Friday, August 26, 2011


I'd been looking for Charles Willeford's Cockfighter for years. He's one of greatest American writers of the Twentieth Century – in my humble opinion. Roger Corman made the book into one of his few movies that didn't make money. And since I took care of chickens – and roosters – as a lad, I have a certain fascination for cockfighting.

Suddenly, I have another reason to praise the Electronic Publishing Revolution. Cockfighter and a number of other Willeford titles are available for free from The world is changing for the better.

Cockfighting is the stuff of pulp fiction. In Mexico it's a recurring theme in action entertainment and popular song. But it's rare to see it presented in our English-speaking culture other than as something totally abhorrent that needs to be abolished muy pronto. The specter of Puritanism haunts Norteamerica, and will not be exorcized any time soon.

Cockfighter is a hardboiled masterpiece. I can see how it gave Roger Corman visions of drive-in glory. The pretensions attached to the artsy-fartsy term noir doesn't apply here. Noir is just French for black, which in Spanish is negro . . . No, there's no hiding in artistic darkness here. Cockfighting often takes place in blazing sunlight that makes the flying blood glisten.

It's the story of Frank Mansfield, a man obsessed with a dream – variation on the Great American Dream of rising to the top of your profession – he wants to win the Cockfighter of the Year medal. He wants it so bad that he has taken a vow of silence until he achieves his goal. That's right, the main character/narrator does not speak. He communicates through improvised sign language while everybody else talks, and he provides an interior monologue that's about the strange, violent, illegal world that he lives in.

This is a freaking tour de force that had me hooked from the opening scene where Frank is making it look like a bird has a cracked beak so he can get better odds.

What a pleasure to read this in an age when most Americans seem to think the Great American Dream will be bestowed on them by some benevolent corporation or government agency because they happen to fit the current parameters for cool. No, kids, dreams come true because you're willing to work hard and make sacrifices. The Aztecs could teach you a few things . . .

America needs more dreamers like Frank Mansfield that are willing handicap themselves and sacrifice for their dreams, dreamers who give their all. Some dreams are only worthwhile after you've made it impossible to give up and lead a “normal” life. Like a rooster, there's no turning back – it's a one-way ticket.

Besides, what is “normal” – a life with only mundane dreams?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


It's August in Phoenix, and getting up to over 110 degrees Fahrenheit. Folks on the street have that zombified look. Consulting a mirror, I see that look on my face, too. Any sane person would be taking it easy, or at least taking off to a cooler climate – like one where it's down in the nineties – but I can't help myself, I've got ebooks to get ready for release, and the time to do it is now.

My current tasks are a cover for Cortez on Jupiter, and a cover plus illustrations for Obsidian Harvest, a novella that I collaborated on with Rick Cook. It was featured in Analog and Gardner Dozois' eighteenth The Year's Best Science Fiction. It's not just a matter of grabbing the sketchbook and scribbling – to do this right, this calls for research.

Ah! Research! A wonderful excuse to satisfy your lust – I mean, curiosity. “Why are you looking at those horrible books and websites?” Research. “Oh. I guess that's okay.” It's usually more enjoyable than the real work. For me, I find that writing and art are often excuses for me to indulge in doing research.

Coming up with a cover image for Cortez on Jupiter was a bear. I didn't want to draw Pablo's art – it's impossible in Earth gravity. Attempts to create a suitable Great Red Spot or spatter drawings fell short. The image that worked was the actual Great Red Spot.

Luckily it was available in public domain. I emailed the NASA/Hubble/STSci site, asking what the proper procedures were – just because I want to avoid any chance of having to change the cover after releasing the book. This resulted in some Kafkaesque correspondence with a HAL 9000-type entity. I groaned, did some more sketches, but finally a message from a human being arrived, explaining that they liked to have a credit line mentioning the agencies involved, and a copy for their files.

I'll worry about how to send them an ebook later.

I also needed to research old fashioned, East L.A. Chicano graffiti,which led to some interesting sites where graffiti fonts were available online. Ironically, it was a science fiction contact, Eileen Gunn, that led me to the most helpful sites.

I was also learned about graffiti-inspired artist Chaz Borjorquez, who has some interesting things to say about the future of art and culture.

For Obsidian Harvest, I needed material on Aztec weaponry:

For the main character, “Lucky” Tworabbit, Rick Cook said, “Think Mexican beer ad.” This led me the iconic art of Jesús Helguera:

Also there were the “steamers.” Fortunately, is a portal to a world that steampunks need to explore. I may just have to draw existing vehicles and decorate them Aztec/Mayan/lowrider style.

And the story does feature intelligent velociraptors:

Then there's the whole subject of putting illustrations into an ePub file . .

The best part of this is, at the end of day, I can call all this “work.”

Sunday, August 14, 2011


It's back to the Archaeological Sports Desk over at Chicanonautica at La Bloga, with a look at the PreColumbian ball game. People have been recreating the game lately. Here's some of the mutations and variations:

See what happens with the addition of a volleyball net:

And if a traditional court can't be found, a basketball court will do:

At a festival, you can set up and put on quite a show:

Or it can be a ritual for the tourists:

It's no surprise that we're seeing slick, corporate productions:

So let's go out with a ball of fire:

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


With the upcoming John Carter movie, a new generation is about be introduced to Edgar Rice Burroughs' Mars. I hope the franchise hype gets some of the kids to read the books. Burroughs also wrote a trilogy about the Moon in which he speculates on the future with some interesting socio-political ideas.

