Saturday, August 29, 2009


Despite Steve Brown of Science Fiction Eye wanting to make it seem like I was mad at Tom Disch (I shamelessly exploited the situation in my essay, “Greasy Kid Stuff From Outer Space”) Disch has always been one of my favorite writers. But I’m not really fond of his commercially successful children’s books and horror novels, or On the Wings of a Song. I liked him best when he breaking all the rules. His straight-up short stories are also excellent, but nobody rushed off into unexplored literary territory New Wave style like Thomas M. Disch.

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


I don’t do well with labels. They tend not to stick to me. The ones that do, tend to be the ones people use when groping to describe things that they don’t understand: science fiction, surrealism, avant garde . . . things people can’t readily define, but know when they see, like pornography.

Avant garde keeps coming back to haunt me. I really don’t know why. Maybe because I know what it’s really supposed to mean, and I know it doesn’t really fit me.

When I was young I actually tried to be avant garde, but gave it up when I realized that it was a good way to insure a lifetime of poverty.

When I finished my first novel, one of the first reactions I got was, "Y’know, this kind of avant garde stream-of-consciousness stuff is hard to get into and really hard to sell." And I was trying to be crass and commercial. I though a cross between Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas would be an instant best-seller. Nevertheless, Nwatta-Nwatta-Nwatta remains unpublished except for an excerpt that Kristine Kathryn Rusch ran in Pulphouse.

And the rejection letters! "This could revitalize the genre! Too bad it’s too zany . . ." Maybe I should publish them someday . . .

In another attempt to make my writing habit profitable, it tried to write for Hustler, dreaming about getting paid five thousand dollars for a short story. I studied the market, and came up with a hilarious romp about genital enlargement called, "The Frankenstein Penis." Hustler rejected it.

A few years later, Peter Lamborn Wilson, along with Rudy Rucker and Robert Anton Wilson, did an anthology called Semiotex(e) SF. There, "The Frankenstein Penis" found a home. One critic said it was like "William Burroughs on steroids," and if that doesn’t translate to avant garde, what does?
It became my most famous story. It was reprinted in Penthouse Hot Talk and illustrated with an H.R. Giger painting. Unauthorized translations have popped up in Greece, and Brazil. There was even an award-winning student film. People would run up to me and say, "Oh, so that’s what the guy who wrote ‘The Frankenstein Penis’ looks like!"
I used to joke about writing a sequel called "The Dracula Vagina" if I could find an editor crazy enough to buy it. Enter Chris DeVito, and if you can find the single issue of Proud Flesh, you can read it.

This has given me a reputation for the bizarre, outrageous, outré, and yes, avant garde. This has not been a big plus in an era when people think "commercial" means "dull," and "routine." I’ve had the lecture:
"People don’t like to be disturbed or surprised. They like familiar things and to know what’s going to happen. Life is too full of strangeness these days. Why don’t you do something just like what’s popular . . ."
I usually fall asleep at that point.
But I do wonder, what if forgot all about being entertaining and actually tried to be avant garde? Maybe people’s heads would explode . . .

Saturday, August 22, 2009


There’s usually a cactus next to her. Sometimes she’s sitting on it -- a bizarre thing for a mermaid to do. She’s most often made from papier mâché, or ceramic, and she's very colorful in the tradition of Mexican folk art. (I have seen one made out of Oaxaca-style black terracotta, and Oaxaca is in the mountains, far from any ocean.)

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.

Friday, August 14, 2009


I really don’t want to give advice on how to be a writer. Most of advice that has been passed on over the last few decades was muddle-headed to begin with, and now it’s just plain obsolete, except for maybe the writing section of Paul Riddell’s Greasing the Pan. And the last thing I want to be is somekinda guru – what I’m trying to be is an anti-guru.

Unfortunately, I am a writer in a way that most wannabes can’t imagine. I have a lot experiences in bashing my brains out against the stonewall of the writing life. They may not be very educational, but they may have entertainment value.

