Tag Archives: Nathan Burgoine

Wilde Stories 2017: The Year’s Best Gay Speculative Fiction – Steve Berman, ed. (Lethe Press)

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Lethe Press’s Wilde Stories has always reminded me of the Pan horror series from Britain I loved as an early teen. This review occasioned me to Google the very first Pan volume, coming across names and stories I hadn’t thought of in years, including George Fielding Eliot’s “The Copper Bowl,” a delicious torture tale about a copper bowl with spiced meat, restraints, and a hungry rat who eats his way through a traitor’s lover. That one alone provided me with some nasty dreams for weeks. The stories in the latest Wilde Stories volume are just as interesting and far-reaching as the Pan classics, and even though the tales are short on rats, they’ll still lead you to some fascinating places.

The first stop is Steve Carr’s “The Tale of the Costume Maker,” a glittery little story that demonstrates the value of keeping some treasures to yourself. This leads into “Das Steingeschopf,” G.V. Anderson’s well-built tale of a carver and restorer of living sculpture and the ancient creation he encounters. Matthew Cheney then parts from conventional narrative with “Where’s the Rest of Me?”, his alternate-world tale of Ronald Reagan and his lover, Alejandro, each short chapter titled by a Reagan film. And, yes, Nancy’s there too.

But Ronnie’s not the only celebrity here. Historical figures play central parts in many of these stories, from Alan Turing obsessing over an automaton of three Oscar Wildes (Eric Schaller’s “Turing Test”) to the delightful Americana-gone-weird Johnny Appleseed/Paul Bunyan mash-up, “The Death of Paul Bunyan.” As if those mythical figures weren’t enough, ‘Nathan Burgoine’s “Frost” provides a lovely, fairytale origin story for Jack Frost.

Sam J. Miller, however, corners the mythical figure market with “Angel, Monster, Man,” his brilliantly conceived and well-executed story of Tom Minniq, the pseudonym of three men living through the AIDS epidemic who have inherited a wealth of unpublished and unseen art from their dead and dying friends–those lost voices of a generation we often lament. Minniq becomes the voice of those men until one of the three actually meets him in the flesh. From there on, we join in a different reality that becomes a little more different every day of the T—p era. The barbs in this story are sharp, and you won’t know you’ve bled out until the last word.

Of all the places Wilde Stories took me, though, none affected me more than the Tongass National Forest in southeastern Alaska, where Mathew Scaletta spins “The Sound a Raven Makes,” a bleakly romantic story about Ash and JB, two men who make their living butchering the sasquatch hunted by the tourist trade. This story is rooted in all things Alaskan, especially hidden dangers. The images of the illegally taken baby sasquatch as well piles of squatch arms and legs will stay with me long after I finish writing this. But mostly, this story reflects the environmental and societal changes the region faces as well as providing one shining silver bullet of hope. Or is it despair?

Wilde Stories 2017, then, keeps up the Pan tradition as well as its own by being our yearly touchstone with the fantastical and the horrific. Truly the year’s best and highly recommended.

JW

© 2017, Jerry L. Wheeler

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Country – Jeff Mann (Lethe Press)

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Country music isn’t a place I ever expected myself to venture as a fiction reader. Music in general isn’t something I find easily translated to text, and yet two recent books I’ve read have had music intrinsic to their core narratives, and have done so deftly.

But country music? I can’t imagine a genre of popular music less open to a gay experience than country music. Don’t get me wrong, some of the country music stars themselves are definitely fetching (their names I sometimes vaguely know thanks to magazine covers from my bookstore days), but the industry itself—and the fan base—have never struck me as remotely friendly.

Obviously, I know that’s a sweeping generalization, and even this Canuck has heard of Steve Grand, but beyond a few recent blips, my experiences in the rural Canada of my youth has left me with a less than welcoming sense of the country music community, even up here.

