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Strange Horizons

 

Sci-fi Ainít Nothing But Mojo Misspelled: Ernest Hoganís Smoking Mirror Blues

by James M. Palmer

(originally published in Strangehorizons)

Welcome to futuristic L.A., or El Lay as it is called, home of graffiti and smog, where its inhabitants are gearing up to celebrate Dead Daze, a weird amalgam of Halloween, Mardi Gras, and the Mexican Day of the Dead. On this strange backdrop, Chicano author Ernest Hogan paints a strange world full of corporate-sponsored gangs, a new drug called Fun, the first African American president, instant access to information, and a revived Aztec god out to rule the world. Welcome to Ernest Hoganís L.A.

Beto Orozco, a hacker and game designer, resurrects the Aztec trickster god Tezcatlipoca, the Mirror that Smokes, in an A.I. version. But things quickly get out of hand when the god program takes control of Betoís body. Now existing both inside Betoís computer and his body, Tezcatlipoca sets out on his old trickster ways. Meanwhile, his girlfriend Phoebe Graziano, jilted when Beto blows off Dead Daze with her to run his program, runs off to the loving arms of her friend Caldonia. And in Mexico City, Betoís friend Xochitl Eucharren, who designed the god simulating program that Beto used, flees to L.A. from the Earth Angels, a radical group of religious terrorists who want to use the program for their own ends.

There are other players as well. Ralph Norton, Betoís partner on a game theyíre designing, who is sent to L.A. to find out what happened to Beto. Tan Tien and Zobob Delvaux of Ti-Yong/Hoodoo Investigations, who are determined to get to the bottom of the Tezcatlipoca phenomenon sweeping through the mediasphere, Hoganís future version of the Internet. These three eventually hook up and try to figure out how to stop it.

The part of Tezcatlipoca that inhabits Betoís body quickly runs amok. Now calling himself Smokey Espejo, he immediately comes to the attention of Dead Daze revelers and the media when he kills a gang leader who accuses Smokey of wearing out of date clothing. Smokey becomes the gangís new leader, joins a band, and starts a new cultural phenomenon. And thatís just for starters. There is still one more day of Dead Daze left, and the craziness that follows will keep readers turning pages to find out what happens next.

_Smoking Mirror Blues_ hits the ground running, shifting to different charactersí viewpoints every paragraph or so, which does a great job of creating and maintaining tension. And, because it moves in short spurts and weighs in at only 209 pages, it could easily be read in one sitting. If Harlan Ellison and William Burroughs had sat down to collaborate, this is the kind of book they would have written.

Hoganís knowledge of Aztec mythology and culture shines through in this work. This is fascinating stuff, especially if youíre tired of the same old Greek mythology that is such a huge part of the Western literary canon that serious readers know it by rote. His Los Angeles is a vivid portrait of where the city could be in ten years or so, and where we all are right now. How we worship cultural icons, our love of fashion and violence, itís all right here. And Hogan doesnít waste time describing the machinery of this world. All of the cyberpunk trappings are there: wrist phones, instant information via the mediasphere, but none of the technophilic obsession with flashy gadgetry that characterizes most cyberpunk. This is post cyberpunk at its zaniest.

Hoganís style is very visual. There is a lot of frenetic action with people running into each other, and snippets from live newscasts detailing events. There are touches of erotica here too, which might offend some longtime SF readers, but if youíre looking for something new and different, this certainly qualifies.

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