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Writing: I’m a Rock Star

Okay, really I’m not but I’ve received a rock star review, the creme de la creme in reviews that have been good so far. Now a review is really just one person’s opinion, whether informed or not but it’s so nice to get reviews. I’ve written stories for anthologies before where it seems no one noticed, either my story or the anthology/magazine. And yes, I’d rather get a bad review than no review at all. But of course I’d rather get a good review.

From the first story I ever published (I was publishing poems before that but really, no one does reviews of poems unless you’re Margaret Atwood) the media has changed. Or I should say the supporting media has changed. It was magazines, newspapers and trade journals at first and then with the proliferation of the internet there were a host of sites, blogs, web pages, where people could leave their opinions. There were more forms of marketing as well, and now with social media like Facebook, it has made the word of mouth aspect much larger. So perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise how many reviews that Evolve is getting. However, other stories that have come out in the last year or two have not received the same response.

I attribute the number of reviews to two things: one, vampires are popular, even before the sparkly shiny Twilight vampires, even before The Vampire Lestat. Two: Edge’s marketing strategy. I actually don’t know all of it for the publisher but they have been setting up readings and signings across the country and obviously giving out review copies and spreading the word through digital media.

Now all of these things do not a good review make or even guarantee reviews, but Evolve has been receiving a majority of favorable reviews, and likewise my story is mentioned in most of those reviews and again mostly in good regard. So I’m stoked. I’m a pretty small pea in the speculative fiction pod so it’s good to get mentioned. The icing on the cake was the Barnes and Noble review by Paul Goat Allen (and I’m really curious how someone ends up with that middle name) who loved my piece.

Colleen Anderson’s “An Ember Among the Fallen” was simply a visionary masterpiece, envisioning a world ruled by “vampirii” and where humans were nothing more than mindless cattle kept in pens and fed specific diets to enhance the vintage of their blood. The vampire’s scripture, The Book of the Fallen, forbids “cruelty to or treating cattle as more than the meat and blood for which they were bred.” And in a wildly indulgent society where essentially anything goes, the one lone taboo is having sex with an animal, especially a hominid. The punishment for being a “meat mater” is nothing short of death. After an emotionally draining dinner party where a male vampire, Buer, realizes that he has lost his ex-girlfriend forever—a curvaceous vampirii named Camiel—he gets drunk on bloodwine and  does the unthinkable: he plays with his food…

It’s rare to ever have a story called a visionary masterpiece and this might be the only time so I’ll take it. He also encourages me to write some sort of bloodsucking novel. If only it were so easy. I have one novel written and unsold. It’s not about vampires though there are a few in there. And I have a second, unrelated novel that’s been long in the works. But perhaps he has something: vampire fiction is immensely popular and I could probably sell such a book. I’ve somehow managed to write several vampire tales. “Lovers Triangle” takes place in a future time, and “Hold Back the Night” takes place in India with a member of the cult of Kali. I have another story that’s not sold that deals with a vampire but not as the main character. So perhaps I should see if I can become the next Charlaine Harris or Laurel Hamilton.

In the meantime, here are a host of new reviews on Evolve. As well, there is a short interview with my alter ego up on Alison Tyler’s blog to do with my story in Alison’s Wonderland: http://alisontyler.blogspot.com/ (Sept. 15th entry). Oh and if you live in Greater Vancouver, I’ll be reading at the Vancouver Public Library on Sept. 27 at 7:00 pm with three other Evolve authors: Rhea Rose, Sandra Wickham and Mary Choo.

Barnes & Noble Review

http://mondovampire.blogspot.com

http://templelibraryreviews.blogspot.com

http://anovelapproachto.me/book-reviews-2/

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Writing: Evolve Book Review

Evolve is being launched at World Horror Convention at the end of this month in Brighton. I’ve already written about this collection of modern vampire stories by Canadians, in which I have the story “An Ember Amongst the Fallen.”  Edited by Nancy Kilpatrick and published by Edge publications, it is already available.

The first review has been posted at SciFiGuy Evolve Review and is quite favorable. I’m happy to have a review as my story “The Fathomless World” which was in Cone Zero did not catch reviewers’ eyes favorably or unfavorably.

It seems that the early moniker I was given at Clarion of “SplatterQueen” might live on, but hopefully there is more merit than gore because I try for more depth than that in my stories. The story in Evolve was a long backburnered idea I had, which I was not even sure I could write. It deals with the morals and immorality of vampires in a world where they are the dominant lifeform. No society exists long without rules, without losing its structure. Even in the anarchistic mad Max world, there are rules and a form of honor among brigands and thieves. Those who are complete sociopaths or decide no rules apply to them are soon taken down by society in one form or another.

