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Book Marks


Richard Labonte | February 26, 2007

The Danger Dance, by Caro Soles. Haworth Positronic Press, 248 pages, $16.95 paper.

In a universe of books where sword-and-sorcery fantasies fill the speculative fiction shelves, this futurist romp is a welcome throwback to the days of space ships rocketing through intergalactic adventures. Though there are several landfalls on exotic far-off planets, most of the action takes place on a military starship, where a Merculian couple – acclaimed interpretative dancer Eulio and his young lover, Orasin – have been planted. The pretext is that they're hitching rides from planet to planet where Eulio is to perform, to unmask the traitor who's been passing fleet movement secrets to the evil Troia – gotta love those imaginative SF-ian names! The author blends fast-paced planet-hopping with lusty storytelling to tell a tale of cloak-and-dagger political intrigue, all laced with a dash of intense SM and infused, not at all out of place, with a passion for the art of dance – an effete touch that mellows the adventure's harshly militaristic edge. The novel's alternate universe, with its smartly realized gender fluidity, engaging intersexual alternatives, and imaginative alien beings, is quite satisfying escapist fare – a real pulp adventure.



Hex: A Novel of Love Spells, by Darieck Scott. Carroll & Graf, 608 pages, $16.95 paper.

Fidel Castro has died, and Miami's Cuban exiles are partying in the streets. Except that the dead president is spotted around town, adding to the hysteria – just one of many weirdnesses in this steamy cauldron of supernatural mysteries, psychic manifestations, parallel universes, time-travel twists, magic spells (one gone tragically awry), and a good amount of gay lust, both painfully repressed and sensuously realized. Despite its heft, Hex reads like a text-heavy comic book, albeit one written by a race-conscious black intellectual with a yen for commentary about American politics and culture. It's crammed with a slew of colorful characters, but five young men – two hunky African-American friends, one macho Latino circuit boy, one fierce white drag queen, and one mixed-race fellow who's sure he's straight, though he sleeps in the same bed as the gay guys – make up the queer core of this ambitious potpourri of mystical adventure and sexual shenanigans.



Butch Is a Noun, by S. Bear Bergman. Suspect Thoughts Press, 176 pages, $16.95 paper.

This sassy essay collection is savvy about the theory of being a butch – about the physicality and the psychology of moving through a world normally divided into this-is-a-boy and this-is-a-girl certainties. For that alone, it's an impressive guide to the emotional and practical intricacies of gender transgression. But the best bits are personal. Some are sexy: about the rush of wrestling, the power of a strap-on, a butch being bottomed. Some are demoralizing: about slurs on the street, snubs while shopping, washroom confusion. Some are instructive: why a pocketknife is the best accessory, how to bind breasts, why boxer briefs make the best undies. Some are melancholy: an apologetic letter to Mom about denying her the fun of girl talk, a pained memory of Dad's explosive anger. Some are comic, such as a butch and a femme signing up for their bridal registry. And one is a really useful pronoun primer: how using "ze" and "hir" takes care of that pesky his/hers, her/him, and he/she rigidity – and, like this book, "opens up a space for a gender that is not man or woman."



Charmed Lives: Gay Spirit in Storytelling, edited by Toby Johnson and Steve Berman. White Crane Books, 306 pages, $16 paper.

Some of the 30-plus spirited contributions to this collection are queer fairy tales, fey fiction with a whiff of magical realism. Some are essays focusing on gay spirituality. The mix sets Charmed Lives charmingly apart from the norm of contemporary gay anthologies, most of which these days draw deeply from the erotic well to sate gay readers. A book where spirit takes prominence over sex is a treat. Among the essays, Bill Blackburn writes movingly about visiting the irrepressible Harry Hay on his deathbed; faerie Mark Thompson and Episcopal priest Malcolm Boyd tell how they fell in love; and Bert Herrman dwells wisely on the authenticity of a life – not necessarily religious – of faith. On the fiction side, there's magic in Victor J. Banis' story about an elderly man and a disfigured man finding beauty in each other; in Michael Gouda's story about a surviving lover finding solace in his late partner's possessions; and in Martin K. Smith's story about a tea that compels anyone who drinks it to speak suppressed truths.



Featured Excerpt:
Butches are always tops. They always fuck the girls, and, for that matter, their partners are always girls; there is no such thing as a butch attracted to men. Well, transmen, but that's just butch-on-butch repackaged as faggotry. But no non-transmen. Unless the butch in question is a non-transman, then it's okay. Except that non-transmen cannot be butches, because butch is a queering of gender that assigned-male people cannot embody, unless they occasionally can, in which case they have to be gay men. Or the partners of femmes. Or not. But no one with an assigned-female body can be a butch and do it with assigned-male men. Unless they're femmes. Or butches. I'm really putting my foot down on this one. –from Butch Is a Noun, by S. Bear Bergman



Footnotes:
With the "lofty aim of giving hands-on assistance to our next generation of LGBT writers," Lambda Literary Foundation board of trustees president Katherine V. Forrest has announced the foundation's first queer Writer's Retreat for Aug. 5-12 in the Bel Air hills of Los Angeles. Faculty for the full-week immersion in the craft of writing – fiction, nonfiction, and poetry – include novelist and essayist Dorothy Allison (Bastard Out of Carolina); memoirist and novelist Fenton Johnson (Keeping Faith: A Skeptic's Journey); poet Eloise Klein Healy (The Islands Project: Poems for Sappho); and Forrest, famed for the bestselling lesbian romance Curious Wine and for her Kate Delafield mystery series. In addition, John Rechy, Michael Nava, and Bernard Cooper have signed on as visiting faculty. Attendance is limited to 21 writers, with some publication history preferred but not required. "And, hopefully, when writers come out of the week, they'll have a colleague group going forward, something most of us isolated old ink-stained wretches never had," said Forrest, whose first novel was written a quarter century ago. Tuition of $1,500 includes meals and lodging, and scholarships are available. For application forms and more information: www.lambdaliterary.org.

Richard Labonte has been reading, editing, selling, and writing about queer literature since the mid-'70s.


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