Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Dead To Me

Dead To Me, by Anton Strout (Ace/Penguin 2008).

Dead To Me has been billed as a "light-hearted" urban fantasy, and even as a parody of the genre, but I think the word that reviewers are searching for is: funny. The book is funny. But it's also quite good, and the sillier elements can distract readers from how fascinating and original many of Strout's concepts are.

The story focuses on Simon Canderous, a former-thief who now works for the Department of Extraordinary Affairs (I can't even tell you how jealous I am that Strout thought of this acronym before me). Simon has the power of psychometry, a very Victorian-sounding ability that allows him to psychically 'read' objects. In a genre filled with sexy telepaths, werewolves, vampires, and necromancers, the idea of someone who reads objects instead of people is refreshing. And the power itself has a lot of spinoff potential. Strout is careful to limit Canderous from the very first chapter, letting us know that accidentally touching your lover's watch or necklace in the middle of something hot-and-heavy is the quickest way to have your libido deflated. This is an interesting riff on Sookie Stackhouse, the psychic from Charlaine Harris's Southern Vampire novels, who eschews sex because she can't stand listening to people's thoughts before, during, and after. But the idea of a sensitive male ego getting pricked (sorry) by a woman's thoughts during sex, to me, is new and interesting territory within the genre.

When Simon and his mentor encounter a ghost, Irene, who can't seem to cross over, the three become embroiled in a mystery filled with psychotic bookcases, annoying paperwork, ectoplasm, and Intellivision. Much of the brilliance in Dead To Me comes from puns, one-offs, and funny details that you might not even notice during your first read. Simon is at his most convincing when he whines, whinges, and moans about being a 'hero.' I was pleasantly surprised by a male protagonist who wasn't suave, dark, or twisty. Simon reminds me of most of my ex-boyfriends: cute, a little clumsy, a bit clueless, but still, you kinda love him for being a putz. You cheer for him when he gets some action and roll your eyes when he's being...well, Simon.

The cons are minor and mostly structural. At times, Strout's jokes and puns tend to pile up on each other, distracting from the story. Simon's own attempts to be a noir hero are precisely what come off as unrealistic. I love the Ramones tee, but the jacket seemed a tad overdone. Similarly, why a retractable bat? Can't we find him a cooler weapon? And, instead of hearing about what a kickass thief he used to be, let's see some concrete examples. Hypoglycemia as an after-effect of psychometry still seems a bit minor, given the pros of the power, and if all Canderous has to do is pop a LifeSaver then it's not really a weakness at all. Projectile vomiting, debilitating migraines, or Muzak in your head--now that's a side-effect. It might be neat if, after touching something especially powerful, Simon's hands went numb or something (watching him try to drink coffee would be amusing).

I have high hopes for this series as a very cool riff on UF that doesn't take itself seriously. I think Strout could be a real contender for the position once held by Harry Harrison, Piers Anthony, and other fantasy/sf satirists who also know how to write good plot. Terry Pratchett is immortal, of course, so there's no budging him. But this is a great debut effort, and I look forward to seeing how Canderous develops as an everyguy hero in a genre filled with super-women and craft pack-leaders.

Buy it!

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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Unquiet Dreams

Unquiet Dreams, Mark Del Franco, Ace 2008. (Also see Book 1: Unshapely Things).

Unquiet Dreams focuses on the continued adventures of Connor Grey, a disabled druid working in Boston (specifically in the fey-populated 'Tangle' neighborhood). I've been to Boston, and I'm pretty sure this neighborhood actually exists. At the very least, there must be some sprites and phantoms hanging around the Common.

Connor used to be at the top of his game, getting all the choicest Guild jobs, but a run-in with a mystical terrorist (Bergen Vize) at a nuclear power plant left him with a shadowy "mass" in his brain that blocks his powers. Del Franco creates a world where both humans (or near-humans) and the fey can manipulate something called 'essence,' and by the finale of Unquiet Dreams, an essence war practically destroys the entire city. The novel builds to a literally explosive climax, as what seems to be a simple death investigation (a slain Elvish diplomat and a murdered street kid) turns into a transnational struggle for control of the Guild.

