Friday, May 17, 2019

I've got that JOY JOY JOY JOY deep in my heart!

With this author, I need to preface this with the fact he's my brother. Indeed, I along with my other siblings show up on the dedication page.


In other words, anytime I review something by someone I know, I do my best to remove my connections with them when reviewing, which is a bit like Jimmy Carter removing himself from his peanut farm after becoming President.

Anyway.

So, The White Angel of Death actually refers to a character, but she doesn't show up until about the midpoint. Which does make her a better character than say, John Galt, who doesn't show up in his novel that he's the main character of until 3/4 of the way through. Mostly, we're following around Michael "Mickey" Weston, a keyboardist for several local bands (most recently, the Balding Orangutans, who fired him, but kept his riff on their national hit "Monkey With Your Love".) Mickey works as a record store and is dating a girl named Trish, who mostly seems to want to argue. We open on Mickey's mom calling him to let him know his brother is in the hospital and likely dying. Frank not only is an addict, but he is also in late stage Acquired Manic Syndrome, the current plague. AMS basically screw with serotonin transmission, making the infected very happy. Second stage screws with the actual synapse, and third stage leaves you paralyzed but orgasmic, essentially left to die of a good time. The disease follows AIDS like transmission, through blood or other bodily fluid.

Frank, the brother, ends up spitting blood on Mickey, who does have a cut on his hand, and who does indeed contract the, I assume, bacteria. (The cure bears a similar name to antibiotics, so I assume bacterial.) As such, Mickey does indeed slowly start transitioning into his life of being a "Happyhead", one nickname for folks infected. While going to get tested, (which is when we find out about government response to AMS, which basically boils down to "You get cured, and if you refuse, we will arrest you and cure you whether you like it or not", under the theory that if the disease mutates into another transmission vector, people who don't deserve it will wind up with it), we also hear about White Angel, an organization run by Jane Alison Tippet, who' initial paperwork reads as if it's your right to die happy than live depressed.

Mickey tests positive on the first round, then demands the second test for confirmation. Then he starts refusing the cure. Indeed, with the sort of help of a coworker (who had AMS and got the cure, which essentially keeps you from ever recontracting the disease), Mickey starts joyholing, which is pretty much happyheads prostituting themselves to the uninfected. $300 an encounter, and the stamina to go 3-6 times a night. Just watch out for the cops, kid.

Mickey does actually get almost caught in a sting operation, and contacts the local White Angel chapter, who provides him a motorcycle and a contact in Chicago. (We start in Columbus. Sadly, most of the landmarks mentioned in this maybe 2 decades ahead of us setting are long gone, razed and built over with utilitarian capitalist venture that the average college student can't afford but make the parents think the area is safe.)

In Chicago, an encounter with his White Angel contact and the bartender who's a CDC mole ends up with him meeting Iz, who's part of an unaffiliated Permanent Floating Rave. The PFR is in a bad neighborhood, and the happyheads are paying protection money to a local gang to leave them alone while they all joyhole (or in a few cases, provide other outlets) for money. Anyway, thing eventually go south, and Iz, who really doesn't like White Angel ends up leading the remnants back to the main house, where Jane Alison Tippet herself resides and runs classes for AMS sufferers, as well as safe houses for them. Mind you, as we sit through Ms. Tippet's class, we find out her philosophy isn't much better than the governments. It draws from the fun 19th century theory that since more people eat up more and more limited resources, the poor should suffer so that more resources become available. Indeed, she thinks of AMS as a gift from G-d, a plague that lets the infected die happy. Which translates into shoving her charges into brothels, providing all the vices they could want, and keeping the money they raise.

In the background, we have national news that we gets bits and pieces of in the context of someone riding serotonin overload really isn't paying attention to national news. This means we hear bits about the Texangelicals and their militias, who in the end help defend President Burlinson from being evicted from the White House following his impeachment.

Honestly, reading this was a bit like remembering my own brief time on antidepressants back in '01, wherein there are some seriously bad things going on, but you don't really pay attention to them because your new brain won't let you. It's very interesting, with the darkness buried under layers of sex, love, and drugs.

