This novel began four years ago, when a friend and writing partner gave the obvious but overlooked advice to “just write about the people and places you know.” I was living in Tijuana at the time, and had always wanted to write a novel that played with the tropes of cyberpunk. The overwhelmingly postmodern settings and situations of Tijuana readily lent themselves to this project.

What would happen if the staggering inequalities that one sees daily in Tijuana were inverted? What if the disempowered were empowered, and vice versa? What if America’s often exploitative and privileged relationship to Tijuana was upended? How does border policy affect people on either side? These were a few of the questions I set out to explore in this speculative fiction novel.

I was studying Mesoamerican deities at the time, having been intrigued by the murals of my friend and artist Azteco (who later created Ketcel‘s cover and interior illustrations) depicting his interpretations of Tlāloc, Quetzalcóatl, and Nahual sorcerers. I was fascinated by how various deities were interpreted and represented by the Olmec, Toltec, Maya, and Aztecs (among others), and the following question: what does spirituality mean in a sufficiently advanced society in which technology begins to imitate the supernatural?

This novel does not attempt to make any declarative statements about Mexico’s indigenous spirituality, but rather, it explores how characters are compelled by a fictional ancient codex to rediscover spirituality in a technologically advanced setting. This question is asked in the context of Irish philosopher George Berkeley’s iteration of subjective idealism, that is: “to be is to be perceived.” If a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? Do subjective experiences really exist to anyone besides the subjects perceiving them? What do we even mean by “exist”?

The novel also explores how an immersive virtual reality might offer opportunities for people to explore different aspects of themselves, particularly in circumstances where their “real world” settings could potentially be hostile. What does identity mean when our lives are split between our “real” selves and our “virtual” selves? What does a highly subjective virtual reality say about “reality” itself? Which is more “real,” the body or the avatar?

Ketcel posits hypothetical technologies and psychedelics to juxtapose and merge different characters and aspects of characters in order to ask: who are we, really? Static monoliths or a fluid repertoire of roles? How rigid are the boundaries between the roles we play? Where do I end and you begin?

I don’t know how much more I can say without getting into spoiler territory, but I hope this has piqued some interest in the topics that this novel attempts to examine. To use a phrase that has been utterly ruined by Qanon, I encourage you to do your own research on these topics, or feel free to message me for some of the resources I looked at while writing this book.

Thanks for reading and be good to one another, in your realities both virtual and real.

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