The Moon Maid starts 1967. Not our 1967 of the the Summer of Love, but one after the world had just ended a long war that has left the world in a peaceful state. The narrator doesn't know what men like him will do without war. On a transoceanic cruise, he meets a man who remembers his future incarnations because “there is no such thing as Time” – leave it to Edgar Rice Burroughs to not let things like space and time get in the way of a story.

The stranger tells of Julian 5th who goes to the Moon after radio communication is established with Mars and a spaceship called The Barsoomian is built. The Moon is hollow, and he encounters quadrupedal cannibalistic humanoids and meets a princess from a more civilized, “human” breed. Orthis, the commander of the Barsoomian, throws in with the Kalkars, a degenerate breed of bipedal lunar humanoids, who are responsible for the sorry conditions on the Moon that forces cannibalism for survival – even Julian's princess eats the flesh of the quadrupeds. Orthis and the Kalakars, with modern mechanized weapons, cause massive destruction. Julian and the Moon maid escape to Earth.

The Moon Men begins with the narrator working for the International Peace Fleet, helping out Eskimos. He runs into the man who remembers the future again, who tells him the story of Julian the 9th, who lives in a world that was invaded by Orthis and the Kalkars. Progress has been set back by their foolish policies. Americans live in poverty, marriage and religion are outlawed.

Like many dystopias, The Moon Men creates a nightmare world by having white people treated like slaves. As Ishmael Reed said in his essay, “300 Years of 1984” – “For Afro-Americans, it could be argued that every year they've spent in this country since they arrived in chains to perform forced labor has been 1984.” Burroughs did this decades before Orwell.

Fortunately, in the Burroughsian fashion, Julian 9th finds a princess – or at least a girl of proper “Yank” breeding – and leads a revolution, leaving his people free to practice Americanism.

There is no envelope in this one. The Red Hawk goes straight into the action. Julian 20th is the Chief of a tribe of Yanks in an America than has gotten even more primitive. They live like the Apaches in The War Chief and Apache Devil, with a horse/warrior society, with swords and lances. No complaints about decline of American manhood here.

This comes in handy, because the Kalkars are still around, in the Capitol, threatening to take over again. They also want to mix their genes with the Yanks, which would eventually do to the Earth what they did to the Moon. A lot is made of the treachery of half-breeds.

Julian 20th finds a girl from a good family and starts another revolution, in which he leads war- painted mounted troops into the Capitol, where the Kalkars and their half-breed allies are defeated once and for all. Americanism goes on, as Yanks worship the Flag and live like Indians in a world without mechanized warfare or decadent modern living. It seems to be Edgar Rice Burroughs' vision of utopia.

Thursday, August 4, 2011


Over at La Bloga, my latest Chicanonautica takes a look at the library, and finds Carlos Fuentes, Luis Buñuel, Blue Demon, Santo, Mil Máscaras, and other luchadores. ¡Viva la bibloteca!

Our extras for this are videos from other lucha libre movies that I found at the library:

Santo vs. La Invasion de los Marcianos pits the man in the silver mask against blond Martians with teleportation belts, shows NASA footage, and steals music from Forbidden Planet.

Los Championes Justicieros has Blue Demon and an all-star cast of luchadores fighting a mad scientist, and a horde of super-midgets, with a wild & crazy jazz soundtrack.

And here's a wonderful tribute to Santo:

Tuesday, August 2, 2011


Xihutecuhtil, the Lord of Time, smiled at Em and me again. He allowed our days off to mesh. We could take off for another day trip, get away from the Phoenix heat island, recharge the batteries, adjust the compasses.

First we had matadors – a delicious spicy latte – at Lola's in Central Phoenix. Saw some impressive murals there, where naked, crumbling walls cry out for them.

As we got away from town, the roadkill got strange – a mutilated, hairless animal . . . chupacabra?

In front of the short, sweet Waterfall Trail, a sign warned: “This area contains numerous natural hazards. Enjoy it with caution.”

At Tonto Natural Bridge – fossil water seeps through the rocks, comes down in constant rain under the bridge. Passing through it puts you in touch with what's really going on on this planet, this universe.

I though about the term “sacred waterfalls.” But aren't all waterfalls sacred?

Just beyond the bridge was thick, green moss, hanging vegetation, and more water falling and twisting through the wind -- in August in Arizona. We found a place where you could take photo illustrations for Ray Bradbury's classic story about Venus, “The Long Rain.”

Yeah, I know, it doesn't rain on Venus. But maybe some day it will. At least there really is Venusian lightning.

Then we explored this forest where cactus grows out of porous rocks left over from ancient oceans – not far from the deserts that inspired Edgar Rice Burroughs' dead sea bottoms of Mars.

Lots of yellow-orange agave flowers bloom atop long green stalks on candelabra branches.

In Payson we stopped to eat at La Sierra Mexican Restaurant (though the hand-painted sign says “Restaurat” in letters that look like logs) Great décor with painted bas relief chairs and tables from Guadalajara, Univision HD on a flatscreen, psychedelic sombreros on the walls. And the food was great, too.

We passed through another storm on the way back, ready to face August in Phoenix.