Thursday, May 29, 2008

Hoop La-La

"We just want to take Hoop La-La to the next level." All I can say is: wow. Rock it, kids. Rock it with fabulous purple flames.

Graffiti Article

Here's an article I just posted (thanks to AJ Menden) for Graffiti, an alternative West Virginian paper, on urban fantasy. I like how it turned out.

Be sure to pre-order a copy of Menden's Phenomenal Girl 5

New Weezer



So good! And Kelly even guest-stars!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Magic Burns

Magic Burns, by Ilona Andrews. Ace, 2008.

The sequel to Magic Bites drops us in the middle of an alternate Atlanta, where waves of magic and 'tech' rise and fall, crashing against each other, and of course Kate Daniels--formerly a mercenary, now working for the Order--is right in the middle of things again. This time, a magical flare is wreaking havoc on the city, and Kate has to protect Julie, a 12-year-old girl who may be at the center of a war between Celtic deities. Kate is torn between loyalty to the Order (whose precepts she doesn't entirely agree with) and allegiance to the shapeshifting Pack, along with their 'Beast Lord,' the leonine Curran. Really, she just wants a break.

I was instantly jealous after finishing Magic Burns. Why? Because Ilona is funnier than me. The whole book has an effortless current of dark humor to it, and just when a scene is about to get crazy, Kate will make some wry remark that makes me think she might be a boyish RPG nerd in a female mercenary's body. Andrews deals with all the usual UF folks--vampires, werewolves, crazy things with tentacles--in her own unique style, and she takes them seriously, but also treats them with just the right amount of irony. I especially love her necromancers who can control vampires like puppet-masters, working from air-conditioned, secure rooms, like evil corporate CEOs.

The plot is sharp, and momentum practically flings the reader from one scene to the next. With all that flinging, one can forget how imaginative and well-crafted Andrews' world really is. But then Kate walks into a giant tortoise--yes, into the tortoise, through its mouth--and suddenly it clicks. This author knows how to dream. She knows exactly what she's doing. And many of these scenes made me think: damn, why didn't I think of real metal harpies, or ghouls with prehensile hair, or women living inside a giant tortoise?

Cons are few. At times, Kate is such a badass, so clearly the Queen of Badassery, that it becomes hard to see her as a vulnerable character. She's got a magic sword, blood that repels viruses, words of power...and yes, she does get hurt badly in a few scenes, but I'd still like to see her at more of a disadvantage sometimes. I was always happy when she mouthed off to...well, just about everyone in the book. I don't agree with folks who think that UF heroines have become 'too sassy.' Oh, hai, the 1950s called: they want their ideology back. It's called feminism, folks. Let's rejoice and be happy for these characters who kick serious paranormal ass. Of course, I was also told by one editor that my protagonist was too sassy, and then immediately afterwards told by a different editor that she wasn't sassy enough. So sass remains tricky.

I heartily recommend Magic Burns to anyone looking for a paranormal romp with an impressive protagonist, an engaging cast of characters, and a story full of wit and heart.

Buy Magic Burns from Amazon

Glamz. I gotz it.

















Trrrruuuuusssssst me. I gotz mad cheddar.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

What's a Sales Rank?

Judith Butler's Gender Trouble
Amazon Sales Rank: 11,049

Jes Battis' Night Child
Amazon Sales Rank: 21,970

I'm catching up to you, Judy!

(I actually have no idea what these numbers mean, and neither does anyone else, so this is the last time I'll look at them. Right.)

One For Sorrow

One For Sorrow, by Chris Barzak. Bantam, 2007.

Barzak's One For Sorrow is part ghost-story, part urban fantasy, and part noirish coming-of-age tale set in an industrial town where everyone knows everyone. The protagonist, Adam, chafes against his unsympathetic family, including his disabled mother, emotionally vacant father, and stupidly nasty older brother. All this changes when Adam, who has always been a runner, finds himself running towards the ghost of a murdered boy: Jamie Marks.

Most novels with adolescent protagonists are about the details of their character's lives, but One For Sorrow is actually about Adam's journey towards death. The more time he spends with Jamie's phantom, the less real and substantial he becomes. As he discovers 'dead space' and learns how to make himself invisible in more ways than one, Adam also begins to lose all five of his senses. He also begins to fall in love not only with Jamie, but with the idea of Jamie's incorporeality. He wants to become a ghost himself.

One For Sorrow might have become a YA cautionary tale--stay alive! stay away from queer ghosts!--but Barzak is careful to place Adam at the nexus of many different possibilities, all of them interesting and none of them especially 'right.' I found myself quite enamoured with the idea of Adam learning about sex and desire from a living girl and a dead boy at the same time. Barzak never draws any hard and fast lines around Adam's nascent sexuality, but some of the eerily romantic scenes between Adam and Jamie are charged with a dark and sensate eroticism that makes us wonder if we aren't all, after a fashion, in love with our own ghosts? Barzak is also careful not to inject too much creative bells and whistles into the realm of the dead, preferring instead to give us subtle and evocative images of half-seen things and shrouded faces.

