Sunday, February 28, 2010


The snow that had fallen on Bisbee had vanished the next morning. The Storm Goddess giveth, the Sun God taketh away.

Over pancakes we discussed the underground cities and cave hotels of Cappadocia with a guy from Turkey. Then it was one last drive down Tombstone Canyon, and off to Kartchner Caverns. A mutilated jackrabbit decorated the roadside.

Along Highway 90 we saw lots of Border Patrol, like a convention. They weren’t really doing anything, just sitting there in marked vehicles ready to go. I was glad I was driving with my wife and mother-in-law and not a troupe of illegals and a bale of marijuana strapped to the roof.

While ogling the fantastic mountains -- we seem to find them everywhere -- Em mentioned that she will have to carry a small amount of diluted hydrochloric acid so she can identify rocks. I imagined being on another vacation with her, surrounded by tourists, and her suddenly saying, “Ernie! Where’s my acid? Did we bring enough acid with us?” Depending on who was around we would either be arrested or they would try to talk us into buying ecstasy instead.

Maybe I should buy a Border Patrol cap and wear it while traveling, to avoid suspicion.

By the time we reached Kartchner Caverns, the sky had become a complicated, crowded cloudscape that occasionally dropped grey curtains of rains on distant vistas and light sprays across the windshield. The Discovery Center and the Cavern Tour were wonderful, but then, I’m a sucker for a place were you can get face-to-face with a replica of a giant sloth.

The cavern was another incredible world. A rare living cave -- which means it has water flowing through it and causing geological formations to grow -- it was hot and humid inside while it was cold outside. The formations were magnificent. You can tell they are “alive.” While looking at them, you get the impression that they are looking back. And when you look past them into the blackness . . . you know why geologists say it's a “living” cave.

The tour climaxed with a spectacular sound & light show that managed not to seem like typical tourist hokum. But then, its star, Kubla Kahn, the largest cave column in Arizona, is truly astounding, more magnificent than Max Ernst’s similar creations. I was expecting an experience out of Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth -- and I was not disappointed. The discoverers of the caverns called it Xanadu to keep it secret, and Kubla Kahn and his kingdom tell us that fantastic subterranean worlds do exist.

Someday we will travel “Through caverns measureless to man/down to a sunless sea”, like Samuel Taylor Coleridge described in his poem. If not on Earth, maybe on another planet.

Water exists on the Moon, Mars, and even Mercury. Could they also have living caves?

And what about the planets that have other liquids?

On the way home past Benson, there was a little more rain, another dead jackrabbit, and another Border Patrol car.

Thursday, February 25, 2010


Bisbee is a tough, Western town with copper-mining roots, hanging on like a stubborn ghost with eccentric houses and buildings somehow not getting blown off the jagged hills by winds so gritty they blows rocks up your nose. It's a dream perched on an inhospitable landscape. Can it survive as tourist/art town through these troubled times?

We saw a lot of 20% and 50% off sales, and GOING OUT OF BUSINESS signs. Also FOR RENT and FOR SALE signs. Then there were the boarded up, abandoned businesses.

Part of the problem is, the streets are more interesting than the innards of the art galleries: Up a twisting backstreet, green copper angels guard a green copper gate. Jesus in a mural announces that the parking is for employees only. A slick Virgin of Guadalupe has the words, MOTORCYCLE PARKING painted at her feet. A gay-looking statue of a half-naked copper miner minces as his metal skin peels away. The Mining and Historical Museum’s bookshop sold novels by Paco Ignacio Taibo II and an academic paper on Apache witchcraft.

This would be a great place to make a low budget, neo-surrealistic independent movie. Maybe I should write a screenplay, or a story. Urban fantasy, magic realism, the New Wild West, my idea for a Mars colony . . . of course, I’d have to do some research . . .

Driving is difficult -- we witnessed an accident across from the Lavender Pit, and finding a parking place is always an adventure. I fantasized about someone buying old buildings, tearing them down to make parking lots, and becoming a hero to the tourists. Sometimes paradise needs parking lots!

At one point, Em’s mom lost her sunglasses. Later, they mysteriously reappeared in her purse. Em blamed mine gremlins.

In an antique store, I found Black Fury by Joseph Hanzel, a 1976 Holloway House paperback with a killer blurb: “He was a Black cog in Whitey’s grinding, dehumanizing machine -- until he exploded like a tortured animal.” And there was William B. Seabrook’s Jungle Ways -- the book in which he describes what it was like to eat human flesh with an African witch doctor. A clipping about it was in my copy of his Magic Island. More than coincidence? Loas at work? Tezcatlipoca again?

