I have been blogging about each story to be included in my forthcoming anthology Alien Contact -- one story per week for 26 weeks, in the order in which they will appear in the anthology -- to be published by Night Shade Books in November. This is story #11. If you need to catch up, you can begin here.
"Guerrilla Mural of a Siren's Song"
by Ernest Hogan
This story was originally published in issue four of Pulphouse: The Hardback Magazine (Summer 1989), edited by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, and is approximately 4,500 words in length. This particular issue of Pulphouse was devoted to "Science Fiction," as noted on the cover. Unfortunately, the graphic is a bit difficult to read because all the covers were "foil stamped" using an iridescent ink, which reflects the light. You can read more about Pulphouse in my previous blog post that also pertains to this particular story.
I've always been partial to what I will call "sardonic" speculative fiction, which undoubtedly explains my 2003 anthology Witpunk (Four Walls Eight Windows), which I co-edited with Claude Lalumière. When I want to read fiction that is both sardonic and zany, I reach for something by Paul Di Filippo or Ernest Hogan or Rudy Rucker; both Paul and Ernest appeared in Witpunk. For Alien Contact I chose this specific story by Ernest Hogan -- I wanted an art story, a story with Class.
"Guerrilla Mural..." has, well, pretty much everything: a Chicano artist, Pablo Cortez, creates art from contact with the Sirens of Jupiter, channeled through a Zulu telepath named Willa Shembe. Cortez has a tendency to invoke the various Aztec gods as well. About this story, Ernesto writes:
Any resemblance between me and Pablo Cortez is purely coincidental. I tend to do my scribbling in sketchbooks rather than on walls. Pablo first came to me while I was experimenting with abstract expressionism in a painting class. Gravity limited the possibilities—if only there was a way to keep the drips from being pulled to the bottom of the canvas. Jackson Pollock put his canvas on the floor, but I was a Space Age baby. I guess if I hadn't been born an East L.A. Chicano, Pablo probably wouldn't have had his graffiti connections. I wrote "Guerrilla Mural of a Siren's Song" to be state-of-the-art. When Ben Bova asked for a synopsis for his Discoveries series [Tor Books], Pablo screamed at me. He went stark raving Spanglish in Cortez on Jupiter. The novel has developed a fanatical following, and I'm glad to be able to unleash Pablo into the world again. There are people who have been urging me to write a sequel, which I haven't really thought about. But then—it's not really up to me. I suppose it depends on what Pablo's been up to, and what he has to say to me after all these years.
And I just hope the world is indeed ready for Pablo Cortez's unleashing! But readers won't have to wait until Alien Contact is published in November to read about Pablo Cortez. With Ernesto's most kind permission, here is part 1 (of 3) of "Guerrilla Mural of a Siren's Song." If you like what you read, please consider pinging the author on Facebook or Twitter (@NestoHogan) and let him know you would like to read more -- the novel Cortez on Jupiter in eBook format, and the still-to-be-written sequel (assuming, of course, that Pablo cooperates).
Guerrilla Mural of a Siren's Song
by Ernest Hogan
(© 1989 by Ernest Hogan.
Reprinted with permission of the author.)
Like a miniature Jupiter gone insane, the paint-blob hangs in the middle of the room—a Jupiter whose tides and weather and powerful gravity snapped on the strain of the secret of its monstrous microscopic inhabitants so its regular bands are broken up into gaily swirling asymmetrical patterns of mingling paint with color almost computer-exaggerated—like the glorious unholy mother of all cat's eye marbles, it glares at me.
I try not to see her.
There's no gravity here, but that floating blob has a pull just the same. I orbit in freefall, make 'em let me paint in the center of these cans where the spinning doesn't suck you to the floor—and like the irresistible pull of Jupiter, so big, so bad, so goddam awesome that you feel yourself fall into those convulsive, frenzied clouds, like you're being sucked up, not pulled down (Jupiter is too big, too gigantic for you to ever be on top of it)—and it still pulls me.
And she pulls me.
I take the stick like an Aztec priest wielding a flint knife, or that cop swinging his baton on that cool, starless night years ago in L.A.—crushing the buckle from my gas mask into my skull, leaving a cute little scar on my scalp that I shaved my head for months to show off.
It exploded—like an amphetamine-choked blob. Amorphous little monsters sailed through the air, some colliding with me and sticking to my naked flesh. One sought my eyes in order to blind me. Lucky I have goggles like Tlaloc, the Rain, Water, and Thunder God...and a breathing mask—that's all the covering I need! I wipe away the paint, my vision is smeared with color.
The entire little canvas-lined room is exploding with color. Beautiful.
Still, the paint has this sickening tendency to settle into little jiggling globes that just sit there like mini-Jupiters, mocking me. I refuse to allow entropy to happen in my presence, so, like a samurai Jackson Pollock, I scream through my mask and thrash the disgusting little buggers into tinier flying sky-serpents that merrily decorate me, and the canvas on the walls.
And the canvas is raw, unprimed and the paint is mixed with a base that gives it the consistency of water. Splatter marks don't just sit there looking pretty—no, they grow fur as the canvas absorbs it, thirstily. My work is always wild and woolly.
