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2006 | 2005 | 2004

2006

A Brotherís Price
by Wen Spencer, Roc

Wen Spencer has always given us great science fiction: compelling characters, interesting backgrounds, compelling stories. In the four books of her Ukiah, Oregon series - spanning just four months in the characterís life - she showed us a band of heros pitted against an evil alien empire bent on taking over Earth and wiping out all life as we know it, right under our noses today, unnoticed by the general population. Among her heros are gays, lesbians, Native Americans, and some pretty mean biker dudes - all pretty rare in the field of science fiction literature. (Alien Taste, Tainted Trail, and Bitter Waters, reviewed in Lifeline Alternative Newsmagazine, January 2004; and Dog Warrior, not reviewed.)

Now Spencer gives us a completely new science fiction universe, just as fascinating. It reads like a medieval fantasy because of the feudal political and social structure, but is actually set on a far future earth where a biological disaster has befallen the human race: there are far fewer men born every generation than women. Partly it is because, through this disaster, there are far fewer sperm carrying Y chromosomes than X chromosomes in each man, and partly because most of the male children who are conceived suffer massive birth defects that lead to death, or are stillborn, or miscarry.

So, women rule and run everything and men are property. When a man marries into a family, he is bought by the family into which he marries, and he becomes the husband of all the sisters in that family in his generation. The Eldest mother rules the family, and the Eldest sister controls her siblings.

Jerin Whistler is the oldest boy in the house, and about to become of marriageable age. He is worried that his sisters will sell him in marriage to the girls next door, as dirty and backcountry a group as one could imagine anyone to be. That changes when, out in the fields one day, he sees a woman attacked and left in a creek for dead. He comes to her rescue, and brings her home to tend to her wounds, only to discover she is one of the royal princesses. He falls in love, but becomes dismayed at the huge difference in rank. The royal family can easily afford to buy him in marriage, but only choose their husbands from among the nobility.

However, when Princess Ren hears of the closely held Whistler family secret, she sees a way to persuade her mother to allow the marriage. But mother will only agree if all Renís sisters agree, and one sister, out investigating a long-simmering rebellion, has been missing for months.

Jerin and his sisters, unaware of the royal interest in him, are offered a reward for rescuing the princess: the royal family will sponsor his coming out in the capital. This will allow Jerin to be seen and bid on by the best families, and will also allow his sisters to look for a husband of their own. But coming to the capital plunges Jerin and his family into the middle of the political tensions which quickly escalate into civil war.

Spencer gives us a world which I hope she will return to often, as the story is open ended enough to allow for more in the series. -- © 2006 Cary Renfro


Camouflage
by Joe Haldeman, Aces

When marine biologist Russell Sutton helps Navy Admiral Jack Halliburton retrieve a lost sub from a deep ocean trench, they find another object that cant be explained. Halliburton retires, claims salvage rights, and they set up shop in Samoa. Eventually they are able to bring the object to the surface and beach it. Its like nothing on earth, and obviously not of this earth. What they do to investigate it is one of the story lines of this book.

Another story line involves a being called (by Haldeman) the changeling. The changeling was carried to earth millions of years ago by the unexplained object, and has been investigating since. Most of that time it has spent as one sort of marine animal or another. Finally, one day, it sees a swimmer and takes his form, and walks onto a beach for the first time.

For the next seventy years or so the changeling learns what it is to be human. It does this by becoming human, or rather, a series of humans. It takes on all kinds of human forms, male, and female, gay and straight.

A third story line involves a being called (by Haldeman) the chameleon. The chameleon also changes from one form to another, but has been human for a long time. It usually was a soldier of some type, going from being in the Spartan army to Alexanders army, from a Roman army to the Saxon invaders of Britain, from a Crusader to a Moor, and eventually to a Nazi.

Eventually, the changeling and the chameleon both hear of the mystery object in Samoa, and think it might have something to do with them. The changeling becomes a female marine biologist/astronomer, and joins the investigation team. In doing so, it falls in love with Russell Sutton.

Camouflage won the James Tiptree Award for science fiction or fantasy that explores or expands our understanding of gender. The central character in the novel is the changeling, which explores gender, and ultimately chooses that which it prefers. Ursula K. LeGuin notes, If gender isn't the central concern of this novel, it's near the center, and the handling of it is skillful, subtle, and finely unpredictable. -- © 2006 Cary Renfro


Conduct Unbecoming: Gays and Lesbians in the U.S. Military
by Randy Shilts, St. Martins

Randy Shiltsís classic study of homophobia in the U.S. Military is back in print in paperback. One would think that, after ten years, an updated edition would be necesary. However, the sad facts are that almost nothing has changed since this book was first published hot on the heels of the passage of ďDonít ask, donít tell.Ē Another sad fact is the death of the author shortly after the bookís first publication.

In terms of gay history, this book fits neatly in between Allan Berubeís story of gays in World War II, Coming Out Under Fire, and David Mixnerís insider account of ďDonít ask,Ē entitled Stranger Among Friends.

Shilts begins by giving a modest dose of revolutionary war gay history. Deciding that the revolutionary army could only benefit from proper military drill and instruction, Benjamin Franklin recruited Baron Friedrich von Steuben to take charge. Steuben, who received his military education at the court of the gay Prussian king, Frederick the Great, was between jobs due to indiscretions with boys, and happy to oblige. He arrived in America with a 17 year old French boy who was supposed to be his ďinterpreterĒ but who proved so inept at the language that Washington assigned him two aides who were fluent in French, Alexander Hamilton and his inseparable companion, John Laurens.

Then Shilts gives us a fast forward to the War of 1812, with American Naval hero Stephen Decatur weeping at the sight of the USS Intrepid exploding and sinking, bearing his lover Richard Somers to a watery grave. Shilts then gives us brief accounts of documented gay affairs in the Civil War (on both sides) and in the wars against the Indians, before showing us that sodomy was finally outlawed in the 1919 version of the Articles of War. Shiltís brief discussion of gays in the military in the 20th century up to 1954 draws heavily on Berubeís detailed book.

I have just described the 18 page prologue of a 810 page book. The remaining 790 pages deal with the history of gays in the military Viet Nam and other foreign wars, in military academies and training camps, on bases and ships, on leave and on duty in foreign lands.

From the 1950s to the present day, the interrogation techniques and the trials have changed very little. Invariably, when a person under suspicion told what happened during their interrogation, they werenít believed. That doesnít happen in America, people said. (Recent news accounts of detainees makes it clear that it still happens to this day.) Toward the end of the book, one unusually well-educated defense lawyer asked to see the interrogation guidelines. So many of his defendants had such similar stories, in widely different locations, that interrogations must be being conducted by investigators following a common manual. When he eventually got the manual, he was shocked. It was almost identical to the medieval churchís guide for hunting witches, which he had studied in college.

Of course, the story of a people would be complete without the stories of the people involved. Shilts gives us dozens of memorable Americans, who stood up for themselves in trying times, from Tom Dooley to Leonard Matlovitch to Margrethe Cammermeyer to dozens of others most have not heard of.

If you havenít read this book yet, here it is again. If you havenít read it in years, like me, do it again and open your eyes. - - © 2006 Cary Renfro


Gifts
by Ursula K. LeGuin, Harcourt

After Lifeline Alternative Newsmagazine stopped publishing, before my reviews began appearing on Capitol Forum, I wrote reviews and saved them for future use. Due to computer error, the file erased and I lost about 40 reviews. My review of the cloth edition of Gifts was among those lost. Now the book has been reissued in paperback, and I have another chance to review it.

Orrec and his family lived in the foothills. Orrec inherited the gift of undoing from his father. Depending on how one used it, the gift of undoing could be terrible. One could untie a knot with a glance, or just as easily kill (a different kind of undoing).

Gry lived with her family, also in the foothills. She inherited the gift of calling from her mother. This gift also had various consequences. One could call a cow in from the meadow, or call a deer to a hunter.

Rather than accept and use their gifts, these children rebelled and refused to use them. In Orrecís case, this refusal included blinding himself. He wore a blindfold and learned to live as if blind, rather than let his eye see something, and thereby kill it. Gifts is about this heightened conscience choice, and the consequences of it. For the consequences are great, as it is hard to make a living in the hill country, and gifts (or their lack) help (or hinder) marriage prospects.

In a way, we all make these choices. Our gifts are not magical, but they are real. What use we put them to, and whether we use them or throw them away, has consequences that determine our lives. So, LeGuin, in focusing on Gry and Orrecís gifts, makes us reflect on our own. -- © 2006 Cary Renfro


Harrowing the Dragon
by Patricia A. McKillip, Ace

Anyone familiar with McKillipís haunting, memorable writing will at once want this collection of stories. McKillip, an Oregon author, is perhaps best known for her Riddle-Master series, and the recent novels Ombria in Shadow and In the Forests of Serre. Her fantasies usually have a rural setting in some long-forgotten time. Indeed, many of her fantasy settings strongly resemble Ursula K. LeGuinís; the title story of this collection, for instance, strongly reminded me of Earthsea.

None of these stories have previously been collected, and none have been published in the mainstream fantasy magazines. So unless you are an avid collector of fantasy original anthologies, they will all be new to you. If you havenít read anything by McKillip but are curious, this would be a good place to start. If you are familiar with McKillip, then you know what you are getting and are already on the way to the book store.