Ordinarily I'd post a link to the place to purchase it, but evidently the publisher is slowly going out of business, and Chuck's trying to get the rights back to publish it again. You may get lucky on Amazon, you may not.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Under the boardwalk

On a whim, I picked up what's currently published of the other M/M paranormal romance of Morgan Brice, BadLands.

We start with Simon, who has a doctorate in folklore, who lost his university post and his lover and now runs a New Age store and runs ghost tours on the Myrtle Beach Boardwalk. He's also a psychic medium of some strength. Simon also keeps contacts with his Skeleton Crew, other folks with powers, most of whom are untrained. As we open, the Boardwalk is being haunted by the Slither Slasher, a serial killer hunting down predominantly seasonal workers but also folks with psychic powers.

We then switch perspective to Vic, an Italian cop who moved to Myrtle Beach after running into something supernatural while taking down a killer in Pittsburgh. While he is not a believer, he does come around as the story progresses. Particularly since Vic is working on the Slither case.

They first meet unexpectedly at a Boardwalk coffee shop, flirting over cappuccino. Then they meet as cop and store owner, as Simon uses his powers to contact the victims' ghosts. While he's under, he accidentally hears from one of the Pittsburgh ghosts, which sets Vic on edge.

Anyway, as is to be expected, Vic and Simon go through the initial rush of starting a relationship (complete with whatever the male equivalent of a heaving bosom would be) then end up backing away from each other as Simon playing Nancy Drew gets him under suspicion. Of course, by the end, Simon is vindicated and he and Vic are free to heave bosom together.

While it does fall under a formula, it's still fun reading, and focusing on older characters takes some of the...exuberance...out of the romance that haunted the Witchbane initial outing. While they are heaving quite nicely, they're also not violating several laws of refraction in the process. Worth checking out.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Golden Years

I hadn't been planning on revisiting Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City quite this early, but I needed something in a hurry, so I grabbed it off the shelf again for a quick trip back to Bicentennial San Francisco. While I doubt my July trip to the city will find the magic within this particular volume and its subsequent sequels, it's so much fun to visit.

We start with Mary Ann Singleton, Cleveland native, as she decides to quit her job at the fertilizer company and move to the City by the Bay. Mind you, she telephones her parents from the city to tell them this as her mood ring turns blue... She moves in with her friend Connie briefly until she can secure an apartment and a job. Connie is very... kitchy. She has a pet rock. She introduces Mary Ann to the Marina Safeway dating game and the Dance Your Ass Off club. Eventually, Mary Ann finds Mrs. Madrigal and her rooming house at 28 Barbary Lane on Russian Hill. Mrs. Madrigal grows marijuana with names like Barbara Stanwyck in her garden. She also has a hidden past that we only get hints of in this volume.

In the house, we also have Mona and her eventual roommate Michael. Mona works as a creative copy at Halcyon Communications, although she ends up quitting when one of the clients says some really rude things to her. Michael is gay (shocking in 1976 San Francisco), and his horrible love life forms part of the narrative. In this volume, he meets gay gynecologist Jon at gay skate night, then eventually loses him when Jon walks in on him dancing in his jockey shorts at Endup.

We have Brian Hawkins, a former civil rights lawyer now waiting tables at Perry's. He's straight and making the most of the meet market that is San Francisco.

Eventually we get Norman Neil Williams, who... well, he's really not very nice.

Mixed in with this, we meet Edgar and Frannie Halcyon, Mary ann and Mona's boss and his wife; Beauchamp and DeDe Day, Edgar's daughter and son-in law; and D'orothea, Mona's ex lover who she winds up moving in with again.

All of these lives wind up mixing with each other, as Beauchamp ends up sleeping with both May Ann and Jon, Edgar and Mrs. Madrigal have a nice affair as he deals with renal failure, Brian and Mary ann date briefly, Brian and Michael become good friends, Norman falls off a cliff, D'orothea turns out not to be as black as she pretended to be. (I never said it wound up being politically correct.)

