Cyberpunk is the combining of science fiction and technology with a future society on the brink of self-destruction. Ernest Hogan takes the concept a step further, blending in his love of the Aztec’s ancient beliefs and civilization to produce very unique and gripping stories. When it comes to science fiction of a different breed, Hogan is definitely sitting in the front row. For me, it is the author’s research and knowledge of the ancient, his ability to intertwine that with the future and make the end product so unbelievably believable that sets him apart from so many other writers. Yet, at the same time, his sharp eye for current culture captures our own nuances and splintering trends to create characters both contemporary and just around a futuristic corner.
Quite frankly, Hogan’s work is so entertainingly unique that I’m confused why this author’s work isn’t better known. One reviewer aptly referred to Hogan as a “…mad Mexican Hunter S. Thompson….” His 1990 debut novel “Cortez on Jupiter” gave readers a preview of what was to come from an author not afraid to take risks. Cortez on Jupiter’s main character is the leader of the Guerilla Muralists of Los Angeles, and the exponent of the latest form of free-fall art – splatterpainting. He also becomes the first human to have contact with aliens. Combine this storyline with Aztec mythology, and readers had in their hands a book filled with artistic expression, suspense, thrills, humor, all the dystopian science fiction they could handle, and prose filled with originality and wordplay.
“High Aztech” presents a virus capable of infecting any human mind with forced religion, and renegade cartoonist Zapata running through Tenochtitlan - the erstwhile Mexico City - pursued by the government, the Mafia, street gangs, cults, and garbage collectors.
Hogan’s “Smoking Mirror Blues” tells the tale of gamer technology buffs who create an artificial intelligence version of the Aztec trickster god Tezcatlipoca. Only Tezcatlipoca gains awareness and decides to take over the world by injecting his consciousness into tech nerd Beto Orozco and transforming the young man to neo-god status in order to gain control thru havoc. “Smoking Mirror Blues” is a successful clash of cultures, mythology, rock-n-roll, sex, and deities sure to satisfy many readers’ appetites in search of something a little different and engagingly entertaining.
Born in LA, Hogan now lives in Arizona with his wife where he works at the library. A cartoonist, illustrator, writer, and consultant on pre-Columbian mythology, he can be found on Facebook sharing his vast knowledge and obscure photographs with the world, as well as his blog ‘Mondo Ernesto.’
Q) What sparked your fascination with the Aztecs?
A) I'm a born-in-East-L.A. Chicano. My mother's maiden name is Garcia. That makes the Aztecs my ancestors, and part of my heritage. They are also an example of culture is “alien” to those who live in the 21st century corporate consumer society, while still being human. I plug my imagination into things Aztecan and bizarre things happen that I write down, and turn into stories.
Q) The obvious question: What made you decide to combine the future with the past, and very successfully so?
A) The future comes out of the present – that comes out of the past. If you try to create a future without using elements from the past and present you create something sterile. Also, what makes good fiction is people – humans doing outrageous things – and the past is full of that. The future will be too.
Q) Art plays a huge role in everything you do. Where do you believe your passion for art comes from?
A) I'm an artist. I've always got a sketchbook that I'm doodling around in. Creativity is the way I do things. If I'm not finding ways to make strange constructions out of that I encounter in life, I get bored and depressed. Leave me alone and I start doing something that someone will call art. And I don't limit myself to fine art – I prefer Ed “Big Daddy” Roth to Andy Warhol, and comic books to graphic novels, I watch surrealistic art films and low-budget exploitations film with equal enjoyment.
Q) You also write short stories, which have appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies. “Obsidian Harvest,” co-written with Rick Cook, was part of a collection nominated for a prestigious Nebula Award. Do you find greater expressive freedom in your short stories or your novels?
A) Here we get complicated. You can write whatever you want. Problems and restrictions come when you try to publish. I write far-out stories, then try to find a market that will publish them. Sometimes this can take decades. Also, the more freedom you get, the less money comes with it. Ben Bova gave me absolute freedom in writing “Cortez on Jupiter” and “High Aztech” – something that doesn't really happen anymore. In trying to sell novels, I do find myself thinking about what “they” will buy, but now Big Publishing is crashing, and I'm experimenting with self-publishing this is all changing. The novels I'm working on now are things that wouldn't have been published a few years ago.
Q) “Smoking Mirror Blues” was originally a short story in Science Fiction Age magazine. What made you decide to turn the story into a novel?
A) Actually, it was the other way around. I started “Smoking Mirror Blues” as a novel after “High Aztech” figuring that I was on my way to making a living as a novelist. Unfortunately, mysterious things happened with “High Aztech” – the ad in Locus had no text, no review copies were not sent out, backstock disappeared when stores wanted to reorder. The sample chapters and synopsis of “Smoking Mirror Blues” were rejected after much mucking around, then no one would buy it. I got depressed and had what was for me a rare case of writer's block. Then Scott Edelman got in touch with me about this new magazine – Science Fiction Age – that he was editing, and he wanted a story from me. And I had nothing because I was concentrating on novels for the last few years. I tried to sell Scott part of the “Smoking Mirror Blues” sample, but Scott, being a good editor felt it didn't have an ending. I was stumped. Finally, my wife suggested I write the end of the book, I did, and Scott bought it. Later my agent suggested I finish the novel, I did, everybody in New York rejected it again, so I went the small press route.
Q) You enjoy pushing boundaries. On your blog, you even jokingly tell readers to ‘read on at their own risk.’ Readers have categorized your books as cyberpunk. How do you feel about your stories being placed in a niche?
A) I've been joking that I was post-cyberpunk before cyberpunk. I try to write stuff that's interesting, and entertaining. These days I actually try not be literary, though I still get called avant-garde. Labels help what people try to market you, but I seem fall between the cracks. I've been published mostly in science fiction markets – others just don't bite – but Analog once rejected a story for being “too surrealistic and cartoony.” It's probably for the best that I ignore what people call me and just keep doing what I do.
Q) Any parting comments for fans and those who haven’t read your work yet, and, when can we look forward to your next book?
A) Buy my ebooks, and review them, if you like them or not. Some of my best quotes come from people describing what they didn't like about my work. “Cortez on Jupiter” and “Smoking Mirror Blues” are available now. “High Aztech” will be coming out soon. After that, I'm doing a collection of my short stories. On the novel front, there a futuristic bullfighting novel, and a fantasy about the pre-Columbian ball game in which I will ignore all the rules of what people say a proper fantasy novel should be. And then I never know what's going to trigger a short story. . .
DA Kentner is the author of the acclaimed suspense novel Whistle Pass http://whistlepass.blogspot.com/