By Lawrence M. Schoen
The exciting thing about working in a shared universe is the sharing. When I learned there was going to be a second ReDeus volume, and that I was being invited back, I knew I wanted to do two things: 1) continue developing the characters from my first story, “Coca Xocolātl,” and 2) grab one or more characters from one of the other stories in the first book.
“Singing for the Man” reunites us with retired language professor Matlal Alejandro Garcia y Fuentes. In the last story, at eighty-five years of age, Mat became a chess piece in a game being played by Huehuecoyotl, the Aztec trickster god known variously as “Old Drum” and “Old Coyote.”
Mat’s academic specialty was the indigenous languages of Mexico, which have all but been supplanted by Spanish since the previous reign of the gods, and Huehuecoyotl would like to bring them back. By the end of that story, Mat’s begun writing popular songs retelling in a modern voice the myths and legends of the Aztec gods. He’s been teamed up with a teenage pop star and her shape-changing bodyguard/composer and together they are not only stirring up interest in more than a dozen all but forgotten languages, but spreading the word of the Aztec pantheon throughout the newly drawn borders of Mexico and into the continental United States as well.
The new story picks up about a year later. Matlal and company have been on tour nonstop, and even though Mat’s been getting younger and younger, they could use a break. He convinces Huehuecoyotl they need a vacation, and when the god agrees, he says he wants to go to the Isle of Man!
I’ll spare you any spoilers for what happens when they get there, and instead tell you why I wanted them there. First, I was inspired by Phil Giunta’s brilliant story “There Be in Dreams No War.” Once I read that, I knew I wanted to steal (cough cough) I mean, borrow from it. Shared world, remember? I contacted Robert Greenberger to make sure that I wasn’t going to upset anyone with my plans and he told me clear any “borrowing” with the author of the original story first.
So I contacted Phil and told him that, if he didn’t mind, I would very much like to play with some of the characters from his story. Not only did he not mind, he gave me carte blanche to run wild and do anything I wanted! “Seriously?” I said. “Sure,” he said. Wow.
So, I had a destination. I had some “borrowed” characters. Now I just needed an excuse that would bring my characters into conflict with the borrowed characters. I needed a story.
I ended up with three.
I’m only going to tell you about one; sorry, you have to buy the book to learn the other two. Okay, okay, I’ll give you some hints. One storyline follows up on an idea from Aztec mythology, because, you know, those are my guys. Another storyline is a direct extension from Phil’s story, and gives a tip of the hat to Irish mythos. The third storyline though, that’s so strange that it’s not even fiction. It really happened.
On the Isle of Man they speak English. But they also speak Manx. Except… Manx officially went extinct back in 1974 when the last known native speaker, a fisherman named Ned Maddrell, died at the age of 96. The remarkable thing though was that the people on the Isle of Man (which has fewer than 85,000 souls to begin with) brought it back. They used it in signage and on radio. They taught it in classrooms. And in the years since it went extinct a small portion of the next generation grew up speaking the language as their mother tongue. Manx had native speakers again.
Twenty-one years after The Return in 2012, Manx is alive and well. And even though in our reality a native Nahuatl speaker like Matlal probably never set foot upon the Isle of Man, how could I not send him there and witness firsthand the very thing he’s trying to do with his own languages back home?
Of course, some gods, both Aztec and Irish, get in the way of things, but that’s all I can say about that.
ReDeus: Beyond Borders will be available in print and as a digital book in late May.