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ELADATL:  A History of the East Los Angeles Dirigible Air Transport Lines

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ELADATL: A History of the East Los Angeles Dirigible Air Transport Lines

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Author: Sesshu Foster
Arturo Romo
Publisher: City Lights Books, 2021

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Book Type: Novel
Genre: Science-Fiction / Fantasy
Sub-Genre Tags: Alternate History (SF)
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In the early years of the twentieth-century, the use of airships known as dirigibles - some as large as one thousand feet long - was being promulgated in Southern California by a semi-clandestine lighter-than-air movement. Groups like the East LA Balloon Club and the Bessie Coleman Aero Club were hard at work to revolutionize travel, with an aim to literally lift oppressed people out of racism and poverty.

ELADATL tells the story of this little-known period of American air travel in a series of overlapping narratives told by key figures, accompanied by a number of historic photographs and recently discovered artifacts, with appendices provided to fill in the missing links. The story of the rise and fall of this ill-fated airship movement investigates its long-buried history, replete with heroes, villains, and moments of astonishing derring-do and terrifying disaster.

Written and presented as an "actual history of a fictional company," this surrealist, experimental novel is a tour de force of politicized fantastic fiction, a work of hybrid art-making distilled into a truly original literary form. Developed over a ten-year period of collaborations, community interventions, and staged performances, ELADATL is a furiously hilarious send-up of academic histories, mainstream narratives, and any traditional notions of the time-space continuum.



To advance the proletarian interests of the community and counteract the military- industrial propaganda of the oppressor government, which goes so far as to categorically deny the existence of the High Low Radiance Corridor, disregarding even the cars that disappeared many years ago and that abruptly reappear nowadays falling precipitously out of the sky to cause havoc on community members, community gardens, and street traffic, pirate radio Ehekatl 99.9 on your dial broadcasts this report---during our irregular broadcast hours of 2 a.m. to 6 a.m. from various hilltops in northeast Los Angeles---to examine the Mysteries of East L.A., and to confirm the existence of one of the biggest: the long-rumored but never-before- sighted "Sky City." Through eyewitness investigation by one of our undercover reporters during her night job as pilot trainee at the allegedly phony and/or "underground" company, East L.A. Dirigible Air Transport, pirate radio Ehekatl 99.9 is ready to provide first-hand evidence that Sky City is real. As our reporter, with her unsuspecting master zeppelin pilot watching over her shoulder, has already assumed the flight controls of a seven-hundred-foot-long state-of-the-art post-modern dirigible and ascended to eleven thousand feet in altitude (the signal's fading in and out because of air-pressure fluctuations, not to mention the engine noise, but we can't help that) we go live directly to our Report in Progress:

Which is it gonna be?

Which is what gonna be?

Which is it gonna be?

What? The heading's off the compass bearing, altimeter right there in front of you, pitch and yaw, wind direction (remember there's two gauges fore and aft---that's important in a ship this long), both hands on the wheel---

Which? Is it gonna be a story or what?

You want a story? The USS Agnes Smedley drifts across the misty night above the devastated West, too boring for you?

You know, your usual whatever it is, surrealism bullshit. People get tired. That's not really considered a story, is it?

It's not---

Is it?

It's not---

Come on!

It's not surrealism!

What? That's not what they call it?


It's kind of psychedelic or something, isn't it? Doesn't that qualify---

Surrealism goes back to World War I. It was French. It's supposed to be a reaction to the First World War.

Thank you, doctor. Doctor Barnswallow.

No--thank you! I always like a little European history and iced tea on night flights over the greater L.A. basin.

I'd like a little iced tea with my iced tea.

Now you can get virtual iced tea with---or in place of---your actual iced tea.

Doctor Barnswallow!

Mister Doctor Barnswallow to you.

So what's the best love story you know? I mean one that you actually know about. Not---

You mean not like Romeo and Juliet or Wuthering Heights or---

Exactly. Something that happened to you---

Brokeback Mountain, eh? What about, like, The Fly? That's kind of a love story. There's a love story in there. The scientist's wife has to kill him by crushing his fly head to put her husband out of his suffering. I feel like something like that happened to me. Or it could!

You know what I'm sayin'. Best thing you can come up with.

Something I heard about?

All right. Something you heard about. Someone you actually know, though.

Personally, eh? Somebody we know personal. Personal-like.

Who you know. Yeah.

The love of a middle-aged Arizona couple for their Chihuahua? The love of a whole people for their land? The love of a old retired dude for a patch of lawn and his lawn chair?

For a woman!

I thought---

Make me spell it out!

Thought so. Woman always wants a story about a woman. How about someone you know, someone you and I both know?

Let's see if you know any. You ever know any? Let's see if you were paying attention.

I see. It's a test. Everything these days is like a test.

Let's go back to the facts, then. You're a flagrant anarchist, an individualist subject to no party discipline, who can't even get his partners to show up for work---Jose Lopez- Feliu, Swirling Wheelnuts, clandestine backers to whom you cannot even allude---so you have to yank me, an innocent paper girl and communist, off the streets, teach me to drive this thing toward the dawning of a New Something Era--

Complaints and whining, that's the thanks I get for teaching you a saleable skill? You'd rather still be selling that useless cult propaganda sheet?

Cult! You anarchists can't even---

All right, all right! The whole yawning proletariat shall one day bust a move in a Bollywood dance number, waving a sea of red flags---

You think they won't? Just like everything else in America, media for the people is winking out in the darkness. My organization happens to be developing real alternative community news outlets! For all you realize, my captain, I could be broadcasting this across the greater northeast Los Angeles heights and San Gabriel Valley on a pirate radio station, to arm our communities with the knowledge you won't--

Pirate radio!

You laugh, my captain! But the workers are the ones who deserve collective ownership of the skies. If your fleet of solar dirigibles proves to be---

If! If? You mean when!

That is exactly what these flights may prove, Captain--sir! But---come on, tell us---say--- for the sake of our listenership (even if you don't believe our listenership exists, like the authorities don't believe this zeppelin exists, like they deny the existence of Sky City)---tell me the story behind it all, as if this big wild airship was wired for sound as it swung through the vast purplish night---a floating boom mike for the sounds of an empty universe---a personal story, give 'em a sense of your personal motivation, heisting abandoned materials, welding titanium-frame airships in collapsible folding sections, portable solar technology capable of eluding the downpressor forces (I know, you said you can't afford the insurance, but you can afford our listeners the true story---)

Comandante Che said the real revolutionary was guided by feelings of love. At the risk of appearing ridiculous.

Copyright © 2021 by Sesshu Foster

Copyright © 2021 by Arturo Romo


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