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I am happy to be collaborating with Brandon Bell on a new project, Weird Bard Press, a small press focused on "socially aware fiction." Its first project, an anthology called Torn Pages, has its guidelines posted already. This particular book, which is Brandon's concept that he will edit, has a particularly interesting and powerful motivation behind it which will be elaborated upon in an article that he'll be publishing soon. When he asked me if I would knock the accumulated dust off my publisher hat and get busy on a new project, it was not possible to say no. I never even considered saying no. I decided in five seconds to say yes, because it's a cool project and it's with my favorite collaborator.
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Hmm, collaboration: it ain't always for me. I don't always do well in groups (unless it's a group that I'm running). In my most private personal life, there's one person with whom I collaborate closely (he knows who he is) and the two of us are the entire group (with the cats, too, of course). In my day-to-day work-life, I do pretty well in the group (but I'm also kinda the boss of most of it, so I get my way a lot) but there, too, is one person who is my main collaborator, and he knows who he is. In my third strange area of life--this weird publishing and editing thing that's done almost entirely on computers--it's awesome to have a collaborator that you can actually get something cool done with, and in this area it's always Brandon Bell. My M-Brane Press handled his awesome magazine Fantastique Unfettered. He and I worked really hard and had great fun making our shared-world fiction concept The Aether Age a real book that Hadley Rille Books published a couple years ago. He also helped me make real my dream of a new book in the style of the old Ace Doubles by giving up one of his novellas to form half of it. I sometimes forget that he wasn't technically a collaborator on my antho Things We Are Not--though he did provide its awesome title story, reprinted here--because the whole time I was working on it I was constantly chatting with him by email about it and getting his insight about things. And the second story that I acquired for the M-Brane SF magazine's first issue was his. It was a stunner, and I knew that I was in touch with someone who was going to be important. So when he mails me and asks me if I want to do something, it's easy to sign up.

Another thing I like about the Weird Bard Press plan right now is that we're not doing a periodical. It's too much of grind right now at this stage of things. I like magazines, and I think Brandon does too, but we're not in that mode this year. FU was finally cancelled a few months ago after its last issue didn't quite make it all the way to press, and I have not--despite some low-level clamor for it--committed to bringing back M-Brane SF. And I'm not going to this year. I'm not saying never, but it's not the right year for it. So, we're going to do stand-alone books and focus first and fully on Torn Pages. It's exciting for me right now because I really have no more idea what this book is really going to end up being than anyone else does, but I know for sure that it's going to be super-cool and very interesting. This certainty comes from knowing that it has a great editor with a great concept.
A couple of years ago I visited my homeland and was inspired by its weirdness and my own weird feelings about home and family and things of that nature to write a weird story about it. It was initially a stand-alone short thing about a dude who visits his family home in Wisconsin during a period of bizarre climate change and runs into some Lovecraftian supernatural business. Then, last fall, I churned that concept into my annual attempt at National Novel Writing Month and developed a sequel to that original story, a Part Two, which focused on the son of the protag from the original story and what that kid was up to while his dad was away in Wisconsin. I didn't make word count for NaNoWriMo with this, but I did figure out that the story actually wouldn't end properly without a Part Three bringing together the threads from the earlier attempts.

So now I think I have the start of Part Three, and I am considering telling the whole third part in epistolary form, letters back and forth between the characters, maybe some journal entries, kinda like Dracula. The original story (Part One) was in first-person from one of the main characters. The second part was told in a more or less conventional third-person narrative aligned with the other main character. I am not sure about going epistolary with Part Three yet, just trying it out. I don't usually like the concept. It worked for Dracula over a century ago but it's failed so many times in the internet age when a novelist thinks that stringing together a bunch of emails and social media postings works easily as a narrative. It gets dated fast, and often just ends up being dumb. I pretty much always rejected this when I was editing M-Brane SF. I recently read Dennis Cooper's gay-sex horror/porn thing from a few years back, The Sluts, which is relayed in message board posts, and it's not a very good read. I like his work generally because of its transgressiveness, but that one really needed a different format. But when I started on Part Three of my thing, I found myself writing letters. I think if I continue in this fashion, I will try to assiduously avoid a lot of references to how things like computers and smart phones operate currently. These characters aren't putting quill to parchment. It's set "now." They are using their tablets and phones, but I don't want the tech to be too up-front. So maybe the concept of letters without a lot of talk about how they are transmitted might work? Anyway, this is the way Part Three starts...

It would be better than here. Just in the like that, if you can’t remember anymore if. I want to know but I can’t see are you up there. I don’t have a lot of strength now. The sky is stripped. I am too weak to write much. But I still hear them walking in the trees; not speaking. Waiting here, away from the terrifying weaponry, out of the halls of vapor and light, beyond holland and into the hills, I have come to wound the autumnal city. So howled out for the world to give him a name.
          
