Showing posts with label Cortez on Jupiter. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Cortez on Jupiter. Show all posts

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Chicanonautica: How I Accidentally Created Chicano Sci-Fi

Suddenly, buzz about science fiction diversity is crackling through the air. And a monster called Chicano Sci-Fi is roaming the night. Frank S Lechuga keeps calling me its father. A DNA test may be in order.

But all those years of humping science fiction should get me something. I imagine her looking like Elsa Lanchester in The Bride of Frankenstein. Ummmm . . .

I do feel like shouting, “IT’S ALIVE! IT’S ALIVE!”

But I didn’t set out to become the father of Chicano Sci-Fi. I just happened to be a born-in-East-L.A. Chicano who wanted to write science fiction. I didn’t know that it was something I shouldn’t be doing. After all, this was America, and people kept telling me I could be whatever I wanted!

One day, I took that “write what you know” advice to heart, and wrote a non-science fiction fragment that turned in into a stream of fascinating Chicano characters inspired by my family and people I had known. These characters came to life -- again, “IT’S ALIVE!” -- like no others I’d created. 

Combine that with all the material from La Cultura that most readers would consider “new” and I realized that I was onto something. I experimented with putting Chicanos in a science fiction context that eventually became Cortez on Jupiter.

Being proud of my Aztec heritage -- sí, cabrones, my ancestors were cannibals, and I’m damn proud of it! -- I perversely projected it into the future, that evolved into High Aztech and Smoking Mirror Blues.

This hasn’t made me rich and famous -- I still have a day job, kids -- but it has been a constant source of inspiration that has me publishing short fiction to this day, and newfangled postcolonialists and Afrofuturists include me in their publications.

I was a pioneer -- which of course, is another way of saying illegal alien. I boldly went where no Chicano had gone before.

And I believe that this is only the beginning.

Chicano is when and where I’m from.  It’s a subset of Hispanic, which includes non-Mexican immigrants, and is a favorite way of describing crime suspects. Latino is global, from Latin America, coined back when the French saw us being ruled by a Francophone elite, but that lets in the French Canadians, Haitians, Francophone Africans, and the Portuguese-speaking Brazilians.

Latino is also favored by show biz. Those Latino sex symbols sell like crazy. 

It's also a hemispheric majority.

And lately, Chicano -- Xicano, Xicana/o --  has been seen as an attitude and political stance that I’m all for. Combine that with new developments that transformer lowriders, barrio cyberpunks, and other emerging subcultures are coming up with, and Chicano Sci-Fi could sweep the planet, and beyond.

After all, as I’ve said before, Chicano is a science fiction state of being

Which reminds me, I have to get back to my novel about a mariachi on Mars . . .

Ernest Hogan, was born in East L.A., and his mother’s maiden name is Garcia. He wanted to be a science fiction writer when he grew up. He succeeded.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Chicanonautica: Timewarping Chicano Spec Fic

It was crazy for a Chicano to want to be a writer back in the Seventies, let alone a writer of science fiction, speculative fiction, or whatever label you want to put on it. I didn’t let it stop me. People have always told me that what I wanted to do was crazy or impossible -- and I just go out and do it anyway.

Nobody encouraged me to become a writer. Science fiction was considered trash. None of the support systems for wannabe writers existed yet.

It wasn’t easy. I prefer it that way, a quixotic battle, me against a hostile world. It took longer than I thought, but when I finally did it, hijo, did it feel good.

Things were different back then. Sci-fi/spec fic boasted about preaching tolerance -- and that meant that creatures from other planets could be considered as people. Stories with characters that weren’t white, or at least didn’t act it, were rare. And the tolerance for aliens went away when it came to real “aliens” who live in your town.

Because I’ve always been used to being some kind of oddball, I didn’t really notice I was one of the few non-whites in the sci-fi world back then. There were occasional Asians, and blacks, and even Latinos, but the subject of our being different was usually avoided. At conventions, I was usually the only brown person in the room.

People often mistook me for black because of my hair texture, making me the only “black” person in the room.

Back in the 20th century, science, technology -- even the future -- were seen as intellectual property of white folks. An early version of the digital divide was assumed to keep everybody else out. And it was often said that the “minorities” weren’t interested in such things.

Well into the Nineties, I would not identify a character as being “Hispanic” until well into the story. I didn’t mention that the hero of Cortez on Jupiter was a Chicano until after I sold it. Book covers often whitewashed characters back then, or showed the back of their heads.

This was because, even until the end of the Millennium, the audience for books was considered white, middle class, middle American -- and in the case of science fiction -- nerds. Getting too much of other races and cultures would alienate them. They liked to read about aliens, but not too alien.

This was the age of Corporate Science Fiction. Star Trek popularized sci-fi as a franchised alternate universe that cold be accessed at a chain bookstore. Star Wars got rid of the idea that you had to be smart to understand shoot-outs in space. The reader would simply look for the logos and icons, and buy. It was like the genre was given a lobotomy.

I was told by marketing “experts” that Americans just liked to buy books with white people on the cover.

It was not considered racism -- just commercialism, and good business.

Of course, in the 21st century, things began to change. Chain bookstores and the traditional publishing establishment that supported them are leaving Corporate Science Fiction without  a home. It turns out that nerds come in all colors, come from all over the planet, and don’t always identify with the culture of the English-speaking zone of North America.

Interesting rumblings are happening: decolonialization, Afrofuturism, American Indian science fiction and fantasy in Spanish and other languages, anthologies and other publications that thrive on diversity, writers who aren’t the usual white males publishing and being nominated for awards.

The old models are crumbling along with the world that made them. Self-publishing, ebooks, and new, non-traditional publishers are providing all kinds of writers to get all kinds of wild fiction out there. The new media are helping spread the world.

There are more ways for more people to become writers these days. But it’s not going to be easy. I’m hanging onto my quixotic warrior spirit -- I think it’s going to come in handy.

