Friday, October 1, 2010

Book Review: 'Blue Face' by G. C. Edmondson

4 / 5 Stars

‘Blue Face’ was first published in 1971 in hardcover by Doubleday, with the title ‘Chapayeca’. This DAW paperback (128 pp.) was issued in 1971 and features a cover illustration by Karel Thole.

Thanks to the best-selling books by Carlos Castaneda, by 1971 the Yaqui Indians of Mexico’s Sonoran desert were the Indigenous Tribe Most Beloved by White People. It was not unusual for hippies and wanna-be mystics to travel to Yaqui country hoping to meet, if not the superstar Don Juan Matus himself, then another brujo or shaman who could usher them into the sacred mysteries of the Yaqui experience.

One Yaqui religious ceremony that a tourist might witness was the Easter celebration, in which male members of the tribe would don masks crafted to represent a chapayeca (‘long nose’), an evil follower of Judas Iscariot. So how do the chapayecas figure into this SF novel ?

Things are not going well for anthropologist Nash Taber. The federal authorities want to talk to him about sheltering Yaqui Indians who are in the US illegally. He is in constant pain and popping pills from a back injury suffered in a car accident. He has diabetes. And his job as a university faculty member is looking less and less secure.

In a desperate effort to uncover the rumored last redoubt of the Yaqui and salvage his career, Taber travels to Mexico for a rendezvous with Lico, one of his Yaqui friends. After some adventures they do indeed arrive at the last holdout of the Indians, where Taber observes a chapayeca wearing a most unusual piece of blue plastic clothing. It turns out that ‘Chap’ is in fact an alien; his face, however much it may resemble a ceremonial mask, is real.

Once he recovers from his astonishment, Taber starts to scheme. If he can get this rather naïve alien away from the Yaqui and into the US, then there are all sorts of financial windfalls that could come their way. But maneuvering a way to bring Chap out of the desert isn’t going to be easy.

For one thing, the truculent younger men of the village have their own plans for the alien, and they aren’t going to let a gimpy gringo interfere with those plans. And the Mexican police are actively hunting for Taber, suspecting him of being a would-be revolutionary for the Yaqui cause. It’s going to take some very careful cross-cultural exchanges in order for Taber to get out of Mexico alive…

‘Blue Face’ is an interesting little book and represents one of the more engaging of the short novels that DAW books regularly issued to fill out its catalogue during the first few years of its operation. Author Edmondson employs a very spare, unadorned prose style that relies heavily on dialogue; but he is skillful at this aspect of his craft, and as a consequence the narrative flows along at a fast clip. The story is difficult to categorize, but is perhaps best labeled as a quirky mix of wry humor, interesting insights into Yaqui society, and brief episodes of violence and mayhem. 

'Blue Face' is well worth searching out.

1 comment:

Scratter said...

Good to see Edmondson getting a little appreciation. Nifty little book, as is SHIP THAT SAILED THE TIME STREAM.