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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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Cosmos Latinos: Anthology of Science Fiction from Latin America and Spain (Book Review, Part Two)

The previous post covered the introduction of the Cosmos Latinos anthology edited by Andrea L. Bell and Yolanda Molina-Gavilán. This post will briefly describe the 27 short stories in the book without spoilers except for the first two essay-type stories. The 27 were selected to represent different authors and different “eras” of Latin American science fiction. Each story is preceded by a short biography.

In the Beginning: The Visionaries

1. The Distant Future by Juan Nepomuceno Adorno (Mexico, 1862). A treatise on what the author, an inventor and philosopher, thought the future would be like. He cites a philosophy called Providentiality, which sounds like Communism enhanced with literal brainwashing, all based on “moral science.” Racial differences literally disappear. Women’s rights are honored (sort of). Nature is submissive. Telegraph and trains link all parts of the globe like one big city. Neighborly aliens of our solar system also communicate with humans via telegraph. War has been eradicated. Medicine is highly advanced. Carnal pleasures are of limited use and sexual love isn’t a “frenzy of anguish and jealousy.”  The rare case of crime is a result of mental disorders which barely exist. People live in sparkling, safe, portable, and sometimes floating homes called social nuclei along with their local workers guild. In the social nuclei, men and women sleep separately. When their bodies develop, young women are presented at a Festival of Virgins in a kind of talent show.  The young men submit a formal request to a council of elders when they see someone they like. The women are then given the young men’s file and they decide who to marry at the Festival of the Adults. Women can be married for as long as they wish, and can separate easily at the same Festival of the Adults (hopefully away from all the marriages). When they return to the nuclei, the man goes to the men’s sleeping area and the woman gets a marriage chamber where her husband can only go by request.

2.  On the Planet Mars by Nilo María Fabra (Spain, 1890). Fabra, a journalist and a main force behind the creation of Spain’s first news agency, envisions a world where people no longer read but listen to all their news via paid in-home or street phonographs. People no longer write, but communicate via telephone. Only diplomats are taught to read and write. All streets are moving platforms at different speeds with hotels above them for travelers.  Canals crisscross the continents to allow for the melting of the polar icecaps and also for fast electric ships.  There is political, linguistic, and religious uniformity. Martians boast of synthetic clothing and food, free travel via an unnamed “vital fluid,” weather control, teaching via hypnotic sleep, telefoteidoscope (similar to TV and videophone). Mars discovers that their blue planet neighbor is inhabited, and the main news program Universal Resonance tells its listeners all about it. The story is a thinly veiled critique of Earth’s state of societal and scientific backwardness with a smugness in Mars’ superiority. Reports from Earth show mistreatment of women, excessive animal sacrifice, war, and general barbarity. The report starts talking of Earth but then ignores it in its insignificance to exalt Mars’ superior virtues. It is disheartening to read about an 1890 Earth that sounds a lot like what we have more than a hundred years later.

Speculating on a New Genre: SF from 1900 through the 1950s

3.  Mechanopolis by Miguel de Unamuno (Spain, 1913). Mechanopolis is the story of a traveler that comes upon a highly advanced city devoid of humans or animals and ruled by unseen machines that regard the man as a curiosity since humans have become extinct.

4. The Death Star by Ernesto Silva Román (Chile, 1929). In 2035, the radiation wave of a star passing near Earth causes all living things including humans to grow exponentially the closer it gets.

5.  Baby H.P. by Juan José Arreola (Mexico, 1952). Hilarious advertisement, directed to exhausted moms, of a contraption to harness the energy of children and put it to use in the home and even market any surplus.

The First Wave: The 1960s to the Mid 1980s

6.  The Cosmonaut by Ángel Arango (Cuba, 1964).  On an alien planet with sociable creatures of tentacles and pincers, a human visitor faces well-intentioned yet confused inhabitants. Interesting use of dark humor and authentically alien creatures.

7.  The Crystal Goblet by Jerônimo Monteiro (Brazil, 1964). The founder of the first Brazilian sci-fi club writes a story of Miguel, a former political prisoner, who rediscovers a crystal device from his childhood that shows disturbing scenes from a people unknown to himself and his wife.