            —From the last and first sentences of Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delany, with italic emphases added by A-R Kanayda for his “response/thought text” Bellona City of Vapor, Denny Kid of Fire


Dear Chris, (my #2 Dad, Alternate Father Who’s Sometimes More Like an Older Brother, Destroyer of Illusion, Captain My Captain, the Falconer who Cannot Hear the Falcon):
            I do not know what happened to you when you were in Wisconsin, what things you did, what things you saw. You have not talked to me about it, except in the most vague of terms, circling around the subject, outward and outward, evading my questions until I am so frustrated that I get sick of talking to you and decide to just leave you alone with whatever it is you do and think all day. You also do not want to know what happened to me while you were gone, what things I did, what things I saw. You make that fact clear by not asking me even when I pointedly tee up the question for you.
            I told you of the arrival here in our house of the Cult Cthulhu and how one of their boys sold me some kudzu fruit at Circus of Foods and how I was enlisted to impregnate one of their women. I know that you had some kind of similarly weird misadventure when you were away, maybe even an experience somehow parallel to mine. Though you have shared little about it with me, you did let slip the fact that Circus of Foods is a store up there, too, and that you bought kudzu fruit there. You admitted, though without saying it bluntly, that you fucked a Cult Cthulhu boy there, that one that I saw with you in the phone image that night.
            Is that why you do not want to tell me much about your visit to Wisconsin? Do you think that I would judge you negatively because you had a relationship with that dude? Do you think that I would frown on the fact that you had your first such liaison post-Brace? Do you worry that I’d somehow be jealous? And do you really think that Brace—if he could somehow know about it from beyond the veil of death—would object? Because if you do, then you don’t know me very well and you have already forgotten something about Brace. Listen: you did pretty much the same thing he would have done had your positions in life versus death been reversed.
            And I think that you did the same thing that I did a few weeks ago.
            Maybe you’re just not yet used to being back home in “real” time. Maybe you are still suffering an effect of the time dilation that was going on under the heat bubble, a kind of temporal jet lag. Maybe you will catch back up to me in time and be able to talk about things like we used to.
            A few days ago, start of last week, I began a part-time job at Circus of Foods. I told you about this and have posted my schedule to the calendar on your phone so that you can know easily when and when not to expect me to be home. You didn’t have much to say about it, other than that I don’t need to work right now and that I need to be thinking more about getting back to school. I told you that I know that I can easily just live indefinitely off of you and the trust that Brace left for me. But I also told you that I might feel better about myself if I can earn some of my own money. And I told you that I am not going back to school until the fall anyway. The fall at earliest. I even told you that I might not go back at all because I thought that would catch your attention, get you stressed, maybe make you angry, maybe make you yell at me and give me the Brace-lecture about how I sure as fuck will go back to school! But you didn’t do that. If you don’t give a fuck about it anymore, then maybe you won’t care that I don’t give a fuck about it anymore.
            Do you wonder if I just said that in another attempt to get a rise out of you? You won't know one way or another until you have a serious talk with me.
            My job at Circus of Foods is in the Deli-Café. That’s a department of the store where we prepare ready-to-go food, mostly for people who don’t know how to cook or who think themselves too busy or important to cook for themselves. My assignment is to make salads and hot foods for the self-serve bar that they have adjacent to the produce department. The manager of the Deli-Café is very impressed with me because he found out that I am Brace Kanayda’s son. I did not present this fact in my application, but it came out in the interview. I admitted during my first meeting with him that I know how to cook and had been taught at home. He said, “I guess it makes sense since your last name is Kanayda!” and he laughed goofily. It turns out that he is a fan of celeb chef-type people, but that he did not necessarily assume that I was actually blood-related to Brace. It was assumed to be a coincidence of name. He would not have guessed that I was actually associated directly because someone like him would presume that no one who’d ever had a brush with “celebrity” would show up for an entry-level job in his store. But I sat there like an idiot and said, “Brace Kanayda was my dad. He taught me how to cook.” If I’d not done that, it would have been a secret. I may have been subjected to gentle ribbing based on the coincidence of my name—much as I might be if my name were Flay or Batali or Morimoto—such things as a co-worker saying, “Hey, don’t mess with the master over there, Chef Kanayda knows what he’s doing” and the like. The dumb shit people might say. Like if I were working as a house painter and my name were Michelangelo. That kind of level of workplace-dumb.
            The manager’s name is Mike DeLouvier and he conforms to the stereotype of grocery store managers. There are pictures of all of them on the wall behind the customer service desk: the general manager, the meat manager, the produce manager, the night shift manager and Mike DeLouvier are all dudes ranging in age from about thirty to about sixty, and they all have mustaches and not very good hair. The other managers, also pictured at customer service (such as the customer service manager), are women in the same age range. They’re also afflicted with bad hair but blessedly lack the mustaches.
            Mike thinks I’m really cool. He says that I am better at chopping stuff than anyone else who works there, and that I work faster, and that the end result of my work looks better. This is all true. But sometimes it’s weird because he seems to pay too much attention to me, even to the detriment of my co-workers, who all need and deserve attention. I suspect that they will eventually come to resent me, and that it will be due mostly to how he spends too much time talking to me and praising my work. I have only worked there a week, and he tells me that he could help me out if I want the assistant manager position that is allegedly opening up soon in the Deli-Café. He has thrice invited me to have an after-work beer with him and some of the others. On each occasion I have been ready with a polite excuse with which to deflect this unpleasant engagement. I’d almost suspect that he was starting to chickenhawk me. Maybe he thinks I’m cute, right? It’s happened before, yo. Would certainly not be the first time, son! But then when I overhear him talking with the other older dudes who work around there, I hear him engage in dumb jokes. I somehow mentioned that you were recently in Wisconsin. One of the other dudes said, “Only thing in Wisconsin is steers and queers!” And they all laughed, including Mike. It’s really stupid.
            Some of the foods I prepare there: macaroni salad, macaroni and cheese, tortellini salad, baked beans, three-bean salad, green bean casserole, potato salad, scalloped potatoes, mashed potatoes, meatloaf, Salisbury steak, country fried steak, carrot salad, broccoli salad, tuna salad, chicken salad and ham salad. A new gelatinous fruit/whipped cream salad based on the kudzu fruit, and a salsa made from it for the weekly taco bar. The meat for the taco bar, its shredded lettuce, shredded cheese, sour cream and regular non-kudzu salsa. I volunteered yesterday to make the biscuit dough for the breakfast shift because I find that I run out of things to do during my own shift because I work so fast. And you have to stay until the shift ends; you don’t get to just go home when your work is done. There are two breaks during each shift, but I never go on break with the others because they say things like steers and queers and I don’t think I will work there for very long.
            So that’s what’s up with me today.
            Love,
            Falcon

