Monday, May 25, 2020

Ecumenical Silliness

Mark Frost's The Six Messiahs has been an interesting beast to solve, what with figuring out partway through that it's a follow up, ordering the first book, then realizing I already own the first book.Which will make reading through that volume more interesting, since some of the major characters here have a history there.

Anyway, we open on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his brother Innes getting ready to board a ship for America for tour to celebrate Doyle's most famous creation, who had recently been revealed to have gone flying off a cliff with his archnemesis Moriarty. Mind you, people in both England and the US spend most of the book asking Doyle how Sherlock survived the fall, since no one can believe he died.

As the ship sails, we get glimpses of other characters, some of whom are already state side, like Walks Alone, the Dakota assassin; Rev A. Glorious Day, who's busy building a utopia west of Flagstaff; Jacob, the Chicago Orthodox rabbi and kabbalah headed to Arizona; Kanazuchi, a Japanese man hiding among the Chinese with a quest of his own.

On the way over, Doyle meets Lionel, Jacob's nephew; and in New York, Presto, a Indian man with a quest of his own. As the book continues, we find that most of the characters are seeking stolen holy books, most of which have been stolen by a German man, who a few decades later would have been an Aryan ideal.We also connect with Jack, who Doyle knew ten years prior, and whom served as the inspiration for Sherlock Holmes, it would seem, including falling off a cliff while killing his evil brother. Most of the characters have been having dreams of tunnels under the sand, and standing with five others to do...something. None of them particularly remember the dream well enough to figure that part out.

It becomes a very merry chase through New York City to Chicago, then west to Phoenix and eventually The New City as we finally find the destiny of the Six Messiahs (from a Jewish concept that the Messiah is less a single person destined to throw off oppression and more a handful of people throughout time who hold the world on their shoulders) and the redemption of some while others fall.

I really enjoyed the book, although frankly, the ending is quite abrupt. We get several big revelations, followed by wrapping up 400+ pages of ecumenical mysticism with about 2 pages of doing the thing and finishing the story, which leaves several dangling plot threads. It would have benefitted from a bit of expansion here.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Ain't No Canyon Low Enough

So, in finishing up Gregory Hinton's published works, we close with Santa Monica Canyon, which is another California story, this time set in and around Los Angeles. Focused on Mark, a younger man dating a big time film actor, and John, an artist living in the eponymous canyon, we watch as their lives entwine and connections that shouldn't exist between them become apparent.

We open on Mark, who teaches poetry at a city college, swimming in the Pacific, getting noticed coming out of the sea by John, who needs models for his paintings and sketches. John has taken to hiring in models from various agencies, but this hasn't worked out well, since the first one we meet is on drugs and wants to be an escort more than a sitter. We see Mark returning to the stylish DeMille estate home he shares with long time lover Edward, who's hosting the Lame Ducks, the inner circle and the only people who particularly know about the relationship between Mark and Edward. Mark is uncomfortable with the trappings of fame and the severe closet Edward is forced to reside in. Edward is also over 10 years older than Mark, and uses "Boy" as a pet name. Besides the obvious stresses there, a video of Edward getting serviced by an anonymous john has been making the rounds, leading to the favorite game of rumor quashing.

Eventually, John does approach Mark on the beach, and convince him to be a sitter for his art. What eventually causes Mark to relent is finding sketches of Edward among John's drawings that he knows nothing of. Edward gets an offer from an up and coming actress to star in a project she's working on, and ends up leaving Mark for the summer to film, citing Mark's need to heal from the recent death of his father as a reason for Mark not to tag along. Mark hits a local lit store and gets more information on John from a gossipy frenemy of John's, who discusses how John's lost talent since his break up with Danny, a caterer who also served as a model for John.

As John and Mark grow closer, Mark's distance from Edward leads to fighting between them. Edward eventually calls and tells Mark he sent him a letter that he wants Mark to burn without reading. Which spirals into Mark finding the full series of sketches John did of Edward that reveal the truth about a lot of things between all sets of lovers.