I feel, on the whole, her long stories are more effective than her short stories, and more representative of the writing in her novels. Many of these stories are fairy tales, either new ones or retellings of traditional stories. The story I liked the best, for the record, is ďA Matter of Music.Ē The fifteen stories here were published between 1982 and 1999, hardly the ďtwenty-five yearsĒ the cover claims, but still when the offering is this generous Iím not going to complain. -- © 2006 Cary Renfro


Irresistible Forces
edited by Catherine Asaro, Signet

This book is marketed as romance, which I usually dont read, but my favorite authors name is on the cover in large letters, so I picked it up. It turns out to be an anthology of original science fiction or fantasy romances, written by some of the best names in the romance and science fiction universe.

The lead story, Winterfair Gifts, by Lois McMaster Bujold, was my reason for buying the book. This story is set in the Vorkosigan series, between A Civil Campaign and Diplomatic Immunity. It tells, at the side, about Miless and Ekaterins wedding; but the central story is the romance between one of Miless guards and one of his guests, and how they manage to thwart an assassination.

The Alchemical Marriage, by Mary Jo Putney, is a fantasy involving magicians trying to thwart the Spanish Armadas attempted invasion of England in 1588.

Stained Glass Heart, by Catherine Asaro, is a story about true love thwarting arranged marriages in the far future on a distant planet. Its very sweet and moving.

In Skin Deep, by Deb Stover, an angel sends a dead man back to earth to right the wrong he did, namely, stealing his friends girlfriend. This situation is reminiscent of the film, Here Comes Mr. Jordan, and its remakes, Heaven Can Wait, and Down to Earth.

The Trouble with Heroes, by Jo Beverly, concerns the love between a townswoman and a frontier warrior guarding the town on a distant planet.

Shadows in the Wood, by Jennifer Roberson, combines the Robin Hood legend with the King Arthur legend. The romance here, of course, is between Robin and Marion.

The romance in all these stories takes center stage; the plots would not happen without it. The story I got the most out of is the Bujold story, but thats because Bujold has more things going on simultaneously than the other authors. Among other things, theres the wedding, the love affair, the assassination attempt, the investigation into the assassination, and the general character growth of the two main characters. However, I have a special place in my heart for the Asaro and Stover stories also. -- © 2006 Cary Renfro


Murder, She Wrote: Margartias and Murder
by Jessica Fletcher and Donald Bain, New American Library

When Vaughan and Olga Buckley, Jessica Fletcherís publishers, invited her to come and relax at their Mexican hacienda in the popular artist colony of San Miguel de Allende, she eagerly accepted.

But when Vaughan made the weekly mail run to the American border and didnít return, things took a turn for the worse. Olga received a ransom demand, but Jessica wasnít sure they would ever see Vaughan alive again.

Jessica investigated, and tried to discover the motives behind the kidnaping and find Vaughan alive. Jessica discovered that things were not as they seemed to be on the surface.

This entertaining novel chronicles every move she takes, from interviewing the locals to hob-nobbing with the American expatriates. Fans of the novel series, and of the television show that inspired it, will be pleased. The authors have captured Angela Landsburyís speaking style very well. (The novel is told in first person by Ms. Landsburyís character, Jessica Fletcher.) -- © 2006 Cary Renfro


Neuromancer
by William Gibson, Ace

Gibson burst on the science fiction scene with this book, published twenty years ago as an Ace paperback original. It won every award science fiction had to give that year - the Nebula (given by the writers), the Hugo (given by the fans), and the Philip K. Dick award for best original paperback. Before the motion picture, Gibson had his Matrix, as he called what we would know as the Internet. This is the novel that coined the term ďcyberspace,Ē and which defined and began the sub-genre of science fiction known as ďcyberpunk.Ē And you can now buy a durable, permanent cloth edition.

The novel opens in Chiba City, a Japanese slum in which Case, a dealer and user, pimp and courier, lives and works. Case has a problem: he is a former thief who jacked his brain into the Matrix and penetrated secure systems, stealing information and allowing others to steal more physical assets. He now is broke, his girl is walking out on him, and his former employers have made sure he will never work again by burning out his neural systems with a Russian nerve agent because he made the mistake of stealing from them.

Then he is recruited by a mysterious man who seems to be ex-military to do the heist of a lifetime. The mystery man, it seems, has the cure which will rebuild his neural systems. A team is slowly assembled, practiced, and made ready for the ultimate caper.

This novel has everything: a heist that makes Oceanís 11 look like childís play; the ultimate in computer gaming; intermational mafia the likes of which have not been seen in US film or fiction; luxury space station resorts, and an ongoing debate about intelligence, consciousness, and what it means to be a person. Astonishing. -- © 2006 Cary Renfro


One Dead Diva
by Phillip Scott, Alyson

Here is an ideal light madcap murder mystery as an aging opera queen and a circuit boy team up to discover who pushed an up and coming diva off a cliff in Sydney, Australia. Itís an eminently idiotic and unfailingly forgettable bit of fluff sure to entertain provided you donít excercise any gray matter. -- © 2006 Cary Renfro




Self-Made Man: One Womanís Journey into Manhood and Back Again
by Norah Vincent, Viking

One night in drag, and an episode of a reality-TV show in which people dressed as the opposite sex, were the inspiration for Norah Vincentís remarkable transformation into Ned, an all-round good guy. She wanted to experience for herself what it was like to be a man, so for eighteen months she made herself up and dressed as a man, complete with carefully applied five-oíclock shadow and prosthetic penis.

Her investigation into the world of men took her into many places women never venture, including bowling leagues, strip clubs, door to door commission sales, pick-up bars, menís therapy groups, and a monastery. Even though many men have experiences in the settings Vincent explored, it struck me that few men would have experience of more than one or at most two of these settings.

After befriending people in these various situations, Vincent would often reveal her true identity and the reason for her masquerade (research for this book). Surprisingly, few people took great offense to being thus deceived by her. However, she herself suffered great psychological harm in pretending to be someone she wasnít. Finally, after therapy, she admitted herself to a hospital for treatment.

When she revealed herself to women on or after a date, Vincent sometimes ended up in bed with the woman nevertheless (Vincent is lesbian herself). I cannot imagine a man, passing as a woman, while dating another man (who thought he was dating a woman), revealing his identity and still sleeping with his date. If the situation involved men, instead of women, I think it would more likely end with violence.

Vincent never tried to pass as a gay man or investigate the male gay community in any way. Since she never entirely surpressed her feminine way of moving, and had to consciously keep her voice in its lower registers, one would have thought that it would have been less effort to pass as a gay man. But Vincent never even contemplated such a situation.

I myself have had little or no experience in the situations Vincent explored. So everything about the book was a revelation to me, and often a surprise. As a gay man living in gay relationships for over 25 years, I have had little contact with straight men outside of work since my teens.

Through Vincentís efforts, I now understand a little more the world my brother and other heterosexual men inhabit. You will, too. -- © 2006 Cary Renfro


The Digital Dead
by Bruce Balfour, Ace

NASA researcher Tau Wolfsinger and his archaeologist girlfriend Kate McCloud are on vacation in Arizona, camping on Navajo lands after finding alien artificial intelligence on Mars, as told in The Forge of Mars. A secret government team is sent to kill Tau and kidnap Kate, but fails in a spectacular fashion.

It turns out there is a similar alien artifact in Siberia, which NASA wants Kate to uncover and activate.

In the middle of all this is Elysian Fields, the virtual cemetery. You see, there is a computer chip which you can plug into your skull and which will record all your thoughts and feelings and actions. When you die, the chip is removed and sent to Elysian Fields. Then, with the aid of appropriate technology, your family can visit you, and talk with you, and be with you.

Someone has figured out if all the computer chips of all these dead people were to endorse a candidate, he would be a shoo-in for office. This isnt quite the same thing as dead people voting in Illinois, but its close.

This book is a dreadful muddle. The political corruption via the virtual cemetery plot is a good one, but then the alien artifact in Russia (which turns out to be a star gate to the companion artifact on Mars) is a good story idea too. There are fascinating things going on with these alien artifacts that I havent hinted at in this review, which would have made a mind-blowing novel.

Balfour even repeats himself. In just one example, one of his characters works part time as an exotic dancer, which he describes on page 5: While she danced, a constant full-body scan worked with the microscopic force-feedback sensors embedded in her transparent skintight to replicate the look, feel, smell, and taste of her body in a virtual environment. Then apparently Balfour forgot he told us all about this, because on page 263 he has to remind us: She wore a transparent skintight loaded with force feedback sensors that replicated her body in the clubs virtual environment.

This is too bad. I enjoyed The Forge of Mars, and I really like the character of Tau Wolfsinger, and I really was enjoying the first 125 pages of this book, but then it all started going downhill. I wish Balfour had stayed with the alien artificial intelligence story and stayed out of presidential politics and cemeteries. -- © 2006 Cary Renfro


The Dragon Guard: The Magickers #3
by Emily Drake, DAW

For Jason Adrian and his friends Bailey, Trent, Ting, and the rest, the world became a magic place one summer when they attende Camp Ravenwyng. There they learned that they were recruited because of their latent magickal abilities and talents, which they spent all summer developing. This is pretty heady stuff for anyone, but these guys are eighth graders.

