Pros: Wild and crazy plot
Cons: Very surreal in places
Rating: 4 out of 5
Ernest Hogan’s High Aztech is a wildly imaginative blend of high tech and “Aztecisms”. It takes place in Tenochtitlán, which used to be Mexico City before Armageddon happened. Xólotl Zapata is a poet, writer, and journalist. His girlfriend Cóatliquita seems to be involved in some sort of shady organization, and has been spotted in busy public places touching everyone she can. When she passes a virus on to Xólotl, and from him to the young woman he brought home, everything changes for him. He finds that instead of his comfortably cynical take on the Aztec gods, he’s becoming surprisingly devout. He gets kidnapped repeatedly by various governmental, criminal, and religious organizations as everyone struggles to figure out what’s going on. Meanwhile, the city seems to be tearing itself apart in a series of riots, and gangs are on the warpath.
This narrative is chock full of what the author refers to as “Aztecisms”. It’s a slang he’s developed. He does a surprisingly good job of giving it enough context that it makes sense, or at least close enough not to matter. There is a glossary at the end of the book–a rather long one–but I didn’t need it. I might not know what each slang term meant, but I had the feel and the rhythm of things regardless. It didn’t slow me down or confuse me.
The repeated kidnapping of Xólotl is ridiculous in a good way. It’s hilarious and wild. It puts him in touch with outrageous characters, from the head of the Recycling Syndicate (NOT the Garbage Queen, thank you very much!), to the head of a mafia family, the figureheads of the High Aztech organization, multiple governments, and the leader of a dangerous gang. Everyone wants to understand the mysterious artificial virus Xólotl carries, or they want to kill him for some unrelated reason.
Things become incredibly surreal. Surrealism is not my favorite style. It often feels like the author vomited up a stew of random events and images with no overarching reason behind it. In this case, however, it works fairly well. It does a really good job of showing the ways in which various things are affecting Xólotl’s mind–and how his mind is affected is a central part of the plot. It’s a very hallucinatory experience with some interesting philosophical views on religion.
The narrative is a weird mix of first- and third-person point of view. It’s mostly told from Xólotl’s viewpoint, but it’s interspersed with the observations of a mysterious organization that’s using electronic bugs to follow him around. There’s a section where the two flip back and forth very quickly that’s a little dizzying, but somehow… it kind of works.
The milieu is wonderful. There are people who have their hearts removed and replaced with artificial hearts to honor the Aztec gods. There are those who eat tacos made from synthesized human DNA to mimic Aztecan ritual. We’re introduced to the names and identities of many legendary figures. It’s a fascinating read.