Although I do not go into that particular story of society I do look at the lives of a vampiristic world and the rules, whether understood or not, that apply and control the vampires with checks and balances. This is, at essence, a morality tale. And here is the review of “An Ember Amongst the Fallen.” It perhaps gives away too much of the plot, so if you wish to read the story without knowing how it turns out, stop now. The review has one thing wrong though; it is the vampires who are the Fallen, not the humans.

An Ember Amongst the Fallen by Colleen Anderson

This is the most horrific of the stories in a very matter of fact way. In this alternate reality, vampires use hominids (humans) as cattle-like food sources. Considered barely inteligent and among the Fallen from a religious point of view. The social mores of this vampiric society are reflected through a dinner party hosted by the stories central character at which a variety of humans including children are served. The hosts intentions to pursue a love interest are crushed and in his disappointment he turns to a taboo source for comfort, one of the hominids. Like temptation from the garden, his fall is understandable and complete. A mesmerizing and squirm-worthy entry.

http://www.horrorbound.com/readarticle.php?article_id=174 (typos are the reviewer’s)

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Book Review: In Sleeping Beauty’s Bed IV

For anyone just tuning in, this is the fourth and last segment of reviewing Mitzi Szereto’s In Sleeping Beauty’s Bed. Mitzi chose fairy and folktales from diverse sources. These aren’t just Grimm brothers or Arabian Nights. There are Japanese,  Persian or Sanskrit, a cultural mosaic of stories from sources around the world.

Written in Sanskrit, “A Tale of the Parrot” is an Indian tale where a talking animal relates various lessons or stories, much as Shahrazad did to her husband. An emir’s daughter is wasting away and the Spanish Infanta comes to try a cure, and discovers the Turkish Khan’s (who wants to marry the girl) emissary stirring a cauldron with a stick. The stick is actually his penis, with which he “agitates” the contents of the cauldron. The Infanta helps stir only believing his penis to be a growing stick. Then she takes a cup of the “creamy” broth to the emir’s daughter to break the spell. Now, whether Szereto is completely ignorant of cleanliness taboos of Arabic lands or not, the cleanliness taboos of Europeans would balk at this. Albeit, many of these tales have fetishistic aspects but the Infanta next takes a scrubbed chamberpot to fill. This would be repulsive to many people, even if they’re fine with a young woman drinking goblets of ejaculate.

I was actually surprised to see “Little Red Riding Hood” because, even with erotic rewriting, it’s almost been done to death. It has similarities to myths of gods changing shape, or magical beings consuming a string of victims. Here, “Red” sets off to Grandmother’s house on the lookout for “handsome young huntsmen.” She has a reputation for twirling about, revealing much beneath her skirts, to the workmen who grab their “bulges.” At least this phrasing makes it clear what they’re doing. When she wanders through the woods she actually hikes up her skirt, given as she is to the thrills of exhibitionism. The story follows the more traditional path when viewed in its sexual context, but with some  amusing twists with Red Riding Hood’s exhibitionistic tendencies, and refreshingly few odd twists of phrase.

“The Traveling Companion” is a popular riddle tale, especially in the Scandinavian countries and reworked by Hans Christian Andersen. Poor Johannes is like his counterpart Michel Michelkleiner and his innocence causes his poverty to increase before he has barely set out on the road. He meets an older, more experienced man who has a magic ointment for curing ills, and that he rubs high up under the skirts of an old lady, and a wooden marionette, which leads to the whole puppet troupe being rubbed and coming alive for a flesh and wood orgy. The two travelers learn of a princess whose suitors must answer three riddles and if they lose, they lose their heads.

Johannes uses the ointment to fluster the princess, and his traveling companion does not rely on the ointment alone but folllows the princess to discover her secret. He enters her bedroom where she is sound asleep with her nightdress having ridden up, “exposing a pair of graceful thighs and the corresponding hills above.” I wasn’t sure at first when he starts spanking her if these were her breasts or buttocks, but presuming buttocks, it would have helped to know she reclined on her stomach instead of trying to be tossed out of the story to figure it out. Other than this one aberration, the story is amusing if somewhat black in humor, and though bawdy, not overly erotic.

