Sunday, May 30, 2010


I may never make it to Mars, but I can always visit Utah. Zion National Park gets Martian right away, then takes you to unexpected places. Science fiction turns to fantasy, then to mythic reality. When you return home, everything is different.

Past the stone stairway, before the Zion Tunnel, I washed my hands in pink sand that melted away to nothing. This trail twisted through rock castles and cathedrals, and arches where invisible gods sat and observed like New World Buddhas.

In the park a quiet trail led to The Grotto -- then it became the Great Wall of China, twisting up Max Ernst mountains, up a Himalayan wind-tunnel, around a sharp, rocky corner that cut off the wind. There was an oasis in the sky, full of desert flowers, and a bridge built for adventurers.

Suddenly, we’re in a lost world, a landscape painted centuries ago by a Chinese master. Did we find a magic portal to Asia? Was that a yeti screaming? Or a teenager? Or a teenage yeti?

Is that the perfume of Shangri-La I smell? Is Shangri-La somewhere off the trail? But the trail is challenging. Going off it could prove deadly.

Somehow, all the switchbacks, up, down, and around these dancing mountains that we just have to do again when we reach the top do not do us in. We are energized by this place. Hearts pound, spirits rise as we return to America, and Planet Earth.

Back in Kanab, Utah’s Little Hollywood, we ate again at Huston’s Trail’s End.

This time we sat next to a half-sized statue of the famous “Trail’s End” image -- the sad Indian on horse, slumping with his spear, mourning the fate of his land and people. His braids stuck out, blown by a non-existent wind, which made them look like antennae. The Indian was taking on the aspect of a Martian. The process was happening long before Pixar started filming John Carter of Mars in Utah.

These antediluvian rocks cry out for transformation, which is still going on, only too slow for us mortals to notice.

On the way out I saw that they also sell toy six-guns with pretty, pink, plastic holsters. You too can be a postmodern cowgirl. Yippee-ay-yo-tai-yay, mijitas!

And I only saw one, lone, flowering datura plant beside the road today. They’re not really necessary in this mind-bending landscape.

Thursday, May 27, 2010


Arizona is bizarre by nature. It’s why I love living here.

Lately it’s gotten downright dystopian. New laws are beyond Orwell, more paranoid than Philip K. Dick, pushing into Kafka country. Beside the immigration and ethnic studies absurdities, there’s the ban on human/animal hybrids.

I keep imagining some poor guy finding a mermaid in his backyard after a freakish thunderstorm. She gasps for salt water. He offers to drive her to Rocky Point and the Sea of Cortez. A neighbor sees him helping her into his car. Soon an incredible array of government agencies are closing in . . .

And soon we won’t need permits to carry concealed firearms. Wyatt Earp wouldn’t like it, but Emiliano Zapata would approve. I'll feel nostalgic for the days when I could see the holstered pistols of my fellow shoppers.

Sometimes you have to get away from your everyday environment. The road gives you new perspectives.

Soon we were out from under the smog of the Metro Phoenix Area, and passing the Bassass BBQ Steakhouse. Ah, sweet, weird Americana! The Centipede God shed his grace on thee.

I had trouble negotiating the diabolical traffic circle at the turn off to Montezuma Castle. It kept trying to redirect us to a Yavapai-Apache-owned casino. Franz, did you hitch a ride?

Montezuma Castle isn’t really a castle and probably didn’t belong to Montezuma. It’s a sophisticated, five-story cliff-dwelling built by the people who have come to be known as the Sinagua. It was built in the early 1300s and abandoned in the 1400s. It’s young for a Southwestern ruin. Volcanic eruptions and climate change may be the reason the people left, but there’s no way to be sure. This was the same centuries that the people who would later be called the Aztecs went to the Valley of Mexico on the advice of a talking idol.

People of the Southwest (AKA Aztlán) tend to migrate, hit the road, move.

The next day we visited the older Sinaguan ruins in Walnut Canyon. We had visited them before, but I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of these cliff-dwellings in a vertical forest. They weren’t frosted with snow, and still seemed like an earthly paradise.

Did the Sinaguans leave here for Montezuma Castle, or Mexico? Do our highways follow the paths of their migration trails? Only the petroglyphs know for sure.

At the Anasazi Restaurant in Gray Mountain we indulged in Navajo tacos. Then the landscape got psychedelic. Rocks and mountains jumbled by cosmic forces had stories to tell. Was that the ghost of Max Ernst on the ancient motorcycle?

Finally, in Kanab, Utah we ate next to a neon cowboy boot at Houston’s Trail’s End. They also sold synthetic coonskin caps and wooden rubber-band rifles: Postmodern relics of later migrations, other road trips, younger myths. There are myths all over the Wild West, old ones haunting the landscape, new ones being born, according to a tradition over twelve thousand years old.

Monday, May 17, 2010


Check out this interview with me on Elinor Mavor's blog.

I'm on a crazy road trip right now. I'll blog about it soon.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


You can read it at DayBreak Magazine. It’s another adventure of Victor Theremin. Like “Human Sacrifice for Fun and Profit” I practically pulled it out of thin air.

This was another story that grew out an e-mail request from an editor. This time from Jetse de Vries. He asked for an optimistic near-future story for his anthology Shine.

I didn’t know what do, but got to work. Even though I’m a skeptic and a trickster, I essentially an optimist. I had to do something.

