Thursday, February 26, 2015

Dirty Pop

So, technically, I read Mark Richard Zubro's Dead Egotistical Morons back in 2003 when it came out, but I wasn't running this blog back then.

Also, I remain surprised this particular book didn't get more press with its overall plot line.

Paul Turned is a Chicago detective, who, along with his partner Fenwick, gets called out to Chicago's All-Sports Arena where Roger Stendar, one of the 5 singers of Boys4U has been found shot execution style in the showers following the final show.  What follows is a very soapy murder mystery that roughly corresponds to what would happen if N*SYNC revealed a bunch of information about how they'd all been... involved... with each other, with their producer, with their choreographer...

Really, it's a lot more over the top than I remember. The main reason it stuck out in my mind was the Lance Bass character actually being gay. (In 2003, the real Lance wasn't quite the gay superstar he is in 2015.)  Zubro wrote quite a few of the Paul Turner mysteries, as well as the Tom & Scott mysteries, which were also fun and soapy. (One was a teacher, the other a baseball player.) Only real issue I ever had with them was the continuity between books was always quite a bit off, as if the timeline got thrown out the window every time someone gets killed.

Anyway, reading gay mysteries again got me thinking about how mysteries were one of the few big genres I could reliably find gay materials in when visiting a bookstore. (This is not to say that they didn't exist, but much of it was pulpy romance, or not in a genre I really wanted to start getting involved with (Sadly, Sci-Fi and fantasy are really underrepresented in books with gay protagonists. A few exist, but even then, if you manage to get a gay character, it's essentially the gay bff.)

So, with that in mind, I went digging through amazon trying to remember some of the authors and series that used to captivate me when I could afford to go book shopping.

Nathan Aldyne wrote a series that started with Vermillion, that took place in pre-HIV Boston/Provincetown. Mostly I remember the first murder involving someone getting a Prince Albert and really bot enjoying what happened after. (Loved the book, but yeah, lots of crossed legs.)

David Stukas wrote a series of books that started with Someone Killed his Boyfriend. Very silly, very CAMPY, but also fun to read.

RD Zimmerman wrote the Todd Mills Mysteries. These started with Closet, which was fairly campy, then went really serious really quickly. It was probably the first time I really started encountering the anger about how People with HIV/AIDS were being treated in regular fiction.

I can't find the gay espionage mystery series I used to love to read, so if anyone remembers, let me know.

There's also the classic Mabel Maney A Ghost in the Closet, which was 3rd in a series parodying Nancy Drew. This book introduced The Hardly Boys, and had Nurse Cherry Aimless, whom Nancy Clue was sort of in love with.

As I've mentioned previously, I'm quite ecstatic that gay lit has expanded beyond the borders I found when I came out in the 90's. Mind you, they still mostly concern gay folks who are a lot higher on the social ladder than I am, but then I doubt books concerning gay men in their late 30's working retail would sell particularly well.

As a note, I have 2 other Zubro mysteries in the TBR shelf, so you may see a few more showing up on here over time.

Monday, February 23, 2015

The circle closes

So, after a few unexpected adventures in plumbing this week, I did managed to finish Kelly McCullogh's Blade Reforged, part of the continuing adventures of Aral Kingslayer.


We start this book with Aral trying to spring an old friend from King Thauvik's (son of King Ashvik, who died to give Aral the title Kingslayer) torture prison. After finding the task nigh impossible, Aral instead helps set up Baroness Maylien (also his part time lover, and the one who got the plot rolling back in Book 1) to take the throne.

Complicating this is a Blade legend, the Kitsune, and the return of former Blade turned servant of the bad church, Devin. The Kitsune would be a Blade long thought dead, who entered dead Namara's service long before Aral was born, supposedly killed by teacher Kelos. Surprise! Nuriko is still alive and still accompanied by her many tailed fox shade familiar! And she's also sort of in league with Son of Shan, in a less restricted manner than Kelos, who was already sort of a free agent in service to the Son. Devin, on the other hand...