Dear Arthur,
            This is very odd that I am writing a letter to you, in response to your very odd letter to me. But I think you are correct that I have been slow to catch up in time. I know that your letter was received several days ago, but I somehow feel like I am answering a letter that I just received a moment ago. But I think I am catching up. Each day feels a little more normal.
            But didn’t we see each other each day since you sent your letter? Didn’t we sit at the table and eat dinner together just last night? We did. I know it. We ate fajitas that you made. There are leftovers of it in the refrigerator right now. I just looked to make sure. There was even some kudzu-fruit salsa that you made but which was almost exactly like one that I made in Wisconsin, and we even talked about this for a moment. Why do you have to write a letter to me when we sit together for dinner every night? It makes no sense. Really, why do I need to write a letter to you now when I just had dinner with you last night and expect to do so again tonight? Do we really not ever talk? It feels to me like we do, but maybe it’s just so slow from my perspective, delayed, and you are somehow still ahead of me in time.
            I’ll be ready to talk to you more directly very soon about the important and valid points that you raised in your letter. But we may need a change of scene for it. It might help us both. I am attaching an image that I suspect will interest you.
            [Attached image: Airship Atreides, Moored at the Obelisk, Capital]
            That ship is coming to Argos-Bellona next week. Do we want to get tickets?
            Love you,
            #2
So, in last night's post of random thoughts about Delany's Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders, (the heartrending conclusion of which I'd just reached), I stopped while still wanting to consider to what extent the novel is science fiction and to what extent it is pornography, the genre labels which its author affixes to it (and we already stipulated that it is Real Literature based on the fineness of its writing and the lovely architecture of its narrative).

If SF is still supposed to be that genre where differences between the current real world and the world of the fiction are expressed in terms of scientific and technological changes that may happen in the future (or in an alternate history), then Through the Valley... fits genre-well in that its timeframe reaches into the eighth decade of this century (the Future), and indeed there are a number of science/tech advancements that affect the lives of future people, even if Eric and Shit remain rather isolated from them, quite on the sidelines of it all. But SF has also been far too rigidly, even ideologically, defined as a literature where the entire story and everything about it hinges totally on a principle of science or future tech without the presence of which the entire enterprise collapses and it is no longer, by definition, science fiction. Or: if the same, exact story could be told without the science/tech element, then it's not SF. I have to say that this narrow conception of the genre hamstrung for many years my own attempts to write in it, made me feel I couldn't even try to tell such a story if I didn't have some kind of plausible, ironclad scientific linchpin holding the whole thing together--as if a cadre of real scientists were going to review my work and denounce it as impossible. If SF were to be defined so dogmatically, then maybe Delany's book doesn't make the cut. Because the same story could certainly be told without the futuristic details that abound as the narrative moves later into the century. He could have had the 2030s and 2070s look exactly like our own present year and completely ignored the likelihood that tech and the way people behave around each other may evolve, that cultural norms may shift, that things--as much as they stay the same--will still look different. But that would have been weird, and maybe ridiculous, and certainly detrimental to a story that really must start when it does in real-world years and end when it does in future years. No, what Delany wrote here is SF whether or not it fits a strict Golden Age/Old Men of Science Fiction definition of the genre. And, besides, he's bent the hell out of that old mold for fifty years and is one of the best practitioners of the genre ever. Doubt it? Then read Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand, one of the greatest achievements of space opera ever and packed with more "science" stuff than most writers and readers can easily apprehend in a single book. So, science fiction: check.

