Thursday, July 22, 2010


While everybody else seemed to be tooting their vuvuzelas over the World Cup, I was enjoying La Fiesta De San Fermin. This is hard to explain in the Anglo culture of Norteamerica, with its strong Puritan and animalista tendencies. Most folks here see the blood, but not the spirituality. In America, people prefer their spirituality, like their meat, quietly killed in locked rooms far away -- drained of the blood, cut up, sealed in plastic, and frozen.

Bull running and bullfighting are taboo subjects here. Hemingway only scratches the surface in The Sun Also Rises, and apologizes all through Death in the Afternoon. I do not apologize for my interest in this fascinating human tradition, which is about more than bulls.

If a science fiction writer invented San Fermin it would be considered a masterpiece. No imagined “alien” culture is as rich and strange as this. It’s only reasonable that it should thrive on the Internet, where I follow it. Someday there will be a satellite TV channel with 24-hour coverage.

Meanwhile there’s always

This year the bulls kicked ass. Before the fiesta started in Pamplona -- even before PETA’s psuedo-naked protest-that-has-become an opening ceremony -- a young man was gored to death in a bull run in the small town of Fuentesauco in Northern Spain. Yes, they run with bulls in other places. There were no deaths during the fiesta, but plenty of injuries. Like the protests, these are well covered online.

A record was made for the fastest encierro (run) in history. It wasn’t as interesting as the “chaotic” one the next day, when a bull broke away and caused mayhem in the streets like a scene from a monster movie before entering the ring. This is why a non-sports fan like me loves this stuff: Aesthetics are more important than statistics.

But then, this isn’t sport. It’s ritual.

Skyyjohn has not only done his best to break the race barrier, but has called attention to the fact that women are running with the bulls. I hadn’t noticed until I saw his video, then checked others -- and say that yes, not only are gals wearing the white clothes and red scarf, but they're running. One girl got her tank top ripped away by a horn.

There were also men dressed as women. It must take a special kind of courage to run with bulls in drag. And there was a homoerotic theme to their frolicking.

And Mister Testis, the big, blue cartoon bull with the big, blue balls, is there to entertain the kiddies. It’s like Disneyland with tits, ass, blood, guts, and cojones.

It’s human tradition. As Richard Wright said in Pagan Spain: “Somehow the pagan streams of influence flowing from the Goths, the Greeks, the Jews, the Romans, the Iberians, the Moors lingered strongly on, and vitally on, flourishing under the draperies of the twentieth century.”

I’m delighted to see them flourishing in the Twenty-First Century.

Thursday, July 15, 2010


The day before WesterCon we took a tour of Jet Propulsion Laboratory. It’s Space City, California -- with lots of huge liquid nitrogen tanks and its own police force -- a NASA installation founded by rocketeers that’s becoming more like Disneyland as time goes on. Could a space theme park sponsor its own interplanetary explorations? The clean room where they were building the next Mars Rover with its Chuck Jones/Wile E. Coyote landing system and mission control were part of both history and the future.

After that, I felt ready for a science fiction convention.

The lobby was a Free Wi-Fi pit. There I talked to guest of honor Rudy Rucker. He put the idea in my head of writing a story about SB 1070 in Arizona. It took root and started growing . . .

The Martian jungle-ish Desert Garden of the Huntington Museum was a science fiction experience. “This is like being on Mars!” blurted a young man. Later we went back with Rudy and his wife Sylvia. This time Em brought her camera. Rudy took some pictures of us.

Old Pasadena -- pre-Deco architecture peeks through post-modern pretensions with the occasional boarded-up business reminding us of the decaying economy. The architectural time warp of Colorado Boulevard has plenty of café/bakeries. We found Indian and Mexican food far better than the overpriced snacks at the hotel.

There were not many books in the dealer room, though I did buy some Michael Moorcock and Norman Spinrad paperbacks out of nostalgia for the good old New Wave. I did a lot of reading at this con -- Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises (La Fiestia de San Fermin began the day after), and David Hatcher Childress’ Yetis, Sasquatch & Hairy Giants (there are still mysteries to search for).

Later in a nearby antique mall, I bought Ray Bradbury’s essay collection Bradbury Speaks (some of that old excitement), and Roger Corman’s How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime (inspiration on how to do my evolving business).

People from India were partying in their colorful ethnic clothes, and dresses from a quinceañra dance dazzled. The fans in steampunk costumes seemed drab by comparison.

A 19-year-old man was killed in a pre-San Fermin bull run in Zamora, Spain. PETA’s opening ceremony this year was to have the now traditional pseudo-naked protesters lie down in the shape of a giant, bleeding bull. Science fiction needs something like that -- rituals to awaken our inner wildness, that we need while exploring the universe

Rudy’s talks were well attended by enthusiastic crowds. He spoke of quantum loops. Later, in a café on Colorado Boulevard, I saw a Latino write, “I can make a quantum loop,” on his laptop. Science and fiction are intruding on reality -- as it should.

Beyond San Bernandino, still under the smog, in the desert, datura blooms alongside I-10, like something out of the story that was growing in my brain . . . science fiction intruding . . . maybe there’s hope . . .

Friday, July 9, 2010


West of Phoenix, there were lots of shredded tires beside the I-10. Did I see condors hovering overhead? or just big-ass vultures? Why were they watching the closed rest areas and abandoned gas stations?

At the first rest area in California there were flies all over the men’s room walls. A Tejano kid smiled big while getting his picture taken by the CAUTION: RATTLESNAKES sign. Welcome to California, may your reptilian dreams come true.

Soon we were cruising down the Sonny Bono Memorial Freeway, and back under the smog where I was born.

West Covina, my hometown, has become comfortably alien. The cramped courtyard of our hotel, with its swimming pool and palm trees peeking over the building, could be used to shoot a scene for a spy movie set in Latin America. West Covina is simultaneously morphing into a franchise megasprawl and a Neo-Latin America.

Later, as we headed for the La Brea Tar Pits, I saw a sign to the Byzantine-Latino Quarter. The Tar Pits Page Museum was a wonderland of Ice Age skeletons. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art offered PreColumbian ball game artifacts, and human skulls -- Aztec and Asian Pacific -- with beautiful decorations. My imagination erupted all over the place as we ate in the Farmer’s Market.

Is it me, or has L.A. -- this place that people from West Covina talk about as a foreign country -- gotten relaxed? The Yuppie Era is over, along with anglo domination. And it’s still the world’s most luxurious disaster area.

My parents took me to the opening of Disneyland while I was still in the womb, and I can’t get away from it. Besides, I need to pay homage to the Animation Gods. I was glad to see that the guy selling shrunken heads in the Jungle Cruise is still there. Waiting in the many lines was a woman in a Goth Virgin of Guadalupe T-shirt -- the halo was a cobweb. Other gals dressed to show off their ample cleavage. An old man didn’t bother to cover the tattoo of a bare-breasted beauty on his arm. Do special demons lurk in the smoking areas of the Magic Kingdom?

Disneyland is a masterpiece of crowd control. And civilization begins and ends with crowd control. But the real fun starts when you break free of both the crowds and the control.

Under the starless, reddish-grey SoCal night sky, I dreamed that I was coughing up tiny bats, lots of them. I wasn’t disturbed. The LACMA had reminded me that bats in Asian and PreColumbian cultures are considered to be symbols of good fortune.