“The Turnip” brings us to where we began in Cinderella with the turnip (or parsnip) loving stepsisters who used the vegetative length and firmness for sexual diversion. This poor farmer has magical turnip seeds but his own member grows to gigantic turnip proportions and though he wishes to remove it, the king moves him into residence where the man is used for the king’s riding pleasure. This is another story that disturbingly borders on rape and does not meet erotic content so much as sexual abuse.

Also known as Brier Rose “The Sleeping Beauty” has long had an undercurrent of sexuality or even rape, where the prince kisses or impregnates the sleeping princess. Instead of the witch’s curse, Szereto tosses in a lecherous frog and then the story proceeds apace to the prince many years later breaching the brier thorns. By this point I confess to becoming quite annoyed with the bizarre euphemisms and found I was ejected from the tale when the prince lifts the sleeping princess’s dress where, “A pair of gossamer wings began to slowly unfold….the fragile creature was being held back by two fuzz-covered pods,…” What the–? I could not imagine what this was at first and then believing Szereto to mean the clitoris and labia I was dumbfounded. How is this description, even given to hyperbole, slightly erotic? Fuzzy pods? Gossamer wings? Has anyone ever seen genitalia that looked like this?

“The Twelve Months” is the last tale, with a stepmother and sister who envy the pretty daughter and send her off on tasks designed to kill her. She meets 12 men who are the months and tends to their “branches” in three ways. It is somewhat erotic and one of the better stories.

When I started out reading this collection I really thought I’d love it. I like what I know of Mitzi Szereto and I like the retellings of fairy tales (and many originals as well). Granted, eroticism is different for each person, I still find it hard to believe that many people would find these tales sensual at all; they fall more into the category of bawdy, if anything. The euphemistic phrases don’t work because the description is too bizarre, especially for our modern sensibilities. Why Szereto felt the need to follow this style I’m not sure, except maybe to mimic the style of earlier centuries, but why then the anachronistic aspects dropped in without making the whole tale of another era? It’s as if she was still writing these for children, which is not the projected audience at all. I did like the introductions  about the evolution and history of each story, but I would have liked to have seen a reading list or some lists including The Arabian Nights, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, etc. as well as scholarly works by Zipes or Bettelheim. I believe that Szereto can write but if I was in Sleeping Beauty’s bed, I was left wanting.

http://www.cleispress.com/gosearch.php?textfield=in+sleeping+beauty&search_type=TITLE

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Book Review: In Sleeping Beauty’s Bed I

This will be a very long and involved review of Mitzi Szereto’s In Sleeping Beauty’s Bed, a collection of erotic fairy tales published by Cleis Press. In fact it will be at least three, maybe four parts, so hang on to your hats.

When I received The Sweetest Kiss and In Sleeping Beauty’s Bed for review I decided to do the vampire erotica first (Sweetest Kiss) since it was nearer to Hallowe’en. Plus, I love fairy tales. They’re a good memory of my childhood and I still have (managed to find again actually) some of the volumes I had as a kid. (Those influences can be read in previous blog entries on worlds of what-if.) I took one course in university on children’s lit but specifically fairy tales, which gave me a deeper interest in the form. I’ve read numerous tales from Charles Perrault, Hans Christian Andersen and the brothers Grimm to updated interpretations by Angela Carter, Sarah Moon and the collections edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling. I’ve written a few of my own, including poems, and continue to search out and enjoy the varied tales that are there, from the ancient to the new.

Fairy and folktales began a very long time ago. Along with the myths and superstitions that set up the religious structures of culture throughout the world, people were attempting to explain other things or events. And they were entertaining each other. However, not all entertainment had a single purpose. Much was in the way of passing on information: histories, cautionary tales, moral tales, tales of hope and trickery in the little guy/or common person who is rewarded for great deeds/virtue/quick wit, etc. The list is quite extensive.

These tales were told over and over again, passed down through generations and cultures, adapting and evolving with the times. Once Charles Perrault and before him Giambattista Basile, and after, the brothers Grimm, started to set the tales down in writing, gathering them from various sources, the tales began to evolve less and become frozen in time and sentiment of an age. There is evidence that these tales were written down centuries before in various lands, and in different versions but overall I follow the belief that most tales were passed from person to person, tales told by bards and travellers. This is not the view that Mitzi Szereto takes, stating that most tales were gathered from the more noble or richer classes, and there is obvious truth there as written tales would have been for the more educated and therefore wealthy classes. But all these tales started somewhere, being listened to by groups of people. Whichever it may be, there are variations all over.