All that to say when I was handed Country, Jeff Mann’s novel, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect.  From the blurb alone, I knew Country featured a bunch of things I didn’t necessarily connect with: country music, rural culture, and living a closeted life.

I shouldn’t have worried.

Mann brings us Brice Brown, a big name Country star, and introduces us to him at his peak, moments before the tipping point that sets the novel in motion. Brice is overdue for a new record, deeply closeted, and finding company to rent online, and about to be outed by a former lover.

It is that last that sends Brown crashing down from the top, of course, and it’s important to note that the novel is set in the late 90’s. Though in today’s world it wouldn’t be difficult to imagine as hard a fall as Brice Brown takes, setting the novel in the recent past served a double purpose to me: the exploration of the homophobia in play was bang-on perfect, and the impotent rage Brown often feels is mirrored in the reader’s experience. So recent as a few decades ago, it would be unheard of for a public “Good old boy” to be outed. Today might hold a different story—might—but in placing the narrative firmly in a time and place where support would be small and unheard, Mann gives us a reminder of both progress and of the hateful frustrations.

I often speak of how queerfolk have to struggle to pass their narratives onward, as we don’t inherit them like other cultures. Fiction can often pass these narratives on just as well, and there’s no doubt that the fictional Southern and country culture at play in Country is a narrative Mann is passing on. The viciousness of the assault on Brice Brown’s name, music, image, and career is borderline relentless, and as the man watches all things crumble, the pain is present—and realistic—to behold.

That Brice Brown himself is by no means a perfect man—he’s as much a product of his culture as those who throw hate at him from within it— works well to ground the story further into that reality. Brice is just as likely to prejudge others as he himself is judged, and watching his journey unfold was a satisfyingly refreshing take for this kind of story. More, Brice’s struggles with depression and his often self-destructive and self-loathing attempts to tame his “black moods” garner empathy without pity, a balance I’ve rarely found achieved so well.

Lest you think the whole novel is a dark and dismal ride, let me be clear: it is not. As much as Brice’s decent is powerfully written, so is the path forward. And, of course, it wouldn’t be a Jeff Mann novel if there weren’t rough-and-tumble country man around to capture Brice Brown’s heart, in this case in the form of a delectable delinquent, Lucas. Fans of Mann are no doubt aware already of his adept erotic prose, and they will not be let down.

As the story moves from the macro “fall of the Country Music Star” and into the micro of a smaller cast of characters who gather around Brown when he finds a place to go into retreat, it’s these characters that bring forth the queer “chosen family” value to the story, and where the healing—not just Brice’s healing—comes into play. There are laugh-out-loud moments in Country born of these characters, which include a gay rural retreat owner who is so much larger than life (and yet so like so many people I’ve met), and a gun-toting lipstick lesbian who delivers some of my favorite lines of the whole book. And for fans of Mann’s other works (especially Cub), there are a few moments included for the reader that are richly rewarding. These light moments don’t steal from the realism, either, but add to it: there’s a kind of “laughter in the face of the bad” tone that pops up throughout Country, and it is a sense I can certainly understand and empathize with. At some point, I think most queer people have faced those moments.

Beat us down? When we get back up, our laughter will be all the louder for our survival.

With “survival” being the often raw and minimal goal from the moment Country begins, the reader is left with no sense that “happily ever after with rainbows” is on the menu, which raises the tension of the book all the higher. In turn, I was angry, frustrated, empathetic, or sad—often aimed at Brice himself—but at no point was I anything less than invested in seeing where Brice’s journey would end.

In fact, like so much of Mann’s work, the strength is in how incredibly evocative it is: it’s lyrical, erotic of course, and full to the brim with the sights, smells, and sheer weight of the country setting.

Oh, and of course: the food. Some day I will learn not to read a Jeff Mann book while remotely hungry, as the food alone is described so enticingly I find my mouth watering and wishing I had the slightest idea how one made “scrapple.”

