Wednesday, February 28, 2018

The Twenty-Third Century: Nontraditional Love

Rafael Grugman
Completed 2/26/2018, Reviewed 2/28/2018
4 stars

When I think of satire, I usually think of something that has humor in it.  This book is a satire, but has very little humor.  It projects a future where the majority of people in the world are homosexual, and only about 10% are heterosexual.  These 10% are persecuted as deviants, a danger to society.  History and even literature is rewritten to represent the homosexual majority.  It’s a terrific book, but hard to read at times.  It takes all our current experience of oppression of gays and lesbians and turns it on its head.

The book is translated from Russian.  It’s the first translation from Russian I’ve read that I was able to follow well.  In fact, it’s the first translation I’ve read in a long while that was fairly easy to read.  The book takes place in the US, and all the names of the main characters are American.  This is different from books that take place in Russia where everybody seems to have nine names. 

The plot is fairly straight-forward.  No pun intended.  It follows Robert Marcus, a heterosexual who has a clandestine affair with Liza.  They hide from authorities by feigning marriage to the same gendered persons of another couple.  All four live in a two family house.  At night, they secretly change rooms to sleep their lovers while carrying on as homosexual couples during the day.  Normal reproduction is also illegal, but the couples pretend to have artificially inseminated children, the boy being raised by the men and the girl being raised by the women.  After a while Liza leaves this arrangement.  Robert tries to make a go of converting to being homosexual to make life easier for himself.  He meets an older man who dies in his bed.  Robert is accused of murder, confirming that heterosexuals are a menace to society.  The rest of the book follows Robert in a riveting 1984-Kafkaesque experience.

Everything about this book is done pretty well, the plot, the characters.  The one thing I found hard to take in the story, though, was that in the relationships, for both gays and lesbians, there was a “husband” and a “wife”.  I found this rather odd, unless that is the experience of the author in Russia, that couples have roles like straight couples.  I also thought that maybe this was part of the satire; it was hard to tell. 

Another thing was that the only character that is well developed is Marcus.  He’s the narrator, but still, I would have liked to have seen Liza fleshed out a little better.  There is a part of her that is rather “wifey” in the sense that she’s not a strong person, relying on the men in her life to tell her what to do.  Again, that may be part of the satirical effect, the woman being weaker than the man.  It is hard to tell.

Politically, I’d give this book five stars for what it attempts and accomplishes.  However, as an overall enjoyment experience, I’d have to give this book four stars.  While I was pretty gripped to the story, I wasn’t really emotionally involved enough, which is my requirement for giving five stars.  But if you like Kafka’s “The Trial” and Terry Gilliam’s film “Brasil”, this is definitely the book for you. 

One thing I should also note is that this book has a sequel.  However, I don’t think it has been published in English yet.  I did searches and didn’t find anything indicating that the author has published it at all.  So if you read it, be prepared for a cliff hanger that’s not going to be resolved any time soon.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

The Wolf at the Door

Jameson Currier
Completed 2/25/2018, reviewed 2/25/2018
3 stars

I wish I’d visited New Orleans at some point in my life.  It seems a world apart from anything in my experience.  My only exposure to it is mostly from literature, movies, and TV.  The Wolf at the Door is a new book to add to my list of virtual New Orleans visits.  And while it doesn’t give a grand tour of the city, it certainly has the tone one would expect from a story about a haunted, gay-owned and operated guesthouse in the French Quarter.  It’s a fun little book, light-reading with a couple of deep messages thrown in.  It was nominated for a Gaylactic Spectrum Award for positive LGBTQ images in SF/Fantasy/Horror.

Avery runs a guesthouse and his ex, Parker, runs the adjoining restaurant.  Together they own the building and run ragged with their businesses, barely keeping their heads above water.  Avery, who drinks, eats, and works too much, is starting to see ghosts, strange little balls of light, and a spectral wolf.  Are they real, or is it just the booze?  Surrounded by a cast of gay men and lesbians, Avery tries to get of the bottom of his visions.

The interesting thing about the book is that it’s not just a ghost story, it’s also a personal journey of spiritual rediscovery.  Avery grew up in a family of charlatan faith healers and snake handling evangelists.  His experience of God is not a healthy one.  Growing up gay only made matters worse.  Now with all the ghosties floating around, he soon learns that it’s possible to have a relationship with God that’s healthy and tangible.  I was surprised a little by this.  I felt it was introduced a little awkwardly, but eventually it wove into the story pretty well. 