Just as religions adopted gods from one country to another and similar sun gods, resurrection gods, grain gods and weather gods can be seen in most early religions, so it is that many of these fairy tales are part of the cosmic consciousness that Jung believed in and is quite evident in the evolution and progress of human intellect and thought. Books have been written just on the subject of fairy tales alone, besides the volumes of fairy tales themselves.

The earlier versions are often violent and bloody, and have characters not so redeeming as how they appear in some of Perrault’s and the Grimm brothers’ versions. Indeed, by the time Disney got hold of the fairy tales they were sanitized of any true lessons and every good little princess got her man, as long as she was virtuous, pretty and good, a role model for every submissive female for the 20th century and more.

This brings us to a reclaiming of fairy tales that happened the more adults began to take them seriously again and examine their content. Even though the Grimms edited the tales to suit their views, they were purveyors of folk literature and took their work seriously. Many others have come along to look at the tales and their hidden meanings and mysteries. Some of these scholars of today are A.S. Bayatt, Emma Donohue, and Angela Carter, who did her own rewriting of many a tale. In the Company of Wolves is a great rendition of the Little Red Riding Hood tale and can also be found in a “now” old film of the same name, starring a younger Angela Lansbury. Bruno Bettelheim and Jack Zipes are well-known scholars of fairy tales. Author Sarah Moon did a chilling rendition of the same Little Red Riding Hood as Carter’s but more as a cautionary tale than a coming of age story, with her stark black and white photos of a  young girl in the glare of a car’s headlights and with connotations of a pedophilic stalker, making the tale very modern and terrifying.

Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling edited collections of modern tales that take these fairy tales with leaps in new directions. Jane Yolen, and other authors have also written different rendtions that are darker and deeper than the original tales. Although it is less storytelling, authors are still taking these archetypal tales and bringing them along through the centuries to match our times, with warnings and morals and fears that hit closer to home.

There are many authors, editors and scholars in the realm of fairy tales who are researching, reading and telling new tales. Having written an erotic fairy tale for a Harlequin anthology that I based off of one of the many (and lesser known) Grimm tales, I was excited to see this collection by Mitzi Szereto.

And here I am, at the end of a blog entry and I have yet to actually talk about the book. I’ll start very briefly and say that it had a preface by Tobsha Learner. Though I didn’t know who this was, Tobsha is an Australian author with several books to her credit in which a blend of magic and eroticism are the theme (and some gorgeous covers on top of that). I thought, great, there will be a scholarly bent to the fairy tale aspect and I’ll learn even more about them. This was coupled by Mitzi Szereto’s introduction and an introduction to each story.

I’ll go into the intro and some of the tales tomorrow, but up to this point, I had not yet read any of Szereto’s writing. From what I could tell of reading about her, she’s vivacious, energetic, intelligent and a good writer. I read a couple of excerpts I found of her other pieces which supported that she knows how to write, so I was looking forward to the tales.

Tomorrow, what I found out as I read.

Cleis Press: http://www.cleispress.com/gosearch.php?textfield=in+sleeping+beauty&search_type=TITLE

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Book Review: The Sweetest Kiss II

Continuing from yesterday’s review of The Sweetest Kiss, published by Cleis Press.

Ciara Finn’s “Advantage”  is set in a club where people go to be morsels for vampires and is not book_imagethat different a story from aspects of Buffy and Angel. It also has a few awkward descriptions, such as being bound with handcuffs but the character strains against ropes. The play of masochism on the human’s part and the cold, alieness of vampires comes across very well although this is not as erotic as the other stories.

Maxim Jakubowski writes a raw and sensual tale that manages not to be explicit. “The Communion of Blood and Semen”  is well crafted, and delves into the feelings and the fall into a desire too strong to resist. Of all the stories, this is one of the rougher ones in a physical sense (yet there is more violence in some of the other stories). It brings out a subtle balance of a relationship and is a true tale, as opposed to just a scene, of human/vampire lust. I found it staying in my mind a long time.

“Nightlife” is more a scene than a true tale. Madeleine Oh writes well but her story of a vampire fellating a dwarf man with a giant cock (who is Toulouse Lautrec) does little to arouse and is too short to be intriguing in the outcome. It’s a bit cliché and I was wishing that perhaps Toulouse’s paintings were influenced or his penchant to attend brothels increased after this encounter.

Evan Mora’s “Takeout or Delivery” is about James a vampire who adapts to the new world, leaving vampires in capes behind. It is two tales; the first part is about his beginnings with Lilith, two creatures of lust finding each other. The second half is how he uses Lavalife to get women, drink them, wipe their memories and do it again, especially with submissives. He is still a creature of lust and loves the modern world. Although witty, I didn’t find the tale particularly new.

