today there is a Taíno revival and restoration movement, particularly in Puerto Rico. And just a note: the author walks the walk regarding environmental credibility. It’s pretty great that Condé’s other job is as PhD candidate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology studying data systems and their impact on their ecological impacts. No wonder the book has such an interesting blend of history, environmental concerns and cool tech.

Let me take a quick moment to add that I adore the cover art. I didn’t fully appreciate it until I photographed the book, and it is beautiful and haunting and perfect. This art is by Paulina Niño, a Mexican artist. Check out her site; her work is amazing. 

Since this is Condé’s first novella, I’m sure he has many more fascinating places to take us readers and important things to say about the future of the climate and of the Caribbean region. I look forward to the journey.