Ernest Hogan’s High Aztech will soon be available as an ebook. Meanwhile, you can buy Smoking Mirror Blues and Cortez on Jupiter on Amazon and Smashwords.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Chicanonautica: Shakycam Shots of a Writer’s Life

A critic once described my style as “shakycam” -- as in low-budget documentaries shot with hand-held cameras in close, dangerous quarters. It wasn’t intended as a compliment, but does describe what I do as well as how I write.

I know I have a writing career because, like Frankenstein’s monster, it has taken on a life of its own. I keep losing track of it. I have to check my blog to make sure. Keeping up with it gets shakycam.

Take these items from my to-do list:

I’ve been (with the help of my wife) getting my novel Smoking Mirror Blues ready to become an ebook. We finally got through the final go-over and sent it off to the formatter. Tezcatlipoca willing, it may be available around Día de los Muertos.

That done, I started the tedious task of scanning my novel High Aztech -- like Cortez on Jupiter, it was written back in the Ninteen-Hundreds on an ancient mechanism called a typewriter. Not only that, but because of the Españahuatl slang, I’m probably the only human being on the planet who can do the necessary proofreading. I’m in for some fun times in the next few months!

I’m also working on a science fiction short story and a novel about bullfighting. The short story may end up as part of the novel in the end, but it actually creates more work for me.

I’ve decided to put my fantasy novel about the preColumbian ball game aside for a while because, if you haven’t guessed, I’m kind of busy. And I can’t let that cam get too shaky.

And I finally got a chance to do a collection of my short fiction. This is going to one desmadre of a project! It will include works from the typewriter era that will have to be scanned, and will be a twisted thirty-year journey through the strange things that grew in my mind, and the strange places where they got published. Trying to read it in one sitting will probably cause hallucinations and brain damage. 

Imagine what putting together that document will be like!

When going over my list of published stories, I realized that there were some that will have to go in other volumes. “The Frankenstein Penis” and its sequel have a still-growing number of true stories connected to them.  Paco Cohen, Mariachi of Mars, and Victor Theremin, the science fiction writer who has lost track of where science fiction ends and his life begins, also demand their own books.

And after crossing a few things off my to-do list, I remembered something I had to add to it. Better get to work.

Ernest Hogan really is doing all that stuff. Being a Chicano makes it more complicated and exciting. It’s also very shakycam.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Spic vs spec - 2. Chicanos/latinos & sci-fi lit

by Rudy Ch. Garcia

continued from last week's post. . .

As with mainstream literary works, U.S. gringo-corporate publishers shy away from SciFi featuring latino characters, cultural settings and Spanish dialogue/prose. We all know why. And yes, it has changed, somewhat.

But despite the mushrooming, latino demographics, the unspoken corollary persists--Chicanos, Latinos don't read, i.e. buy, sci-fi lit. So why publish or write it? I asked such questions on the new LinkedIn discussion group, "Latino and Latina writers group" last week and got one response. Getting so few wasn't surprising. It reflects the sci-fi that's out there.

[To focus and develop this topic according to genre terms and history, I relegate fantasy lit to the next part of this series. There are several reasons for this, which I'll get to.]

A search at Amazon for "Chicano science fiction" produced 3 books, only one of which was sci-fi, Ernest Hogan's classic, Cortez on Jupiter. Next came: "Science Fiction, Canonization, Marginalization, and the Academy," a nonfiction book that intends to "give special attention to multicultural and feminist concerns," but in the 100 books it cites, there's not one novel by a (recognizable) latino. I can't speak to the overall content of the book.

Third came, Dogs Descend on Chiapas: Proof of Tzoquito by Dominic Ambrose, who looks like a latino, though I couldn't verify his latinismo. Nevertheless, Tzoquito appears to be a fantasy novel, rather than sci-fi.

Even a search on Wikipedia--not the final word on veracity--for Chicano sci-fi turned up 0, cero, zero.

In contrast to this paucity of material, the first La Bloga post generated several comments. Below are my takes [tagged RG] on those comments, to encourage wider discussion than just my posting.

Fellow sci-fi/fantasy author and Thursday's Bloguero Ernest Hogan wrote:
"A lot of food for thought here. We need to make contact with the Spanish-speaking, sci-fi world -- there are several blogs en español that I'm following . . . As for this side of the Border, it's an interesting story -- my dad read science fiction magazines in East L.A. back in the Forties -- in the Seventies, some Chicano activists thought that sci-fi and technology were tools of the Anglo oppressors. Of course, today Chicano hackers are part of Aztlán landscape. I guess I have some work to do . . . I almost forgot! Spic Spec Fic! I can see it on a book cover!"
RG: Sophia Flores, a bilingual boriqua at, has been carrying her own torch for sci-fi on her website for years, and other than website--no hay mucho. Connecting to the español sci-fi world would seem appropriate.

Ah, those Chicano activists--sometimes we didn't know caca. Hogan's father and mine also read sci-fi, leading to our reading it. Is there un patron here? About the title SpicSpecFic--I think the culturally-correct gente might boycott it.

Manuel Ramos commented:
"The current issue of The New Yorker has a "sci-fi" (somebody doesn't like that term, really?) theme and, sabes qué, there's a story by the one and only Junot Diaz (and also stories/articles by Jonathem Lethem, Anthony Burgess, Ray Bradbury (QEPD), Ursula K. Le Guin, Margaret Atwood, etc. Le Guin's article talks about the gender ghetto of science fiction. I think her point is to write good stuff and it will be read."