Surprisingly, the book does drag a little near the end rather than in the middle, as Adam becomes less alive and Jamie begins to fade further away. Parts of the church interlude didn't seem entirely necessary, and when the book ends, it ends in a flash, leaving you wondering what happened to some of the nastier peripheral characters that you'd been pleasantly hating for the last 200 pages. That said, however, the last few scenes were lovely to read.

One For Sorrow is a slim, elegant, and darkly satisfying book, and I'd recommend it to anyone looking for something melancholy but also sweet and heartening to read. Can't wait for Barzak's next book!

Buy it from Amazon

Matt Mitcham

Congrats to Matthew Mitcham, who'll be the first openly gay Australian athlete to compete in the upcoming Olympics. Read his coming-out article in the Sydney Herald. Props, mate!

It's like a modern day retelling of Patricia Neil Warren's The Frontrunner.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Capitalism!

It's midnight my time, which means that Night Child is now officially available for purchase! The first 2 weeks that a book is released are the most important ones, since they make up the time-frame wherein publishers calculate sales and figure out the numbers. So now's the time to pick up a copy. I'm not being shameless. I really, really just want everyone I know (and everyone I don't know) to buy it.
If you want a sneak peek, check out this fun interview I did on Milady Insanity's blog. Actually, Tess and Derrick, the protagonists, were the ones who did the interview, not me. But they're far more entertaining, anyways. And May is giving away a free copy of the book, so check out her contest details!

Now, obviously, you can get the book from B&N, Borders, and Amazon. But I hope you'll buy it from an independent bookstore instead. Here are some good ones:

Vancouver: Little Sister's Books or White Dwarf Books.
Toronto: BakkaPhoenix Books
Winnipeg: Cold Drake Books
Halifax: Seaside Books
New York: Oscar Wilde Books and Partners & Crime Books.
London: Forbidden Planet
Sydney: Galaxy Books

Sighting At B&N



Saturday, May 24, 2008

Evil Fairies

You know what else rocks? Holly Black's 2002 debut novel, Tithe. Just read it yesterday, and it's sharp, funny, beautiful in parts, chilling, and really just like a perfect chocolate martini with sugar around the rim.

People often forget, too, that Mercedes Lackey and Holly Lisle were some of the first urban fantasy writers to reintroduce the Fey back in the early-1990s. Just sayin. But Black's debut is original and charming and sweetly dark in its own way. Loved it. Especially Corny (the character, not the book.)

Summary

Let's review what goes into finishing a novel. What did I eat today?

1 cinnamon raisin bagel (freshly baked)
2 iced coffees (2 counts as food)
1 biscuit
2 papaya dogs
1 chocolate muffin

That's all that I ate over the course of 12 hours. Now I have a stomach ache, a headache, blurry vision, and...a finished novel. Seems like a fair trade. And now there's fireworks on my street. No idea why. Are they for me? That would be nice.

Victory!

Book 2. is. freakin. DONE.

Done!!!

LGBT Studies in Kansas

Check out this article on Tami Albin's Under the Rainbow Project, which collects the oral histories of LGBTI-Q folks living in Kansas. I got to hear Tami speak at the 2008 ALMS conference at CUNY, and she was fab! She's also a Canuck, which makes her even cooler. Just don't taunt her about not being able to find quality Tim Hortons coffee in Lawrence, KS. That'd be cruel.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Change in Military Policy

The US Army's don't-ask-don't-tell policy was dealt a threatening blow yesterday:

"The three judges from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals did not strike down the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy. But they reinstated Maj. Margaret Witt's lawsuit, saying the Air Force must prove that her dismissal furthered the military's goals of troop readiness and unit cohesion....[W]ednesday's ruling led opponents of the policy to declare its days numbered. It is also the first appeals court ruling in the country that evaluated the policy through the lens of a 2003 Supreme Court decision that struck down a Texas ban on sodomy as an unconstitutional intrusion on privacy."

Read the full article here

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Officer Jiang Xiaojuan

Sometimes these amazing little moments of powerful tenderness can occur between the interstices of chaos and tragedy, and I'm just awe-struck by them:

"A Chinese police officer is being hailed as a hero after taking it upon herself to breast-feed several infants who were separated from their mothers or orphaned by China's devastating earthquake. 'I am breast-feeding, so I can feed babies. I didn't think of it much...[I]t is a mother's reaction and a basic duty as a police officer to help.'"

Read more in this (surprisingly coherent) CNN article

Wicked Lovely

Wicked Lovely, by Melissa Marr. Harper Teen, 2007.

Melissa Marr's Wicked Lovely has received a lot of hype since it's 2007 publication, and much of it is deserved. Like Stephenie Meyer's Twilight, Wicked Lovely approaches the process of adolescence by recasting an ancient myth--the myth of the fey--and mining its metaphorical power while also weaving a dark and compelling story. The novel centers on Aislinn (pronounced ASH-linn), a mortal who's always been able to see fairies, and who knows that they aren't all sweet, happy sprites. These fairies can be lovely, terrifying, obscene, violent, and evil, but never simple and never innocent. Aislinn has lived her whole life by the rules instilled in her by her grandmother, who also has the Sight. But as the rules begin to change, she finds herself caught up in a timeless ritual of desire, betrayal, and elemental fury that will change her forever. This all comes to head when she meets Keenan, seemingly a mortal boy, but actually the Summer King--and he's looking for a queen.