In the end, we are left to decide for ourselves what we think of everything, as we see everyone without masks or pretenses, and like viewers of the portraits, it's up to us to see what the artits wants us to see and make up or own minds about the truth in the picture.

Like the last one, this one also name drops quite a bit, as we in flashback meet Christopher Isherwood and his partner and their circle of friends.

It's also kind of a heavy trip, and I find myself understanding but hating the choices made in the end.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Rocky Mountain High

The Way Things Ought To Be by Gregory Hinton tells a variation on coming out that becomes odd in its contemporary historical narrative. I think some of this comes from being published in 2003, but telling a story from 30 years earlier, in 1974 Boulder, Colorado.

We open on the break up of our main character, Kingston James, and his boyfriend, Lex, following witnessing an airplane crash while hiking. We hear bits and pieces out their foibles, from moving to California and back, how they met in a bible study group, how their Study group leader Nicolas called King's parents and told them about their son's sins.

King ends up moving out, taking on a rental room in an off campus apartment, where his new roommates share a bedroom with a bunk bed. The one roommate's girlfriend, Jen, makes lot of noise when she visits. He starts dating Sam, but Sam worries that King is growing too attached. Sam and Theo get King to attend a dance, where same sex couples dance to gain visibility, seeing one of Jen's sorority sisters on the floor. This leads to his roommates kicking him out, leading King to move into a studio courtesy of Theo, who's the brains behind the local Gay Rights organization. (Theo isn't comfortable being the face of the movement, so that falls to Sam; Theo is the one behind the scenes organizing everything.)

King goes back to a hotel with Matthew, whom he meets at a bar. Matthew is a romantic, like King, but Matthew, who's real name is Ralph, is also married to a woman in Pittsburgh. He buys King a leather jacket and goes back to Pittsburgh.

Jen winds up pregnant and moves in across from King and adjacent to Theo. When King's friend Tim gets killed by the cops after being caught doing lewd acts behind the Taco Bell, Jen joins the protest with King.

We see King meeting his Creative Writing teacher. Connie, at Le Bar, one of the 3 bars at the Boulderado hotel. She shows up with her bisexual boyfriend, Robert, because Allen Ginsburg will be there reading his work. (There's a bit of name dropping in here, as Ginsburg and William S. Burroughs both show up. By far the best moment is a few pages when Ginsburg and King wind up doing Transcendental Mediation together later on.)

King and Theo hook up, but despite Theo's insistence on sex being sex, it becomes obvious he has feelings for King; indeed, when Theo winds up dating Barry, Theo starts bringing home as many men as he can to make enough noise to annoy King through the walls.

Barry is the UC quarterback whom King meets at the local bathhouse. While Barry is very closeted (indeed, he has a fiance) due to his football stardom and likely draft by the Miami Dolphins, he and King share a very nice romance. Which ends rather abruptly one night as King sends Barry home so he can think, and the next thing we as readers know is King is in the hospital having been raped and bleeding profusely. Given Barry is the one who called the ambulance, everyone thinks he did it, but King denys that. (We do find out later on what actually happened.)

King's father gets drunk and drives to the hospital, but he takes a header off a cliff on the way. (King's family relations are a long involved subplot of the book. Dad's a drunk who gets sober; Mom hates sober dad. His brither is distant from the parents, and is also gay.)

Anyway, eventually all the plots come around and we finish with King graduating.

So, ultimately, I can't really comment on how close to reality this is in terms of 1974 Boulder. I will say it is nice to read a book about gay folks of the 70's which isn't coastal or all about rich gay folks, or worse, some midwestern morality play. On the other hand, most of the language of liberation and assimilation take on more modern terminology, and no one gets referred to as a homophile. While I'm sure someone will point out where I am wrong here, I don't think there was any kind of coordinated national movement quite this early, most of the organization was regional at best.