RG: Well, at least one latino made it into the issue. I guess one fulfills their Spanish-speaking quota, but don't they have an ethnicity quota, too? Or did that get replaced by a "looks latino" quota?
Seriously, Junot's Oscar Wao is more than just a good read. Where most Spanish-speaking writers might exclude sci-fi thematic elements in a mainstream work, Juno utilized his novel's many sci-fi references and footnotes to underscore the absurd elements of Dominican-dictatorship history.
Oscar Wao is also unique in that a latino mainstream writer has his Dominican character Oscar de Leon obsessed with sci-fi [yes, and fantasy]. In one footnote he writes: "Where this outsized love of genre jumped off from no one quite seems to know. It might have been a consequence of being Antillean (who's more sci-fi than us?)"
As sci-fi anciano Ernest Hogan would not doubt agree, also, who's more sci-fi than us Chicanos? We whose gov't builds high-tech electronic fences to keep us agabachado, where on this side of the border our genetic make-up has been altered by radioactive fallout from nuclear testing? And on the other side, our gente live lives more gruesome than anything portrayed on the planet Lagarto in the dark sci-fi series KOP? Hunger Games is not sci-fi to us, it's just latinos' last couple hundred years surviving in or under the U.S.
Ramos's final point doesn't guarantee that our "good stuff" will get published. But take it as a call that without a lot of latinos writing this in genre, there will not be much "good stuff" created to make it to the top or ever be read.

BellaVida Letty said...
"I'm Boricua, I read sci-fi and am writing a sci-fi screenplay."
RG: Okay, Letty, first question--did your parent(s) read sci-fi? Secondly, here's our open invitation to pitch your script on La Bloga, after you've registered/copywrited it. Now, where's the Chicana sci-fi scripts?

David Garcia, Jr. wrote:
"I used to not like science fiction literature, thinking that writers didn't have to go to outer space to find characters, settings and conflicts worth writing about, when we have all of the above aplenty here on earth. Childhood's End changed all that. I realized that I liked science fiction films and that I had a limited view of science fiction lit (bug-eyed monsters). I'm now aware of the breadth of the lit genre, from hardwired to gutterpunk and have a lot of respect for its writers. How's this for a character arc: I'm the author of "Destiny's Quest: Transformation" a YA novel manuscript about a teenager who discovers that she has powers and has to rescue her brother from some hybrid monsters."
RG: La Bloga is about promoting literacy, literature and writers, so we're all for David G. Jr. plugging his MS. Actually, some of us wish more readers would use us that way. I'm going to risk saying that his MS sounds like a fantasy, not sci-fi, but that's just to clarify the sequence of this series. Fantasy will come next.

Jose Antonio Romero commented:
"I watched the movie Prometheus and my girlfriend mentioned there were no Brown gente in the film. I didn't expect there to be any. This led me think about the topic you bring up about the lack of Sci-Fi literature coming from the Latino community. I remember hearing the term afro-futurism from a compañera, and I thought about what that might encompass and thought it would be great idea to incorporate that genre into the Brown community and develop the concept. I thought about a world in which various barrios began to create a community based on healthy lifestyles that would promote quantum leaps into autonomous education. This education would give the access to leaps and bounds into a world that would be a truly advanced civilization. My imagination went wild when I thought of the ancient indigenous cultures that had existed and the barrios coming into full contact with these lost knowledge systems. What would happen if they re-examined these ancient knowledge systems and incorporated them into their daily lives and synthesized something completely unique and free from conventional advanced technology. This is a topic I feel worth touching on because it's not a popular idea that I feel gets easily overlooked because of the social stigmas conceived of the brown communities. That is why the potential of a truly rich sci-fi story coming from the barrios could and will blow away wigs."
RG: Jose Antonio raises relevant points. Sci-fi movies constitute 5 of the 10 [12 of the top 20] top-grossing US films, if your interest is dinero. And every film came from a WRITTEN script. Maybe Jose Antonio should take his interest to the composing level with his ideas, because he's got visions longing to fill blank pages.

ggwritespoetry [who lists Fahrenheit 451 as a favorite book] wrote:
"I was just talking about this with Rene Saldana [RG: the YA author?] and David Bowles at TLA last month. I am Latina, Mexicana actually. My second novel, Summer of the Mariposas from TU Books is fantasy/ magical realism, and I have another SF novel in the works. But I agree with you; we definitely, absolutely, positively need more Hispanics writing SF."
RG: Okay, gg [Pura Belpre award winner Guadalupe Garcia McCall} crossed the line between sci-fi and fantasy, but her discussion with the others is evidence of interest in the topic. Her YA book in the fantasy genre is what we need more of coming from a sci-fi Chicano/latino community of writers. We wish her well with her SF novel.

Next week I'll get more into why gg's last sentence means more than we commonly think. Keep the comments coming and please pass links to this discussion on to others.

Es todo, hoy,

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Pensamientos about Chicano writers

by Rudy Ch. Garcia

With exceptions, being a writer is one of the loneliest occupations anyone can undertake.

Hours, days and years go into producing stories or articles, with the prospect of success maybe as far as decades away. I don't know what the statistics are on how many people take up writing and later discard it, but it wouldn't be surprising to hear it had some staggering number of those who give up on it.

I'm one who left writing for decades, but then returned for more decades of lonesome work. Writing alone is inherent to the occupation. The solitary feelings come from not seeing your works out in the world and being read by others.

Of necessity then, writers' goals include getting their works published, but given how infrequent this may happen, that can't be the immediate goal. Maybe writers have a lot in common with gamblers who hope to win The Big One. Both types can have distant hopes that they maintain through their daily passion or addiction to the "game."

. . . . . .

Aspiring writers who latch onto publishing as an immediate goal can transform into frustrated artists who yell at their kids and wives, see fault in others' writing, and eventually drop the whole idea, especially if publishing of their work doesn't soon appear.

That's how one of the most common questions from non-writing people, "Why haven't you published it yet?" can get under the skin of writers. If only my friends and family knew how difficult getting published was, they'd never ask this question.

In that sense, aspiring writers have a lot in common with artists who draw, paint or scupt; they're both hoping to be discovered; in the writer's case, preferably by a publisher with hard-copy imprints, not just E-published works.

. . . . . .

Being a Chicano writer in a Blanco-dominated market adds to the solitary feelings that are intensified from a publisher's rejection letter. One can't help wondering, sometimes, if a Blanco writers gets as many rejections. Assumedly, they do.

. . . . . .