Aislinn is a strong, engaging young heroine, and Marr injects her with just enough vigor, tenacity, and world-weariness to balance out her age and inexperience. The scene that Wicked Lovely opens with--Aislinn playing pool while she watches fairies cavorting all around her, seeing what nobody else can--compels even as it chills, drawing the reader in to a dangerous world where Aislinn must always stay very still, where she must pretend that she sees and hears nothing, in order to survive. Luckily, she has her friend Seth as a support-system, but even this relationship begins to take some unexpected turns, and soon, Aislinn doesn't recognize her own life anymore. Every choice seems to bring her closer to the Summer King, and the worst part is that, on some level, she may even want to be his queen.

What makes Wicked Lovely so engaging is how Marr recasts common teenage conflict in the guise of fairies and immortal rituals, having Aislinn drink fairy wine (instead of Boone's), having her worry about losing her virginity to the Summer King, with the fairies themselves representing all those nameless powers, desires, and fears that limn and shadow our youth. Instead of Don Henley's "Boys of Summer," Marr has the Summer Girls, who cavort and play and stay eternally young, while Aislinn has to think about responsible sex, what college she'll go to, and how to balance the mystical with the mundane. Summer comes to represent the cliques and meadows and sunlit glades of that in-between time, before we have jobs and responsibilities and car-payments, when anything seems possible.

The cons are pretty subjective, as usual, since this is undeniably a good book which has enjoyed critical acclaim from all sorts of writers and editors. Keenan, as a character, was interesting for me but not nearly as engaging as Seth. There's something about Seth, with his lip-ring, his very odd living space, his emo hair, and his old-fashioned values, that just made my heart flutter. The dude is sexy as hell, and I know I'd choose him over the Summer King any day. Similarly, although Beira is a great villain--she has lots of great, dramatic, Sunset Boulevard scenes--I felt like she didn't play enough of a role in the end of the novel. Donia is a coolly fascinating character, and I hope we'll get to learn more about her in Ink Exchange.

All in all, I recommend Wicked Lovely whole-heartedly, but be warned: these aren't the fairies from The Blue Fairy Book. They're much closer to the weird creatures that populate The Mabinogion, or something out of Gawain and the Green Knight. I also see echoes of Una, Duessa, and the bower of bliss from Edward Spenser's Faerie Queene. These are seriously screwed-up mofos with wings (and wolves), and if you have a cherished vision of the fey in your heart, this book will probably scare the snot out of you. But that's a good thing, right?

One Hand Clapping

I just wrote a really cool scene. It came to me all of a sudden last night, and I was surprised that I hadn't thought of it before. I'm happy about how it turned out.

That's all. Sometimes, you gotta just give yourself a compliment.

Go Redskins






















I'm kind of in love with Chris Cooley. I can't explain it. He's a tight-end for the Washington Redskins, and he has his own blog. The guy wears hotpants to practice, he grew a moustache because "they're awesome," he's marrying his cheerleader girlfriend (who got fired for dating him), and he has a dog named Dale Earnhardt. He's just adorable.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

29

Today, I turn 29.

Groan.

Romantic Times Review

Night Child gets four stars from the Romantic Times!

"Forensic investigation takes on a whole new connotation in Battis' absorbing paranormal detective tale....[T]he combo of cutting-edge technology and magic highlights a procedural thriller filled with ominous twists...[h]is stubborn, rule-breaking heroine keeps the tension high and the risk palpable." - Jill M. Smith

Mary Tyler Moore Moment

I'm on the Penguin SF/Fantasy Website! Check it out here.

My cat Guinevere is now officially a star, and will only grow more conceited as she achieves global exposure.

Twilight

Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer. Little Brown, 2006.

It took me a while to read Twilight, mostly because I was wary of all the buzz. Then I heard about the film deal, and I started to fear that it might turn into another Blood and Chocolate, which didn't fare so well. Then there was the sheer size of it. At 500+ pages, it's heavy YA reading, but I'd just finished Cassandra Clare's lovely City of Bones, so I was craving another long, intense read.

'Intense' is probably the best word to describe Twilight. It begins with a familiar premise: Bella Swann moves from Phoenix to the small town of Forks, partly to escape her over-protective mother, partly to rekindle a relationship with her distant father, Charlie. But her life turns upside down when she meets Edward Cullen, a sexy, brooding young man whose entire family appears to be...not from Forks. And not entirely human. What separates Twilight from other vampire novels, and specifically from other YA fantasy novels, is its precise and elegant attention to the relationship that unfolds between Bella and Edward. All of the routine, day-to-day questions about life as a vampire that never get asked on Buffy...that's what Meyer is concerned with. What does blood really taste like? Why don't they go out in the sun? What would their house look like? What music do they listen to? What makes humans so attractive to them? Bella asks Edward all of these questions, and more.

As a genre, YA has to walk a very fine line between sexual exploration and 'responsible' writing, particularly when its characters are underage. With that in mind, the physical relationship between Bella and Edward is sheer genius. Hundreds of pages go by before they even touch each other. The book itself actually mirrors the intense frustration that a teenage girl would feel, having a crush and not being able to do anything about it. As the reader, you find yourself screaming "just kiss him, already!" It's like reading Northanger Abbey, and in that sense, Twilight is very different from other fantasy-romances. It's suspense is romantic, as well as horrific. When Bella actually touches Edward's marble-cold hand for the first time, it's more amazing than most sex-scenes that I've read in other Urban Fantasy books. Meyer reminds us how intoxicating these small gestures can be, and she uses the vampire mythos to reimagine adolescence, which is all the more brilliant.

