I probably should have posted sooner, just to say that no, my plane did not go down over the Pacific, and yes, I got out of Japan (three weeks) before the quake. But mostly I’ve been busy, what with all this READING, HOLY MOLY, there are BOOKS EVERYWHERE and they’re in ENGLISH and if I want to read a particular book I can go to a LIBRARY where they have books in ENGLISH and I can go CHECK IT OUT, RIGHT NOW, oh my GOD.
Oh yeah, and I got a job translating smartphone apps. That means I can work from home, and also I can wear eyeliner and never shave. Happy days!
Back to the books. So there’s a distressing trend I’ve noticed recently, namely that nothing thrills me anymore. When I was a teenager I had terrible and indiscriminate taste in books so I could read anything, all the time, and be perfectly content. These days, the bar is set so high that I find myself not bothering to finish half the crap I pick up, on account of it being crap, crap, mediocre, or offensive and also crap. Oh, to be young and stupid and not know the difference again. ;_;
But hey, everyone likes to hear shitty books get panned!
Let’s start with The Chimney Sweeper, because it runs the gamut between laughably bad and appallingly bad. (I should have known better, really — no book with headless male torsos on the cover is going to be a masterpiece.) It’s almost a shame that I already returned it to the library and so I can’t mine it for more quotable lines, but FEAR NOT, I saved you a treasure.
The story kicks off with a heaping helping of trans-fail when the protagonist — a cocky, egocentric, hypocritical, self-hating homophobe of a runaway teenager — murders a transsexual. Hoooo, realistic that may be (what with violence against trans people SIXTEEN TIMES HIGHER than even violence against gays), but it does very little to endear this character to me. You, sir, had better do something goddamn amazing if you hope to win me back.
Hahahahahaha — no. Rather the opposite, in fact. Unless by “amazing” you mean “get raped by a truck driver” or “overshare about the exact dimensions of his dick.” This book is like the gift that keeps on giving, for people who enjoy such hobbies as stapling their hands to the wall.
The protagonist has absolutely nothing to recommend him, tedious and narcissistic, with a sense of entitlement big enough to have its own zip code, and not a thought in his empty head except where he’s going to stick his dick next. Every other conversation he has seems to go like this:
Other person: [blah blah blah–]
Protagonist: “No, I know what you really want. Uh huh — my DICK.”
Other person: “Uh… what?”
The prose would be competent enough, except this author is apparently taking his descriptive cues from INTERNET PORN, I KID YOU NOT.
For example, where a normal person might write something like, “He leaned against the counter.” This guy would go, “He leaned his tight, luscious bubble butt against the counter.” Why have someone “sit down” when you could have him “sit down, with the hard outline of his thick, 8-inch cock showing clearly through his jeans”?
Sexiest of the sexytimes lines though? “I was obsessed with the idea of getting him to chow down on my bratwurst.”
Laughed so hard I died. Oh, and all that? Was from like the first 3 chapters.
Counter-rec: Either Boulevard or Dream Boy, by Jim Grimsley
You want tawdry 80s gay subculture? You want fucked-up Southern families? Jim Grimsley has you covered, and goddamn nobody beats Jim Grimsley for gay despair and fucked-up Southern families, especially not some punk with freaking torsos on his book covers.
Oh shit here comes Arslan
Written in 1976, showing its age in its unexamined prejudices. Dictator dude named Arslan (from some invented -stan country) rolls into a small town in Indiana where the point-of-view character lives and is like O HAI GUYS, GUESS WHAT, I RUN AMERICA NOW. NICE TOWN U GOT HERE, CAN I HAVE IT? YEAH THAT’S WHAT I THOUGHT. ^_^ How he got there isn’t the important part; it’s about the psychological process of finding yourself without the liberties you always took for granted, dealing with fear and uncertainty and the unthinkable happening right in front of you, and the impotent rage of hating the fuck out of someone that you are absolutely powerless to fight. It’s a premise with potential. It’s clearly written by someone who knows how to sling words together. So why’d I stop reading it, right?
1) Bad Religion Bullshit
Arslan: “Do you know what’s wrong with this world?”
Protagonist: “Not enough Christianity.”
Me: “OH NO YOU DIDN’T. IT IS ON NOW, MOTHERFUCKER.”
Although the weird part was how he followed up on that assertion with… absolutely nothing. Like, I wouldn’t have agreed but I would have understood if he’d proceeded to explain that the world would be a better place if Christian values of mercy and charity and generosity prevailed. (Values which, let it be said, Christians do not have the monopoly on, and Christian prejudices have always swung a far weightier political stick than Christian virtues.) He doesn’t even do that though, just moves right along. The author seriously, totally took it for granted that everyone in the audience would agree with him, that what he said was just self-evidently true.
Oh, and Arslan? Is Muslim, by the by. A Muslim fascist conqueror who publicly rapes underage girls and boys (with their parents in the audience), tortures pretty women for kicks, conscripts American sons for his armies and American daughters for his whorehouses, and this wasn’t even a quarter of the way into the book, do I really need to keep going?
Now, I’m not a fan of banning books. But seriously, I wish I could put this on lockdown or something because it is exactly the sort of bullshit that we DO NOT NEED right now. In the current political climate, you know that some asscrazy would read that and be like YES, ZOMG THAT’S EXACTLY WHAT MUSLINS WANT TO DO TO AMERICA. MUST BUY FIFTY MOAR GUNS. The only silver lining to this fail parade is that those people don’t read anything except Dan Brown and maybe Ayn Rand.
