Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Gay in a difficult future: China Mountain Zhang

Maureen F. McHugh made her novel debut with China Mountain Zhang way back in 1992, and you can see what the cover blurb says! The New York Times: "A first novel this good gives every reader the chance to share in the pleasure of discovery." And back in those days, we were convinced Ms McHugh would be back with a new one just like it every year. This is very close to my kind of SF, and I was one of those hoping for a shelf of McHughs...

It didn't happen. There are still only four McHugh novels (sorry, folks: I'm not much of a fan of short fiction. I need something I can sink my teeth into) ... and the thing is, her novels sell so well, she probably doesn't need to write any more often than this! Here is her Wiki page on which her occupation is quotes as "writer, novelist" -- and this tells you how well her books sell. Four novels in seventeen years is a major success story.

And it all started right here: China Mountain Zhang, though if you take another look at it, it's not really a novel at all. It's nine segments that range in length from short story to novella ... and all of them twine around each other and around the main character of Zhang. It's an amazing framework for a novel, if you can call China... a novel, and I'm going to, because the whole thing harmonizes in my memory as a single work, 312pp long.

It's the 22nd century, and China dominates the world in population, culture, technology, the lot. The best of everything is in China and everybody wants to go there. The world is in the process of deliberately Chinese-izing itself, just as the 20th century was all about Americanization (due to the influence of Hollywood, I suspect).

Interestingly, 150 years from now, China is still a communist body ... and not one darned thing has really changed, culturally. Meaning, Zhang has big problems. He's gay.

(Right here, divorce yourself from the cultural developments of the last 17 years since the book was put out by Tor ... the fact is that by 2009 Chinese gays are coming out whether the government likes it or not. There are great big websites like Gay China -- the link I just gave you is to the English language page. Forget about all this when you read China Mountain Zhang -- or imagine that the current trend has been totally reversed, and by 2100 China is as dead-set against its enormous GLBTI community as it ever was. Not a pleasant thought but inside the parameters of this novel, I guess it happened.)

It's very hard to nail down what the storyline of China Mountain Zhang is! There are threads coming in from this angle and that angle ... it's not linear ... it doesn't follow a single plotline for long enough for this to be called the story of the book as a whole. However you can pick out the direction the book is moving in...

It's about personal development, and finding a way to integrate yourself into a whole that at first didn't seem to want you. How to overcome personal difficulties and make something of yourself in a world which seems to be against you. Zhang appears throughout, though is not the central character in a couple of the stories -- and this doesn't seem to matter: you'll be enthralled.

Each story offers a "slice of life," and they're all absolutely fascinating. The most fascinating, to me, were two segments entitled Kites and Jerusalem Ridge. The first is about pilots who fly hang-glider type kites that are powered from the pilot's own body. This tale was as far out and imaginative as some of the things you'll come across in the Jarrat and Stone books, and that is a compliment indeed. In the second story, Zhang has taken a job ... on Mars! Jerusalem Ridge is a colony. I'm never sure which of these two pieces I like the best out of the book -- but the other stories offer just as much, and you'll choose your own favorites.

The gay content in the book is most often of the "inference" type. In other words, you know Zhang is gay, and various things are alluded to in context. There's nothing steamy in it at all. In terms of sensuality, it would be readable by a 14 year old ... but I don't know of any 14 year olds who'd have the cultural, political, psychological "smarts" to get much out of the book. It'll enthrall twenty- and thirty-somethings, not kids.

Maureen F. McHugh pours color and detail and nuance into her work. You feel like you've been to the 22nd century! Highly recommended. AG's rating: 5 out of 5. Recently reprinted, I believe -- with a cover that's nowhere near as good as the 1992 Tor one; and you can get it at Amazon, naturally:


Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Gay mystery and ancient Chinese magic: The Jade Owl by Edward C. Patterson

I was asked a while ago, will I review POD books ... and the answer to that is a resounding yes. I've said this several times before, and it's true: some of the best fiction being published today is coming out in POD form, where it's direct from the writer to the reader.