I was surprised when the last 200 pages or so of Twilight suddenly kicked into a full-speed thriller, and I devoured them, staying up til 2am just so that I could find out what happened to Bella in the end. Meyer is also very good at writing suspense, and her antagonist becomes quite fascinating simply because his motivations are so mysterious. Her vampires are the most alien and un-Buffy-like vampires that I've read about in some time, and that's great.

Cons are mostly structural. Despite the need for the story to unfold slowly, Twilight still seems a bit too long. At times, the placidity with which Bella accepts new facts about Edward--always a surprise to him--can seem a bit weird, as even the most devoted Goth-girl might freak out a little after seeing her boyfriend's flesh start to glow like a Christmas tree. Bella's friends and suitors at school didn't really cohere for me as likable characters, but thats probably just because her relationship with Edward is so fierce and immediate.

I don't really have to remind you to buy this book, since it's already a blockbuster that's being made into a movie. But trust me when I say that it's a great read.

Sam Adams Victory






















Sam Adams is now officially the mayor of Portland, which makes him the first openly gay mayor of a large American city. Well done! The guy's just adorable, too!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Luke and Noah From ATWT

Ok, this is definitely their best kiss yet. Get down, boyz!



Click here for the extended version (thanks, Perez).

Is it a bird? A plane?

Former World Chess Champion Garry Kasparov--now highly involved in The Other Russia democratic movement--was giving a speech last weekend in Moscow when he was interrupted by a flying cock. I'm not joking. I couldn't make this up.

I love when the security dude has to jump up in the air to bat it away. Yeah, hit that!

Monday, May 19, 2008

AIDS at 25

What do you think about this article in AFP on the 25-year history of AIDS?

"The mood [in 1983] was upbeat. Never had a new, killer pathogen been identified so quickly."

No mention of GRIDS. Sounds pretty fucking patronizing to me. What about all the LGBT activists, writers, and artists who worked so hard to develop strategies for living with AIDS?

Battery Park



Go Sulu!

















George Takei just announced that he'll be marrying his long-time partner, Brad Altman, now that same-sex marriage is legal in California. You rock, Sulu!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Myanmar Aid Insufficient

(Posted on Bitch PhD's blog):

"I heard a devastating statistic on NPR yesterday. 10 days after the 2004 Asia Tsunami, internet donations totaled $7 million. 10 days after the Myanmar cyclone, $620,000.

I think there are a few reasons for this. One is timing: the 2004 tsunami happened the day after Christmas, when people are more likely to be in a generous spirit than at the onset of summer. Another is racism: the tsunami impacted areas that westerners frequent on vacation, and the news footage often showed American and Europeans running from water (I was one of them).
But I think the biggest reason might be the extent to which media coverage of the cyclone has emphasized the military government's disallowal of aid workers in and aid shipments. People don't give because they think it is futile.

I'm sure this is true of a lot of organizations, but AmeriCares is on the ground distributing aid in Myanmar. It's just one example, you can find your own or leave it in the comments if you'd prefer to give to another organization."

My Humps

This is for Bri, because she's never seen it. Alanis Morissette covering My Humps:

Middle East 2008















Bush decided that it might be productive to lecture "the Arab world" (Reuters' phrase) on feminism and human rights, and so he held court at the Red Sea Resort, which, we all know, has long been the site of famous demagogues addressing the working class. Right.

"Too often in the Middle East, politics has consisted of one leader in power and the opposition in jail," Bush said. Um...that sounds more like American politics, actually. I love how totally fucking unimpressed Salam Fayad looks to be sitting next to him.

Palestine doesn't need lectures on 'human rights,' as Bush has defined them (i.e., shit that happens in other countries but not in the US). Palestinians need to be given control of their own state so that they can make their own decisions. We've given enough air-time to the two-state solution, and it hasn't worked out. It's time for the creation of a single, democratic state.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

City of Bones

City of Bones, by Cassandra Clare. McElderry, 2007.

Fifteen-year-old Clary seems to have a normal life in Brooklyn with her over-protective mother and long-suffering best friend, Simon. Hoping she might be an artist someday like her mother, she suspects that there's a secret in her past, but doesn't know for sure until she runs headlong into a group of demon-hunters. Shadowhunters, actually. Clary is drawn immediately to Jace, an arrogant, fair-haired boy who also happens to be a member of the Clave, a secret society of warriors whose magical strength, speed, and healing powers come from sacred tattoos inscribed on their bodies. After she watches Jace and his sister, Isabelle, dispatch a demon, her life takes a turn for the strange.