On the Queen Mine Tour, the guide who used to work in the mine reminded me of my grandfather. His knowledge of the minerals in the walls and how to set up dynamite to blast out tunnels was impressive. When we returned to the surface of the Earth, torrential rain fell on us -- it soon turned into snow.

It cleared up by the time we went back to Santiago’s for dinner. There was a long wait because of a big party that got bigger. It was good to see a business doing well. That may be what to hope for in the future.

A bumpersitcker said, KEEP BISBEE BIZARRE. That should be easy. In this town, bizarreness is a survival trait.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


We drove past old hippies who were hitchhiking along Highway 90. They looked like they had been trying to catch a ride since 1974, stuck in a time warp. Overhead, military aircraft patrolled.

On Buffalo Soldier Trail I saw a large SUPPORT OUT TROOPS sign and rambling anti-war signs: SAVE LIVES -- BRING THE TROOPS HOME -- AFGHANISTAN IS A NEVERENDING WAR . . . This trip is taking on a lost counterculture/outback radical tone.

I did notice on our last venture that you run into fewer rednecks on the road these days, even in Arizona. Where did they go? Did UFOs abduct them?

Could these same UFOs be taking away Arizona’s illegal aliens?

Bisbee is like a psychedelic-colored chunk of San Francisco transplanted to the rocky hills just North of the Mexican border, a Wild West post-modern vision of utopia with occasional boarded-up failed businesses. Colorful architectural whimsy snuggled into colorful geological reality and colorful scars of industry past.

The landscape -- including the big hole in the ground from the mine -- were geology porn that made Em sigh.

In an antique store, while Em was trying on pants, I found Gumbo Ya-Ya, a book I’ve been chasing down for about thirty years. I kept finding it in the bibliographies of books on voodoo. The loas and Tezcatipoca were with us. Bisbee is their kind of town.

Outside, we passed a line of people standing on the sidewalk. At first, I thought they were waiting for a bus. Then I noticed the sign: WOMEN IN BLACK STANDING UP AGAINST THE WAR. They were dressed in black. Some of them appeared to be men. They were blocking the way into the Bank of America -- the closest thing they had to local office of the Mlitary Industrial Complex -- on a Friday night. They flashed the two-finger peace sign. No one seemed to notice them. These things just don’t seem meaningful unless someone is lobbing tear-gas canisters. Just another quaint, local ritual that could become a tourist attraction if it goes on long enough.

In Santiago’s, more aging hippies in tie-dyes and other nostalgic regalia ate Mexican food like it was another decade.

The twisting streets are disorienting. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a time warp or two. Maybe a mad scientist holed up in a brightly painted shack hanging to the side of the mountain has developed an energy-efficient time machine.

That night at the School House Inn, an actual old school turned into a bed & breakfast, way the hell up in Tombstone Canyon, I read Werewolves of War by Desmond W. Hall, from the February 1931 Astounding Stories on my iTouch. In it, the heroic suicide bomber saves America from invading Slavs by destroying conquered San Francisco with a “flying torpedo” armed with “an adaptation of that discovery of . . . cosmic attraction. Eventually, perhaps, it will permit interplanetary travel.” Nuclear power and suicide bombing predicted in one story. It was an action-packed, rip-snortin’ yarn, too. Just what I needed that night.

Thursday, February 18, 2010


I caught Avatar the other day. I was impressed by the spectacular effects. A real sci-fi eye fry. Too bad they couldn’t come up with a better script -- too bad we’re still saying this about Hollywood’s well-financed flights of fantasy.

It was probably too bad I saw it after following the goings-on in the Sambadromes via the Web. Talk about sci-fi eye fry of a different kind . . .

It’s as if all the cultures of the world -- Africa, Asia, Las Américas, Europe, and even Hollywood -- got together to have a party in celebration of what our species has been up to on this planet.

Maybe we need to collect these images of Carnival and Sambadrome, and beam them out into space to give anyone out there an idea of what we’re all about.

Friday, February 12, 2010


The weekend has come. The Sambadromes are ready. The time-honored ritual is set to begin: Carnival, the big party before the Catholic holiday Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent, when you’re supposed to give up something until Easter.

Ash Wednesday is not very fun, getting some ashes smeared on your forehead in preparation for weeks of self-denial, so Carnival has become a big deal all over the world, with paganism bubbling up through the mix. In some places it has developed into something powerful and strange that goes beyond the original meaning. In Brazil it’s mutated into a world of its own.

