In 2020, Politics as Unusual ; A Quirky, Corrosive Tale of Political Science Fiction by a Mexican Master

Article excerpt

If "Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace," didn't turn you away from political science fiction forever, you might enjoy a trip to the not-too-distant future, to a country not too far away, where the political intrigues are as convoluted as one of Princess Amidala's hairdos.

Carlos Fuentes, perhaps Mexico's greatest living writer, has created a corrosive satire set in 2020. The Mexican president has angered the United States by denouncing its invasion of Colombia. In retaliation, US President Condoleezza Rice has wiped out Mexico's communication systems, cutting the country off from the rest of the world. (Even the carrier pigeons have been poisoned.)

The conceit, which involves a satellite, works best if you don't squint at it too closely. I wasted several pages wondering why the secretaries were bothering to haul out the old Remington typewriters: With the electricity still on, the computers should have worked just fine. Nor could I figure out why the phones or TVs were dead: Alexander Graham Bell's little invention, in particular, had a pretty good track record for decades before the first satellite hit outer space.

The answer has less to do with technology than that classic parental staple: "Because I said so." Basically, all modern means of communications failed because Fuentes wanted to write an epistolary novel, and it would take a catastrophe on that order to get most people to put pen to paper. (I'm surprised he didn't have a freak explosion destroy all of Mexico's ballpoint-pen factories, in order to have his characters scratching away with quills.)

So, even though the motto in Mexican politics is "never put anything in writing," the president's cabinet is reduced to passing notes back and forth like fourth-grade girls in math class. Not that any of these epistles dwell on such mundane matters as getting the phones, computers, and TVs turned back on: Everyone is too busy concocting elaborate schemes to win the upcoming presidential election in 2024 - when they aren't arranging assignations of a different sort. As for Mexico's incumbent president, despite his verbal grandstanding against the world's superpower, he has a reputation for having a cushion permanently affixed to his derriere, which events do nothing to dispel.

Readers might want to create a flow chart to keep all the players straight - events can get a little murky, especially since Fuentes doesn't give all his characters distinct voices. But here are a few of the major operatives: Maria del Rosario Galvan is promising her protege Nicolas Valdivia all sorts of rewards, both carnal and political, if he gets her the dirt on the president's chief of staff, Tacito de la Canal. …