What makes some misguided folks think I may be qualified is that I’ve managed to publish enough to earn me a reputation as an International Cult Author. Just ask those people who’ve said nice things about me in Russian, Japanese, Spanish, Portugese, Italian, and Greek. Now, if I just get them to send me some money . . .
It hasn’t made me rich. Then, to be honest, it’s rare for a writer to get rich. If you know of any writers who have achieved a comfortable retirement because of their writing, let me know. Don’t be insulted if I don’t hold my breath.
I have known, and greatly admired, a number of people who have been able to make a living by writing. This is usually done by writing dull, routine stuff – formula fiction, nonfiction that a particular market demands. I wish I could do that, but my perceptions are so twisted that straight reportage comes out like surrealistic constructions, and when I try to hack genre stuff I get called avant garde! This does not get you regular, paying writing gigs.
I used to fret over the fact that I had get a day job, and was denied the life of a true professional, but as the years went by, to my horror, I noticed my friends who made money as writers, were subjected to hard times, health problems (without insurance), and never seemed to get ahead enough to get comfortable. I’d think someone was a prime example of the solid pro writer, then discover that they were practically homeless.
Also, as bizarre as it may seem, what’s always been the easiest things for me to sell is the weirdest, most offbeat stuff. No one has ever told me, "If you could just tone it down a little." It’s more like, "Hey, Ernest, ya got anything really sicko?"

This is because, writing is a crazy business. Don’t be fooled into thinking that this is some kind of civilized activity.

I once heard Kristine Kathryn Rusch mention "scary Zen writing stuff" that she didn’t want to talk about. Actually, it’s more like voodoo, but only if you’re doing it right. I’m willing to talk about it. It’ll be scary, but good for some laughs.

To be continued . . .

Saturday, August 8, 2009


Last summer, Em and I, and some friends from Tucson (he’s an inventor and his wife is a DNA analyst) rented a gas-guzzling monstrosity, and headed for Denver WorldCon by way of the National Parks in Utah. After the roadtrip, the WorldCon was a disappointment – the science fiction world is a wasteland these days – but all that fantastic geologic splendor ! Talk about inspiration. Em got an idea for a novel and wrote over ten thousand words on the road and at the con. I got some ideas for my Nanohudu Mars stories.

But then, that’s not what I’m getting at here.

I kept noticing this leafy weed-like vine growing by the side of the road. It had white flowers that had fang/horn-like things sticking out of its petals. It looked a lot like datura, the infamous hallucinogenic plant that the Mayans used in enemas that made them feel as if they were flying with strange winged creatures, like what Tahir Shah wrote about in Trail of Feathers.

"That looks like datura," I said.

Em mentioned a similar-looking plant that it could have been. I was willing to go with it. Hell, I’m not an expert on such things.

Later, on a tour bus through Zion National Park, the driver mentioned the funny white flowers. She them "sacred datura." She also warned us against touching the flowers because they are highly poisonous.

I kept an eye out, and kept seeing datura growing wild and flourishing, and the roadside, in National Parks, even among the decorative plants along the main street of Moab. I thought about the Mayan datura enema while eating in two restaurants that had the diabolical plant growing in front of them. One of the restaurants even offered some Mayan dishes.

Which all makes me wonder . . . with all the blood and money being spent on the War on Drugs, and a useful plant like hemp hunted down as Weed With Roots In Hell, why is it that the Devil’s Trumpet grows wild all over Utah?

Also, why isn’t there a datura problem that government has to crack down on? Is the Mormon influence so powerful that a few verbal warnings – there was not one sign posted anywhere – are enough to keep an otherwise drug-crazy consumer culture from coming in and going wild? Since when do Americans have that much self-control?
Thinking about this triggers the What’s Wrong With This Picture reflex in my brain. Could it be that something the authorities have been saying about human nature all through the Twentieth Century is wrong? Or maybe the fantastic landscapes of Utah are so amazing that hallucinogenic drugs become somehow irrelevant?

No wonder WorldCon seemed dull.

Thursday, August 6, 2009


For a supposedly hot-shot science fiction writer who keeps getting thrown into the "cyberpunk" subcategory, I have a lot of problems adjusting to new technologies. I can’t work with computers without uttering profanity, or at least talking to myself. I was pulled into the Information Age kicking and screaming all the way.

I don’t know why. Maybe it’s the dyslexia. Maybe it’s my tendencies toward primitivism. Or that fact that I just tend not to fit in.

Anyway, I struggle with new technologies. The results are often amusing. That’s why I document them. We could all use the laughs.