8.  A Cord Made of Nylon and Gold by Álvaro Menén Desleal (El Salvador, 1965). At the height of the space race and the Cold War, an American astronaut, frustrated with humanity (especially his cheating wife), cuts the cord that tethers him to his orbiting space vessel with an unexpected result.

9.  Acronia by Pablo Capanna (Argentina, 1966). P. lives in a bureaucratic state, manned by robots but supervised by humans. The construct of time doesn’t exist, just the Plan, which tells everyone what they should be doing at a determined moment. Architecture and transportation are radically different: homes, shopping centers, and workplace quadrants orbit and intersect according to Plan. Due to “errors” in his education that were never fixed, P. starts to question and deviate from the Plan, a condition called oneiromancy that could result in exile from society.

10.  The Last Refuge by Eduardo Goligorsky (Argentina, 1967). A man persecuted by an authoritarian regime because he possesses photographs of the outside world seeks salvation from a nearby spaceship grounded due to mechanical difficulties.

11.  Post Boomboom by Alberto Vanasco (Argentina, 1967). Dark comedy about three not so bright men gathering to write the history of mankind that has all but disappeared after a cataclysmic event.

12.  Gu Ta Guttarrak (We and Our Own) by Magdalena Mouján Otaño (Argentina, 1968). Comedy of a family of Basque geniuses that develops time travel to discover the origin of their people.

13.  Future by Luis Britto García (Venezuela, 1970). A humorous depiction of the future of humanity and what happens when it finally reaches all its goals.

14.  When Pilate Said No by Hugo Correa (Chile, 1971). Humans travel to the planet of the Sumis, a “savage” race of smelly cave dwellers that look like insects. A Sumi prophet born on the night of a shining nova causes unrest among his people, and is brought before the human conquerors. The captain of the starship must decide the prophet’s fate.

15.  The Falsifier by José B. Adolph (Peru, 1972). Story based on a native legend about a white man who appears and performs miracles before he continues his journey, and the royal chronicler who in the 1600s feels obliged to change the tale to avoid heresy.

16.  The Violet’s Embryos by Angélica Gorodischer (Argentina, 1973). A mission to the planet Vantedour to discover what happened to a previous mission’s crew finds them alive and wielding seemingly infinite power.

17.  Brain Transplant by André Carneiro (Brazil, 1978). One of the founding fathers of Brazilian sci-fi presents a bizarre story of a future classroom in which the professor uses every one of his students’ senses to teach a lesson about the history of human brain transplants and reality.

18.  The Annunciation by Daína Chaviano (Cuba, 1983). Founder of Cuba’s first sci-fi writers’ workshop and host of genre-related television and radio programs before emigrating to the U.S., Chaviano presents an alternate and humorous view of the immaculate conception.

19.  A Miscalculation by Federico Schaffler (Mexico, 1983). A little fanboy lying in his back yard is dreaming of the stars when he suddenly sees a bright object come towards him.

Riding the Crest: The Late 1980s into the New Millennium

20.  Stuntmind by Braulio Tavares (Brazil, 1989). Roger Van Dali is chosen to be the first of several human contacts for a race of alien visitors, changing his life from simple bookkeeper to fabulously rich, but with severe physical and mental consequences. The contacts, called Stuntminds, provide a wealth of alien knowledge to the world.

21.  Reaching the Shore by Guillermo Lavín (Mexico, 1994). On Christmas Eve, a little boy dreaming of a new bicycle runs to greet his father at the end of his factory shift but his dad, a pleasure microchip addict, just wants his next fix.

22.  First Time by Elia Barceló (Spain, 1994). In a decadent world, a teenager writes excitedly about her first time in her diary while doing her best to ignore her computer teacher and parents that force her to socialize.

23.  Gray Noise by Pepe Rojo (Mexico, 1996). A reporter with a camera in his eye, embedded audio links and a direct line to the news center, roams the city in search of the best news. The more his items are viewed the better he gets paid, and violence always gets the most attention. Meanwhile anti-media extremists use the panic caused by a new illness called Constant Electrical Exposure Syndrome to advocate a radical change in society.

24.  Glimmerings on Blue Glass by Mauricio-José Schwarz (Mexico, 1996). An office full of detectives is addicted to the adventures of Jacknife, a fictional private eye. In real life however, their main job is to certify the mental retardation of assembly line applicants.

