Saturday, January 31, 2009

Gay science fiction gets wet: Mel Keegan's drowned future

What a joy and a relief this edition is! It's only the second time Mel Keegan's Aquamarine has been printed, and the DreamCraft edition is so far superior to the old edition put out by MPG (the Millivres Publishing Group), you will be astounded.

Quite a story is attached to the old edition. I don't want to type the whole thing here ... it's too hot and I'm too tired after the week-long heatwave that has another week to go, and besides that Mel Keegan and the guys at DreamCraft have told the story better than I'd be telling it. So I'm going to save time and sweat and paste in the relevant bit from Aquamarine's own page...

AQUAMARINE is once again MK's property, since the rights have 'passed back to the author.' This is tremendous news for DreamCraft, and also for readers who either haven't been able to find a copy of AQUAMARINE (it's been hard to track down recently), or ... readers who have been driven bananas since 2000, by the 'tatty' presentation of the MPG issue. If you've read the 'Keegan Speaks' page, you'll know that 'things went haywire' at the pre-press stage.

The book was never proof-read! MPG went to press off the 'raw' files which Mel had emailed from Fairbanks, Alaska. Now, normally a book will be proofread four or six times before being published. (At DreamCraft, all books are proofed five times by humans and twice electronically.) This means very few errors get through. No book is error free, but you can get close, and we do. For seven years, readers have loved AQUAMARINE even though they've had to grit their teeth to get through the typing hiccups ... they can't be called 'proofing errors,' because the book wasn't proofed! So we've invited MK to go back to the 'raw' files, the exact, same files that were emailed from Fairbanks, and not only will they be properly proofed by DreamCraft,but MK has the chance to take a 'second bite' here: rework, redevelop, re-edit. The story won't change, but parts of the narrative are almost certain to. The end product will be far superior to the MPG presentation in many ways. We'll have a full-color cover, with a genuine depiction of the characters and locations rather than a monochrome (blue) pic of a young man; the interior text will be thoroughly proofed and error free; and the narrative will have been re-reveloped. Any writer will tell you, good books are not written, they're re-written ... and we're looking forward to wonderful things with the DreamCraft edition of AQUAMARINE.

There you have it, direct from DreamCraft and what more could you wish for! All that was promised was done. Beautiful new typeset, gorgeous cover, and it's been proofread to death. I oughtta know, because I did it twice myself. I'm a proofie for MK and DreamCraft; and sure, it's a lot of work, but it's also a hell of a lot of fun. How hard can it be to read a really good book? (Also, I get to write on Mel Keegan with a red pen ... evil chuckle. How many people in the world can say that?!)

The story of Aquamarine has always fascinated me. I love it. One reviewer at Amazon called it "the book Waterworld should have been." I'd go along with that. It takes place in a "drowned future," so it's another one of Mel Keegan's after-the-holocaust plots, but in this case it wasn't a nuclear war, it was a cometary impact that put the final kybosh on the world after we'd already done 75% of the job with global warming.

The story takes place about 80 years in our future, I think. You can easily recognize the remnants of our world and our society. As always in a Keegan story you have two gorgeous heroes in a romantic relationship. In this book it's Russell Grant, who's a genetic scientist, and Eric Devlin, who's a genetically engineered human -- "transhuman" is the term they're using now. (In fact there's a recent blog post on Mel's blog about this, well worth reading.) Eric has been designed so that he can live and breathe in the sea ... because the world is 90% underwater now, and future generations might depend on being "homo aquaticus" to have real freedom.

Eric and Rusty live on the floating city of Pacifica, which lives in the shelter of the converted monster oil tanker that serves as the mothership for the city ... and the whole project is the brainchild of a very old man called Gerald Duquesne, who had a vision and acted on it when there was still time, even though everyone thought he was mad. Pacifica is quite a great place to live and Eric and Rusty have good lives ... till they get complicated.

A bunch of mercenaries (very nasty characters) come in from Australia, wanting to hire Eric to do a job for them, and when he refuses they just nab him and force him to do the work. Now I have to be ultra-careful, because the plot spoilers are sloshing around your knees here!

Without wrecking the plot for you, I can tell you that what starts as a minor nuisance in a wharfside pub blows up into a possible nuclear war. There's 200 pages between these two events, and if you love science fiction, and gay romance, and thriller-type action, you're going to love this book.

It's one of the earlier Keegans, and you can tell: the plot is more linear and less tangled and interwoven. It's FUN, without getting into the deep dark places inside the characters' minds and hearts. If you want something dark and convoluted, then I really recommend you try the NARC novels, which will blow your mind. But if you want a fast-paced, linear, "sunny" adventure, which is perfect for a rainy day or a hot afternoon, you can't go past Aquamarine. I know that a few critics have said, "Not what you expect of Mel Keegan," because the style is light. But I have to ask the question, Why is there something wrong with the style being light? I'd guess MK felt like writing that way at the time, and for me (and for a lot of other readers) it works. It's all down to your preferences. I like it a lot, I find it fun and refreshing, so I can make the recommendation without hesitation. Want something dark that'll stand your hair on end? Go for NARC. It's Jarrat and Stone you're looking for, and you may never be the same again!