2) I was reading it for the gay booklist, and I’d really like to know on whose advice it snuck into the queue, so I can go flick them in the eye. Indiscriminate sadism != bisexuality, gtfo.
3) Because despite that bullshit, it is well-written. It gets into your headspace and makes you feel what it is to be that angry, that scared, that helpless. Which could be awesome, if not for all crap that throws me out of the story and sets my teeth on edge, re: smug religious superiority, Muslim as code for evil, and homosexuality also as code for evil, just another notch in his evil, evil bedpost.
PS – Orson Scott Card loves this book. In case you weren’t put off it yet.
Counter-rec: A Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood
So the world needs more Christianity, does it? ARE YOU SURE?
So why read Arslan when you could read Blindsight ~~ aka VAMPIRES IN DEEP SPACE
I was griping to a friend of mine that there’s nothing new under the sun when it comes to vampires and her response was, “Have you read Blindsight?” And Peter Watts does indeed bring some friggin’ cool ideas to the table. A marine biologist by trade (and the guy who recently went head to head with flesh-eating bacteria, don’t click that if you’re squeamish, no really I mean it), he juxtaposes vampires and the dilemma of defining humanity and sentience with a creepy-as-fuck first contact story, bringing in some really clever ideas from several different disciplines, from linguistics to psychology to evolutionary biology, the works. (I confess, my linguistic little soul had a nerdgasm at the part where they’re first trying to communicate with the aliens.)
Rec: Blindsight, by Peter Watts
It’s more hard sci-fi than vampire fiction per se, but I think it should be required reading if you’re going to write about vampires — Watts puts a unique spin on them, and you’d do yourself a favor to have his ideas kicking around in your head.
Meanwhile, on the bisexual regency side of town: PHYLLIDA AND THE BROTHERHOOD OF PHILANDER
Oh, man. So I like me some Georgette Heyer as much as the next person who likes non-sucky regency, but she is quite predictably heterosexual. One day I was reading some Heyer book and I thought, Man, you know what’d be totally sweet? If that dude started banging his groom. They could have a rocking clandestine romance, compounded of course by the perennial problem of people expecting this dude to get with the married and get with the baby-making. So I googled “gay regency” and found this gem.
Unfortunately, it turned out to be less of a gem and more of a sparkly thing you see on the sidewalk and try to pick up but is actually a half-melted jolly rancher that was probably in some kid’s mouth earlier and is now covered in syphilis or whatever and your hand is all sticky and you have tissues but no wet wipes, so you’re pretty much boned.
It kicks off with the main dude, Andrew, waking up in bed with a barely-legal twink (which… Havemercy, though I love you dearly and absolve you of the same sin, is not a classy way to start a book), establishing right off the bat that he hot and hot-for-men. Then, like many an ex-gay (who usually become ex-ex-gays) he conflates sexual preference with bad lifestyle choices and decides that he wants to marry a lady. I was fine with all this, despite some faltering prose, because hey, some men did that.
But then he meets Phyllida and is suddenly like OMG, I AM HOT FOR YOUR LADYBITS LIKE I HAVE NEVER BEEN HOT FOR LADYBITS BEFORE, like, enough to demi-rape her after they’re married, which… huh?
You know what, I’m not even going to touch that shit, because frankly, this author is NOT GOOD ENOUGH to handle as fraught and loaded an issue as domestic rape with the intelligence and psychological insight it deserves. Her treatment of it is superficial, brings nothing new to the table, and is not worth talking about. (How do I keep winding up with all these rape books, wtf.)
So, moving on — apparently he’s bi, which is fine, but how the hell did it take him so long to notice? If women turn his crank this hard, why isn’t he already married? What is this, late-onset bisexuality?
From there it pretty much turns into stupid shenanigans and people running the idiot ball into the fucking endzone, dialogue and prose that reads like bad fanfic, and DEJA VU because I already read this book and it was called Sylvester, only with less gay sex and also characters who didn’t suck. Seriously. She lifted the character templates (must-get-married nobleman + aspiring authoress) and even the subplot (“Shit, I wrote him into my book as a villain, and he’ll be so pissed if ever reads it!”) wholesale from Heyer (who is too dead to object) and gayed it up and it STILL wasn’t good enough to finish, which really says something. (I didn’t actually get to the gay romance part, but rumor has it that another dude turns up to be the trois in their menage.)
My other complaint was how the author didn’t seem to have a credible grasp on Regency attitudes toward homosexuality (seriously, at that point in history, “sodomy” was a criminal act and “sodomite” was a goddamn job description, not an identity flag that people rallied around). Andrew thought and behaved more like a modern gay man would than a man of that time period. I also found his late-onset bisexuality kind of unbelievable, because he does treat sodomite as an identity, even though he shouldn’t have, and yet he doesn’t feel threatened or confused by his feelings for Phyllida, even though they fly in the face of everything he defines himself as. He’s not even like “Yay, I’m cured!”, as I’m sure many gay men of the time desperately wanted to be, he’s like “NNNGH, PUSSY!”
News flash — “gay” dudes do fall for ladies sometimes, and they’re as uncertain and weirded out by it as “straight” people who inexplicably find themselves in love with someone of the same sex. And while the latter story has been done to death (Hallo, yaoi! fanfic!) the former has not. This premise had so much potential to do things that are actualfax new and fresh, and then the execution had to go and be so much fail.
Counter-rec: Sylvester, by Georgette Heyer
Just imagine that he’s also banging his footman or whatever, and BAM, instant Phyllida & etc.