The book also discusses slavery in Louisiana in the 1800s.  In addition to the horror that slavery is, we hear the story of a family full of interracial relationships with its slaves, the offspring of some are slaves and others are free.  It’s really frightening how cruel a family can be.  And the story is based on the author’s actual research on New Orleans life in the 1800s.

I did have a few problems with the book.  Avery reads an old journal from one of the family that originally owned the building, the family that I described in the preceding paragraph.  It is interesting at first, but goes on a little too long.  I felt the book dragged in spots during this part.  He also reads from an unpublished manuscript which drags a little.  Lastly, there isn’t much dialogue.  A majority of the story takes place in Avery’s head.  Sometimes this drags a bit too.  It does help us understand though that he is potentially an unreliable narrator.  I would have liked to have seen more interaction with the other people at the guesthouse, though.  They were setup interestingly and I thought could have had a lot more participation in the narrative.

Overall I enjoyed the book.  It’s full of flawed but endearing characters.  It’s a quick read despite dragging in a few parts.  I give the book three out of five stars. 

Friday, February 23, 2018

Vintage: A Ghost Story

Steve Berman
Completed 2/23/2018, reviewed 2/23/2018
4 stars

This was an excellent ghost story.  Talk about subgenre!  It’s LGBTQ YA horror.  This book was nominated for the Andre Norton Award for YA SF/Fantasy/Horror and the Gaylactic Spectrum Award for positive LGBTQ images in SF/Fantasy/Horror.  It’s deserving of its accolades.  It covers realistic topics such as self-acceptance, parental disapproval, and early love experiences while couched in an exciting ghost story.  I was engrossed in it from the start.

The basic plot is that the narrator, who I think is never named, has run away from home and is living with his aunt.  He’s a gay goth kid whose best friend is a girl, Trace, who has a fascination with the supernatural.  Their favorite pastime is going to other people’s funerals.  One night, the narrator makes contact with the ghost of a teen boy who was killed in a car crash in the late ‘50s.  The ghost falls in love with him.  Soon what seemed to be an exciting supernatural relationship becomes a dangerous matter of jealousy and fear. 

The plot is both really fun and serious, and the situations very realistic.  The narrator has run away because his parents basically kicked him out of the house for being gay.  He’s afraid to come out to the aunt he’s staying with, so he’s only out to Trace and a few of her friends, including a young lesbian couple whose relationship seems pretty shaky.  He’s dropped out of school and is working at a vintage clothing shop. 

The characters are well-developed for such a short book, clocking in at only 204 pages.  I felt pretty deeply for the narrator and his plight.  I could relate to his constant second-guessing himself and his decisions.  Even Josh is well-drawn for being a ghost. 

If there’s anything negative to say about the book, it’s that it could have been longer.  While in some ways, it was good to get on with the story, I thought that the relationship with Josh the ghost could have been drawn out longer.  It jumps fairly quickly from being exciting to terrifying.  I would have liked to have seen it played out a little more subtly in the middle.  I would also have liked to have seen a little more development of the lesbian characters.  They come on the scene fairly quickly and before you know it, they’re having fights. 

Still I found the book quite satisfying.  It’s not really that scary, but it is creepy.  The author does an excellent job of setting tone.  He’s an editor of a lot of anthologies of LGBTQ genre fiction, as well as author of many short stories of various creepiness.  I would definitely read other works by him.  I give the book four out of five stars. 

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Dangerous Angels: The Weetzie Bat Books

Francesca Lia Block
Completed 2/22/2018, Reviewed 2/22/2018
4 stars

This book was inducted into the Gaylactic Spectrum Award Hall of Fame.  It’s an omnibus of five short novels about a girl named Weetzie Bat, her friends and children.  Reading these lesser known but award winning books is always a craps shoot.   You never know what you’re going to get.  Sometimes I wonder how some of these books ever won awards, or were even nominated.  This book starts out rather weird, with a strange prose style and clearly written for YA.  I had my doubts.  But with each story, the prose matures, like the Harry Potter series, as if the author knew her fan base was getting older too.  I was hesitant liking the book with the first few stories, but was completely engrossed in the later stories.