The only downside Aquamarine ever had was that the previous edition was so full of typos you sometimes cringed as you read it. Raw typescripts are like this. Trust me -- the word of God had to be proofread or you'd have ended up with The Book of Gemesod by Moshes, in which it says, Thou shalt now commute adultery, and Vengeance is mean, sayeth the Loud. Believe me ... they also serve who sit and proof. And I'm one of 'em. The DreamCraft edition has taken care of this problem and at the same time the book was beautifully rejacketed.

Highly recommended, without reservation. AG's rating: 5 out of 5 stars, and a gold stamp for having the determination to go ahead and do it.

Buy it brand new from Amazon -- and take care that you don't buy the old Millivres edition by mistake. It's a lot more expensive (because it's getting rare) and in the end you'll only wind up gnashing your teeth at the "tatty" job they did on the presentation. The old edition does not have the full color cover -- it's easy to tell them apart, BUT ... something weird is going on in the Amazon engine, and lately the DreamCraft edition isn't showing up in a "Mel Keegan" search. If you search on "DreamCraft Aquamarine," it shows up, but that's the only time you see it ... and if you don't see it, how can you buy it?? Jade (the cover artist and webpage guru at DreamCraft) found this out just a couple of days ago, and I heard that MK is going to be blogging about it soon.

Let me guide you through the minefield.

THIS is the DreamCraft edition -- new cover, all fixed, $22.50; this is the one you want:

This is the old version, "tatty" presentation by Millivres, spot color cover, and expensive because it's rare -- this is the one you would probably go past:

God knows, if you're a completionist, get both! But really, where's the decision?! Glad to be of help here.


Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Laugh a line gay comedy-adventure ... with camels

Knights Press has been gone for a long time, and that's a shame, because they had access to a stable of writers whose work was very different from the norm of what was going through GMP, Alyson and so on, at the time. Back in the 1980s there were loads of small gay publishers, and always plenty of good reads, even great reads, coming along. That's all changed ... and I would say the world is a poorer place because of it. (If you're interested in this, I have a link for you now, and also, I just forwarded this same link over to Mel Keegan, and got a ping back. MK will be blogging about this tomorrow.) I haven't even been able to find out when Knights Press closed, but I think it would be about ten years ago, just before GMP was sold off.

Writer Daniel McVay is also very difficult to track down. He wrote several books, most of them out of print, one apparently still available (Fete and The Legend of Jasper Kell are available secondhand; The Vanilla Kid is still in print.) Of McVay books, the only one I've read is The Baggy Kneed Camel Blues ... and I keep telling myself to get the others, because if they're as good as this one --!

Once in a long long while you find a novel that's not just funny, it's flat-out hilarious. This is one of them. The whole book reads like a stand-up comedy routine, and you'll laugh out loud in places. The book is also very easy to read. You can almost read it in an afternoon, not because it's short but because it's ... easy. In fact, Baggy Kneed... is over 200pp, and it's a good "act" to be able to continue the joke through a whole book, and still be funny at the end.

The storyline follows the development of young Tad, who’s early twenties and looking to escape from what he thinks of as a suffocating job in a dead-end place. Having saved for a trip, he lands in the Spanish city of Barcelona ... but he’s dragged his feet too much on the way there and has run out of money long before he could reach his actual original destination, which was Morocco.

The book opens with Tad killing time and trying to get his act together in Barcelona ... and then, as a cruise ship arrives, he meets a girl called Stacy and catches a glimpse of a Viking God in human form, Gunther. Tad is very gay, which doesn’t bother Stacy. Stacy is one of those fast-mouthed, exuberant young women who could be compensating for being physically tiny by having a huge personality. She's bright, quick-witted and funny -- but author McVay was walking a tightrope with this character.

Stacy’s the kind of character who makes a story start by providing the grit in the oyster that turns into the pearl; she’s also the kind of character that can get annoying if she’s not handled right. Daniel McVay does a very good job of keeping the exuberant Stacy on a leash -- giving her enough rope to let her get Tad moving, get the story going, but not letting her cross the line and become annoying.

Tad, meanwhile is a curious character: young, bright, gay, smart, but he has a kind of "Walter Mitty" complex, where he has a hard time controlling his imagination, and his daydreams can be more real than reality. Anything and everything can spark runaway daydreams, and his fantasies go careening off by themselves like runaway trucks. This provides a lot of the comedy material, and is really where Baggy Kneed... is, in my experience, unique. I can’t recall another novel that ever used this device. Certainly not a gay one.

Then Tad actually meets Gunther, the Viking, and falls head over heels. Gunther is also headed for Morocco, and Tad goes with. It’s the start of a crazy trip, and with Tad as narrator, the whole story is a little bizarre and very funny. The action (and sex, and comedy) have more to do with what’s going on inside Tad’s head than in reality. It’s a device that shouldn't’t work so well -- but does. It works marvelously.

The book is long out of print, but you can still get used copies, and Amazon has a good deal on this item. Very recommended, when you’re looking for a good laugh. AG’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars.


Saturday, January 24, 2009

Gay romance on the high seas: The Buccaneer by M.S. Hunter

At last, just when you thought the beast would never come along ... there it was! A novel that is at one moment an adventure, a romance, exciting, colorful, up-beat, well-written, well-researched, long enough to be a satisfying read, and ... gay!

Alyson Publications put out this volume in 1989, and I do not know why a raft of others answering the same description didn't follow it. They didn't all have to be historicals, like M.S. Hunter's The Buccaneer. They didn't have to be "gay pirate novels," like this one. So long as they delivered the goods according to the short list above, I'd have been happy to keep buying books as long as Alyson kept putting them out!