It turns out that the magical world is at war, and the Dark Hand of Brennard (who are the bad guys, as you might guess from the name) looks like they are winning. The Magickers (as the good guys call themselves) have been searching for entry into Haven, and Jason has located two Gates. But they cannot stabilize Haven or use it for a place of refuge unless they can locate the third Gate.

This is the story of Jason and his friends as they battle the Black Hand and attempt to find the Gate, and incidentally get through eighth grade and the soccer championships.

The human story is, as usual, more interesting than the magical one. Each student, it seems, has a personal calamity going on in their lives. One student is struggling with issues in his step family. One students father is thrown out of work when the company which employs him fails. One student has divorced parents which are still fighting. One student has a grandmother with a fatal illness. Some students are beginning to go through puberty.

The Dragon Guard is a fun book, as were the two which preceeded it in the series. I would think that you would be lost in this if you had not read the two prior volumes. However, this is definitely for the younger set. -- © 2006 Cary Renfro


The Hunterís Prey: Erotic Tales of Texas Vampires
by Diane Whiteside, Heat

Here is a collection of erotic short stories revolving around a trio of undead Texans who know how to please a woman. Actually, Don Rafael Perez was a Spanish nobleman, who had become undead before Texas was a state; Jean-Marie St. Just is French; but Ethan Templeton is certainly American.

Each story is told by the woman involved, and each is rather unpredictable. There is actually a plot in addition to the erotic elements in each story. There are hints of gay activity, but all such happen behind closed doors and are not spoken of. All the lust is that of the women for the men. The men do not lust as much as feed on the emotion (and with just a few drops of blood).

Those interested will find the book amply rewarding. -- © 2006 Cary Renfro

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2005

Alexander the Fabulous: The Man Who Brought the World to its Knees
by Michael Alvear with Vicky A. Schecter, Advocate Books

Here is a short fun read, giving the essentials on the life of Alexander the Great, the famous Macedonian general who conquered the world in ancient times. Alvear and Schecter crack lots of jokes, and in between are careful to tell us all the things that most straight histories leave out, namely, the gay stuff. Books and movies about Alexander might mention his drinking buddy Hephaestion, but they will rarely tell you they were lovers, for instance.

The authors manage to get a fairly major thing wrong, however. They spend a good deal of time explaining the old man - young man love relationships so common in ancient Greece. They even get into the details of the sex (the older man is the top). Then the authors try to shoehorn the Alexander/Hephaestion relationship into this model.

It doesnít work. Alexander is only a few years younger than Hephaestion, so you donít have the older generation - younger generation model here. The authors quote the cynic philosophers regarding their love relationship: "Alexander was only defeated once, and that was by Hephaestionís thighs." However, the authors do not understand what the cynics are saying.

Sex between men in ancient Greece varied depending on their relative ages. Old men generally topped young men, in anal sex. But if the two were of relatively the same age, as with Alexander and Hephaestion, the men were face to face, with each man in turn inserting himself between his loverís lubricated thighs.

This makes me wonder what else the authors might have missed or been mistaken in, and I would have been happier if there had been a bibliography or source notes in the back of the book. -- © 2005 Cary Renfro


Algernon, Charlie, and I: A Writerís Journey
by Daniel Keyes, Harcourt

"I want to be smart", a student in a remedial English class told his teacher. Daniel Keyes, aspiring author, was the teacher, and the story he wrote went on to become one of the most loved science fiction stories of all time, Flowers for Algernon. The story won the Hugo award for best science fiction story of the year. It was made into a television drama, a motion picture, Charly, and a novel. The novel won the Nebula Award for best science fiction novel of the year, and Cliff Robertson won an academy award for best actor for his work in Charly.

This is the story of Daniel Keyesís development as a writer, and specifically the development of this story from ideas, inspirational people, story fragments, and notes. Every wrong turn is noted, every byway explored. The complete short story is included at the end of the book, and the novel has been reissued as a companion volume.

The story is simple: a severely retarded young man, Charlie Gordon, is given a highly experimental brain surgery in an effort to raise his intelligence level. The operation succeeds, but only temporarily. Algernon is the laboratory mouse which is given the same treatment, and with whom Charlie bonds. The entire story is told from Charlieís viewpoint, by way of journal entries he writes.

I found this volume to be a fascinating look into the authorís methods, and recommend it to all. -- © 2005 Cary Renfro


Back Where He Started
by Jay Quinn, Alyson Publications

Quinn, whose prior novel Metes and Bounds was so enthusiastically greeted by me, is back with another winning novel of living gay in the south.

When Chris Thayer gathers Zack, his lover of 23 years, their children and their families together for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, Zack announces he is ending their relationship and marrying his pregnant secretary, and leaves.

This novel is all about Chrisís journey and the decisions he makes in ending one relationship and beginning another. Love at 45 can be just as strong and heady as love at 20, but itís certainly different. One college professor explained it to me this way: if you want to know about teen love, you read Shakespeareís Romeo and Juliet. But if you want to know about middle aged love, you read Shakespeareís Antony and Cleopatra.

Chris has a strong relationship with the children he has helped raise. They call him Mom, and continue to do so even after Zack leaves him. Trey, the oldest is a successful money manager and helps steer Chris financially, guiding him through the sale of the house he grew up in and getting him set up in a beach cottage. Schooner, the youngest, is working through coming out issues and boyfriend problems. Andrea, the middle child, has her own issues with her husband.

Chris also grows in his faith. He is Catholic, and has always celebrated the traditional Catholic holidays. He has raised his childen in the faith. When he moves to the beach, he joins a new church and is welcomed wholeheartedly by the priest. He becomes an integral part of his worship community.

Back Where He Started is a heartwarming story of family, faith, and love. I am sure you will enjoy it. -- © 2005 Cary Renfro


Center Square: The Paul Lynde Story
by Steve Wilson and Joe Florenski, Advocate Books

Paul Lynde will always be remembered for three things: his voiceover role as Templeton, the rat in Charlotteís Web, his role as Uncle Arthur in the TV series Bewitched, and his place in the center square of the game show, Hollywood Squares. His nasal voice, and his brand of bitchy queen humor, which made him famous when it wasnít possible to be openly gay, was instantly recognizable and often imitated.

In truth, as a comic actor he had a limited repertoire and a large amount of stage fright, usually overcome with the help of alcohol. His witty comebacks and vicious ad libs were not composed off the cuff, as his attitude suggested, but rather scripted and memorized.

Lynde used humor and alcohol as armor to defend himself against loneliness and depression, but the irony is that alcohol was detrimental to his career, and gave his devastating wit a nasty turn, which alienated his friends. What love he found was purchased by the hour.

Wilson and Florenski detail every stage and TV appearance Lynde made, and include many of his immortal quips. They feel Lyndeís greatest achievement was "getting away with being gay on TV on an almost daily basis for more than a decade." They note that "Until Paul, gay characters on TV and film were mainly homophobic stereotypes... This fairy forefatherís arch and bitchy wit snuck regular doses of the queer world into that bastion of intolerance, the American living room. Paul showed TV viewers that a gay man could deliver the jokes, not just be the butt of them... He refused to be ashamed of who he was." -- © 2005 Cary Renfro


Chindi
by Jack McDevitt, Ace

Here is a highly satisfying science fiction thriller, in which the Contact Society, a group of rich dilettantes investigating the possibility of extraterrestrial life, buys a state of the art space ship and hires experienced pilot Priscilla "Hutch" Hutchins to run it. They begin by investigating strange signals coming from planets with earth-like characteristics, and discover a series of stealth satellites around each. When they trace the destination of the signals, they come upon a long-unused space station on the moon of a ringed gas giant planet in the far reaches of the galaxy.

This is the barest outline of plot, for everywhere they turn, the crew are faced with unknown dangers that become deadly. Indeed, were I to sum up this novel, I might say it reads like a cross between Alien and Rendezvous with Rama, except there arenít any alien monsters waiting to jump out anywhere. I canít wait for the sequel. -- © 2005 Cary Renfro


Cleaís Moon
by Edward Wright, Berkley

John Ray Horn played cowboy hero Sierra Lane in dozens of B westerns from 1937 to 1945 for Medallion Pictures, until the studios blacklisted him for striking a producer who destroyed his favorite horse. His Indian sidekick was played by Joseph Mad Crow. Now, after several years in jail for assault, Horn works for Mad Crow collecting gambling debts.

Out of the blue, an old buddy calls. His father has been killed, and he has uncovered his fatherís one vice: a collection of dirty pictures showing children doing unspeakable things. This is not normally something you would tell friends about, but one of the girls in the photos is Hornís stepdaughter, Clea.

Horn calls his ex-wife, only to find that Clea has run away. Hornís search for Clea, and for the leader of the porn ring, takes him from posh estates in the Hollywood Hills to seedy jazz clubs on Central Avenue to the Los Angeles waterfront.