But is it also pornography just because it has a lot of graphic sex in it? And it really does have a lot of graphic sex in it, almost, maybe more than is really reasonable even for a novel such as this, so much that the individual scenes occasionally seem far too long and too back-to-back and too repetitive of stuff that happened earlier (but this may be on purpose, pushing the reader to slog through it, because within all this surfeit of bodies and fluid are constantly-discovered little gems about the characters as real people--but you have to work for them, all the while reading about a lot of cocks and cum and snot). It's also a range of sexuality that seems designed to push pretty much every single reader outside his/her comfort zone--even a nearly-no-limits fag like me. The Venn diagram with the deeply purple-shaded area that represents the overlap of every single kink and predilection depicted in this novel's sex-content probably, in real life, contains no one at all (maybe the author himself? But I wonder). So is it porn if its intent/result is not just to titillate, arouse, induce masturbation? As sexy as some of it was to me as I read it, I never responded to it as I might to something tailored as porn for my particular biases and kinks. But if porn is a form or sub-genre within the fantasy genre, then maybe this is a giant accomplishment in that genre.

[Wait, what's fantasy? The intrusion of un-reality? magic? suspension of consensus-reality rules?]

Because in this world that Delany describes, the sex ain't ever bad. It is always consensual and pleasurable--even when among immediate family--and it is always available in the most unlikely locations and at the weirdest times. If you are horny in this world, you will get promptly laid. If you like it with multiple partners at once, they are at your disposal. Any kink you can imagine getting off upon will be available. A truck stop and a giant movie theater are well known as places for public sex among men and they exist openly, totally un-harassed by the law and society (save for some occasional interference from the ineffectual background villain Johnston). Likewise a "Gay Friendly Rest Room" at the market (which scene, by the way, involves some seriously funny comic writing). The protag Eric has a fetish for piss, and so there exists for a while a bar that is designed to make his  fantasies real, almost as if it were put into business years before specifically anticipating his arrival in town. This is why the porn of Through the Valley... is a whole different thing than the porn of Delany's earlier novel Hogg (written way, way back even before Dhalgren but not published until many years later). There's no horror, coercion or brutality in this newer book. Instead, it's a sex utopia. Fantasy, even if it's not your particular personal fantasy. So, if porn is fantasy-about-sex, then this novel works easily, almost silkily and insidiously, within that definition. 

But is a utopia (science-based or sex-based) of any kind, where everything's easy, inherently boring? I think I just read about one that's not. 

Tags:
Finished this evening reading Samuel Delany's Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders. I did this while baking chicken that was later to join avocados and tomatoes and radishes and cucumbers and scallions in a salad for our dinner. I'm glad I didn't finish it earlier this afternoon, when I had the book in my hands while doing laundry. Because then I probably would have been weeping in public at the laundromat instead of alone in my kitchen (Jeffy was away in the front room). 

And I look again at its last page--its very last paragraph, which is this:

--and woke, thinking, in the dark. No. I have a bit more time. He relaxed before the rumoring sea.

And that's not sad at all. It's a relief. But the pages that preceded it, that last awful movement of the shared life story of the two protagonists, those moments before the two together became one alone, were extremely hard to take. I knew what was coming hundreds of pages away and didn't want to experience it, but I needed to know the details anyway because I adored those characters. It's not the common novel that follows two people in life and love from their teens years all the way until their late eighties and end of life in the late 21st century. 

I worked for a couple of years as the cook for a residential (and end-of-life) facility for people with dementia. I thought of them a lot as I read about Eric Jeffers' and Shit Haskell's final days together. I have a grandmother who, at 96 years of age, still lives in reasonable health but has less and less memory as time passes, particularly of anything that happened more recently than three decades ago. And less still of anything that happened today. 

The last couple hundred pages of the book, read over the last few days, which dwell more and more upon aging (and which are almost interrupted from time to time by funerals for and mentions of the deaths of characters from earlier in the book), have made me feel older. No, that's not true. It's made me think about being old more than I normally do. Age--my own aging, if I actually live to be truly old--has always been a dismaying abstraction that I'd rather set aside. But what will it really be like, and what will it really be like for me and my partner should we grow that old together (as I increasingly suspect we will)? The characters in this story, Eric and Shit (I won't sanitize it here by using his "proper" name Morgan--he didn't like it and, at his own insistence, nobody hardly ever called him that) live, in their youths and well into their middle-age and later years, a fantastical (possibly preposterously so), sex life with each other and with others, much of it rendered for the reader in detail that Delany himself always calls not "erotica" but rather "pornography." It's a distinction that I am not sure matters, but this book makes me wonder about it. I think about how my partner and I, together for almost thirteen years now, did not ever have anything approaching that crazy a sex life even in the early days (and know we never will in the future) and I wonder if we missed something. Would we have even wanted, in the most excessive fantasy mode of mind, to have had anything like the carnal world that Eric and Shit had? I don't think so. It's over the top. Theirs is a fantasy--it's speculative fiction. The novel becomes science fiction to some extent later in its course, but it's out-and-out fantasy early on. I think so anyway. But not sure if I have reasoned that out completely. 