When the field of work is narrowed further to fantasy and science fiction, the chances of getting your work published narrow even further. After all, as everyone knows, Chicanos don't read much fantasy and it's assumed they read even less sci-fi. When you write such short stories or novels with Chicano characters, your appeal to a publisher is further limited, because publishers may think that a Chicano sci-fi character could only work as a minor character, except in a case like Avatar where Neytiri is photoshopped into an indigenous role or Michelle Rodriguez plays human Trudy Chacon.

Publishers, like movie directors, worry that a Chicano or minority character might not appeal to the majority Blanco audience. And then, or course, they know that Chicanos don't read sci-fi, so there's no audience appeal there, either. At least that's the assumption.

Then along comes someone like Junot Diaz with his The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, disproving all the assumptions, winning literary prizes hand-over-fist, and becoming a big best seller. Diaz's characters Oscar de Leon or Yunior de Las Casas who turns out to be the narrator, are Dominican-national characters who decidedly appealed to the Blanco audience. [Curiously, among other things, Oscar is obsessed with sci-fi and fantasy novels.]

Bless Me, Última by Rudy Anaya is considered the best-selling Chicano novel and has sold less than 200,00 copies in the four decades since its release. Oscar Wao sold a quarter of a million in 2009, alone. Both figures speak to aspiring writers, some of whom would cut off their left index finger to achieve one tenth of those numbers.

When an aspiring writer gives up on new stories, revising other stories or submitting works to publishers, he likewise has given up where Rudy Anaya and Junot Diaz persisted. Rudy and Junot's world is the same lonely writing world that every aspiring writer resides in; theirs becomes not so lonely when they leave their desk or computer and venture outside to hear what others think of their work. Otherwise, it's the same.

. . . . . .

No matter the nationality, the genre, the decade or the success, writing is essentially what it always has been. Lewis Carroll was driven to write his outrageous fantasy novel about Alice. Back in the 1860s, he must have seemed out of place to publishers because twenty years later it wasn't even considered a popular children's story.

On the other end of the spectrum, Ernest Hogan's Cortez on Jupiter (1990), called a minor sci-fi masterpiece by some, was never marketed to success and disappeared for decades. His Chicano Pablo Cortez character became a casualty of the East Coast publishing mire. (It is now available as en E-book here.)

Writers write. If they give up on it, they go into the past-tense, even if they have hard-copy laurels to rest on. Write, rewrite, revise, edit, submit, send out, get rejections, repeat the cycles. And every once in a while, letters that read, "Your work has been accepted."

. . . . . .

That's our world. It's not for everyone. Only for those who can thrive in its lonesome environs. Not worrying about immediate publication. Writing for the passion. In some cases, the recognition will come.

Es todo, hoy RudyG

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Chicanonautica: Cortez on Jupiter, Hogan vs. Nueva York

by Ernest Hogan

At long last, it’s here. My first novel, Cortez on Jupiter is once again available, this time as an ebook. You can get it for Kindle through Amazon, and other formats through Smashwords for just $.99!

And -- for a limited time, so do it now -- if you use the coupon code LH74B when ordering it from Smashwords, the price will be knocked down to $.00! So get it now, write a review, discuss, and otherwise get the buzz going.

It’s the historic first science fiction novel by a writer who calls himself a Chicano, and the first science fiction novel that “treats its Chicano protagonist the way a Chicano would write it,” as it was said here at La Bloga.

How Cortez on Jupiter got published and why it’s been hard to find is an interesting story. When I pitched it to Ben Bova for his Discoveries series, I concentrated on the science fiction elements. I wanted to write and publish a Chicano science fiction novel, but it was 1989, and I knew that suggesting such a thing would result in a quick, but polite, rejection. It wasn’t any kind of racial/cultural bias, everybody in Nueva York back then just knew that sci-fi was white people stuff.

I wasn’t trying to pass for white, but thanks to my name (seems none of these folks had heard of Ernest Hogan, Father of Ragtime) they figured I was a white guy who wasn’t afraid to write about minorities even though, “they get offended, you know.” They even asked if I would be willing to use a “slightly Hispanic” pseudonym.

Once they found out about my Chicanohood, the Nueva York publishing folks tended to act differently. Suddenly, they weren’t as relaxed, seemed to be careful about what they said to me (and in front of me).

When Cortez on Jupiter came out to great reviews -- including one in Locus that compared it to Neuromancer, I was told that it wasn’t selling well. It was merely a “success d’esprit.”

When High Aztech was published, it did not get any kind of push. There was no text about it in the ad in Locus. I kept hearing from people who had to call Tor and cuss them out to get review copies.

After my picture appeared in Science Fiction Age, I couldn’t sell anything anywhere for a few years.

They kept saying I wasn’t “commercial.” That was the same reasoning that the folks at Roc used when the black heroine of my wife’s novel, Larissa, appeared as a white girl on the cover. Marketing geniuses just knew that sci-fi was white bread.

Still, I kept hearing from people who loved Cortez on Jupiter. Even when it was out of print, it got good reviews, and mentions.

Now, Nueva York publishing is dying. The marketing geniuses don’t know what to do in the face of the Ebook Revolution. Which suits me just fine. Me and Nueva York never got along so good, anyway. I tend to appear in weird, far-flung markets, always keeping one foot in the underground, so I’ll have a place to stand.

Hopefully, this new kind of publishing will give Cortez on Jupiter the wider audience it always deserved, pointing the way from the barrio to the stars, and claiming the galaxy as El Barrio Nuevo.

And I look forward to telling the younger generation how loco things were in these primitive times.

Ernest Hogan plans on publishing three more ebooks in 2012.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Winning Cortez on Jupiter

[As always, winners of book give-aways on La Bloga are invited to submit guest posts, including reviews of the book they won. Below is a submission from one of the winners of an Ernest Hogan book. – La Bloga]

Over the years, I have become a fan of Ernesto's work and was disappointed to find out how hard it is to get copies of his "Ben Bova Presents" books. Through Facebook, I learned about Ernesto's interview on La Bloga.