Connor is a likable (and damn sexy) character, and his caustic bitterness over losing his (once considerable) powers gives him an interesting sense of vulnerability. At times, Del Franco invests a bit too much effort describing how powerful the druid used to be, when a few specific examples would probably be more tantalizing for the readers (why does Keeva even deign to talk to him, for instance, aside from the fact that they must have been a smoking hot item at some point?) I particularly love the camaraderie between Connor and Stinkwort, his friend and partner who happens to be a three-inch-tall flit. They form a great investigative duo, even when, at times, Stink tends to appear when he's most needed plot-wise and then disappear afterwards. I wanted to see Connor and Stink watching a football game or sharing a pitcher (and thimble) full of beer in front of the TV. They make an awesome odd couple.

The majority of urban fantasy centers upon spunky female heroines, so Connor represents an important alternative within the genre. The fact that Del Franco spins a magical narrative around a magically 'blocked' character is, in a way, ingenious, since it's Connor's personality and affability that we come to appreciate, not just his powers. Supporting characters, such as his cop buddy, Druidic mentor, and former Guild cronies, make Connor's world even more interesting--although, as is the case sometimes with Stinkwort, I'd like to see more of these supporting folks and have their relationships with Connor fleshed out a bit.

Del Franco was one of the first Ace authors I spoke with when I was still working on Night Child, and I was thrilled to pick up Unshapely Things, knowing that I'd be reading the work of a peer and contemporary. I'm still just as excited as I wait for Book 3, and I anticipate that Connor will have plenty of chases through the Tangle as his story unfolds.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Happy Hour of the Damned

The next review is for Mark Henry's first novel, Happy Hour of the Damned (Kensington, 2008). Mark is also a fellow author at Fangs, Fur, & Fey (where the Urban Fantasists play). I snatched up a copy of Happy Hour the millisecond it came out, since I began chatting with Mark after getting my first contract, and I've enjoyed following the process of his own book's publication. It helps that the guy has a wicked sense of humor and likes to talk about coprophilia. A lot.

Happy Hour is compulsively readable. I laughed out loud at times, and I don't often do that while reading a book--especially an urban fantasy, since the genre is so often more about noirish description and mystery than it is about straight-up giggles. The premise is deceptively simple. Amanda Feral, an ad exec in Seattle, gets turned into a zombie one fateful night in a parking garage. After accumulating an undead posse (including a gay vampire and an immortal bartender), she gets involved in a mystery surrounding her missing friend Liesel, who may or may not be supernatural (you'll have to read more to find out). Liesel was the name of the devil in Robertson Davie's Fifth Business, so you tell me. Along the way, she encounters Reapers, were-creatures, more vampires, a fashionista, a potential boyfriend, and a lot of raw meat.

What makes Happy Hour so fascinating is its obvious spinoff potential. Henry writes a kind of Sex in the Demon City, describing undead lounges and blood bars with teasing skill that makes you want to visit the Well of Souls or Pharmacy (despite risking your immortal soul). Amanda Feral is an instantly likable character, and you could see her prowling the streets of Seattle with her very own movie deal, impaling vamps with her wedge-heels. The mystery plot is fine, although I tended to read more for the bitchy dialogue. Henry's imagination is so wicked and so interesting that I kept thinking, damn, this could be such a fabulous TV show.

The cons are mostly subjective. Even as an academic, I didn't like the footnotes. They seemed unnecessary, and when they were funny, I would have rather Amanda just said/thought the joke (the one about the mitsuki actually made me snort coffee through my nose). The idea of the zombies devouring homeless people is pretty awful on a million different levels, but then again, so are zombies themselves. So it's hard to know where to draw the line. And if Amanda only ate 'bad people,' the narrative would seem too hackneyed. Still, a bit of remorse over snacking on teen runaways might be called for. Also, as happy as I am about gay vampire Gil, he does get a bit two-dimensional at times. Sure, he's a vampire club-kid, which doesn't precisely translate into gravitas. But I'd like him to be less peripheral, and every bit as fierce as the female characters.

