Tuesday, March 26, 2013

One of my all time favorites

Since I'm muddling through Kage Baker at the moment, I thought I'd drop in and talk about on of my favorite series that also happens to be calling from the shelf at the moment.

Many years ago, when I was frequenting the library branch south of Ohio State, I kept seeing a book on the New Books display called The Gumshoe Gorilla. I read the back, and kept looking at it every time I went in to drop off and pick up. Then someone in one of my LiveJournal communities reviewed it and pointed out that it was the second book in the series that started with The Gumshoe, The Witch, and The Virtual Corpse.

So, I placed reserves on both books, and wound up reading them on an extended weekend trip to Illinois for my cousin's wedding.

After realizing that I'd checked the books out 3 or 4 times, I wound up buying copies of my own, since I still enjoy re-reading them, even if the newer editions change a few references around. (In the original edition of GWVC, there's a Star Trek reference that gets changed to a Star Wars reference, and a few other nods to changing tastes or things considered too obscure. I still have an original version of GG, so I'm not sure what got changed in there.)

GWVC introduces us to Private Eye Drew Parker in the year 2024 as he's staking out the fiance of his client. His client is a Southern Baptist, who is trying to see if her husband to be is really gay. Drew's accomplice in this is the Escort Daniel, who does indeed prove the fiance to be gay. This is complicated by the fact the client has decided to come along on the sting. And the client pulls a gun when the fiance's infidelity is revealed.

This little vignette that opens the story gives us a glimpse of the world of 2024. Daniel is a product of the Camps, basically orphanages for gay youth abandoned by their parents following the development of the test for the gay gene. As times have passed, only the Catholics generally won't avoid aborting a gay baby. As such, the Gay culture has a bunch of iconography based on the fusion of Divas and Saints. (For instance, Madonna, the Like-A-Virgin, not the Holy Virgin.) Due to increasingly customizable entertainment options, most groups segregate themselves into fairly insular communities, with no real overlap.

(As a side note, and as a bit of an Eater egg, Drew's introduction was published as a short story in Bending the Landscape: Science Fiction edited by Stephen Pagel and Nicola Griffith. Stephen, in his introduction, makes a comment about how he goes by Stephe since he can't properly spell it Steve. In GWVC, a security guard does introduce himself as Stephe.)

The book itself is written in first person. The twist is that there are 22 narrators throughout the text, each with a handle and a time stamp to help keep track of where we are in the story. Drew, for instance, is The Gumshoe. The geriatric Cherokee shaman is The Lunatic. a school kid who figures greatly into the plot is The Chosen One, mainly because he thinks of himself as God's chosen victim. Nothing near martyrdom, but more like putting banana peels in his path to give God a laugh.

What follows is an investigation into 3 murders, what caused them, and what the murder is actually trying to accomplish. By the time you get to the end, the staggering beauty of the plan is almost overwhelming, and the social commentary quite pointed.

The second book returns us back to Drew a year later, investigating a famous film star on behalf of the star's girlfriend. (The star is on of 5 identical Tom Cruise clones. In the continuity, cloning dead celebrities is an expensive but valid means of reproducing.) It also focuses on Daniel and his past or what little he remembers of it. And in the meantime becomes a very deep meditation on the perils of fame and celebrity.

I recommend these frequently to all of my gay friends who like to read, since they really are fun reads with much to say. And it's hard not to feel kinship with many of the characters throughout both books. I wish Hartman would write another sequel, but I think he's busy doing movies now.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Nixon, you dolt!

I'm going to preface this post with an old meme, mainly because I spent the entire book thinking about it.

Just finished The Cassandra Project by Jack McDevitt and Mike Resnick. Which starts with NASA PR guy Jerry Culpepper fielding a strange question about declassified Apollo-era recordings on the 50th anniversary of Eagle's landing on the moon. Among them was a recorded message involving an earlier Apollo astronaut named Myshko saying that he was ready to go down to the surface. (I looked up the missions on Wiki, I think they created a few things for the purpose of the plot.)

From there, we watch as Jerry tries to find the truth among the recordings; as President Cunningham tries to figure out what's going on, since he's being accused of being clueless or deceitful, depending on who gets asked; and Bucky, the billionaire businessman getting ready to do the first private moon landing gets involved, trying to find out why Myshko landed on the far side of the moon in the Cassingham Crater.

The problem with all of this revolves around the idea that, as science fiction, almost everyone is going to jump to the same conclusion I did (which is reflected by bad hair guy above), so the what isn't exactly a surprise. Why Myshko landed, what he found, and why both Cold War USSR and USA covered it up. (Seriously. About halfway through, we find out that photos of that area of the moon had been doctored in both countries' archives.)

What we end up finding out in the process of solving a 50 year old cover up is the real reason for the Watergate break in, why Nixon and the Soviets jointly covered up what was in that crater, and some very interesting insinuations of why such an important event was not recorded in the annals of human history.

While I did not agree with the reasoning behind the cover up, mainly because my frame of reference is a LOT different from those who would be most affected by the reveal, I can understand why the characters took the action that they did.