An exciting gay adventure romance that's well researched and written, at least 250pp long, and fun. What was so hard about that? Apparently it wasn't just hard, it was completely impossible. There's a handful of gay novels that I'd group in the same part of the bookshelf as The Buccaneer ... and I think most of them have been penned by Mel Keegan! I'm thinking about Fortunes of War, Dangerous Moonlight, The Swordsman, The Deceivers ...! They're all Keegans, and shelved with Keegan.

Now, MK didn't start publishing with GMP, and (you're going to shriek when you hear this) I missed the first few books entirely, they just blew by me. I used to get my books out of the Bulldog Books mailorder catalog in those days and my brain must have been out for pizza, because the first Mel Keegan book I saw, bought, read and fell in love with, was Fortunes of War -- which is a tale of gay buccaneers in the Elizabethan era, same time and location as the Errol Flynn movie, The Seahawk. (Oh ... joy of joys! Because Fortunes of War could easily have been a project written for Errol Flynn who would be playing Dermot Channon, and I still have endless fun trying to "cast the part" of Robin Armagh.)

But -- enough about Aricia and Mel and Errol Flynn.

Suffice to say, M.S. Hunter's The Buccaneer came along like a life-saver. I got this one when it was hot off the press and just arrived in Australia, late '89 or early '90 ... I remember it being hot weather, which to us means Christmas plus or minus a couple of months. It was love at first sight. First, I was enthralled by the fact that one of the characters in the main romantic pair was African.

(Do you want to "cast the part?" You couldn't go past Will Smith ... and I'm being wicked here; and I admit it; but with Ewan McGregor and Jim Carrey on the big screen in a gay movie right now, I can't resist "seeing" movie versions of the really great gay novels!)

The romantic aspect is between Ozei (known as Ozzie) and Tommy Cutler (known as The Cutlass), and there are some steamy scenes as well as the romantic. The supporting cast in the novel is huge, and most of the characters are very well drawn, which is unusual in many adventure books. The novel is long, at 316pp of smallish type, and M.S. Hunter wrote extremely well.

Sadly, you'll notice the past tense there. M.S. Hunter is another loss to the art form of gay literature. He passed away some time ago, after having written only a little gay fiction ... and after a lot of digging to try to find some info on him, much less an obituary, I came up empty handed.

The Buccaneer is therefore his legacy to this art form, and I can only recommend it. The story is huge, and a bit rambling. It centers on Tommy and is told in the first person with Tommy as the narrator. It's a tough act, but Hunter makes it work superbly. You like the characters in this book, and the story of ambition, desire, derring-do, hazard and sensuality will keep you turning pages. Sometimes the plotline is a little bit easy to predict, but when you've read upwards of five hundred books, very little is going to take you totally by surprise, and that's not the writer's fault! What should amaze you is the research that went into this.

Does the novel have a downside? Well ... a little one, maybe. The author keeps butting in with short "documentary" segments, which you might find make it hard for you to keep your disbelief suspended. The first time I read this, I just skipped over them, didn't read them at all. The second time, the same -- but when I was done I went back and read the documentary parts separately. Nothing wrong with this, and you actually get two reads for the price of one here. The doco segments are set off into arial or some plain font, and are ostensibly about Hunter's personal experiences while researching the book. In fact, they're very interesting, it was just the interruption to the flow of the fiction that didn't quite work for me the first time through.

Highly recommended! AG's rating, 5 out of 5 stars. The Buccaneer is long out of print (god knows why) but you can get it from Amazon, and ... please do!

If you're into gay pitate novels don't miss Fortunes of War by Mel Keegan, and also have a look at this article: Were the Pirates Gay? by W. A. Hoffman, who's written a gay pirate novel called Raised by Wolves. I haven't read the novel, but I was impressed by the article, and will get to the novel in due course.


Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Gay and coming of age in '68: John Fox's Boys on the Rock

First, my apologies to all regular visitors: I haven't been able to blog for about four days. It's just too hot! If you don't live in a part of the world that Lance Armstrong last weekend called "insanely hot," you might not be able to imagine trying to do anything at all in a room that's cooking your computer to death. So ... sorry for the delay. But I'm back. (Never really left, just couldn't blog!)

Today's review will come as a surprise to some of you. It's not my usual fare -- in fact, when I borrowed this book from a pal (a loooong time ago), I didn't expect to like it. I was in for an awakening, and I've had fond thoughts about John Fox's one and only book, The Boys on the Rock, ever since.

It's a damned shame that John Fox passed away, because he would ave gone on to be a remarkable writer with a lot to add to the corpus of gay fiction. Alas he was yet another AIDS victim, and his legacy is this one book, which was put out by Saint Martin's Press in 1993. A couple of editions have been done, and I'm fairly sure it's back in print right now. Copes are readily available from Amazon, with a different cover from the original; and I'm going to recommend it, even if it's not your "usual" thing in reading! Why would I recommend it for that specific reason? Because it'll stretch you, make you use your brain cells to see other people's points of view and appreciate different lifestyles. Which I think is important in a world that's still struggling to achieve freedom, tolerance and respect for all.