“Devouring Heart” is the only lesbian tale in the book and Andrea Dale presents a heartbreaking tale of love and how far a lover will go to keep a partner. There is a good use of metaphor between the title and the relationship and this is one of the few tales that ends sadly, yet I have a tender place for this as one of my favorites for evoking that aching sense of love and love lost.

Michelle Belanger moves us farther away from the real world or a world of a century ago with “Wicked Kisses.” Here there is a vampire temple and the Scarlet One, through contest or lottery is chosen for a special ritual. There is a certain timelessness in it and I would have almost have said it was in the past except for the description on the Scarlet One’s gown. It is sensual and luxurious in detail and very like a dream or a drug-induced state. The sex isn’t with the vampires. Or is it?

“Fourth World” is not the only story in this anthology that takes place in a different locale but it is the only one in Thailand. Lisabet Sarai builds good tension with a sinuous, beautiful woman in full control of two men. She doesn’t bite them nor reveals fangs but slowly slices them with her nails while riding them, lapping their blood. She seems a truly animalistic, sensual predator. The outcome isn’t known but we can guess where it goes.

“Turn” also takes us into more of a ritualized act with the line between demon and vampire being very thin. The character summons him so that she can change. Nikki Magennis’s story is the roughest of all the tales with the sex more like being forced than sensual and as the vampire comes he drinks his summoner’s blood, completing a circle of taking and giving life. Very interesting and a raw, less romantic take on vampires.

Kristina Wright’s “Cutter” is about Evie, a distressed woman who lets her pain by slicing her arms and thighs. She meets a vampire who can scent her blood and pain. A very interesting twist on the tale where this vampire might just be her salvation and healer.

Like “Cutter” the last tale, “Once an Addict…” twists the meaning of vampire. And like some of the other tales in this book  A.D.R. Forte draws a parallel between human and vampire needs or a symbiosis that can take place. This story goes back the farthest in history, but is modern with the vampire helping the addict ancestor of an ancient bloodline to get off of drugs/alcohol. Symbiotic, they hunger for each other. It’s about blood and lust, yet this is the least sensual of the stories though it has a strong plot.

The tales in The Sweetest Kiss span time and countries, just as vampires would through their long lives. There are twists on the relationship of the dominating vampire. There is masochism, sadism, domination and submission. There is addiction, fear, hunger, as well as love and salvation. What one person finds erotic is not the same for another. I would say this anthology deftly gives a taste of something for everyone. The writing in most cases is of a very good caliber and tales range from those little pieces to get off on to those tales that have meat to sink your teeth into. The Sweetest Kiss successfully delivers eroticism and bite.

http://www.cleispress.com/index.php

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Book Review: The Sweetest Kiss

Cleis Press sent me a couple of books to review recently. I was hoping to get The Sweetest Kiss: Ravishing Vampire Erotica read and reviewed by Hallowe’en but I received the book too close to the date.  This review will be posted over two days as it is far too long for one posting.

The two things you can expect from a title like this is that the stories will be erotic and vampires will be involved. Other than that, who knows, but because it’s erotica instead of horror I would expect few people to die as that is sometimes counterproductive to erotic thoughts. If this was erotic horror, well there could be more deaths by alluring vampires. And that’s permanent deaths, not the ones that turn a human into a vampire.

sweetest-kiss-cover Edited by D.L. King, I was a little surprised to see there was no introduction. Perhaps it  was thought that the title covered it all but there may be a premise attached: is it present day or past, are vampires hidden or known about, do they all follow a certain vampire trope (turn into bats, no reflection in mirrors, crosses burn, garlic bad, etc.)? I’m one of those people who tend to read introductions to most books, possibly because I am a writer. As it was, I’d say that the vampires are fairly classic though there is variation on powers from story to story and most take place in the last two centuries.

There are nineteen stories but only two by men well established in the field. There are so many erotic writers that I’m certainly no expert on them all but Thomas Roche and Maxim Jakubowski have long standing reputations. There is only story that is homosexual (lesbian), and another that could be. Again, perhaps this was the thrust of this particular anthology, a mostly hetero anthology for the straight people. It’s common for publishers to market to certain demographics. As I began to read I found, that like foreplay, the first two stories built in sensuality to the full on sexual bite of the third.

The book opens with “Midnight at Sheremetyeo” by Remittance Girl. It is a simple tale, not really new in plot, of a vampire who breaks the rules that keep them from being hunted down. She takes a very tasty boy sexually and for feeding. The tale is  succulently worded.

