Between Dances by Erasmo Guerra

Between DancesBetween Dances by Erasmo Guerra
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the story of Marco and his friends/lovers Chris and Jaime, all three erotic dancers and call-boys in NYC at some recent time, I’d suggest the late ’90s. Though some of the plot concerns their ‘jobs’, the novel is really about Marco and his life “between dances” shown by his interaction with Chris, Jaime and a few johns.

There are sexual encounters in the novel, but not explicit, and actually episodes telling us more about Marco. I like this approach. One gets bored with descriptive sex scene after sex scene common to so much m/m fiction. If it were a movie, I’d rate it PG depending on how much d&a are shown.

The author seems an experienced craftsman. The prose has a literary bent, reminding me somewhat of Counterpoint: Dylan’s Story. My main problem was some dialogue in Spanish which I did not want to look up for disturbing the flow of the prose. Sometimes the meaning was clear, most often not.

The novel is compared to Genet’s The Thief’s Journal and Rechy’s The City of Night. I think this comparison comes from the novel being about a seedier sides of Gay life, but I see a big difference. Genet’s autobiographical work and Rechy’s novels tend toward protagonists who are stuck in their lives and one expects then to go on behaving in the future as they have in the past. Marco makes me want to try to save him from his physically and psychologically destructive life. And, I think there is a good chance he could be changed and so saved. He’s likable though I don’t think I’d have sex with him.

I liked the book a lot and would like to see more novels come from the author’s pen. He has published short story collections, but no other novels that I can find.

The only real negative I found were a number of typos in the text, most minor. In one place it seemed a paragraph was out of place and I lost the flow of what was going on for a bit.

Recommended!

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The Jewels of Aptor, Samuel R. Delay’s 1st novel

The Jewels of AptorThe Jewels of Aptor by Samuel R. Delany
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The novel describes a post-apocalyptic civilization a number of centuries after an atomic “big fire”. The action occurs on two islands or continents, one with a dark age civilization. Leptar, where the highest technology are sailing ships and swords; the other the radioactive island Aptor populated by mutant flora and fauna as well as humanoid ‘scientist’ populations who have kept or rediscovered the old knowledge and technology, two opposing groups forming priesthood like enclaves, keepers of tech and science. The Jewels of Aptor are high tech devices that give absolute power to their wielders. The story involves a group of fantasy like adventurers from Leptar tasked with collecting the jewels and figuring out what to do with them.

The theme of the novel is summed up, “And that’s what we saw, or the experience we had when we looked at the beach from the ship this morning; chaos caught in order, the order defining chaos.” The experience being a religious experience. The novel is a simplistic, brief exploration of Western dualistic thinking: dark vs light; knowledge vs innocence; good vs evil, order vs chaos, baji-naji, etc. The last few pages, explain this. The action tries to illustrate it.

Knowing other Delany work’s, I certainly have a compulsion to read between the lines looking for secrets, deep meanings and meta-fictional ideas. I don’t think they are to be found in this immature, 1st Delany novel.

It’s an easy read. The prose flows and in places is remarkable for an inexperienced writer. Be sure to read a later edition like this which is include much that Ace editors had cut and is revised by Delany.

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‘Salem’s Lot by Stephan King

'Salem's Lot: Illustrated Edition‘Salem’s Lot: Illustrated Edition by Stephen King
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The only other King I’ve read is The Stand which I enjoyed as a dystopian Science Fiction. I liked the plot, the characters, the prose. I was bored by ‘Salem’s Lot and almost gave it up several times. The short stories at the end of this edition were far more interesting.

So, why didn’t I like it. To paraphrase Emperor Joseph II in Amadeus, “Too many words!” and a lot of them in the wrong place or completely unnecessary. I did not find the story very interesting. Though a vampire story, it had not horror for me. I found the characters flat with no one I could identify with. King writes easy, flowing prose, making for a fast, if long, read. But, many ideas are repeated ad nauseum. King can write clever bon mots, but he did nothing to illustrate such, unless he was too subtle for me, which I doubt. King is just not that deep. The best thing about the novel was building the world of a small rural town in the USA. King got that right. Others, many others have done it better.

I doubt I will read more King.

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The Rylerran Gateway by Mark Kendrick

The Rylerran GatewayThe Rylerran Gateway by Mark Kendrick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I vacillated too long over 3 or 4 stars for this novel. I decided it is 3 stars for SciFi and 4 stars for Gay SF, going with the latter since there is a dearth of good, fun Gay SF novels. I hope the higher rating will encourage more people to read it.

The story is plot driven, like most space operas. The characters are interesting, but not well-developed like most space operas. The book is very well crafted and is a page-turner. I stayed up too late 3 nites in a row, because I didn’t want to stop reading.

The protagonists are 2 Gay guys, one in the space military, the other a scientist (paleo-microbilogist) who fall in love after a few dates. The military/science personality-type conflict is mentioned, but not developed in any meaningful way. There is a tiny homophobia thread which would be interesting to develop in a sequel. Sex per se is minimal. The novel is not for someone looking for a traditional m/m romance.