The Boys on the Rock is a coming of age story (which I don't usually go for because you can only read so many of them before they all sound alike), and a (teenage) love story. It's a very short piece -- I'd call it more of a novella than a full novel. (It's about the same length as something like Windrage or Tiger, Tiger.) The good thing about "short reads" like this is that you can finish them in a single bite. Also the author has the opportunity to tackle ONE subject, finish dealing with it and finish the novel. There's a lot to be said for the "singular voice" and the "singular theme."

John Fox certainly had a "singular voice." He managed to make The Boys... actually sound like it was written (sometimes gabbled!) by a sixteen y.o. boy who was just discovering his feelings, and falling in love. There's a massive skill in this. A fair few writers who're adults are in the business of writing "young adult novels," and I have to say, the kids in their books don't sound like real kids. Not even kids from 1968, which is when The Boys... is set. (It's a historical too, as you can see, which to me adds to its interest factor.) However, John Fox has the teenage boy of the late 1960s "voice" down pat.

Now, forty years later, younger readers might even have to work out what some of the slang means! For those of us who were there at the time (okay, I was six, but I as there, damnit) there's no problem.

Books about randy teens are not my usual fare, but this one is very good. I can usually take or leave this kind of book, but The Boys... is a young man's story, written by a young man, in a young man's voice. It has a power of Truth about it that made it wonderful to me. (As a woman, I found this story opened a doorway into the mind and heart of a teenage lad and showed me what they might be thinking and feeling. And yes, I realize a lot of readers would say, "I really don't care what a 16 y.o. is thinking!", but a lot more readers do care, or would care if they gave themselves a chance to find out.)

The storyline is fairly simple, or at least linear. Boy meets boy. Boys fall in love. Boys have sexy fling. Boys ... start drifting apart once again, when teenage love unravels itself, as if normally does at that age.

The novella doesn't have a traditional happy ending: the character of Billy, who's the narrator, is not ready to settle down into a long-term affair. Few kids his age are! But the book does have a sort of happy ending. Billy's coming of age affair was a learning experience with some emotional highs as well as the lows, and even though you can feel the sadness at the end of the book, Billy has grown so much as a human being and as a young man, that you end the book certain that he'll be able to make a good life for himself -- and find a long-lasting relationship when the time's right. I remember even wondering at the time I first read this, if Billy and his first love might be back together one day when they've, uh, grown up a bit. Nice fantasy!

Does the book have a downside? Well, it depends who you are. If you're a young gay gay guy, you should love this; if there's a boy left hiding inside you, you'll love it; if you're a friend, sis, mom, aunt or even gran of a teen just coming out, you'll take this book to your heart. If you're just plain interested in what might be going on in the mind and heart of a gorgeous young boy -- again, you'll probably love this! If the above have absolutely no interest to you (say, George Clooney in a tux, with a brandy in one hand, is more your style...) you won't get much out of it. Also, the book is very short (shorter than Jackal in the Dark), and if you want something longer, this one might disappoint. Lastly, it' set in 1968, which is now 40 years ago, and some younger readers might find it "obsolete" for this reason. I'm sure John Fox chose the time setting deliberately. To begin with, it was the era when gay Pride was really getting into gear. Second, it was just before AIDS sprang up and started taking victims in the gay male community. In 1968, kids could (and did) have wild affairs without thinking about the consequences, and most of them got away with it (except the gals who came home pregnant ... not that this was ever going to be a problem to gay kids, but ...!)

Recommended for a lazy afternoon's read -- or a rainy evening. AG's rating: 3.5 out of 5, or maybe even 4, depending on the mood I'm in at the time! Get a good deal on it from Amazon, and if you like this, you might also like Glamourpus. and Jackal in the Dark (follow the link above).


Friday, January 16, 2009

Adrien English takes on The Dark Side: Josh Lanyon's The Hell You Say

I know, I know, I've been promising for weeks to get to my favorite of the Adrien English novels ... life has been "interesting" this month, which means blogging time has been hard to find. But here I am, and here's Adrien -- back in style, in the third of the novels, The Hell You Say.

Of all the series (there are four titles to date), why is The Hell... my favorite? To begin with, it has the paranormal plot line. The story involves a connection to a satanic cult, and I love this kind of thing ... the touch of the exotic, the creep-out aspect of "black magic." This installment in the series is also extremely funny, which gives the book a kind of "three pronged assault" on the reader. There's its dark occult side, its cuttingly witty side, and also the gay theme. All of which makes the novel irresistible.

As you'd expect, there's a killer on the loose, and he seems to be after a weird young man called Angus who works for Adrien at the bookstore. Angus is being threatened via the phone, and Adrien helps him get out of harm's way -- which may or may not be a good thing, because Jake Reardon (the LA cop with whom Adrien has a sometime and stormy relationship) is also being haunted by a serial killer with satanic-cult connections. Very dead bodies being found, and they are "marked" in ritualistic ways ... and now I have to be very careful what I say about the plot, or I'll be into spoilers!

This book is full of moments that are fascinating and amusing, emotional, even disturbing. Josh Lanyon writes a sparkling first-person narrative tying everything together with the personal observations and thoughts of Adrien, who is witty and smart, with a razor-sharp tongue.