There's an obnoxious 1-star review of Through the Valley... on Amazon (note to self: keep up with the policy of avoiding user comments on stuff) in which the poster complains generally about the porn element of the book  (I think because he doesn't think it's "hot"), and expresses incredulity that Delany is a published author of a number of books (revealing that he hasn't heard of Delany's long and broad career) and generally bagging on the quality of the writing. He then goes on to suggest that if one wants to read some REALLY interesting and transgressive shit, then one should read some other authors including Dennis Cooper. Years ago, I happened to select for back-to-back reading Dennis Cooper's Frisk and Poppy Z. Brite's Exquisite Corpse, two fairly contemporaneous examples of creepy and squicky horror/murder-porn involving gay characters. Brite's book--regardless whatever any of its detractors may have said about it--didn't blink. It was a fucking horrifying story with a godawful climax and a horrendous denouement, a total success in its mode. Cooper's, on the other hand, did blink. It ended with a sort of "just kidding" or it "it was all a dream" wrap-up. When I read that one, I wondered if the author had planned something else but then fell too much in love with his protag to let it happen. I guess I don't have anything else to say about that other than anyone who thinks that Cooper is a better novelist than Delany needs to read a lot more books. I respect Cooper's work...but damn, he's no Delany.

I gather that part of the aesthetic intent of Through the Valley... is to fuse the contemporary "literary" novel with science fiction and pornography. That the book is Big L literature is plainly apparent, but whether it is also really science fiction or really pornography might be open to discussion. I might take that up in a later post, but not now (cuz not quite done wiping away tears and snot from how sad those last few pages were!)
I am past the half-way point of Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders (Samuel Delany) and still liking it a lot. It's actually become easier to enjoy as it's gone on, but one side-effect is that its characters and locations are seeping into my dreamscape. But what's really weird is that it somehow seems to have somehow seeped into my boyfriend's dreamscape as well, and he has never read a word of the book! And I hadn't told him anything about it either (he finds it intensely tedious if I try to explain to him what I am reading). We were in the living room a few nights ago and I dozed on the couch. During this short nap, I had experienced a fleeting snippet of a dream set in what my mind has constructed to be the house that the main characters live in, a small, shabby thing in a small coastal Georgia town. When I awoke, I told him that I was heading to bed and that I'd just had a dream about this shack in Georgia, a setting of that novel. Then J said, "I had a dream last night that was in some kind of shack like that." Then he described how, in the dream, he became involved with people who were having all kinds of incestuous and kinky sex. I asked him if there as an older white guy there. He said there was and added that there was also a younger mixed-race dude and a young blond guy. In other words, he saw the book's lead characters in their home. Not sure how or why he managed to have this dream, but it's super-weird. I am not aware of any past situation where have shared dream-content like this but now I want to encourage him to talk about his dreams more often. He doesn't like to do that, always says he can't remember much, but I am going to ask a lot more now. 
I haven't been maintaining my pointless journal lately, and it's been driving me crazy. My work life the past few months has been so intense that I have had no time for much of anything. But that's settling a bit--we're entering a mid-season mitigation of insanity--and I am done with regular M-Brane tasks for a while, and I have been carving out a bit of normalcy. Which should really include babbling in this journal and then advertising that I have done so. Just like in the old days. For tonight's post, I have no particular topic other than recapping what's been on my mind outside of work lately.

Reading Books!: Anyone who knows me very well might be stunned to learn that in the year 2012, which is nearly half-over-with, I have read exactly ONE book plus 206 pages of second one (whilst in 2009, for example, I think I tore through about 100 titles). But what a wonderful, huge, weird and totally crazy long-ass book that one was: Haruki Murakami's 1Q84. Clocking in at nearly a thousand pages, this giant hardback city of weirdness, given to me by Jeff for X-mas, engrossed me for months. In usually very short installments. I actually read most of its bulk on laundry mornings at the laundromat. And then I'd struggle to return to it at night on the couch after work. But inevitably doze off from exhaustion, sometimes after having read as little as a single new sentence. At this pace of reading such a long book, in sessions of as little as 30 seconds at a time, it's not too hard to figure out why it took me so long to get done with it. Weird fact: just a few days after I finally finished it, it developed that Jeff's mom had heard about the book from one of her friends (who had listened to an audio book of it, which must have taken about six months to listen to) and so she wanted to read it herself. Wouldn't think it would be her thing. But she borrowed my copy. Haven't heard back yet on how it's going.

Now I am 206 pages into another thick read, Samuel Delany's long-awaited Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders, and I have somehow managed that number of pages in just a few days. Yesterday I glanced over at Jo Walton's review of it on Tor.com and I felt that I share some of the  reviewer's sentiments: it's really hard to enjoy it at first (Christopher is not at all into the lead character's obsession with nose-picking and snot-eating!), but then it sets its hooks in. I think I am going to love it, even though I occasionally have to avert my eyes a bit at an especially squicky passage. Before I glance back it at it and really read it anyway. Delany's a favorite author for me and I love having this thick new volume. For someone who hasn't read Delany before, however, and wants a sense of his whole body of work, this may not be the book to start with. It revisits a lot of the sex aesthetic of a much earlier work, Hogg, and like that earlier work, fuses "Literature" with some of the dirtiest (literally) hardcore pornography that I can recall ever having read. But this new book is not the gruesome and nearly altogether hopeless horror story that Hogg is. It seems like it's coming from a much brighter place. And it's got a character that I am falling in bookworld-love with, its young protagonist Eric who gets more awesome chapter-by-chapter, even when he is making boneheaded decisions (please finish high school, honey!). But then I consider his rationale, and I wonder who I am to say he's not making a good choice. He's going to be another Delany character that lingers with me for a long time after I have finished reading the book. As the story opens, he seems to be in a role somewhat analogous to that of silent Cocksucker in Hogg but with much more free will, and not nearly so much the receptacle and void of corruption that Hogg's lead was. But as the story has gone on, Eric has turned into something else entirely. He is going to stay with me like the fractured Kid and  the sweet Denny from Dhalgren, and the other very scary Denny from Hogg, and Rat Korga from Stars in My Pocket Like Grain of Sand, and Comet Jo from Empire Star. I'll report back on this book later.