Soon the colorful swordplay is over and I am victorious. All (except for a few little stubborn, but insignificant BB's) the paint is slapped down to the canvas. I shed my goggles for a while and the furious splatters change into visions.
André Masson, eat your heart out!
Bizarre hieroglyphs materialize in the Jovian storm clouds: Demonic cartoon characters exhaling balloons full of obscenity—hordes of baby godzilloids crawling through vacuum and eating rocks—endless three-D labyrinths of orbital castles complete with living gargoyles and tapestries you can walk into—large, luxuriant cars encrusted with jewels and tail-fins that race the crowded, tangled spaghetti of freeways with off-ramps all over the galaxy—the vegetal love poetry that an intelligent network of vines sings to the jungle it intricately embraces—the ecstatic rush of falling into an ocean of warm mud that tastes delicious and makes you feel so good—pornographic geometries that can only be imagined on a scale more than intergalactic—the Byzantine plots of surrealistic soap operas that take place outside of spacetime, in Omeyocan, the highest heaven—the ballet of subatomic particles smaller than any yet discovered!
Letting the stick fly, I attack the canvas with paint-covered fingers—desperately trying to record the visions before they fade, but never finishing before they do, so I have to fill many gaps with memory and imagination.
Then I see her face again.
That beautiful, perfect Zulu face, with impossibly intense eyes—beauty that puts the cold, marble-white classicism of dead and buried ancient Greece to shame, causing arrogant statues to crack and crumble to dust—making you see how right the barbarians were in knocking their heads off. A presence that is soft, yet extremely powerful, like the fearful sound of the soft, swishing skirt that reveals that an umkhovu—like a bad memory of apartheid—is roaming the midnight streets of Soweto, making its way past the sleepy suburbs, to the shiny new university to the Center of Parapsychology...
I find myself drawing that magnificent face. The face of Willa Shembe, a pampered little (she was taller than me, but still, somehow, little) psychic from Zululand, from whom I'll never be free. The sorcery that caused her "death" has contaminated me, enslaved me. I will see, draw, and paint her forever.
I should have known the first time I saw her—who knows how long after my surprisingly non-fatal encounter with the Sirens...
Whatever made Calvino send her to me? I guess a little inspiration flickers under that pale, bald head, behind those thick, old-fashioned glasses and fat, gray eyebrows on occasion.
I suddenly saw her—clearly and distinctly out of my feverish delirium and telepathic hangover—dancing galaxies and soft, squishy, organic cities faded to let her power through.
Calvino must have been desperate. I, of all people, survived a mind-to-whatever encounter with the Sirens!
Me, Pablo Cortez, infamous guerrilla muralist from the wild, crumbling concrete and stucco overgrowth of L.A.—who refused to be absorbed into the decaying society I satirized in my work long after my fellow wall-defacers were caught, arrested, and offered a chance to become honest artists who paint on neat, clean canvases that are displayed in sterile galleries, and bought by the affluent to show everybody how sensitive they are by what they choose to decorate their expensive, prestigious apartments with. I, who tattooed the Picasso quote, "PAINTING IS NOT DONE TO DECORATE APARTMENTS. IT IS AN INSTRUMENT OF WAR FOR ATTACK AND DEFENSE AGAINST THE ENEMY," on my own left arm with a felt-tip pen and a safety-pin. The guy who really meant it when he helped paint—fast, so we could get it done and get the hell out of there before getting our heads busted—Quetzalcoatl choking on smog, Uncle Sam holding up the heart of a draftee for the "disturbance" in South Africa (soon to be Zululand—again) to the gaping jaws of a Biomechanoid War God, mutilated/spacesuited corpses and countless mass portraits of the ever-growing throngs of the homeless to decorate the featureless, empty walls of the blank architecture where Mr. and Ms. Los Angeles could see as they did the freeway boogie to work. Siquerios and Orozco and every spray-can wielding vato would've been proud!
That fast, slashing, hit-and-run style of the Guerrilla Muralists of L.A. was mine—a direct outgrowth of my rushed, rabid scribblings of monsters from my id that I leave on any available surface. Moe, Desiree, Johnny, Maria, LeRoy, Buck, and Estela were all really quiet artistes at heart. They preferred to work quietly, in air-conditioned, sound-proof studios with neat, meticulously laid-out materials. Just a bunch of nice kids pushed to the edge of a demented society—but I had fallen off that edge long ago. I really believed in our rebellion, and wouldn't be satisfied with becoming a darling of rich liberals. If any one of them was lowered down into the Great Red Spot, their sensitive, humane, artistic minds would have blown out so fast they'd have sprayed out of the exoskeleton and coated the entire inside of the dirgiscaphe with their gooey remains.
No, it took a maniac like me.
They could be comfortable lapping up the regurgitated wealth in the center of the Hollywood Empire, or fly out to the colonies to help create the new official art of the Space Culture Project, while I created splatterpainting, my Freefall Abstract Expressionism, and got my ass kicked out.
It didn't bother me. Not me. I had to keep going. Keep wandering. Volunteered to go to Ithaca Base and get lowered through the dangerous radioactive magnetosphere of the Big Planet, down to the Great Red Spot, into the heart of the Sirens' sphere of influence, let their alien thoughts flow through my skull and survive!
[Continue to Part 2]