However, the first thing I need to do is make sure to qualify this statement! "Direct from writer to reader" does not mean the book hasn't been edited, proofread, labored over, illustrated, layout-designed and so on. The best POD books have had every bit as much work as a book issued from a traditional publishing house. Sometimes more.

I applaud when a really talented writer has the courage to go it alone, because it's going to mean work such as a non-writer can't imagine. (Mel Keegan states the case better than me in this post: POD Publishing: why do it? And why not?")

So I'm delighted to be reviewing The Jade Owl by Edward C. Patterson, which is available from Amazon. com as a paperback, and also in Kindle. It's also available from Smashwords in several formats. (I have the PDF for reading on my desktop because I haven't yet saved enough of my pennies to get an ebook gadeget. Soon. Very soon.)

The story falls into the same category as the "urban fantasy" novels of writers like Charles de Lint (Yarrow, Greenmantle and so on) and Jan Siegel (the Prospero's Children series). It takes place in the real world ... but one of the foundation stones of the book is, paranormal artifacts do exist, and the powers are real. (The same foundation stone is holding up everything from Indiana Jones to the Mummy movies. It's come to be a Hollywood staple.)

In this novel, the artifact is an ancient Chinese object, a six inch piece of Jade carved in the likeness of an owl -- and it's actually a key that opens a box known as the Joy of Finches. What's in the box? That would be telling! But everybody wants the key.

The first thing that impressed me about Jade Owl was how knowledgeable about Chinese antiquities the writer is, and about China itself. Shanghai and Beijing are described with the same amount of detail and enthusiasm as San Francisco -- and never having been to either China or the USA myself, I really appreciated the "local color." Many writers, when setting their plots in London, New York, what have you, seem to think that everyone's been there and knows intimately every secret of the city. Not true. So, the first level where Jade Owl succeeds is in "selling me" San Francisco, which is the setting for the first long segment of the book.

Then it's off to China, and in the second half of the novel the adventure really kicks in. The first half is more of an exploration of culture, personality, even history. There's not too much "action" in this part of the story, but I liked having the story built up properly from the ground up, so that all readers are on the same page when the knock-down-drag-out adventure begins.

The characters are, for the most part, excellently drawn, with only one or two of the lesser players falling back on "stock characterization." Edward C. Patterson's dialog is very believable, you can "hear" voices saying these lines. But it was the paranormal aspects of the story that hooked me ... I love this stuff anyway, and the Jade Owl does it well. I know a little bit about things Chinese, since I grew up with a huge crush on Bruce Lee and read/watched everything I could get my hands on over the space of about ten years! Jade Owl is a real treat.

It's a crying shame this book had to be self-published, and you have to ask yourself what the publishing world is coming to, when gifted writers everywhere are having to fly solo. Jade Owl is not just "competently" written -- it's only one thorough, ruthless edit away from being on a par with the top-notch writers who sell in the gajillions. (Trust me on this: I've been a pro "proofie" for decades and have seen the best and worst that professional writers can turn out ... and some long-time professional writers I could name churn out unpunctuated drivel that has to be bashed into shape by line-editors who get paid about $10 an hour!) There was a time, maybe 20 years ago, when a publisher would take in a manuscript from an inspired and gifted writer, and would assign an editor to do the final work, then the book would be jacketed and sent out there with posters and hype galore. (Doesn't happen now. A manuscript can be received that is absolutely gem-perfect, and it'll still get turned around and sent back unread ... sad to say, I've worked in the industry and seen what happens: it'd shock you).

But -- I digress! The Jade Owl is an extremely good read. It gets off to a slightly shaky start, but the style settles right down after a few pages and is very readable. You'll like the central characters of "Rowdy" Gray, Nick Battle and his partner, Simone. In fact, you ought to love Simone, who's a drag queen from the Castro, indomitable, very human, very "real." There's enough gay content to keep GLBTI readers reading -- and more than enough action of other kinds (sensual, paranormal, cultural, comedic) to keep straight readers reading.