In conclusion, no matter what type of urban fantasy you like to read, you're pretty much going to like this book. So buy it now. Buy lots of copies.

Snake Agent

I thought I would start reviewing novels--both urban fantasy and mystery--that I've been reading lately on the blog. It's nice to give props to fellow writers, and since my roommates don't want to hear about my book opnions, maybe the internet will. Oh, internet. You're like the cozy lover I always wanted as a teenager, before I became cynical and redirected all my love towards pets and cinema. The first book is Snake Agent (2008 reissue, Night Shade Books) by Liz Williams. Essentially, all the positive raves you've heard about this book are true. It was published in 2005 by Night Shade in cloth, and then reissued as a mass-market in 2008. People will often tell me that they don't especially like urban fantasy, but they loved Snake Agent.

The plot is layered and delicious. Detective Inspector Wei Chen works for the Singapore Three Police, and is involved in a "ghost-trafficking" investigation--good spirits being sent against their will to hell instead of heaven--which brings him into contact with his demonic counterpart, Seneschal Zhu Irzh, a vice detective from hell. Williams deftly combines noirish elements and sharp dialogue with unexpected bits of humor, especially surrounding celestial (and infernal) matters, which helps ferry the plot along. The chapters are quite short, and after a while, I found myself reading less for the story and more for the delightful character interaction. Zhu Irzh, especially, has to be one of the most fascinating detectives in the genre--a polite and debonair demon who's afflicted with a conscience.

As expected, hell in this book is far more interesting than heaven. Williams paints the infernal realms with a delectable palette, introducing demons and other uglies that will make you shudder despite yourself, even as she relaxes you with lovely descriptions of blooming night orchids, blood candies, and a ferry to the otherworld that exists everywhere and nowhere at once. Wei Chen's wife, Inari, is interesting as well, although I didn't feel she held her own compared to the two male protags. I fell in love instantly with her only friend, a teakettle who can turn into a badger (or a badger who can turn into a teakettle).

Snake Agent is part noir, part comedy (but not slapstick or Xanthian), part urban fantasy, and part science-fiction with its emphasis on organic technology. It appeals to a lot of different readerships, although this hybridity also makes it difficult to classify, and die-hard UF or mystery readers may find themselves disappointed when the genre keeps shifting. But once the characters are in your head, all you'll be able to think about is sharing a box of blood-tarts with Zhu Irzh or vacationing in hell (just stay away from the long lines at the Ministry of Epidemics!)

Order Snake Agent from Amazon here

Hey Jupiter

Sometimes my life feels like a Tori Amos video. Messy, incomprehensible, but strangely hot:

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Day Of Silence

Here is Larry King's PSA for the National Day of Silence, which brings attention to anti-gay violence in the United States.

I can't help but think of Adrienne Rich's famous observation: "Your silence will not protect you," as well as ACT UP's "Silence = Death" logo. What is the productive and/or radical value of silence? The most telling silence that hovers around the Lawrence King case is the media's inability to discuss his forays into drag and alternative gender expression, nor to admit that he was killed not simply for being gay, but for being--in a cultural sense--trans. It's easier to mourn for a small, defenseless-looking kid than an amazingly brave and powerful 15-year-old wearing high-heels and a dress. But that's who I'm mourning for.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Camp Fyrefly

Click here to learn more about Camp Fyrefly, Alberta's LGBT-leadership retreat, and donate!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Book Launch

I'm launching Night Child in fabulous style at Little Sisters Books in Vancouver, July 5, 7pm. Already sent out a mass facebook invite, but if I've forgotten you, don't be shy! Come by and join in the mayhem. There'll be drinking. There might be bingo. There may even be karaoke. OK, there'll probably, definitely be karaoke of some kind.

Little Sisters, Vancouver's first and premier LGBT-Q bookstore, is on the verge of being sold, so come by and let the owners, Janine and Jim, know what an incredible job they've done for the past 25 years!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

"My Gorrila fur coat is missing!"

