Not since Ayn Rand's Howard Roarke has there been an artist as iconoclastic, as idealistic, and as splendidly spectacular as Pablo Cortez. And look out, he's twice as radical!
"Energetic, fast-paced, funny, and thoroughly enjoyable." -Analog
Combining hard science fiction with pyrotechnics worthy of "The Stars, My Destination," Ernest Hogan tells the story of the painter who founds the Guerrilla Muralists Of Los Angeles, goes on to make Mankind's first contact with the sentient life-forms of Jupiter.
“If Hunter S Thompson and Alfred Bester had a Chicano child, it would be this. - Dave Hutchinson
The Secret Origin of Pablo Cortez
An Introduction to CORTEZ ON JUPITER
A long time ago, in the outer fringes of Los Angeles County, I was working on an abstract painting, when Pablo Cortez popped out. The art teachers at Mt. San Antonio College ("Mount SAC") encouraged abstract art, none of this stuff with recognizable imagery or social commentary and certainly no commercial art or illustration. They were Fine Artists who created Fine Art that educated middle class people could dress up in their best clothes, visit on the weekends in downtown galleries or museums and feel civilized.
I was a Chicano kid (yeah, yeah, I was born in East L.A., my mother’s maiden name was Garcia – ya wanna see my I.D. while we’re at it, officer?) whose ideas of culture came from television, drive-in movies, and reading material I bought at liquor stores. I felt that my art should grow out of the funky environment that I lived in. The future starts now, and it also starts here.
No wonder Pablo Cortez popped out of that painting.
I was having a good time playing Jackson Pollock, slinging and smearing paint, putting stuff like paint thinner to make it drip ... and there was a problem with the drips. I liked them, but they had a tendency to flow in the same direction – down. This would dominate the composition, nail it to the ground. I needed to defy gravity somehow. Like I was on an orbiting space station.
I was also experimenting with writing about Chicano characters – finding new viewpoints for that gave a fresh, intense life to my stories. (Yeah, I could be an artist and writer. And I could understand science, too. Keep your borders out of my way...) I was interested in the things that weren’t in science fiction, after all, they were going to be in the future, too.
Also, once you’ve got a good character – one that comes to life on the page and in the reader’s mind, you’re like a mad scientist who has zapped a monster to life. All you have to do after that is follow it around, study how it interacts with its environment, report to the world what happens ... that is if the military doesn’t come screaming down out of the sky and blast it all away for the common good.
This was the Seventies. The Sixties had burned out. The Vietnam War had just ended. Nixon and Watergate were dominating the news. The economy was in the toilet. Everything seemed to be out of whack. A lot of people thought the world was coming to an end. As one of my teachers said, "You keep expecting to see people wearing crossed ammunition belts."
This was before Star Wars (yeah, I’m old) and everyone knew there was no money in science fiction, and there was none of the trendy talk about diversity we hear about now. Everybody seemed to think that the science fiction audience was all white nerds who would be alienated by "minority" stuff. I was looking out into a world that certainly was diverse, and the term "minority" was becoming meaningless. I was trying to create the best, most original writing that I could, because it had to be done, and I guess my intent was to be revolutionary.
In some ways, I was as crazy as Pablo Cortez.
My first version of the story of Pablo Cortez – a novelette that no longer exists, and I don’t even remember the title – was never published. I struggled to write it, then sent it around, and got rejected. A few editors thought I showed promise, but no one wanted to publish it.
That was after I gave up on studying art, the whole world of Fine Art made no sense to me, so I dropped out to pursue writing. I did have some minor success as an illustrator and cartoonist, but that was underground. For years I lived under a mound of rejection slips.
Granted there were personal encouraging notes from editors, and later on the occasional sales that kept me from quitting.
Then Ben Bova started his Discoveries series for Tor. He was looking for new writers. My wife, Emily Devenport, urged me to send him something. He was asking for synopses, so I sent him one of a surrealistic, sex-crazed (and still unpublished) space opera.