Weetzie is a California girl who builds a family of eclectic characters around her.  They are all searching for love and acceptance.  Most of her friends have wild names.  For example, her beloved is My Secret Agent Lover Man, and her step-daughter is Witch Baby.  The characters are not very deeply drawn, but I still got attached to them.  They are all colorful and go through some journey of self-doubt and discovery. 

The stories are like fairy tales with magical realism.  There are ghosts and a genie and lots of strange happenings.  They range from Weetzie meeting My Secret Agent Lover Man, to the teen crises of her daughters, to the coming out sagas of her best friends.  The stories, while fanciful, are still pretty deep, covering topics like love, pre-marital sex, homosexuality, interracial relationships, and AIDS. 

Despite really liking this book, I don’t have much to say.  The stories are too short to go into much detail without giving spoilers.  So rather than try to just fill up space, I’ll conclude with giving this book four stars out of five.  

Tuesday, February 20, 2018


Samuel R Delany
Completed 2/20/2018, reviewed 2/20/2018
4 stars

I really like Samuel R Delany’s prose.  He’s an excellent writer, with wonderful word choices and flowing sentences.  Some of his stories, however, are space opera-ish.  My loyal readers know I have a love-hate relationship with this sub-genre.  Babel-17 is a space opera with a twist.  It’s about the deciphering of a language that is associated with guerrilla attacks during a war between the Alliance and the Invaders.  It made the plot more interesting, but was still space opera.

Rydra Wong is a poet, translator, and space ship captain.  She’s assigned the duty of deciphering Babel-17, originally thought to be a secret code, that is picked up shortly before every guerrilla attack on the Alliance.  Rydra discovers it’s not a coded message, but a language, one that does not use the pronoun “I” or any of the first or second personal pronouns.  Rydra, along with her crew, meets up with a person only known as the Butcher who cannot speak in first or second personal pronouns, and has amnesia.  Is he related to Babel-17?  Can she figure out the language before the next attack?

As I stated at the beginning, the prose is marvelous.  There are some sections which are simply a pleasure to read.  There’s even a Faulknerian sentence that goes on for several pages that’s simply astounding.  The only thing that gave me trouble reading this book is that it was boring in parts.  Not the sections on the language, but the rest of the plot.  I think it was because it had to do with a war and I had trouble keeping my mind focused on that. 

The character development was really interesting.  The navigator of the Rydra’s ship is a trio of people in a polyamorous relationship.  There’s also a trio called the Eyes, Ears, and Nose which is comprised of dead, or discorporate, people.  The Butcher is also very interesting.  Delany does a remarkable job not writing in first or second person.  Rydra takes the initiative to try to get the Butcher to speak using I and you.  The Butcher tries, but he ends up confusing the two.  Delany goes on for several pages with this and it’s astoundingly complicated. 

Despite the space opera story line, I give this book four stars out of five.  It’s the prose and the character development that pushed it above three stars for me.  If I used half stars, I’d give it three-and-a-half, but I don’t, so four it is.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Secret Matter

Toby Johnson
Completed 2/17/2018, Reviewed 2/17/2018
4 stars

This was a fun book.  It’s about acceptance and denial, love and fear, and first contact.  It was first published in 1990 and described a gay young man’s journey to self-acceptance through a relationship with an alien.  Since it was a near future story, the author updated the book for the twenty-first century.  It won the Lambda Literary Award for Gay SF/Fantasy in 1991.  I thoroughly enjoyed the book even though the beginning seemed to drag a little.

The story is about Kevin, a gay young man who is living in denial.  Fresh out of college and from a religious family, he gets an internship at an architectural firm in San Francisco to help rebuild after the big one (as in earthquake).  Then the Visitors come.  The Visitors contract with Kevin’s firm to build their embassy on Earth.  Kevin meets ‘Bel, one of the Visitors, and falls in love.  Together, they must save their worlds from destruction by clearing up a misunderstood secret matter.

The part that dragged for me was the first few chapters with Kevin.  There, we experience Kevin’s self-loathing over being gay.  It gets old pretty quickly.  I just wanted to slap him and say, “Wake up!  You’re an adult now.  It’s time you figured this shit out.”  Maybe I’m just a little less patient with this in fiction than I would be in real life.  Then Kevin meets ‘Bel and he finally starts to accept himself.  That finally gets the book going and we can get on with the plot.