As I recall, I wound up reading the first three in high school after watching the miniseries based on book 1. I read what was the last 3 much later in college, and what's now the final 3 as they were released. My love for them remains strong, even now. Reading the first volume again reminded me of how much I loved the interconnected nature of the narrative, a gay character (who, even if he is referred to as a twink) I could relate to, and the idea that friendship is found in strange places.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

It Was A Fine Affair

So, this should be interesting, since Fosse by Sam Wasson covers subjects that are both entrancing and downright vile on occasion.

As you could probably guess by the title, the actual subject matter is Bob Fosse, dancer, choreographer, director, writer, womanizer, heel, etc. One gets the impression her rode the wheel round and round, his highs high and his lows almost a bottomless pit.As a side note, the FX miniseries Fosse/Verdon was based on this particular volume, although there are a few events in the series that didn't appear in the book. The series also has the advantage of being a visual medium, allowing you to see what they're discussing as well as using some of Fosse's own visual tricks to get their point across. On the other hand, the book delves much deeper into Fosse's entire life, although his women are almost sidelined in the narrative. Which is a shame, since it would appear that Gwen Verson and Ann Reinking both kept his legacy alive and helped translate what went on in Bob's head to the people he was working with.

Anyway, we start in Fosse's childhood, growing up in Chicago during the Depression, and essentially going to dance class in place of his sister. He had the talent, and his teacher wound up playing his agent, sending Fosse and his good friend, Charles Grass to every vaudeville and burlesque outfit he could get them bookings at. Which, by the sound of it, wound up being every seedy theater that would accept them. Eventually Bob got drafted for the War, where he joined the Entertainment Corps. Part of me remains amused at the idea of bawdy performers entertaining their way across the South Pacific. Eventually, he was discharged and wound up in New York, where he wound up meeting and partnering and marrying Mary Ann Niles. While they toured together, Bob essentially outgrew her and started courting the also married Joan McCracken. Whom he ended up divorcing Mary Ann to marry eventually.

Joan, an established actress managed to get more than a few doors opened for Bob, which eventually lead to his big break, choreographing The Pajama Game. Success and love wasn't enough, as Fosse's extra marital affairs eventually doomed this marriage, although the final straw came with Damn Yankees and Gwen Verdon.

Since I can't get video to work, here's Verdon and Fosse in the movie version. 

Verdon and Fosse wound up marrying after her divorce and having Nicole, who eventually wound up in the original Broadway cast of Phantom of the Opera.

 Fosse started getting more involved in the actual control of creating a musical with Sweet Charity, which sadly unleashed "If My Friends Could See Me Now" on an unsuspecting world, later used to sell Carnival Cruises with Kathy Lee Gifford lip syncing for her life on a cruise.

Fosse and Verdon's marriage was a success on a creative level, but a mess on the personal level. Indeed, while they never divorced, they did separate during the filming of Cabaret after Gwen, having flown round trip from Germany to New York and back to get a gorilla costume arrived to find Bob in bed with several German girls.

Mein Herr

Sadly, Gwen's career stalled while Bob's continued to grow. He won an Oscar for Cabaret, a few Tonys for Pippin and Emmys for Liza With a Z. (The book goes into great detail with how Liza was filmed, with multiple cameras essentially making it one big take.) Pippin was evidently a bit of a fight, since Schwartz, who wrote it, wasn't fond of Fosse's rather ironic take on an earnest story. It also introduced Fosse to Ann Reinking, the other major girlfriend in the legacy.(Seriously. I lost track of everyone he was attached to throughout.)

Not the Manson Trio I was looking for, but....

To help boost ticket sales, Bob ended up shooting the famous Manson Trip in Pippin as a 1 minute commercial spot to boost soft sales later in the run. They also did a TV movie version of Pippin for Home Video, which everyone hated. (By all accounts, it was like Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean" video's original cut where the dancing was cut in favor of faces.)

We hear about his movie ventures, Lenny with Dustin Hoffman, All That Jazz, which was semi autobiographical, and Star 80, which was really really depressing.

We hear about Dancin', which was sort of a revue of Fosse's style.

