Category Archives: Books

‘Gil’s All Night Fright Diner’ by A. Lee Martinez (Book Review)

Gil’s All Fright Diner by A. Lee Martinez is a fun, quick read I recommend for those of us that enjoy fantasy stories that don’t take themselves too seriously. It begins with the unlikely (in other universes) pairing of a vampire and a werewolf.

While passing through the town of Rockwood, rough werewolf Duke and self-doubting vampire Earl end up in an out-of-the-way diner. They find out that this is no ordinary diner- it has a recurring zombie attack problem. Earl and Duke help the diner’s owner Loretta work together to fend off an attack and stay on as workers to help solve the undead issue. The zombies, however, are only a symptom of the real problem; local teenager Tammy is hell-bent on bringing the old gods back to this dimension and ruin things for everyone.

Gil’s All Fright Diner is a simple story written with plenty of humor. I really enjoyed the character development of Duke and Earl, but was a bit disappointed in the female characters. For example, I was left trying to figure out why Tammy felt the need to destroy the world besides the fact that she’s a teenager. I suppose evil doesn’t need an excuse, but I felt it needed more. Also, the constant reference to Tammy’s hotness (and her using sex to get anything) and Loretta’s ugliness (she was fat and therefore, undesirable) was over the top.

Thankfully, to balance out Tammy, there is a ghost called Cathy who I at first thought was there to be rescued but ended up being a strong character in the fight against evil. Also, “ugly” Loretta is a strong woman that takes no bullshit from zombies or any other creature even with her limited human body. While Duke and Earl can heal themselves, Loretta can not, so her bravery kicked ass.

I have a few A. Lee Martinez books I’ll review here; he’s a fun fantasy author to read.

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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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The Island of Eternal Love by Daína Chaviano (Book Review)

Spanish book cover and front flapBefore reading fantasy novel La Isla de Los Amores Infinitos (available in English as The Island of Eternal Love) the only other Chaviano work I had read was a sci-fi short story about the Immaculate Conception (mentioned in my Cosmos Latinos anthology review). I really enjoyed that story for its irreverent sense of humor. It put the author on the radar for me. The Island of Eternal Love is part of Chaviano’s “The Occult Side of Havana Series” which the author’s website describes:

“In these works Havana is the point of departure for arriving at other universes – fantastic or magical – that lead the characters to unexpected discoveries about themselves. Each novel explores different facets of spirituality: reincarnation, Celtic magic, Spiritism or mediumistic practices, Afro-Cuban cults…”

The Island of Eternal Love is a family saga that includes ghost relatives, fantastical creatures, obscure religious rituals and supernatural abilities. It’s also a great story to learn about Cuban history while being entertained. The novel focuses on three families originally from China, Nigeria, and Spain that end up in Cuba .

The three families are [this section contains spoilers]   :

1. From China: Kiu-fa, husband Síu Mend, son Pag Li. They flee Chinese civil war to Cuba with Síu Mend’s grandfather who lived in Havana’s bustling Chinatown. They used dream interpretation to play the clandestine Chinese Charade lottery.

2. From Spain: Clara, husband Pedro, daughter Ángela. When the women of this superstitious family hit puberty, they are cursed with a mischievous dwarf called Martinico only they can see. Ángela can also see other fantastical entities.

3. From Nigeria: Caridad (African name Kamaria) and Florencio, both emancipated slaves of African mothers and white slave trader fathers that start a business in Havana. Caridad can see ghosts, and her daughter Mercedes falls victim to a demon that completely alters her personality.

English translation cover [END SPOILERS]

The families’ story is told by an old woman (Amalia) to Cecilia, a Cuban woman who left Havana for Miami. She alternately misses Cuba and despises it. Cecilia’s loneliness in her new city makes her visit with the old lady again and again to continue the tale. Cecilia is a reporter investigating claims about a phantom house that appears and disappears in different Miami locations. Only people with the ability to see supernatural phenomena can see it. In general they are reluctant to talk about it, so Cecilia is having a hard time writing the story.

Cecilia isn’t a very likeable character (she gets rather depressing after a while), but she is a smart investigator that is open-minded about the supernatural. The novel constantly switches from Cecilia’s investigation to Amalia’s story. At first I found Cecilia’s phantom house investigation intriguing, but as it went on I wanted to get back to the “good stuff” which to me was the old woman’s story.

The old woman’s tale eventually brings the three families together and along the way explores Cuban political, musical, slave, and ethnic Chinese history. It is also heavy on the religious rituals from all three family cultures and has a subtle sense of humor throughout. I would recommend this book for anyone who likes stories of ghosts and the occult and/or is interested in multi-ethnic Cuban history. Chaviano writes beautifully in Spanish, so I hope this translates well in the English edition.

Check out Daína Chaviano’s official website here. There is also a Facebook fan page and a book trailer for The Island of Eternal Love.

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Argentina Encourages Kids to Write Science Fiction in National Contest (News)

child writing scifiOver at cuyonoticias.com, I came across an article about a writing contest organized by the Sciences Faculty of the National University of San Luis in Argentina.

They had previously held this contest in their province, and this year it will extend to all schools in Argentina. The goal of the contest is to develop students’ interest in science, science fiction, and creative writing. The winners, to be announced in December, will get their short story published, three books (one for their school) and other prizes. The contest is open to schoolchildren ages 10-18. Can you imagine being a published kid recognized nationally? And in sci-fi? Way to go Argentina! More of this please.

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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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