And especially in this book, Adrien is a fully-developed personality. He's "off the leash" for the first time. This is actually very true in another way, because this book marks the start of Josh Lanyon self-publishing his novels -- a road he's sharing with top-name writers from Mel Keegan to Storm Constantine. (Readers need to get past the "stigma" and find out, and then admit, that great writers can publish their own work with tip-top results. The fact is, this book, The Hell You Say, was only going to be published if JL did it himself -- and it's better than the first two which went out under the GMP label! Time to get past the "vanity publishing stigma" thing, people. The industry's changed. When great writers get stuck on a sandbank, they rescue themselves and all of us profit from their courage).

During the course of a real page-turner of a plot, Josh Lanyon has Adrien interact with a cast of characters ranging right across the spectrum. There's the gorgeous detective boyfriend Jake, who is deeply "challenged" and breaking Adrien's heart. There's Adrien's mother (!) who is deliciously batty, getting married again, and presenting Adrien with not one but three step-sisters. Eegad. And there's also the Wiccan-pagan guru who appears late in the book ... and I'm so very pleased to be able to relate that this writer knows what Wicca is all about. It's such a relief when a writer possesses the facts and not the prejudices.

If you've collected all the Adrian English books, it's great to be able to watch Josh Lanyon mature, as well as his character. From the first book through to this one, the style, the storytelling, everything "fleshes out." Also, The Hell... is 230pp, a longer book with a lot more to get your teeth into.

Does the novel have a downside? Weeeeeell, maybe, if you were waiting for Jake to get his act together and figure out that he belongs with Adrien. Plot spoiler: not in this book, guys. In fact (stop reading right now if you don't want to know!!) Jake is getting married to his rather pregnant girlfriend, leaving Adrian high and dry. Hey, there's always a fourth book...

Highly recommended! AG's rating: 5 out of 5 stars. You can read this one first if you're on a tight budget, but I think Amazon will combine shipping for you -- which is especially important, if you're in the South Pacific region. Give them a try, and see...


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="


Saturday, January 10, 2009

Gay Westerns done right: Cap Iversen's Dakota trilogy

You'd think the idea of the "gay western" was so obvious, this kind of book would be common, there would be plenty of these novels when you fancied a romp with gay cowboys.
Surprisingly, there's just not that many. The genre is usually traced back to a novel I've never read, but would if I ever found a copy -- Song of the Loon, by Richard Amory, published in 1966. It's been described as an "erotic saga," but how hot it would be, you have to wonder, because not only was it published in '66, but it was also so popular, Amory was either invited or allowed to do two sequels.

But the sluice gates did not exactly swing wide open on gay western novels. I've found it hard to track any more down before the 1990s. Then, you can hunt down books by William H. Henderson, Michael Jensen, Ken Shakin and Cap Iversen.

I'm going to look at Cap Iversen today for several good reasons: he writes a very good novel without getting at all "arty;" his books are the absolute archetype of the Western novel with one exception ... the orientation of the heroes; and he wrote a trilogy about a very good character called Dakota Taylor, so if you're in the mood for a gay western, you've got something to sink your teeth into!

The trilogy started off with Arson! and went on with Silver Saddles and Rattler! I have a copy of the first, read a borrowed copy of the second, and was never able to get my hands on a copy of the third. From a writer's POV I guess it's like the Law of Diminishing Returns. The more you do, the less you get -- the more books you produce, the less you sell, and then the publishers decide not to do any more, and what was billed as a "series" at first, turned into a trilogy. That's fair enough. The publishers know their business...

I'd love to show you the Rattler! cover, but I never did track down the book, as I said. I remember enjoying Silver Saddles a lot, but can't actually review it because it's got to be about twelve years since I read it and the details have slipped my mind!

However, I read Arson! again not long ago, and I'd forgotten what a good book it is. It doesn't attempt to be "arty." It is exactly what it is: a Western. Where the guys fancy each other.

The story is your "right down the middle" Western plot, about sheepmen on one side, cattlemen on the other, the little dusty town, the simmering heatwave, land rights, water rights, the gunfighter, the smoking Colt revolvers ... the works.

And Cap Iversen wove in the gay sub-plotline with a very very subtle hand. This book is NOT erotica. There's a lot of so-called "gay cowboy stories" out there, but when you get right down to it, it's just erotica about very young men getting down to business while wearing Stetson hats and chaps (or at least wearing them till some other young dude rips 'em off; which is cool in its own way). If you want a real, genuine Western, you'll look a long way...

CI's characters are the real thing, too. The central character is obviously Dakota Taylor, who's a big, rough, tough gunslinger with a heart of gold, a lot of courage and a fancy for guys. His best bud is Ryder, who answers to the same description. The two have been in bed together for years, though they're not in love -- the bond is "merely" friendship with sensuality as a side order. Then Dakota meets a lad called Bennie Colsen, who's grown up gay on the ranch and has no idea what to do about it. He's done his reading, knows what and who he is, but in that era, what did you do next? Dakota falls for Bennie like the proverbial load of bricks, and Ryder is skeptical, especially when Dakota gets "suckered" into working for the young man, who's running sheep, and up against the cattlemen. The plot thickens with a drought that's killing huge numbers of cattle ... and everybody knows that sheep can survive twenty times better in drought conditions than cattle ever will.

So, Dakota is working for Bennie while Ryder takes the skeptical high ground, and the cattlemen are losing stock; Dakota has fallen in love with his young boss, and ... suddenly the ranch goes up in flames, and it weren't no act of Nature.

