Friday, April 5, 2024

Have you been touched by his tentacle appendage?

 Book two of the Renquist Quartet, Darklost, picks up with the colony just having moved to Los Angeles. The new residence sits off an unmarked road in the hills, isolated from just about everything. However, isolation doesn't mean that the world isn't about to get involved in the Colony's politics. 

With the move, the colony is now using blood bags as backups, preferring to feed from live people rather risk another outbreak of Feasting. Renquist is still mourning Cynara, but everyone else in the colony seems to be adapting well, with even Segal the Grotesque riding with a motorcycle gang most nights. However, Victor gets roused out of some of his isolationism by seeing something bad rising from Beverly Hills. 

Mind you, Julia, who spent most of the first book playing secondary anatagonist, in this one becomes something more of an independent ally. Her own hunting trip leads her to find a psychic who resembles an overweight psychic Stevie Nicks, who's scan reveals she knows Brandon Wales (near as I can tell, a cypher for Marlon Brando). This sets off a plot line for Julia working with Dahlia (the child vampire) to bring Brandon over and restore him to his handsome youth. 

Victor and his second, Lupo, on the other hand, get sucked into investigating the strange aura, which leads to The Apogee, basically a pseudo-religious organization run by Three people with their own internal problems, not the least of which is that Marcus De Reske, who prefers the occult to the scam, has found the Necronomicon made some sculptural decisions, and the stars are aligning for the return of Cthulhu, whom he is convinced will give him Dominion over the Earth.

And we also have Elaine Dance, who was one step from being brought over by Cynara in the last book, now working as a professional domme in LA, and getting back to the colony via following broadcast commands via Julia and Victor. 

So, there's quite a bit going on here, and by the end, at least one eldritch tentacle has crosses between the dimensions. 

We also see Julia and Victor's "DNA Dreams" exploring what Cthulhu was to the Original Beings, who evolved into modern nosferatu, which includes more information on the Nephillim, the ancient aliens who in turn created the original beings and tampered with human DNA. 

When this series was first being written, this is the book I found and read first, drawn in by a B movie plot of Vampires vs Cthulhu. I find reading the first book first helps the much more involved plot of this one make much more sense. It's still a B movie plot, but every character in here understands the absurdity and also acknowledges that absurdity doesn't negate the dangers of interdimensional sushi looking to eat humanity.  

Honestly, it's held up better than I remember it being. Fun read.

Thursday, March 28, 2024

Oi. Ouch.

 So, Seanan McGuire's Aftermarket Afterlife dropped a few weeks ago, and I pushed myself to get through it, since I really love this series. This one is narrated by Mary Dunlavy, the babysitting host that's raised all the children in the family. Mind you, Mary's afterlife has changed a bit since the events at the end of Annie's narration, as the Crossroads no longer exist, so she's no longer obligated to try and make deals on their behalf. 

On the other hand, Mary is dealing with a fractious family reunion as Alice and Thomas return to the compound in Portland to be with their kids and some of the grandkids. (And reunite James and Sarah, etc.) While the usual fireworks explode, it leads to new fun as The Covenant of St. George launches a major offensive on the US cryptids, creating a lot of collateral damage. While we don't reach George R R Martin levels of homicide of major characters, there are a few semi-permanent retirements in here. 

Anyway, eventually Mary does manage to get most everything squared away as best as she can, but in the meantime, a lot of other things outside her control happen, and she also runs afoul of her dimension's Anima Mundi

It's fun reading, for the most part, since we're getting to see everyone at once, from Verity in New York, Alex in Columbus, Annie in Portland, as well as Sarah and Alice, all of whom have narrated a few books in here. It also has some really really rough emotional moments as the cost of war is brought home for everyone. 

I hope there's more to come in this series, since it remains an always good one.

Thursday, March 21, 2024

Creatures of the Night

 So, I randomly ordered all four books of Mick Farren's Renquist Quartet a while back, and finally finished The Time of Feasting this morning. I'd honestly forgotten how much fun these are.

This, the first book, introduces us to Victor Renquist and his colony of Nosferatu in lower Manhattan as the Time of Feasting is set to begin. Basically, vampires in this setting get by on blood bag infusions to eat, but every so often, the urge to actually eat a human takes over, and the Feasting begins. Renquist's idea for this outbreak is to do his best to make sure that everything looks like the work of a Satanic Serial Killer. 