It's also hellaciously good value for money, at $15.45 for the paperback, $3.19 in Kindle, and $3.99 from Smashwords ... and this is a major novel, over 200,000 words. And here is one of the great things about getting a book direct from the writer: because there's no publisher to accommodate, the price can afford to be much lower than you'd think.

Does the book have a downside? Well ... maybe, but it depends who you are, and what your "ear" is like! The writing style can be a little erratic at times, but many readers would also call this one of the book's charms. So there you are -- as with so many facets of so many books -- it's actually your call. I found the PDF ebook easy to read, but halfway through I longed for a "proper" ebook reader to get away from the PC -- not the author's fault! When I get myself an iLiad, or Bebook or something similar, I shall be reading Jade Owl a second time in the comfort of a hammock chair at the bottom of the garden.

I should also note that there are two more books following on from The Jade Owl , the first one of which is available now, the second, on its way. I still have to get to the second, so can't talk about it here.

Recommended on many levels. AG's rating: 4 out of five stars -- with a "gold star" added for incredibly good value for money.

Here is Edward C. Patterson's page at Smashwords, which you can get the ebook in several formats.


Sunday, February 15, 2009

Gay science fiction, with the young-teen spin: Jumping off the Planet

It's fairly easy to find gay novels suitable for teens these days. There are actually whole ranges dedicated to teen gay fiction, or "young adult gay fiction." For example, without hesitation I could recommend The Swordsman for sixteens -- and incidentally, if you're in a jam, needing to buy something and wondering where to turn, here's a very good starting place: Great Gay Teen Books ... good hunting!)

But what about books for a kid who's growing up gay and is maybe 14? 13? Now you're treading in ticklish territory, because you're really, thoroughly, in PG country. It's gets tougher to make the recommendation. But if the kid you need to buy a gift for was an SF fan (and which kid isn't?) you could think about Jumping off the Planet, by David Gerrold.

It's a book that can be read by anyone, anywhere, and unless the reader is hopelessly prejudiced, so homophobic that they belong in scripture class, it couldn't possibly give offence. It's also a book that will be appreciated on six different levels depending on the age of the person reading it. An intelligent 12 could read this: it's an easy easy with a clear writing style that benefits younger readers ... and a story that is deceptively complex. It sets out in simple style, and gradually becomes more and more intricate until it's a real Gordian knot by the end -- and even old Aunt Maud ought to enjoy it.

The "gay content" also sneaks up on you, and it's written so "naturally" that it's part of the landscape, part of the ambiance of the story. It's also very touching now and then.

The story concerns a father and his three sons who're making a journey to the ultimate elevator ... the elevator to space! Amazing technology surrounds the characters, and Gerrold is a master at depicting this kind of thing. (He cut his professional teeth on Star Trek, eons ago, if you recall the episode about the cute fuzzy little life forms that can eat a civilization into extinction in an afternoon!) The story focuses in tight on the middle son, Charles (his nickname is "Chigger"). He has a little brother, Bobby, whom he calls "Stinky," and a big brother, Douglas.

Charles is just pre-teen, and he's "the middle kid," always the difficult case. Stinky is just a little one, definitely his Dad's responsibility ... and Douglas is seventeen, absolutely on the brink of adulthood. And gay.

Jumping... presents the world through Charles's eyes. He's exasperated with his kid brother and all he can do is watch from the sidelines as Douglas struggles to grow up. The world these kids are growing up in, also, is wrecked. They come from a rat-hole called Bunker City in El Paso, TX, in an environment that's well and truly busted. Mankind is heading off the planet, people are trying their luck elsewhere -- hence the "elevator to space."

So, this dysfunctional family is headed for the space elevator, and the kids have more than their fair share of problems. First stop is Geostationary, the space platform at an altitude of several miles, which is also the departure point for the Moon and planets. The kids are excited about the trip; and Dad?

The father is hiding secrets. Nothing is what it seems to be. And Charles is a bright kid, up to the challenge of guessing that something, somewhere is wrong. Stinky is just along for the ride ... but Douglas -- seventeen, highly intelligent, gay and caught in an unenviable situation -- is about to grow up in a hell of a hurry.

