Thursday, October 18, 2018
Sometimes I think Ishmael Reed is the only person paying attention to what is really going on. His new novel, Conjugating Hindi, a satire of the world during the Trump--I mean, Kleiner Führer administration, is dead-on hilarious and scary as all hell. Does the job that science fiction should do, but usually fails at.
And what is that job? Why, it's taking a look at current changes, giving us clues to where it’s going and what to do about it. (Yeah, some people say that’s more speculative fiction than, sci-fi, but who goes to a bookstore looking for spec fic?)
This one is right on the cutting edge, set in 2017, now the sudden past; it’s almost a new kind of journalism, beyond gonzo, which is so Twentieth Century. This makes it an alternative universe, one that defines the present, and lays the foundations for the future.
We also get historic and myth figures appearing in dreams. Magic realism, if you will.
As it says on the back cover blurb, this is Reed’s
“global novel. One that crosses all borders.”
Global. As in the whole planet. Not just the cultural ghetto skewed to a New York/Washington D.C. axis that kicks and screams when it becomes obsolete.
Delusions like that don’t die easily. But then that’s the point of most of Ishmael Reed’s work.
Sometimes it seems like wild fantasy, but the outrageous things that happen in Conjugating Hindi’s war with India have already happened in other wars. If you think the news is fake, what about history? What are we doomed to repeat?
Here emerging conflicts are brought to light, along with the fact that the answer is for people who disagree to come together, talk, argue, even fight, as they struggle to figure it out.
Afrofuturists take note, buy, and read. And even though I’ve said it before: Afrofuturism is just a reboot of Reed’s NeoHooDooism.
We need this sort of thing to survive the world that Kleiner Führer--I mean Trump--is making.
Friday, October 12, 2018
Thursday, October 4, 2018
I was once asked “How long does it take you to write a novel?” My mind went blank. I tried to think about, but all I could come up with was “I don’t know.”
Really, I don’t know. I have a day job. And a life. It’s all kinda crazy.
I don’t come up with an idea, rush to the computer, bang away for a few days, weeks, or months, and turn out a novel. It’s more like I get an idea, let it rattle around with all the other stuff that’s seething in brain, and maybe, just maybe in a few years, I’ll get started. Sometimes I’ll make some jangled notes, write some fragments, file them away.
Right now, I have at least four novels in the works. Then there are the ones that are just peculiar notions.
We won’t get into the brainstorm I had the other day while on a cross-Phoenix El Bravo/Chino Bandido run, when enchilada sauce leaked onto my shirt like an old-time spaghetti western gunshot wound . . .
For a while, I tried to work on several novels at once, but it didn’t work. Early on, my wife, Emily Devenport (author of Medusa Uploaded) and I noticed that while short stories can be like a bout of the flu, novels are closer to demonic possession in the way they hijack your brain. Too much of this could crash your jellyware hard drive.
So a year or so ago, I decided that I’d concentrate on Zyx; or, Bring Me the Brain of Victor Theremin. (I prefer Bring Me the Brain . . ., but publishers and editors like short one-word titles, and I do try to please--honest, I really do!) I thought I’d be done by now.
People who’ve never written, much less published anything, keep talking about how someday they’re going to take a month or so off, rent a cabin in some quiet, isolated place, and squeeze out a bestseller. Pardon me while I choke down some vicious laughter. Has anybody ever come close to writing anything that way? Peace, quiet, and especially isolation (inspiration comes from going mano a mano with reality) are all overrated, and don’t help you write.
Get used to being interrupted. We just live in that kind of world. If a simple thing like life can knock a novel out of your head, you may not be cut out to be a writer.
If you want to write, learn the fine art of running the day job gauntlet. I’ve found that a job where you’re doing grunt work with your hands, leaving the brain to chew on the literary cud, works better. They often give you break time--take it.
Become an expert at stealing time. Be on the lookout for opportunities, and pounce! Don’t be afraid to get predatory.
Learn to write on the run.
Way back in the twentieth century, I used to carry around little memo pads and stubby ballpoint pens. They fit in my pocket as I mopped floors and cleaned toilets. A lot of High Aztech and Smoking Mirror Blues were written that way.