Ben didn’t go for that one. He explained that he was working for a conservative guy who wouldn’t go for such kinkiness, and wasn’t beyond burying a book that he didn’t like.
However, Ben felt that from my bio, I had something different to bring into the field with my ethnic and artistic background. He asked for another synopsis.
And of course, I didn’t know what to do.
Lucky for me, Pablo Cortez, like a good monstrous creation, had refused to die.
I had just sold a condensed version of Pablo Cortez’s story, "Guerrilla Mural of a Siren’s Song" to Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Dean Weasley Smith’s Pulphouse: The Hardback Magazine. I was taking Ray Bradbury’s advice that if you still believe in a story that you couldn’t sell, after a few years, cut out a page, and send it out again – and I cut a lot more than a page.
What if I take that story, shove a stick of dynamite up its ass. stand back, and take notes on what comes splattering down all over the landscape?
Ben liked my Cortez on Jupiter synopsis, and suddenly, I had become a real writer, with contract with a New York publisher, an agent, and everything.
This was the Eighties. I did not sell Cortez on Jupiter as a Chicano science fiction novel. Nobody believed that there was an audience for such a thing. I’d be honest about my ethnicity, but because I wasn’t dealing with people face-to-face, they’d assume I was white like all the other sci-fi geeks. I said that the main character was named Pablo Cortez, but didn’t go on about his being a Chicano, or speaking Spanglish. I hoped they wouldn’t notice until it was too late.
To my surprise, Ben essentially, let me go wild, and write what I wanted, the way that I wanted. His advice was minimal, but dead on. I don’t think this happens much anymore.
Despite what some people might like to think, Cortez on Jupiter is not autobiographical. Like a lot of my viewpoint characters, Pablo Cortez started out as parts of me would live a lot differently if they went off on their own agenda. Good fictional characters usually have less sense of self-preservation than real people, and have a knack for getting into interesting kinds of trouble. Writers tend to find ways to get along, so they can write.
But there are people who claim that they can’t tell my fiction from my nonfiction. Believe me, I’m always aware about where my life ends and the fiction begins.
Cortez on Jupiter got great reviews. I was compared to William Gibson. I smiled a lot.
Unfortunately, it didn’t become a runaway bestseller. An editor at Tor called it a "success d’esprit."
This was also a time when science fiction was going in one direction, and I was going in another. With bookstores, and publishers in the control of corporations, the genre was becoming nerd lit – that is, fiction created specifically for nerds, which is different from what I grew up reading. Modern readers wanted stories focus-grouped for their demographic, part of franchises they were familiar with, brought to them by multinational corporations they trust. And, please, no new ideas!
"I like sci-fi because I always know how it’s going to end, and there are no surprises," as one once explained to me.
Still, Cortez on Jupiter attracted a loyal following. You could say it has become a bit of an underground cult novel. I’ve always kept one foot in the underground, so when the shit hit the fan, I’d have a place to stand.
Locus published two reviews, one calling it the best science fiction first novel since Neuromancer, the other complaining about the "abominable prose style."
Like the rest of my work, people either love or hate Cortez on Jupiter.
Some fans were turned off by the Spanglish, thought it was alienating and hard to read while others loved it, telling me that it was the first time they saw language they used every day in print. One editor called my readers, "noisy minority.” Maybe they weren’t noisy enough.
And now that it’s the 21st century, and tides are turning, we’re hearing a lot of talk about diversity, postcolonialism, Afrofuturism and nerds that come in all colors, it may be that Cortez on Jupiter’s time has finally come.
I have this bad habit of being ahead of my time. Maybe that’s why I became a science fiction writer.
So, meet Pablo Cortez, the product of the life of a renegade Chicano. His story isn’t nerd lit. Nerds – whatever their ethnicity – need to be challenged, not coddled, like bulls who refuse to charge the matador, and need to be stuck with firecracker-studded banderillas to perform. Maybe it will inspire you to perform, face the unknown, or even our own future. The future always contains the unexpected, and danger.
And if you have the right attitude, it can be wicked fun.