Thursday, December 31, 2009
Monday, December 28, 2009
Thursday, December 24, 2009
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
I haven’t posted anything here in a few weeks. I am still alive. Do not believe the rumors that Emily and I were kidnapped by Lemurian terrorists. The Olmec Yakuza had nothing to do with it either. Honest.
It was just another computer meltdown. Nothing special, it’s happening to a lot of people. Em went into detail about it on her blog, so I don’t have to do that here.
So, we’re hurtling into another decade and it’s looking apocalyptic as all hell. The times they are a-changing, my friends. Then, the times are always changing. It’s the nature of the beast, though the Maya would call it a burden.
Rest assured, I’m okay. Em, too. Fangs gleaming, the gods have smiled upon us. We will no longer be bookstore clerks. We have a new computer set up. We have decided to start living the way we want to.
The sacrifices we’ve made are paying off.
The final days in the bookstore biz will be rough, so will dealing with the switch to Mac, but the future looks bright.
Yeah, I know a lot you think this kind of optimism is sick, but a lot the stuff that’s crashing down around us needs to die. New things are being born. By 2020, it will truly be a different world.
Meanwhile, I’m fumbling around, trying to get my new life in order. Soon I’ll be able to tell the inside story of the Bookstore Holocaust, and offer insight into the Publishing Apocalypse. I’ll be taking my nefarious plans off the shelf, dusting them off, and putting them into action.
And then things just hit me. With the new computers, I not only have the facilities for self-publishing, but my own recording and animation studio. As that was sinking in, while I was helping Em get her books for her return to college, I realized that with a little more time and effort, I could get a degree in Archeology or Anthropology . . . I’ve been playing the amateur for years, as a famous wise guy who blew his brains out a few years ago said, “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.”
I feel like for the last decade, I’ve been hanging out in querencia, like a bull bristling with banderillas, bleeding, and weary from the fight. Now I feel recharged. Think I’m gonna hold my horns high, rush out, and gore the matador.
Saturday, November 21, 2009
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Saturday, November 14, 2009
Saturday, November 7, 2009
Saturday, October 24, 2009
Nigeria has an Islamic majority. There’s also the “pagans,” “witches,” and a pesky Christian minority. And you know what happens with minorities . . .
I’m reminded of an anti-immigration road troupe from a few elections ago that included a black guy who dressed like he stepped out of a Seventies blaxsploitation movie, who screamed about how Mexicans were about to rush across the border to cook and eat “Americans.” Somehow, despite this revelation, Mexican restaurants are more popular than ever. And salsa has surpassed ketchup as America’s most popular condiment. Nobody is offering Aztec sacrificial tacos.
There goes someone wearing a miniature 3D image of man undergoing a slow, torturous death – how freaking sadomasochistic can you get?
And even the Bible can inspire fear:
However, in my decade-long career as a bookstore clerk, I’ve never once heard of anyone stealing the Koran.
So one person’s blasphemy is another person’s creed. Horror in one culture is holy in another. And here we are in an age of globalization, the world is flat and all gods are created equal. Believe me, it’s gonna get weird!
Friday, October 16, 2009
Thursday, October 15, 2009
Thursday, October 8, 2009
It’s the Twenty-First Century, folks. Noir is getting to be cliché. Black translated into French ain’t enough. We need more than darkness. How about some ultraviolet – the invisible light that makes the scorpions glow in the dark? Just a humble suggestion.
Anyway, the flaps and blurbs mentioned Hieronymus Bosch and paranormal investigations – could be kinda weird. Then I read a review that compared it to Ishmael Reed’s Mumbo Jumbo, which I consider to be one the great novels of the Twentieth Century. I ended up plunking down some hard-earned money for it.
It’s not the Mumbo Jumbo of our century – we’ll be lucky if we see such a thing – but I was not disappointed. The range of traditions that LaValle draws upon include Ishmael Reed, Chester Himes, Octavia Butler, and Philip K. Dick. He admits to being a horror fan, uses a quote from John Carpenter’s The Thing as an epigram, and lists Shirley Jackson, T.E.D. Klein, Stephen King, and “my man” Ambrose Bierce as influences. He’s not your typical African American writer, and this book will probably not become an Oprah selection.