However, I think King is kind of Shakespearean in his own way, I'm sure more than a few readers can identify with his struggles with love and sex, and how the two, while separate, intertwine.

Monday, May 4, 2020

Valley of the long Elven names

So, Blade of Empire by Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory picks up not long after the last book, as Vielessar Gets physically throned on the Unicorn throne. She sends a few folks north and westm and we hear no more of her forf the rest of th ebook, instead mainly focusing on her unwilling bonded,
Runacar, who goes from War Prince of one of the 100 Houses to leader of a rag tag army of Beatstling, basically sentient Otherkin, like centaurs, minotaurs, gryphons, and bearkin. We get a few interludes, as the dark ones begin the Red Harvest in the Windsward, and more than a little bit of politicing around the Sanctuary of the Star, but yeah, we're mainly focused on Runacar as he sweeps folks to take the coast.

Which is odd, since most of the Otherkin hate the elves. Yet he earns their trust, and ultimately leads them to victory over the remaining coastal cities with help from the Waterkin.

It's one big campaign, and it's mentioned that no one has heard from Vielessar since the enthronement, in what they refer to as the Great Silence.

By far the biggest problem here is that any concept of time goes out the window. I think by the end, we figure out 10 years have passed between the beginning and end, but the sense of time is really awkward.

PAst that, it's a good follow up, and I hope they actually finish the trilogy eventually.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

The Innocence of Youth

So, Robert R. McCammon's Boy's Life has been on the TBR pile for a while now, but it's taken some time for me to actually get around to reading it. Now, a quick perusal of wikipedia shows McCammon was popular in the late 80's to early 90's, during the horror boom that Stephen King, Dean Koontz, and John Saul were all household names, but for some reason, despite my brother having a few titles on his shelf, I never read any of his stuff. As such, it shouldn't come to anyone's surprise that his works draws comparisons to the others' work mentioned. Which is sad, since even if Boy's Life shares a few passing similarities with IT, it's really got more in common with John Berendt's Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.

We open on Cory, 11 years old in 1964 Zephyr, Alabama, in the early Spring of 1964. Cory's dad delivers milk for the local dairy, and occasionally Cory will make the rounds with his father. Which is nice, until the morning they round a curve by Saxon's Lake in time to see a car go across the road and into the lake. Cory's dad swims out to try to rescue the driver, only to find that the man is lead, bludgeoned in the head and garroted by a wire. He has a visible tattoo of a skull with wings. Cory, in the meantime, also notices someone watching and finds a green feather on his shoe. Keep in mind, we see this at the start, but it really doesn't wind up having much to do with anything until the very end, as the story keeps wandering around like a boy on a bike and nowhere in particular to be.

Anyway, Cory's dad is a bit upset by this, obviously. He spends most of the book getting more and more despondent as he's haunted by the man in his dreams.

On Good Friday, we see the Parade, when the elderly black woman, The Lady, from the town across the Gargoyle Bridge (with busts of Confederate Soldiers) goes to the middle of the bridge with his husband, the Moon Man (who evidently has vitiligo; his face is half black and half white, thus the Moon Man moniker) goes to feed Ol' Moses, one of the local creatures that lives in the river. Except she calls it Damballah, and feeds it all kinds of fun things like chicken's feet and beef heart. Ol' Moses ain't feeling it this year, as he doesn't show up. Later on, when the rains won't quit, after the rains wake up the wasps in the Methodist steeple during Easter services, and the Tecumseh River starts flooding, Cory and his Dad join the rest of the men of Zephyr across the river in the Black town helping sandbag the flood waters (after much protests by some of the white folks.) While fighting the river, Cory comes face to face with Ol' Moses, saving a young black boy from the hungry sea monster by using the old cartoon trick of sticking a broom in its craw. This earns him the attention and affection of The Lady, who begins to find ways to help out Cory and his family.