The colony is facing internal drama as Victor's creation from the mid 1930's, Julia, has created her own progeny, Carfax. Carfax used to front a thrash metal band, and is now undergoing what amounts to the Nosferatu version of the Terrible Twos, challenging Renquist's authority and flaunting his nature while killing indiscriminately. Julia is creating problems of her own, vying for Renquist's affections from Cynara, Victor's long term flame. (Julia from what I remember in later books is a really fun character, acting as both ally and foil.) Oh, and a drunken defrocked priest is able to see through the Nosferatu illusions and see the colony as it is. 

Add into this another group of Voudon practitioners, annoyed with the fact the killings have unleashed 1990's style NYC police work on their population and basically telling Renquist they'll help Renquist with Carfax as long as the colony leaves New York within 48 hours and you have a really over the top Vampire novel that's both readable and fun. 

While the later three books delve deeper into the creation of Nosferatu, this one lays tantalizing hints of aliens creating vampires and creating death rays that kill them back before recorded history, and gives us Dietrich, the old master of the colony, who not terribly long ago walked away to meditate in isolation. 

I've played enough White Wolf games to place most of the colony in Clans and assign disciplines, but frankly, half the fun is in the little bits of irony that come out as the characters occasionally realize exactly how ridiculous the entire thing is. (Yes, it was the 90's.)

Highly recommended reading.

Monday, March 4, 2024

Filled with sound and fury, signifying nothing

 So, it took me pretty much a month to slog through The Atlas Complex by Olivie Blake, which should be a warning sign. 

I hesitate to post this picture, but this narrowed down a bit has been my experience with this trilogy. 

 Because frankly, after spending the last book getting Libby back to the future via a fusion explosion, we spend most of this book watching the Six.... do absolutely nothing. I mean, Reina is running around trying to fix modern politics with Callum; Tristan, Nico, and Libby are at the manor trying to open up a door into parallel realities (or at least discussing it quite a bit); and Parisa is basicially busy trying to take over rival societies...

That's it. That's the plot. The longer it goes on, the worse it gets. They spend 2/3 of the book talking about their goals, and realizing that none of them can accomplish them on their own, and facing down the reality that the archives still want a sacrifice. Eventually, they do open a door to alternate realities, but by that point, I'd long ago checked out of the narrative, mostly reading for the sake of completion. There are really out of place filler moments going on as well, including a chapter of Book Club discussion questions, and a later chapter when Tristan and Callum meet in person again, where we get 10 pages of different variations on how that could have worked out. 

I mean, if the author's point is that everything is arbitrary, she succeeded in that theme, but lord, this really was like reading a tale filled with sound and fury, signifying nothing,.

Thursday, February 1, 2024

Uncomfortable Territiory Part 2

 So, part of my planned "Trilogy of Trauma" is The Lookback Window by Kyle Dillon Hertz. The title refers to a period when New York extended some sexual assault cases statute of limitations to allow for civil cases against people who molested children, even if they couldn't be prosecuted criminally. As such, our narrator, Dylan, is trying to figure out if he should go after his sort of ex, who more or less pimped Dylan out at 14 to older men in exchange for drugs and money. 

Dylan is obviously older now, and narrating his life as he marries Moans, navigates therapy, deals with PTSD, and generally does a bunch of really bad stuff. (In the middle, he starts breaking vows to his husband. In the last third, he does Meth and GHB, winding up in the hospital.)

I felt a bit like I was reading a cross between I Spit on Your Grave and Go Ask Alice through this. I understand Dylan. Money proves nothing. Revenge doesn't bring back the years you were being relentlessly abused. Yeah, he goes to extremes I couldn't bear, but I understand his impulses here. I understand when he and Moans fight, because Moans wants to comfort Dylan, rather than let Dylan figure out his own wants. 

The biggest problem in here has nothing to do with the plot or the writing, it's more to do with the narrative jumping all over the place, particularly when Dylan is smoking meth or other things. There are a couple of jumps in there towards the end where I lost track of the narrative, as we go from one paragraph of him fighting with Moans to the next being in bed with another man shotgunning meth to him. 

The ending is satisfying, providing a sense of closure, while reminding us life goes on even through trauma. 

While I enjoyed this, your mileage may vary.

Tuesday, January 16, 2024

Uncomfortable territory

 So, based on an odd recommendation in a LGBTQ+ book group I follow, I picked up Target by Kathleen Jeffrie Johnson. Really kind of regretting that decision now. Indeed, really tempted to go wipe the dust off LJ and blog about it rather than try to keep shit off this rather public blog. 