Thoma Roche’s “Wait Until Dark, Montresor” oozes with atmosphere and reminds me of Tanith Lee though I’m not sure if that’s the style or the character herself, a vampire who writes erotic vampire mysteries. Perhaps a bit of both. Second person is hard to do successfully, but it works in this cautionary tale, vividly describing the idolization of a vampire and famous author. A mystery is strung out nicely with a slow reveal as opposed to a sudden bite in the dark.

“The Temptation of Mlle. Marielle Doucette” by  Anna Black is the first period piece set during the French Revolution. The thing about the longevity of vampires is that a certain timelessness can enter stories. The young Marielle must choose between her beliefs, execution and revenge through a repulsive (to her) yet strangely alluring temptation. This tale has the first truly descriptive sex scene though it is strangely lacking in other details.

Lisette Ashton’s “Kiss and Make Up” has the actual Dracula and his girlfriend who have picked up/made a new vampire boy of their own but it’s for a game of turnabout. Dracula absorbs the personality of the person he drinks so he gets kind of a high or in this case, a philosophical bent on the world. Interesting take but there are some awkward euphemisms for sex like,  “His length sputtered and pulsed.” Yowch.

Sommer Marsden manages a short pithy, hot and erotic story in “The Student.” Although not that original a tale with a college student (there are a few in this book) who is too sassy to take anyone’s warnings of dread about an old house, her actions bring about a truly erotic sensuality  in a reluctant encounter.

One of my abolute favorites in the anthology was “Red By Any Other Name” by Kathleen Bradean. A woman who is a dom tries to bring a vampire to submission. But is he truly feeling it or playing at it and can she truly be a dom without succumbing to her own fear? The tension is twofold, with fear and eroticism. The vampire chants words for red that echo in her head: Strawberry, cherry, candy-apple. It is well done and memorable with vividly excellent writing.

The most ephemeral or spiritual piece in the book is “Enlightenment.” Amber Hipple’s story has no real time or place and almost no corporeality with the ebony black man/vampire(?) referred to as “my dream, my mystery” and her intent seems to be that it remain untethered and dreamlike. There is little to really say vampire here except in the changing into smoke but there are undertones of the Eros and Psyche myth here that fit very well.

“Blood and Bootleg” takes place in 1922 Connecticut and it’s hard to tell if the language fits but it’s good enough not to jar. Teresa Noelle Roberts’ use of language feels a bit awkward with the woman thinking “yikes” when she’s bitten. Even for the period that seems a bit…light, especially when the vampire is then described as ripping out her throat, which makes me think of huge chunks of flesh and bloody gore spattering everywhere. Not particularly erotic biting. Overall, though, the eroticism is good.

G.B. Kensington does a deft turn with a human who takes the vampire when he thinks he’s taking her. This vampire uses sex to lessen his blood hunger. This is a common enough thread through the book where tying the eroticism and the bloodlust together cannot be missed. Will the vampire lose control and will it be the little death or the big death? “Fair Play” has a good build up of emotion, pent-up hunger and lust.

The rest of the review tomorrow.

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Defining Science Fiction

There has long been a battle, an attitude, a snobbery in the writing world where literary or mainstream fiction is real writing, and all that “genre” fiction is done by hacks and of little merit in the tales of the world. Anyone who writes in a genre knows this and has felt it. But what is a genre? It is the categorizing of a novel or story by some of its strongest elements.

No longer in favor but once very popular were westerns. They obviously took place in a time of the Wild West where cowboys and indians ran amok and pioneers struggled to survive while men maddened by gold-rush fever lived little better than animals. Romances are tales about love and obstacles to happiness, and almost always have the predictable ending of the man and woman (or man and man, woman and woman) finding each other. But the tales of how they get there are varied. Harlequin books has one of the most steady sell-throughs of any publisher. Publishing romances is a good business.

Erotica is obviously taking content into a more sensual or erotic tone. Science fiction, fantasy, horror, have elements integral to the story and were those elements removed the story wouldn’t hold up. Horror also fell into disfavor and is better known as dark fantasy these days. Still, there are blends of tales that aren’t all one thing. There are stories that are erotic and science fiction, western romances, literary fantasy, magic realism and politics (actually that one is a typical mix), and then there are literary, erotic, science fiction tales.