Arson! is a very good read. If the book has a downside at all, it's that most readers today would have liked the love scenes to be more frequent, and a lot more steamy. They're "matter of fact" love scenes, along the lines of, "we made love and then made a fresh pot of coffee." Even so, for gay readers (and gay-friendly readers) it's so nice to have a proper Western with the gay orientation. Like a breath of fresh air.

The book was put out by Alyson Books in 1992 and never reprinted. They also did the two follow-ups that make the Dakota trilogy, and you can get good deals from Amazon.

Highly recommended. AG's rating: 4.5 outta 5 stars, gosh durnit.

Here's a good article on the development of the gay Western:

... ...Amazon does have Song of the Loon, as I have just discovered! The much better look at the cover is a scan from the History of Gay Publishing in America. I must see if I can get this.

Diesel Ebooks has a page of gay Westerns, but I have no idea of the quality, not having read any of these! Worth a look, though, if you're in the mood, but I'm certain some (most?) of what's on this list will be of the erotic variety, and when you're looking for an actual novel...!


Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Gay vampires -- as you never saw vampires before: Mel Keegan style

If you think you know a thing or two about vampires ... how they sleep in earth-filled coffins, hang out in creepy old houses festooned with webs, can't see their reflections in mirrors, have giant canine teeth and rip the throats out of virgin girls in graveyards in the wee small hours of the morning ... think again. Mel Keegan's vampire (or vampyre, as it's spelt in these books) are different. Very different.

These people are immortals ... but they come in two kinds, or races, or strains. First, there's the vampire themselves. who are mostly thousands of years old -- these are the individuals who've managed to survive since the time of the Battle of Troy, against at least two thousand years of persecution. They're a gentle people, old, wise, and sad, because only a handful of them have survived. They live a different lifestyle; they do sustain themselves with blood; they do fear the daylight for medical reasons ...

Leave it to Mel Keegan to think the whole thing through and diagnose an ancient virus, transmitted exactly the same way as HIV, that makes people turn into vampires -- and this is where you get your second race. The vampires are an ancient race of humans who carry the virus, and when it's transmitted to normal humans, the human mutates, or changes, over the space of months, and becomes a changeling. The changelings also become immortal but they're sterile; they carry the virus and can pass it on to other humans if they're not damned careful, like HIV. What the virus does to them is, it makes them shun the daylight the same as the elder vampire, and makes it impossible for them to digest anything but ... you got it. Blood.

And then it starts to get complicated. Changelings are caught between two worlds -- the crass, callow human world they were born in, and the elegant, glittering, ancient world they aspire to ... but the humans hunt them down and the vampire (vampyre) won't accept them, because --

Hey, read the book. I have to stop right now, because if I even try to explain, the plot spoilers will be coming thick and fast. The story focuses on two gorgeous characters. The changeling is Michael Flynn, who's a "young" Irishman, an occultist and Tarot reader who's passing himself off in London high society in 1893 as the sufferer of a rare blood disease. He's also gay, by the way ... and beautiful. (Beauty is key to the plot of Nocturne ... like I said, read the book.) At a party one night he meets Captain Vincent Bantry, an army officer who was just retired from the service, badly injured. He's spent years in the Far East and seen all kinds of strange, weird things -- but nothing that prepares him for falling in love with Michael and stumbling into the vampyre world, and wanting desperately to become part of that world. The vampire characters are amazing. I absolutely fell in love with the vampire Chabrier, and the changeling Mario/Maria. The main romance is between Michael and Vincent. It will stand your hair on end. Trust me. The combination of the occult and the spice of a gay romance can't be resisted.

The story is set in England, France, Italy ... London, Paris, the Camargue ... and, well, the book makes you shiver, just thinking about it. It's 450pp of smallish type -- a huge book -- and you won't be able to get it out of your memory for weeks. You're going to want the second book (MK says there are more to come), and I'm going to do something I don't usually do. I'm going to continue right here and review the second book at the same time -- for a good reason. If you'll just trust me enough on this to get both at one time, you can combine postage at Amazon and save yourself some money!

(Incidentally, you can also throw in other MK books from DreamCraft on the same postage bill, because they're made and shipped by CreateSpace, which is one of Amazon's own companies. I looked into how much the postage is for folks downunder -- like self -- and it comes to a big saving. It costs $16.04 to ship one book, but only $32.10 to ship THREE. Every book you add to your order, they add $8.04, so if you can ship, say, four at a time instead of four separate packages, you just saved $24.12. That's nice. We like that.)

So, here we go with the second Keegan vampire book:

This story takes place about 12 years later than the first one and it's like an "episode" ... fully self-contained, no ends left dangling, has its own guest stars and all.

(I can give you a bit of insider information here. Being a proofie at DreamCraft, I've chatted with MK enough to know that Twilight certainly is an episode. There's another episode after the First World War, and another one in the 1930s (the Indiana Jones era), and then one in the 1960s, and one in the 1990s -- one in about 2030, and one in about 2050. The series has a plan to work to, it's going somewhere. All MK needs is the time to devote to writing the stories.)

Twilight takes place in 1905 ... automobiles and telephones and the police starting to get much more scientific in their approach to detective work and forensics. The vampire are up against a tougher world now. They have to get smarter if they're going to survive and stay hidden in a world that's getting technological. But all the same old "drives" are still working, which makes life more and more complicated. Just before Twilight opens, there's been a series of murders out in the west of England ... or has there? Looking at the details of the crimes, in the newspaper, Vince and Michael think they can see a vampire or changeling at work, and people are dying out there. They go out to Devonshire and take on the investigation ...

