A TOP SHELF review, originally published in the March 25, 2016 edition of The Monitor
In the early 1990s, a Chicano from East L.A. published a pair ofA TOP SHELF review, originally published in the March 25, 2016 edition of The Monitor
In the early 1990s, a Chicano from East L.A. published a pair of science fiction novels that would go on to receive considerable critical acclaim and make significant inroads into the genre for Latinos everywhere.
Hewing more closely to weird, gonzo pulp fiction and comics than to the more politically active realism preferred by the Chicano intelligentsia, he was for many years unknown to his hermanos literarios. The culturally embedded nature of his narratives likewise made him less palatable to mainstream readers of sci-fi. Both of these oversights are gradually being corrected. Soon Ernest Hogan will be recognized as an essential, revolutionary voice.
By the late 1980s, Hogan had published several stories in Analog and other professional markets, and this success encouraged him to submit a manuscript to author Ben Bova, who was curating at the time a series of novels by up-and-coming writers for TOR. Their resulting negotiations produced in 1990 what is likely the first Chicano “hard sf” novel ever: the widely hailed Cortez on Jupiter.
Two years later, Hogan followed his debut up with the cyberpunk masterpiece High Aztech.
The story line is set in the year 2045, in a Mexico City that has returned to its ancient name of Tenochtitlan, the capital of a country to which Americans now flock due to the decline of the United States. This migrant flood complicates the revival of the Aztec religion, as Christian groups vie with indigenous Mexican beliefs, leading to the creation of biological virii that infect human minds with the ideology of one faith or the other. Xólotl Zapata, a renegade cartoonist, is the carrier of the Aztec virus, and he soon finds himself pursued by multiple groups hoping to stop the ascendancy of Mexico. Yet their plan to cancel out his infection with their own has consequences that they could never have imagined.
Now, I’m going to be straight-forward about something: High Aztech is not an easy read. That’s a good thing, however. Hogan crafted a novel that rivals the bizarrely cryptic genre work of Burroughs or Lessing, that takes linguistic, philosophical, and structural risks along the lines of A Clockwork Orange.
The frame story is an interrogation of Xólotl, but his erratic, ADHD stream of memories is interrupted by commentary from observers, notes from field operations, and other creative techniques for widening the narrative net. While these choices mean we don’t get as much character development and depth as perhaps traditional methods might achieve, for Hogan’s philosophical and politically speculative purposes, it’s a great fit.
Most spectacular, however, is the hybrid language with which Xólotl laces his responses to the interrogation. Called Españahuatl, this fusion of Spanish and Nahuatl (the indigenous Aztec tongue) is at times wildly funny and earnestly poignant, much like the “Nadsat” that Anthony Burgess once crafted.
Sadly, TOR pretty much abandoned the novel right after its publication, doing nothing to publicize a book that they clearly realized was more ethnic than they had expected. Fooled by his last name, many in the publishing world didn’t realize that Hogan was actually a Chicano (rather than a daring Anglo). His full-throated expression of Latino sensibilities within the frame of science fiction is only now being fully appreciated....more