Wright has captured the atmosphere of 1940s postwar Los Angeles well, and tells a compelling story of lust, greed, and redemption. -- © 2005 Cary Renfro


Cold Streets
by P. N. Elrod, Ace

This is, the cover tells us, "a novel of the Vampire Files." Set in a gangster controlled Chicago of the 1930s, Cold Streets tells of a vampire bar owner, Jack Fleming, trying to keep the wine and not the blood flowing, as he struggles to stay neutral in a mafia turf war. Itís an unusual twist on the vampire story, which held my interest even through the bloodiest parts. -- © 2005 Cary Renfro


Coyote
by Allen Steele, Ace

This is the story of the colonization of the moon of a gas giant planet, circling a star known as Ursa Major. It begins with a bang, as the captain hijacks the space ship and, instead of the carefully indoctrinated scientific crew, loads as his passengers dissident scientists fleeing persecution by an American government refashioned along fundamentalist lines.

The crew goes into deep sleep for the 250 year voyage, and wake up at their destination to find a whole new world they decide to call Coyote. It has its own plants and animals, and its own dangers as well.

However, nothing prepares them for the arrival two years later of another earth space ship, this one from a socialist government that arose hundreds of years after they left.

Originally written as a series of short stories, and rewritten into novel form, Coyote is high science fiction adventure in the best tradition of Robert Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke. -- © 2005 Cary Renfro


Damn Straight
by Elizabeth Sims, Alyson Publications

Here is a Lillian Byrd crime story. I missed the first in the series and after reading this witty book am very sorry for that.

Trouble calls from California, and Lillian hops the next flight out of Detroit and manages to get to Palm Springs just in time for the Dinah Shore golf tournament. One of the top golfers there is being terrorized, and Lillian falls in love and investigates. Thereís plenty of sex and sizzle, and from living in Palm Springs for four years during the Dinah Shore tournaments, I can tell you that Sims has the atmosphere absolutely correct. Itís top flight lesbian mystery fun! -- © 2005 Cary Renfro



Drop Dead, My Lovely
by Ellis Weiner, New American Library

Pete Ingalls, a mild mannered bookstore clerk, ends up in a local hospital after a nasty accident gives him a mean strike on the head. When he wakes up, he is Pete Ingalls, P.I., and talks as if he were a character in a hard boiled detective movie from the 1940s.

Pete sets himself up in an office and begins taking on private investigation cases.

It sounds like a cute idea: a contemporary guy acting and sounding like a B-movie detective. But it gets wearing after a while. A little goes a long way. And 275 pages goes way too far. -- © 2005 Cary Renfro


Finding Ms. Wright
by Anne Seale, Alyson Publications

In her second mystery outing, Jo Jacuzzo finds herself steering her RV toward Oklahoma to find a friendís missing ex. It seems Honey Lou Wright has fled her abusive husband, again, but none of her family has heard from her in weeks.

Jo follows leads from the army ammunition factory to the lakeside resorts, and from the malls of Tulsa to the local womenís shelter. Along the way she meets butch mechanics Jenny and Rube, and finds the best fish sandwich and chicken fried steak in the state.

Plot twists abound and Jo finds herself under attack when she least expects it. And while I wonít divulge whether she finds Ms. Wright, I can say Jo finds Ms. Right. -- © 2005 Cary Renfro


Firelands
by Michael Jensen, Alyson Publications

On the Ohio frontier in 1799, Cole Seavey is attacked by a creature that appears to be spawned from the bowels of hell. Rescued by Pakim, a Delaware Indian brave, Seavey is taken to the settlement of Hughís Lick to recover with John Chapman and his partner, Palmer. Yes, folks, this is a gay western complete with white settlers, marauding Indians, and interracial gay sex and romance.

As the creature attacks again and again, Seavey learns that the Indians think it is a Wendigo, which is a man changed into a superhuman force by means of murder and cannibalism. Itís sort of like a vampire with a twist.

If you liked Jensenís Frontiers, the novel in which Chapman and Palmer met, youíll probably like this one. I didnít care for it. I thought the elements of horror didnít go well with the western backdrop, and I didnít think Seaveyís change from clueless straight man to pulled together gay man, which happened almost in an instant, was convincing. Apart from these two things, however, I found the novel a vast improvement on Jensenís previous effort and entertaining. -- © 2005 Cary Renfro


Fugitives and Refugees: A Walk in Portland, Oregon
by Chuck Palahniuk, Crown Publishers

In this tightly written and very intriguing work, the author of Fight Club takes the reader on a trip through our neighbor city to the north. Recounting events, people and places from when Palahniuk lived in Portland, the author takes a very original look at a city some of us may feel we know very well, but probably donít know exactly like Palahniuk does.

Like any good travel guide to the Northwest, Palahniuk starts out giving the correct pronunciation for Oregon and then launches into local phrases the tourist should know, defined and described in such a way as to give even native Portlanders a thrill. Interspersed between vignettes of his life in Portland, which he calls postcards from the years he spent in Portland, Palahniuk presents itineraries of where to go, what to eat, and who to see. As a plus, a queer sensibility weave its way throughout the book in such a way to make clear that Palahniukís Portland wouldnít be the same without its queers.

Palahniuk presents Portland through a multitude of venues and people in a way that does rightful justice to its diverse and vibrant populace. Come share in Palahniukís admiration for the City of Roses and rediscover the magic that makes Portland one of the most popular destinations of travelers worldwide. -- © 2005 Brandon Reich


Half-Life
by Aaron Krach, Alyson Publications

Two weeks before his high school graduation, Adam Westmanís father dies, and he falls in love with one of the policemen who respond to his emergency call. For Jeff, the cop, Adam is a breath of fresh air: a sassy, sincere, open man, the which he thought was long gone.

The characters in this novel make it special: Dart, Adamís best friend, who finds his first love at a high school science fair; Adamís mother and step dad, both emotionally distant, yet drawn into parenting at long last; Sandra, his sister in elementary school; and Fran and Veronica, the teen lesbian couple who keep them all grounded.

If you give this quiet novel half a chance it will grow on you. -- © 2005 Cary Renfro


Hannibalís Children
by John Maddox Roberts, Ace

Suppose Hannibal had defeated Rome, and sent the citizens into exile? Thatís the starting point for this alternate history. For 100 years, the citizens of Rome have lived in New Rome, on a river in Germany, and waited for the time they could return to Italy. Now is the time.

The story follows Marcus Cornelius Scipio as he leads his men from the frozen north down sunny Italyís boot, treats with Carthage, and fights across Africa to Egypt. Itís an exciting story thatís told well, and should delight alternate history buffs as well as ancient history fans. My only regret is waiting three years to read the book. -- © 2005 Cary Renfro


     

I, Robot
by Isaac Asimov, Bantam Spectra

Foundation
by Isaac Asimov, Bantam Spectra

Foundation and Empire
by Isaac Asimov, Bantam Spectra

Second Foundation
by Isaac Asimov, Bantam Spectra

These four story collections are being reissued in cloth in a uniform edition, along with other major science fiction works by Isaac Asimov. (Although the Foundation books are called novels, they are actually collections of stories originally published independently, with joining material added later.) These are the primary books on which Asimovís reputation is based, and are the high point of his early mature style of writing. They were originally published by small press Gnome Publishers between 1950 and 1953, and republished by Doubleday beginning in 1961. (Bantam and Doubleday are now one big happy corporate family.)

I must confess that I really loved Asimov, and at one time had owned or read almost everything he had written. He is the only author I have ever written a fan letter to, and he replied! He died at the age of 72 in 1992 of advanced liver and kidney disease, later revealed to be complications of AIDS which he contracted in a tainted blood transfusion in 1983 during a heart operation. I cried at his death, and still have his obituary.

I, Robot collects nine robot stories, which center on how robots respond to the three laws of robotics when presented with different situations. Usually, a robot expert is called upon to figure out why the robots are acting as they are. Usually, this is the troubleshooting team of Gregory Powell and Michael Donovan, or the robopsychologist Dr. Susan Calvin. Surprisingly, I found the earliest story, Robbie, to be the most moving.

The Foundation books tell a continuous story spanning over three hundred years. The galactic empire is disintegrating, and a galactic dark ages lasting 30,000 years will ensue. Psychohistorian Hari Selden has devised a plan whereby, with the establishment of a scientific Foundation on the galactic rim, the dark ages period can be shortened to only 1,000 years until the rise of the next stable galaxy-wide civilized empire. This is the story, heavily cribbed from Gibbonís Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, of the Foundationís struggles to maintain and expand civilization and technology in the face of galactic barbarism. To keep the Foundation on track, there is a second Foundation composed of mental scientists at the opposite end of the galaxy. This series won the 1966 Science Fiction Achievement Award (the Hugo) for best all-time series, beating out Tolkienís The Lord of the Rings, Heinleinís Future History, Burroughsí Barsoom (Mars), and Smithís Lensman series.

The hallmark of Asimovís early adult style of writing, as exemplified in these books, is lucid rational characters, with the plot advanced primarily through dialog. When I was young and struggling with my emerging sexuality, I found refuge in Asimovís writing because of the lack of (heterosexual) romantic subplots. This is more important than one might think, for the lack of heterosexual plots made it far easier for me to sympathize with characters.

