Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The gay SF trilogy that maps the future of all mankind: Wraethu

It's impossible to believe that it's over 20 years since this book came out. It was the first of a trilogy ... and a debut novel ... and created quite a stir in the late 1980s. Even today it's one of the "weird ones," but it's also the best of the first-published Wraethu Trilogy. The second one (The Bewitchment of Love and Hate) was good too, and then the story somehow trailed away, didn't end with the wallop we'd all expected from The Fulfilments of Fate and Desire. You can actually ready this first one as a stand-alone novel without getting into the other two, and it has a lot to recommend it, without having to tow the rest of the trilogy behind it.

Storm Constantine looked like one of her characters, at the time: sort of goth-punk with electrocuted hair. 20 years on, she has the look of a wiccan practitioner -- which is close to accurate, since she's a Reiki master and publishes magic books. She's also written loads of SF and fantasy, but it all started right here with the first of the Wraethu books... which remains my favorite of her writings. The trilogy has been reprinted, but I'm lucky enough to have the whole thing in the original editions. It came out from Tor between 1988 and 1991, and as I said, raised quite a stir.

There's some disagreement even now, about whether these novels are actually gay SF or not. I'm not going to pass judgment! They're often listed as, and with, "Queer SF," so, what the heck? In fact, the characters are more of what you'd call androgynes. The Wraethu seem to be the next evolution of humans, where individuals have the characteristics of male and female, and can swing either way. At least, that's how it seemed to me ... it's complicated!

The story is post-apocalyptic. The blurb says, "the cities of the industrial north have become a wasteland," and there seems to have been a breakdown in the climate. We've caused a kind of runaway greenhouse effect, and mankind is evolving again, in order to survive.

There's no map in Enchantments... but if you stick around till the third book the map there centralizes on a land-locked sea, and anybody who knows a bit about the map of the globe goes "aha!" because you can easily recognize the Black Sea and the little Sea of Azov just to the north. In the Wraethu books, they're known as the Sea of Shadows and the Sea of Arel.

So the stage is close to set here. The world is a hothouse, the story takes place in eastern Europe, and concerns a new evolution of mankind ... and magic, sorcery, psychic powers, the foundation of a new race, new cities, the troubles between the Wraethu and the old humans from which they evolved.

The story follows several characters. You'll like Pellaz, a young man -- this is his "coming of age" or even "coming out" story. He and his strange new friend Calanthe trek south to find the Wreaethe and join them. They meet the tribe known as the Gelaming, who are peaceful and sophisticated. Other Wraethu are warlike -- it's said that they would exterminate humankind if they could -- but these are artistic and diplomatic. Calanthe is Wraethu already ... Pell will become Wraethu.

They're superhuman in many ways, and are probably some kind of mutation. Nobody seems to know when or how the mutation started, except that it began among young people ... and specifically young male gays, if I read the hints right.

Down in the south these new Wraethu have gathered to build their city. Cal is heading there to join them, since his own tribe has been wiped out in the fighting, in the north. Pell runs away from a village of huts where dirt-farmers manage to pound a living out of the sand and dust...

But what's he running toward?

There's a glossary of the alien language in the first book, but the map is in the third. You'll be glad of the glossary! I didn't have trouble remembering all the terms, but a lot of them are pronounced differently than you'd think ... which starts to make sense when you run into the map in Fulfilments... and you realize what part of the world this is.

The trilogy is huge. At 300pp of very small type, Enchantments is the smallest book. Both the others are about 400pp, so you have 1,000 pages of mind-blowing, gender-bending SF ahead of you! Storm Constantine has recently returned to this world and written another trilogy, which I believe is a prequel set, Wraiths of Will and Pleasure, Shades of Time and Memory and Ghosts of Bood and Inncence. I believe these were also done by Tor, but I've not yet managed to get them.

As far as I know, the Tor editions are out of print (nobody carries a backlist or warehouse stock anymore ... I did hear that it has something to do with rules regarding the "depreciation in value of warehoused goods" ... but this is OT), but you can get them from Amazon -- either the old edition as used books, or the POD reprints of the backlist direct from SCs company, Immanion Press.

Very recommended, but be warned these books are dark, intense and can be a bit weird! AG's rating, 4 out of 5 stars.

Here is Storm Constantine's website: a href="http://www.stormconstantine.com