Imagine Thanksgiving Day parades all over the country, happening all weekend, with the organizations that make the floats and outfits competing with the bands and dancers, so it has a World Series/Superbowl intensity. Not only is there international media coverage, but the tiny cameras that are carried everywhere take it global. You don’t have to go to Brazil -- Google and Youtube can make any part of the planet into a Sambadrome.

Not only is the Carnival getting into the technology -- the technology is getting into the Carnival. A new kind of street-level macumba is plugged into a satellite-connected Web. This is more than William Gibson’s “the street finds its own use for things," but Carnival is taking over the street, and through cyberspace, asserting itself into the real world.

More of the floats include large moving figures, like giant robot gods. Well, actually they’re more like automatons – they don’t have cybernetic brains, yet. It won’t be long though. Pretty soon giant robots gods will patrol the landscape, doing their god stuff. Maybe, if we take care of them, they’ll take care of us.

Meanwhile, this weekend, I’ll be tuning in to the Sambadrome spectacle, looking out for glimpses of the new world that’s coming, to a lively, energetic beat.

Thursday, February 11, 2010


. . . so when we got home later that day, there was an e-mail saying that I sold another story. This one is called "Plan 9 in Outer Space," I co-wrote it with my wife Emily, and it asked the question, "Can a guy obsessed with Ed Wood find happiness with zombies on a spaceship?" It will appear in the anthology Space Horror: Full Throttle Space Tales from Flying Pen Press.

By the way, "The Great Mars-A-Go-Go Mexican Standoff" is about a detective wearing a Godzilla suit, trapped in stateroom of an interplanetary luxury liner with a bunch of dangerous thugs and a woman who has found a bold new way to get ahead in the Solar System.

I'd say their both kinda surrealistic and cartoony.

My confidence is way the hell up there, so I've printed out another story and sent it out to another market. And I'll finish up the story I'm working on, and send it out next week.

There will be more to come . . .

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


This just in . . . my story "The Great Mars-A-Go-Go Mexican Standoff" has just sold to Tales of the Talisman. It'll be in the December 2010 issue. Stay tuned for more exciting details!

Monday, February 8, 2010


I had a story rejected for being “too surrealistic and cartoony.” That phrase is a good capsule description of my professional life. It also brings me to the touchy subject of just what the hell am I trying to do with myself.

Am I a science fiction writer? I seem to have acquired all the proper credentials. My résumé is so full of publications with “science fiction” as part of their titles that it's hard for me to claim not to be. I speak fluent science fiction, but then I also speak fluent redneck.

During my childhood in the Dick/Zappa/Cheech/Chong suburbs East of L.A., I adopted science fiction as a strategy for dealing with a forever warping environment. After making friends with the monsters I saw on KHJ Channel Nine’s Strange Tales of Science Fiction, I could deal with hippies, bikers, Jesus freaks, and vegetarians.

But if the going got really rough, and I found myself surrounded by Authority Figures who wanted to restructure my identity for my own good, I had a secret weapon that always sent them heading for cover, the aesthetic nuclear option: Surrealism. Pull out a monster from my id, and those who would lobotomize me, leave me alone.

So, why didn’t I devote myself to surrealism? I’m a working class Chicano. Surrealism, though part of my Hispanic heritage, is a high-brow fine-art thing. My encounters with that world were never satisfying. They didn’t seem to really like surrealism, and I need a way to make a living – I couldn’t afford their pretensions. And there aren’t any commercial outlets for surrealism – less than for science fiction.

And as for that literary relative, magic realism – nobody seems to know what it is, or care, much less make a buck or two off of it.

People see me, don’t understand, and say, “sci-fi.” It’s not as bad as other things I’ve been called.

Now the world of science fiction is in turmoil. The corporate takeover of the last generation is undergoing rapid decay. It’s also clear that all these decades after Star Wars, most people still don’t know what this genre is supposed to be.

Alejandro Jodorowsky started his career trying to be the savior of surrealism, until he realized that he had to go beyond it. If you look at most of what’s called “surrealism” these days, it has little to do the Marxist/Freudian theorizing that started the original movement. And new discoveries about how the brain works show that early Twentieth Century notions about the “subconscious” don’t go far enough.

So, is “science fiction,” as I got to know it fifty years ago, relevant to postmodern life? The environment keeps warping. And people are more afraid of the future than ever before.

Meanwhile, technology continues to make everything more surrealistic and cartoony. My day will come. Soon. When the labels come off, the plastic all melts, and chrome gets too soft.

Thursday, February 4, 2010


“Alas, I’m afraid our magazine is, indeed, dead. Dead, dead, dead! JFK, Elivs, Ulysses S. Grant-level-deceased!” This is according to Michael Langnas, editor of Murdaland: Crime Fiction for the 21st Century. And it’s a big, fat, hemorrhaging shame.