Well, Devin again ends up making a deal with Aral, who, despite their complete hatred of each other, is being more tormented by Nuriko than Aral could ever attempt to accomplish. Also, if Aral is able get rid of the Kitsune, the Son's torments of Devin are likely to be lesser than if her plot manages to go forward. (As we have been learning through the series in dribs and drabs, the Son is not a nice person. That his form of discipline involves God enforced oaths, tattoos and then flaying skin to remove said tattoos to preserve in an art gallery should not exactly be a surprise.)

Devin, unsurprisingly, doesn't want Thauvik dead, mainly because the King is more or less under the thumb of the Son. However, with Nuriko warping the Son's goals....

Oh yeah, and Maylien starts a revolution to take the throne after Thauvik kills off half the nobility to prevent Maylien's legal adoption (and therefore legitimate claim of succession) becoming public knowledge. Which leads to a few new characters, including Prixia, who becomes Maylien's general after her father gets killed and declared a traitor in the adoption fiasco. Captain Fei again provides fascinating background information about what's going on in the figurative shadows.

Oh yes, and Aral has finally achieved some measure of sobriety, which cuts down the passages devoted to self-incrimination over drinking quite a bit. (I'm not knocking addiction recovery at all here. Aral's sobriety is long coming, and it's good to see him accomplishing it one day at a time.)

The events following the climax provide quite a preview of things to come, as well as providing a literal interpretation of both the first book's title and the current book's title.

I'll be very interested in seeing how the series progresses from here.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Feeding Pop Rocks to a fire spider

A few years ago, two series started around the same time, although subsequent volumes haven't exactly been synchronized. The first one I ran across was Jim C. Hines's Magic ex Libris and the second was Jacqueline Carey's Agent of Hel. Both first volumes were a little rocky, but lots and lots of fun. Then came volumes 2, when Agent of Hel came out ahead, mainly because Libris got a little too serious in parts, leading to a few tonal issues. And now, having finished Jim C. Hines' 3rd volume, Unbound, he's back in the lead in this not very real competition. (Seriously, I love both series. And my issues with book 3 in Hel are on here on the tag.)

Now, thanks to following Hines' blog, I came in forewarned that about the first third of Unbound would be concerned with Issac's depression following Gutenberg destroying his ability to do magic at the end of Codex Born. And it does tend to be rough reading until things pick up a bit. Jeneta, Issac's former student is evidently possessed by an alien intelligence that caused her to board a plane for parts unknown at the end of the last volume. Issac can't do magic and has been kicked from the Porters. Bi Wei, of the Oriental version of the Porters, has revealed the existence of both the Porters and Magic by making a note appear in every copy of A Dance With Dragons by George R.R. Martin. (I have to wonder how many people ended up checking their copy to see if life imitated art there.) Issac's in danger of losing his job at the Copper River Library.

About the only stable thing in his life is his girlfriend Lena, the dryad drawn from The Nymphs of Neptune, and her girlfriend Nidhi. Bound and determined to help find Jeneta and fix everything despite losing nearly everything, Issac goes to see a siren hypnotherapist. (Here we get our first real laugh as the siren's song is described as something akin to a suicidal whale song sung by Stevie Nicks.) Here, we get the name of the commanding force behind the Devourers of the last book, Meridiana.

Meridiana, it seems, has a convoluted back story involving being brought back from death by a pope, only to try to take over the world with an army of hungry ghosts. By hooking up with a black market Ramanga, Issac winds up first in space then in Rome with a bit of vampire blood that allows him to communicate with said Pope's ghost. It's here in Rome where we find out Meridiana, through Jeneta's magic, is turning her army of ghosts into monsters. We also meet Ponce de Leon, who in turn drags Johannes Gutenberg back into the picture .

The interactions between Ponce and Johannes are some of the best parts of the book. Passages arguing security versus freedom entwine with the revelation that Gutenberg has been writing Harry Potter fan fiction. And we also get Issac trying to solve Gerbert d'Aurillac's puzzle of where he hid the celestial sphere holding Meridiana's soul.