The rest of the book is a fun first contact story about alien Visitors coming to Earth.  They try to stop the US from testing a new defense shield, but for some reason, won’t be completely honest of their intentions.  This leads to a breakdown in relations between the US and the Visitors.  Then it’s up to Kevin and ‘Bel to resolve the matter. 

The book is fairly light reading.  It’s a short, easy read, except when they get into the physics.  That takes a little effort.  But this is basically soft SF.  It also gets a little heavy into religion.  There’s a born again right wing pastor with a radio program that spews hate talk.  He comes into play at several points in the book, but particularly in the end. That also gets a little heavy but it’s not too much. 

It should be noted that the author, Toby Johnson, was an editor for the White Crane Journal, a gay men’s spirituality newsletter that I subscribed to in the late ‘80’s.  It was a wonderful journal of interesting articles and ruminations on what it meant to be gay and have spirituality.  So needless to say, a novel by Toby Johnson would probably have a fair amount of interesting reflections about the Bible in it.  In fact, the latest edition of the book has a bonus essay that’s an alternative Genesis story playing on “Adam and Steve” and turning it into something funny and though-provoking. 

Even with its slow beginning, it’s an exciting adventure story.  And there’s an innocence to the book which is refreshing to read compared to the darker, grittier SF of today, almost YA in tone.  I give the book four out of five stars.  

Friday, February 16, 2018

The Man Who Folded Himself

David Gerrold
Completed 2/16/2018, Reviewed 2/16/2018
5 stars

Wow!  I really loved this book.  It is the greatest time travel story I’ve ever read.  Danny Eakins inherits a time travel belt from his Uncle Jim.  Once he discovers what it is, he experiments, first twenty minutes into the future, then a day, then all over the past and future.  This is a short book, only about 120 pages, but it is filled with amazing contemplation and philosophizing on the ramifications of time travel.  Most specifically, it explores the paradoxes that come with time travel, taking it to the point of myriads of instances of Danny having parties with his selves.  It’s all very mind-blowing, and done really well.

Danny is a great character.  In fact, he is pretty much the only character.  As he becomes an experienced time traveler, he becomes a loner, relying on his alternative selves.  By alternative selves, I mean that in this trope of time travel, rather than there being just one timeline in which Danny travels, every time he travels through time, he bifurcates the universe, creating alternate versions of himself.  Through this method he travels the globe, experiencing history first hand.

This being a short book, we don’t travel through history with Danny.  Instead we experience him getting started with time travel and then following him through different existential crises that arise from having this kind of power.  So instead of a travelogue, it’s a reflection on what could happen to oneself having the ability to travel through time, from pleasure to madness.

I discovered this book while doing my research for the LGBTQ Spec Fic Resource List I curated at WWEnd.  It explores homosexuality in a narcissistic fashion, with Danny having relationships with himself.  While it might seem odd and strange, the book progresses in such a way that this has to be explored.  It’s a variation on the idea of being able to love oneself.  So as not to be exclusive, Danny also meets a female version of himself and has a relationship with her as well.  It’s all strange but makes perfect sense in the bifurcated universes of this time travel trope.

This being such a short book, I read it in basically a day.  I started it last night and finished it during down time at work.  (I actually had a lot of downtime today).   I’m so glad I had the time, because this was literally a tough book to put down.  I just wanted to consume it.  I give it five stars out of five because Danny dragged me into his existential crises.  I could feel his loneliness and fear, and was almost moved to tears at the end.  If I wasn’t at work, I probably would have leaked a tear or two.   I’ve read only one other book by Gerrold, Jumping off the Planet, and loved it as well.  I guess I need to read more of him.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Deprivation; or, Benedetto furioso: an Oneiromancy

Alex Jeffers
Completed 2/15/2018, reviewed 2/15/2018
4 stars

Oneiromancy – n.  The interpretation of dreams to fortell the future.

This is one of those novels I needed and read at just the right time.  Not so much a classic fantasy as it is about a man who lives in a fantasy world.  Still it was nominated for a Lammy in the SF/Fantasy/Horror category.  Ben is a young man fresh out of college, in his first job, commuting fifty miles one way every day.  It ruins his sleeping pattern, affording him only a few hours of sleep a night.  When he does sleep he has vivid dreams that perhaps keep him trapped in his daily life.  It’s hard to tell the difference between his dreams and reality, the dreams sometimes being better than real life.