The SF part of the novel is well done, but is derivative, my main complaint about this novel. There are no new SF ideas I discovered. The multiplanet politics has been done. The gateway built by ancient unknown aliens has been done. Even the tech terms seemed all to be taken from Star Trek—warp drive, inertial dampeners, quantum signatures, interstellar conduits (think Borg)… I would have liked some originally.

So we have a Heechee + Union-Alliance + Star Trek space opera. Still it is an entertaining story, positively Gay and IMO well worth a read.

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The Children of the Sky by Verner Vinge

The Children of the SkyThe Children of the Sky by Vernor Vinge
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The best thing about this novel are the Tine, a fascinating alien species, telepathic and with an individual existing as groups of individuals with a sense of immortality. Vinge explores the possibilities of such group minds quite well. Humans provide a foil which helps us understand the nature of the Tine. He does an adequate job, but throughout my read I kept wishing CJ Cherryh had written the work. She is The Master of alien/human interactions.

My main problem with the book was the plot or story. I just did not find it very interesting and derivative (same-o, same-o). It was not a page turner for me, but neither did I have to struggle to read the book. The political machinations were trivial and primarily human oriented.

One thing bothered me. Essentially, all the main character bad guys are male, the good guys female. An appropriate balance would have changed this sex discrimination.

It is obvious that a sequel is in the works. The main conflict other than Tinish vs Human sensibilities concerns those who believe in the Blight vs those who do not. Though the book can be read as a standalone, I strongly suggest reading the prior novels in the Zones of Thought series.

I am hoping this is a bridge work to the final novel(s) in this series. Given that the 1st 2 books won a Hugo for Vinge, the series in toto my be superior to this novel alone. We have much yet to learn about The Blight and about the Choir of Tine individuals.

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Children of Tantalus: Niobe and Pelops by Victoria Grossack and Alice Underwood

Children of Tantalus: Niobe and PelopsChildren of Tantalus: Niobe and Pelops by Victoria Grossack
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What a pleasant surprise! Though originally published in Greek by a major publisher, this 1st book of a trilogy has been self-published in the US. Do not let that put you off. The novel is the best written, edited and produced such book I have read. I only found one possible typo in the entire book, unusual even from top publishers.

The book is a novelization of the myth of Tantalus and his children Pelops, Broteas and Niobe. Pelops and Tantalus are father and grandfather of the great House of Atreus, so important in ancient Greek literature. The myths are relatively straight-forward, though of course there are variations and name confusions. The author has chosen the currently most accepted forms of the myth, eg placing the kingdom of Tantalus in Lydia. It will be interesting to she what choices Grossack makes in the following novels, eg who does Niobe marry, what happens to her children, will Pelop’s curse come true, etc.

The 1st novel is basically a retelling of Pelops death and resurrection in Lydia, his obsession to build an empire of his own, his banishment from Athens, and the events surrounding his marriage to Hippodamia. A possible foretelling of events to come in the sequels concerns the curse of Myrtilus, food for tragedy. Additional subplots involve Pelops intimacy with a certain older ship captain and Niobe’s fascination with a handsome bard. What does the future hold?

Trough all of this Niobe provides a firm foundation on which Pelops can stride and in many ways the novel is the telling of Niobe’s story, much neglected in ancient literature. The author creates a compelling character in Niobe and believable additions to the myths. I am looking forward to the sequels.

Children of Tantalus: Niobe and Pelops is a novel all lovers of mythic fiction will want to read.

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Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman

Anansi BoysAnansi Boys by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What a delightful, charming and funny book. It reads like a children’s fairy tale while engaging the reader in layer upon layer of humanity. I would have given it 5 stars, but for American Gods which is a Great Book with a capital G. If the latter is 10/10, this book is 9/10. One can easily see how Anansi Boys derives from American Gods.

Many have summarized the novel. I see no need to do so again. Just some thoughts on layers.

Humans create God. Gods don’t create humans. I see this as a theme of both books. Anansi, the ancient African spider God had one son, not two. His son, Fat Charles was divided into two by the intervention of human ‘magic’, resulting in a naive Fat Charles and Spider. Spider is trickster God in his own right, and can do magic or miracles. Fat Charles grows up to be an average accountant. One fun. One boring. Through the plot machinations, Charles, as he reaches his potential, becomes a God, able to manipulate reality through magic.

Humanity is explored too through family archetypes. This is most obvious from Fat Charles embarrassment by his father, mentioned many times in the novel. Anansi even dies in an embarrassing manner. Have not every one of us been embarrassed by our parents. We have the brotherly fight, their desire for the same woman, Fat Charlie’s gaining understanding of his father, marriage, work children. We’ve all been there or will be.

There is an exploration of dualism, not really good vs evil, but more real. This is displayed by the ‘2’ opposing brothers and the 2 parts of their whole, by Anansi vs Tiger, by bird God vs the boys, by Daisy and Maeve vs Grahame Coats… It is not capitalized Good vs Evil, but human discord and competition.