Country is a love letter to a lover who refused to return the affection, sent by someone who is learning to find something else—or someone else—as worthy of the love.

Reviewed by ‘Nathan Burgoine

© 2017 ‘Nathan Burgoine

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Equality: What Do You Think About When You Think of Equality? – Paul Alan Fahey, ed. (Vine Leaves Press)

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Paul Alan Fahey’s collection of essays about equality tasks twenty-four other writers with this question. Given the topic of this collection, I wondered how the contributors reflected this concept.  The anthology has roughly an equal number of female and male writers (twelve and thirteen, respectively, since Fahey includes an essay of his own), and a majority of the contributors fall on the LGBT spectrum, but not all aspects of the LGBT rainbow are equally represented.   Most of the authors appear to be American, with one Canadian and two British; and with a couple of exceptions, they also appear to be overwhelmingly of European descent.

All this is to say that equality is an ideal, and thus elusive and rarely encountered (it also is not the same thing as diversity).  It is therefore not at all surprising that most of the contributors do not dwell on what equality is, so much as what it is not.  Few people have experienced equality, but everyone has certainly experienced inequality, whether it is a result of one’s actual (or perceived) race, gender, age, and/or sexual orientation.  Most of the contributors reflect on when they first encountered inequality (usually when directed at themselves, but also when they first noticed it directed at others; and some, even from the height of privilege, realized that there were not as “equal” as they thought, since others were higher than they).  As a result, most of the essays in this volume are deeply personal in nature, and focus on inequality as a result of race (“Lani Silver: A Voice for Equality” by David Congalton), gender (“Give Us Our Birthright: Why the Equal Rights Amendment Needs to Be Revived—and Ratified” by Susan Reynolds), or age (“The Last Acceptable Prejudice” by Barbara Abercrombie; “Inequality” by Felice Picano).  And several essays examine inequality as a result of sexual orientation, especially as it relates to marriage equality (“Limit” by `Nathan Burgoine; “Have You Met My Husband?” by Larry Duplechan; “Ambiguously Ever After” by Jeffrey Ricker; “Two Mountain Weddings” by Jeff Mann), or how it intersects with other inequalities (e.g., “Equality in High Def” by Jewelle Gomez, which examines inequality both via race and sexual orientation).

Although the contributors are all equally adept writers, several essays stand out in this collection.  Christopher Bram’s contribution, “The Magic Words,” a meditation on the beginning of the preamble of the Declaration of Independence (“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…”), examines the paradoxes inherent in these words (i.e., that the “men” named in this famous quote were strictly defined as only literal men, and moreover white, land-owning men) and how this narrow notion of “equality” gradually grew more encompassing, a point expounded upon by other essays in this collection.

Two thought-provoking essays examine equality through the prism of the Golden Rule.  Barbara Jacksha’s contribution,”Everyday Equality,” examines her own thoughts and attitudes to determine whether she treats people equally; no surprise, she doesn’t.  But then she turns her experiment on herself and then learns that she doesn’t treat herself as equal to others, either.  Similarly, Catherine Ryan Hyde tries to “Imagine a world in which we all applied our beliefs to our own lives and left everybody else the hell alone” in “When I Think of Equality.”  Doing so is especially difficult when it means letting another person make a choice that appears entirely and egregiously wrong.

Despite the fact that equality remains elusive, and the long road to achieving it has no obvious end, this collection chooses to be hopeful, stressing the strides already made along that road.  Released on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day 2017, before the inauguration of the 45th American president, this collection is especially timely.

Reviewed by Keith John Glaeske

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Looking After Joey – David Pratt (Wilde City Press)

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By Guest Reviewer ‘Nathan Burgoine

I love to laugh. I think laughing is pretty much the best way we learn – especially when we laugh at ourselves. So when I had the chance to pick up Looking After Joey, the latest from David Pratt, I didn’t hesitate.