The prose of this book was seriously wonderful.  Reading it was a pleasure.  The imagery rolled from paragraph to paragraph.  The writing had a stream of conscious quality, signifying how Ben interacted with his world and the people in it, with seemless flashbacks to his past and dreams.  It captured someone who lives in their head very well.

The main dream fantasy is that Ben has found Dario, a young Italian prince, squatting in a South Boston warehouse with his brother and sister.  Ben falls in love with the young prince and the prince loves him.  He brings the orphaned family home to live with him, to take care of the them.  However, the little family rebels when Ben meets real men, and goes on real dates.  This fantasy is really drawn well, so much so that for quite a while, it’s difficult to tell the difference between fantasy and reality. 

Unfortunately, it soon becomes evident that it is just a fantasy, a dream.  As the book progresses, this particular dream of Dario becomes less prominent.  I found this to be sad.  I liked the fantasy, I liked how it was interfering with Ben’s life.  I think it would have been better if the Dario fantasy was maintained more strongly throughout the book.  Instead, we only get a few more glimpses of the fantasy.  Other dreams occur as well, but none are as riveting as the first.

I really liked Ben, the main character.  I could relate to his feeling isolated and not really wanting to get involved with anyone.  I found myself sympathizing with him as life and reality begin to unravel.  I also could relate to his opportunistic approach to life:  not really doing much to change one’s circumstances unless the opportunities pop up in front of you, and even then, hesitating.

I give the book four out of five stars.  I took one star off for my complaint of the near abandonment of the Dario fantasy.  Otherwise, I have to say I really loved this book.  Even though the rest of Alex Jeffers works are literary and not genre fiction, I’d read more of him.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Disturbed By Her Song

Tanith Lee
Completed 2/11/2018, Reviewed 2/11/2018
4 stars

This is my first Tanith Lee.  It’s probably not the best one to start with because of its main conceit.  The book is a meta-fantasy collection of short stories.  Lee channels fictional characters who convey the stories to her.  The characters are Esther Garber and Judas Garbah, half-siblings who are both gay.  Esther’s stories are fictional, Judas’ are autobiographical.  Lee expertly writes in two different styles, although other reviewers have noted that they hear Lee’s voice through both.  While I really enjoyed the book, giving it a high rating, I think I would have liked to have first been introduced to Lee through one of her novels.  The book was nominated for Lambda Literary Award for LGBT SF/Fantasy/Horror, which is how I discovered it in the first place. 

As I said though, I really enjoyed this book.  It is a collection of short stories of love.  It is lightly erotic, but mostly about relationships that do not work or work out.  There is a sense of despair to almost all the stories.  The prose is wonderful.  It’s literary without being overwhelming so.  It flows with lovely word choices.  I especially liked the stories “written” by Esther.  Esther’s stories were about women in love.  I found the characters to be very interesting and well-drawn.  Judas’ stories were darker, and their autobiographical nature didn’t grab me as well.  These are the stories I found particularly noteworthy in this collection:

Black Eyed Susan – A maid sees a ghost in the hotel in which she’s working.  She becomes obsessed with the ghost, trying to connect with other workers and guests who may also have seen it.  Her work and even an affair with another maid takes a backseat to this obsession.  This is the only story that has a directly speculative nature, in addition to the meta-fantastical trope of the narration being a channeling of fictional characters.  I found it to be gripping, and filled with anticipation. 

The Kiss – This is a piece about a girl who attempts to get her playbill kissed by the play’s star and the homophobic reaction of the crowd who witnesses it.  It’s a short work, but very powerful and still timely.

The X’s are Not Kisses – A woman develops an intense jealousy when her lover goes to see an old friend.  The woman finds erotic love letters in her lover’s study and the jealousy and despair nearly destroy her.  The downward spiral of the main character is amazingly developed.  It carried me along with it until I was believing the woman was justified in her obsessive behavior. 

Disturbed by Her Song – Another story about obsession, this time by an actress who falls for another actress who has no idea of her feelings towards her.  This is more of a slow burn compared to “X’s”, but still took me down the obsessive spiral with the main character. 