Finally, there is the big one: Thought, stories, songs create reality from which spring the Gods and us.

Is see all of this or pieces thereof, but above all it is funny, very funny and entertaining, very entertaining.

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The Stand by Stephen King

The StandThe Stand by Stephen King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the 1st Stephen King novel I’ve read. I tend to avoid hyper-popular authors for a variety reasons. I was quite surprised I enjoyed this novel so much. I have seen the miniseries which is good. The book is better.

King is an excellent writer. The prose flows, can be read quite fast and does not require a lot of pauses to think about what is going on or research into difficult concepts. He’s an easy read. He writes compelling characters and even with so many, it was easy to know them all. The plot was interesting to me, a fan of dystopian fiction. His descriptions are sparse, but enough for me to build up pictures in my mind. I felt no need to look up the geography of the parts. My general knowledge of the US was enough, even though I had never been to any of the places physically.

I thought King wrote horror, but I don’t see this novel as horror. It is mainly dystopian Sci-Fi with an occult/supernatural thread which can be taken as religious or metaphorical. I took it as the latter, as good vs evil, though not quite so black and white. I think the main theme of the novel is how to set an appropriate balance between individual freedom and government or ‘civilization’, laws, rules and regulations. It seems most timely today as congress struggles to find that same balance. The science of the plague is believable and possible.

The book did not seem too long. I would have liked it to be longer. This climax seemed to quick and there were a lot of unresolved threads. It almost seems set up for a sequel. Does King do sequels?

When this book was new there had not been much fiction written about bioterrorism and the eco-fiction genre was in it’s infancy. The Stand is a seminal work in these genres. Today numerous such novels have been published. The Stand remains relevant today, perhaps more relevant than when written.

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Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

Neverwhere LtdNeverwhere Ltd by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was an entertaining novel, but not a great novel, I think—not in the way American Gods is a great novel. That is perhaps due to its TV roots as others have indicated. It is structured somewhat like a screen play, and though it evokes images of its various scenes, I think one still needs to delve deeply into oneself to complete the images. I consider this a plus, though others suggest it results in flat characters and places. Perhaps it’s a matter of imagination and experience.

Above all it is a British novel, specifically an urban fantasy about London and a knowledge of London above and London below ground is necessary to really appreciate the many in-jokes that pervade its pages. Beyond this there are universals for any mega-city with an underground—rats and pigeons, dirt and smells eg, and a multicultural population involving both the above and below.

The novel certainly explores these big city characteristics and in a sense is an allegory about all those people who fall through the cracks of urban society. I don’t know if it was written as an allegory, but it is there. OTOH, it can be seen simply as a fun, imaginative story, like the miniseries which I plan to watch soon.

Richard has been called annoying and dumb by other reviewers. I don’t think so. Putting myself in Richard’s place, I suspect I’d react much the same way he did—confused, naive, scared, wondering if I’m hallucinating and crazy, not used to all of the death and danger. Richard is much more a realistic character than an obviously heroic type would have been, a knight in shining armor would have been. In a similar way Richard was out of place in his relationship with Jessica. She’s an upper-crust, moneyed brat who fits in quite well with the large glass towers of the city. Richard is an average guy from the country out of place in London. Jessica and Richard mirror the worlds above and below. They represent a civites-pagan dichotomy. I’m pleased they both end up where they really belong as the novel closes.

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Counterpoint: Dylan’s Story by Ruth Sims

Counterpoint: Dylan's StoryCounterpoint: Dylan’s Story by Ruth Sims
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

1st draft:

Counterpoint: Dylan’s Story is a beautiful novel which I enjoyed in every manner, from cover to cover.

Superficially, a highly individualist teen lusts for his history teacher in a boys school in England, they eventually meet in Paris and become a couple. Teacher is killed in a manner reminiscent of Pierre Curie’s death. Boy becomes despondent but eventually falls for a similar kid near his age and things work out, probably. All are of course gorgeous and lustiferous, reinforced by the cover.

Sounds familiar, but that is not at all what the books is about. I think it is primarily about creative obsession. Or the obsession necessary to become a true artist, one of the greats. It is a literary, historical fiction concerning being Gay in Edwardian England and Paris and about the music world of the time. Names were reminiscent of many real people in the music world and I spent a lot of time looking up names of characters to check if they were indeed real. This is telling about Sims’ characterization.

It is also about the contrast between a father/son type romance and a romance between two creative forces. And it is about dragging oneself out of the despair caused about the sudden loss of a lover. And it is about the conflict caused by an upper middle class British kid falling for an Angloromani kid during the 19th century. It is about sensuous beauty.

This is a lot to cover in a relatively short novel, but I think the author carries it off. I liked her style which flowed easily and was simply quite beautiful, almost muscial. And the sex is understated which I thought appropriate to its themes. Still I kept feeling, “If only…”—meaning it is sensuous enough for me to fall for the protagonists. It’s a novel I want to read again.

Closely examine the cover, before and after reading the novel, it’s telling. I am still working oe figuring out what violin sonata is depicted, but my piano is surrounded by TBR mountains.

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