Reality is the only game worth playing. — Smokey Espejo in Smoking Mirror Blues.
If you think Emma Bull’s conception of the loa and the post-collapse city they created in Bone Dance was weird, consider that in Ernest Hogan’s Smoking Mirror Blues, which is set in the very near future, the citizens of Los Angeles are preparing to celebrate Dead Daze, a bacchanalian rave of a holiday that’s an over-the-top merging of All Hallows Eve, the Mexican Day of the Dead, and Mardi Gras. The reawakened Aztec god Tezcatlipoca, riding the body of a human, is feeling quite well, thank you! And let’s not forget that the Day of the Dead, which forms part of Dead Daze, is at its heart a time when the barriers between the dead and the still-living are all but completely erased. So maybe the gods do walk again … And this holiday, not dissimilar to the one in the Strange Days movie, needs National Guard troops to prevent rioting!
Beto Orozco, a VR games designer with too much time on his hands, decides to create an AI version of Tezcatlipoca using some illegal software he finds. The result is a digital resurrection of a god that would have been best left sleeping away the centuries. Tezcatlipoca, or the digital version of this god, downloads Himself into Beto’s body and runs wild through futuristic Hollywood. The trickster god who is Tezcatlipoca adapts all too well to the strange new world, and gets back to his old business of creating chaos and taking control of the universe, which is, in this case, a Los Angeles that will never be the same again.
Can Smokey Espejo, the incarnate combination of Tezcatlipoca and Beto, conquer the world by sheer force of will? Can Beto regain his conscious state? Is this really Tezcatlipoca? Will El Lay, the name for this L.A., survive this ultimate party with a resurrected god as the host? And what will become of the now suppressed Beto?
The loa are an interesting concept that has been used to good effect in any number of novels, including, as noted above, Emma Bull’s Bone Dance, but also Nola Hopkinson’s Brown Girl in the Ring and William Gibson’s Sprawl trilogy. Sometimes they are rationalized as being AIs, as they are here and in the Sprawl trilogy. But are they really AIs? Or is the digital version just a pathway for real beings to become part of our universe once more?
Gibson left that matter ambiguous in his writings, and Bull never clearly states what her so-called Horsemen are in Bone Dance, but Hogan is clear — this is Tezcatlipoca! All parties in Smoking Mirror Blues want a piece of Tezcatlipoca (which loosely translates as “smoking mirror”), and Smokey wants a piece of everybody and everything. And Tezcatlipoca is used to getting everything he wants.
(Keep in mind that the Aztec gods were among the nastiest beings that ever existed. Just remember that their priests cut the hearts out of the sacrifices and showed them to the victims as they died in horror!)
Smoking Mirror Blues is full of sex of many kinds, including tantric; drugs so strange they defy description; constantly mutating rock ‘n’ roll that truly is global in nature; post-cyberpunk technologies that will make technophiles drool; interesting speculation about the future of both criminal and apparently not criminal organizations; linguistic construction/deconstruction; and large dollops of Aztec myth. Fast-paced, dense with detail, intelligently written, and imbued with a weirdness that’s quite fun to read, this novel is so good that this author bears watching.
If the press release for him is any indication, Hogan is one weird being, as noted in the biography: ‘Ernest Hogan, the internationally acclaimed author of cult novels Cortez On Jupiter and High Aztec, has appeared in publications as varied as Penthouse, Hot Talk, Amazing Stories, Semiotext (E), Proud Flesh, Science Fiction Age, as well as Greek and Italian magazines. His most recent publication has been “Obsidian Harvest,” a collaboration with Rick Cook in Analog. Latino.com has featured an article on him. He is working on a website, and is legally married to two of the most beautiful science fiction writers in the world.’
Hogan has a good grasp of both science fiction in general, with influences from genre movies (Bladerunner, Strange Days, to name but two), and written fiction (there are shades of the Neuromancer universe here. ) The press release from the publisher that came with this advance review copy has a quote from the great review zine Factsheet Five that Smoking Mirror Blues reads like ‘William Burroughs on steroids …’ Not a chance! Hogan writes complete, well-thought-out and coherent passages of text — something Burroughs was incapable of doing on his best day. (I will not even touch upon Burroughs at his worst. Shudder!)
However, the quote from Norman Spinrad, which notes that Hogan has created a magic realism novel, is correct. Smokey Espejo could hold his own alongside the Corbae beings that Charles de Lint created in Someplace to Be Flying, or the Horsemen in Bone Dance.
Smoking Mirror Blues is just over two hundred pages long, which makes for a fast and somewhat dizzying read. It’d make a hell of a good movie provided it had the right director, a great SFX team, and a top-flight cast of actors. I wonder which Mexican actor would play Smokey Espejo? And would Terry Gilliam direct the film version?
(Word Craft, 2001)