Nowadays, I carry an iTouch, and write a lot with one finger on a tiny screen, using Google Drive.
I’m finishing up a detailed outline of Zyx, the first time I’ve done that with a novel. It’s taking shape, coming alive.
We may be coming close to the demonic possession phase, which is also difficult, but keeps life interesting . . .
In the immortal words of Super Chicken, “You knew the job was dangerous when you took it.”
Friday, September 28, 2018
Monday, September 24, 2018
After a brief sweep through Arizona and Monument Valley, we came to New Mexico, AKA The Land of Enchantment. Its magic took hold as we passed through Navajo and Zuñi territory. The landscape wowed us as usual. In Farmington an ADULT VIDEO store was right after a JESUS WATCHING YOU billboard. When we arrived in Truchas, a rooster crowed, even though it was well after noon.
New Mexico’s usual post-apocalyptic ambience was stronger this year. There have been many apocalyptic events, the coming of the Spaniards, the coming of the Anglos, the coming of opiods and meth. This time, it looked like current political developments had taken their toll.
In Taos (short for La Cuidad de Don Fernando de Taos), the Sun God Lodge was closed “4 REPAIRS.”
To make matters worse, the Wired? Coffee-Cyber-Cafe was out of business, signs taken down, zen garden with its statuary, fountains, and koi ponds gutted, murals left to fade in the sun. No more of their cafe mochas.
Luckily, they had cafe mochas at Taos Java, a similar, but more crowded place with a drive-thru window. Their artisan-made apple empanada wasn’t bad. The atmosphere wasn’t quite so post-modern hippy-dippy. Folks were doing wi-fi connected business meetings rather than playing chess and contemplating the Great Whateverthehell.
At a gas station I saw a group of bikers who may have been unintentionally androgynous. Or maybe it was intentional . . .
Flyers for yoga classes and events that combined music with sending out good vibes to improve the human condition by spiritual means were still posted everywhere, but there was also Zombie Tactical Guns & Ammo.
Some changes have been going on.
And some folks were driving like they got their Labor Day weekend drinking started early and planned on being in jail or the hospital by sundown.
After a rainy night, and a cool morning, with John McCain’s funeral on the TV, we decided to give Santa Fe a try.
On the way, I saw that Truchas, which is quivering somewhere between ghost town and an art colony, is full of empty structures sporting Sotheby’s for sale signs. Some of the farms are still in business, but it looks like our getaway place may be feeling what ever’s in the air. Guess you can’t have paradise without trouble.
Along El Camino Real, encroaching storms looked like dark, frozen tidal waves.
I found some interesting books--most notably Christy G. Turner & Jacqueline A. Turner’s Man Corn: Cannibalism and Violence in the Prehistoric American Southwest--but Emily and her mother didn’t find their usual thrift store treasures. Emily speculated on the political situation influencing the economy.
Later, while driving back to Truchas after dinner in Chimayó, we saw a spectacular double rainbow in a slate-gray sky. Then a fantastic storm erupted. Yeah, enchantment. The magic don’t need no stinking socioeconomic prerequisites.
Emily and I did another run to Taos the next day. Found a place that showed promise: The Coffee Spot. No cafe mochas, but the Mexican lattes are amazing. So are the breakfast burritos. It has a funky, arty, decor and a garden with outdoor tables where you can get inspired.
While Em did some more clothes shopping, I wandered around and took some pictures of post-apocalyptic scenes, Jackson Pollock shots, Andy Warhol shots . . . Here snapshots turn out as weird art.
Coyotes went berserk our last night in Truchas.
We got news of the fiasco at the Zozobra ritual in Santa Fe. A “security miscommunication” caused the giant effigy to be set fire early, while a lot paying customers were locked out. Dissatisfaction was in the air.
We made our way home under miles of low, scattered storm clouds and showers, through reservation lands where the tourist mythology camouflages Aztlán under the Great Hollywood Cowboy and Indian Myth. Though lately, UFOs and dinosaurs are added to the mix.
I saw a taco-shaped cloud, and sacred datura growing south of Payson/Cottonwood next to the I-17.
Then we got stuck in a traffic jam in the rain.