The book is marvellous. Unless you're looking for gay content on every page (very few dedicated gay books offer this!), or steamy sex (there isn't any), you can't not love this book. (Well, not unless you really hate SF, I suppose! And such people do exist...)

Highly recommended. Would give this as a gift to a young gay teen without a qualm. AG's rating: 5 out of 5 stars. Good deals are available at Amazon right now...


Saturday, February 14, 2009

Gay fantasy from the pen of the wizard

This is not a book review, but rather, something of a Service Message ... you could say I'm blogging to tell you why I'm not blogging!

The reasons are numerous and I can't get around any of them. In the first week of February it was HOT, and then HOTTER, and after that everything else was just a blur. I couldn't work, so the work piled up around me, and how that it's "only" low-90s in the shade I have to catch up. I'm about to review JUMPING OFF THE PLANET, THE HUSTLER, THE JADE OWL, and a couple of others, plus --

I had wanted to take part in the book launch for THE LORDS OF HARBENDANE ... I missed out on that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity ... and the second launch, for the digital novel, LEGENDS. I missed that too, through having to work.

There's not much I can do to make up for either one, but I can certainly get my review of HARBENDANE online as soon as possible, and I can give a powerful "plug" to the digital novel right here.

This is the first Keegan book in a long time I haven't been a "proofie" on ... because it's going direct from MK to you, via the gorgeous webpage (designed by Jade at DreamCraft). Haven't seen it yet? Don't delay:

LEGENDS: The fall of the Atlantean Empire, a digital novel by Mel Keegan.

What's absolutely great for me about this project is that it's as new to me as it is to everybody else as I read it online. I never saw any of this before ... I don't know what's going to happen next. I'm back every day for my "next installment" and loving it. The idea is brilliant ... and incidentally, so is the novel -- which we expect from MK. If it wasn't brilliant, you'd wonder what was going on.

I can give you the "blurb" right here:

"In an era of storm and chaos, One will be born who will command the Power, but the ancient magic that flows in his veins like blood is his curse as well as his gift. In this time of cataclysm and ordeal, the upstart Empire of Vayal has placed a bounty on the heads of all scions of the lineage of Diomedas, for the oracle foretold the doom of Vayal, and it rides on the shoulders of the One. He lives and breathes already, hiding the old city of Zeheft and in the slowly drowning outlands. He is Faunos, still dangerously young -- and he has one dread: the witchfinders of Vayal, who are charged with the hunting of those like himself. Twenty years, Faunos has hidden and learned,until the gods of sea, storm and earth take Zeheft; and one night destiny brings Vayal's young witchfinder to the camps of the water gypsies, where Faunos should not have been. The Empire of the Atlantan has one slender chance to survive, and its struggle will begin on this night."

And after that, all I can do is encourage you to git on over there and download the parts that are online right now! It comes out daily, seven days a week, at a good-sized chunk each upload.

Better yet, it's FREE. You probably think you misread that, so I'll say it again, and elaborate a little! Free online gay fiction. Free Mel Keegan books. Free for the download ... save it to your device, print it out, go for it.

Right now your getting dizzy, wondering how in the heck this works, right? There's a message on the LEGENDS site, and I'll quote you a little bit of it right here.

Like the idea of free fiction, like free TV?

Then, simply “support your local” – and here’s how:

1. Tell your friends, get them on board … if you’re enjoying a great gay read with LEGENDS, then recommend it to others. Send the url to friends you know will enjoy the read and appreciate the pricetag! (For the same of sheer simplicity -- forward this whole message.)


2. Notice the ads. Keep in mind that MK has bills to pay too, and … hey, you know how it works, right? You’re free to download, copy the novel to any device you like and read at your leisure; print it out, if you prefer. But –

Don’t just send the files to your friends. Send the the url! For the advertising to pay for the writer’s time, your friends have to actually be on the page – sending them the files will defeat the object. Just forward this whole message, and …


There it is in a nutshell: get your friends in, help yourselves, understand that advertising on the site is paying MK's bills. That's all there is to it. Personally, I hope this works 100%, because I can't imagine anything better than being able to download the absolute best work from the really good writers who can make it available to me (free gay novels online!) at a price I can really, seriously afford. Uh, free.

