Thursday, February 20, 2014
Monday, February 10, 2014
Saturday, November 23, 2013
You could only find the Impala by accident. It was way off trail, in the back part of a wetland tucked between an urban river and the woods behind a bunch of light factories. They were the kind of woods and wetlands no one is really meant to explore, made from volunteer trees grown up between the chunks of concrete and demolition debris dumped in this downzoned stretch of interstitial wilderness at what once was the edge of town. The negative space of the metropolis, where nature fills in the gaps and wild animals feel free to roam in the absence of human gazes.
When you stumbled across it as you stepped out of the tall water grasses, it looked like it might have been there for thousands of years. But you also could remember when cars like that cruised the streets. Cars with Batmobile lines forged in a pre-apocalyptic Detroit. Cars whose profiles of postwar strength and Rust Belt wonder persist even as they weather into ruin. It was of that certain vintage, after the assassination of JFK and before the resignation of Nixon. Baked by the sun to primer working on gunmetal, with water plants growing up out of the seats and the engine block, guarded by the herons and egrets who filled the secret sanctuary of the wilderness hidden under the roar of the old highway.
You couldn’t tell how it had gotten there. It might have washed downriver in a big flood, or been driven down here at some time when the river channel was different. You would go back and look for it once in a while, and it was always there, but every time you went you needed to intuit a different path through the impassable wild vegetation and knee-sucking muck. It manifested different forms with the changes in the river, sometimes almost completely submerged, at other times almost ready to fly off with its steel hood extended like a gull wing. A mystical motorhead Ozymandias that transported you in ways its designers never intended.
It’s gone now, pulled out of the muck by newer machines dispatched by the stewards slowly working on cleaning up the edgeland and turning it into a park. Maybe they are right that it didn’t belong there with the birds and the fish and the native plants, so close to the “scenic overlook” that there was a real possibility some Audubon Society folks might see it. But it sure seemed like an indigenous expression to you, an artifact that perfectly expressed the essence of this place. You can still find its digital ghosts, if you know the right place to look on the omniscient maps, but that won’t last long.
Curiously, I found love tracking metal Impalas in these uncanny wetlands, another wanderer tuned into the strange vortex of surreal power of the Zona. She was making the wind dance in the windows of an old concrete fire tower while I was paddling against the current in a river out of time. That was five years ago. Yesterday we got married, and today we’ll celebrate with family and friends in this place we ended up making our home. The relics will come and go, but the wonder is always there if you can open up your third eye to it. The power is inside us, and especially poderoso now that we have a pair of magic rings to knock together. Our love is about a lot more than place, but the way we met is what set us on course into the uncharted territories ahead. It’s pretty awesome.
Thursday, November 7, 2013
Wednesday, September 18, 2013
A decade ago I wrote a story about a clandestine group of U.S. psychological warfare operatives who commissioned a piece of post-Frazetta sword & sorcery fantasy art as a secret weapon to influence a Middle Eastern dictator. The story, "Script-Doctoring the Apocalypse," was influenced by the news reports of Rowena Morrill chainmail bikini paintings found by American troops when the captured Saddam Hussein's secret bachelor pads. It was published in Eileen Gunn's The Infinite Matrix, the very week that Saddam was captured in a Tikriti spiderhole.
It turns out that Psyop part of the story was more plausible than I had intuited. Jayme Blaschke just tipped me to this amazing story from the Independent (with a byline much older than my story) about how the CIA covertly funded the New York School Abstract Expressionist painters all through the 50s and 60s as a propaganda weapon during the Cold War. On a "long leash," granted, using a variety of intermediaries—but still mind-blowing to consider what role intelligence support had in the mid-twentieth century American avant-garde (to say nothing of cultural products that made postwar anti-communism culturally credible among the intelligentsia—see below reference to the animated version of Orwell's Animal Farm).
Unknown to the artists, the new American art was secretly promoted under a policy known as the "long leash" - arrangements similar in some ways to the indirect CIA backing of the journal Encounter, edited by Stephen Spender.
The decision to include culture and art in the US Cold War arsenal was taken as soon as the CIA was founded in 1947. Dismayed at the appeal communism still had for many intellectuals and artists in the West, the new agency set up a division, the Propaganda Assets Inventory, which at its peak could influence more than 800 newspapers, magazines and public information organisations. They joked that it was like a Wurlitzer jukebox: when the CIA pushed a button it could hear whatever tune it wanted playing across the world.
