Like Wayne himself, Kathleen Winter’s novel is beautiful, but difficult. It’s remarkably well crafted, full of lovely prose and haunting images. From...moreLike Wayne himself, Kathleen Winter’s novel is beautiful, but difficult. It’s remarkably well crafted, full of lovely prose and haunting images. From a pure language standpoint, it’s a delightful read, and one that reminds you what an author can do when she takes the time to choose every word carefully.
Annabel is full of beautiful (but harsh) scenery, and beautiful (but equally harsh) characters. That, I’m afraid, is where my dissatisfaction with the book originates. The story is very cold, almost clinical, and the characters are largely without emotion. There are a lot of powerful scenes in the book that elicit feelings of both hope and despair in the reader, but we’re alone in experiencing those feelings. The characters are like disinterested actors, simply walking through a rehearsal of their lines. The equally disinterested narrator tells us what happens to them, but offers no insight into what the characters are feeling. Thematically, I suspect very much that this emotional distance is intentional, but it creates a real issue with reader engagement.
As for the dilemma of Wayne/Annabel, I’m of mixed feelings there. This is absolutely a book about contradictions, and the contradiction of gender is first-and-foremost in every chapter. Annabel is not a book with a hermaphrodite character – it’s a book about a hermaphrodite character. With the exception of some medical interventions that are critical to driving the plot, however, Wayne/Annabel could just as easily have been a more traditional transgendered/transsexual character. The whole issue with the sequined bathing suit, for example, is something I particularly identified with.
However, it feels as if Kathleen Winter is using the biological construct of a hermaphrodite to justify (or even excuse) the fact that she is exploring a theme of gender identity. Undoubtedly, the physical fact of being a hermaphrodite, as opposed to the psychological theories of a transsexual, likely does as much to ease most readers through the story, as it does to ease the author through challenges I would have liked to see explored. As a transgendered reader, though, it feels like a cheat – and that annoyed me.
One thing I must say is that the author knows precisely how/where to end a story. Instead of a nice, tidy, storybook resolution for all involved, we’re left with a series of transitions. Kathleen Winter leaves us with a glimpse of characters who are changing, who are progressing from despair to hope . . . or, at least, the potential for hope. Like life, there are no guarantees of a happily ever after, but as readers we are made to feel comfortable enough to let the characters go, and trust them to take care of themselves.
Ultimately, it’s a book I can definitely say I admire but, sadly, not one that I can say I loved.(less)
**spoiler alert** I brought a copy of Ilario: The Lion's Eye with me on vacation, and my only regret is that I didn't bring the companion volume, Ilar...more**spoiler alert** I brought a copy of Ilario: The Lion's Eye with me on vacation, and my only regret is that I didn't bring the companion volume, Ilario: The Stone Golem, with me because I devoured The Lion's Eye on the first day.
This is a book about art, gender, family, friendship, and politics . . . and not necessarily in that order. First of all, let's talk art. The driving force behind the story is Ilario's quest to study the new art of painting the thing itself - the world as it appears to the naked eye, rather than the iconographic representation. It's odd to think of a time when realism and perspective were undiscovered concepts, and it makes for a fascinating story.
Look beneath the art, and the Lion's Eye is the story of a rather unique and unusual friendship between Ilario, the hermaphrodite artist, and Rekhmire, the eunuch book buyer (and, we suspect, Egyptian spy). Their relationship is handled so beautifully, and so naturally, almost as if they were siblings or best friends getting reacquainted after a long absence. There is a lot of good-natured ridicule of their respective gender identities, but it's just that - good-natured and friendly. By the time we're introduced to Neferet, the feminized eunuch book buyer, her gender identity is almost a non-event.
Lastly, this is a book about politics and family. Poor Ilario must contend with the mother who left her 'freak' infant to die in the cold, the adopted parents who raised him and sold him to be the King's freak, and the father who returns from the Crusades to discover he has a son-daughter. If I could have chosen my parents, I don't think I could have even asked for a father as loving, understanding, and fiercely dedicated as Honorius. Oh, and just to round out the theme of family, Ilario must also contend with the fact that he-she is pregnant!
This is not the book I expected it to be, and that is too its credit. I must say, the ending is quite a cliff-hanger, but knowing there is a second volume eases some of the worry for lovely Ilario. Here's hoping The Stone Golem is a worthy conclusion to the tale. (less)
Yes, Absolutely Perfection is just as wild, crazy, and eccentrically beautiful as the book blurb makes it sound.