Although I have read these books many times over the past 30 years, I still found them fresh and as moving as when I read them the first time. I look forward to future releases in the series. -- © 2005 Cary Renfro


Lucky Stiff
by Elizabeth Sims, Alyson Publications

With Lucky Stiff the reader is treated to the third Lillian Byrd crime story. This time Lillian runs into her old childhood friend Duane, whom she last saw when she was 12, the night her parents died in a fire at her Dadís bar. When the flames died down, three bodies were pulled from the ashes: Lillianís parents, and Trix the barmaid. When Duane tells Lillian his life story, and about the woman his father moved to Florida with, who raised him, Lillian realizes that Trix is alive after all. So who was the third body? Was the fire really a freak accident?

Lillian enlists the help of an old flame, the famous crime writer Minerva Le Blanc, and they travel to Las Vegas to find out the truth.

Minerva cautions Lillian that she may never find out the whole story, but that she will forever be changed in ways she cannot predict if she insists on discovering old secrets. Her uncle, who raised her after the fire, said the same thing. Leave it be, he said. You never know what youíll find, and it may not be a good thing.

After reading several lesbian mysteries in a row, all with neat solutions tied up in a bundle and featherweight to boot, this was a breath of fresh air. There was more substance in this novel than in the previous five I have read, all put together. The characters are well-realized. The storyline is realistic. Life is complicated, and so is what Lillian goes through in this book. -- © 2005 Cary Renfro


Lust
by Geoff Ryman, St. Martinís Press

If your wishes could come true, would you want them to? Biologist Michael Blasco had a lustful thought about his trainer at the gym one day, and suddenly the trainer was there, ready and willing. Never mind that a crowded subway platform isnít perhaps the best place to appear out of thin air, naked and aroused.

After a few more unexpected appearances, Michael realized what was happening and began to think about it. At first, he had a hay day (or a roll in the hay day). Then, true to his nature as a scientist, he began to experiment. He called up people he wasnít interested in, famous people, former lovers, his deceased father, even his younger self.

You might think Michael is privileged, but he has big problems. He doesnít really like his work, which involves the study of neurobiology of chicks and has let paperwork slide as funding grant deadlines loom. And heís impotent. And his lover has just left him for someone else.

Everything finally resolves itself for Michael, as he comes to terms with the rejection he got from his father when he came out to him, and reconciles himself to his loverís abandonment of him. His work comes into focus and he even comes up with a scientific explanation for his ability to flesh out his thoughts, as it were.

This is one of those books which appears to be shallow, but isnít. The more you read, the more you think. The more you think, the more there is to think about. Ryman has constructed an elaborate fantastical meditation on sex, life, consciousness, existence. Amazing. -- © 2005 Cary Renfro


Maryfield Academy
by Carla Tomaso, Harrington Park Press

Anonymous notes have appeared at Maryfield, a prestigious Catholic girlsí high school, accusing an English teacher of sexual contact with a female student. English teacher Angela Martin, a closet lesbian, got one of the first notes just before leading her class in a discussion of the section of The Catcher in the Rye where Holden is touched while sleeping by his male English teacher.

While the investigation continues, the eccentricities of the faculty and students of Maryfield take center stage. The new principal, who is a nymphomaniac, chain smokes and paints. The assistant principal, Sister Rose James, has started an online S & M chat room. Sally Hamington, who recently replaced Angela Martin as English chair, is named in another anonymous letter as the culprit. One female student is pregnant by her brother; another cuts herself to get attention. The story follows one character after another, as each reacts to the ongoing accusations and investigation.

The novel as a whole didnít really come together for me. There are come really tragic characters and situations, but everything is written as if it were a black comedy. Unfortunately there are far too many flaws in the book for me to recommend it.

In the first place, there is nothing Catholic about this Catholic girls school. I suppose it is possible that there are female principals who are chosen based on their bedroom gymnastics with school board members, but one who outside the bedroom shows as little Catholic or even Christian piety as Helen Blalock would have little chance of survival in Catholic academia.

The traits each teacher exhibits in his or her private life seem to be the opposite of traits necessary for success at work in a Catholic school environment. This kind of lack of integrity canít be sustained for very long, and if everyone in the school is like this neither will the school.

One images this sort of thing as a bad made for tv movie, where everyone overacts and rolls their eyes to a pizzicato string accompaniment. Itís not for me - lifeís too short. -- © 2005 Cary Renfro


Nebula Awards Showcase 2005: The Yearís Best SF and Fantasy Selected by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America
edited by Jack Dann, Roc

Here is the most recent in the annual series of books celebrating the Nebula award winning stories and authors, together with many runners-up, a look at the year in science fiction films, and a symposium on the state of the field. Elizabeth Moonís novel, The Speed of Dark won the Nebula for best novel, and is represented in this volume by an excerpt and an essay. Neil Gaimanís novella Coraline is published as a thin young adult fantasy, and could not appear here complete. However, an excerpt appears.

The winning Novelette, The Empire of Ice Cream, by Jeffrey Ford, is here complete, as are three runners-up: The Mask of the Rex by Richard Bowes, Of a Sweet Slow Dance in the Wake of Temporary Dogs by Adam-Troy Castro, and 0wnz0red by Cory Doctorow. With its gay characters, The Mask of the Rex should be of special interest to Capitol Forum readers, and the other three stories are excellent also.

The winning short story, What I Didnít See by Karen Joy Fowler, is stunning. Other short stories from the final ballot included here are the gay-themed Knapsack Poems by Eleanor Arnason, Goodbye to All That by Harlan Ellison, Grandma by Carol Emshwiller, Lambing Season by Molly Gloss, and The Last of the O-Forms by James Van Pelt.

Newly chosen Grand Master Robert Silverberg is represented by an essay by Barry Malzberg and by Silverbergís story, Sundance. Author emeritus Charles L. Harness appears with his story, Quarks at Appomattox. The poems which won the Rhysling Award for best science fiction poetry are also included.

If you are looking for that perfect gift for a science fiction fan this year, look no farther. -- © 2005 Cary Renfro


Night Diving
by Michelene Esposito, Spinsters

Rose Salino works for her lover as a chef in a chic San Francisco lesbian restaurant, until one day she gets fired and dumped for another woman. The next day her maternal grandmother dies.

Returning to Long Island for the funeral, she catches up on old friends and family, including her high school crush, Jessie.

Jessie and Rose are both products of dysfunctional families; Jessie more so perhaps due to the child sexual abuse she endured growing up. The girls used to escape the crap in their life momentarily by swimming at night, and diving into their backyard pools.

Now grown up, they do some diving of a different nature, sifting through their memories, feelings, and life experiences to find a way to set their feet on the right path and make a life together.

Hereís a thoughtful romance with compassion and humor that is sure to warm your heart. -- © 2005 Cary Renfro


Home Body
by Gerry Boyle, Berkley

Jack McMorrow is a hard boiled reporter who gave up the fast life in New York City for a cabin in the Maine woods, and a job at a small daily paper in Bangor. He has a girlfriend who is a social worker in Portland, and a baby on the way.

When Rocky, a homeless teen he befriends, turns up at his cabin one night covered in bruises and on the run, Jack starts looking for what the trouble might be. When Rockyís dad comes to collect him, Rocky is terrified and bolts into the woods.

Rocky stays on the run through most of the book. He is running from the law and from his father, who he says will kill him. When Rockyís mother turns up dead, the search becomes more intense.

Jack tries to investigate and find out why Rocky is afraid to come home. He soon finds out that Rockyís dad is a bragging he-man type who just wants to make a man out of him. There are plenty of hints that Rocky might be gay, starting with his Dadís constant insistence that Jack had better not have an improper relationship with Rocky.

It takes several chases through the wintry Maine countryside and two more deaths before Jack unravels the mysteries surrounding the terror in Rockyís home.

The jacket quotes writers who compare Boyle with crime writer Robert Parker. They have a similar way of writing, and use similarly strong characters who are hard boiled. If this is the type of crime fiction you like, you will love Home Body. -- © 2005 Cary Renfro


Packing Mrs. Phipps
by Anne Seale, Alyson Publications

Butchy, charismatic Jo Jacuzzo has just lost her job as a nurseís assistant, when a friend offers her good money to pack up his mother in Florida so she can move back to New York. Jo gets as far as Georgia when her truck breaks down and, while it is being repaired, agrees to help drive an RV to Arizona with a beautiful, mysterious woman she just met.

Charity, the beautiful, mysterious woman with RV, is full of contradictions. An heiress, she drives an RV cross country. Her brother has been kidnapped by the mafia and is being held for ransom to pay off gambling debts - or maybe itís all a ruse, and he just wants more of his parentsí fortune, which all went to his sister. Charity appears to be straight, yet canít quite stop herself from coming on to Jo.

Red herrings abound and the plot twists faster than a corkscrew at a debutante ball. This featherweight entry in the formula lesbian mystery genre nevertheless is full of zesty fun. Itís good escapist summertime reading. -- © 2005 Cary Renfro


Sensei
by John Donohue, Onyx, $6.99

Yamashita is a sensei, a Japanese martial arts master, who lives and teaches in Brooklyn. His best student is part time college teacher Connor Burke. Burkeís college president, angling for a big donation, assigns him the task of curating an exhibit of Japanese weapons which a wealthy martial arts aficionado has assembled.

When one of those weapons is used to murder another martial arts instructor, Burkeís brother, a homicide officer, is assigned to investigate. He quickly finds that this is the latest in a string of similar murders which began in San Francisco and Arizona. There is a cryptic message at each scene in Japanese, signed Ronin (Japanese for a samurai warrior who doesnít have a master).

