Me and the Thunderbird


Thunderbird, on a 19th-century Cheyenne drumhead, Detroit Institute of Arts.

The co-opting of Native American culture makes me sad. For years I thought a thunderbird was a car driven by greasers and meatheads and Pontiac not a doomed, desperate tragic hero of the Ottawa but a disreputable manufacturer of cars. If it weren’t for the automotive industry, though, would I ever have even heard these names? I guess we owe them for keeping the memory alive, in however twisted a form.

And there are instances of co-opting that make me unashamedly happy. There’s a really nice Mexican lager called Bohemia brewed by cervezeria Motecuzoma Cuauhtemoc in Monterrey which I would never have tried if it weren’t for the portrait of Motecuzoma they use for their logo. I could do without Mel Gibson, but he put native Yucatec Maya speakers in a big-budget film. When I heard Johnny Depp was playing Tonto in an inexplicable remake of The Lone Ranger, I was as annoyed as everybody else until I remembered Dead Man… that long, wordless opening scene, a bespectacled, comically pale-faced young Depp staring out the window of the train at the landscape of the West as the grim faces of passengers shift and fade around him, visions of his own death in the wilderness pass before his eyes, and that brutal Neil Young noise riff gnashes over all. Just thinking about it makes me want to go watch that movie right now….ahh, but I have shit to do. Anyhow–however trumped up Depp’s one-sixteenth Cherokee blood, I give him credit for caring about Native American culture, to the point that I’ll probably see The Lone Ranger.

And so on and so forth, with mixed feelings of reverence and liberal guilt. I am not really supposed to talk about it, being as how I am a white male.

Which brings me to the point of this. I have co-opted Native American culture. Part one of my novella “Death and the Thunderbird”, featuring those lovable, culture-raping centaurs; a locomotive powered by sorcery; and yes, a thunderbird, is live today in Beneath Ceaseless Skies #97, opposite the excellent Tina Connolly. I labored long and hard over it and am proud. If you’re a fan of the centaurs, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. But I doubt it will win any awards for cultural sensitivity despite my best intentions. By way of beginning to atone for this, I share below a brief bibliography of American culture-rape. As usual, I would almost rather you read the source material than my story. But read the story too, if you have time.

Ok. Must stop myself. Enjoy! Be edified.

Still Life with Apsinth and Doped-up Monkey

My newest centaur story, “The Circus of King Minos’ Masque”, went live last night at midnight in Beneath Ceaseless Skies issue #41–yes, those centaurs, the ones with the hallucinogens, the whiskey cellars and the lust for human flesh.

I read a little bit from this story at Boskone in February. It’s the second set in this world to feature Periphas, a human orphan raised by the lord of the centaurs. The third is purportedly to appear in Tales of Moreauvia #4 this fall.

It’s also the first time (at least that I’m aware of) that a story of mine has appeared for sale at the Kindle store–BCS has added a new feature where you can download individual issues to your fancy ereader thing from Amazon for a mere $0.99. Woo!

So many new and interesting ways for you to enjoy ye artfully airborne jewels of flying blood! How can you resist?

I’ll tell you one way you might resist–and that’s if you are not prepared to handle the goreporn and liberal guilt. These are still the same, bad old centaurs, and they are not for the squeamish.


This is Giambologna’s Hercules and Nessus.

Winsor McCay Centaurs

Winsor McCay was the creator of the surrealist newspaper comic strip Little Nemo in Slumberland, a beautiful, eye-opening classic that ran from 1905 to 1914 and has influenced me not a little. It can be had in glorious full-color reprints from los eeenternets for colossal amounts of money, or, the way I got it, from la biblioteca. A few strips are available online, like this great one from wikimedia commons. Ray Bradbury did a film adaptation in the ’90s, and there was an 8-bit Nintendo game I rented once when I was 11….

But anyway. Here, courtesy of Paul DiFillipo, is a little-known animation fragment McCay did, featuring some centaurs frolicking in a forest to tasteful piano music:

[Inferior4+1]: Winsor McCay’s Centaurs

Note the well-endowed female centaur, and then note the comment below from John Crowley about the apocryphality of said endowedness, being as how there were no female centaurs in greek myth. Woo Crowley!