If you’ve never read Pratt before, then I should mention  I’ve learned to expect a genuinely enjoyable sense of revelation in his work.  Bob the Book was such a unique and witty ride and the moments of laugh-out-loud were balanced with surprising instances of introspection. My Movie – his collection of short fiction – had such range and breadth of tone that I parceled them out to myself like a Forrest Gump chocolate box, knowing that I’d enjoy whichever flavor I ended up getting.

All that to say I walked into Looking After Joey pretty aware there was going to be more to the experience than the fun synopsis suggested, and Joey delivered.

The greater narrative might seem a little out-there: this is, in a way, a kind of reverse-Pleasantville except the characters are traveling to and from gay porn rather than a 1950’s feel-good family drama. That conceit is played to full humorous effect. Calvin, Pratt’s protagonist, has socially retreated from even attempting to find a love life after his most recent split, and counts the minutes to when he can enjoy some solo satisfaction while watching his beloved porn movies. It’s Calvin who first stumbles into the porn world and finds himself adrift in this fantasy,  which amuses right off the bat.

In the porn world, it’s never night. The pool always needs cleaning, the pizza is always being delivered, and no one has anything other than a hundred dollar bill, which – of course – the delivery boy can’t break and could they come up with some other kind of barter? Even better, Calvin realizes at a glance that his real-world physique has gotten an upgrade, and he can enjoy every position and play out every scene he’s ever watched to satisfaction…

Except, of course, that every man he meets has a girlfriend who’s “away for the weekend” and certainly there’s no cuddling going to happen afterwards. In fact, it’s hard to even get a moment to nap, what with it never being night and every single person wanting to have sex the moment they meet Calvin. The reality of just how awkward porn dialog is – especially, y’know, during – is both funny and painful, and Calvin’s escape from the porn world leaves him all the more confused about life and what he wants.

Then Joey pops out after him. Joey, Calvin’s favorite porn star. Joey, who has only the porn world as his knowledge base. Joey, who is completely and utterly unequipped to deal with the reality of, well… reality. To Calvin’s best friend Peachy, however, Joey is a perfect convenience – they can use Joey as a kind of revenge-by-proxy, bringing the flawless young man to one of the biggest gay social parties coming up. Joey will steal all the attention, and finally allow Peachy and Calvin to feel vindicated in their hatred of some of the major players in the gay social scene who’ve done them wrong.

It’s here that Pratt’s novel really begins to shine and takes the reader in a direction they might not expect. Joey is a perfect foil for Calvin and Peachy, and he turns what could almost have devolved into a straightforward comedic revenge tale into something much better. Calvin’s hopes for partnering off with Joey and having his fantasy relationship come to life are quickly complicated by Joey’s inability to understand he’s even gay (after all, he has a girlfriend but she’s away for the weekend) and his sudden and complete faith in Jesus (a local priest tells Joey that Jesus would forgive him of anything, which is just what Joey thinks he needs to get back to his ‘real’ world). Joey has never seen a world with sickness, or aging, or average length penises. The culture shock through Joey’s commentary is hysterical, as are the actions of Calvin and Peachy as they desperately try to turn Joey into a mainstream gay socialite capable of turning heads and delivering their revenge.

The humor isn’t lost throughout the book, but gradually, the tone does shift. I found myself smiling and nodding at the dawning realizations of Calvin (and to a lesser degree, Peachy) as they start to clue in that what they think they want isn’t necessarily what they should want – and potentially, they don’t want it at all. Joey’s evolution, as well, never loses its charm even as you see his innocence tested time and time again by the stark realities of a world where perfect looking guys just don’t have the freedom to stop and have sex with other perfect looking guys every twenty minutes or so.

As more and more of Pratt’s gay socialites are brought into the tale (most of which are fun almost-spoofs of one extreme of gay culture or another), the plans to get Joey invited to the big party become more and more tangled. Favors are traded, new alliances are made and broken, and the boys start to realize that a serial kidnapper might be more important than making sure Joey knows the difference between Sondheim and Stravinsky, though only just. What if it takes connecting a self-involved jackass to a publisher so he can publish the worst autobiographical-fantasy revisionist history of his youth (as an erotic venture, of course)?  Peachy and Calvin take it in stride. These things happen.