Sensing a connection with Yamashita, Burke investigates and finds a scandal that has been hidden for years, involving the Japanese royal family and their senseis. The attacks continue and no one is safe until Burke and his brother can uncover the secrets and find the killer.

Sensei is a well written thriller which can be enjoyed even by someone like me who hasnít the slightest knowledge of Japanese society or martial arts. I didnít learn enough about Connor Burke to satisfy me, but thatís what sequels are for. -- © 2005 Cary Renfro


Sex Workers as Virtual Boyfriends
by Joseph Itiel, Harrington Park Press

Itiel shares the stories of sex workers he's hired. He explains their skills at pleasuring him, the trends and difficulties of their trade, and suggests methods to train them to individual preference. This is a follow-up work to his previous book, A Consumer's Guide to Male Hustlers, and the stated purpose of this book is to teach the reader how to train the sex worker to better please.

He argues that sex workers are experienced at providing sexual pleasure, can be asked and trained to perform in a specific way, and can be brought into your life for sex only without the complications of a relationship. They are also safer than anonymous partners and easier to negotiate the sexual act with.

Although I defer to Itiel's opinions in general regarding sex workers and the industry (noting my gross lack of experience in the area), I take exception to his comparison of sex workers to boyfriends. A boyfriend is someone who provides a lot more than just sex. He didn't convince me that sex workers can provide the loving support, emotional growth, understanding encouragement, and interpersonal dynamism that a boyfriend can. In arguing that someone could be hired to be your boyfriend, Itiel is selling the same fantasy that sex workers sells, though it's not clear the author knows that it's only a fantasy. Buy the book and decide for yourself what you think of Itiel's theory. -- © 2005 Brandon Reich


Storyteller
by Amy Thomson, ACE

Humans have colonized the largely water-covered planet of Thalassa, settling on the many islands which dot its oceans. For centuries, news has traveled and history has been taught by storytellers, itinerants who sail the seas on harsels, which resemble intelligent telepathic whales.

One storyteller, who calls herself Teller, takes a young boy named Samad under her wing. She is very old, and Samad will be her final apprentice. As Samad grows up and travels with Teller, he learns about the world on which he lives and about the harsels which transport them.

A great deal of the conflict in the book deals with Samadís career goals. Samad wants to pilot starships, but Teller wants him to continue in her career. When Samad begins to investigate starship pilots who have retired, he finds that very few still live and most of those are addicted to intoxicants in an attempt to forget the thrill of piloting between the stars.

Everyone has secrets, and the charm of the story is learning (and suspecting) gradually what the secrets are that Teller, Samad, and their harsel carry. There are major and minor gay characters in this novel. The harsels, being an important part of the book, are very well realized. Thomson does a good job of concentrating on the relationships between the characters and their development. I enjoyed it highly. -- © 2005 Cary Renfro


Sudden Loss of Serenity
by Jacqueline Wallen, New Victoria

Claire Winston, a college professor and counselor, woke up one morning to find her daughter, Serenity, missing and her best friend and next door neighbor, Marlene Lundstrom, has been murdered in a nearby cemetery. The title of the book refers to the character, but also to the state of mind.

Marlene was a practicing Buddhist. She was learning about an esoteric form of Buddhism called ChŲd, which involved invoking spirits of the dead. However, her spiritual leader has also turned up missing.

The story follows Claire as she tries to find her daughter and to find out what happened to Marlene. The setting is interesting and we learn something about ChŲd Buddhism.

Helping Claire out are her ex-husband Ben; police detective Sharon Goldstein, Marleneís husband, Harry, and other friends from the neighborhood.

There are a few plot slipups. For instance, when Claire and Ben search Serenityís room for clues to her disappearance, they ignore her computer. Also, on page 37 Claire knows all about Marleneís will and tells detective Goldstein its terms. But on page 65, she is ignorant there is a will (even though she has a copy and is an executor) and Goldstein tells her its terms. However, the story is best enjoyed if the reader just ignores little things like this and goes with the narrative. -- © 2005 Cary Renfro


Tales from Earthsea
by Ursula K. LeGuin, Ace

Earthsea is a fantasy world first encountered in the young adult novel, A Wizard of Earthsea, which I read many years ago in high school. This was followed quickly by The Tombs of Atuan, and The Farthest Shore; and years later by Tehanu. Earthsea is an ocean world, with many island archipelagoes on which the stories and novels are set.

The stories here in this volume were all written after Tehanu, but span across the entire series of novels. They are completely independent, and you can read them with or without having read any of the other books.

This is some of LeGuinís most lyrical, moving writing. Here are love stories and quests, stories of honor and courage and magic. The stories here are much more accessible than much of LeGuinís science fiction, and this is a good starting point if you have not read any of the Earthsea novels but would like to find out what they are about. -- © 2005 Cary Renfro


The Deal
by Timothy J. Lambert and Becky Cochrane, Alyson Publications

Aaron, fed up with his friendsí complaining about their love lives, comes up with The Deal: They all have until next New Yearís Eve to find true love or stop whining about it. And there will be monthly love sucks parties to let all the whining out, but no whining in between.

Thatís a tall order. Miranda sucks the life out of every one of her romances. Can she really find love with a butch punk lesbian drummer? Alexander dabbles with menís hearts. Will he every get a steady job and a steadier boyfriend? Will Patrick, Aaronís straight roommate, be able to weather out the changes in his romance with Vivian, who canít decide if sheís a new Republican or the next Betty Friedan? Will Aaron, with bar buddies, gym buddies, and bed buddies, ever get serious about anyone other than his ex-boyfriend, Heath?

Iím usually skeptical about books which try to sell themselves as romantic comedy, but this one works. Itís light in all the right places, sexy and romantic when called for, and an all-round fun read. With luck, thereís a sequel in the works. -- © 2005 Cary Renfro


The Good Cop
by Dorien Grey, GLB Publishers, $15.95

The Hired Man, the previous entry in the Dick Hardesty series, was such a good romp I had high hopes for The Good Cop. Alas, the plot is an idiot plot: the story would be over in no time if only the policeman and detective concerned werenít such idiots. The title character is an old friend, and occasional sex partner, of detective Dick Hardesty. He is subjected to a lot of anti-gay harassment by his fellow officers which eventually ends in his death. However, neither he nor Dick have heard of caller ID or pinhole cameras, the use of either of which would have ended the story almost before it got going. Letís hope for better next time. -- © 2005 Cary Renfro





The Kookaburra Gambit
by Claire McNab, Alyson Publications

Aussie dyke Kylie Kendall has inherited a Los Angeles detective agency from her late father, and has come to America to learn the business. In this sequel to The Wombat Strategy she quickly becomes involved with trying to find out the truth about a right-wing Christian broadcaster who seems to be smuggling stolen contraband into the US inside stuffed childrenís toys. Her clients, really cute twins Alf and Chicka from Australia, are about to lose their award-winning childrenís show to evangelical Brother Owen, unless Kylie can learn the truth and stop the smuggling.

McNab has once again come up with winning characters and hysterical situations. Anyone who can read the scene in which Brother Owen discusses future childrenís programming without laughing needs a serious funny-bone adjustment.

However, just when the story started to get interesting, and the detectives were starting to detect, it all ended. So the book ended up being a disappointment. -- © 2005 Cary Renfro


The Magical Worlds of Narnia: a Treasury of Myths, Legends, and Fascinating Facts
by David Colbert, Berkley

David Colbert has written fascinating armchair guides to Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings, and has come up with another winning volume. I have never read the Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis, nor have I seen any of the films. Colbert explains that the series is really more a set of books with a common background, rather than a series as such. He shows the literary roots and real-life inspirations for each part of the story, and makes the religious and mythical symbolism clear. It is a valuable addition to any library, and essential reading for anyone interested in the Narnia series or Lewis. -- © 2005 Cary Renfro






The Only Investment Guide Youíll Ever Need
by Andrew Tobias, Harcourt

Andrew Tobias, the gay financial genius, has updated his best selling investment guide for the current century. Concise, witty, and understandable, Tobias gives practical advise on making investments in order to gain the lifestyle and results you want.

To paraphrase Tobias, he not only tells you how to play each kind of investment game, he also tells you whether you should be playing at all. What may be most important, he is clear on what investments you should not consider unless you are an expert, and why.

Where something has a different impact on unmarried partners or the gay community (for instance, tax laws) he explains very carefully. Whether itís advice on where to get the lowest cost credit cards, or where to get the least expensive mutual fund, Tobias has the answers.

When shopping for this book, be sure to check the copyright page to make sure you have the 2005 edition, and not the 2002 edition. Tax and investing laws have changed in the last three years, and Tobias has accounted for the changes in the newest edition. -- © 2005 Cary Renfro


The Parts
by Keith Ridgway, Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martinís Press

Six interconnected lives, told from the point of view of each character, make up Keith Ridgwayís brilliant new novel THE PARTS. Ö.[Itís] a stunning novel of characters and ideas that captures a new openness in Irish society. Thatís what the publisherís publicity says.