We hear about Broadway in the 80's when the big British set pieces came over and corporate sponsorship of shows became the rule instead of the exception.

We meet his friends, like Neil Simon and Paddy Chayefsky (of which one really sad story emerges. A deal was struck after Bob;s first heart attack that if Paddy died first, Bob would tap dance at his funeral, if Bob died first, Paddy would deliver the longest eulogy ever. Paddy dies first, and Fosse indeed tap dances.) We see Fosse do more drugs than all of Height-Ashbury in 1969. We get a brief moment of the dancers in the Dancin' tour dealing with AIDS and how Rock Hudson changed their attitudes. We hear about his rivalry with Michael Bennett, and how that eventually changed like the Nederlander/Schubert rivalry as two old War Horses learning to not fight.

Ultimately though, the book is a really vivid portrayal of the creative person, and the destruction that is the flip side of creation. It also raises questions about it's protagonist, in this more modern era, of whether or not what he achieved justified what he did to create it. (Frankly, had he been around in the past 20 years, we'd not know his work, since he'd have been fired from every show he was part of for his antics. Sexual harassment of the ladies, telling a child actor to stand there naked and get aroused while being harassed by strippers.... the drugs....) And that is up to the reader, on whether creation that benefits all is worth the personal destruction required to achieve it. 

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Well, it gets credit for participating, I guess

In one of the book forums I follow on Facebook, someone suggested Garth Greenwell's  What Belongs to You. It sounded interesting, the library had a copy, so I gave it a shot. I'm kind of happy it came from the library, because I can't imagine actually paying money for it.

The book, written in first person and masquerading a a memoir, at its most basic level is the story of a teacher at an English School in Sofia, Bulgaria, and the relationship between the narrator and a male prostitute he meets in a bathroom in the National Palace of Culture. Mitko, the prostititute, seems to enjoy tempting and teasing the narrator, hitting him up for money here and there and occasionally satisfying the narrator's physical needs. That's it. Other than giving the narrator syphilis, which he dutifully passes on to his Portuguese boyfriend, Mitko has no real purpose. Nor does the narrator.

We gets and pieces of our narrator's upbringing, including a request from his father that he come home so he can see him before he, the father, dies. This leads to a two page reflection on Dad disowning the narrator after the narrator comes out. Most of the reflection deals with narrator realizing he's gay after watching his male friend make out with a woman. We never do find out if he went to say his goodbyes to his father.

Towards the end, his mother visits, and we listen to him whine for several pages about how adults can't cuddle up with a parent the way a child can. When we last see Mitko a few pages later, Mitko's kidneys are failing, so he's given money for food and train passage to his mother. Our narrator, despite his desire, rejects Mitko's final offer of sexual gratification, which at a guess was supposed to be a symbol of acceptance of self, but honestly, having heard about pus discharge, jaundice, and other such fun things about Mitko a few paragraphs ago, this falls short.

Based on what others have said, I guess this is supposed to be about sublimating desire and passion and instead embracing comfort, but that gets lost amongst the purple prose, the whining, and the dangling plot lines. I'm assuming that the constant harping about how Bulgaria is dying is a metaphor for the narrator's inner death, but that falls flat as well.

Really, about the only two things I enjoyed were the setting (I have a coworker who was raised in Bulgaria, so it made for some fun conversations), and a brief discussion on coming out during the height of the AIDS epidemic and how it was assumed that your life progression was sex, infection death, with no stops in between. That isn't enough to justify a glowing review of what really amounts to an aimless jaunt of a letter to an adult magazine discussing loving a hooker but not even giving any spicy details about the relationship.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Here We Go Again and Again

Funny note about Mercedes Lackey's The Hills Have Spies: The description on the book jacket has absolutely nothing to do with the actual plot. Indeed, the description mentions Mags's son Justyn and Hawkbrothers. Then you read and find out it involves Mags's son Perry and a trip to the Pelegir Hills. Indeed, none of the children is named Justyn.