Ultimately, it’s these conniving strands that start to form the real joy of Looking After Joey – Calvin grows as much as Joey, and while nothing turns out the way Calvin (or the reader) would expect, there’s a heartwarming touch to this funny book that left me smiling as I turned the final pages. No one is as simple as they seem – even the one-dimensional porn stars who have no idea how to interact with the real world. Calvin begins as a man desperate for even a shallow connection – a place it’s not hard for anyone to imagine being – and Peachy comes across as superficial and jaded; both men are in new places by the end of the tale. You can – and should – read Looking After Joey with the expectation of laughing throughout, but there’s more to it than that. Though characters are madcap in their execution, the social commentary is razor sharp. And though every stumble on the way to the big party (and the big reveal) grows more over-the-top than the last, the ultimate destination is surprisingly moving, and worth a few unexpected sniffles.

Looking After Joey is a book I’m happy to recommend.

© 2014 ‘Nathan Burgoine

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Out In Print’s Best 13 Reads of 2013

I came across some absolutely amazing books in 2013; volumes that uplifted me as a reader as well as encouraging me to grow as a writer if for no other reason than to produce work as funny or bittersweet or beautiful or just plain damn good as the books listed below. Well done, everyone. This list is in no particular order, but they are all excellent. If you haven’t purchased them yet, you really need to. So without further adieu, here are Out in Print’s Best Reads of 2013:

Bitter-Orange-Cover-Shadow-V6Bitter Orange – Marshall Moore (Signal 8 Press) Buy from Amazon

Moore’s story of an individual rendered literally invisible is both stunning and satisfying, being at once a cautionary tale as well as a comment on our technological civilization (if those two words aren’t contradictory). But Bitter Orange is also possessed of a paralyzing wit that seeps through the dialogue and drips onto the prose itself. Moore is at his funniest when he’s making a point, and these points are so sharp, they hurt. In a good way.

Unknown_13A Romantic Mann – Jeff Mann (Lethe Press) Buy from Lethe Press

Mann’s fiction and essays are well-represented in many Best Of lists, but I found this volume of poetry to be as deep and poignant as any of his prose. Perhaps more so. Be it his romanticism, his BDSM predilections, his love of food, or his love of men, all are on display here in a celebration of language, lust, and lore. Even if you don’t normally enjoy poetry, you might find this a winning entry point. I urge you not to pass this by, for without it, you do not have a complete understanding of this multi-faceted author.

358171Light – ‘Nathan Burgoine (Bold Strokes Books)  Buy from BSB

I loved this remarkable debut novel, from its romantic underpinnings to its superhero flair to its slightly politicized action scenes. It has winning characters, a juicy plot, a neat twist, and a real love of language and storytelling at its core. And a dog. Can’t forget the dog. I have been proud to be associated with Burgoine at nearly the inception of his career, and it continues to be my pleasure to cheer him on.

350351Fortune’s Bastard (or Love’s Pains Recounted) – Gil Cole (Chelsea Station Editions)  Buy from TLA Gay

This marvelous Shakespearian mashup (of “Twelfth Night” and “Merchant of Venice” among others) is a delight in more ways than one. It inhabits the Shakespeare idiom perfectly in terms of language as well as character and plot. It’s so damn assured that I was in awe of how totally it achieves what it sets out to do. More than a pastiche, it’s perfection.

cache_280_427_3__80_ArtonFireArt on Fire – Hilary Sloin  (Bywater Books)  Buy from Bywater Books

This fictional biography of painter Francesca deSilva is memorable not only for the story it tells, but for the essays on deSilva’s work sandwiched between chapters of her story. Those essays are as brilliantly satirical of art criticism as deSilva’s story is involving and engaging. Her art informs her life as much as her life informs her art. But even if you’re not an art critic, this wonderful book is a portrait of a fascinating life. And an untimely death.

imgresThe Dirty Trilogy – Ashley Bartlett (Bold Strokes Books)  Buy from BSB

I don’t think this is a cheat since two of the three books came out in 2013 – Dirty Sex, Dirty Money, and Dirty Power are really all of a piece. Bartlett’s POV character, Vivian Cooper (Coop, please) is a marvel–a romantic, streetwise, smart-assed heroine who will leave you laughing tears. The plot is long and convoluted, involving love, the Mob, a fortune in gold, besties, fake parents, and real heartbreak. Start with the first one and hang on, baby.

41XZwbtIirL._SY346_Conjure: A Book of Spells – Peter Dube  (Rebel Satori Press)  Buy from RSP

A grimoire, no less. Elegant, understated prose poems promising “To Strike Obstacles from Your Path and Unlock Doors” or “To Undo an Error Past” but are mystically metaphoric. In terms of difficulty, this is the most challenging book I’ve read all year. Once its secrets were unlocked, however, I found it fascinating, enthralling reading — all the more interesting for the amount of work I put in. It’s not for everyone, but those who get it will be truly affected.

17949975Thoreau in Love – John Schuyler Bishop (CreateSpace)  Buy from Amazon

An entirely successful vision of what some missing pages of Henry Thoreau’s journal might have revealed, this marvelous piece of historical fiction is told with verve and enthusiasm. It takes chances with character, liberties with history, and its readers for a lusty, dizzying ride. Bishop’s research is impeccable but barely shows, Thoreau at last coming through as a person instead of a historical figure. It captures the heart as well as the head. 

cache_280_427_3__80_giraffepeoplelargewebGiraffe People – Jill Malone (Bywater Books)  Buy from Bywater Books

Much more than a young adult novel, Jill Malone’s Giraffe People is a wonderfully voiced and nuanced look at fifteen years old. The perspective is as adult yet as childish as you remember your own life at that time. If you have forgotten what fifteen was like, you need to read this. If you remember, you’ll be as involved in Cole Peters’ life as she is. And Malone maintains this voice with remarkable consistency, never putting a foot wrong.

Where Thy Dark Eye GlancesWhere Thy Dark Eye Glances – Steve Berman, ed. (Lethe Press)  Buy from Lethe Press

If any author’s work needed queering, it would be Edgar Allan Poe, and Steve Berman has collected a wonderful batch of take-offs, pastiches, and imitators–except none of those categories approaches the sheer originality of the stories, essays, and poems here. And the book looks as good as it reads. Lovingly produced and sumptuously written, Where Thy Dark Eye Glances is a class act that deserves your attention.

5100A Horse Named Sorrow – Trebor Healey (University of Wisconsin Press)  Buy from Amazon

Trebor Healey breaks his long silence and absence from fiction with a beautiful, elegiac road trip as Seamus Blake carries his boyfriend’s ashes back to Buffalo as he’d promised him he would. But as road trips go, he finds the journey to be more important than its end. Lyrical and sad, Healey’s prose uplifts rather than depresses. If you have ever had grief in your life, this will speak to you.

Who_the_Hell_is_Rachel_Wells_lgWho the Hell is Rachel Wells? – J.R. Greenwell (Chelsea Station Editions)  Buy from Giovanni’s Room

Eleven short stories collecting the best and worst of Southern manners and mannerisms, this collection is by turns heartbreaking and hilarious, sometimes in the same paragraph. Caricature? Well, yes. But there are characters here as well. Both subtly shaded and as outrageous as the best/worst drag ever, this batch of stories never relents in its celebration of Southern culture. Which is no contradiction in terms.

dickinstein-frontcoveronlyDickinstein: Emily Dickinson, Mad Scientist – Shannon Yarbrough (Rocking Horse Publishing)  Buy from Rocking Horse Publishing

An inspired mashup of Frankenstein and Emily Dickinson, the execution is as accomplished as the concept. By combining these two apparently disparate elements, Yarbrough illuminates both halves of the equation. Emily Dickinson wasn’t a mad scientist, of course, but Dickinstein certainly gives us the freedom to reimagine her.

And there you have them–a baker’s dozen of the most wonderful treats 2103 had to offer. Now, we begin expanding our critical waistline for 2014. It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it….

©  2013  Jerry L. Wheeler

Please note: The books included may not have necessarily been published in 2013, but read and reviewed here at Out in Print in 2013.

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Light – ‘Nathan Burgoine (Bold Strokes Books)

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Wheeler’s Law of Reasonable Expectations dictates that if an author is well-known for his bittersweet romantic stories, his novels will follow along the same lines. ‘Nathan Burgoine’s Light, however, obliterates that law. And that’s not a bad thing. In fact, there is little, if anything, bad about this stunning debut, which makes my job as a reviewer both easier and more difficult at the same time.

Kieran Quinn is a gay massage therapist, but that’s where the stereotype ends. He also has telekinetic powers, which is good for our side. Bad for our side is that the enemy, embodied by Stigmatic Jack (leader of the Church of the Testifying Prophet) also has a telekinetic it can use for its nefarious purposes. During one eventful Pride week, Kieran and Jack square off for some monumental battles. Who wins? And what of Kieran’s lust for a hot leatherman named Sebastien? How about Kieran’s brother’s lust for Karen, his boss at the spa? And who is the Miracle Woman?

Burgoine answers these questions and more in a stylistic tour de force that is as much superhero story as it is a light romance (which, at its core, Light is–complete with HEA). What’s stunning about this debut is its assurance. In terms of character, plot, voice, and narrative skill, Burgoine knocks it out of the park as if this was his tenth book instead of his first. He, along with Tom Cardamone, has the considerable gift of being able to ground the extraordinary in the ordinary so that it becomes just an extension of everyday life.  Kieran Quinn is, indeed, a superhero (despite the fact that he hates the names the public gives him–Rainbow Man, Light, Disco?), but he’s a superhero who loves his cat, who blithers in the presence of handsome men, and who goes on failed blind dates.

Knowing Burgoine’s short fiction as well as I do, I was floored to discover his facility with action sequences. There are four encounters with the villain, each increasing in complexity and scope to the climactic final one, and all four were totally engaging and had me on the edge of my figurative seat. I was more confident in predicting the romance, which is written in a clever, light ‘n’ breezy manner with an undercurrent of danger. Burgoine’s dialogue , especially between Kieran and Sebastien, shines. It’s banter-ish without sounding forced–the kind of dialogue I always imagined happened in Jean Kerr’s house. Or maybe even Erma Bombeck’s. And Kieran’s voice is totally entertaining–that of a genuinely nice guy with just enough smart ass to give his observations some punch.

Burgoine’s prose is clean and focused, his characters are sharply defined, and his plot runs a fairly straight line–with one neat little twist–to its conclusion, which is immensely satisfying. What more could you ask from a debut? This is the difficult part of my job, where I’m supposed to come up with a negative or two to counter all the strokes. And I really can’t think of anything worth mentioning. Perhaps four or five books in, when he starts taking chances that don’t work , there’ll be something to point at…wait, maybe I found one: He could have written it so that it was easier to put down.

As far as negatives, that’ll have to do.

©  2013  Jerry L. Wheeler

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The Lavender Menace: Tales of Queer Villainy! – Tom Cardamone, ed. (Northwest Press)

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Everyone loves the hero, right? Especially those with superpowers, colorful costumes, sidekicks, and witty banter. Personally, however, I’ve always found those tortured villains more interesting: Lex Luthor or Mr. Myxzptlk over Superman, Doc Ock over Spiderman, the Joker or Penguin over Batman (except you were never sure about Batman–he’s my favorite). That’s why I was so excited when I heard about this book. Then I saw Tom Cardamone was editing, and my expectations tripled. Thankfully, nobody disappoints here, so no one dies at the hands of this arch-villain-critic.