Delly is a wealthy widow, lying in bed in her mansion waiting for death. Kitty, her secretary and companion, is an aspiring author. Delly has brought Dr. George from America to attend her and keep the nurses away. Barry, who is gay, produces radio shows for Dublin radio and tries to hold his flat together. Joeís life is falling apart but the radio show he hosts for Barry is wildly successful. And the wilder Barry gets, the more successful the show becomes. And Kez just wants to be left in peace so he can work and support his aging mother. Even if his work involves performing sexual favors for men.

This novel may very well be brilliant and stunning and all the other nice words on the dust jacket, but I found it to be a bore. For a book to interest me, there either has to be an interesting plot or sympathetic characters. The more I read in this book, the less time I wanted to spend with the characters and the less the plot interested me.

In an effort to market this book to mainstream America, the sexuality of its two gay characters is not even hinted at on the dust jacket or in any of the publicity. -- © 2005 Cary Renfro


The Wombat Strategy
by Claire McNab, Alyson Publications

Aussie dyke Kiley Kendall inherits 51% of a private investigations business on the death of her father, so moves to LA from the outback to learn the ropes. His fatherís partner, the beautiful Ariana Creeling, wants to buy her out but agrees to a limited joint venture.

Business starts looking up when a famous counselor, advertised as shrink to the stars, comes to the team for help. He videos his counseling sessions, and several videos are missing of some highly placed Hollywood personalities revealing their most intimate secrets. Sleuthing abounds as extortion letters start coming in the mail and one of the patients is discovered dead - an apparent suicide.

Colorful Los Angeles locations and even more colorful Hollywood stars make this lesbian mystery/romance more interesting than most, and I look forward to future adventures. -- © 2005 Cary Renfro


There Came Two Angels
by Julia Lieber, Alyson Publications

A certain conservative former Senator from North Carolina is discovered in a motel room with a dead naked young man, rumored to be his lover in the gay press. Loy Lombard and her partner Sam MacLean are hired to clear the senator and put the blame where it belongs, on the radical homosexual agenda. Too bad, because Loy is as big a dyke as you can find and she isnít going to put any blame anywhere it doesnít belong.

Loy and Sam are veteran sleuths, having honed their skills on the big city police force as homicide detectives. They dive into the mystery of the murder, namely, if the Senator did it, where is the murder weapon and what did he do with it, since he was caught (bloody) red handed. They discover connections to the gay press, the right wing conspiracy, the tobacco industry, and the gay rights lobby.

Loy can follow a trail so cold others donít even know itís there, and itís fun watching her do it. Since no lesbian mystery is complete without a little lesbian romance, let me assure you that itís there too. This was another fun read. -- © 2005 Cary Renfro


This Wild Silence
by Lucy Jane Bledsoe, Alyson Publications

When they were children, Christina and Liz lost their brother Timothy on a camping trip. This loss has haunted them for thirty years. Now, on a winter camping trip with Liz, her husband Mark, Markís secretary Melody, and their juvenile charge Lenny, all the familyís secrets are going to be exposed: the truth about Timothy, Tinaís inability to form a lasting intimate attachment with any of her girlfriends, and the nature of Mark and Lizís happy marriage.

Thatís the thing about silence: if you listen, you can hear faint sounds. In the wild silence of the winter wilderness, in the silence that forms between estranged partners, the truth sometimes becomes clear. This haunting novel is my nomination for Lambda award for best lesbian fiction. -- © 2005 Cary Renfro


To Save a World
by Marion Zimmer Bradley, DAW

This is a Darkover omnibus containing the novels The World Wreckers and The Planet Savers, as well as the short story The Waterfall.

The Planet Savers was the very first Darkover story and was published originally in 1958. The Trailmen, one of the native sentient races of the planet Darkover, have a childhood disease known as "Trailmenís fever". A pandemic sweeps across Darkover every forty-eight years, bringing mild discomfort for the Trailmen but a high mortality rate to the humans.

Regis Hastur, the regentís grandson, has decided to personally go to the Trailmen, with a Terran medical team, to try to convince them to participate in medical experiments to find a cure before the next outbreak, due later in the year. If they are successful, thousands of lives will be saved. If they are not successful and the Terran colony is destroyed, it could mean the end of the Terran presence on Darkover.

Fortunately, one of the Terran doctors, Jay Allison, was raised by the Trailmen. While still a child, he and his father were in an airplane crash in a remote area of Darkover. Allisonís father died, and the three year old boy was rescued by the Trailmen and raised until he was a teenager. In leaving the Trailmen to be reunited with human society, Allison was shocked into dual personalities. Jay became the scholarly, unemotional physician. Jason became a gregarious all-around guy. Jason remembers the Trailmen and his foster parents with affection, and speaks the language. Jay, although trained as a physician, has little compassion; he sees an easy solution in the form of a couple of well placed thermonuclear warheads.

The World Wreckers is set several years later. Darkover is a closed world, and an off world corporation has taken a contract to wreck its economy, in an effort to force it to open itself to an imperialistic takeover. They will do whatever it takes: forest fires, disease, famine, drought.

Dr. Jason Allison has set up an institute to study the telepathic powers of the Darkovans in the Terran trade city. People of telepathic ability have been gathered from all over the galaxy, including Dr. David Hamilton. News spreads, and out of the deep forests of Darkover comes one of the last, and the youngest, of the ancient race known as the chieri, Kemal. Regis Hastur brought Kemal to the institute and stayed himself to learn and participate.

Although these novels, and the story, appear to be about economics, power politics, medicine, and so on, at their most personal level they are about love and sex.

Regis Hastur is an interesting example. Although it is clear from many books that he loves many women, and enjoys sex with them, his primary concern is to spread his genetic wealth and raise heirs to his family. He is greatly concerned that telepathic ability among Darkovans is on the decline, and wants to do his part to ensure its continued survival in strength. However, his primary and strongest love is to Danilo, who is ever present. The novel The Heritage of Hastur is all about their love and is the most explicitly gay of all the Darkover stories.

David also falls in love with Kemal. He has quite a time reconciling with his feelings, for Kemal is of another species and also is not female. The chieri are hermaphroditic, and have both male and female organs and potentialities.

In short, this is another great omnibus. Each novel is available separately, but there is a significant savings in buying the combination volume. -- © 2005 Cary Renfro


Zandruís Forge
by Marion Zimmer Bradley and Deborah J. Ross, DAW

Here is Book Two of the Clingfire Trilogy, which began with The Fall of Neskaya. All you really need to know is that itís a Darkover novel. I read the first book years ago, and didnít need it to understand the action in this one at all.

This is the story of Carolin Hastur and Varzil Ridenow, who trained to use their laran (psychic) power at the Tower of Arilinn, and became fast friends and allies. Carolin was the heir of the Hastur realm, due to rule when his uncle the King died. Varzil, being a younger son, would never rule the realm of Ridenow; instead, his superior laran powers will lead him to a higher calling as a Keeper, or ruler, of his Tower.

Their education leads them to the knowledge of the terrible power of laran weapons and they promise that between them they will work to outlaw such weapons.

When the Hastur King dies and Carolinís cousins seize control, the land plunges into a bloody civil war. The usurpers demand the towers create Clingfire and other laran weapons, and declare Varzil outlaw for refusing to comply.

Here then is another enthralling drama from Marion Zimmer Bradley, in which the main characters deal not only with life and death issues, but also with larger issues of ethics and morality in government and war. There is also a major gay character, Carolinís brother Orain. Many of the battle scenes at the end of the book may seem familiar since they also involve Romilly MacAran and also occur in the book about her, Hawkmistress!. -- © 2005 Cary Renfro

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2004

All Night Awake
by Sarah Hoyt, Ace

In this sequel to Ill Met by Moonlight, Shakespeare goes to London, meets gay playwright Christopher Marlowe, and tries his hand at the stage. London is in an uproar due to the plague, Queen Elizabeth's court intrigues carry forth into the populace via spies and secret police, and conflicts in the elf kingdom between the present and former elf kings stir up trouble everywhere.

I just didn't find this as enchanting as the first book in the series: there's not enough Shakespeare and fairyland and far too much political intrigue. -- © 2004 Cary Renfro


Channeling Cleopatra
by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough, Ace

Scarborough takes the intriguing idea that personality and memory might be bound into DNA at the atomic level and mixes it with archeology. A team of scientists has discovered that they can transfer one person's memory and personality into another person by extracting it from DNA, and they are excavating ancient Alexandria, in Egypt, in the hopes of locating Cleopatra's tomb.

Combine this with political intrigue and radical Islamic fundamentalists, stir in a couple of mad scientists and madder plutocrats, and you get the idea of the plot here. I felt the novel didn't live up to its promise. -- © 2004 Cary Renfro


Daughters of an Emerald Dusk
by Katherive V. Forrest, Alyson

In 1984, Forrest published Daughters of an Emerald Dusk, which told of the founding of Unity, a group of approximately 6,000 women who banded together to escape the tyranny of a male-dominated Earth. About 4,000 of these women colonized the newly discovered planet of Maternas. The remaining 2,000 stayed behind to form a community in Death Valley, which they renamed Sappho Valley, a story told in Daughters of an Amber Noon.

Now, due to a time warp the space ship passed through, twenty-five years have gone by on Maternas, while only three years has passed on Earth.