City of Bones is one of those rare books that starts out quite good, but after the first 30 pages or so, it becomes astonishingly good. Then scary-good. Clare paints shadowy and beautiful worlds with an enchanted palette: bone cities, ebony carriages, eyeless monks, seraph blades, and even a pack of werewolves living in an old Chinese restaurant. Her imagination is vast, and each chapter introduces a new thread in what can only be called an epic storyline. Best of all, her teen characters are smart, strong, and engaging. They don't use stupid slang or defer to adults or cry "why me?" Even in the face of terrible odds, they keep fighting. Clary could obviously be compared to Buffy Summers, but she's actually less of a type--the sassy cheerleader--and more of a confused, scared, and real kid who actually 'nails her courage to the sticking place' and cowboys up when the moment calls for it. Then, just when you forget that she's only fifteen, she does something selfish and stupid, and Clare reminds you of how enormous and awful this new world must be for a teenager from Park Slope.

Jace is the perfect mix of arrogant, entitled kid and otherworldly fighter, with enough quiddity thrown in to remind the reader that he's somewhere between human and Shadowhunter, a product of the Clave who probably wishes, deep down, that he could just be a 'mundane' like Simon. And Simon, Clary's sharp-tongued sidekick, has enough of Xander Harris in him to actually be damn sexy without realizing it. I like that Clary has to save him, and not the other way around. She also has to save her mother, but I don't want to say too much. The plot is nefarious, byzantine, and sometimes even sadistic, grabbing you by the collar when you least expect it and shaking you around. Clare's demons, warlocks, and 'downworlders' are all resoundingly inhuman, but you'd still kind of love to meet them at a party. Just don't drink anything blue. In fact, don't drink anything at all.

My cons are very subjective. At 486 pages, City of Bones could be seen as a tad over-long, although YA books do seem to be getting longer (Meyer's Twilight is a good example). The story is so epically charged that, at times, a reader can feel as if they're sitting down to a very cool lecture on demonology and the history of Clare's world. Some of the exposition chapters could have been nicely broken up with more action and dialogue, athough I do appreciate the need to solidly tie things together. Also, though Clare puts her own interesting spin on all the familiar denizens of Urban Fantasy--from vamps to werewolves--it sometimes felt like demon taxonomies were just exploding up everywhere, and each one needed to be carefully explained by Jace or Hodge. If I were Clarry, I would have passed out in a dead swoon from all of this information, but she holds up admirably. On a separate note, kudos for Alec and Magnus Bane, whose complicated histories and motivations are ones we don't always see in YA lit.

I really can't recommend this book enough. As an academic, I was teased and tantalized by all the little bits of history, mythology, poetry, linguistics, and other curiosities that Clare embeds her narrative with. Some of the characters' thoughts and observations, as well as the descriptions of otherworldly vistas and strange artifacts, were downright beautiful and haunting in their complexity. Clare has a gift for both sharp dialogue and crafted description. I can't wait to pick up City of Ashes.

Buy it from Amazon

Dollhouse

















A publicity shot from Joss Whedon's new show, Dollhouse. So far, the cast includes Eliza Dushku, Tahmoh Penikett (Helo from BSG), and the brilliant Amy Acker in a recurring role. It will be premiering in the same timeslot as 24. which means that Fox must have a lot of confidence in it (maybe they still feel bad about burying Firefly in the worst slot ever). Speaking as someone who actually watched Tru Calling (because I love Dushku so much), I think this show is gonna rock my face off.

Yeah!




















There was no kiss following Ellen's very public proposal to Portia, so here's an image from the past. Get down with yer bad selves, babes!

LOL

Friday, May 16, 2008

Go Ellen!



Ellen's getting married! She and Portia will be the hottest couple since...ever!

Central Park








































Thursday, May 15, 2008

Queer Marriage in California

















"The California supreme court today ruled that lesbian and gay couples are entitled to the right to marry in California. San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom joined gay activists and litigators for a victory celebration in the city where it all began...."

Read more

Hellz Yeah! Whoop!

Oh. Hellz. Yeah.


Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Blood Engines

Blood Engines, by T.A. Pratt. Bantam Spectra, 2007.

Once again, I feel a bit late with this review, but I only just discovered Blood Engines and meant to pick up a copy for some time. It was the gorgeous cover by Don Dos Santos, in fact, that first drew me to the book--it's rare to see a cover that so enigmatically and skilfully captures the characters inside, but the image with Marla in the foreground and Rondeau lurking (or lounging?) behind is sheer perfection.

Marla Mason is in charge of Felport, and as sorcerers go, she's pretty much the baddest-ass of them all. Ruthless, calculating, powerful, yet ethical in her own weird Kantian way, Marla weaves an intricate net of push-and-pull in order to maintain her city. While most urban fantasy centers on a young character just coming into her powers--or a more experienced character who's about to get more powerful in order to defeat some faceless evil--Pratt's novel does the opposite by presenting a character who's already at the top of the food chain. For those Dragonlance fans out there, Marla is like a female version of Raistlin Majere, complete with deadly magical artifacts and a whole lot moral relativism. She doesn't have that "I'll defeat you because you're wrong" intrinsic goodness of so many urban heroines. Instead, she does what she has to, when it has to be done.