I want to interview Mel Keegan about this (also about HARBENDANE) for my blog here, but it's tough getting enough of MK's time to do a proper interview, so ... it'll happen when it happens.

In the meantime, let me also give you the link to the booklaunch of THE LORDS OF HARBENDANE ... which is in my "top five Keegans" but please don't make me choose a favorite. It would change every day. Here is the link:


Best I can do do, belatedly, folks, and my apologies to all for missing this.

Back tomorrow with another review!


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Intrigue, mayhem and controversy: Hold Tight by Christopher Bram

Hold Tight is one of my favorites from among Christopher Bram's books -- and I know I'm going out on a limb when I say this, because he's written some very good books, and readers and critics are very divided about Hold Tight.

I know of about ten novels by Bram, and he's one of the incredibly rare writers of gay fiction who's had a book actually filmed -- not "optioned" or planned, but actually filmed. (It was Father of Frankenstein, which was filmed as Gods and Monsters, starring none other than Ian McKellen and Brendan Fraser!)

Hold Tight was only Bram's second novel in print. The first was Surprising Myself, which came out the year earlier (1987). Readers and critics were in agreement on Surprising Myself -- it's a great novel. However, it's also another novel about a young man finding himself, discovering he's gay ... coming of age if not coming out ... which is not quite the kind of reading I most-often go for. I guess I surprised myself by liking Surprising Myself ... but I also think Christopher Bram himself would tell you, it was the "safe" gay novel, with "bulletproof" subject matter. A true-blue American coming of age novel. There was nothing daring or adventurous about Surprising; it was beautifully handled, but it covered largely the same ground that has been covered about a hundred times before. In other words, it was the perfect subject for a debut gay novel: nothing risky. All the author had to do was write well (which he did) and craft the novel like a professional (ditto), and he was home.

But Christopher Bram's next book, Hold Tight, took all kinds of risks -- and therefore got all kinds of response! The reviews are all over the spectrum, from two stars to five stars. So it's one of those books where you have to read it and make up your own mind. I liked it for several reasons, but I do also know that not everyone did!

It's a World War II espionage and intrigue story, for a start ... ie., it's different, which to me puts it ten points ahead at the get-go ... and the subject matter, and the way the subject is handled, has a daring that I admire.

Start with an utterly delicious hero -- a young sailor called Hank Fayette -- and land him in the world of gay hustlers, in 1942, on the orders of the secret service. He's doing undercover work on the orders of the US Navy (in today's world it would be the secret service; the FBI), working to catch spies.

So far, so good. You'll soon come to love Hank, and many of the other characters in the novel are well drawn. A couple are a tad bit stereotypical, but I didn't find this too jarring (some reviewers did though: again, make up your own mind). The plotline is tight-knit, involving spies, Nazis, murder, secrets -- the works; to me, it was quite the page-turner.

One of the things I liked most about Hold Tight was the way Bram evoked the 1940s. Now, this decade was way before my time, but if you press me, I'll admit the era fascinates me so much that I've not only seen a lot of movies set in the time of WWII, I've also watched a lot that were made in those years. And boy, did Christopher Bram get it right.

Another thing I genuinely appreciate about the novel is that Bram's writing style has a kind of "edgy" quality that brings to mind Daschel Hammet. It has the abruptness that makes you think of Sam Spade, Mike Hammer ... the "voice" of the times, perhaps? Being two decades too young to remember it, I know the era from movies and books!

(Some readers can't stand this. I've heard Hold Tight called trashy because of the "voice" in which it's written ... but the same reader/reviewer would tar The Maltese Falcon with the same brush, so I'd be cautious about awarding demerit points to Hold Tight because Christopher Bram used the same "device" of the '40s "voice" that worked for Daschel Hammet! Also I have a strong feeling that the reviewer who calls Hold Tight trashy probably doesn't even know who Daschel Hammet is, and has probably never seen a movie made in 1942 -- not the Hollywood reconstruction with the CG effects, mind you!)

