Monthly Archives: June 2010

Argentina Encourages Kids to Write Science Fiction in National Contest (News)

child writing scifiOver at, I came across an article about a writing contest organized by the Sciences Faculty of the National University of San Luis in Argentina.

They had previously held this contest in their province, and this year it will extend to all schools in Argentina. The goal of the contest is to develop students’ interest in science, science fiction, and creative writing. The winners, to be announced in December, will get their short story published, three books (one for their school) and other prizes. The contest is open to schoolchildren ages 10-18. Can you imagine being a published kid recognized nationally? And in sci-fi? Way to go Argentina! More of this please.

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Gods Don’t Need Sex Tapes to be Popular in ‘Smoking Mirror Blues’ (Book Review)

tezcatlipocaWhat would happen if the Aztec god of trickery Tezcatlipoca were to appear in our world? How would he gain power? By going viral of course. This is the premise of the novel Smoking Mirror Blues, written by Ernest Hogan.

Set in Los Angeles, the story begins when Chicano virtual reality game designer Beto Orozco uses bio-nanochip technology to revolutionize religion and bring an AI god to life. He appropriates this technology created by Mexican friend Xochitl Echaurren, originally for use in belief system research. Things go terribly wrong in Beto’s weird science experiment and he winds up possessed by Tezcatlipoca. Meanwhile in Mexico, Xochitl is hounded by monotheist fanatics due to her god-creating program.

During the ‘Dead Daze’ celebration, where permissiveness and violence are the norm and the mediasphere is always watching, Tezcatlipoca or ‘Smokey’ as he is nicknamed, finds fertile ground to begin his reign of chaos. Smokey topples a gang leader, and as the gang’s new boss, he has direct access to its corporate sponsors. In this world, corporations have adopted gangs and integrated them into LA society. Previously the gang’s main job was to patrol their turf for people who didn’t have their sponsors’ latest apparel- a type of aggressive Fashion Police. With Smokey at their head, the gang members become unwitting minions of a malicious god. The gang helps Smokey gain followers for his hypnotic music and personality cult, while hopped up on the drug of choice ‘Fun.’ ‘Smoking Mirror Blues’ is the name of Tezcatlipoca’s hypnotic song set to dominate the world via mediasphere.

Besides AI technology, the author presents a future LA where races are mixed and celebrated. The author calls it a ‘recombocultural trimili world’. You can easily switch races and alter your appearance through cosmetic technology. Other interesting technologies in the book are robotic guard dogs, a Toshiba sonic immobilizer, and a tranquilizer-infused ‘Peace Foam’ used for crowd control.

Ultimately the story is about how Smokey manipulates peoples’ desires and the media to gain power. The book Smoking Mirror Blues, just like Tezcatlipoca, is a bit chaotic. It constantly shifts from one point of view to the next, even of secondary characters. The style is literary shaky cam. Some people might like this, but I must admit that shaky cam makes me nauseous. There are also constant plot interruptions: hallucinations, news station coverage, explicit sex scenes, detailed travel time, and the monotheist cult’s surveillance. I would have preferred a more focused story. Still, I enjoyed the futuristic technology and the idea of an Aztec god running amok in modern times. Also, Smoking Mirror Blues really brings the diversity in terms of ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation of the characters.

UPDATE August 8, 2010: There is a great interview with Ernest Hogan over at ‘La Bloga’ about his background and other works.


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Anonymous Rex Series and Movie (Review)

velociraptor detective Eric García (Repo Men) wrote three novels about the dinosaur detective Vincent Rubio: Casual Rex, Anonymous Rex, and Hot and Sweaty Rex.   Detective Rubio is a velociraptor, not a Rex, so I suspect that the author wanted a catchy and suggestive title.