Other Junk!:

1) I was greatly victorious at the June installment of the monthly wine dinner that I chef at the Botanical Garden. It was themed to go along with the Chinese Lanterns Festival in progress there now (San Francisco-accented Chinese food with Napa wines). Everything about it--the specific venue within the Garden, my menu, the makeshift kitchen, etc.--conspired against success, but we totally dominated. It was hard as hell, but when it's that difficult and it all goes perfectly, then that's what constitutes triumph.

2) I am looking ahead with some dread at Jeff's impending vacation to New Mexico to visit a friend. I can't go with him due to work this summer, and I just realized that I have never once spent more than a couple hours at a time alone in our current home and have a hard time imagining its emptiness when he is not here for days. It's gonna freak the cats.

3) Of late, I find it difficult to get out of my head Justin Bieber's "Boyfriend" song. Once any portion of it is heard, it replays in the background of my mind for a long time. What's annoying about this is that I probably would never have been aware of this tune were it not for the fact that the staff in my production kitchen at work constantly listens to a top-hits pop station on radio (later in the morning after they rebel against my selection of the local NPR affiliate) that only has eight or ten songs in its rotation, and one of them lately is this insidious Justin Bieber song. But what's really kind of fucked-up about the whole situation is that I don't really mind! I actually totally love this song! I think I am going to spread the contagion even further now:




4) An upside to having come down with the above-described affliction: I recently had a dream that Bieber was cast as Feyd-Rautha in a new Dune film, and in the dream context this seemed like a totally awesome idea. It still kinda does. Maybe I am still dreaming.

5) Got some new writing done yesterday, about 2000 words of it. This is best one-day achievement in many months. 
I suspect that people who read this journal or follow me elsewhere are well ready for me to finally get done with moving. The day finally draws near, and most major hurdles have been cleared: 1) we have a place to move to (always key); 2) I have a fine new day job waiting for me (a huge plus); 3) the moving truck is rented; 4) utility services at the new home have been arranged; and 5) we're probably about 65% packed already, and truck-loading day is not until next Wednesday. After the stress of securing a home was done, it's all gone pretty much perfectly so far. Hell, we even have the installation of the cable TV/internet set up for day one in the new place, and that just never happens! All this success makes us wonder whether we are due for a setback. We are not used to having anything important go our way in recent times, and we wonder if the universe is somehow being put out of balance by all these wins. 

In other news: I am trying to get past two publication deadlines before moving day. I need to release M-Brane #16 (contents were announced today on the M-Brane blog), and I need to finish several tasks to bring the editing phase of Aether Age to an end and get it finally off to the publisher. As much as I adore AeA, I have to admit that I am glad to be into the final phase of it so that it's not such a big project to think about while we are getting settled into the new home and job. I have no other book projects coming in May, so M-Brane #17 will be the only real deadline for me during Month One in the new home, and that suits me just fine. By June, I should be able to announce some dates for upcoming projects including the first M-Brane "Double" featuring work by Alex Jeffers and Brandon Bell, the 2020 Visions anthology edited by Rick Novy, and a novel by Mike Griffiths set in his "Skinjumper" world, which we think may be out by Halloween. 
I will almost certainly attempt, as a near-future project for M-Brane, the publication of a book designed in the style of one of the old Ace Doubles, a book with a couple of short novels or novellas printed back-to-back in the same volume, each with their own cover art. The image below is an example of one (if you could flip it over, you'd see the cover of the other story with which it was bound). I think I will attempt to replicate that old sf paperback look as well, and get some really cool cover art for it. If it works out once, then I may try to make it a regular series (in fact, I think may have the content in hand for the first such book already). Writers sometimes tell me that they can't find markets for their mid-length stuff, those stories that aren't full-length novels but are still way above most zines' word count limits. The novella was once considered to be an ideal form for science fiction, and it seems a shame that so few editors are interested in them. The Ace Doubles were entirely made up of short novels and novellas. Indeed, long sf novels were not as commonplace in the 1960s and what ones there were often got their first printing as magazine serials. I don't really want to lock into serials for the regular run of M-Brane but the Doubles concept could be a good way to get some cool longer stories out there.

Another old largely vanished kind of novel for which I have some nostalgia is the trashy pulp gay porn novel. While it's true that there is still plenty of such fiction being written, there remains something pretty cool about old books like the one pictured here, relics of an age before the widespread availability of sexually explicit films and magazines with pictures. 