A few weeks ago, I blogged about Guillermo Gómez-Peña, and found that when I pasted it into Blogger, there was a blank space. I tried cutting and pasting from WordPerfect, but it didn’t work. I was frustrated, but struggled on.

A few days ago, I was blogging about Alejandro Jodorowsky, and felt the need to mention Luis Buñuel. Oh no! The dreaded ñ problema! Just out of pure optimism, I tried cutting and pasting – and it worked!

I rejoiced, started an early version of this post, but the ñ wouldn’t paste in! I went to work, and did a lot of talking to myself. I tried not to think about it.

It’s like Tezcatlipoca was living in my computer, messing with me, putting me in a weakened state in which he could hijack my body for a diabolical joyride. If I hadn’t already written that book, I’d be making notes.

On the way home, it hit me: This isn’t a word processing problem, it’s an HTML problem. I should look in Blogger’s HTML mode, make note of the code, and use that in the future.

Then I thought, hey, there are probably HTML codes for all kinds of multinational symbols. I grabbed a reference book that was kicking around the house, rifled through it, and found a couple of pages full of codes for all kinds of symbols. Even the good ol’ inverted exclamation point. ¡Ay!

Now I can blog about Guillermo Gómez-Peña, Claude Lalumèire, déjà vû, revoluçion, and microöndas to my heart's content!

I was thinking that if I could just figure out how to do the inverted exclamation point, and even the question mark, I would be un muchacho alegre, as the old corrido goes . . .

So another day later, I started to work at the laptop, poked around in the Insert box in WordPrefect, and there, in the Typographic Symbols set, was my old friend ¡ and next to it was ¿

¡I’m feeling triumphant! One small step for a Chicano . . . hey . . . ¿Is that Tezcatlipoca I hear?

Sunday, August 2, 2009


Normally, I hesitate when people ask me what favorite anything is. My brain just doesn’t work that way. I don’t walk around with lists of things in any kind of order that kick in when some numbskull asks me a dumb question. I know it frustrates unimaginative interviewers, but it’s just the way I am.

There is one exception. Go ahead, ask me who my favorite filmmaker is. I dare you!

Okay, since you’re being so bitchy about it, my favorite filmmaker is Alejandro Jordorowsky!

If you’re familiar with my work, it shouldn’t be much of a surprise. There’s a certain preference for surrealistic imagery, and iconoclastic themes, boldly presented with a vicious sense of humor. If you could look into my mind it would look a lot like a Jodorowsky film.

It probably has to do with the fact that we’re both cultural mongrels intruding on Western and Latin American civilizations. That and when I first encountered Salvador Dalí and other surrealists at a tender pre-adolescent age, my reaction was, "Been there, done that. I understand this stuff."

When it comes to applying a surrealist sensibility to film, Jodorowsky is the master.

Buñuel was the great innovator. Fellini defined the form. But both these guy often suffered from European "artistic" attitude that makes their films more academic exercises than ecstatic entertainment. David Lynch and other newbies tend to suffer from the same flaw. None of them can hang surrealistic imagery on a framework that makes it seem to have a story, even when the story is being deconstructed before your very eyes.

That’s what happens in The Holy Mountain, the delirious countercultural romp that seems to search for enlightenment, but mostly sends you soaring on a wild trip that lands you back in the real world. Okay, so the real world doesn’t look the same afterward, did you really want it to? For me, this movie does what I ask of art – and it’s like wandering around Mexico City and the Yucatán, "light-headed and little out of touch with reality" as the Firesign Theater once so aptly put it.

El Topo deserves to be one of the great classics of all time for the "too much perfection is a mistake" scene alone. Forget about Star Wars, this is the greatest Hero’s Journey of all time! The Wild West fucks and fights the Mystic East as Hollywood clichés disintegrate across a Mexican landscape where myths and dreams are alive and kicking.

Fando y Lis is a peculiar apocalyptic vision. The two innocent title characters are doomed from the start, but the dying world they pass through is so richly detailed and alive that it overshadows their tragedy. Something dies, something else is being born. This is what Un Chien Andalou becomes when it grows up.

Don’t take my word for it. See these movies and set your mind free. The world will be a better place. Or at least a more interesting one.