Smoking Mirror Blues
by Ernest Hogan
Published by Wordcraft of Oregon
211 pages, 2001
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Smoke and Mirrors
Reviewed by Claude Lalumière
Peer deep into the eponymous smoking mirror of Ernest Hogan's third novel and you'll be confronted with a delirious mosaic of sex, drugs, rock 'n' roll, post-cyberpunk savvy, linguistic fun and Aztec myth. It's been much too long since the last Hogan novel (1992's High Aztech, to be precise). In Smoking Mirror Blues, Hogan shows that he's lost none of his outlandish verve. If anything, Smoking Mirror Blues finds Hogan more willing than ever to flex his gonzo muscles.
In the near future, an experimental AI breaks loose, first in the mediasphere, then in the real world. The AI is none other than Tezcatlipoca, the Aztec trickster god. He possesses the body of a somewhat slimy computer whiz and finds himself in the middle of Los Angeles during Dead Daze, a prolonged holiday celebration that combines and amplifies the characteristics of both Mardi Gras and Halloween. Everybody wants a piece of Tezcatlipoca (which loosely translates as "smoking mirror"), and Smokey (as the AI god simplifies his name for the locals) wants a piece of everybody. Chaos ensues. Smokey learns to play rock 'n' roll. Sex, violence and misdirection abound. Great fun is had by Smokey and, consequently, by the reader.
Hogan's tale is filled with perspicacious social speculation, from the impact of the first Black American president to the collision of organized crime and global capitalism. Hogan tosses off great ideas like so much graffiti and attentive readers are rewarded with a swirling parade of interesting details about Hogan's imagined future. Hogan's world is very real and tactile, inhabited by people who want to squeeze it for every drop of pleasure, fun and advantage they can -- just like our world.
His cast is a baroque procession of misfits. In this future in which drugs and technology allow for an ever-increasing range of body modifications, Hogan bends and perverts gender and ethnic identities with thoughtful glee, thus enhancing the eccentricity of his peculiar characters. The narrative shifts at blinding speed from perspective to perspective, brilliantly capturing the frenzy of Tezcatlipoca's effect on the already chaotic Dead Daze.
Above all, though -- beyond the engrossing characters, the thrill-a-nanosecond story, the cleverly conceived future, the mindbending ideas, the outrageous sense of fun -- what impresses most about Hogan's Smoking Mirror Blues is its use of language. For this novel, Hogan created a Californian English that expands upon modern English's trend towards neologisms, snappy compounds and netspeak. It also incorporates a generous amount of Spanish. Hogan doesn't go so far as to turn his book into gibberish; he pushes his inventions just far enough that the reader feels constantly on the edge of being challenged by the language, while being able to understand it perfectly. A neat trick: Hogan gives his novel an authentic sheen of future exoticism while skillfully keeping the text crystal clear.
Another linguistic accomplishment is the novel's rock 'n' roll energy. Hogan keeps everything flowing at full speed by giving his story the tone of a rock 'n' roll song with a beat that just won't let up -- a beat that seeps into your heart, veins, bones and mind until you can't tell where the song ends and your self begins.
Smoking Mirror Blues has an open ending that just calls for more. Nevertheless, it does tell a complete -- and wholly satisfying -- story. Whether the continuation is left for readers to imagine or if Hogan intends to return to Tezcatlipoca and his antics, Smoking Mirror Blues remains an exemplary -- and exuberantly fun -- SF novel. | November 2001
Claude Lalumière is a January Magazine contributing editor and the comics columnist for Black Gate. He founded popular 1990s Montreal bookshops danger! and Nebula. His published criticism can be found on his Web site.