In Rubio’s world, dinosaurs have not died out, but remained disguised members within human society to protect themselves from the humans that would hunt them down if they knew of the reptiles’ existence. Maybe they watched too much V series and took it to heart. Because dinosaurs are at all levels of society, they can tweak paleontological data so that dino research ‘proves’ their extinction. If a human isn’t fooled or discovers the true nature of the disguised dinosaurs, dinos have full authority from ‘the Council’ to kill them.  Most dinosaurs, including Rubio, look down on humans as inferior beings. This comes as no surprise if you can fool them for millennia into thinking you are extinct.

Detective Rubio unguised In the novels the dinos are costumed as humans and interact with them normally in their daily lives, even as children. It is a very difficult premise to believe in, even for this reader who ‘accepts’ holosuites and hidden schools of magic. The costumes are so wrong- the high tech suits are made of latex and are supposedly so authentic-looking that it looks real even when the dinos are naked. The dinosaurs keep their snouts and tails in check with straps and buckles! I can ‘accept’ that evolution made dinosaurs smaller –even human-sized– because the story offers the plausible explanation that the fossil record has been severely tampered with. But the hiding in latex thing (and hiding for centuries pre-latex) was really hard to get past to enjoy the stories.

Thankfully in the TV movie Anonymous Rex (2004) the technology used to disguise dinosaurs included high tech holographic images as far as I could tell. Except they could feel their transformation and their bodies’ volume changed (?!). I’m still unsure what they did about their tails. I admit that I never really got over the ‘dinos in costume’ idea, but that didn’t make me hate the storylines. Although flawed in practice, it is an amusing premise. The dinosaur society quirks are amusing too. In their world, for example, dinosaurs get addicted to herbs like basil, whereas alcohol has no effect. Dinos can identify one another through pheromone scents, and tend to sniff one another on the back of the neck when they meet. Here’s a summary about each book in the series and the TV movie.

Rubio and Watson doing their thing Casual Rex (2002) was written after Anonymous Rex (2001), but it is a prequel so I’ll cover it first. It introduces us to Vincent Rubio and his partner Ernie Watson of Watson & Rubio Investigations. Although Watson has a terribly unoriginal name, he is the sweetheart of the two and infinitely more likeable than Rubio. Watson is a T-Rex, fatherly, and wiser than the younger Rubio. He’s obsessed with his ex-wife. Vincent  is obsessed with his clothes and drug (herb) habit.

In the story, Watson & Rubio investigate a dinosaur cult called ‘The Progressives,’ in which dinosaurs strive to connect with their primitive  side even though they grew up as human as possible to fit into society at large. ‘Progress’ entails becoming more of a natural dinosaur. The problem is not this philosophy, but when the Progressive leaders take it to the extreme.

Anonymous Rex The TV movie Anonymous Rex was based on the Casual Rex novel, and not the Anonymous Rex book. The movie plot is similar to Casual Rex but the core conspiracy was at a much smaller scale in the film.  The movie adds a daughter (Stephanie Lemelin) for Ernie Watson (Daniel Baldwin) who is mostly there to get rescued. Vincent Rubio is a much more likeable character (being Sam Trammell helps of course). The book has two amusing subplots sadly missing from the movie: an investigation for the detectives’ landlord and a great costume maker/drag queen called Jules that I would have loved to see in the movie. Both the book and the movie deal with Vincent’s ambiguity towards the ‘Progressive’ cult ideas. Something refreshingly toned down in the movie was the constant intolerance towards humans and ‘lesser’ dinos- Compys being the lowest of the low- it made Rubio that much more unlikeable. Another problem with the book is that some of its humor is dated.

The second book, Anonymous Rex, is definitely the best of the trio. If you read just one book in the Rex series, make it this one. The story is about Vincent Rubio hitting rock bottom: bereft of a partner, doing herbs, and not being able to get out of debt because the agency isn’t taking on enough jobs. He had recently been thrown out of the local Council, which unlike the movie, doesn’t play Mahjong to make decisions- they fight it out (sometimes literally). He manages to land a job at a big detective agency, Trutel, and while investigating the case of a nightclub fire, finds it links back to what happened to his old partner.  This book covers more dinosaur idiosyncrasies like how they get hospital care without blowing their cover, the taboo world of sex with humans, how dinos procreate, and black market guises.

