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City of the Gods: The Return of Quetzalcoatl (Book Review and Interview)

The Feathered Serpent, Quetzalcoatl

City of the Gods: The Return of Quetzalcoatl, a novel by Patrick Garone, is a unique fusion of science fiction and fantasy combining space travel, lost civilizations, mythical creatures, and alternate timelines sure to delight the genre fan. It sounds complex- and it is- yet it is told in a straightforward, easy to read manner that won’t make your head spin even when you’re trying to pronounce the complicated names of the characters to yourself (there’s a handy guide in the back for this). Garone may be a first time novelist, but his initial effort is hard to put down.

The story begins as the siblings Eddie and Sandra Ramírez find themselves in the front row of an amazing event in their native Mexico City- an enormous spaceship has appeared in the sky over the city center, and it starts addressing the citizens in a language that few understand in modern-day Mexico: Nahuatl.  Due to Sandra’s on site location and expertise in the language, this graduate student of cultural anthropology is recruited by the government to help the Presidential task force to communicate with the new arrivals. Blinded by the prospect of interacting with beings that could unravel the mysteries of the ancient civilization that built the Teotihuacán pyramids, Sandra accepts the job and is tied to events that may lead to the destruction of the very culture she wishes to protect.

Meanwhile, Sandra’s teenage brother Eddie is left in Mexico City and is witness to an epic battle between huge mythical beasts that are somehow related to the arrival of the spaceship. The whole city is in a panic.  Newly elected President Carrasco finds it difficult to face this exceptional challenge, and feels the pressure of his cabinet, the media, and the special envoy from Washington who demands a swift military solution.

Although the ‘alien arrival’ plot may sound familiar, City of the Gods adds the elements of Mesoamerican mythology, the modern-day Mexican experience, and the heightened paranoia of a post 9/11 world. Also, you learn a thing or two about pre-conquest Mexican deities and Mexican history.

I don’t want to get too specific here to not ruin the plot so to give you an idea of what to expect, this book reminded me of the Stargate movie, Indiana Jones, and Godzilla with a dash of Cthulu. It is refreshingly devoid of romantic entanglements and needless subplots. It would make an excellent alien invasion movie that’s different and uniquely Mexican.

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I had the opportunity to interview author Patrick Garone, who is a Chicagoan of Italian heritage. He is a fellow sci-fi geek (he particularly enjoys Fringe and Alien) who speaks Spanish and is a long-time member of a Latino sketch comedy ensemble. Here’s what he said:

About Garone’s creative process for City of the Gods:

I have a theory about stories. I believe that the parts of stories- characters, themes, plots-are all out there and a writer is just someone who is lucky enough to tune into them. Over the years I was able to tune into all of the elements of City of the Gods. It’s all stuff that I am really into. It’s really a weird story that grew out of a place where a lot of my interests overlap: politics, Japanese monster movies, anthropology, time travel, etc. At some point, I was like “Aha! I can put all this together into a cool story.”

I worked on it on-and-off for about two and a half years. Originally, it was going to be a screenplay but I was very unhappy with the way that it came out. It’s funny, because it has obvious cinematic roots, but that first draft was really bad because the characters were very flat and sort of monster movie stock characters. When I started writing it in prose it just came alive and began to decompress.

My challenge was that I knew it was essentially going to be a giant monster story, but I wanted to tell a really good giant monster story with vivid characters and a point of view and something to say.

I particularly liked Sandra because she wasn’t waiting to be rescued but wasn’t Wonder Woman either.

Well, my background is in the theater and in improvisation so I really like to feel like I am inhabiting my characters. I like to get under their skin and make them real and quirky.

How much did you know about Mesoamerican culture (the gods, symbolism, history) before you started writing? How historically accurate is it aside from the science fiction aspect?

I knew quite a bit actually. I am a real archeology buff and I have traveled to most of the major sites in Mexico and Central and South America. Most of the research actually was about Cortés and the conquest for the opening section [of the book] which was originally much longer. […] if anything turns out to be inaccurate, it is due to alternate universes, for which I am not responsible. But yes, you can trust most of the stuff Sandra [the cultural anthropologist] says.