I wrote one story, “Hold Back the Night,” which I called my literary, lesbian, erotic vampire story. Vampire was never mentioned in the tale and it dealt with the wife burnings that happen in India. But labeling fiction is what we do; we the readers, we the writers and we the publishers. Publishers choose genres so that they can market to a specific demographic mindset. We’ll sell more of these books if we make it look like a cookbook or a romance and market to those people specifically interested in this. Publishers hate books that don’t fit in the neat categories.

Most of all they want to market books in mainstream, literary fiction because it is the largest readership and therefore the biggest sales. Writers of course would love the same. Readers can be a bit like sheept and think that if they only like a mystery book, they’ll never look in the romance section, but then there are thousands of books to look through so it can be difficult to find them. So, in mainstream, the more sales the more money, and the more awards available than in a specified category. A book that can’t fit into a category, or a story, may not be bought for a long time. I have a story that is not quite fantasy, and not quite mainstream and will circulate for a long time because it falls into the cracks.

But genres cause their own problems and as we see, narrow the readership. Many stories are not all of one shade. So Margaret Atwood, multi-award winner, always says she doesn’t write science fiction, yet some of her books extrapolate into a near future and ask what if. Seems pretty science fiction to me, many other writers, and readers. Yet she denies. Ursula Le Guin, multi-award winner writer of SF disagrees with Atwood’s view.

Le Guin gives an intriguing review of The Year of the Flood, which takes place after the events in Oryx and Crake. Both of these books are nearish future, with a crumbling of society, dystopian novels, because that’s what Atwood does best. But yet, she, like many of the literati, those who hold themselves above mere genre writers, says it’s not science fiction. And I must ask, what’s she afraid of, or is her viewpoint so narrow that in fact she only sees science fiction as squids in space?

Le Guin and Atwood are giants in their own rights, both award-winning authors whose stories span boundaries in some ways. Speculative fiction (an all-encompassing term for horror, fantasy, science fiction and really, literary fiction as well) doesn’t have to be shallow and it often looks at worlds and attitudes and how people change in regards to the pressures of life, species, invasion, change and technology–very valid commentary into our humanity, or inhumanity. So perhaps Atwood needs to accept that she has a narrow viewpoint of SF, get down from the pedestal and just accept that she writes it, sometimes. It’s not like it will hurt her rep, but the adamant head in the sand denial still doesn’t change that she writes science fiction, no matter what she calls it. Maybe she just hates the labels and codifying of writing.

I have not read The Year of the Flood, though I did read Oryx and Crake and where I felt it was a long setup for the story that wasn’t in the book, maybe Year is that story. And maybe not. For a very thought-provoking review by Ursula Le Guin of Atwood’s book, click on the link and be your own judge. And read the book, or read Le Guin’s books and see if the literary writer outweighs the SF writer. In the end, do you think Atwood writes science fiction, no matter what she calls it?

 http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2009/aug/29/margaret-atwood-year-of-flood

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Book Review: Mistborn, Maledicte & Snow Crash

Through the snowbound holidays and the worst cold I’ve had in a very long time, I did a bit of reading. Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson is old hat now. Written in the early 90s it still holds up as a cyberpunk, nearly futuristic world of hackers, commercialism and franchising taken to a new high. The Mafia is better organized and bigger than the Feds and everything is run by three-ring binders of rules.

Hiro Protagonist, last of the freelance hackers and best sword fighter in the world starts out as a Deliverator, a high-tech, super efficient, militarized pizza delivery guy, the franchise tightly run by the Mafia, who guarantee a pizza in 30 minutes or the Deliverator can be neutralized. Y.T. is a thrasher, a Kourier who skateboards through speeding traffic using a magnetic ‘poon to hitch rides on vehicles to various destinations. These two cross paths and fates, forming a loose knit team that aids each other in the real world and the Megaverse.

There is a virus running rampant that doesn’t just crash computers but crashes the minds of hackers. Many theories are put forth and there are some interesting bad guys with depth including Raven the ruthless Aleut. There were a few longish talking head sections when it got to theories on the virus and the early Sumerian language (as Laurie Anderson says, language is a virus) but Stephenson still managed to handle that fairly deftly. And there is a religious cult threatening to take over parts of California, run by the father of the Megaverse.

I found the novel a delight and many layered. The world was kinda dark and dire in some ways but adventuresome. There was definitely a tongue in cheek air to Stephenson’s writing that just gave me pure joy. It’s no wonder when it first came out that it was highly popular and still remains so. Hard to believe that when he wrote it Stephenson mentions that he coined the term avatar, and later added an addendum that avatar had been used in one early game. It’s worth a read and still stands the test of time.