Once again I gathered some weird stuff from my brain: The idea of an science fiction writer from the old days being suicidal over how the twenty-first century turned out, some visions of Moab, Utah, and then there was Victor Theremin and his universe. It cooked an popped in record time.

It wasn’t quite a slam-dunk: Jetse didn’t accept it for Shine (which is out, and I highly recommend -- I’m reading it slowly -- it’s making me think, and rethink -- watch for some postings here soon), but wanted it for DayBreak. Which is okay, I think that Victor Theremin works better in an online medium.

And suddenly, the writer biz is buzzing again, going electronic, giving me all kinds of things to do. Victor, is that you? I seem to have stumbled into a new kind of voodoo when I crossed this frontier.

Monday, May 10, 2010


Victor Theremin is a fictional character I created. I’m pretty sure I created him. Pretty sure. I think.

It started with an e-mail from someone doing an anthology. That’s the way I usually sell things these days -- I have a reputation. In this case it was James Palmer. His anthology was Voices for the Cure, it was to be released via Lulu at DragonCon, and all proceeds would go to the American Diabetes Association.

There would be no pay, but pay for short fiction is hard to come by these days. Besides, it was for charity, and was a chance for me to check how print-on-demand worked without shelling out any money of my own. All I had to do was come up with a story.

The problem was I didn’t have one. And the deadline was in few weeks.

Luckily, I’m me. The way I’ve lived for the last five decades, I’m in the habit of accumulating all kinds of weird stuff in my brain. I could say that’s from my extensive training to be a professional writer and artist, but it’s the just the way I amuse myself. And it does come in handy.

If I need a story, I grab some of this weird stuff, stitch it together, and hopefully (when zapped with enough energy), the monster comes to life. Then all I have to do is take notes on the havoc it wreaks upon the landscape.

I didn’t have much. There was a phrase, “Human sacrifice for fun and profit,” that I thought would make a good title. I also thought that Victor Theremin, the first commercially produced electronic musical instrument, would make a good character name. And I had just read Rudy Rucker’s collection Mad Professor, which had me thinking about the state of the art of science fiction and the Singularity issue.

And it worked. After coming up with an opening line, I started writing without any real idea of where it would go. The monsters from my id came out to play. In a few days I had a story.

As I’ve often told Em, “Short stories are like a bout of the flu -- novels are like demonic possession.”

I felt good, like I had pulled off what I had heard Ray Bradbury and Harlan Ellison brag about decades ago.

James liked the story and put it in the anthology. You can still buy it and read it.

The bizarre thing is, Victor Theremin had taken on a life of his own. I first envisioned him as being like Kilgore Trout, but he’s turned out to be more like Raoul Duke, saying dangerous things that should be said, but that are too out there to really be anybody’s opinion.

I’ve written more about him. I can’t seem to help it. I even sold another story about him.

I’m not sure who’s in control here. Maybe, in an alternate universe, Victor Theremin is writing about Ernest Hogan.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010


Lots of Norteamericos don’t know what Cinco de Mayo is about. Some of them started celebrating (and drinking) on May 1st. And the way things are going in 2010, I don’t blame them -- and Xochipilli would approve. But this bizarre cultural anomaly has a lot more to it than nachos and Margaritas.

First, it’s not Mexican Independence Day. That’s the 16th of September. Cinco got the North-of-the-Border recognition because it’s easier for Anglos to say than “Dieciséis de Septiembre.”

What really happened on the 5th of May in 1862 was the Battle of Puebla, one of the few military actions in Mexican history that didn’t involve Mexicans on both sides. And beating Napoleon’s army was no small feat.

A big part of the celebration in Mexico are reenactments of the battle. Last year the one near Mexico City was canceled due to fears about the H1N1. Fortunately, other towns did not succumb to the cowardice.

These reenactments are spectacular. There are costumes, makeup, guns, and machetes. And lots of action and excitement.

The guys who look like alternate-universe Arabs are supposed to be Napoleon’s troops. The ones painted black in the colorful peasant outfits represent the Zacapoaxtlas: Mestizos and Zapotecs led by General Ignacio Zaragoza.

Yeah, I know, Americanos find the black paint disturbing. The alternative would have been to have the French paint themselves white, which would not have been any less strange. Imagine Uncle Tom’s Cabin with an all-Latino cast in either black or whiteface. There is an undeniable racial angle to this ritual: It is the fantasy of defeating the white invaders, a different American dream.

Some of the Zacapoaxtlas are wearing low-cut blouses and dresses. These represent women, soldaderas -- like Ignacia Reacy, who was a commander of the Lancers of Jalisco until she was killed in action in 1866. They are played by men because of a local tribal tradition.

This is a twisted expression of Mexican macho: “Ey! Gabachos! I’m gonna paint myself black, put on a dress, and kick your butts!”

There is also something of ritual cross-dressing that evokes supernatural power in cultures around the planet. The way they swagger in those dresses, mustachios bristling, chicken feet in their teeth . . . there’s a bit of voodoo there.

The voodoo grows and mutates, like the monster-filled Cinco de Mayo parade from the town of Zacapoaxtla. Creatures of the past live again, creating a lively future.

I’d like to see these reenactments added to the drinking, eating, mariachis music, Aztec dancers, and political statements of our Norteamericano celebrations. It would be fun, and would help to enlighten people in the wake of Arizona Immigration Law SB1070 as to what’s really been happening on this continent all these glorious centuries.