Saturday, November 27, 2010

Chicanonautica: Mexica, Norman Spinrad, and the Electronic Revolution

It was as if an expedition of black Africans had made their way up the Nile and across the Mediterranean to Italy and were trying to make enough sense of the Roman Empire of the Caesars to attempt to conquer it. – Norman Spinrad, Mexica

I think we need to make Norman Spinrad an honorary Chicano. His novel of the conquest of Mexico, Mexica, is the reason. It was published in Spanish in Mexico, where it was a bestseller. A film is in the works, in English, from El Uno productions.

Those are things that not many Chicano/Latino writers have accomplished. But, before you go online or to you're favorite bookstore to grab a copy, don't bother. This amazing novel is not available in English, or in America. Seems that Nueva York has treated Norman Spinrad like a Chicano.

He and his agent bounced the book all over Nueva York -- and couldn't sell it. Spinrad reports that most of the rejections were on on the assumption that:

. . . American readers wouldn't be interested in an historical novel about the key event in Mexican history, this in a country where there are at least 40 or 50 million Mexican-Americans fluent in English whose very culture and ethnic identity were the result.

Yet Mexica has a potential appeal far beyond the Latino Lit market. It's one of those books that has everything. Not just a bit of ethnic studies and historical curiosity, this rather straight reportage of the Conquest is more fantastic than the best science fiction and fantasy. It makes Star Wars and Lord of the Rings look mundane. There's action, adventure, horror, even romance. You want wild entertainment? Well, here it is!

It's also a powerful rendering of an important subject. Spinrad's viewpoint character, a Jewish Spaniard who had lived under the Muslims and the Inquisition, provides a fresh perspective to the Mexica (it is pointed that “Aztec” was derogatory term, like Chicano once was), and Spaniards who are equally alien to the modern reader. The rich complexities of Latino identity become clear:

Marina, who had been Malinal, smiled at Alvaro de Sevilla, who had been Alvaro Escribiente de Granada, who in his heart was still Avram ibn Ezra or in truth Avram ben Ezra.

As history goes on, identities change. Maybe that's what Nueva York is afraid of . . .

So why am bothering you with all this, if you can't buy this book? Well, the good news is, you can! But not in the old way. Spinrad has released Mexica as an ebook. Nueva York's days as the literary capital of the world are numbered. A revolution has begun. And the changes that will come for readers, writers, and publishers will be comparable to those that happened when Cortes conquered Tenochitlán.

Go now, and join the revolution.

Ernest Hogan has been a fan of Norman Spinrad since The Last Hurrah of the Golden Horde, and No Direction Home.


jmu said...

Ah, but an english version of the book exists. It was published by the Little, Brown Book Group in the UK on November 1, 2005. according to, its ISBN is 978-0316726047 and/or 0316726044. And the LA Library has several copies.

Just sayin'...

Ernest Hogan said...

I was aware of the UK version, and really glad to know that that the LA Library has it. But it is already out of print. If you want to get a copy in English, the ebook is the way to go. Meanwhile, Nueva York has missed the boat.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the commentary, Mr. Hogan. I have seen articles here and there on the internet about Mexica, but your blog review--especially including the excerpts that you chose to present--actually helped me to decide whether or not to purchase the book, which I now plan to do. And it's refreshing to read your points about the intransigence of the big publishing houses, by the way.

Andrew Burt said...

By way of update, the first US print edition has just been released from ReAnimus Press. It's available on Amazon as well as directly from the ReAnimus Press website.


Great news about the print edition!