Thursday, September 20, 2018
Utah changes as you head southeast. There’s less of a Mormon influence, and it becomes less of a contrivance to give European and Asian tourists a taste of the Wild West myth. It gets more Indian as you approach the Navajo reservation, and new age/hippy-dippy influences have bubbled up from Sedona.
There was an icy breeze in the morning. A big relief after months of the Phoenix heat. We were in overshirts, while the locals were showing off their tanned legs.
At the Capitol Reef Inn & Cafe, they played flute-dominated Native-style music, and the waitress showed her new tattoo to a regular customer.
Emily left her camera around her neck as we drove through Capitol Reef itself. We stopped a lot for her to take pictures of the fantastic, Martian-looking landscapes. Hoodooistic mountains looked like buried cities. I fondled the red, silky sand.
This was close to where Disney filmed their John Carter of Mars movie. I’ll probably never make it to Mars, but I’ve lived most of my life in Aztlán, and that’s pretty damn good. “Welcome to Mars” from Cory McAbee’s musical space opera Stingray Sam got stuck in my head.
You could film a low-budget movie about truckers on Mars there. I filed the idea away. Who knows what it could become? The Paco Cohen, Mariachi of Mars universe came from me getting an idea about a sci-fi spaghetti western that could be shot around Phoenix.
Further along Utah State Route 24, we once again had to stop at Carl’s Critter Garden, and take pictures of mechanoid monsters, and their messages of mystic wisdom. It had changed since we last saw it. Carl must be busy with new creations. Long may he keep this roadside wonderland alive!
We finally saw a real, live Indian crossing the street in Blanding, while we were looking for the Dinosaur Museum that we drove past.
We found the Edge of Cedars Park Visitors Center/Museum where more sacred datura grew in the parking lot. The museum was small, and mostly about the Navajo/Diné, rather than the other tribes of Utah, but had some impressive sculptures.
A real standout is “Ant Man on Kiva Ladder” by Joe Pachak. The ant man isn’t the Marvel character, but a reference to the insect-like figures that appear in petroglyphs all over the southwest. Yes, humanoids with antenna were part of Aztlán long before the white man invented sci-fi. They probably depict the insect people of Native mythology, but who knows?
I won’t even get into the three-fingered lizard men . . .
Two young Native men worked at the museum, and a Native woman came in as a customer.
On our second pass through Blanding, my hunter/gather eagle-eye spotted the Dinosaur Museum, which is a real find, worth the pilgrimage into the cinegenic wastes. Not only does it have fossils, and flesh and feathered replicas, but it includes artifacts of dinosaurs in popular culture, the movies, and displays about the artists who brought the ancient beasts to light long before CGI.
Later we made another trip to Bluff, built on the site of a pueblo established around 650 AD, over which an Anglo town was installed in 1880. The Navajo tacos at the Twin Rocks Cafe were great as usual. Indians seem to be taking over the town, which is a good thing.
The next morning, at the complimentary breakfast at the Kokopelli Inn, tourists spoke French while the women in the office discussed Navajo politics.
There were still election posters in the Rez as we cut through it into Arizona on the way to New Mexico. A lot of women were running for office in this place where Red Mesa High School had a team proudly called the “Redskins,” and a RED MESA EXPRESS T-shirt features a flying saucer.
Aztlán can’t help being its own kind of sci-fi.
Monday, September 17, 2018
We couldn’t wait to get out of the air-conditioned delusion of Phoenix. Going north on I-17, I saw a lot of sacred datura blooming by the roadside. When we hit the Navajo Rez a billboard proclaimed: PROTECT OUR FUTURE. STOP METH ABUSE, while outback murals provided alternate vistas.
As we made it into Utah, toward Kanab (“A Western Classic” according to a sign), I mused that “Nabbed in Kanab” would make a good title, bit couldn't think up a story for it.
The Lone Ranger posters decorating our motel fit in with the the Hollywood Wild West decor. Here, John Wayne and other celluloid buckaroos watched like patron saints.
After I found MSNBC so Emiy’s mother could find out, “what that idiot in Washington did today,” we realized that we forgot to pack her box of wine. Where can a 98 year-old woman get her evening glass of wine in a town where our motel was across the street from the Mormon temple that was sandwiched between two banks? The streets were full of Caucasian tourists speaking Teutonic tongues. The young man gathering up shopping carts at the pioneer daze mural-festooned supermarket looked nervous as he explained that they only sold beer and the liquor store was closed Sunday.
