The books of my youth: Anne Rice

A few years ago I was at a bar with a friend of mine named Kate, ignoring the other patrons and talking books, as is our wont. We got on the subject of books we'd enjoyed as teenagers, and she ended up telling me about what she called her Canon of Kate — these were more than just the books that she'd liked, or even loved; they were the ones that had shaped her whole literary aesthetic, that had introduced the tropes and themes that resonated with her, the ideas that she would pursue and revisit in later reading and writing. Beyond that, even, these were the books that had shaped her as a person.

Which got me to thinking: what was the canon of ME?

When Queers Read…!

…which is something straight writers seem to forget that we do. Like Brent Weeks, and every other writer who made their villain a sadistic pedophile without stopping to think about the Unfortunate Implications involved. Because with the exception of Orson Scott Card, I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt and venture that no, they’re probably not raging homophobes, they’re just grandly oblivious. If you tried to pin them down on it, I expect they’d protest that their villain isn’t gay, not the way that Elton John and Tim Gunn and I are gay, he’s a pedophile, which is totally different and self-evidently evil.

Well… yes and yes, but thanks to the way our society has tended to conflate homosexuality and pedophilia, that’s roughly analogous to calling Michelle Obama “uppity” and then insisting it had nothing to do with race. Just be told that queer readers are going to take it personal when the only gays in your book are rapist villains.

But I digress. I’ve talked about gay villains before and I’ll talk about them again soon (when I review Gemma Files’ A Book of Tongues, which was ~amaaaazing~), but today’s topic in Things That Alienate Queer Readers is…

Boy meets girl and I don't give a fuck

REAMDE, by Neal Stephenson (4/107)

I was reading so fast…

…and then I hit REAMDE, which slowed me right the fuck down. Neal Stephenson’s latest doorstop, clocking in at 1036 pages, is far from the most unreadable thing he’s put out, but that said, it is still very, very long.

In short: If you’ve read Neal Stephenson before and you liked Snow Crash and Diamond Age, then REAMDE is something you’d probably enjoy. If you haven’t read Snow Crash then GET ON THAT, STAT. You can come back and read this later.

In long: Stephenson being a writer's writer, and using every single gun on the goddamned table. No spoilers.

Timeless, by Gail Carriger (1/107)

Gail Carriger’s Timeless — fifth and last in the Parasol Protectorate series.

Short answer: not high literature, but quite fun.

Long answer: I would have liked this series better if it had instead been The Fabulous Adventures of Biffy and Lord Akeldama, not only because I’m a raging queer who likes to read about other raging queers, but because after the first book, all the side characters seem to be doing more interesting things than Alexia.

Even longer answer: Contains spoilers for events from the end of book 2, read on at your peril

The Bone Palace, by Amanda Downum

Arguably the sequel to The Drowning City, although they’re in different settings with almost entirely different sets of characters, so knowledge of the first isn’t necessary to read the second. I’d been pretty meh about The Drowning City, though with no more specific criticism than “It didn’t grab me.” I probably wouldn’t have bothered with The Bone Palace except then I heard it had a transgender protagonist, and there are precious few of those in fantasy, so I was motivated to give it a try.

Verdict: better than the first one, but sharing most of the same flaws. Namely in characterization — nobody really made me care. I’m still not quite sure what the secret to writing compelling characters is, but I suspect it has to do with CARING about things — about a cause, about a person, whatever, it doesn’t matter. As long as the character is passionate about SOMETHING, some of it will spill over onto the reader as well, but in Downum’s books, all the passion is told rather than shown. And while it’s very unusual (and therefore interesting) to have a book populated entirely by female protagonists, I would have liked more about Kiril and Nikos; seeing as how love-for-those-dudes was a primary motivation for some of the female protagonists, it wouldn’t hurt to show us why those dudes were worth fighting for.

On the plus side, her world-building is rather good; very atmospheric, she has some cool ideas for magic, and she’s clearly put a lot of thought into some of the commonly-overlooked aspects of creating a fantasy world. (Mind, certain aspects of her city of Erisin are also uncannily reminiscent of Monette’s Melusine, and I would be very surprised if it turned out that Downum hadn’t read Monette before.)

TL;DR version: I dunno, find something else, prolly. I’d recommend Santa Olivia, not because it’s anything similar, but because it’s the best thing I’ve read recently.

In which I am grouchy on the subject of science fiction

Recently I was listening to a sci-fi themed podcast in which the hosts were discussing science fiction’s falling book sales, and what might be done to remedy that. One thing they suggested was that common sci-fi tropes, which have been calcifying (my word, not theirs) for decades now, might be making it difficult for new readers, unfamiliar with the jargon, to get into the genre.

Hmm, I thought. Yeah, that might make it difficult for new readers.

This just in: apparently I am new readers.

Click here to find out how!

Bite-sized book review: Second Line

Man, I love Poppy Z. Brite when she isn’t writing about hard drugs and necrophilia.

Second Line is the latest (last?) in her Liquor series, starring Rickey and G-man, a couple (as in, they are) of working class cooks-turned-restaurateurs in New Orleans. It’s comprised of two novellas: The Value of X, which is a prequel of sorts to when Rickey and G-man were teenagers having Strange Feelings For Each Other, and D*U*C*K, the continuing adventures of running a restaurant in New Orleans. Second Line is a pain in the ass to get ahold of, but it is so, so worth it.

“He did WHAT?” said Rickey.

“I wasn’t sure I ought to tell you,” Fiorello said nervously. “But I thought you had a right to know [that Rickey’s roommate had read his mail from G-man].”

“I’m gonna kill him.”


“That snot-nosed pencil-dick motherfucker. Seriously, I’m gonna kill him. He might think he’s met some faggots before, but I bet he never met one from the Ninth Ward.”

♥ ♥ ♥