Big Machine is the story of Ricky Rice, an ex-junkie janitor, who was raised in a cult that is truly bizarre but disturbingly believable. He is recruited into a group of psychic investigators, because he can hear The Voice. He is drawn into the wars between secret societies that include the one he grew up in. The story tears back and forth through time, revealing him and his world in startling, jagged chunks like brutal time-travel. And where it ends up is far beyond, and more fantastic than I was hoping for. Fans of the science fiction/fantasy/horror megagenre will enjoy the mindblowing conclusion.
The “paranormal” entities in the book are truly something different, have the texture of reality, and stand out in this age of cheap fantasy media overload.
Part of me wonders why Will Smith and Denzel Washington aren’t fighting over the movie rights, but this book digs deep into heroin, race, religion, politics, and other specters that are haunting Twenty-First Century America. It’s scary in a way that “horror” loving pop culture will have a hard time cozying up to. Which makes it a better book, and one to look out for.
Saturday, October 3, 2009
Friday, October 2, 2009
La Novela Policiaca No. 1695 has everything, sex, drugs, bloody violence, and a title lifted from Baudelaire.
La Novela Policiaca No. 1535 is a personal favorite that I’ve reread many times. I can’t resist crime amongst the ruins. And the woman who is way too tall for a Maya was ripped off from Boris Vallejo.
The upside-down tequila ad from the back cover of La Novela Policiaca No. 1535. I guess it's only okay to have liquor ads in comics if they're upside-down.
From Kaliman No. 1128. Mexico’s musclebound mystic hero also stars in movies and radio serials. Note the phone number for an Alcohol Anonymous youth group at the bottom of the page.
A warning about AIDS from the inside front cover of Sensacional de Sueños No. 3.
A plea for etiquette while using public transportation from the inside back cover of Sensacional de Sueños No. 3. Who says social responsibility can’t be fun?
Ghosts of a Gulf War past, with a wrestler in charge, from Teniente Botija, El Huracán del Norte No. 152.
These are just a few chips off the tip of this bizarre iceberg. I’m hoping some obsessive collectors have more weirdness filed and catalogued. There were these kids who ran an impressive used comics shop in the town of Palenque, not far from the Mayan ruins of the same name – I wonder what they’re doing now?
Saturday, September 26, 2009
Saturday, September 19, 2009
Just some of the stuff I'm working on . . .
Thursday, September 17, 2009
Among the other turmoil sweeping over the world, magazines are dying. Not just individual publications, but the entire medium. The World Wide Web is killing printed publications, perhaps the forests of the world will be spared.
And hope the craziness of these mags will be recreated in the entertainment modules of the future..
Friday, September 11, 2009
Yeah, weird stuff happens. It even happens to me. But just what the hell all this weird stuff is -- is the issue.
Given the right kind of stimulation, the human brain gets creative in incredible ways. I’ve already written about this as the Monster Reflex. This awesome creativity confuses us. Often we are compelled to believe our scrambled senses.
The problem with that is, we are capable of believing in anything. It is the greatest strength and the Achilles heel of our humble species.
Technology just makes it stronger, and amplifies the confusion.
Which brings me to what I call, the Chupacabra Effect (yeah, I know that the proper Spanish word is Chupacabras, but as a native Spanglish speaker, I prefer the North of the border bastardization, cabrónes). In the past, the human habit of storytelling generated legends and myths over long amounts of time, generations. With modern communications technology, this has been sped up. Let an appealing fantasy loose in the electronic neighborhood, and in no time it takes on a life of its own, mutates, and is soon a mainstay in the freak show we call civilization.
When Elvis died, he was just a washed-up teen idol. With television, it barely took him a generation to be come a full-blown saint, with shrines, temples, miracles, and sightings. It took Jesus a lot longer to accomplish that. Michael Jackson did it over one weekend.
As with El Chupcabra, it was powered by the World Wide Web.