The book starts out on a dark note, w...moreYes, Absolutely Perfection is just as wild, crazy, and eccentrically beautiful as the book blurb makes it sound.
The book starts out on a dark note, with a bar interrogation scene that could be taken from any prime time drama - except for the fact that the bartender is a vampire, and his interrogator is a Hindu snake-god in human guise. The banter is very well done, and the introduction of the vampire's family provides our first glimpse of the surreal elements that drive the story along. When Taza comes barelling into the bar, fleeing a human who has mistaken the seahorse for a mermaid and deemed him lunch, the story launches into full-on camp absurdity.
What develops from there is a fairly standard romantic comedy involving unwilling partners who, despite their intentions, fall deeply, madly, and passionately in love. Of course, as much as the plot device is standard, the characters certainly are not. With Tika and Taza we have to non-humans taking on human guises that are bordering between cute twink and effeminate boy. To confuse matters further, both are capable of bearing young, and are equally certain that the other will fulfill that role in their relationship.
The book's one minor failing is that it's so frantic, and so deep with the alien biology of mythological creatures, that the reader can get lost at times. The sex scenes are particularly confusing, especially when Tika is wavering between his natural serpent self and his human guise. In the end, though, the love story is so strong and so rewarding that the reader is more than happy to take the time to go back and reread a few paragraphs.
Ultimately, this is a story unlike any other you're likely to read this year. Novelty aside, it's also wonderfull written, which characters you will almost immediately become invested in.(less)
Every once in a while (if you’re lucky), you come across that one book that so absolutely amazes and delights you that it makes you want to run throug...moreEvery once in a while (if you’re lucky), you come across that one book that so absolutely amazes and delights you that it makes you want to run through the streets, singing its praises to the world. The kind of book that’s constantly on your mind, playing with your emotions, and demanding that you find a few more minutes to savour it – because just ‘reading’ it is never enough.
For me, Darcy Abriel’s Silver (Book 1 of the Humanotica series) is that book.
Although this is an intensely sexual read, there is a strong dystopian plot driving the action that would not be out of place in a mass market science fiction novel. The city of Quentopolis is a futuristic empire, controlled by the humans of the Politico, and serviced by the computers of the Elite Logical Life Core. This is a society where mechanical modifications are standard practice, but any citizen who surpasses the 50/50 balance between human and humanotic becomes a slave, chattel for whoever owns them.
Enter the Metallitionist Resistance. Their members violently oppose this notion of slavery, and are actively plotting to disrupt the Politico. For some Resistance members the struggle is about justice and change, but for others it’s simply about revenge.
That contradiction is just one of many that are woven through the story of Silver. This is a story comprised of contradictions – justice/revenge, male/female, slave/master, human/machine, dominant/submissive, science/supernatural – but it’s the unique compromises that Darcy introduces to those contradictions which are so pleasantly surprising.
As I said, this is also an intensely sexual read, with innovative obscenities and novel delights that never cease to amaze, even as they furiously arouse. Silver herself is the centrepiece of all this sexual activity. Once a human female, she has been progressively modified into a thing a beauty, a voluptuous humanotic sex goddess, with a silver-tipped phallus that would put most men to shame. Her body has been designed to both give and receive pleasure, and she has been conditioned by her owner, Lel Kesselbaum, to maximize the intensity and duration of those pleasures.
As for Kesselbaum, he is a member of the Politico and a member of the Dominatae – sexualized nobility who are specifically trained in the erotic art of dominance. Although he seems cold and distant a first, a villainous abuser of the beautiful Silver, brilliant complexities are slowly revealed in both himself and his relationship with her. The ways in which he prepares and displays his Trinex, particularly how he dresses her and sculpts her public appearance, are absolutely glorious to behold.
Further complicating matters is Entreus, once a mechanized Orictian warrior, and now leader of the Metallitionist Resistance. He sees Silver as his access point to Kesselbaum and the Politico, a means of peacefully driving change from within the system itself. At the same time, he is intensely aroused by the very notion of who and what she is, so much so that he’s willing to betray his own nature and allow her to take the upper hand.
It is with Entreus that Silver first explorers her dominant side, brutally penetrating him with her silver-tipped phallus. Directed, enabled, and assisted by the beautiful Violette (Kesselbaum’s female counterpart amongst the Dominatae), their coming together is a scene of such wonder and eroticism that I challenge any reader to finish it with both hands still on the book.