The interview itself was fascinating and I really enjoyed learning how he brought his Chicano roots into his science fiction. Finding out that there was an opportunity to win one of Ernesto's books was a bonus. I entered the contest and was thrilled to learn that I'd won a copy of Cortez on Jupiter.

My great-grandparents were farmers in New Mexico. My grandparents and parents grew up there. Even though I grew up in San Bernardino, California, I always thought of New Mexico as my home turf.

Although I've long enjoyed science fiction, I always had a difficult time finding contemporary "literary" fiction I really enjoyed. About ten years ago, I shared executive director duties of the Border Book Festival in Las Cruces with Denise Chávez. Denise introduced me to such writers as Sandra Cisneros, Rudolfo Anaya, and Luis J. Rodriguez. These were contemporary writers I could relate to. I may not be Latino, but these writers spoke my language culturally.

What excited me about winning Cortez on Jupiter was the prospect that it blended the science fiction that I love with the culture that I live. What I most enjoy about science fiction is that it's intrinsically a hopeful literature, even when it paints portraits of a dark future. Science fiction usually imagines that humans will somehow manage to survive into the future. Sometimes science fiction is cautionary, imagining pitfalls to avoid. Sometimes it imagines a bright future. However, the key is that humans survive and learn something in the process.

I saw Ernesto most recently at Coppercon, a science fiction convention which was held over Labor Day weekend in Mesa, Ariz. He gave me the copy of Cortez on Jupiter that I won and signed it for me on the spot. Since then, I've had a chance to read the novel and it did not disappoint. Ernesto tells the story of Pablo Cortez, a guerrilla artist from Southern California who, through a variety of circumstances, ends up on a mission to Jupiter to attempt contact with lifeforms found there. The future Ernesto depicts is neither especially bright nor dark, but it is essentially hopeful.

However, what really makes Cortez on Jupiter a standout for me is less what it says about the future, but more what it says about the nature of art. Pablo's guerilla art reminded me of a mind-bending mural that has decorated a garage just around the corner from my house for nearly fifteen years.

The thing is, all of us who are artists face real challenges getting our work out in front of people. Whether we're writers, painters or musicians, there are people in the "establishment" who won't present our work because they don't think it's marketable. However, that's not the point of art. We make art because we have to, because we're compelled to. I write because I have no choice. I would write whether someone published me or not. In fact, I started my own magazine because I wasn't entirely satisfied with stories other magazines were publishing.

Ernesto captures the kind of artistic mentality I'm talking about, in Pablo Cortez. As Cortez himself says, "Well, I don't sit around in meetings talking about [art]. I just get an idea, decide where to do it, how to do it—then go out and do it!"

I have a wide range of favorite science fiction characters ranging from Robert A. Heinlein's Lazarus Long to A. Bertram Chandler's John Grimes. I'm glad a vato like Pablo Cortez has joined their company.

I've known Ernest Hogan for a number of years. We first met at a science fiction convention called TusCon in Tucson, Arizona and I've enjoyed visiting with him whenever we've had a chance to see each other. Since I live in Las Cruces, NM and he lives in Phoenix, Ariz. we don't get to speak in person very often. Lately though, blogs and Facebook have allowed us to visit more often across the miles.

In fact, because of our conversations, he's sold two stories to me. One is called "Plan 9 in Outer Space" that he wrote with his wife Emily. That story will come out Oct. 1 in an anthology I edited for Flying Pen Press called Full-Throttle Space Tales 4: Space Horrors. The anthology may be ordered here.

The other story I bought, "The Great Mars-A-Go-Go Mexican Standoff", will appear in Tales of the Talisman, vol. 6, issue 3 available this winter. Once released, it can be ordered here.

Thank you, La Bloga, for giving me the opportunity to write a little about winning the book and sharing my thoughts.

by David Lee Summers

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Interview 2 - Ernest Hogan Charla with the most-unknown Chicano author

Last week's post began the Charla-Interview with Ernest Hogan, an internationally renowned sci-fi writer practically unknown to Chicano readers. The purpose of this is not to tell Chicanos they should read his sci-fi; the purpose is to introduce this vato and explain why you might like checking out his work, because confining our literary experience to predominately "ethnic works" and avoiding vampiro detective or reincarnated Aztec god spec fiction might be the flip side of Anglos who shun Chicano novels.

But in fact, Hogan's works are "ethnic." The sociological, political, cultural backstories to his futuristic novels make them so. I'm still amazed he succeeded in getting them published, given how Chicano they are.

For instance, his third novel Smoking Mirror Blues is a blast of avalanching prose about protagonist Beto Orozco who gets caught up in his artificial-intelligence creation of the Aztec god Tezcatlipoca, set in future El Lay. It's not the Hollywood Blvd. we know; it's not the Chicano community you grew up in. But Hogan drapes his stories with elements of our world and herein lies the "ethnicity" that appeals, at least to this Chicano.

Smoking Mirror Blues has a Black President. Okay, that's not sci-fi anymore, but when it was published in 2001 it was. High Aztech features a U.S. government gone Christian-extreme, to the point of burning heretics on the White House lawn. Almost where G. Bush Jr. wanted to take us or Palin would have. With that, Hogan's taking the reader maybe more into the horror genre than sci-fi, but point is, his treatment of issues we face today proves the relevancy created in this genre.

El Texto

RG: With that intro, Ernesto, one of the common themes in all three of your novels is immigration. In Cortez, your graffiti-art hero emigrates to Jupiter for a better life; you've got the U.S. building the Tortilla Curtain on the border; and in High Aztech you give us a renamed Mexico City--Tenochtítlan--as the capital of a country U.S. gringos emigrate to because La Amerika failed as a superpower. I know you live in Arizona, but do you think you might have overdone it with the Migra issue? And why'd you think it'd make it past the slush piles?

EH: When you put it that way, I look like an obsessed, militant vato loco, but truth is, I tend to write about immigration because I can’t escape the issue. I just noticed that some the art I sent you for this interview is about the Migra, and was drawn long before the current firestorm. To be a Chicano is to be a stranger in a strange land, even if you were born here. And like I’ve said, Chicano is a science fiction state of being.