Maledicte is by Lane Robins, who I workshopped with last summer. Granted I bought it because I met her, I have to say it was an entertaining, fast-paced, well-written read. Maledicte is the main character, vengeful, temperamental, charming and possessed by a god that should no longer exist (in the recent century the gods withdrew from involvement with humans). Maledicte starts as a feral street urchin and is honed by an ailing hedonist who knows the ways of the court.

Gilly is the faithful servant, in all senses of the word, to the old hedonist, too well trained in his role and too knowledgeable of what life would be like should he try to leave. He aids in Maledicte’s change and goals, often unwillingly. Maledicte is seeking the man who kidnapped his childhood friend and lover, Janus, bastard heir to an aristocratic family close to the throne.

The court is corrupt and overindulgent, living for scandals and gossip, willing to tear a person down if it will gain favor in some light. It’s closest  in style probably to that of Louis XIV, a bit later maybe but the fashion runs a close parallel. Mirabile is a creature of the court who killed her first husband and wants Maledicte for her own purposes. When he spurns her, she uses her considerable knowledge and skills to try and bring him down.

When Janus comes back into the scene, he is as much a creature of the aristocratic court as Maledicte, but in his own way he is moreso. He is ruthless and calculating and having got used tot he good life, he wants it all. Maledicte and Gilly are the viewpoint characters and Lane runs a fine line showing Malecdicte in a light that isn’t necessarily favorable but there is some empathy for his situation. However, if she had only gone with this viewpoint character, it may not have worked because Maledicte is malicious and murderous.

Gilly is the saving grace, the common man, with compassion to which the reader can relate. The twists and turns of this conniving and manipulative society are handled well and bloodily. Murder abounds through Maledicte and Janus’s schemes and in the end not everyone gets their just deserts but there is redemption. Maledicte’s character is refreshingly different from some of main fantasy characters in other novels. Robins created a convincing and cutthroat world.

Mistborn is Brandon Sanderson’s second novel and was as delightful as Elantris. He has created a unique world of oppressed workers called skaa on plantations and living in the cities. It takes place in a beleaguered world with a society that somewhat resembles the antebellum South. The Lord Ruler is a now inhuman god-emperor who has beaten down everyone for a thousand years. The world rains ash often, the sun is red and plants haven’t been green in centuries.

The elite of this society are the nobles, purebred and not skaa though physically they look no different, but the nobles are rich, pampered and favored by the Lord Ruler who keeps them in line with Inquisitors (whose eyes are metal spikes) and Obligators, the watchful religious class. Many nobles have special abilities, either one aspect or the full range of allomancy. They are able to burn metals that they have ingested to increase various aspects such as strength, senses, emotions, as well as sensing or obscuring the use of allomancy.

Kelsier is the only survivor of the pits, a mining operation that the Lord Ruler depends upon. He lost his wife and before was a master thief. He has been “hired” by the rebellion leader to organize the overthrow of the Final Empire. However, he has other plans on how to do that, but he keeps them secret. He is a halfbreed and a full powered allomancer, a Mistborn rather than a Misting who only has use of one of the eight metals. His friends fear that if he overthrows the emperor he might set himself up for the same position.

Vin is a waif, part of a thieving crew, who survives best by hiding and keeping attention away from herself. But she and her crew are chased by an Inquisitor who will kill thieving crews and any halfbreeds who exhibit powers. And Vin has unwittingly exhibited hers to an Obligator. She is saved and recruited by Kelsier and his crew who teach her how to use her Mistborn abilities while honing her to be a spy in the circle of nobility.

The story is one part a grand heist like Oceans 11, where there are many layers to the job, and the Lord Ruler’s treasury is possibly the draw. However, it is deeper than that, with human rights and freedoms the root of overthrowing a millennium of oppression and bringing about change. The odds are high though, because the Lord Ruler is immortal and all powerful, able to smite even the strongest allomancers without breaking a sweat. His Inquisitors are also inhumanly strong.

The use of metals for powers is unique and Sanderson gives a strong basis to it in the novel, making it a believable with a scientific aspect. Vin’s character develops and changes in a satisfying way and Kelsier’s motives are mysterious up until the last, keeping us guessing as to what he’s really after. Like Maledicte, Mistborn is a story of romance and intrigue. All three of these books were quite different and well written. The worlds had layers like most societies. Whereas Maledicte concentrated mostly on the aristocratic world and Snow Crash on the working class, Mistborn covered both parts equally. I enjoyed them enough that it was hard to put any down. I recommend all three as a very good read and worth the money.

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