And now, I'm about out of things I can tell you about the plot! Like any Mel Keegan book, it gets very complicated, very fast. It'll also keep you turning pages till four o'clock in the morning if you start reading too late, so -- consider yourself warned. Twilight is only about half as long as Nocturne, and it can afford to be shorter. The first book had to set up the whole world, backstory all the characters, and so on. This book is definitely an episode in the lives of Michael and Vince and Chabrier and the others. I loved it as much as the first.

Is there a downside to these books? Only the fact I wish Mel Keegan would get on and write the others. But I also understand that working a job takes time away from writing, and the books will come out when they come out. (They'd come out a lot faster if a major publisher picked up the contract and offered decent printruns and advances ... but that's every writer's dream.)

Right now, you can get these two books in one package from (not dot-co-dot-uk, though) for $16.04 on shipping to Aust and NZ (a lot less for shipping to US and UK obviously). And if you were interested, you can also chuck in The Swordsman for an extra eight bucks postage, and something like the new DreamCraft edition of Fortunes of War or Aquamarine for another eight bucks shipping.

Nocturne and Twilight are highly recommended. AG's rating: 5 out of 5 stars on each one, and if you add them together, I'd award a 6 if I could.

And, in case you're building a parcel to save postage (esp. to Australasia region):


Monday, January 5, 2009

Gay in the wrong location: The Alexandros Expedition

From memory, this was the first gay book I'd read that was written by a woman; it was also the first one that had a more or less "mainstream" plot. I got this book used in something like about 1987. It was put out by Alyson Books four years earlier, and I think its principal claim to fame is that it appears on the List of Materials Stopped by Canada Customs!! (You can see the whole list here: other words, this book is banned in Canada. I have no idea why, but I do know that Canada has banned a lot of gay books.

However, I always thought that the Canadians banned books containing "nasties" such as underage characters and what have you. Intelligent reasons.

Then I found out that they "stopped" Harlan's Race by Patricia Nell Warren, which is of course the sequel to the bestselling gay novel The Front Runner ... and since I've read both of those as well as The Alexandros Expedition, and I can tell you flat-out that there is nothing in any of these books that an intelligent sixteen y.o. could not safely read ... I can only conclude that the Canadian Customs Department is off its noodle and needs to have its management looked into as soon as feasible. Some of the stuff on their banned books list -- sure. But there's a lot of titles on there that shouldn't be. And Alexandros is one of them.

It's well written. Well plotted. Well researched ... it also seems to be the ONLY novel on this author's byline. Which tells me that this was a pen name for a writer who was well established in another field, because you don't get this good on one novel. (Maybe PS only had one gay story to tell?? Maybe s/he is Canadian and was so angry at having the book banned in Canada that s/he quit in reaction. This would be a pity, because a lot more books by this author would have been very welcome.) I've tried to get biographical details, but have so far found it impossible ... it's as if the author doesn't exist.

As it is, this is IT, the one and only, put out once by Alyson and never reprinted. The story is a mainstream mystery/adventure thriller about a hero who is hiding a secret ... he's gay, but can't or won't show it, even though his best bud (with the unfortunate name of Hamish, which is the only Scottish name worse than Angus) is open about being gay.

It all hits the fan for our hero, Even, when his friend lands in prison in the Mid-East. He and Hamish are determined to bust him out of there, and they plan a rescue mission. The plot takes them to exotic locations and into danger. There's plenty of action, though the book is not in the least explicit, which is why I can't work out why it was banned in Canada. I lliked the writing style, which is sparse and yet descriptive. And I liked the characters. Some of the book is very sensitively written -- including some good female characters.

It's your real Old Fashioned Book: a good, solid novel ... that, by the by, has gay central characters as well as a mile and a half of story.

Recommended. AG's rating: an easy 4 out of 5 stars -- and there's a killer deal on this at Amazon just now...


Saturday, January 3, 2009

Five gay heroes and a thrill every page: Fathom's Five

I do believe this is Geoffrey Knight's debut novel, and if it is, I'm impressed. This one came out very recently from STARbooks Press (which bills itself as the "publishing leader for Gay literature" ... well, gay p*orn, maybe. There's not a lot of literature in their neck of the Internet, but there's a lot of, uh, action going on there), and it's a load of fun.

Someone was saying to me the other day, this blog needs to lighten up a bit and concentrate less on "serious" novels, and include some fun. The last out-and-out fun one I covered was Glamourpus, so I thought, okay ... "something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue." A lot of the books covered in this blog are old -- that's the whole point of reviewing them. A couple are new: John Barrowan's Anything Goes, for one! Something blue ... well, how about China House? So that leaves something borrowed...

Right before Christmas I borrowed Fathom's Five: The Cross of Sins, and enjoyed the heck out of it. So our subject for today is ... fun. This ain't great literature, guys! This is thrills and spills, for just over 200pp, and some good, steamy scenes throughout.

If you took the clue-hunt from National Treasure, glued it to the quest for an ancient relic from Raiders of the Lost Ark, staged it in the over-the-top "impossible and I'm having far too much fun to care about it" disregard for physics and the consequences thereof, of Sahara, you're just about smack on target as a description of this book ... except for one important facet: the characters are gay.