Migration is a big theme in science fiction; maybe that’s what attracted me to it. I emigrated from East L.A to West Covina to Arizona. Males in my family have tended to live far from where they were born and we’ve changed races and continents over the centuries. This all creates conflicts that make for good stories. Sometimes they don’t make it past the slush pile. I’ve got a huge collection of rejection letters saying that “the audience” won’t relate . . . One called Burrito Meltdown was finally published in England. I just sold Radiation is Groovy, Kill the Pigs, featuring mayhem and radioactive marijuana crisscrossing the Border, and am waiting to hear from an editor about another of my Paco Cohen, Martian Mariachi stories. Suddenly, this is something people want to read about. Maybe I need to thank Jan Brewer, Russell Pearce, and Sheriff Joe Arpaio for helping my career.

RG: An aside--any possibility your mom's (Garcia) related to my family who emigrated via Chihuahua?

EH: Good thing I had the eulogy may Aunt Christina wrote for Grandma Charlotte-Carlotta Chairez Garcia in my computer. My grandmother was born in Clovis, California, her parents came from Gomez Palacio, Durango, Mexico. Her father’s father, Feliciano, was a curandero, who “was often called upon by Pancho Villa to help with his wounded.” Feliciano was my great-great-great grandfather--the “great” thing keeps getting confused, by both me and people who repeat the story. Yeah, I’ve got a Villaista heritage. If we really want to get confused, we can always try to sort out my dad’s side of the family. Grandpa Hogan always said that the New Mexico church with his birth certificate burned down . . . Ay! These Wild West/Aztlán people can’t seem to keep records!

RG: I got a bummer for you, Ernesto; you weren't the first published sci-fi Chicano author. Donaldo Urioste left a comment to last week's post that he'd done a brief review of Arthur Tenorio's sci-fi novel Blessing From Above (1971, self-published?) in the pub, Chicano Perspectives in Literature (1976). Googling that, I also found a reference to Isabella Ríos's Victuum (1976), maybe also a sci-fi novel. Dude, you probably weren't the first. That make you wanna fall on your obsidian?

EH: Actually, it’s a relief. I wasn’t really comfortable with being the Neil Armstrong of Chicano sci-fi. “One small step for a vato, one giant leap for La Raza.” Science fiction in Spanish goes way back, and connects with the Arab storytelling tradition. The Ebony Horse in the Arabian Nights sure looks like sci-fi to me. I wouldn’t be surprised if Chicano science fiction was as old as Chicanos, and that shortly after the signing of the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, someone published a dime novel about being invaded and aliens taking over their world. Hmmm. Maybe that would make a good steampunkish story.

RG: Speaking of steampunk, Mario Acevedo of Denver says he likes your take in High Aztech and asks: "Does Hogan have any new words to describe the current political situation? Maybe a word for a political dumbass becoming regarded as a true leader, for example una Palin-mosca. Or someone glued to their iPhone/iPad?" Palin-mosca sounds too cute to me, but then, Mario believes in vampiros. Your suggestions?

EH: I don’t really see anything new in our current political situation, the same old desmadreization dressed up to tacky new fashions--a corpse in a plastic wedding dress clutching a cell phone. Some petty empires got threatened, so strings get pulled and the world is thrown into turmoil--I’ve seen it all before. Still, I can provide some brave new words: for a dumbass ruler--tontotecuhtli (foolish lord), and for someone stuck on their iPhone/iPad--xixacabeza (shithead). Though, I have to admit I had to consult the Aztec Gods app on my iPod--the next best thing until someone comes up with a good Náhuatl dictionary. The tontoecuhtlis are up to a whole lot of xixacabezaization; just remember the Egyptian Books of the Dead’s warning about never eating feces offered to you by a demon. Ticomotraspasarhuililis!

RG: Ticomotra--. I still don't get that one, but it reminds me I gotta ask something else. Where's your PC? Has Arizona's intolerant climate affected your brain testosterone levels? Or are you just a throwback to the machismo days? What I mean is, all three of your novels feature a young Chicano male que se hace loco con las mujeres, hops into sexual escapades and is an iconoclast about church, state and most standards of community morality. Didn't you learn anything from the 60s, 70s and are you just an unrepentant macho? IOW, did you expect to attract ChicanAs readers with all that mujerismo?

EH: My PC? It crashed and I got a Mac last year--

RG: I ever tell you how deprived my kids grew up? They'd abandon the home PC and go to their rich cousin's to stare at a Mac. No--not that PC!

EH: Oh, you mean political correctness as pioneered in Chairman Mao’s People’s Republic of China? When American academics started fooling around with it back in the Eighties, I thought it was a bad idea. “Just watch,” I said, “they’re going to turn it around and use it against guys like me.” I’m all for civility, but attempting to alter reality by restricting what can be said or shown, only leads to dystopia, 1984, Alphaville.

Censorship is always a tool of oppression. As far as I know, my testosterone levels are normal. Though I see nothing wrong with machismo, macho being Spanish for male--wouldn’t that make it a word equivalent to feminism? I learned my iconoclastics in the Sixties and Seventies, and my attitude comes out of my heritage. What was it Emiliano Zapata said about “It is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees?” How else do you think I survive in Arizona? I’ve been called a nigger by people who really believe in the word. I’m not intimidated by politicas who have panic attacks if they step out of a full-service consumer environment. I actually find it amusing when their fiercest attacks are that I’m not following their party line. Why should I care? Besides, there are women--even Chicanas--who like my work, and my characters, even find them sexy.

RG: Even ChicanAs, eh? Okay, we'll leave it at that. But has anybody ever called you to task for getting demasiado with your "brave new words?" There were points in your first novel Cortez on Jupiter when maybe it got a little thick. Like, your Spanglish there--assumedly invented?--roomicito, wordito, drinkicito, previewcito y hilariousisisimo. If I'd been in your writers' group, I'da chopped you down, liberally.