It occurred to me that if the Doubles plan takes off, I could maybe do a volume someday combining the concepts: a double composed of two short novels that are science fiction AND gay porn. Most of those sex books like the one above were pretty trashy from a writing standpoint, but what if I could get hold of some finely written trash? Some science fiction which is beautifully and literarily written but also chockfull of explicit sex. It would rule, that's what.
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TMI Warning: Not that anyone was particularly wanting to know this particular fact about me, but 2:30pm (as I start to write this post) is not usually the time of day when I am at my peak for the day as far as thinking about sex and imagining new ways to get some. But I just finished reading Circlet Press’s Wired Hard 4: Erotica for a Gay Universe, edited by Lauren P. Burka and Cecilia Tan, and that’s pretty much all that’s going to be on my mind for a while now.

I really like this collection, and not just because of its sexiness but because of the ways that some really imaginative and vivid speculative fiction elements form the backbones of each of these stories. As big a fan of explicit depictions of gay male sex as I am, an anthology of straight-up porn with no other major elements to it would probably not sustain my interest from cover to cover. Did I mention that I read this whole thing in one sitting, from start to finish? I did, and it was because each of these stories are beautifully told and packed with ideas.

Unlike my own anthology, the recently-published Things We Are Not, Wired Hard 4 is indeed explicitly a book of male/male erotica. But much like my book, this one is packed with terrific speculative fiction as well. I enjoyed each of the nine stories, but I think my favorite may be Zachary Jernigan’s “The Succession of Knoorikios Khnum” which blends seamlessly its erotic content with some astounding world-building and a solid plot with epic implications. Its language is frequently quite lovely and lush, and the milieu in which it is set reminds me somewhat of Samuel Delany’s Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand. I won’t say a word about its storyline, since it is rather spoiler-prone, but it is a real stunner. If it had been submitted for Things We Are Not, it definitely would have appeared there instead.

Shanna Germain’s “Beneath Sea and Sky” also stands out. A bit less fantastic or science fictional (at least for most of the story) than most of the entries in this volume, it is poignantly and achingly gay in a way that I would think that it would have needed to have come from the keyboard of a gay male. But I gather from the contributor bios that Shanna is a female, and there are indeed a lot of women who write great m/m erotica nowadays. The emotional honesty of this story and the way the writer somehow understands what it can feel like physically and emotionally for a guy to have sex with another guy under the circumstances she describes here is so authentic that I am left rather breathless by it.

This collection also has a solid core of kink to it with such stories as Gavin Atlas’s “Slavery By Degree,” which is a rather far-fetched, out-and-out sub-boy fantasy founded on some kinky-cool science-fictional technology and a gleaming nugget of truth about what even the sluttiest bottom really needs in life after all the fucking is done for the day. Comparable in kinkiness is the bizarre and somewhat creepy “Nectar” by Diane Kepler, which is also rich with sexy masturbation-fantasy gadgets, the kinds of things that dudes like me dream up during that morning half-sleep before its time to wake all the way up. As one reads it, one wonders, “Well, why is this meal that you’re talking about lunch and not breakfast?” Oh. Breakfast must be something else entirely, and we’ll find out at the end. Also, in the techno-kink category, there is Kal Cobalt’s “Parts,” a sort of cyberpunk sex vignette centered around some fabulous body-mod tech. Short and hot, its placement in the book was perfect, too, as a transition between the stories surrounding.

A couple of the other items verge into horror territory. “Balance of Power” by Jamie Maguire is possibly the least sexy tale in this book—at least as far as what gets me up—but it is one of the most remarkable vampire stories I have read in many years. Basically, Twilight can suck it. This here is some hardcore bloodsucking in the (very) old school fashion. Then there is Tom Cardamone’s “Royal Catamite.” Set in what seems to be a sort of ancient Chinese imperial court milieu, this one gets into what is taboo territory for most people—it is explicit in this story that underage boys are being cultivated as sex servants—but the biggest impact of the story comes in the form of some truly creepy body horror.

The collection leads off with Helen E.H. Madden’s “When the Angels Fall,” a touching (in more ways than one) drama about some familiar gay themes like family, spirituality and guilt, but with a terrific science fictional twist that I shan’t reveal here. It’s a fine start to a fine anthology, full of rich world-building like good speculative fiction should have, and also full of intense eroticism like good gay sex fiction should have.

So, as you can probably tell, I really dug this book. I freely admit that my own sexual characteristics probably leave me more vulnerable to its charms than, say, a str8 male reader might be, but it is nonetheless a good little compilation of inventive spec fic that I think an open-minded str8 dude and most female fans of spec fic could probably enjoy as well as I did. Or almost so, anyway.
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A few years ago, my mother-in-law (not literally, as I am not legally permitted to be married to my partner) lent me her copy of Dean Koontz’s novel Odd Thomas. A strange and charming and mildly funny tale of a young man with the ability to see and interact with ghosts and to clairvoyantly head off danger and death, this story concluded with such a stunning and unexpected and deeply heartbreaking revelation that I literally gasped and was left weeping. This, I thought, was the work of a really great storyteller. And I still think so. But it’s too bad that this storyteller went to the well too many times and produced the fourth Odd Thomas book, Odd Hours.