So, anyway, at the outset, we learn that Mags and Amily have four children that they're raising along with the current King's brood. While all the children are being raised to be escape artists, Perry is in the running to be the next Herald Spy, unless he doesn't get chosen. Perry has Amily's gift of Animal Mindspeech, which while good, doesn't allow him some of the fun things his father can do.

After everyone's been properly introduced and roles established, Perry and Mags end up taking a father and son trip out to the Western edges of Valdemar to investigate something a semi-retired Herald is noticing with odd disappearances among the people out that way.

Posing as traders, they get out to Herald Arville, where upon Perry promptly gets chosen by the neuter kyree Larral. They help the village form a mining pact for the garnets in the ground, then wind up finding out about the kidnappings happening from an inn in the forest.

Perry, with Larral's encouragement, ends up leaving his father while he sleeps to scout out where the people are being kidnapped to, which leads to a city in the hills. (We're skipping over various species of intelligent animals they encounter, like raven Bondbirds and dyheli, and eventually firebirds.) Said city is controlled by someone using blood magic and mind magic to control a mercenary company and those they kidnap. While it's not mentioned if this is another incarnation of Ma'ar, it could be, although Ma'ar's incarnations usually were more subtle in their intrigues.

Perry disguises himself as a dog trainer and takes over the kennel.

What follows is cloak and dagger type things, as father and son try to outwit and outlast the Master and figure out how to come away from this alive.

While parts of this could use more fleshing out, it's a pretty good entry in the larger world that it's set within. If we're going to continue to be stuck with Mags, adding in others will help.

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Death of a Nation

As I said, twofer day.

Finished up Robert Jackson Bennett's Vigilance at a soccer game this morning. While some of the set up has been done before, it's always interesting to see different narrative threads escaping from what could be an overused idea.

We center on two characters in the novella. One is John McDean, an executive producer at ONT, which is essentially a biased news/entertainment channel that's focused mainly on older viewers. The other, Delnya, works at a dive bar. The two never meet, but the actions of one eventually have a big effect on the other.

One of ONT's biggest programs, which doesn't have a regular broadcast schedule is Vigilance, in which 3-4 active shooters are chosen from a pool of applicants and sent in without warning to an inhabited area to, well, basically start a mass shooting. If they survive, they win a bunch of money. If a civilian survives, they win a bunch of money. Point being, since no one knows where or when it's going to happen, most civilians have no idea they're about to be on TV.

Set in 2030, the basic set up is that due to global climate change and the death of American industry, most of the youth have moved abroad to South America or Asia. China's economy has far surpassed the US, so the majority of the Us population is now older, insular, and convinced they're still relevant. The show itself came about after a live streamed mass shooting that was rebroadcast across multiple digital formats that due to being digital, had advertising attached. While companies were understandably initially upset about their logos being broadcast during this, it turned out it actually made their sales skyrocket. In the end, a compliant government gave their tacit approval, and the show was born. Using AI color commentary, encouraging viewers to Remain Vigilant and Armed at all times to prevent being shot in public and to be able to FIGHT BACK against the Other....

Delnya's bar is showing the episode when it goes live. We see how the viewers at home react to the carnage through her eyes, as the bar goes to Happy Hour pricing through the event as the patrons start betting on outcomes. Delnya, who;s father was a cop who got shot in a dark alley after being mistaken for a perp, tends to view the show as a terrible idea, and tends to think that patron's view that guns answer all questions instead of raising other more pertinent questions and better risk analysis, is not happy about watching people get shot in a South Bend mall.

We watch as John uses the AIs to change a woman who takes out a shooter from Vietnamese to Irish to satisfy the viewers who feel threatened by dark skin. We see how the team behind the show use technology to lead one of the other two shooters to her so they don't have to pay her.

It's really ugly after a while, and no one gets a happy ending.

While we've seen similar set ups in books and movies (The Running Man, Series 7: The Survivors), this is a different thread to pull on and Bennett does so quite well. While I'm sure some readers would likely start screaming at the book due to some of the politics, much of what he has to say should be considered before outright rejecting it, or rejecting it just for being presented. 