I remember back in the Eighties, watching Primero Impacto on Univision, seeing the first stories about a strange blood-sucking creature in Puerto Rico. It was about the same time that Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park became available in Spanish. Soon people in rural parts of Mexico, Central and South America were including speculation about genetic engineering in their eye-witness reports.
And the creature changed. At first crude drawings showed spiny, teddy-bears with wings. Then it got bigger and more reptilian. Later proper fangs were added. Then the black almond-shaped UFO pilot eyes.
Recently, in Texas there was the stuffed blue-skinned mutant coyote head, and some more coyote-type photos.
This is what happens when information technology meets folklore. Instead of an enlightened age, we find ourselves with ever-expanding media for irrationality.
The cliché: “That can’t be, this is the Twentieth Century,” should be replaced with: “This is the Twenty-First Century, people will believe anything.”
Scary, yes, but you don’t have to believe in the Fijee Mermaid to appreciate the artistry that went into her creation and presentation. P.T. Barnum’s Art of the Humbug was enjoyed by believers and skeptics alike. Learn to revel in absurdity, because we keep making more of it.
Saturday, September 5, 2009
Some say this is because I’m rather grotesque myself, but I guess I should let others decide that.
I am not unique in this fascination. Though not always considered to be high-minded, a lot of science, culture, and just plain stuff that humans do to amuse themselves are devoted to monsters. When I feel the need to amuse myself this way, I never have to search very far to find something suitable.
Why would this be? I have a theory.
It has to do with how I think the human brain works, and that I consider the imagination as a survival tool.
You know how it is, you think you have things figured out, you go about your business feeling that it’s all routine. Then, out of nowhere, you find yourself faced with something strange, so strange that it threatens all that you think you know. You sense danger. The fight-or-flight reflex kicks in.
Only this time, it’s more complicated than that. Fighting or flying won’t do the trick. This is so strange that your brain has to do some reconfiguring.
This is a wonderful thing I call the Monster Reflex.
Deep in parts of the brain, circuits light up that don’t get used in ordinary circumstances. The imagination starts running wild. Without any prompting, you find yourself performing daring feats of creativity. You don’t realize it, so you think that something weird is happening to you. You may hallucinate. You may come up with an idea for new invention. You may create a new religion.
Or you may see a monster.
Or a UFO. Or a demon. Or an angel.
It's an altered state of consciousness that’s perfectly natural and better than any drug.
I think it’s a very healthy thing to put your brain through. Once you get used to it, the world, or just your life going crazy on you, becomes easier to deal with. When the going gets weird, you can find the strength to deal with it.
You also may end up with monsters living in your brain. And they’re good company.
Thursday, September 3, 2009
Saturday, August 29, 2009
Go ahead, track down The Genocides, Fun with Your New Head, Camp Concentration, 334, and Getting into Death. Have a ball, you’ll see what I mean. It does make me mad that all of Disch’s book aren’t readily available.
I’m delighted to report that in The Word of God: Or, Holy Writ Rewritten, he’s back to smashing the hell out of rules and regulations, and it is wonderful.
But then, how could the author of High Aztech not like a book that joyously deconstructs religion? Never has it all seemed so absurd! But it’s not just a book-length rant, it breaks down literary barriers in the best New Wave tradition: Non-fiction blends into fiction. Poetry intrudes on prose. An entire previously published short story appears. There’s even a hilarious fictional storyline featuring Philip K. Dick, Hell, time travel. It also contradicts itself, but then the premise is that Disch is God.
It should be no surprise that in these dark times for writers and writing, this book was published by a small press, and no one will bribe bookstores to put in on display. Oprah will not recommend it. Guess it’s up to me.
The thing is, for a book that came out close to the time of the death of the author, it does not read like final statement of a mind that's sputtering out and getting ready to call it quits. The Word of God is Disch as witty, creative, and skillful as ever. This book is alive, as any good book should be.
I finished it with a smile on my face, then I frowned. Society doesn’t treat writers well. Anyone considering writing as a career should grab a stack of the biographies of dead writers they admire and read the closing chapters. Its rare that writers are happy or prosperous in their old age. And their deaths . . .