So, we open on 16 year old Grady, who's walking home from a concert he attended with friends. A guy asks for directions, then he and a friend grab Grady by the hair and beat the shit out of him, followed by anal and oral rape. We cut to roughly a year later, the "After" as Grady thinks of it. Grady is starting at a new school, repeating 11th grade, having dropped out in November at his old school. Grady, frankly, has survivor trauma. He's got a definite eating disorder, eating very little, and puking up what does go down. He needs tactile stimulation to function. He can barely talk. 

What follows is a tale of finding the courage to talk about what happened in the van, however long it takes. Grady is helped by new friends who more or less treat him like a personal mascot, not caring that he doesn't speak often, and almost never in complete sentences.

But we get a very good look at the guilt that comes with it. The whole "Why was I a target?" "Why did the cop assume it was a boyfriend of mine and I having a fight?" "I'm bigger than they are, so why couldn't I fight back?" along with (since Grady was a virgin who had touched boobs once) "Am I gay because they convinced me they'd quit if I climaxed?" Oh yes, and the fucking goddamn shame of it all. The whole "I can't fucking tell anyone because they'll ask the same fucking questions I keep asking myself!"

We also briefly get into him getting molested by a neighbor as a kid (admittedly not as intense as what happened in the van, but still...)

I'm also proud of our fictional character for going to the cops after it happened (not that he had a choice, some lady found him bleeding on the side of the road), and for getting help by the end. Two things that are sadly the hardest part. 

It's ugly, but it's cathartic.

Monday, January 8, 2024

Radio Free Europe

 Signs and Wonders by Morgan Brice has our heroes heading into the National Radio Quiet Zone to take down the next witch disciple, one who happens to also be both a cult leader and running a compter based business that's laundering money for the other disciples. 

Along the way, we get Brent and Travis from one of her other series, plus a gay couple in WV who are looking to go to Pittsburgh for obvious reasons. That one of them is the current descendant complicates things. 

At any rate, anyone reading this who has read the rest of the series has an idea of the basic structure, although now that there are only 5 disciples left, Evan and Seth are discussing what to do with retirement. Even if Evan is constantly becoming the Daphne of the series, constantly getting himself in unnecessary danger. 

Fun read.

Wednesday, January 3, 2024

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

 So, a while back, CT Phipps reached out and asked me if I'd be interested in reading his new book Moon Cops on the Moon! I told him I'd ordered a copy, but it was behind a library book in to TBR pile. Then employment got crazy, and finding time to read got a bit odd, but....I read it.

So, first thing to note, this is evidentially a shared setting with a few other series he's written, although this one is set further in the past than the other ones. Which is fine, since I'm kind of wanting to read other books in this setting now. Second, It helps if one has a mildly twisted sense of humor to read this particular volume, since it's very much what would happen if say, Dashiell Hammett wrote Shadowrun novels. (For those of you not up on such esoterica and are too lazy to google, he wrote several hardboiled detective novels, including The Maltese Falcon.)

Anyway, we open on our narrator, Neal Gordon, as he's getting ready to land on the moon to start his new assignment with Ares Electronics as a police officer. (Like much cyberpunk, much of what is civil service here in the present is private in the future. Neal has a lifetime contract. But at least the Moon is somewhat better than Antarctica.) Problem being that as soon as he lands, everyone, from the cybermen to the 90 year old woman landing with him, want him dead or alive. He winds up getting rescued by his new partners, Miss Lucy Westerna and a Corgi AI named Barksley who doubles as a flamethrower. (There's a running joke in there about Barksley, who is a sentient AI police officer listening to NWA and Ice-T. I'm sure most of you can guess the songs.)

Anyway, along the way, we get wrapped in in an intergalactic slave trading ring, other corporate agents with coking fetishes, and a lot about the last partner Neal had on Mars, who literally burned him. 

That's about as far as I want to go with this to avoid many many spoilers. 

I will say it was worth the price I paid to get a copy, and the references thrown in had me laughing quite a bit alongside some of the deeper questions about human rights and sentient AI, as well as the author's postscript about how the world may end, but capitalism will continue. 

Worth the read. 

Thursday, November 30, 2023

And again, Titania is an ass.