Although you are an American with Italian heritage, you wrote this book with a special sensitivity towards Latinos. I read on your website that you are a member of a Latino theater company.

I guess I’m what you call “latinamericanizado.” I’ve been fortunate enough to have a lot of really close Latino friends and associates, who have turned me on to a lot of Latino culture. I work with Salsation Theatre Company, which is one of the first and only Latino sketch comedy and improv companies in the US. I came on board through a friend and really fell in love with the tight family vibe. It’s funny though, as an Italian American I have a different perspective especially on the whole immigration issue, which I see as being really cyclical. A lot of the ugliness and xenophobia that we see now is really eerily like what we had in the 20’s directed towards the Italian community. The immigrant experience in the US is really a long continuum.

What’s next for you?

I feel like promotions for this book will keep me busy at least through the end of the year but I have something that is percolating. I have to see if it sticks or not. But at some point, I’d like to revisit Quetzalcoatl. I feel like he has some more stories in him.

Where can we purchase City of the Gods?

Right now the book is available on Amazon.com and on my site. It will be coming to the Kindle Store in December for those newfangled anti-paper people.

City of the Gods is a great read, and considering this is Garone’s first novel, I expect even greater ones in the future. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

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Gods Don’t Need Sex Tapes to be Popular in ‘Smoking Mirror Blues’ (Book Review)

tezcatlipocaWhat would happen if the Aztec god of trickery Tezcatlipoca were to appear in our world? How would he gain power? By going viral of course. This is the premise of the novel Smoking Mirror Blues, written by Ernest Hogan.

Set in Los Angeles, the story begins when Chicano virtual reality game designer Beto Orozco uses bio-nanochip technology to revolutionize religion and bring an AI god to life. He appropriates this technology created by Mexican friend Xochitl Echaurren, originally for use in belief system research. Things go terribly wrong in Beto’s weird science experiment and he winds up possessed by Tezcatlipoca. Meanwhile in Mexico, Xochitl is hounded by monotheist fanatics due to her god-creating program.

During the ‘Dead Daze’ celebration, where permissiveness and violence are the norm and the mediasphere is always watching, Tezcatlipoca or ‘Smokey’ as he is nicknamed, finds fertile ground to begin his reign of chaos. Smokey topples a gang leader, and as the gang’s new boss, he has direct access to its corporate sponsors. In this world, corporations have adopted gangs and integrated them into LA society. Previously the gang’s main job was to patrol their turf for people who didn’t have their sponsors’ latest apparel- a type of aggressive Fashion Police. With Smokey at their head, the gang members become unwitting minions of a malicious god. The gang helps Smokey gain followers for his hypnotic music and personality cult, while hopped up on the drug of choice ‘Fun.’ ‘Smoking Mirror Blues’ is the name of Tezcatlipoca’s hypnotic song set to dominate the world via mediasphere.

Besides AI technology, the author presents a future LA where races are mixed and celebrated. The author calls it a ‘recombocultural trimili world’. You can easily switch races and alter your appearance through cosmetic technology. Other interesting technologies in the book are robotic guard dogs, a Toshiba sonic immobilizer, and a tranquilizer-infused ‘Peace Foam’ used for crowd control.

Ultimately the story is about how Smokey manipulates peoples’ desires and the media to gain power. The book Smoking Mirror Blues, just like Tezcatlipoca, is a bit chaotic. It constantly shifts from one point of view to the next, even of secondary characters. The style is literary shaky cam. Some people might like this, but I must admit that shaky cam makes me nauseous. There are also constant plot interruptions: hallucinations, news station coverage, explicit sex scenes, detailed travel time, and the monotheist cult’s surveillance. I would have preferred a more focused story. Still, I enjoyed the futuristic technology and the idea of an Aztec god running amok in modern times. Also, Smoking Mirror Blues really brings the diversity in terms of ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation of the characters.

UPDATE August 8, 2010: There is a great interview with Ernest Hogan over at ‘La Bloga’ about his background and other works.

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