What, all of 'em? Well, most! The premise starts with one of those Doc Savage type organizations, where a central genius (in this case Professor Fathom in the part of Doc Savage or Professor Xavier) has a group of brilliant, diverse, larger-than-life young associates who come to daddy at the gallop when another adventure is offered. The difference in this book (which is tipped to be the first of a series) is, they're all gay!

Like I began -- it's loads of fun. You just mustn't take it seriously, or even try to: it's like James Bond crossed with Tomb Raider ... if you take it seriously, you take the fun out of it. The five young tear-away adventurers are a Texas cowboy, a male model, a gridiron player, a troubleshooter, a genetics expert, and each one doubles as a specialist in maps, an ancient historian, a doctor, and so on.

Anybody remember Buckeroo Banzai --?! Leave your sense of reality at the door, turn on your sense of humor, and you'll enjoy this hugely. It's a complete romp, with colorful backdrops from Italy to Venice to Turkey. Indiana Jones territory, with Lara Croft action restaged for hunky young gay characters.

On top of all this, it even has a plot, believe it or not. Da Vinci Code-fashion, the Vatican is trying to destroy or cover up ancient truths or relics, but this relic has been well and truly hidden, like the treasure Ben Gates has been after all his life. Our heroes have to find it, and it ain't easy. Indie's adventures are in the same league -- you get the picture.

The plot has enough loops and switchbacks to keep you interested and even guessing in some places, and there's a good surprise when the villain is unmasked. You'll like the characters, who are properly written and developed for the most part. And as per the writing style, this might be Geoffrey Knight's debut on this pen name, but (s)he's been writing something, somewhere, to develop the full professional polish. Can't find anything biographical online, though, and I'm tempted to speculate that maybe this is the new pen name used by a "serious" writer who'd get stoned to death by his (or her?) peer group for writing pure escapist adventure fiction!

I'm not going to say more because plot spoilers get under my fingernails the same as yours. The book is in paperback, in print, still quite new, and available from Amazon.

Highly recommended for its total fun quotient. Just turn off your "disbelief master switch" and enjoy the ride. AG's rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars.


Friday, January 2, 2009

Gay Gothic: China House

Thank heavens Vincent Lardo wrote extensively. Under two pen names that I know of, he's done around ten books, and discovering either Vincent Lardo or Lawrence Sanders (the pen name) is a treat for a reader. According to the promos, under the byline of Sanders he has "more than 50 million books in print," which is amazing for any writer anywhere ... much less one who has four titles in the Alyson Books range.

Alyson did China House, The Prince and the Pretender, and The Mask of Narcissus, back in the 1980s, and they did it in an "edition" which offered the best-looking covers on gay books that were being done in that era. (GMP was around at the time, but they had a tradition of Really Terrible Covers ... "arty" kind of covers full of clashing colors and scribble-impressionism that didn't inspire you with much desire to order the book out of the catalog!)

China House was actually Lardo's debut novel in 1983, but you'd never have known it, because it's so polished. I don't think I'm wrong in guessing that VL had done loads of writing before getting to the "first novel" hurdle. The Mask of Narcissus was apparently the most popular novel from Alyson, but I'll be deadly honest with you ... China House is my own favorite. I like gothic novels, and China... is a very good one.

The first three thing I look for when I'm thinking about laying down good money and buying a book is, do I like the characters? (If you don't like the characters, you'll get irritated to death by a book that's 200pp long.) China... has fantastic characters. There are four that you meet in the first few chapters, that are crucial to the story -- Scott Evans and Mike Armstrong, who're friends and lovers, and Howard Roth, who's a kind of parapsychologist who's been called in to check out a creepy old house, and Howard's son, Ken.

The cover doesn't lie ... Scott and Mike are gorgeous. They're young, smart, sexy. And scared. The house, China House, is weird. You know that from the start. It's full of "atmosphere," and no secret is made of the fact that something very not-nice happened there about a generation ago.

As the story starts, Scott has just inherited the place, and rather than bulldoze it to the ground and start over (which I would be doing!) he gets in the psychic investigator (Howard) and determines to get to the bottom of what's "up" with the house.

The story is set on the east coast of the US, which has interested me since I saw Jaws in the theaters about 30 years ago. (The movie was set on a mythical island called Amity, but it was filmed in Martha's Vineyard, which is not far south of Cape Cod -- just up the road from the location of China House. So, if you've ever seen Jaws, the stage is set for the opening of the book. Then, take a swung over to Salem, MA, add in something like the creepy old house from The Changeling, and you're good to go.)

And this is the point where I have to start being careful not to give away plot spoilers. There's a dead identical twin ... and the house is seriously weird. And, is Scott haunted, or ill? Is Mike taking advantage of him? Why would be do that?!

Does the book have a downside? Not really. I kinda hoped it would turn out differently, but the ending is Vincent Lardo's prerogative, not mine! Still ... you could hope.

If you're looking for a book that's part thriller, part suspense, part ghost story, and with a great gay theme, you've found it. Marvelous reading for a winter's night, with the wood stove lit and a glass of brandy.

Still in print, with good deals available from Amazon. AG's rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Here's Vincent Lardo online:

Keep your weather-eye open for the old editions, which are way better than the new(er) ones: