Monthly Archives: February 2019

Scourge of the Seas of Time (And Space) – Catherine Lundoff, ed. (Queen of Swords Press)

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Two years ago I had the pleasure of reviewing Out of This World:  Queer Speculative Fiction Stories, a collection of short stories by Catherine Lundoff, and the inaugural title from Queen of Swords Press, a small independent press dedicated to “swashbuckling tales of derring-do and bold new adventures in time and space.”  Lundoff delivers on this promise in spades in the latest title from Queen of Swords, Scourge of the Seas of Time (and Space), an anthology of pirate stories.

True to the title, the contributions to Lundoff’s volume span from Antiquity to post-Apocalyptic times, from Earth’s oceans to the outer reaches of the galaxy and even other dimensions.  The stories span history, fantasy, sci-fi, and horror, with dashes of romance and humor to leaven the mix.  And while each of the stories scores high on the adventure quotient, each of them is distinctly its own story, and not a pale Errol Flynn/Blackbeard/Pirates of the Caribbean imitation.  And thankfully, none of them relies on any trite pirate argot to signal “this is a story about pirates.”

Whatever your pleasure, you are sure to find a story to enjoy in this anthology.  Among my favorites are “Andromache’s War” by Elliott Dunstan, who ponders what might have happened if one of the widowed captives from the Trojan War had had the chance to choose her own life path, and “The Serpent’s Tail” by Mharie West, which depicts a bisexual poly family of Viking pirates whose battles are not the typical skirmishes at sea; both are quite the thought-provoking reads.  “Rib of Man” by Geonn Cannon likewise has a female captain, who might strike you as a kinder, gentler pirate—except when she isn’t.  “After the Deluge” by Peter Golubock, set in a post-climate changed new New York, contains a sly nod to a recent viral phenom from three years ago.

Pirates are complicated figures:  like vampires, they are simultaneously romantic figures of history and legend, and bloodthirsty criminals, depending upon your perspective.  Lundoff captures that complexity through the diversity of her stories.  Chosen from almost 100 submissions from fourteen countries, the fifteen stories in this volume feature female pirates, male pirates, non-binary pirates, even non-human pirates; pirates who sail the seas of our Earth, the waters of other Earths, even the far reaches of outer space.  These pirates look for treasure, excitement, danger, revenge, the past, the future, and/or redemption; some of them may even find what they seek.  What you will find is a treasure trove of unforgettable adventure.

Reviewed by Keith John Glaeske

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Joseph Chapman: My Molly Life – James Lovejoy (Independently Published)

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James Lovejoy’s début novel is an impressively researched, charming story about a young man coming of age in 18th century London. As a portrait of lower-class strife, the story has the feel of a Dickensian tale with added subject matter on how gay men might have lived centuries before homosexuality was decriminalized.

Joseph narrates his own story, and he gets off to a compelling start with a childhood that sounds as sordid to the reader as it seems quite normal to the narrator. His father was a “waterman,” ferrying passengers on the Thames, an occupation that afforded their family of five plus a grandmother a two-room flat in a crowded renthouse.

A fever made worse by the misguided medical treatment of the time takes his father’s life. In a delightfully curious turn, his mother re-enters the boxing stage to make ends meet. Women’s boxing was in fact a thing in 18th century England, and no less desperate and brutal than the men’s sport. Joseph’s mother holds her own for a while, but seduced by a big prize with an overmatched opponent, she’s walloped with a head injury that leaves her bedridden and wasting away.

Upon her death, the siblings are separated, the older brother sent to apprenticeship and Joseph and his sister to gender-segregated orphanages.

Amid many discontents at his austere, religiously oppressive home for boys, Joseph meets a youth nicknamed Chowder, and a tender love affair blossoms between the two, which becomes the story’s backbone. They’re thwarted by a bitter and exploitative schoolmaster Mr. Peevers, and thereafter by geography and Chowder’s cruel caretakers.

Lovejoy does not spare the two from the miseries one would expect them to encounter as penniless young men whose attachment is considered so despicably criminal and sinful, the word for it is not even spoken in decent company. Yet their love is handled as a very sacred thing, such that the reader is fairly assured things will end well.

That treatment gives the story appeal to romance readers, while perhaps playing it too careful for others. Joseph and Chowder sparkle as chaste lads sworn to one another, an attractive motif for sure given all they’re up against; yet amid the tremendous stakes for gay men to declare themselves at the time, one wonders of the internal struggles that would complicate their relationship as well as the reasons so many of their kind rally around the two.

Joseph’s world enlarges as he meets several kinds of gay men: the benevolent Mr. Jackson, who owns a bookshop where Joseph apprentices; the flamboyant Mr. Duckworth, whose aristocratic pedigree provides a buffer to persecution; angry, jealous Rowland, Mr. Jackson’s “adopted son” and younger lover; and a network of businessmen and wealthy folks who eke out bargained lives, carefully protected from the anti-sodomite hysteria of the day. There’s even the suggestion of a nascent protest movement against the many injustices these men face, furthering the narrative’s tone of hopefulness.

Lovejoy writes with an enjoyable sophistication that gives texture and an earnestness to Joseph’s tale. Moreover, the period colloquialisms and turns of phrase add wit and a lovely sense of atmosphere for a very British-styled story.

Joseph Chapman will enchant readers of British historical fiction and romance in the traditions of E.M. Forster and Sarah Waters.

Reviewed by Andrew J. Peters

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