We see his childhood adventures with his friends, we see him stumble into more adult matters that end up causing trouble down the road. We see him become a storyteller, winning a local writing contest. We meet the characters that inhabit the town. About 2/3 of the way through, he has dinner with Vernon, the local nudist whose dad owns most of the town. Vernon himself published a book, and his man-child speaking reveals that he set out top write a book about a southern community and the publishers wanted a hard boiled mystery. As such, Vernon edited in a mystery to his novel, which is pretty much how this all works out.

By the end, we do find out who killed the guy in the car and why, but not before we watch Cory confront death and learn to hold on to his boyhood. Indeed, one of the most affecting moments for me involved Cory's dog Rebel getting hit by a car and Cory's accidental zombification of the dog. Until the ghost of a dead boy comes to claim it.

While Cory is an unreliable narrator, his story is compelling and sad and joyous in equal amounts. It just takes its good sweet time to get there.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Desert Bloom

So, I found out recently that Gregory Hinton had written a sequel to his Cathedral City, and thus did Desperate Hearts show up in my mail a few days later.

While it's mostly the same cast, the situation in Cathedral City is quite a bit changed from where we left it. Father Gene has been removed from St. Louis Church, and the new priest cares more about his new upscale parishioners than the dispossessed seniors and Mexicans that had been the backbone of the parish. Solia, of the port wine birthmark, works at the church when not babysitting Kenny and Maria's baby Concha. Maria is busy running her restaurant, although the clientele is not the same as when Nick and Kenny ran it. Ruthie still sings at Maria's, but the new clientele doesn't seem to care that much. Kenny and Nick are in Reno, still keeping secrets from each other. Pablo is back in Cathedral City after graduating from Stanford.

We also have new characters Bambi and Madonna, the mixed race lesbian couple that delivers produce; Officer Bob, the Border Patrol agent; and Sister Agnes, the nun at St. Louis who harbors more than a few secrets of her own.

The plot has a few different centers as it meanders around, what with Bambi and Madonna's involvement in smuggling a pregnant woman across the border, Pablo's romance with Bob, Ruthie's detox from anti depressants that eventually leads to her kidnapping of Concha and eventual death in a flood, and Nick and Kenny's revelations. We also finally get a bit of closure with Inez and Thomas, as Inez comes back to Cathedral City to be with her family as Thomas dies of El SIDA. We also have the odd case of Solia and her birthmark removal following it taking on the shape of the Virgin of Guadelupe.

While the first book was heavy on the pathos, this one is much darker by turns, with touches of the mystical sprinkled throughout. Indeed, while everyone does eventually get a happy ending through quirks of fate, I felt like most of that was a forced Deus ex Machinae, as none of this would likley have ended up as well in reality. Still worth reading though.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

This seemed appropriate

So, along about the time the Stay-At-Home orders started, I wound up ordering a new copy of Stephen King's The Stand, which, thankfully, unlike my old copy that I think I donated to the local homeless library a few years back, is the Complete and Uncut version. (There are noticeable differences between versions; the first time I read it was right after the release of the long version. Then several years back, I picked up the original published version on paperbackswap.)

Anyway, for those who've never swam across the ocean that is the 1200 pages...

The set up revolves around a superflu that breaks out in 1990. A manmade shifting antigen flu. With 99.6% fatality rate. That escapes from a California lab with a security guard who gets out before everything locks down. Most of the first hundred pages take us through the initial outbreak and the plethora of death that accompanies it, giving us glimpses of our main characters before the world after gets going. We meet Stu, a quiet man in East Texas, who is one of the first immunes identified by the government, since he was one of the first in contact with Patient Zero. We meet Frannie, of Ogunquit, Maine, who has just found out she's pregnant. We meet Larry, who's new single is going up the charts, but whom is in deep debt following living the high life on the royalties. We meet Nick, a deaf-mute who we first meet getting mugged in Arkansas.