The next key step came in 1950, when the International Organisations Division (IOD) was set up under Tom Braden. It was this office which subsidised the animated version of George Orwell's Animal Farm, which sponsored American jazz artists, opera recitals, the Boston Symphony Orchestra's international touring programme. Its agents were placed in the film industry, in publishing houses, even as travel writers for the celebrated Fodor guides. And, we now know, it promoted America's anarchic avant-garde movement, Abstract Expressionism.
Independent, "Modern art was CIA 'weapon'
Where's the gonzo James Ellroy novel about these guys?! Maybe Don DeLillo already wrote about Pollack and the spook and I missed it.
Tuesday, September 10, 2013
Monday, September 9, 2013
One of the major national newspapers of Mexico City, La Reforma, published this great piece recently on the World Fantasy Award nomination for Three Messages and a Warning. It helps explain what a big deal it is from the perspective of the Mexican writers included in the anthology to get a major English-language genre award. I thought it worth translating into English.
August 27, 2013
COMPILING FANTASTIC WRITING
Fiction anthology edited in US
Book nominated for the World Fantasy Award—a prize won by Stephen King
by Rebeca Pérez
The streets of Mexico produce interesting literature.
Maybe it's because they are the scene of incredible inventions driving to an apocalyptic or technology-filled future, but they also offer settings full of nooks and crannies ready for the imagination.
That's the view of the American writer and editor Chris N. Brown, who, together with Eduardo Jiménez Mayo, compiled an anthology of 34 Mexican authors united around fantasy and science fiction themes.
Titled Three Messages and a Warning: Contemporary Mexican Short Stories of the Fantastic (Small Beer Press, 2012), this anthology of stories by authors like Bernardo Fernández BEF, Albero Chimal, Pepe Rojo, Hernán Lara Zavala, and Ana Clavel, has earned a nomination for the World Fantasy Award in the anthology category.
This prize was created in 1975, and is the most prestigious of the genre. It has been awarded to authors like Haruki Murakami, Stephen King, Joyce Carol Oates, George R.R. Martin, Alan Garner and Karen Joy Fowler, among others. This year's winners will be announced November 3 during the 2013 World Fantasy Convention in the United Kingdom.
While only a nomination, the editor affirms that it is an important validation of the creativity and imagination of the authors collected in the book, as well as an award that could generate greater interest in Mexican literature among international readers and writers.
"I think this nomination will lead to more translation of Mexican writers of fantastic literature, and to more anthologies of translated works from other countries and languages," affirmed the Texan writer.
"For me, the most valuable thing these diverse Mexican writers share is a recognition that reason alone is inadequate to explain the experience of the world we live in, and that literature provides us the tools to explore and document the uncanny side of life," added the editor.
This creation of the anthology began in 2009, when Chris was invited to participate in a binational science fiction conference as part of the Festival of the Historic Downtown of Mexico City.
The trip generated many revelations for him. He felt that the Mexican capital was a window into the sprawling city of a science fiction future, and it put him in contact with authors who exposed him to interesting new experiences.
"I thought the energetic young Mexican writers were in many respects more interesting than my Anglo-American colleagues, and that my fellow readers and writers in the US would be interested in hearing their voices," said Brown.
"The Mexican writers provide an intensely rich and multicultural 21st century voice. I think that global network access liberates them a bit from the folkloric confines in which many North American readers tend to situate Mexican artistic product. They are well past the postcolonial. The writers in the anthology are totally global and uniquely Mexican all at the same time," explained Brown.
Several of the authors who participated in the anthology affirm that the World Fantasy Award nomination is important for the nation's literature, because other genres have not received recognition of this sort.
They hope it helps Mexican writing to be translated and marketed in other publishing markets.
"I hope this nomination generates more interest for Mexican literature among the English language market, which as you know does not give much attention to writers in other languages," said Mauricio Montiel Figueiras, who participated with the story "Photophobia."
For Pepe Rojo, who provided the story "The President Without Organs," this distinction should be treated as a major event, but to the contrary hasn't received the attention it merits.
"The nomination of the anthology is phenomenal, and reveals a crisis in Mexican literature," he said. "There have been no reviews or notices of the book in Mexico, and even the nomination has passed by without any real notice in the cultural world down here."
"It really is an unprecedented success that raises the possibility that Mexican literature will open doors that were always closed before." — Alberto Chimal, writer
"It's an unusual thing for Mexican literature to be considered for the most prestigious English language prize for the literature of the fantastic, and I see it as a spectacular collective achievement." —BEF, writer