To say much more would be to spoil the surprises that drive the latter half of the book. Suffice to say, every time you think the story has reached its height, every time you figure the sexual innovations have reached their peak, Darcy insists on taking you a bit father. And, just when you think you’ve figured out where the story is going, she exposes a few satisfying twists that force yet another compromise – this time, with the your expectations.
Available from Samhain Publishing on December 21st (just in time for the holidays), Silver is a book that I cannot recommend highly enough. (less)
Thrace is an interesting collection of 3 short stories - Let Tsygons Be Tsygons, Electric High and An Equal Opportunity Murderer - that are linked by...moreThrace is an interesting collection of 3 short stories - Let Tsygons Be Tsygons, Electric High and An Equal Opportunity Murderer - that are linked by both their setting and their themes.
All 3 stories are set on the alien world of Thrace, a concrete jungle with an atmosphere poisonous to humans. As the closest inhabitable planet to Earth, however, it has proven to be a natural target for . . . well, let's call it colonization. Humans have largely taken over the world, placing the native Tsygons - three eyed, dark skinned, genderless aliens with tails - in a subservient state, leading to the shared theme of racism amongst the stories.
Definitely an interesting read, even if it doesn't make us feel too good about ourselves as a race.(less)
Deviant Ark is one of the most near-perfect reads I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying in a very long while. I went into it with such high expectations t...moreDeviant Ark is one of the most near-perfect reads I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying in a very long while. I went into it with such high expectations that I was actually reluctant to begin reading it and risk disappointment. Much to my surprise, it fulfilled all of my expectations, and even presented a few wonderful surprises.
Much of the book revolves around the various conflicts between the ‘straight’ authorities, the ‘deviant’ human resistance, and the equally ‘deviant’ alien refugees of I’leana. In a future where the world has been homogenized under a single government (and a single religion), deviance is simply not tolerated. Gays and lesbians are hunted down, abducted, and forcibly ‘reconditioned,’ a process broadcast on live TV as a form of state-sponsored entertainment. Meanwhile, the dual-gendered alien refugees are mocked as much for their gender as for their blue skin and pointed ears, confined to the worst human slums, and treated like slaves.
While a covert Martian resistance cell does exist, operating as much for political as for sexual reasons, they’re simply incapable of driving the kind of change needed to allow the ‘deviants’ to find acceptance. There’s a sense of hopelessness to their efforts, although you can’t help but admire their perseverance.
What holds the story together and provides us with hope is the budding relationship between Marlene and C'est'a. It’s a wonderfully awkward love affair, with Marlene unsure she can handle being attracted to a woman with a penis, and C’est’a exploring her first feelings for a human. Her parents are divided in their opinions of the relationship and end up presenting Marlene with a challenge to prove herself. It is through this challenge that Marlene not only wins their respect, but takes the first steps towards orchestrating cooperation between the resistance and the I’leana.
If the story has a failing – and it may have been intentional on the part of the author – it’s that morality is so closely tied to sexuality. With one or two minor exceptions, the ‘straight’ population is portrayed as a bastion of cruelty and negativity. Similarly, despite a few rough edges, the ‘deviant’ populations (both human and alien) are almost all portrayed lovingly and positively.
Ultimately, Deviant Ark is a serious science fiction story first, an LGBT romance second, and an erotic romp third. The story starts and ends with well-orchestrated space battles, and the climactic confrontation in the streets between the resistance and the army is as horrific as it is heroic. As for the sex scenes, they’re both inventive and exciting in their intensity. More importantly, the sex plays a key role in the story, exposing the alliances and deceptions upon which the fate of the world rests.
Recommended for anybody with an interest in the human condition . . . and an open mind. (less)
The lovely Giselle Renarde has done it again, first capturing my attention, and then completely surpassing my expectations - if this keeps up, I'm afr...moreThe lovely Giselle Renarde has done it again, first capturing my attention, and then completely surpassing my expectations - if this keeps up, I'm afraid my expectations for her work are going to become simply unreasonable!
This is another well-written story from Giselle with a strong transgender theme. In contrast to the deliberately grounded, realistic nature of her other work, however, this is very much an imaginative work of fantasy. Giselle dedicates this one to "those who believe in magical transformation" and it's as beautiful a sentiment as it is a story.
