Thursday, September 23, 2021

Chicanonautica: Chicxulubing Into an Old/New Word

by Ernest Hogan 

Warning: R. Ch. Garcia is a cohort of mine and responsible for my getting involved in La Bloga, so I may not be completely objective in discussing his major achievement in speculative fiction, Death Song of the Dragón Chicxulub. (I warned him about the hazards of introducing a strange new word to the Anglocentric book biz. May Tezcatlipoca help him.)

Anyway, Death Song, or maybe I should call it Chicxulub--readers need to get used to learning alien words if they’re going to survive in this world--is out, and it’s good, a heroic fantasy, coming-of-age story that’s also a journey of Mexicanidad, pushing the limits of the YA/Young Adult category, that’s really just a marketing gimmick (I remember when it was weird new thing, that seemed too dominated by church youth counselors, that in recent years focused on introverted high school girls of all races). 

I also remember when fantasy wasn’t considered an Anglo thing. It is the intellectual property of the entire human race, but in the Nineteen-Sixties of my childhood, it wasn’t considered proper for someone over age 12 to be interested in such things. Then Lord of the Rings became popular. I first read it around 1970 in high school, jocks would see the cover and accuse me of being a sissy, then I would show them one of the gorier passages . . . In a few years sword&sorcery invaded the paperback racks; it rapidly devolved into a commercial formula that got so Anglo I wanted to scream. This was while I was studying (on my own, school was no help) pre-Columbian, African, and other cultures, and getting inspired.

At one point I wrote an angry letter to Amazing Stories (where I would later make my first fiction sales) asking WHY IS FANTASY SO DAMNED ANGLO? (yeah, in all caps, just like that). It didn’t seem to do much good. And it took the publishers decades to begin to stop thinking that all marketable fantasy worlds were based on distortions of medieval England.

Things have changed a bit, though I must note that Chicxulub was not published by a New York publisher. And mainstream publishing is all the poorer for it.

Death Song of the Dragón Chicxulub really is a major achievement. Not just an exercise in regurgitating undigested pop culture like most YA, we’ve got more than a typical Jungian monster fighting tale here. There is a lot more going on—the Dragón, la Muerte Blanca, is not just a threatening beast, she is a fully realized character and  a creation that stands out in global pop culture that has become crowded with such things. Fans of more conventional fantasy and science fiction will be impressed. She also grows out of pre-Columbian mythology.

To make it all the better, the book contains a lot of reality. The best fantasy is always intimately connected to realism. It’s set in a time and place that can be recognized as our modern world. There is a quest that goes from New Mexico, to Mexico City, to Chichén Itzá and the Yucatán—places I’ve been to on my own quests—that all ring true.

And the characters! The primary protagonist, Miguel Reilly is an Irish-Mexican (like me, though he isn’t at all like me) going against the usual stereotypes about the Latinoid Continuum. Maritza Magdelena, the leading lady, who is more of co-hero, a Maya medical student who can hold her own in a supernatural battle. And then there’s Tomás, the shaman, who is going to be compared to Carlos Castaneda’s Don Juan, but is much more interesting and inspiring.

I have always found Castaneda entertaining, but somewhat lacking, and suspect. I knew some people who went to one of his “magical passes” retreats back in the Nineties. Their descriptions of what went on did not change my mind. People who buy Death Song of the Dragón Chicxulub will be getting more spiritual bang for their bucks.

This is a big step toward the de-Angloization of fantasy. And a helluva good read. Something to buy and give as a gift during Hispanic Heritage Month. 

Ernest Hogan, has a story in Speculative Fiction for Dreamers: A Latinx Anthology (on sale now). He also will be judging Somos en escrito’s Extra-Fiction Contest--the deadline is September 30, hurry mi gente!

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