EH: I’ve always made up words. A new situation comes along and old ones don't work, I come up with something that does. Sometimes my wife will use these, forgetting that I made them up, and people give her funny looks. In Cortez, I tried to push it as far as I could, while being understandable to a non-Spanish literate reader. Yeah, I got silly, because I could get away with it. There was a review in Locus condemning my “atrocious style.” I’m always trying to see if I can get away with things, and with my writing, I’ve gotten away with some serious xixaóna and am proud of it. I know writers’ groups don’t go for this, which is why I gave them up decades ago--just before I started selling novels--they make people conservative and anal-retentive, and I have an easier time getting published than they do. Go wild on the page--that’s my advice to wannabe writers!

RG: Okay, I'll try that and see if does any good with my novels-nobody-pubs, but, now tell us about your favorite Latino authors.

EH: Though he’s primarily a performance artist, Guillermo Gómez-Peña is the Latino author closest to me in what he’s doing.

RG: I love that dude! I see some of him in Pablo Cortez. Coincidence?

EH: I had seen some of Guillermo’s work before, but wasn’t really aware of him until his book Warrior for Gringostroika, published in 1993, long after Cortez on Jupiter. But if my life was a little different I could have ended up being like those vatos. I’ll read something of his to my wife, and she’ll say, “He sounds like you.” I check with him to see if I'm in tune with the whole global Chicanoization enchilada--and I usually am. He also sent me a copy of his Dangerous Border Crossers, inscribed: “You’re one of my favorite writers, Ese.”

The Latino literary figure I have the most in common with is Oscar Zeta Acosta. His books, and association with Hunter S. Thompson, define Chicanismo as I live it. Paul T. Riddell cast me as a Dr. Gonzo type in his book Squashed Armadillocon. Though, Sheriff Joe, take note--I gave up drugs shortly after I gave up writers’ groups. My kind of gonzo requires a brain in top running condition. Like a writer I was talking to recently (name withheld on the advice of my attorney) remarked, “It’s different with writers--we do it because we want something interesting to write about.”

Victor Hernández Cruz’s poetry was a direct influence on Cortez on Jupiter. I think I’ll take his books off the shelf and read them again.

Assuming that being born in Chile and living for a time in Mexico trumps genetics, I am in constant awe of Alejandro Jodorowsky. El Topo is one of my all-time favorite movies. “Too much perfection is a mistake.” His writing is also brilliant.

Paco Ignacio Taibo II’s detective novels are wonderful, and he has written some science fiction.

I also like Ernesto Quiñonez’s books, though he writes as if there’s a barbwire fence and National Guard troops keeping Puerto Ricans in Spanish Harlem. I guess out West we think of such barriers differently.

Juan José Arreola's imaginative work gets science fictional at times, needs to be known better in the Anglo world. I practically lived his story El Guardagujas (The Switchman) while traveling by train through Mexico.

I guess I should mention Jorge Luis Borges, but then just about everybody else does . . .

RG: Okay Ernesto, I won't hold it against you for leaving out Gabriel Garcia.

EH: I enjoy Garcia Marquez, but didn’t feel it necessary to bring him up because the whole World Literature community (I wonder how many of them there are?) recognizes him. Besides, I stopped trying to be “literary” (whatever that really means) years ago. These days I’m more influenced by vatos like Polo Jasso--does the kick-ass comic strip El Cerdotado at

RG: Moving on, you've got chingos of azteca lore, and other indigenes, in your works. Por qué?

EH: I consider it to be my heritage. And it’s a fascinating lost world to explore and uncover. It’s also a tezcalipoca, a smoking mirror to hold up to the madness of the real world so that maybe, in between the laughs and weird entertainment, somebody may get a glimpse of something real. It’s something that other writers keep getting wrong, or screw up in the name of some kind of snake oil.

RG: Speaking of the reptilian, your art on the pages of this interview is . . . distinctive. What do you use? Presidente or agavero?

EH: Alcohol tends mess up my hand/eye coordination. My wife describes my drawing style as Aztec Expressionist. These days I scan sketchbook pages into my Mac and play with it in GIMP, trying to combine the high tech with my primitive impulses. And being an artist saves me the expense of having to hire one.

RG: Okay, I gotta go back to last week, where you mentioned your "experience of being looked down on by academics", including Chicanos. I don't need to defend them, but some of those academic-literary types were Chicano Movimiento activists and in some cases, continue their involvement through their careers or community work. What do you tell your kids when they say, "What did you do during the 60s-70s, Dad?" And besides including such issues in your writing, are you using your literary notoriety to actively support any causas?

EH: I don’t have any kids; my niece and nephews don’t seem to be aware of history yet. I remember disagreeing with Chicano militants that I knew, but back then they tended to be stoned. I spent a lot of time educating myself about Chicano history and mythology, and trying to tell others about it--often they got disturbed, axolotl tamales aren’t for everyone. Being a Chicano science fiction writer doesn’t pay much--I’ve done a lot illegal alien jobs that don’t leave time for activism. And I tend to like (Groucho) Marx: “I refuse to be a part of any organization that would have someone like me as a member.” As for “literary notoriety”--it may just be Arizona, but does anybody care what a writer thinks? Besides, I’m always way ahead of my time: the world isn’t ready for LEGALIZE COCKFIGHTING or LEGALIZE BULLFIGHTING T-shirts.

RG: For La Bloga readers unfamiliar with, or uncertain of, your work, here's a taste from Cortez on Jupiter, with examples of literary elements we've discussed. The artist Pablo Cortez has just tuned his art into communicating with the planet Jupiter's gaseous alien Sirens:

"There was no space or time--Omeyocan all the way with superimposed flashes of stuff that wasn't quite tuned right so my nervous system could process it into any kind of information or imagery, but I gave it a good honest try and--ay! I heard the big beat of whales and dolphins in perfect sync with songs of sentient stars and the Sirens that toy robots and jude Betty Boops joyously danced to in endless halls that were covered with animated hieroglyphs that joined in the Futuro-Afro-pre-Colombian-Trans-Spacetime-Quantum Musical Comedy! "And no, no, no, I don't know what it all is and where it comes from--zapware dreamtime. I don't know! I was just there and real as anything you could plug into with your senses. First, just a scrambloso jumble like reality snapcracklepopping before my very eyes, ears, nose, mouth, and all those nervicito endings all over my brown skin. Made me feel like I was going to fall apart into a cloud of loose atoms, but I held on with all I was and tried to paint it all in the image lab behind my eyes. Then it started changing into things. . ."