Yeah, it’s the frequent trouble with sequels. A lot of great stories through the ages never got a sequel because they were either not commercially successful enough to warrant it or they predated the era of people thinking that stuff needs sequels. Or the story was just done and it would be plain dumb to add a part two. Once in a while, something is really good and it ought to just be left alone with no sequels or derivatives. But that’s thinking from a day long forgotten by people who make decisions on such things.

The second Odd Thomas story, Forever Odd, was OK. It wasn’t nearly as good as the original, but it offered the reader the satisfaction of seeing this character in action again, and it was decently entertaining. It, too, ended with a surprise, though one that was much less surprising than the ending to the first story. Then we get to the third book, Brother Odd. This one I listened to by way of an audio book from the library while at work and in the car. The main thing I remember about it is being left with the impression that the author had a lot to say about current-eventsy Fox Newsy shit like “Islamo-fascists,” and that the reader is presumed to be in sympathy with the ideology of the Catholic church, and that the Christian conception of an afterlife is more or less “fact.” It reminded me in a very unpleasant way of Orson Scott Card’s embarrassingly bad novel Empire, in which he promulgates his neo-con nonsense throughout and even gives uber-douche Bill O’Reilly a cameo.

Which brings me at last to the subject of this post: Odd Thomas IV: Odd Hours. OMG. WTF? This is a serious disappointment. It’s Orson-Scott-Card-Empire-bad, that’s how bad it is. Here, just watch the trailer and skip the book. The trailer is actually much, much better than the book, and considerably shorter, too. I have two primary gripes with it:

1) It’s too current-eventsy in a very watching-TV-now kind of way. Though I have a generally dim view of human affairs, I refuse to believe that “fascist jihadists” and “Venezuela” and other phrases and boogeymen from Fox News talking points are going to sound current and relevant in a few years, and that makes this story possibly irrelevant and even ahistorical to readers years from now. Koontz describes a fog-enshrouded tree as robed and bearded and turbaned. The acme of evil is always something emanating from the Evilsphere as defined by the Republican Party. Big Gubberment, Terrorists, Pinkos, it’s all out there. Koontz even refers to the goddamned Transformers movie. Did no one edit this book at all? That movie has already been forgotten! And the sequel was just released recently.

2) Odd Thomas himself is kind of a douchebag. This pains me to say, because I loved him in the first book and liked him quite well in the second, and even hung on to a lot of sympathy for him in the third. But now, on the fourth go-around, I’m quite done with his perfect virtue and unalloyed heroism. The other day I read an interview with Terry Goodkind (a Big Name fantasist whom I’ve sadly never read) in which he cited as favorite authors Ayn Rand (don’t even get me started) and Dean Koontz. His reason for liking Koontz is that he is supposedly one of the few contemporary writers who (along with Goodkind) creates characters that are heroes just because they deserve to be heroes and are just really perfect and swell. Well, you know what? That’s not interesting. This Odd dude has no flaws at all, he is pristine in his morals and his intentions, and he never makes a mistake outside of occasional clumsiness. He’s a fucking angel on Earth. He is a cartoon, not a human being. Also, Koontz uses the character as a vehicle to advance a tiresome romantic/condescending case that blue-collar people have some kind of idyllic lives that everyone (rich people, like Koontz) should aspire to. Odd Thomas is a “fry cook” by trade. He has considered dropping that line of work to try out the supposedly even less demanding “tire life,” selling tires at a tire shop where he has friends. He has considered saying fuck all to the stresses of the world and becoming a shoe salesman. Well, here’s some news for Dean Koontz and any non-blue-collar people reading this post:

1) No one in the restaurant business even calls himself a “fry cook” much less bandies that title about as a source of pride. As someone who has held every job in that industry from part-time dishwasher to high-profile executive chef to restaurant owner, I can tell you that these jobs are serious work and far more arduous than any sitting-at-a-desk-in-a-button-down-shirt job and that they are in no way near as idyllic as is portrayed in this story, and thank you very much for making the “fry cook” into the equivalent of the romantic savage in an old cowboys-and-Indians movie;

2) People who work in retail sales in general, whether it’s in the “tire life” or selling shoes, pretty much dream daily of slitting the throats of their customers and would probably do so in a second if they could get away with it. Selling shit to rude-ass douchebags for poverty wages and no health insurance (not even gubberment-run so-shuh-LIST insurance) is a life of leisure and contentment? Is that what Koontz is saying? Was he always a bestselling novelist and never needed to work an actual job? Sounds like it. Next time you are buying tires or shoes or ordering a sickening toadburger or some roach McNuggets at McDonald’s, just remember that the person serving you would probably be delighted to see you burning atop a stack of corpses. Though being a reasonable human and behaving with common courtesy dispels those fantasies quickly. Just saying.

So, in conclusion: Odd Hours is barely readable and its author isn’t living in the same world that I am. Not recommended. He ought not write a fifth one.
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