Which is why we need to celebrate the works of the writers we admire. Read them. Recommend them. Life is short. Paper and ink crumble and fade. Words get forgotten. Memory fails.
But, in that moment when you read something wonderful, like The Word of God, something happens. Like a magic spark, something invisible and intangible comes to life. It’s like talking to someone who has died, or talking to a god.
Hmm, I wonder how long it be before someone is writting this kind of stuff about me?
Friday, August 28, 2009
Saturday, August 22, 2009
She’s usually found in tourist shops throughout Mexico, and Aztlán (AKA the American Southwest). She’s beginning to show up in antique stores (and the Web). Desert mermaids are quite marketable.
When did they first appear? On what traditions – if any – are they based?
It may be that mermaids have a tendency to intrude onto land through rivers. There are river mermaid traditions in Africa and South America. In both places they tend to be blonde, like their desert sisters, (though one with Indian features hangs in my hall), and like the Sirens in the Odyssey, they kill and eat humans. And there have been sightings.
The Nigerian film The Secret Adventure shows one tempting two boys
In Trail of Feathers, Tahir Shah quotes an Amazonian shaman: "They have blonde hair and teeth made of gold. If they fall in love with you, they lure you to their kingdom under the water."
The South American fear of mermaids extends to river dolphins, who are believed to be able to take human form. Do mermaids walk among us?
They could also be goddess manifestations, like the Virgin of Guadalupe, who also appears out of a cactus. Sirens and sea goddesses become river goddesses as people migrate inland. In the case of the Nigerian Oshun the reverse happened; after her believers where shanghaied to the New World, she became a sea goddess again as Erzulie in Haiti, and Yemanja in Brazil.
Tales of people or spirits who live under water are universal. But how do they end up playing their guitars and ukeleles among the cacti? It must have been more that just a particularly compelling mirage.
Life needs water. Even when we live in the desert, we need to coax it along. Phoenix has canals, built along the network created by the Hohokam, long ago. These canals are haunted by La Lloroña, the Mexican child-killing spirit, and her Phoenix manifestation, Mano Loco.
It’s been recently discovered that Teotihuacán , the Place of the Gods, in Mexico, was built to be flooded; its Avenue of the Dead is meant to be a canal in the desert.
And the Johnny Weismuller movie, Tarzan and the Mermaids ,was partially filmed in Teotihuacán. Yes, Tarzan brought mermaids to the desert. They appeared before the Temple of Quetzalcoatl.
Mermaids have been sighted on Israeli beaches.
Why do I feel safe in predicting that there will someday be mermaids on Mars?
Weird connections. No conclusions. I need to do more research. Hunting mermaids in the desert ain’t a bad way to spend my spare time.
Saturday, August 15, 2009
Some people write science fiction, other people are compelled to live it. Such a man is Wu Yulu, a humble Chinese farmer with a primary school education who makes robots.
Okay, maybe the correct word would be automatons, for all you nickpickers out there. They don’t have cybernetic brains, but give the guy a little time . . .
Mostly, these wonderful machines walk. All kinds of doll-like things that march like toys. Charming, like high-tech folk art.
Then there’s the full-size humanoid with a hat, ping-pong eyes, and rubber lips who pulls a rickshaw that two people can ride. It doesn’t go very fast, but it may well be the prototype for a system of taxis that could someday be pulling people around the shopping centers of the world. Besides, it looks like such fun.
So does a car that has six legs instead of wheels. Again, not much speed or maneuverability, but they look wonderful as Wu Yulu drives it. A car that walks like an insect! Could it be the shape of things to come? The cities and highways of tomorrow would be more interesting for it.
Another insectoid can walk up metal walls with electromagnetic feet. Wu Yulu has visions of them someday cleaning the sides of ships. I could see them walking along the outside of spaceships, checking for trouble, making repairs.
His story is like a fairy tale. People make fun of him for making robots when he should have been working on his farm. Now people are buying his creations, like works of art.
I hope that it isn’t just the art world that’s watching. Engineers, inventors, and industry should take a look. There’s something happening at that Chinese farm.