And people die. Quite a few people die. If not of flu, but of the aftermath. Stu, who was sent first to Atlanta, and then to Vermont, winds up meeting Glen, and then hooking up with Frannie and Harold, who is the brother of Frannie's now deceased best friend. Larry escapes from New York with Rita, who ends up ODing upstate. He then meets Nadine and Joe, who have their own issues. Nick meets Tom, a mildly retarded man, and they eventually meet Ralph. In the background, we have The Dark Man, Randal Flagg, and Mother Abigail, the 108 year old black woman who still bakes her own biscuits. And Lloyd. Lloyd who's in prison after being part of a tristate murder spree. The Dark Man breaks Lloyd out of jail eventually, and they head west. Oh yes, and we can't forget The Trashcan Man, who's a pyromaniac who starts turning refineries on Lake Michigan into giant bombs.

Anyway, survivors are all having dreams of both The Dark Man and Mother Abigail, so everyone starts moving West to Nebraska or Vegas. Mother Abigail is in Nebraska, and is other directed by G-d. Although G-d sends a vision to Mother Abigail, so everyone winds up in Boulder, where a rumor during the plague meant a large scale evacuation and the lack of humidity makes for a lack of rot.

Everyone has adventures getting cross country, picking up people as they go. Boulder tries to restart a government, Vegas is ruled with an iron fist by a psycho who's crucifying those who cross him. Nadine and Harold end up switching sides, cause issues, and four of the men end up walking from Boulder to Vegas. Then we get a few hundred pages after the climax of two people trying to get back to Boulder.

In any book this large, any reread is going to uncover things you missed on previous readings. Like, in modern parlance, Harold is essentially an Incel. Like the ending likely taking place somewhere other than the Earth of the rest of the book. (Mind you, if you wade through The Dark Tower, The Dark Man shows up quite a bit there, as well as in The Eyes of the Dragon, so this makes sense.)

Is this my favorite King? No, that still belongs to either It or The Waste Land. Is it good King? Yeah, because the pacing, despite the volume, keeps it going for the most part. Mind you, it's the hundred of so pages of story afted the Climax that keeps it from being downright stellar, but....

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Desert Rose

I seem to recall reading Gregory Hinton's Cathedral City many years back, based on reviews comparing it to Tales of the City. It's not quite like Maupin, but I can see where that review came from.

We're in the very late 90's in the Coachella Valley, outside of Palm Springs in Cathedral City, which is slowly transforming from a desert oasis filled with those not welcomed to live in the higher end desert communities to a modern city, complete with megamalls and ice skating rinks. We're centered mainly around Nick's a bar run by Nick and Kenny, a gay couple who've been together a few decades. Nick's become a drunk over time, running the front of the house, while Kenny runs the kitchen with some newly minted citizens of the United States. We hear of Nick's upbringing in an orphanage and Kenny's out out rejecting by his campus priest after confessing to a random encounter with another guy. Indeed, Kenny seems to almost enjoy tormenting Father Gene at the local parish, although Father Gene does eventually admit to waiting to retire to be who he is. Jealous of Father Gene's obsession with Kenny is Inez, who lives across the alley from Nick's. Inez is a very hard woman, having issues getting her citizenship due to a problem with some blood work. Inez was upper class in Mexico, but now is cleaning houses and rooms at one of the local gay hotels. She cleans Ruthie and Sam's house; they own most of the tar paper shacks lived in by the immigrants and the land Nick's sits on. Ruthie was a lounge singer, but she suffers from sever depression. Sam is Jewish, and fights against the constant racism he encounters in the area. We have Pablo, who comes from very rich stock in Mexico, but enjoys hustling in the desert; and we have Maria, who we meet through Kenny when he winds up joining her and her grandmother in an illicit border crossing.

As the book progresses, we watch as all of these relationship stretch, break, expand, heal, and grow in new directions. We watch as Sam tries to protect his quadrant of town from developers, we watch as Marcella the bar maid tries to get a cut of the developer's funds to set up herself. We watch at how hard she falls and how she ends up redeeming herself. We watch Inez and Pablo heal rifts in each other. We watch Kenny and Nick, as Nick dries out in Betty Ford. And towards the end, we, as readers, are privy to all the secrets these people have been hiding from each other.