Predictably, my favorite part comes around the 0:44 mark, when the strapping young male centaur heartthrob, for no apparent reason, throws a rock at a passing albatross and kills it.

Of Hooves and Handcannons

Tonight at midnight, “Between Two Treasons”, the second in my hopefully never-ending series of short stories about those lovable, man-eating, gun-slinging, ten-gallon-hat-wearing, prick-devouring centaurs goes live in issue #23 of Beneath Ceaseless Skies.

It is not for the faint-at-heart. Or the underage.

But please go read it anyway.

And the first one too, if you like—which is here.

This is some gloriously beer-addled 17th-century monk’s copy of a copy of a long-lost ancient jewelry engraving depicting a cloven-hoofed centaur residing at the center of the labyrinth of Daedalus. Whoever that monk was, if I ever manage to hunt down his moldering skull, I will give it a fat, wet smooch.

Satyricon

Titus Petronius Niger, the man scholarly consensus seems to agree is the author of the scandalous, fragmentary narrative of debaucherous and decadent abandon known as the Satyricon, was a consul in Nero’s senate in AD 62; subsequently, he became something akin to Nero’s personal social director, granted the unofficial title “Arbiter of Elegance”. Tacitus, in his Annals, describes Petronius as a man who treated idleness as his profession, “one who made luxury a fine art”. “In the end,” says Tacitus, “Nero’s jaded appetite regarded nothing as enjoyable or refined unless Petronius had given sanction to it.”

In AD 66, after a rival poisoned Nero’s affections against him, Petronius made effort to flee Rome, was thwarted, and so decided to preempt his likely torture and execution with suicide. He threw an extravagant dinner party, during which he opened his veins and bled himself slowly to death to the accompaniment of feasting, wine, music, satiric poetry, and pithy conversation.

There’s a dude who stuck to his principles.

I think I’ve been aware of Petronius as a historical figure for a while, but had until not so very long ago considered him among the ranks of Machiavelli, the Marquis de Sade, and Nero himself: egomaniacal pretend intellectuals championing amorality for no other purpose than to further their own fame—the people who brought us Charles Manson.

I have to admit, though, that hedonism, at least in a watered-down form, has gained a certain abstract appeal for me. Pseudopagan pantheism does seem to lend itself to a philosophy of pleasure. And the ideas involved do have a great deal of practical relevance for me, if not necessarily as a human being, then as a writer. What with the centaurs and all.

So I’ve been reading the Satyricon—in a used Penguin Classics edition, translated by J.P. Sullivan, which is a lot of fun in that it couches all the homoerotic innuendo and hypermasculine grandstanding in the terms of stiff-upper-lip 20th century British slang. And it really is a pleasure. The characters are actually quite reasonable people, even wise, in their approach to their debaucheries. As a window on the culture and period, it’s utterly fascinating, an unplumbable resource. And the parallels with modern culture—and by extension, with human culture across geography and era, whenever a society has passed its peak—are just astounding. For example, certain passages—street chases and a vicious love triangle between two men and a boy—remind me very much of the autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini. The wealth of pithy witticisms evoke Oscar Wilde, the party scenes Rabelais. Even the scene structure and pacing seem to prophesy a good few thousand years into the future.

All these parallels with later stuff are so numerous and engrossing, it took me awhile to realize that the Satyricon also looks a lot like a prose reinterpretation of the epic poetry form. There are nested stories, comparisons to the exploits of gods and legendary heroes, and points at which the narrative is temporarily arrested for a long soliloquy on aesthetics or philosophy—though, in the case of the Satyricon, such soliloquies are as likely to be about the etiquette of sharing a nubile youth among a roomful of older men as about the death of art.

In short, I highly recommend it to anybody with the capacity for patience and detachment necessary to look past all the gorging and fondling and see the Satyricon for the solid gold it is. If you appreciate the centaurs, I think you’ll be as fascinated by it as I am.

To close, a piece of ageless wisdom on the plight of the struggling writer from Eumolpus, the Satyricon‘s sexpot poet:

‘No doubt about it. If a man sets his face against every temptation and starts off on the straight and narrow, he’s immediately hated because of his different ways. No one can approve of conduct different from his own. And secondly, those who are interested in piling up money don’t want anything else in life regarded as better than what they have themselves. So lovers of literature are sneered at by whatever means possible to show that they too are inferior to wealth.’