Joining Marla is Rondeau, her sidekick, who happens to be a millenia-old psychic parasite, possibly from another dimension, who took over the body of a street kid years ago. I presume that Poison Sleep might explain why, exactly, Marla felt it was necessary to rip out Rondeau's jawbone and use it as a scrying tool, since no satisfactory explanation is given in Blood Engines. But that's really part of the novel's immense charm. Pratt's cadre of sorcerers are really, really...not human. Their minds are faceted, deadly, and strange. Their powers are unexpected and ornate. We get to meet body-swapping Celestials, cannibal witches with forked tongues, techno-wizards with "heavy astral clones," and even a pornomancer who can turn himself into a bear (when he's not busy having raunchy ectoplasmic sex). These mofos are seriously not human, and meeting each one of them is sheer delight, so much so that I found myself ignoring the Apocalypse-plot after a while and just looking forward to anticipating what the next power-player would be like.

The end-of-the-world plot, in fact, is one of my only gripes with the novel. There's so much fabulous ornamentation within Pratt's world, you can get distracted by all the pretty, deadly, and downright weird things. But the Big Bad itself is really kind of...meh. After seeing Marla don her cloak of purple death, it's hard to be scared of anything else. And that cloak--I'm not really sure what to say about it. Marla seems terrifying in her own right. Does she actually need couture that makes her immune to magic, super-strong, blindingly fast, etc? This was my only other crit with Blood Engines. At times, we get a lot of description about how much of a badass Marla is, and the third-person POV makes it seem a bit like a comic-book origin piece. I can appreciate the creativity that's gone into crafting Marla's fascinating origins, but seeing her be a badass is far more effective than hearing about it.

What I liked so much about the beginning of Blood Engines was that it threw me into a power-struggle between two female sorcerers, both equals. I won't give away the ending, but this kernel of the story shifts and changes a great deal. I'm not sure I was entirely cool with the resolution, but damn, the story was a blast to read! There were moments of undeniable brilliance, and passages that made me think, why couldn't I have written that? Rondeau deserves a book all to himself, as a character who starts out charmingly in the background but quickly becomes Marla's foil, colleague, and confidante.

The plotting, story-telling, and descriptive mechanics are all top-drawer, and Pratt's obvious interest in hard science makes the read even more fascinating. In future books, I wouldn't mind seeing a kind of female counterpart to B's character--that is, a woman who isn't, like Marla, a preternaturally powerful sorcerer, but rather just complicated, interesting, and kind. And what about the sexy? Even Marla should be able to get laid in San Francisco, not just Rondeau. Put the damn dagger of office away for a few hours and have some fun!

I'd recommend Blood Engines without hesitation to just about any fantasy-lover, urban, epic, steampunk, whatever. Trust me. You'll like it. Buy it from Amazon.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Lower East Side

























Yelle



Boy. The French just now how to rock, don't they? I feel like I should have used these moves during my dissertation defense.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Iceman? Is That You?






















Jesus H. Christ! This is the hottest thing I've seen in ages. Definitely some Canadian ideology I can get behind. Thanks, Shawn.

Morris and El-Haj at Alwan (like Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra)

Just got back from "Anthropology in the Service of the State," a dizzying and fascinating talk hosted by Alwan for the Arts in Lower Manhattan. Nadia Abu El-Haj and Rosalind Morris both talked about the current Human Terrain Project:

"[In] the Human Terrain Project, a program developed by the Pentagon, Human Terrain Anthropologists marshall ethnographic knowledge in the field to advise troops while being escorted by the military or, in fact, being armed themselves. Other mercenary anthropologists are under contract with the likes of Blackwater in Iraq and Afghanistan."

Learn more by checking out the work of Nadia Abu El-Haj (Barnard College) and Rosalind Morris (Columbia). El-Haj has been in a storm of controversy since the publication of her 2001 book, Facts on the Ground: Archaeological Practice and Territorial Self-Fashioning in Israeli Society (Chicago University Press), now in its second printing. In 2002 this book won the Middle East Studies Association's Albert Hourani Annual Book Award for the best book published on the Middle East that year. There's even a website devoted to denying her tenure, but they're too late, since she passed her tenure review last year. Oh, Snap!

I figure, if there's a website created by Columbia faculty and alumni pleading with the university to deny you tenure, you've probably done something right. And judging from her talk tonight, El-Haj is brilliant, evocative, and intensely politically engaged.

Greywalker

Greywalker, by Kat Richardson. ROC Books, 2006.

This review is a bit late, since Greywalker came out in 06, but I'm sure there'll be a mass-market reissue soon. And besides, it took me a while to get to it, even after my editor highly recommended it to me.

Harper Blaine is a P.I. in Seattle, which is quickly becoming the new destination for Urban Fantasy. Unlike a lot of P.I.s who claim to be tough-as-nails, Harper's the real deal. After having a near-death experience, she finds that she can see past the veil of reality and into a kind of shifting Bardo world, called the Grey.

The first two chapters of Greywalker are charged with action, and so electric that they're almost disorienting to read. Then the plot kicks in with a vengeance, and you get to see Kat Richardson's gorgeous and fascinating paranormal world begin to unfold. After about the first thirty pages or so, I realized why my editor had been so excited about this book. Richardson's world-building isn't just compelling and overtly cinematic--it's truly original. Her descriptions of the misty, chilling Grey are beautiful and tantalizing one moment, terrifying the next, making it a kind of invisible character within the series in much the same way that New York was the 'fourth character' on Sex and the City. An odd comparison, I know, but I really felt that the Grey was alive and teeming with perplexity. On top of this, Richardson's vampires are scary. They scared the crap out of me without being cliche. She manipulates demonic mythologies in fascinating and unexpected ways, so that even a cynical Urban Fantasy buff ends up being surprised by certaint twists and turns.