It's hard reading in places, as I think most readers can fully understand some of the emotional places everyone visits within, the loneliness, the separations, and ultimately, redemption for most. While not all of us will ever get that last, it's worth the hope invested.

Underrated book. A good one for fans of Maupin or Rechy.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Cocoa for Cuckoo puffs!

In a nice break from the current situation, I finished Seanan McGuire's Imaginary Numbers, book 9 in her InCryptid series. Here, we're following our favorite Jhorlac, Sarah, who is mostly recovered from wiping the memories of most of New York City 5 years ago. For the most part. We also spend some time with Cousin Artie, the half-Lilu incubus, who's relationship with Sarah borders on soap opera.

So, we start with Sarah traveling from Cleveland to Portland and the family compound. When she lands in Portland, she runs into another Cuckoo, whom she promptly beats the crap out of. That order of business taken care of, Sarah reunites with Antimony and her gang at Roller Derby. She and Artie drive back to the compound, having an accident along the way caused by the Cuckoo from the airport.

Long story short, Sarah gets lured out of the compound by the hive of Cuckoos in Portland, who are trying to make her evolve into a Queen. Sort of. (Jhorlacs are sort of humanoid wasps from another dimension, so there are a few insect metaphors in here that get more complex as the plot begins to resolve. For the sake of keeping this simple, run with this.)

Anyway, this all happens after Sarah and Artie finally admit to their feelings and kiss. Which is when Artie becomes the focus of the narration for a while, as he and the family deal with the fake Sarah in the living room and the great Cuckoo rite they're trying to get Sarah to run.

Eventually, Artie and Sarah start trading chapters as somehow everyone ends up in Iowa and Sarah starts the metamorphosis into her fourth and final instar. We end on kind of a cliffhanger, although based on several mentions of the Aeslin mice in both the main novel and the Follow the Lady novella tucked in at the end, one expects that they might be able to resolve some of the conflict unanswered at the end.

Said novella takes place between the last book and this one, as Antimony, Sam, James, Fern, and Cylia break down near the Healy family hometown in Michigan and meet Grandma Alice. While the main novel is very good, the novella has the gut punch for me, as Antimony finally discusses how she feels like the expendable spare in the family.

Once again, a great entry in one of my favorite series.

Monday, March 9, 2020

Elves from California

It took quite a slog to get through Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory's Crown of Vengeance, but it was mostly worth it.

As a prequel to two other trilogies in the same world, it took some time getting used to centering on only the elvish race, with occasional interludes to the Endarkened. The map this time, however is basically the Western US, with Elvish kingdom's stretching from the Mississippi to the Pacific even though most everything is centered around what we would consider California. (We end somewhere near El Paso.)

For the sake of my sanity, we'll refer to our heroine, Vielliessar, as V, and use initials for any other characters needing named, since Elves seem to enjoy long freaking names that put everyone else to shame. V is the last of House Farcarion, who's father died in battle, betrayed by his allies and who's mother died in childbirth at the Sanctuary of the Star. the Astromancer in charge of the Sanctuary believes V to be the fulfillment of the prophecy that will doom the Hundred Houses and lead the Elves in battle against a greater darkness. Which doesn't help when she gets schlepped back to the Sanctuary at 12 by the Lady of the most powerful house after the fall of V's original house.

Anyway, V is exiled by the Lady, basically. She does eventually figure out who and what she is, and most of the rest of the book is her figuring out how powerful she is, uniting most of the Houndred Houses, figuring out she's love bonded with R, Heir Apparent to the House she grew up in (and neither of them are exactly happy about this) and essentially leading everyone into a war that violates all the old rules.

It's a long trek.

It's a good trek.

The plotting in this setting is much more involved than what one might expect, and war and politics dance under the stars, and the reader is never sure exactly who is actually a decent person.