It only lasted two, book-sized issues. It was also the only fiction magazine in a few decades that compelled me to read it from cover-to-cover, including the ads.

They were a couple of damn good issues.

And what crime fiction! The latest from the neo-noir crowd, graduates from the literary mags, members of various ethnic groups, and some tough dames. I was particularly impressed by the inclusion of Argentine Rolo Diez and ex-Sandanista rebel Paolo Madrigal, who “refused payment in American dolars and would only accept a case of Quixote Rum.”

They even had the good taste to reprint classic hardboiled writers like David Goodis, and Don Carpenter.

“Crime Fiction for the 21st Century” didn’t limit them to modern crime. Two of their best pieces were excerpts from Westerns: Smonk by Tom Franklin, which not only revolutionizes the genre, but will give horror and steampunk fans a run for their money (if someone ever makes a movie of it, watch out!), and The Drop Edge of Yonder by Rudolph Wurlitzer, who wrote the screenplay for Peckinpah’s Pat Garret & Billy the Kid.

Murdaland was a mutation, a twisted experiment, the soul of a pulp magazine implanted into the body of a literary journal. Bookstores put it with those dull journals, where the pulp fans wouldn’t find it, and the literary types wrinkled their noses at the pudgy gun-toters on the covers. It became another victim of the Great Cultural Collapse (still in progress).

As Hunter S. Thompson said about Oscar Zeta Acosta, “too weird to live and too rare to die.”

But it’s dead, like Acosta, Thompson, JFK, Elvis, and Ulysses S. Grant.

We can only hope that in the struggle to survive the next few decades, more brave souls can hack out a bit of breathing room for such glorious mutations.

But meanwhile, you can still buy these two issues -- I'm getting the urge to re-read them myself. I suggest you do so fast. The supply won’t last forever, and time is running out. And we don’t know when the next magazine of this kind will appear -- if it ever does.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


Back in 1970, I stood up late to watch a new show, Fright Night, on KHJ-TV channel 9, in Los Angeles, California, not knowing what to expect. I liked monster movies (this includes the entire science fiction/fantasy/horror megagenre), and was starting to read science fiction books and magazines. None of this prepared me for what I was about to experience.

It was hosted by Seymour (played by Larry Vincent), the “Master of the Macabre, Epitome of Evil, the Most Sinister Man to Crawl on the Face of the Earth.” He made fun of the whole scary movie idea, including him being there, and us, the audience at home watching. This attack on the absurdity of it all was like the straight-laced world of television letting its hair down and getting real for a change. Later I was wise-cracking like Seymour in the halls of Edgewood High School.

The movie started: Snake People, starring Boris Karloff, a low-budget American/Mexican production, one of several that Jack Hill directed, some scenes shot in Hollywood, while others were shot in Mexico City. Karloff was on the verge of death, and quite convincing as the mad scientist/voodoo cultist.

I don’t remember any of Seymour’s jokes, but images from this “trash” movie etched themselves into my consciousness. For a few decades, I hunted for the movie on late night TV, on videocassette, and later on DVD. I began to wonder if I had somehow fabricated this adolescent memory.

Then, in one of my last weeks working at Borders, I was frustrated from everything going wrong and searching through the back room for a DVD that wasn’t there, when I let my eyes wander to a shelf. And there, I saw a box set called Boris Karloff Horror Collection that included Snake People. Sometimes, when you let go, what you desire comes to you . . .

Seeing this movie (AKA Isle of the Snake People, Isle of the Living Dead, and La Muerte Viviente) after all these years, took me back to the near-religious experience of that first viewing. It’s not the sort of high-tech extravaganza that today’s audiences expect, even in a “cheap” horror film, but the decor and atmosphere is pure, delirious voodoo.

Yeah, it gets the names right, and all the details wrong, but the magnificent Tongolélé with her snake in those steamy voodoo rituals reveals certain truths that should always remain self-evident.

Vid Funkenstein | MySpace Video

And the zombie brides and cannibal women are more interesting than all the Romeroesque zombies that clog today’s pop culture.

It put me on a path that eventually had me reading Ishmael Reed’s Mumbo Jumbo, Wade Davis’ The Serpent and the Rainbow, and Zora Neale Hurston’s Tell My Horse. And listening to Miles Davis, Koko Taylor, and Fela Anikulapo Kuti.

Sometimes the loas speak through people like Boris Karloff, Tongolélé, and Seymour. Than can also come through television, or the device on which you read this.