This is a story filled with humour, romance, and a great deal of heart. You cannot help but feel for Trysta's "female problem", for Professor Selyf's instant attraction to this beautiful woman who has intruded on his solitude, and for Bedwyn's steadfast dedication to seeing his partner through trials he doesn't need to understand to appreciate. The erotic elements are largely limited to the climactic solstice ritual near the end of the story, but it's a very pleasant journey that leads us to that final reward.
Very much like Giselle's Red Satin story, there were several passages here that put a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye. Giselle demonstrates a true understanding for the mental and emotional turmoil inflicted upon Trysta, and never once resorts to exploiting her secret for a quick thrill. Although I don't want to spoil the how and the why of it, I have to say this probably her happiest and most thoroughly satisfying ending yet.
The Flight of the Silver Vixen is the kind of book you’ll enjoy immensely, but really wish you could have read as a young girl. It’s a fun, all-girl,...moreThe Flight of the Silver Vixen is the kind of book you’ll enjoy immensely, but really wish you could have read as a young girl. It’s a fun, all-girl, swashbuckling adventure that makes you giddy with joy, even as it causes you to pause every once in a while to reflect upon what's happening beneath the story.
This is the story of a band of teenage girls who steal an experimental spaceship called The Silver Vixen. Forced to enter an ether crease (think Star Trek wormhole), they find themselves on the other side of the universe, on a planet very much like their own, and surrounded by barbarian space-pirates. That’s where the obvious conflict begins, but centuries of isolation on their sister world have created societal and political differences that create deeper, more subtle conflicts of their own. As you might expect, the girls are forced to grow up quickly, as very adult demands (the kind upon which entire civilizations turn) are suddenly placed on them.
To truly appreciate the threat posed by The Kang, it is first necessary to understand the question of gender that’s at the heart of this novel (and which, coincidentally, first appealed to my own heart). The Flight of the Silver Vixen is the story of an intemorph race, one that, to all appearances, consists entirely of women. Of course, when it comes to sex and gender, it’s never quite that simple, and this is by no means a Utopian sexual ideal. In fact, the division of gender is still very sexist, with the blondes being smaller, cuter, more emotional women who need to be buckled in and coddled; and the brunettes being physically larger and stronger women who take on the heavy jobs, and who are often (affectionately) dismissive of their blondes.
The Kang, meanwhile, are schizomorphs – gender mutations who have split into two visually distinct male and female sexes, each exaggerated and extreme in adherence to ‘human’ stereotypes. Beast-like, violent, and aggressive, the men of The Kang are sword-wielding barbarians who could have escaped from any teenage boy's swords-and-sorcery fantasy. Although less advanced in all areas of development, they’ve armed themselves with stolen technology, and are guided by the Dark One (an ancient demon who plays a significant role in the two sister worlds).
The writing is solid, the characters are well rounded, and the dialogue is wonderfully natural – it pulls you in and makes you wish you could interject, comment, and take part in the discussions. There are elements of (alien) teenage girl speak, but these women are mature beyond their years. It is primarily through their interactions with each other (and their sister civilization) that the book’s concepts and assumptions about gender, social class, and philosophy are fully explored. Instead of forcing understanding upon us with narrative asides and long, drawn-out explanations, we are almost subconsciously fed a little more knowledge with every interaction.
Additionally, the more we get to know these girls, the more plausible it seems they’d be able to get away with stealing the Queen’s ship . . . and the more plausible it seems they’ll be able to deal with so many levels of conflict. This is, indeed, a swashbuckling adventure, and one that mixes interstellar battles, sci-fi motorcycle races through fantasy wildernesses, gun-battles and sword-battles (sometimes at the same time), and some verbal sparring that’s as fun and feminist as it is clever (think Buffy the Vampire Slayer).
My only complaint (and I realise this is a limitation of YA fiction), is that I would have loved to learn more about the sexual nature of the intemorphs. There are a few tantalizing hints and suggestions, and perhaps the questions are meant to be more exciting than the answers, but it still leaves me wondering how it all works. I'm not talking graphic or obscene - I'd just be interested in seeing how a romance might be handled, how a family unit operates, or simply whether attraction lies alongside 'gender' lines (blonde vs brunette) or is more open. I suspect there is still more story to come, so maybe we'll learn more as we go.
Regardless of my curiosity getting the best of me, this is a stellar effort (if you’ll pardon the pun) and definitely worth a read.(less)