 Finished Seanan McGuire's The Innocent Sleep yesterday, which is kind of Sleep No More extended out, starting when Titania changed Fairie and ending roughly 3 months after Halloween. However, it's written from Tybalt's point of view, so we get a better idea of what life was like during the revamp for folks who weren't locked up in Titania's illusions, like Undersea and the Cait Sidhe. 

Which is to say, mostly ugly.

Undersea is cut off from the land, and Simon of course got shunted back to being Amandine's loving husband, which is mildly upsetting to Dianda and Patrick, not to mention both of their sons being trapped elsewhere. The Cait Sidhe are pretty much all trapped in the various Courts of Cats, as only those of Royal blood can get on the Shadow Roads. Which leads to a bunch of starving cats and kittens. Eventually, this leads to a very fun heist cleaning out a few of San Francisco's Costco's to feed the courts. 

A Roane in Undersea makes a prophecy letting all parties know that around Moving Day is when any moves to break the illusion must happen. Given that Moving Day is roughly 4 months away from the first part of the narrative, one can imagine the amount of angst involved. We do eventually get to a point where the previous narrative of these events starts intermingling with this newer perspective, and we finally get a few answers to things not stated in the past volume. 

After the narrative ends, we get a novella about one of the Octopi Fey native to the seas. Dianda's protector, actually. The book is downstairs, and I'm not attempting to spell her name or race without it sitting in front of me.) By far the biggest reveal in this is that Dianda is probably having a new girl baby pretty soon, fathered by both Simon and Patrick. Why the girl is so important we don't know, but I'm guessing it will eventually tie in to one of the last missing threads, what happened to the Other Queen (Maeve) after Janet broke the ride. 

Fun story, worth reading.

Saturday, November 25, 2023

And now for something fairly serious.

 So, many years ago, when I was really starting to be more open about being gay, a lady I knew from Cub Scouts and church gave me a book about a Presbyterian minister and his quest to become an ordained minister within the Presbyterian Church (USA). (Bit of obscure history. The Denomination split during the Civil War ear into the Northern United Presbyterian Church and the Southern Presbyterian Church in the United States. There are a few other shards running around, but they tend to be...different. The two branches reconciled in 1982ish, which I remember. So, when this starts, it would have been the United branch, but by the end, we're in PC(USA).)

Anyway, Rev. Glaser tells us of his growing up Baptist, and finally realizing he's gay in college during the Vietnam era. He speaks of his calling to ministry and how he found himself joining the Presbyterians in Los Angeles before attending Divinity School at Yale. 

Eventually, we enter the fun of the 1970's Presbyterian Task Force on Homosexuality (I may have the name wrong, but basically, the General Assembly [the national governing board, which more or less makes decisions that the local Presbyteries approve or decline] appointed a task force to see about making recommendations on ordaining LGB people. (Trans folks weren't particularly included in the conversation at that point in time.) 

There's also whole sections on his work ministering to gay folks in college, and the problems he runs in to with being open about his avowed homosexuality from both the gay and straight students.  And the few openly gay ordained ministers in the era, one in the United Church of Christ and of course the Metropolitan Community Church. Anyway, the task force's majority report, suggesting guidelines for ordaining gay folks, got shot down and a watered down minority report instead got approved. 

Now, in between this, is an exploration of Glaser's thoughts on God and his personal dramas. When I read this roughly 26 years ago, I spent a lot of those sections going "Oh Guuuurl" or "Oh, get her". Much further on, I better understand what he's talking about, and how odd attraction and love are. While a lot of his more intellectual thoughts on faith tend to be Boomer reformation stuff, particularly in the epilogue he gets into some more meaty thoughts on sexuality as an expression of God, which given that just about everyone likes to ignore Song of Solomon, is something one really doesn't hear about often. 

And frankly, This was likely addressed more to a straight audience, helping heterosexuals better understand what it means to be gay and Christian, with a secondary focus on letting gay Christians know they are not alone. However, given it took PC(USA) until 2011 to finally reconcile on a national level with LGBTQ+ parishioners wanting recognition and acceptance, his happy ending really didn't happen until 30 years after where this book ends. (To be fair, individual churches and Presbyteries did make their own decisions prior to this, but mostly in the Out of Sight of the General Assembly, Out of Mind of the General Assembly sense.) This makes an interesting continuation of Congregations in Conflict by Keith Hartman, showing some of the same arguments happening 10-20 years apart in different settings. Supposedly, Glaser has written more books since this one, so I may eventually check it out and see how his story continued during AIDS and ENDA/DOMA.