There are only nine stories in this collection.  All of them are worth a read.  The above four were just highlights.  I give this book four stars out of five for the powerful way Lee can turn feelings into readable prose that draws you in and takes you to the darker places of the soul. 

Friday, February 9, 2018


C.J. Cherryh
Completed 2/8/2018, Reviewed 2/9/2018
2 stars

After reading her two Hugo winning novels, Cyteen and Downbelow Station, I swore I’d never read another book by C.J. Cherryh.  Then my book club picked one of her books for the February selection.  I swore I wouldn’t read it.  Then I got myself a Kindle Fire tablet and the book only cost $2.99.  That’s less than a Filet-o-Fish sandwich at McDonalds.  So I thought, what the hell, I’ll be opened minded.  Well, it turned out to be another novel I didn’t like, for some of the same reasons that I didn’t like her other books, and for some different reasons. 

My first reason for not liking this book is that she uses too much punctuation.  I’ve never seen so many dashes and ellipses in one book, except in her other books.  Particularly, the use of dashes bothers me.  The dash is helpful when you want to insert one thought in the middle of another thought.  Unfortunately, when you overuse it, it simply a terrific way to create run-on sentences.  Cherryh has run-on sentences galore.  For some authors, long sentences produces good prose.  Cherryh’s sentences have too many ideas.  Except when she uses sentence fragments (see what I did there).  She likes to use sentence fragments too. 

What really grinds my gears is her use of “of a sudden” instead of “all of a sudden” or “suddenly”.  It’s like nails on a chalkboard.  And sometimes, she doesn’t include a subject in a sentence.  Okay, enough of her style, let’s move on to content.

This novel is the first of a huge series.  I hoped that it would be a story that would be compelling enough that fans (and I) would want more.  Instead, she gives us a four hundred page short story with nearly no plot, just ambiance, creating a world where next to nothing happens.  The novel is divided into three “books”.  The first book explains how a spaceship comes out of hyperspace and the crew discovers it is off-course and lost.  They begin to look for a habitable planet.  The second book explains how the descendants of the ship are either living on a habitable planet, or in a space station around it.  The planet has sentient life in their steam engine age.  Then, first contact happens. 

All this takes up about fifty pages.  Each could have been its own book.  Instead Cherryh introduces a third “book” which fast forwards to a time where all the humans now live isolated from the native sentient life forms on an island on the planet.  The only contact with the Atevi is through a single human who can live among them as a kind of ambassador, known as a “paidhi”, or translator.  The paidhi makes sure the Treaty that ended an early contact war between the Atevi and the humans is held.  He also makes sure that difficult concepts are conveyed properly between the two cultures. 

Bren Cameron is the paidhi.  The third book opens with an assassination attempt on Bren.  Being an assassin is a highly respected occupation and has a guild on the Atevi planet.  To safeguard Bren, he is moved to the center of the continent where he lives with the grandmother of the head of the continent.  But it is clear he is not safe there either.  So what’s going on?  Who wants him dead?  How does he figure this out in a culture where terms like “friend”, “trust”, “nation”, and “border” don’t exist?

Reading back on the previous two paragraphs, I make the book sound riveting.  In reality, it is some of the most boring text I've ever read.  The book is told from Bren’s POV.  He spends most of his time in his own head overthinking the events that have taken place, as well as trying to second guess everyone else’s roles and motivations.  It makes for a lot of repetitiveness.  In one sense, I didn’t mind this, because the book was so boring, I often lost my ability to focus.  Being hit over the head with the same thoughts on the events occurring in the book over and over again, it made sure I understood what was going on.

This is what I meant by the short story where nothing really happens.  If all we had was action, there’s only be about fifty pages.  Instead, it’s dragged out to almost four hundred.  The rest of the time we spend in Bren’s head.  On the positive side, it does help us understand the cultural differences between humans and the Atevi, as well as the sensitive dilemma the paidhi is in.  It does provide us with an ambiance of Cherryh’s world-building.  Unfortunately, it was simply too boring for me to care. 

When the action finally started to pick up, I was well past the over-it stage.  And there really isn’t that much action.  The book ends on a low note.  I don’t see how other readers looked forward to the next book after the drudgery of this one.  I give the book two stars out of five.