The romance between Harper and Will is interesting, but not really a focal point. What I did appreciate, however, is that it's very much an adult romance. Calm, slow, interesting and gleaming with experience and humor. They don't leap into it with Urban Fantasy gusto, i.e., 'the world is gonna end, so let's get horizontal before I turn into a werewolf!' sort of thing. Ultimately, Harper is a loner, and I found myself really loving the image of this tough, no-nonsense P.I who can see through walls (and sometimes slip through them) going home to spend quality time with her pet ferret, Chaos. I never skipped ahead once in Greywalker. Each of the characters had some kind of draw, and I was especially impressed by Mara near the end of the book. She didn't go in any hackneyed direction, but actually cohered as a real, powerful individual. She also makes a kickass pie crust, incidentally.

There were times that the book left me quite literally out of breath, and that's rare. I only wish I'd found it earlier. I look forward to Greywalker the TV series, which seems only natural.

Lawrence Webb

Voters in Falls Church, Va., on Tuesday elected the state's first black and openly gay person to take public office. Lawrence Webb was elected to the Falls Church City Council, according to the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund. Webb won one of three available seats with 1,215 votes in a close race -- coming in third, Webb beat out the fourth candidate by 39 points.

Read article here

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Saturday, May 10, 2008

LOL



GLBT ALMS 2008, Part 2

Attended another great ALMS panel on queer zines (I'll be on an upcoming CLAGS panel on queer zines, Sept 16, as well), and it had a great turnout. Fuck, librarians are just so smart and so cool. How can I get a librarian to fall in love with me? I could whisper soft nothings about radical cataloging and OPAC in their ears, perhaps.

Chris Wilde, co-founder of QZAP, talked about archiving queer zines in Milwaukee. I don't think this dude ever sleeps. He's a great speaker, too. Next, the enchanting Jenna Freedman (who just happens to be presenting on my CLAGS panel in Sept), talked about the zine archive at Barnard College, which she manages. Jenna's also a zinester herself, and warned us not to ask any more goddamn questions comparing zines to blogs. Sage advice. The panel ended with Kelly Shortandqueer--who also works for the Colorado Anti-Violence Program--talking about the Denver Zine Library (8000+ zines!), as well as the Tranny Roadshow, which he created.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Hotter Than Hell

Hotter Than Hell, by Jackie Kessler. Kensington, August 2008.

Meet Daunuan--an incubus in the employ of Hell (or Pan, the Lord of Lust, to be exact). Don is still pining after Jezebel, the succubus heroine of the first two books in Kessler's "Hell On Earth" series, who decides to make an unexpected career change in The Road To Hell. Now, Don is about to be promoted to Pan's right-hand demon, but first he has to pass a test: he must seduce a mortal whose soul is bound for Heaven. Seems easy. Right.

Kessler creates a vivid world of angels, demons, and competing deities, and Don is immediately engaging as an incubus with a certain sense of style. I like that all the cardinal sins are not just embodied by creatures, but also represent particular psychic or affective camps--Envy, Lust, Wrath, etc., with each claiming to subsume the others. Almost like competing infernal corporations. As a servant of Lust, Don has a kind of moral flexibility that makes him interesting. He has an impressive range of erotic conquests, including a famous composer, and it's nice to know that incubi are up for a little man-on-man action. This time around, he's only got eyes for Virginia, his 'mark,' who he may be falling in love with. If demons could love.

At times, Don seemed to be inflating his own reputation. He has a highly inventive vocabulary for describing his own erotic activities, and I was surprised to learn that all women smell like a pumpkin spice latte when they're extremely turned on. Sometimes, the salacious puns got on my nerves, but most of them were funny. I think Kessler walks a fine and interesting line between serving up hot sex scenes and actually deconstructing sexuality as it might be seen by a millenia-old demon like Don. Maybe after enough centuries, it's all just a bunch of interesting smells, with fear being the most tantalizing. Sometimes Don comes off as artificially macho, but then again, that's probably how an incubus would act. Even though many of the women he 'seduces' are bound for hell in the first place, the lavishness and violence with which he punishes them sexually may have come across as a bit disturbing from a male author. In that sense, I think Kessler is able to do a lot of interesting unpacking of sexuality and desire itself without letting the story become mechanical or moralizing.

Hotter Than Hell is one of those books that seems simple and entertaining, but quickly gathers density and fascination as the story progresses. Stick with it through the first few outrageous scenes, and the story deepens nicely. By the end, you may even wish that Don could pay you a visit. Then you'll turn on all the lights in your apartment, eat some ice cream, and try not to think about how scary that last thought was.

Incubi. They (Don't) Screw Around. Buy it from Amazon.

Smoochies



Ooooh, boys kissing on Grey's. Imagine if a cast-member, say, a gay actor, actually kissed another man on the show? How weird would that be? But he'll probably just keep pining after Izzie....