Man...the Pete Burns (circa Dead Or Alive) of my childhood is definitely gone.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Nom Nom

There is nothing better than the 1/4 rotisserie chicken with rice and beans from Pio Pio Rio in Greenpoint. Seriously. Heaven sucks compared to this chicken. And it's only $4.35. For that much food!

It's only gettin better in the fridge, let me tell you. Reaching its peak potential. And then, at around 11:30PM tonight...holy sweet Jesus, it's gonna be delicious.

There's a reason I'm not the spokesperson for LuLu Lemon. Many reasons, actually, but this is certainly one of them.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Bullshit Bagels

Miranda: "This is bullshit. You are bullshit--you and your bullshit bagels!"

Sunday is not a day of rest in New York. Every Sunday, Hipster couples and good-looking families converge on lesser-known and remote neighborhoods (i.e., on the L train but not on the 1 or F trains) for a sacred ritual: Sunday Brunch (for advanced research, see Stuff White People Like).

Sunday Brunch has rules. It must occur at a crowded cafe specializing in complex breakfast dishes, usually involving organic hollandaise. It must occur in groups of 4-6, usually couples, usually holding hands, who will take up every table in the cafe and talk for an hour. All outfits must be vintage, and present couples will usually spend most of their time openly dissing the couple who didn't show up ("Miguel and Ja'maie are totally in a weird spot right now.")

No matter how packed a cafe or restaurant gets, Sunday Brunch couples must crowd the door, look irritated, and puzzle over exotic menus as if they are reading the Qua'ran for the first time and have never ordered food in their lives. If you are working on a laptop or just trying to order coffee, you will be ousted by a tall, skinny girl with pigtails wearing striped leggings and carrying a Vegan saddle-bag. Your favorite barista will lock eyes with you over a heaping plate of eggs benedict, and silently, he will say: I want you to kill me.

Then you will go home and make your own coffee. Which tastes better anyways, since you got it from Gimme Coffee.

Hello Mary-Lou...Prom Night II

Nobody will get that 80's reference. Seriously, though...Bri and Matt, we must see this movie together immediately:

Saturday, April 19, 2008

On Writing

"It starts with this: put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn't in the middle of the room. Life isn't a support-system for art. It's the other way around."

- from Stephen King's On Writing

A la recherche du chat perdu

My new favorite pic (sorry, Dom)

Merry Saturday

Some sugar. Dom says have a nice Saturday, folks.

Friday, April 18, 2008

All About Me

Check out my interview with Tez Miller on her blog:

Click here to read it in full

Thanks, Tez!

Pay the Writer!

Harlan Ellison did this interview recently. I don't agree with 100% of what he's saying, but I certainly feel his frustration. Pay the fucking writer!

Pussy Cat

Still one of the best videos of all time:

Don't we all just dream of driving around with Madonna sometimes?

Thursday, April 17, 2008

"You can't take a picture of this. It's alredy gone."

And the greatest. The ultimate. True art. Six Feet Under. Don't watch this clip unless you've seen the whole series.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

"By God, there'll be dancing!"

Sure, I may be drunk off Lemoncello (thanks, Tara). But these two clips defined my adolescence. Seriously. Favorite clips of all time. Really. There's nothing better than My Best Friend's Wedding. KJ knows exactly what I'm talking about.

CSI Gum Drops

God, could I love these clips from CSI more? I doubt it.


So, after some consideration, I decided to enable the comments function again. I got a fair bit of hate mail after the newspaper debacle, but I figure, if I can dish it out, I better be able to take it. Just remember...sometimes my family reads this blog, too. If you want to rip me a new one over something political, that's fine, but don't be a dick about it.

Blame Canada

Props to Luke MacFarlane! We need more gay Canucks. Read his coming-out article in the Globe and Mail here

Luke, do you really want to marry Kevin? Come on. Call me.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Get into my Hyundai

I'm ashamed to say that this made me laugh out loud. Ok, clearly I didn't get back to work after that last post.

Soon I will be a Step Up Dancer

Say what you want about Miley Cyrus and her Nickelodeon Empire. Girl is multi-faceted and knows her choreography. (Get back to work, Jes).

