Monthly Archives: December 2009

Time Well Bent – Connie Wilkins, ed. (Lethe Press)


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One of the most fascinating aspects of history for me is how easily it can be changed. A chance meeting, a simple mistake, a case of being in the wrong place at the right time –our entire civilization has been seemingly founded on a series of random occurances. Had there been some other randomness at work, our whole way of life might be different. That’s part of the concept behind Connie Wilkins’ thought-provoking anthology, Time Well Bent.

Wilkins has gathered fourteen stories that explore not only alternative histories but the queer men and women involved in changing those histories. They span centuries, cultures and continents and range from hard history to gentle mythology, and each one of them is genuinely interesting not only for the histories they change but for the characters they introduce.

Of course, the history most interesting is that which is most personal to you. Among my favorites are the two colonial American stories, “Roanoke” by Sandra Barret and “A Marriage of Choice” by Dale Chase. Barret takes the mysterious disappearance of the Roanoke colony and injects a heroine, Rose Payne, who becomes a two-spirit huntress gathering game for the fledgling colony with the help of her Native American mentor, the beautiful Maigan. How their affair ends also explains the extermination of the colony. Fascinating stuff.

But no less fascinating is Chase’s “A Marriage of Choice,” which queers up Thomas Jefferson, giving him a male lover. This predisposes Jefferson to talk fellow draftsman James Madison into persuading Congress to adopt a Bill of Rights whose first amendment provides for a “marriage of choice,” thereby sealing same-sex marriage into the Constitution – particularly timely in light of the recent Maine and New York defeats we’ve suffered. Chase breathes such life into these textbook figures as to leave me in awe of her talent.

But colonial America isn’t the only history Time Well Bent revisits. Barry Lowe’s scribe-monk Brother Francis re-writes the story of Sodom and Gomorrah in “Sod ‘Em,” Simon Sheppard puts an entirely different homo-spin on Kubla Kahn’s pleasure dome in “Barbaric Splendor,” and Lisabet Sarai provides a different explanation for Gilbert and Sullivan’s parting of the ways in “Opening Night.”

One of the most moving stories, however, is Emily Salter’s “A Happier Year,” which envisions what might have happened to two young, impressionable men had E.M. Forster published maybe the best queer novel ever, Maurice, when it was written in 1914 instead of 1971. Sometimes history reverberates loudest in the heart.

But these are only my favorites. If you love Shakespeare or are fascinated by the Hesperus, dig Aztec myth or Lawrence of Arabia, or simply like seeing where and how queer people will pop up to change the world in the most marvelous ways, you will find Time Well Bent to be time well spent indeed.

Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler


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Best Gay Erotica 2010 – Richard Labonte, ed. (Cleis Press)

Buy It Now at Giovanni’s Room or at Amazon through The Dreamwalker Group.

Editor extraordinaire Richard Labonte strikes again in the latest edition of the longest-lived, most important and well-respected erotica series, Best Gay Erotica. This year’s guest judge is Blair Mastbaum, author of Clay’s Way andUs Ones In Between. Together, they provide maybe the strongest collection in the series.

I love this series not only for the astonishing variety of stories, but also for its unvarying quality. Though I have found some individual stories I could have done without, in fourteen volumes, there have been far more winners than losers, and this series exposed me (no pun intended) to some writers I never knew about before.

But enough of the generalities. The proof here is in the specifics – the sexy wistfulness of “Smoke and Semen,” Jeff Mann’s ode to a lost slave, the Rashomon POV switch of Simon Sheppard’s “The Suburban Boy”and the patchouli whiff of Natty Soltesz’s “The Hippie Down-Low.” Boner inducing literary achievements all.

And as long as I’m singling out my favorites, I’ll include Thom Wolf’s “The Boy in the Middle,” an interesting tale about a boy and his online hookup with a middle-aged couple that ends up revealing more about the older men’s relationship with each other. I also loved Rob Wolfsham’s “The Bed from Craigslist,” a balls-out hot story so well written I must admit to a tinge of jealousy.

But for sheer outrageousness, you must read Jan Vander Laenen’s “The Stuffed Turkey” – particularly apt for this time of year – which is about avisodomy, or the ancient practice of having sex with birds. No matter who hosts your holiday meal, you’ll think twice before stuffing your face with stuffing.

The Best Gay Erotica series remains the benchmark for quality erotica, and we can only look forward to the next one. Thanks, Richard. Thanks, Blair.

Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler

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