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Book Marks

By Lavender January 16, 2009

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The Steel Remains
Richard K. Morgan
Del Rey, 432 pages, $26 hardcover.

Queer characters in fantasy fiction aren’t as uncommon as they used to be: 49 novels were nominated for the 2008 Gaylactic Spectrum Awards for science fiction and fantasy, 20 from major publishers. But few characters are as robustly gay as enchanted-sword-wielding Ringil Eskiath, the unabashedly uncloseted hero–literally. A decade earlier, he saved the Empire from bloodthirsty lizard men, and now he is routed from semi-obscurity to rescue a cousin kidnapped into the female slave trade. His encounters with mythical creatures are standard sword-and-sorcery fare–except for a slew of graphic Best Gay Erotica-worthy sex scenes, particularly Ringil’s hardcore homo coupling with ethereally beautiful Seethlaw, a seemingly unstoppable killing machine from an other-worldly realm. Lust is all they have in common, however. Their climactic fight to the death epitomizes this novel’s battlefield brutality, though Morgan does leaven his blood and thunder plotting with swaths of witty writing. This uncommon fantasy will likely irk straight readers with its depiction of a credibly sexual fag. But gay fans of the genre are in for a good time–and two sequels are afoot.

Babies, Bikes & Broads
Cynn Chadwick
Bywater Books, 278 pages, $14.95 paper.

Coming cold to third books in a trilogy can be tricky, particularly if the first two are out of print. But Chadwick (Cat Rising, Girls with Hammers) provides just enough backstory that this novel stands nicely alone. Cat, the carpenter/writer of the first two books, is falling in love while teaching carpentry in Scotland when she’s drawn back to rural North Carolina. There, her volatile brother’s wife has suddenly died, leaving him to cope with young twins. Cat’s been away for five years, and doesn’t want to go home, where bitter memories of lost love linger. But friends as dear to her as family also await, and Cat comes to accept that her place is by her brother’s side–even after Janey, the lover who betrayed her when she was younger, re-enters her life. The novel is driven more by complex characters and intricate storytelling than by steamy sex, always welcome with genre writing. The happy ending is no surprise, but getting there is a reader’s treat. Another treat: Bywater is reprinting the prequels later this year.

Cool Thing: The Best New Gay Fiction from Young American Writers
Ed. Blair Mastbaum and Will Fabro
Running Press, 304 pages, $14.95 paper.

In most of the stories in this collection by writers mostly under 30, the young write about what they know best¬the young. This is refreshing: Too many short stories about the young are written by middle-aged men from projected fantasies or, at best, exaggerated memories. There is lust¬teenage characters are horny by nature¬but sex doesn’t dominate the anthology. And these aren’t coming-out stories–the characters, even the under-21s (and there are many) know, or sense, that they’re queer. Some of the writing is ragged, but the literary standard is at least always promising, and often exhilarating. Sam J. Miller’s “Haunting Your House,” Billy Masters’ “Elliot,” Stephen Boyer’s “Spunk,” L.A. Fields’ “Happiness,” and Michael Graves’ “Seahorse” are among the most polished contributions, but none of the other 13 disappoints. Two of the standouts are by the editors: Mastbaum’s “New Year’s Eve 2000” captures adolescent slacker angst with dark and comic precision; and Will Fabro’s “Sixteen” depicts a 16-year-old’s angry sexual demands and desires with brutal clarity. Many contributors are working on novels: the future looks cool.

Sex as God Intended
John J. McNeill
Lethe Books, 268 pages, $20 paper.

More than 30 years ago, McNeill published his theologically provocative treatise, The Church and the Homosexual, arguing that the Catholic Church was wrong to condemn gays, and postulating persuasively that gay sex in a context of love is morally good. He broadens that thesis here, starting with a simple question: What did God invent sex for? The answer: For more than mere procreation, certainly, and as a source of individual pleasure and joy intrinsic to emotional and spiritual well-being. A rousing epilogue, “Objective Disorder,” eviscerates the current Pope’s “hysterical” attitude toward gays and lesbians and condemns as self-defeating his instruction forbidding the ordination of even celibate gay men. In addition to McNeill’s succinct wisdom about gays and Catholicism, the book also offers a roster of theologians and spiritual writers honoring his four decades of commitment to disputing religious intolerance. Contributors to these heartfelt essays include Rev. Troy Perry, Sr. Jeannine Gramick, Toby Johnson, Daniel Helminiak, Mark Jordan, and Mel White–a religious Who’s-Who of champions for queer acceptance by Western churches.

Featured Excerpt
The figure rose smoothly to its feet. Even in the gloom, Ringil could see the physical power and grace the motion implied. The speaker came forward into the light. For a moment, Ringil forgot to breathe. Throbbing pain in his jaw and head, the twinges from the sword-tip slash on his shoulder and chest, a messy, soiled feel to his consciousness and clothes, and behind it all a vague, disconnected sense of fear – still, Ringil felt the spurt of nascent lust in the base of his belly. Grace-of-Heaven Milacar’s words spilled back through his head. _He’s beautiful, Gil. That’s what they say. That he’s beautiful beyond words._

-from The Steel Remains, by Richard K. Morgan

Footnotes

BOOKS FOR DOWNLOADING: Blackwattle Press was at one time Australia’s premier small press for queer titles, producing 27 novels and anthologies between 1987 and 1997, until sales slowed and costs rose. But writers like to write, and publishers like to publish, and now several original story anthologies and a few fiction reprints are available from Blackwattle founders Gary Dunne and Laurin McKinnon as free PDF files. The most recent, “published” in November 2008, is Man Overboard, a collection of six stories by Australian writers; other recent titles are the anthologies Queer Hearts and My Boyfriend’s Back; two volumes of Perverse Verse; a collection of work by winners of the 2008 Mardi Gras Competition; Justified & Ancient, a collection of 1978-era queer prose and poetry celebrating the 30th anniversary of Sydney’s fabled Mardi Gras celebration; and the 12-story collection flaunt, described as “Australia’s first lesbian anthology for years.” Forthcoming is I Am a Camera–”a tip of the hat to Christopher Isherwood (for those over 50) and MySpace/Facebook (for those under 30),” says Dunne. Few of the writers whose work is collected have had American publication, and the stories¬literary and erotic alike¬open an entertaining window on queer Aussie culture and characters. For title lists and author profiles: www.gay-ebooks.com.au and www.lesbian-ebooks.com.au.

Richard Labonte has been reading, editing, selling, and writing about queer literature since the mid-’70s. He can be reached in care of this publication or at [email protected]

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