GLBT ALMS 2008

I've been fortunate enough to attend a bit of the ALMS (Archives, Libraries, Museums, and Special Collections) 08 conference on gay and lesbian archival materials, being sponsored by the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies. Today was a busy day.

1. Attended a panel on rural gay and lesbian organizations. Tami Albin talked about her current project, Under the Rainbow, which documents LGBT lives in Kansas. Keith Reynolds, who works at the American Heritage Center in Wyoming, talked a bit about their Matthew Shepard Collection, and gave an amazing account of the life of Grace Raymond Hebard, the lesbian founder of the University of Wyoming (out and proud with her partner in the 1920s!) An audience member got quite aggressive and essentially blamed the University of Wyoming for contributing to Matthew Shepard's death, but Reynolds handled the vitriol calmly and professionally.

2. Ran up to the 4th floor to see the beautiful art produced in Eve Sedgwick's current grad class--all sorts of manipulations and transmutations of books by graduate students, including a puppet show. Awesome.

3. Ran back downstairs to attend Jean Carlomusto's panel on the history of HIV-prevention, including an excerpt from her in-progress documentary. At one point, someone sitting next to me asked a question about queer archival practices--I turned around, and it was Susan Stryker! Knock me over with a feather. I could have died right there. Can't wait to see her keynote tomorrow. The best quote that emerged from this panel: "Kids are coming out younger today, but they aren't angry anymore. They've traded in their combat boots for Kenneth Coles." Love it.

ps: that picture just slays me

Spilly McSpill

Why do subway stations not have a place to rest your coffee cup? Not a cupholder, necessarily, but just any surface? Starbucks has been opening up cafes right next to subway stations in New York since the late 70s, yet there are literally no places to set down your spilly coffee cup (which is burning you with molten coffee) while trying to pull out your metrocard and simultaneously holding your umbrella between your legs, much like an insane and angry clown.

Also, just as a sidebar: bound galleys never fit in your pocket. Mass market paperbacks can snuggle nicely inside the front pocket of a hoody, or even your butt pocket, but galleys are a pain in the ass.

If I were smarter, I'd bring a bigger knapsack. But I'm not smarter. Apparently, I'm devolving.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Wicked Game

Wicked Game, by Jeri Smith-Ready. Pocket Books, May 2008.

The chorus of Chris Isaak's song, "Wicked Game," is I don't want to fall in love, and that might as well be Ciara Griffin's mantra.

Ciara is a small-time con artist who tries to get her first 'decent' job at the Maryland-based radio station WMMP--only to discover that it's being run by vampires. What separates these vampires from most fang-bangers in the Urban Fantasy genre is that they have "Life Times": specific eras when they were killed, which continue to influence them psychically and culturally. A vampire killed in 1995, for instance, might spend the rest of his un-life obsessively listening to Nirvana and Morphine. A vampire like Shane McCalister, who Ciara begins to fall for. Shane is like the undead version of Jordan Catalano, with a bit of Christian Slater (circa Pump Up the Volume) and Ethan Hawke from Reality Bites thrown in for good measure. He broods, wears flannel layers, and promises never to bite Ciara. A promise he can't keep.

Wicked Game starts out a bit slow, but only compared to most Urban Fantasy titles, which insist on plunking down their kickass magical heroines in dark alleys being pursued by vamps and werewolves on the very first page. What makes Ciara so remarkable as a heroine is precisely that she doesn't have cool powers. She has to rely solely on her intelligence, intuition, and experience as a con artist. This experience serves her well as she begins a campaign to save WMMP from the evil megacorp, Skywave (the Starbucks of radio). Along the way, Ciara has to contend with Shane's jealous ex, Shane's own moodiness (hey, didn't they have Prozac in 1995?), a creepy vampire cultist, and--most significantly--a capitalist plot to destroy indie music and replace it with hours of uninterrupted Creed and Nickleback.

Ciara is genuinely likable, and Shane, although he starts out as a broody dreamboat, eventually becomes a fascinating study in mortal/immortal contradictions. Smith-Ready has a fresh take on vampires, which is hard to come by in this genre, and her linking of vampirism with a kind of anti-education, or cultural stasis, reflects her broader concerns with the blood-sucking consumerism and prepackaged 'art' that's currently being peddled by megacorps. Her vampires are nicely undramatic, and the romantic moments between Ciara and Shane seemed real and warm to me (even if he is cold-blooded by nature). The sex was hot, then hotter, then...awesome. Although, for me, one of the sexiest scenes is also one of the most disturbing, which involves Shane feeding on a willing suburban victim while Ciara watches. This sort of montage could have dripped with Anne Ricey eroticism, but Smith-Ready makes it chilling and real and sexy all at the same time.

The cons are small and reasonable. At times, we get too much over-description as Ciara moves from scene to scene. Her friend Lori never really caught on for me, nor did the Civil War re-enactment talk--I kept waiting to hear about Shane again. I wanted to hear more about Ciara's mother in prison. At times, I'd find myself thinking: OK, you're sassy, we know. You're sassy and haunted. But give us more information already. Some lovely flashbacks and other devices provide this later in the book, but I would have liked to see it earlier.

All in all, Wicked Game is smart, funny, hot, and original. It kept me up past my bedtime. I can't wait for the sequel.

Click to purchase from Amazon