And you thought Seattle Geography was bad before

Finished C. E. Murphy's Thunderbird Falls on Thursday, but been busy trying to catch up on other things. As such, we're getting a twofer today.

Anyway, we're back to following our favorite shaman, Joanne Walker, as she continues to avoid training her Shamanic powers outside of Earth ending events. Indeed, early on, she projects herself into the Dead Zone with no protection and winds up nearly getting eaten by a giant snake and banishing Coyote. Oops.

A Witch finds Joanna and passes on that she dreamed of her, and invites her to join the Coven to help invite an ancient spirit into reality to fix the wounds Joanne's magic has caused.

What follows is a case of "Who can you trust?", and Joanne, acting without guidance, makes a few major mistakes and Seattle's geography gets rearranged via an earthquake.

It was fun to return here, although I think there's a story in an anthology that comes between the first two volumes. It gets referenced, so I spent most of the book feeling like I was missing part of the story.

On the other hand, it remains fun reading with even better characters.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

That Old Black Magic

I was happy to see Seanan McGuire's That Ain't Witchcraft show up at the library this past week, finishing for the time being Antimony's part of the larger story. that there's a bonus Novella at the end bringing us back to her brother Alex was just an added bonus.

Anyway, We pick up with Antimony and her cohorts after fleeing Lowryland at the end of the last installment. Somehow, Cylia, the jink, has managed to get them a house to rent for a few month in Maine while the owner goes to Europe. This works out well, as Fern, the Sylph, has a bedroom she won't float out of and Antimony and Sam have a private bedroom.

Unfortunately, This doesn't work out as well as everyone would like, since James Smith, the cousin of the landlord, is A) a sorcerer with ice powers, and B) wanted dead by the Crossroads. Which, since Antimony made a deal with said magical entity towards the end of the last book, means she gets tasked with killing him. And Aunt Mary, the Crossroads ghost, gets banished by said entity and replaced by Bethany, who read a bit like a ghostly Harley Quinn. That we find out she's Aunt Rose's sister later on....

And then Leonard shows up. Leonard, who's in line to take over the Covenant of St. George.

By the end of the main story, we have quite a bit of teaming up as we find out the true nature of the Crossroads in the InCryptid setting.

The Novella, The Measure of a Monster, focuses again on Alex and his fiancee Shelby, and some missing Gorgon children. Which is also a lot of fun.

I'm glad this series is going strong, even if I do worry about the next volume, focusing on Sarah, the Cookoo/Jhorlac cousin. Given the species love of higher maths, I'm hoping calculus isn't a requirement for the plot.

Again, can't recommend this series highly enough. There have been a few missteps, but it's still fun reading that never fails to entertain.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Et Omnibus Requiem

So, even though David Eddings's The Elenium is technically 3 books (The Diamond Throne, The Ruby Knight, and The Sapphire Rose), I own th eomnibus copy with all three volumes contained within. While this will count against my year end reading numbers, it was easier than trying to delve through three separate volumes.

The plot centers mainly around Sparhawk, a Pandion Knight in service to the Throne of Cimmura, one of the 4 ill defined Elene Kingdoms and the city of Chyrellos. (No, it's nothing like Medieval Europe at all!) The Pandion order has the advantage of having Styric tutors to instruct them in magic, the Styric mostly being Pagans worshiping The Younger Gods from the north. There is a race of mixed Elene and Styric heritage, but they're all involved in worshiping the evil god Azash. there's also the Eshandist Heresy down in Rendor, but they're basically Lutherans portrayed as ignorant savages.....

Anyway, One of the local priests has designs on becoming Patriarch or whatever. that plot gets the ball rolling as Annias has poisoned the rightful queen. They Pandions put a spell on her to preserve her until a spell is found. That leads to the Four Orders of Elene knights to go seek out Bhellium, the legendary stone capable of remaking the world.

And eventually leads everyone to Azash.

Since it's high fantasy and Eddings to boot, the ending is fairly foregone. It's readable, but some of the opinions expressed under veil of fiction get really annoying. As much as people complain about Piers Anthony's sexism, Eddings is just as bad with it.