One of the most difficult aspects of the novel -- and Bram handles it with aplomb -- is the 1940s attitude toward racial differences. The author manages to depict the period's racism with candor and without suggesting hatred, because in those days racial different wasn't usually about "hate" so much as about the white-fella's automatic assumption that he was on top of the pecking order and giving the orders, and belonged there, probably because God was Caucasian! (It's so difficult to define and describe here: I hope you follow me.) The racism of the era is unavoidable in context: you can't get past this point, and if you ignore it to make a book sound better, or more PC, to modern ears, you'll be rewriting history!

I also admire Christopher Bram for having the courage to tackle this because he must have known some readers would either misunderstand, misconstrue, or be ignorant enough of American history to assume the book is racist (which is sad). I would say Bram walks a very narrow tightrope with a lot of skill and delicacy.

As I said, reader response to this novel is all over the spectrum, and it does rub people the wrong way. For me, the supposed cliches didn't bother me, the "voice" entertained me, I liked Hank Fayette a lot, I know enough about American history to admire how the really delicate matters of racial differences were written; and the end of the book ... which is a big sticking point for some readers! ... didn't strike me as being unrealistic or "awful" at all. Dark, gritty, sure, and in the context, perfectly believable.

To me, the novel is irresistible for its sheer difference and audacity, and Christopher Bram deserved a round of applause for taking on something that was never going to be easy. The project was filled with risk, which the writer accepted. Did he pull it off? I think he did, which is why I'm listing Hold Tight among my favorite novels.

I'm not actually a writer myself (this blog is the most actual writing I've done since I gratefully walked out of college a very long time ago), but I know several writers and have learned a hell of a lot about writing from some very talented people. Hold Tight is a novel I have to admire -- though I acknowledge the fact you might not agree ... and that's your prerogative too! Relish the controversy ... as they say, "it makes horse races."

Recommended, because it's a challenge on many levels and it's good to get snapped out of your complacency now and then! I liked it a lot. AG's rating: 3.5 or 4 out of 5 stars depending on my mood. You can get good deals from Amazon ... and I recommend that if you're brand new to Christopher Bram, you also get Surprising Myself and perhaps In Memory of Angel Clare, which will give you a better look at his range and talent than just this one book.


Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Stonewall years: a dose of Real Life, gay style, from Edmund White

Some books you just have to read, to be able to understand and appreciate them, and The Beautiful Room In Empty falls on this list. I could tell you what it's about (and will!) and for the majority of the plot you'd probably say, "So what?" Because this book is about life-as-it-is ... not as we wish it were. (The ending is a different matter -- I'm getting there, stay with me.)

If there are two writers who are absolutely diametrically opposed to each other, it would have to be Edmund White and Mel Keegan. White most often writes in autobiographical style, and so many of his works explore (in some way, even if it's through the medium of another character, not himself) who he is, what he is, what made him so, where he's been, where he's going.

Edmund White revels in the day to day business of being. (Meanwhile, Keegan confesses flat-out, without even being jabbed with a sharp stick, that every MK book is pure escapism -- Keegan is bored by everyday life and writes SF, fantasy, historicals, to opt out of the daily grind ... and the novels are always fun.)

Beautiful Room... is the middle book of a trilogy. I never did read the first volume (A Boy's Own Story), because to be utterly frank, I'm not interested enough in children to tackle a whole book about them. Any kind of children. A boy's eight or nine and starting to mature gay? Great -- he'll get interesting enough to read about in another ten years or so! I started with Beautiful... and I did get, and read, the third book, The Farewell Symphony, but I won't be able to review this. I lent it out and didn't get it back, and haven't read the book in about 20 years. I remember that it was good, but I need to replace it. (Something else I'll do when I get the proverbial Round Tuit. I'm not quite the last of the procrastinators, but ... I came in second.)