EH: Guao! How did I do that?

RG: From your lengthy answer, I see this interview's almost done. Anyway, I see the Acosta in you in passages like that one. Sometimes when I read your stuff, I set the belt on loose, try not to hold on, and then just let your rollercoaster take me. But Ernesto, what some readers might want to know is, how much of this did you compose under the influence of 'shrooms?

EH: I never tried the magic mushroom. My drug use in the bad old days tended to take a toke off the funny cigarette that was circulating in a party. I deluded myself that drugs made people more open-minded to my far-out ideas. After a while I realized that they just dumbed me down to their level. I don’t go to those kinds of parties anymore. It’s a way I avoid boredom.

RG: Let's get to the nasty stuff, Ernesto. Why was your third book Smoking Mirror Blues published by a small press instead of Nueva York? You had a chance to break into the big-time; so what happened after that?

EH: Now it can be told! The whole sordid story. . . I was flying high there for awhile, all set up to be another William Gibson. My wife told me not to be so quick to turn down those offers from Hollywood (I laughed). High Aztech came out, and things turned odd.

The ad in Locus had no text, just the cover. There were no reviews. Later I kept hearing, “Your book is out? We got the box from Tor, but it wasn’t in it.” People had to call them and cuss them out to get review copies. I did my best to promote it, doing bookstore signings until I was informed, “We don’t have any more copies in the warehouse.” When my agent called to ask if they were going to print more, she was told that, “No, because it didn’t sell.” When the Mexican science fiction magazine Umbrales did a positive review, I sent letters to my editor and the publisher, telling them to make sure it was stocked along the Border. Both letters came back unopened, stamped “Address Unknown.” I checked the address with my agent, I had it right. “Gremlins?” she pondered when I asked what could have happened. After all that, they rejected the proposal for Smoking Mirror Blues, which no other Nueva York publisher would touch. I haven’t been able to sell anything to Nueva York book publishers since.

RG: Sounds like somebody realized they'd accidentally published a Chicano novel. So what did Bova say about all this? I woulda thought he'd have turned all-Orion over that mierda, protecting, nurturing his Discoveries. And when's the last time Tor released something Chicanoish? You think they're ripe for one?

EH: The folks at Tor did not realize that they were publishing a Chicano novel. Then they thought that I was this brave Anglo, unafraid of writing about minorities. "Could you use a partially Hispanic pseudonym?" Bova, being an Italian-American, was quite sympathetic. The plug got pulled on the Discoveries shortly after High Aztech; I have no way of knowing if it was because of me. I keep hearing from the Nueva York crowd that I'm not commercial--mierda! Tor is considered the more creative of American science fiction publishers, but I don't think they've done anything Chicanoish. Sci-fi these days likes to use Spanish names for their sexy characters, but they're just wet dreams for nerds. Short fiction editors seem to be responding to my Chicano stories, but I don't expect Tor, Nueva York, "big time publishing" to do so before it all crashes and burns.

RG: So, what's next from Hogan? You've gotten recent short stories accepted and I hear from another interview that you're gonna try something mainstream.

EH: Since I started blogging and got on Facebook, I’ve been selling stories faster than ever--not always for much money, if any, but at least people won’t think I’m dead. I spent most of the last decade writing a mainstream (another word I have serious doubts about) novel, Walter Quixote or Love in the Time of Terrorism that has been rejected all over Nueva York. I’ll probably have to publish it myself, which I’m learning how to do.

I also have an Arizona Chicano Private Eye novel called That Zapotec Thing, and my pre-Cortez on Jupiter science fiction effort, Nwatta- Nwatta-Nwatta, (a sort of a cross between Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy & Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas) that are still orphans. And if anybody is interested in a collection of my short stories, I like to do my Futuro-Chicano stuff while the issue is still hot. If not, I'll just publish them myself, my way without any corporate or industry restraints, which will probably result in artistic and political turmoil that the world may not recover from. . .

RG: Okay, I swear--last question. You see any change in Nueva York accepting more Chicano or Latino sci-fi authors?

EH: I hate to be one to tell you, but Nueva York and publishing as we know it are dying. From my perspective of working as a bookstore clerk and a struggling writer, I see it all crumbling, and it will come crashing down around 2012, if not sooner. It’s a combination of insane corporate management and the coming of new technology. The hardcover and paperback formats are going the way of the dinosaur. Latino/Chicano authors need to learn about the new media, and migrate there. It’s just another border to cross--no big deal. Create the new literary Barrio Electrico. Come up with amazing things that people--all people--will get swept up in. Ticomotraspasarhuililis!

RG: I lied: one more. You got any messages for anybody special in Colorado? Oh, and, what's your favorite musical note?

EH: Hi to my cousin Yvonne. And Ed Bryant. And the folks at Flying Pen Press. I don’t have favorite musical note or a favorite color, like in a bullfight, you use what moment calls for.
fin parte II
all drawings by Ernest Hogan

Today we announce who won an autographed copy of his first novel Cortez on Jupiter and how you can win his second novel High Aztech. And the winner is: David Lee Summers. Now, to win Aztech, create one of Hogan's language-twisters: either a new Spanglish term or a recombo-Náhuatl-Spanish term and send it to me in an Email [rDOTchDOTgarcia@cyboxDOTcom]. Ernesto has graciously volunteered to judge which is the most original, funny or outlandish entry. But if you want to leave comments about this Charla/Interview, please do so here.

Es todo, hoy