Interspersed withing the text are passages from things contemporaneous with the main narrative, as the existence of magic becomes widely known. Things like coaches being suspended for allegedly using magic for the team, Issac's brother's nastygram about how Issac could have used magic to save his nephew's limbs....

It's a much more fun volume than the last book, more in tune with Jim Butcher's Dresden Files sense of style. (Tio be fair, Issac is a lot less hard boiled than Dresden is. Although I could totally see Issac yelling "Parkour!" while navigating the gates of Hades.)

Honestly, one of the best reads I've had in a while.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Whole Lotta Shaking Going On

Returning to a series I haven't been back to in a while, I just finished Kage Baker's The Children of the Company, book 6 in her Company novels.

Although, really, this one isn't so much of a novel as much as it is short stories connected by reflections of one of the newly revealed antagonists of the series, Executive Facilitator Labienus. Much like Facilitator Joseph (narrator of Sky Coyote and The Graveyard Game), Labienus was recruited by Budu back in prehistory. Unlike Joseph, Labienus is working on his own endgame, which may or may not end well for humanity.

We start in early Sumerian culture, with Labienus set up as God and ruler of Nippur, En-Lil. (Interestingly, as someone who's studied Sumerian myths, I was facinated by the idea presented here that the reason the afterlife as presented in Sumerian mythos was a way to prevent suicide. The Gods created human to do all the work for them, and when you die, you go to a dark realm to be bored for eternity.) As Sumer evolves, Labienus winds up going to Egypt, where he encounters Joseph acting as court magician. While he doesn't think Joseph will be an ally, he does get Joseph to set up the mystery cults that will eventually evolve into Dr. Zeus Inc.

We find Labienus is involved in a private war with Aegeus, another Executive Facilitator trying to be the one in charge when the temporal concordance runs out. Aegeus has a protege in Victor, who's eventual fall under the sway of Labienus forms on of the overall stories within. It's Victor who must deal with Literature Preserver Lewis, last seen in the far future being taken captive and presumably killed by strange beings on Catalina Island. One of the big reveals in here concerns Lewis's time at a monastery dictating pagan tales of Ireland to a monk scribe. It seems "fairies" keep trying to take one of the monks to underhill, leading Lewis and his monkly scribe to investigate, discovering Homo sapiens umbratilis, a race of human like beings who allege that they evolved from a race other than Neanderthal or Cro-Magnan. They also seem to have ways on taking out the immortal cyborgs, which is indeed a rarity in this setting. Victor's job is to wipe Lewis's memory of anything involving this new race, which eventually succeeds. (This would also explain Lewis's issues when confronted with them in The Graveyard Game.)

Aegeus does manage to capture 2 members of umbratilis, including a female. The female eventually breeds with a normal human, and one of the few surviving children shows up much later in the plot threads.

About halfway through, we finally find out how Budu came to be in so many pieces during The Graveyard Game. Seems in an attempt to talk to Victor in San Francisco in the early morning of April 18th, 1906, Budu manages to push Victor too far. Mind you, Victor, in one of a few incidents of such, finds out he's being used as a cyborg Typhoid Mary, releasing a nasty virus that shuts Budu down right before the Tongs come in and dismember him.

Time advances, and we find out that one of our Russian cyborgs gets screwed over by Labienus for figuring out the Sattes virus. As his role is to preserve things in shipwrecks, the rescue team fails to save him from his sunken ship.

We end with Labienus preparing to interfere with Mendoza's life again, this time by sending the latest iteration of the Adonai project into her life.

Again, there is a hell of a lot of information in this volume, most of it designed to better flesh out what's been going on behind the scenes of previous volumes. We also see a resurgence of thematic content, with the cyborgs playing a sort of Eliza Doolittle to Humanity's Henry Higgens. This ranges from "Exterminate all the humans" to "Save all the humans" to "Pare down the humans to better manageable population size that they might serve us".

Can't wait to get some more breathing room to get the next volume.