Luckily, we found the Wild Thyme Cafe, where she could have a Chardonnay with dinner.
In the morning, I saw Asian tourists and white-haired, middle class bikers as I crossed the parking lot to the complimentary breakfast bar.
On TV there were news stories about Utah’s opiod crisis, and how recent immigration restrictions were hurting the state’s economy, as well as a commercial for a place called Chick-A-Rama that bragged about their mac and cheese.
We packed up as Trump was getting ready to talk about the new NAFTA, filled up at a gas station wrapped in faded cowboy murals, and soon Emily was saying, “Oh my! This sandstone is fabulaire!”
Past more roadside sacred datura, we took a restroom break at a gas station with murals with more of an Indian theme that sold coonskin caps and buffalo jerky. Japanese and German tourists milled about like a deleted scene from The Man in the High Castle.
A town had the Orwellian name of Orderville, and there’s a Glendale, Utah.
Soon we reached Parowan, on the Old Spanish Trail, as opposed to an old Mormon one. A sign in a store window told of PAROWAN, UTAH’S PUBLISHED AUTHOR, as if only one were permitted per town. The State Liquor Agency (Utahan for liquor store) was closed on Sunday and Monday. Fast food joints sold tacos and burritos as well as hamburgers and hot dogs. We even found a Mexican restaurant where Emily’s mother could have a sangria with her taco salad.
We got going bright and early the next morning to find that the State Liquor Agency was still closed at 8 AM.
So it was off through eerie, abandoned-for-the-season, snowless ski-country that looked like a transplanted stretch of Switzerland. Then the hills were full of lava and dying trees. Some deer pronked into the middle of the road, but Emily was quick with the brake pedal.
A huge photo portrait of John Wayne watched over us as we got coffee and danish at a Panguitch gas station.
"I don’t like Utah much,” said Emily’s mother.
As we headed toward Bryce canyon, the forest gave way to red rock hoodoos, psychedelic/Barsoomian landscapes, burned and beetle-devastated forests.
We finally found wine for Em’s mother at the State Liquor Agency in Bicknell, ten minutes from Torrey, past some grazing bison. They were playing a bluesy version of “Summertime.”
Friday, September 14, 2018
Thursday, September 6, 2018
Ron Cobb, the cartoonist who is best known for designing the spaceship and most of the hardware for the movie Alien, once said that, “Science fiction has always been a verb to me.”
Sadly, most sci-fi products these days just want us all to keep being good, hungry, passive consumers. Buy, don’t do. Consume, don’t create.
Extraterrestrial Organology: The Study of Future Wind Instruments by Ronald J. Wimmer, on the other hand, says, “May this inspire you to make your own musical instruments.” Don’t just read, or watch entertainment about exploring strange new worlds, seeking out new life, and new civilizations, and boldly going where you have never gone before, but create the instrumentality of the future. Create new culture. Make the future.
It is inspired by Jesus Christ, who allowed Wimmer to hear, “For approximately five seconds . . . angelic music.” He immediately realized that the sound would be impossible to replicate. “That is when I had the realization to make musical instruments.”
He also lists as inspirations: Antoine-Joseph Aldolphe Sax, inventor of the saxophone,René Stapp, inventor of the Jupiter land speed record car, a Japanese Zen haiku poet and a Buddhist monk. Photos used show that he is familiar with funky TV and movie productions from the black&white era. Talk about cultural diversity.
He also looks like a classic science fiction fan. One photo shows him with ufologist Dr. Staton Friedman and Kathleen Mardeen, niece of Betty Hill of the well-known Betty and Barney Hill UFO incident.
It’s a slim book, but is packed with actual content, as well as spaceship paintings by his wife, Luela, and lots of color photos of historic, weird instruments, and those created by Wimmer, often with him holding them and wearing an impressive array of sci-fi regalia.
In the text, facts blend with science fiction. “I suggest you research orgone and its discoverer Dr. Wilheim Reich . . .”
Wimmer’s instruments have been displayed in galleries and art shows in Arizona. The art form has incredible possibilities. I’d like to see more people creating such wonders.