Much has been made of the “outsider” kinship queer men and women share with superheroes, but where many would concentrate on the heroic aspects, most of the heroes in these stories are members of Leagues or Organizations, loosely knit governing bodies that put heroes with heat vision or super strength or flight or any number of super-attributes clearly on the inside. Thus, to get back to the outside, Cardamone has chosen to concentrate on villains.

A look at the cover and a cursory glance at the title would indicate these stories are overdrawn and over the top. While some of them are, a number retain a surprising subtlety.  The telepath in ‘Nathan Burgoine’s brilliant “Lesser Evil,” tips his way into a love affair with Aleph, implanting a suggestion that Aleph loves him. Burgoine’s portrayal of Psilence’s delicious guilt is both heartening and heartbreaking. And just when you think you have the ending figured out, he takes you another way which is simultaneously characteristic, yet uncharacteristic of his lovelorn villain.

Less subtle, but still effective, is the betrayal in Steven Berenzai’s “The Web,” which sees Daytripper falling in love with Arachnid, a fellow possible inductee into yet another Superhero League. At a pivotal moment, however, Arachnid tricks Daytripper and reveals himself as a villain, provoking a wonderful final battle that is satisfying on a number of levels. Jamie Freeman also turns in a wonderful performance with “The Meek Shall Inherit,” a cautionary tale that takes place in the futuristic Christian States of America as the Inheritor incinerates the religious bigots. Although this would seem to put him in the superhero side, revelations at the end put him squarely in the villain camp, no matter how much the reader would wish it otherwise. In doing so, Freeman asks some tough questions about the nature of good and evil as well as the grey area between the two.

But as I said earlier, everyone acquits themselves well in this collection. Marshall Moore goes all high fashion with “After Balenciaga,” which has the evil Couture bringing back designers from the grave, pitting Chanel against Dior to wickedly tongue-in-cheek effect.  Lee Thomas is his usual brilliant self in “The Third Estate,” incorporating some leftist sentiment into the villain Legion, who destroys corporations and executives, much to the dismay and ultimate betrayal of his partner, Curtis. The title character of Cardamone’s own “The Ice King,” first seen in Steve Berman’s criminally underrated queer spec-fic magazine Icarus, takes time out from freezing back-of-the-bar sex tableaux to reunite with an old college roommate he once loved. Also worth mentioning is Jeffrey Ricker’s “Scorned,” featuring Megawatt, a Hannibal Lechter-type desperate to regain his power and escape from his prison cell.

As if all this wasn’t enough, Rod M. Santos takes us clear over the top with “The Knights Nefarious.” This outrageous tale has a henchman named Muse trying to win the love of his master, Dr. Schadenfreude, by scheming to capture the good doctor’s arch-enemy, Captain Strategem, and presenting the hero to him on his birthday. He does so with the help of a rather motley crew of amateur villains: El Fantasma que Sangra (The Ghost Who Bleeds), a robotphobe named Armored Suit Man, a trenchcoat-wearing Flash Forward who opens his coat to expose a hypnotic psychedelic tattoo, Robigus, a Roman god who protects corn from blight, and Chocolate Bunny Boy, who can shoot chocolate rabbits from his palms. In an absolutely inspired moment that had me snorting ginger ale up my nose during the climactic battle, Stratagem puts an arm up to ward off Chocolate Bunny Boy’s attack, exclaiming incredulously, “You’re assaulting me with Easter candy?” Even my dogs were laughing.

You’ll find no better book of queer supervillainy anywhere. I can hardly wait for the next volume. Please, Tom, tell me there’s another in the works!

©  2013  Jerry L. Wheeler

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