The third book, Hot and Sweaty Rex: A Dinosaur Mafia Mystery, is about a recovering herbaholic detective Rubio who finds himself enmeshed in a mafia war between Velociraptors and Hadrosaurs down in South Florida. Rubio is coerced into working for the Tallarico (Velociraptor) family. In this case he’s working with Glenda Wetzel, a Hadrosaur, previously introduced in the series as a detective friend.  To complicate matters, Vincent is friends with the Hadrosaur family boss. (This book is where the Anonymous Rex movie gets its Mahjong idea- it’s what the Raptor mobsters play.) I’m not into mafia books or films so I’m  biased here but I found the story quite boring. It is definitely the weakest of the three for me, although it had its fun moments.

Summing up, I would recommend seeing the Anonymous Rex movie and the Anonymous Rex book for campy fun. Read Casual Rex if you want more of partner Ernie Watson and dinosaur alt-history, and skip Hot and Sweaty Rex unless you really like your mob stories.

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Karibukai Animation Festival

North entrance to Ballajá

This weekend I made it to the Karibukai Animation Festival. I say “made it” because it was raining constantly this past week and I waited until the very last day of the festival for drier weather.

I got the chance to meet Carlos Goméz Nicolás (Nikodemo), creator of the funny animated series from Spain Cálico Electrónico. Niko was freshly arrived from a (wet) tour of El Yunque rainforest. Poor guy came to Carlos Gómez Nicolás and Menormally sunny Puerto Rico and barely saw the sun.  He was nice enough to autograph stickers of his Cálico series for free. Cálico Electrónico is about a short chubby janitor/superhero that fights (or tries to fight) bad guys in Electronic City. Some videos the Cálico website are dubbed into English so if you can’t understand Spanish you’re in luck.

I saw Dig Comics, a pro comic book reading documentary with writer/director/host Miguel Cima (of Argentinean heritage).  From what I saw, Cima is very much a comic book fanboy and this documentary is a labor of love.  Made me smile.  There was a second documentary about comic books called Comic Book Literacy. It was a longish but very educational. I learned something of the history of comics in the United States.

Of the Japanese anime I saw, I found Gundam Unicorn to be the most interesting and will be looking for the DVD. I hadn’t seen any robot anime since Voltron.  I thought it had ruined me for anything else.

The shorts contest was disappointing not because of the quality but because of the quantity. There were only three contenders, and three prizes, so it wasn’t exactly a fierce competition. Hopefully next year we’ll get more entries. Here were the winners:Elena Montijo, Wewex Collazo, José (Pepe) Vázquez

1st place ($250) and Viewer’s Choice award ($150). Fried, Elena Montijo Capetillo. This was a cute dark humor story about a little girl who loves her chickens but each bird is a bit crazy (and the girl too). I voted for this entry because it was the one I liked best. Having it created by a woman was a nice bonus. Check out her promo video at the link. It shows a bit of the winning short starting at 0:37.

2nd place ($200). Boricuas Beyond: Happy Hour, José Luis Collazo. This animated short from the Puerto Ricans in the future series Boricuas Beyond was the one I least enjoyed. Although the animation is excellent, I didn’t like the crude humor.  It uses local pop culture and slang heavily so it would be hard to get if you’re not a Puerto Rican living on the island.

3rd place ($150). Ventana, José Vázquez. I’m not sure Ventana was a story, it was more like a look at past and future Puerto Rican cartoon characters, some corporate logos and others from comics and webseries. Vázquez also presented a short called Mad Taíno about a native couple who fight Spanish conquistadors.

I really hope more animators and  film producers participate in future Karibukai events. It’s great exposure and the money isn’t bad either. Here’s to next year not having such foul weather that keeps people home. I really enjoyed the event and hope the Karibukai Festival will become a yearly tradition.

Carlos Torres and Emilio Torres of, event organizers

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