25.  The Day We Went through the Transition by Ricard de la Casa and Pedro Jorge Romero (Spain, 1998). The GEI Temporal Intervention Corps protects the pre-2012 historical timeline from those who would benefit from illegal time travel in Spain. In this particular story, the Corps intervenes in the post-Franco transition to democracy (1975-1981).

26.  Exerion by Pablo Castro (Chile, 2000). A metaphor for Chile’s brutal Pinochet period, this story is about a man traumatized by his father’s kidnapping who tries to escape the authorities himself years later by preserving his memories virtually. As he awaits the police, he attempts to break the record of his favorite videogame, Exerion.

27.  Like the Roses Had to Die by Michel Encinosa (Cuba, 2001). Encinosa tells the story of a world with millions of exotics- humans with extreme animal, vegetable, or synthetic implants. The Walled Zone inside an unfinished Olympic stadium is a market and center of a city filled with violence perpetuated by power struggles, virus-laden Skaters and the police.  Here the Wolf, a former space fighter pilot, awaits her friend the Wizard, a techno-alchemist. She recruits the Wizard to help free her husband Mastín from a group of mercenaries. The Wolf stumbles upon a war against exotics led by fanatical pure humans.

The only ones I found to be a chore to read were The Violet’s Embryos and Brain Transplant which were a bit too “out there” for me. My personal favorites were Baby H.P. and The Annunciation for making me laugh; Acronia and The Day We Went through the Transition for the worlds they create; Like the Roses Had to Die and Gray Noise for their fast-paced action; and Reaching the Shore for its tenderness. I will definitely be looking for more from these authors- any recommendations are appreciated!

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Morena Baccarin in V (Pilot Review)

Morena Baccarin as Anna in V

No garish red and black for me

Tonight the much-anticipated series V (Visitors) aired on ABC. This is a remake of the 1983 series about alien visitors to then-current-day Earth which I remember with a mix of excitement, disgust and fear as a child. The Pilot started off with the Visitors causing panic and mini-earthquakes. Spaceships hover over major cities blocking the sun and causing mass houseplant extinction. Just kidding.

People begin to calm down when Anna, played by Morena Baccarin, shows up and says everything is fine. Anna is the alien leader. Her story is that the Visitors need water and minerals abundant on Earth and will in exchange provide technology and universal healthcare. They even have a motto: “We are of peace, always.” Plus, every Visitor is humanoid and very attractive. As we all know, pretty people tend to be more successful at providing a good first impression (their shuttle craft, on the other hand, are butt-ugly).

Anna selects a reporter for a one-on-one interview based on the perception that said reporter will ask softball questions; in fact, she demands it with a beautiful yet evil smile. But hey, she’ll provide universal health care so who cares? Sign me up to become a “Peace Ambassador”- humans who learn about the aliens and pass along their awesomeness.

Morena’s acting was excellent. She does emotionless and calculating very well, like she did for the Stargate SG-1 series. It is refreshing to see a strong female leader, and this blogger is doubly happy to see a Latina in the role.

As a Pilot, my opinion is that it could have been better. ABC should have broadcast two hours to really get people interested. As it was, most people already knew the show’s premise from the 80’s series, and needed more to get them hooked. The timeline seemed rushed, with people deciding all too quickly to accept the Alien visitors, even visiting their ship (which is beautiful, by the way). Even being allowed to visit the ship so soon by the authorities  was ludicrous.  I saw very little military presence beside a fighter pilot and I found this highly illogical.  There seem to be very few people surrounding such a historical event, and there wasn’t a real sense of awe produced by extraterrestrials coming to Earth you get from films like District 9 and Independence Day. Perhaps the humanoid aspect of the aliens had much to do with that, but still.  (Remember the wonder the 4400 produced? And they were just humans.) Where was the sense of excitement and fear? In more people going to church? There are other lacunae I won’t mention because of potential spoilers, and I hope to get them explained as the show develops.  The topics covered are solid and interesting and I would like to see more. Media manipulation, humanity in crisis, beauty/attractiveness as a weapon of acceptance, terrorism, betrayal… I’ll be watching.

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