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Yay for the new tattoo

"I never fall apart, because I never fall together."

- Andy Warhol

Friday, April 11, 2008

Thursday, April 10, 2008

First Review!

I stumbled upon the first review for Night Child, completely by accident! No, I wasn't googling myself. Really.

Ok, I was a little, even though Melissa Marr states (wisely) that self-googling is unhealthy. But here's the very positive review:

"NIGHT CHILD will appeal to a wider audience then just the obvious Dresden urban fantasy crowd. The world building is fabulous as the audience will feel like Jes Battis’ humans are caught in the middle of a cold war that could go hot in a nanosecond between mages and demons. Adding to the depth of the characterizations is both sides have good and bad members with their ethics being extremely complex. Fans will appreciate this tour of the Battis universe where the supernatural, the natural, and the hybrid live together in a not so peaceful co-existence."

Click here for the rest, but beware of spoilers

New Website!

Yay for the new website! My web designer, Michael Prete, did a fabulous job.

Follow the link

Do We Like? We Like.

With this haircut, no power in the 'Verse can stop me.

Yay For Queer Semiotics

My new favorite picture

Meet Vampire Singles


Goth Singles Online

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

New Haircut!

Oddly enough, I'm very excited about getting a haircut tomorrow at a cool Brooklyn salon. I've always just shaved my head DIY since I've been here, but I decided to actually try getting a real haircut, like other humans. So we'll see how it turns out. I imagine it will guarantee instant fame and a 50% bump in overall sexiness.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

"Slap the Butcher"

Two of my favorite clips from Summer Heights High:

Thank God the Comment Function is Disabled

This will be the week's Sex and the City column. Since this blog stopped being quasi-professional a long time ago, I don't feel too lame about posting...well, whatever I want, really. For my four dedicated readers.

So...a few days ago, I felt the sting of rejection. Now, I'm no stranger to the romantic diss. It happens a lot. I'm a quirky guy, and I don't look like Chris Evans, so I'm used to it. But this one felt a bit more personal. The dude and I chatted for a while online, seemed to have the same sense of humor, liked talking, etc. First date: awkward as hell. Whatever. It happens. I gave him plenty of chances to leave, but he stuck around. So we went back to my place, watched a movie, and then he went home. Didn't think about it afterwards, really.

Later, the dude emails me to say: "I just didn't feel a connection, Platonic or otherwise."

Translation: You are not actually cool enough to be my friend or acquaintance. Sorry. And I'm not into you. So please don't ever talk to me again.

Now...maybe we've all thought this at one time or another. Maybe we've agonized over how, precisely, to let someone down. But has anyone actually just come out and said it? Just like that? I didn't know what to think. It kind of felt like a boot to the face.

So, I did what all responsible, confident people too. I bitched and moaned about it to my friends. They all assured me that I was 100% awesome. But, as I approach my 29th birthday, I find it gets a bit harder to feel certain about my impenetrable awesomeness. Yeah, I've done good. Books published, a PhD, some incredible friends, supportive family, a sweet-ass job that pays me to do what I love anyways. A lovely life.

But why is it that one off-hand comment can make people like us feel so shitty? I can be having a great day, feeling good about myself...but if one dude on Bear411 decides not to message me back, or if an editor doesn't like one of my articles, or if one little thing goes wrong...suddenly, I feel lame again. Like I'm six years old and nobody wants to play. Why does it take so little to tear our egos down sometimes? I don't think straight guys or lesbians have this problem. Just women and gay men. No matter what we do, it just takes one fucking dude to make us feel like we're a gigantic failure.

The answer seems obvious. Just stop caring. Spend time with your friends and ignore the dudes. But even Sex and the City betrays us! They all fucking get married at the end!

Oh well. At least when I turn 30, the party will rock.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Oh Grey's

Ellen Pompeo. The lady can act. It's hard to cry in a convincing or interesting way, but damn, she pulls it off. Just ignore the floaty folk singer in the background.

Friday, April 4, 2008