I liked the writing in this, since it didn't get all that bogged down in things that weren't advancing the plot. Much like a Sherlock Holmes story (which gets referenced towards the end), everything works together to come to a conclusion. I also enjoyed that Bucky wasn't a Rand-ian hero; while he enjoyed the benefits of capitalism, he was also looking at ways to improve the world. (And profit at the same time.)

Despite the occasionally conservative politics that get inserted here and there, what comes across the strongest is a love of exploration and the need for human kind to start going out again. The arguments are there in the text, from overpopulation  to the sheer wonder that comes from setting foot somewhere other than Mother Earth. And, of course, the idea of visiting those who visited us.

I'll point out that I was born in 1975, so I missed Apollo and Skylab, so most of my astronaut desires focused on the Space Shuttle and the idea of being out there. And at its best, this book brought back that sense of wonder from my childhood.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

He wanted a "13" but they gave him "31"

I'll preface this by stating that I have no tattoos, nor will I probably ever get ink done. Among other things, there's never been much that I've felt strongly enough about to permanently scar it on my body. On the other hand, I do enjoy seeing what other people get tattooed on themselves and I watch Ink Master on occasion.

Which brings us to the book of the evening: Angel's Ink by Jocelynn Drake, first in her Asylum Tales series.

The basic set up is that Gage runs a tattoo parlor (The Asylum) in a bad part of an unnamed town (Probably Cincinnati. Among other things, the author is in Covington, Kentucky, and one of the characters lives in a part of town referred to as "Over the Rhine"), assisted by Trixie (an elf with a past, usually disguised by a glamour) and Bronx (a troll who also has a past.) Gage is one of the few Warlocks to escape "The Ivory Tower", the ruling elite of Witches and Warlocks who tend to only get involved with humanity and other supernatural races only to crack down on the things they don't approve. (I'm sure a few of my friend would quibble with the titles, but it's her world, I just read about it.)

In a page straight out of The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher, we find out that Gage has a Warden named Gideon who's supposed to keep Gage from using magic for anything other than defensive purposes, punishable by being dragged before the Council for probable execution.

Anyway, the narrative ball starts rolling when Tara walks in to the shop. Tara is dying of cancer, has a very short time to live, and believes she's going to go to hell. As such, she asks Gage to tattoo her with angel wings. Now, given this is urban fantasy, Gage and his cohorts aren't normal tattoo artists. They use special ingredients to make the ink into potions that can rather enhance them. In the case of Tara's wings, he adds a tuft of a feather of an angel's wing to the potion.

Which is all well and good until a member of the Grim Reaper's local shows up and explains that this had the side effect of making Tara immortal. And if Gage can't fix this, the Union will be quite happy to collect Gage's soul in 3 days when Tara's time was to have come.

Add into this mix Gage's old mentor, Simon, coming back to try to kill Gage as an act of political house cleaning, the Summer Court of Fairy coming after Trixie, Lilith, a talking cat, the mob, the black market (including a guy who sounds like David Lo Pan in my head when I read his dialogue), and you have a fairly good yarn. While I think the series will improve over time, especially if the author doesn't keep inserting new plot threads every other chapter (so much going on...most of these would make awesome books in their own right as the characters develop), it is a bit rough trying to keep track of every addition to the cast.

Also, I'd point out I knew this was fantasy during the one big smut sequence about halfway through. Not only does the woman finish first (twice), but the man wants to cuddle and talk afterwards.

Friday, March 1, 2013

From Russia with WTH?

When I first opened Nightwatch by Sergi Lukyanenko (translated from Russian by Andrew Bromfield), I was reminded a bit of Vicki Pettersson's Signs of the Zodiac series. (Which I should finish reading at some point. Even if I was annoyed at the odd treatment of my own sign in the novels.)

This was mainly due to the approval by both the Daywatch and the Nightwatch on the first page. Much like Pettersson's Zodiac, warring factions of supernatural beings work to save/enslave humanity. Unlike Pettersson, these warring factions of Light and Dark have a very strong treaty in place that (while there are workarounds) pretty much keeps both sides in check.

The Nightwatch is the side of light. As such, most of the three inter-related stories contained within are narrated by Anton, a former paper pusher in the Nightwatch who's been thrown in to field work. (I say most of, because there are bits and pieces in 3rd person that have to do with the real focus of the particular vignette.

The first part deals with an undecided Other (folks who join the watches are Others...wizards, vampires, etc.) and a woman with a very large curse hanging over her. (As a note here, Others become fully formed others when they enter Twilight, kind of a an Astral Plane, or the Umbra for those of you who play White Wolf games. How you react to the Twilight pretty much influences whether you go Light or Dark and what kind of Other you become.) The second follows a servant of the Light who keeps killing off servants of the Dark. And the third concerns Anton's girlfriends and the things she's going through on her way to becoming a Great Sorceress.

Really though, the central conflicts in the novel seem to lie in the theme of "How much done in the name of Good is really Evil?" To a lesser extent, we're also getting an echo of Babylon 5's Vorlon/Shadow war, in Authoritarian policy versus Darwinian politicking. (The girl who recommended this book to me [she read the trilogy in Russian, bless her Hungarian heart] tells me that the next book is told from the Daywatch perspective, and explores more what the side of Dark is like. So while this one is really Angels with Filthy Wings, the next book will probably be Demons with White Washed Tails.