Women returning from Maternas tell of problems; while the planet is an unspeakably beautiful paradise, the newest generation of women are turning native while still in childhood, leaving human settlements and disappearing into the jungle. Concerned, the founding Mother of Unity and many of her daughters still on Earth leave on the good ship Connie Esperanza to travel to Maternas to help.

When they arrived at Maternas, they found that another twenty-five years have elapsed, again due to that pesky time warp in space. And the problems with the children were even worse, to the point that the women in the settlements have decided to refrain from having any more.

Emerald, whose daughter disappeared into the jungle and then was found dead some time before, took Joss, newly arrived from Earth, with her to investigate her daughterís death. They flew to a remote jungle outcropping with enough clear flat rock on which to land their small aircraft, and went into the jungle to the place where the body was found. The children suddenly appeared and herded the two women to a forest clearing, and fed them.

During the night, several young women from the jungle made love to Joss, communicating to her through her orgasms. Each night, during episodes of hitherto unimaginable sexual pleasure, more messages are communicated to Joss.

The meaning of the messages is clear and it forces a crisis among the leaders of Unity. The future of the settlement is at stake as the leaders try to process and understand the best way to proceed.

Daughters of an Emerald Dusk, while the third book in the series, can be read and enjoyed without prior knowledge of the other books. A few sentences of exposition quickly catch up the reader. The story is told, unusually, in the present tense first person. This, I learned several chapters in, is because each woman is making a continuous recording, or journal, of her thoughts, actions, and experiences by means of a small device worn as a necklace.

The women are able to have children by means of a medical advance which allows the production of motile eggs. Many of the women in the story were named after Roman goddesses, which became annoying after a while.

However, many of the more science fictiony concepts in the story are rather stale and dated. (I shall say here, in the interest of NOT revealing the plot climax, that I shall not reveal what these plot concepts are. Read the book yourself.) Some were old by the time they were used in Star Trek, and a person coming to the story from a science fiction background will spot them well in advance. Since the gradual revealing of these concepts is a large part of the story, one keeps reading in hopes that there will be some new twist. One is disappointed. However, someone coming to this book from a lesbian literature background will probably find the concepts I discuss new and original and fascinating. -- © 2004 Cary Renfro


Different People
by Orland Outland, Alyson Publications

What's not to like? There's two cute young men on the cover showing enough flesh to make it interesting, a promising romantic plot full of complications, and a back cover full of blurbs assuring the prospective reader that the writer knows his stuff.

Unfortunately, it's a crashing bore as Outland tells the story to the reader rather than showing him the story. Every once in a while the book picks up, as the characters come alive. However, it is't enough to sustain my interest for long. -- © 2004 Cary Renfro


Heris Serrano
by Elizabeth Moon, Baen Books

Heris Serrano was a military space ship captain until she was set up by an admiral and booted out of the fleet. Now she runs a rich old lady's interstellar yacht, but finds herself thwarting space pirates, smugglers, slavers, and plots against the royal family. This volume was originally published as three separate novels: Hunting Party, Sporting Chance, and Winning Colors. Readers will be pleased to know that Heresies pilot is lesbian, and her love life is a significant subplot running throughout the novel, becoming more prominent toward the end.

This one can't be beat for fast paced science fiction fun. -- © 2004 Cary Renfro



Homophobia in American Society: Bashers, Baiters & Bigots
edited by John P. De Cecco, Harrington Park Press

This collection of research studies looks at what the personal or social characteristics are of people who feel varying degree of hatred toward homosexuals. Notably, the book contains some 60 pages of references to when the federal Congress has raised the issue of homosexuality in his chambers. It's an ugly history from 1921 to today being catalogued on these pages, and especially apt that it is included in a book about bigots.

Also, the book includes studies related to homophobia. Though mostly theoretical and psychoanalytical in nature, these studies occasionally do relate concrete findings: such as the study which demonstrated that extremely homophobic men display a measurable phobic reaction to homosexuals, the same reaction that people who are afraid of spiders or of heights display. The book also looks into the relationship between knowing someone gay and being homophobic and whether homophobia is greater between or across genders. A must for anyone doing research about homophobia in our society. -- © 2004 Brandon Reich


House of Broken Dreams
by Byrd Roberts, GLB Publishers

This is the story of Strutwick Widdicombe, gay scion of an ancient southern aristocratic family in Norfolk, Virginia. Unfortunately, it's more the outline of his story, rather than the story itself. It goes by fast enough, but some sections which should be chapters are instead mere pages, or paragraphs. There is an unfortunate continuing typographical error: every "He" is printed "lie". Despite the emotional content of the story, this reader was not engaged. -- © 2004 Cary Renfro





Miles Errant
by Lois McMaster Bujold, Baen Books

Here is another omnibus edition of Miles Vorkosigan novels. This volume includes the story, Borders of Infinity, plus the two novels Brothers in Arms and Mirror Dance. In the first story, Miles plays a secret agent trying to break military prisoners out of a prison camp. In Brothers in Arms, Miles discovers he has a clone brother, Mark, who has been raised as a terrorist whose purpose is the assassination of their father. In Mirror Dance, Mark learns to live with Miles, himself, and his newly found family. These books are above average entries in the series, which is to say that they are among the best of their type in the world. -- © 2004 Cary Renfro




Orbis
by Scott Mackay, Roc

Thousands of years ago, in this alternate history science fiction novel, an electromagnetic gaseous race of aliens conquered Earth and set themselves up as angels of God. The Romans under Julius Caesar rebelled, stole some alien ships, and departed for planets unknown. Fast forward to the present day. The eastern part of North America is a theocracy, ruled by the Benefactors, as the aliens are known. Europe is in revolt against the Benefactors, led by the Germans. And in St. Lucius, a city on the edge of the forbidden great plains of North America, a cardinal, a priest, and a schoolteacher conspire to signal the Romans to return to Orbis (Latin for Earth) and help root out the Benefactors. This is a well-written fast paced story which takes some unplanned plot twists along the way. -- © 2004 Cary Renfro


Orphans of Earth
by Sean Williams and Shane Dix, Ace

Orphans of Earth continues the story started in Echoes of Earth. The last remnants of the human race flee hostile aliens intent on destroying them. It's a race against time as they try to stay alive, coordinate a defense, and negotiate an alliance with another mysterious race of aliens.

I finished this book with mixed feelings. While the story is fascinating and the plot fast paced, I really didn't like the major characters, and's hard to spend 350 pages with someone you really don't like. -- © 2004 Cary Renfro




Swordspoint
by Ellen Kushner, Bantam

The nobles on the hill above Riverside hire swordsmen to fight their duels for them, and Richard St. Vier is the best at that profession. So Lord Horn makes a very bad mistake when, after St. Vier turns down the job he offers of fighting the young man who publicly scorned his advances, he kidnaps St. Vier's lover Alec in an effort to pressure him to reconsider. Ellen Kushner has realistically created a world full of sexual and political intrigue, where nothing is as it seems and everyone has two or three hidden motives, through which Richard and Alec have to navigate in order to come out alive and together. This edition comes with three bonus stories and won a Gaylactic Spectrum award for best gay themed SF or fantasy. -- © 2004 Cary Renfro



The Real Tom Browns School Days: An English School Boy Parody
by Chris Kent, GLB Publishers

First the facts. Fact One: I didn't read all of it. Fact Two: I'm not into schoolboy erotica. However, I tried to read it. The first page introduces Tom Brown, the protagonist, the main character about which this whole erotic enchilada revolves, taking a shower: "He took his hand away from the danger area and applied the bar of soap to his chest. His nipples tightened and rose in response to his caresses. Drat! It was no good. Was there nowhere safe on the body of a twelve-year-old boy?"

Twelve-year-old? When I was 12, I was in the 6th grade. I rode a huffy bike, built model rockets, ate gummy worms and Doritos (back when there was only one flavor!) and was just starting to realize that this thing called sex would be coming to get me, soon! The word ėboner" had entered the collected language of the boys in our class the year prior and the boys and the girls were still separated during the slide shows in sex ed. Showers were a chore and nothing in my life resembled the nippled-pleasure of a Calgon commercial.

And I know kids are growing up faster today, still, I don't buy into Kent's premise. I know it's just erotica, anything goes, but it's actually quite ėfar out" erotica without intending to be. Now if he had placed these characters in college, maybe even high school, it would be far more believable and consistent with the kinds of feelings people are having at that age.

The work appears to be well written. There is a lot of British slang and Eaton-styled terminology. The descriptions are vivid and well storied. It's just that the age is all wrong.

Children need time to be their ages. Realizing the uniqueness and richness of that time which is childhood, it is just far too disturbing to push adult sexual feelings onto children, even in a fantasy or erotica setting. Still, it could be that the audience for this kind of work demands twelve-year-olds, that they wouldn't accept eighteen- or twenty-year-olds as the main characters in the story line. If age is your thing, how young do they have to be? Think back to when you were twenty. Weren't you, even then, child enough? -- © 2004 Brandon Reich


War of Honor
by David Weber, Baen Books

The latest entry in the Honor Harrington series is much more talky than average, and I would say that this is for fans only if it weren't for the bonus in the cloth edition: a CD-ROM which contains not only every novel and short story in the series, but also another 35 action packed science fiction novels. When you consider this is over 50 books at under $2 per book, it becomes a steal. -- © 2004 Cary Renfro

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