Beautiful... is suspended somewhere between novel and autobiography. If you were just handed the text to read, without blurbs and promos, you'd take it for a real autobiography. It's so skillfully handled and so real that "Bunny" (the narrator; what the heck is that short for?!) could easily have been Edmund White himself.

There's no element of the fantastic, nothing of the adventure or the violent or the outrageous. No punchups or battles, much less swordfights, plane crashes, gunfights, lost artifacts, treasure to hunt, mysteries to solve, murders to investigate, drugs changing hands, car chases --

All the elements that make novels "go" from the mysteries (like the Adrien English books by Josh Lanyon), to the gay science fiction works (by writers like Constantine, McHugh and our own Keegan), are totally absent.

In the hands of any other writer I can think of, The Beautiful Room is Empty would have turned into wall-to-wall soap opera! It didn't -- and nor did Edmund White let it slither down the greasy, slippery slope at the bottom of which are books like Jackal in the Dark (which in itself is a great book -- just a mile away from White's writing.)

It's some element in the writing style that stops the book morphing into something along the lines of Gordon Merrick. (I'll be getting around to Merrick later in the year ... bear with me). Where Merrick revels in the sort of plots that wouldn't be a whisker out of place on The Bold and the Beautiful, and The Young and the Restless, White rises above the swamp and takes material that's perilously close to far greater heights than soaps ever aspired to.

His writing is often almost metaphorical or allegorical. He seems to see through what you can perceive with your eyes, to some "reality" behind the mask of what we think of as being real. It's all very Jungian! As I began -- some books, you have to read in order to understand and appreciate, because if I give you the basic plot line, at its simplest, you really will say, "so what" --! And you'd be dead wrong in that conclusion.

Beautiful... is moving, and exquisite -- and I think it's also become a historical. It's set in the 1960s, ending with the Stonewall "uprising."

Personally, I have no memories of Stonewall. I was about seven at the time, and in Australia we didn't get a lot of American news. Even if we did, at the time, Stonewall would've been reported down here as "civil disobedience," just a bunch of people rioting against the authorities! (Yes, I know how horrible that sounds! But think: if the American authorities had to be rioted against before they'd change, why should the authorities 10,000 miles away side with the rioters against their opposite numbers? The truth took months, closer to years, to percolate out this far, and by then there were bigger local stories to overpower the news ... Vietnam ends and our soldiers come home, Cyclone Tracy destroys Darwin, the Federal Government gets sacked, the monstrous bushfires...)

So, the Stonewall scenes at the end are quite an experience, and I can honestly say I learned a lot. There was a sense of "unreality" about them, because I read the book in about 1988, when things had gotten much better for the GLBTI community, and reading this, one was stunned by the fact that something like Stonewall could and did happen.

This is also a "coming out" story, which makes it not my usual fare -- yet I can wholeheartedly recommend it. Why? Because it's done so well, and because it's a historical. Moreover, it's a 1960s book that was written by one who was there at the time. If a contemporary writer were to write about the period, anything s/he wrote would be "tinted" by the next forty years. Like a Hollywood movie that's made now and set in 1944, it'd look and feel different from a movie that was made in '44 ... and I don't just mean the difference in movie technology!

The Beautiful Room is Empty is about life, being young and gay in a culture that stigmatizes you, finding your courage, deciding to be what you are -- and then stand up for what you believe in. There's a lot we can still learn from books like this, because the struggle for equal rights isn't over yet for the GLBTI community in the States, Australia and other First World countries. And even when it's been won in these countries, many other nations are lagging a long way behind, so the struggle will go on for decades.

Wholeheartedly recommended. AG's rating: 4.5 stars out of 5. The book has been done in many editions. The one I have is the mass market paperback with the nighttime street scene in garish colors on the cover. Amazon has good deals at this time ... you can get very cheap used ones, but in the interests of propping up the ailing industry, I urge you to pay a few bucks and get a new one! Remember that buying a copy for 10c doesn't do anybody any good really (except the post office, which charged the full whack for delivering it).