Monthly Archives: May 2013

Review: Bewere the Night: Tales of Shapeshifters and Werecreatures

I don’t usually read anthologies. I don’t feel like I’ve had my fill of an author and I never really feel like I get a handle on their writing style based on one or two short stories. I would say anthologies turn me off writers more than they turn me on.

It’s just a weird thing I have.

The other thing I don’t read a lot of is fiction starring shapeshifers or werecreatures, because authors tend to fall back on werewolves, and werewolves, as everyone knows, all suffer from testosterone poisoning. Seriously, of all the possible cool animals that you could turn into, it’s always werewolf this, werewolf that, because Europe, or something.

Bleh, wolves, I’ve always been a fox girl.

Since I don’t like werewolves that much I’m always on the lookout for books that have a variety of shapeshifters represented within their pages, and this one name-drops kitsune, selkies, and crane-wives on the back cover. I only recognized two of the authors (one I’ve read, the other I’ve heard things about) and, well, the book was the reasonable price of $2, so I thought I’d give it a shot.

I’m going to be doing something different for this review, though. I’m going to be reviewing each of the stories individually, the way they do it on Amazon, so even though this looks like it didn’t take very long, by the time I’m finished I’ll probably have written this over a couple weeks or so.

So, without further ado, the stories….

Note: I’ll list the types of shifters involved in each story unless the reveal somehow spoils the plot

The Thief of Precious Things by A.C. Wise (foxes, crows)

This story is about an amnesiac fox girl tasked with stealing a thing for the ruling class of crow men, only she can’t remember what that thing was, or much of anything. Yeah, it’s a cliché, but overall, I’d say this is a strong start for the anthology. I’ve certainly read worse. And look, no wolves!

The Poison Eaters by Holly Black

This is not a conventional shapeshifter story (there is a “shift” of sorts). It’s about three sisters who kill anything they touch. It’s weird and dark and kind of Gaiman-esque (who also writes weird and dark things). It’s an interesting story.

Go Home Stranger by Justin Howe

Not only is this story very short (2 ½ pages), it’s another one of those strange ones. It’s also really short so there’s not much to say about it save that it’s about a resort with a dark secret and it’s written from a second-person perspective (“you”). I think I’m beginning to see a pattern here.

The Heavy by Cherie Priest

The Heavy is more of a “traditional” were-creature tale involving a mysterious creature killing off a man’s goats and a man nicknamed “The Heavy” who tracks down weird stuff like this for a living. I’m kind of lukewarm on this one. It’s not a bad story, it just didn’t scratch my itch. I did like how The Heavy is…not really your average “Hunter” type character.

Tusk and Skin by Marissa Lingen (walrus)

This is a short story based on the tales of selkies—walrus selkies, er, walkies—in Greenland. I think it could have gone on a bit longer, but as it is, it’s not bad. Also, the protagonist and the shifter are both POCs.

A Song to the Moon by Richard Bowes (wolves)

This story loses points for having wolf shapeshifters, but it redeems itself because the protagonist is intersex and genderfluid. At first, it was hard to get into this story, because it’s about as quirky as you would expect a story about independent theatre to be. (Seriously, I took acting classes in high school, actors are only second to composers and inventors when it comes to eccentricity.) It’s basically the narrator and the main actor turning their own origin stories into a form of entertainment, and they do an abridged version of Euripides’ The Bacchae, so that’s okay.

In the Seeonee Hills by Erica Hildebrand (wolves)

This story could probably be considered “typical” if it didn’t have a lesbian protagonist (or she could be bisexual, nothing’s said either way). The point is that the protagonist is a woman and her love interest is also a woman. The plot involves a turf war between rival wolf packs (*sigh* wolves again). I did like the dynamic between “natural born” shapeshifters and “infected” werewolves, though.

The Sinews of His Heart by Melissa Yuan-Innes

I couldn’t really get into this story. It’s about a woman who is in China for her cousin’s funeral, and then he shows up alive. Tigers are involved. The protagonist is Chinese-Canadian and well, the story is set in China, so I’m assuming the characters are all POCs. One note: It does get a little violent towards the end, and those of you who are sensitive to animal cruelty (especially against big cats) should take care.

(Nothing But) Flowers by Nick Mamatas

I just didn’t get this story. It felt like a plug for primitivism (except it’s not) with a side order of “everything’s wrong with the world”, not gonna’ lie, there’s a whole lot wrong with the world, but it seemed like there was no story at all. And the ending, the fuck was up with that ending? Did not get this story, at all. On the plus side (or not, depending on how you take how the characters are portrayed) the protagonist is black.

The Coldest Game by Maria V. Snyder

This is a story about hockey, soullessness is involved. The solution to the major issue in the story is heteronormative to the max and strikes me as kind of creepy and coercive, and the ending is kind of “Okaaay, that’s one way to deal with your antagonist.”

Red on Red by Jen White

Another story that just flew right over my head in terms of writing style. I can basically sum this one up as: “You know that thing where that mother claimed a dingo ate her baby and then it turned out she was right all along?” Yeah, like that. Seriously, that ending is creepy as fuck.

Extra Credit by Seth Cadin

Yet another story where I’m like “the fuck is happening?” but I gather it has something to do with animal masks, and parties, and people turning into animals. It might have made an interesting novel where the author could flesh out the concept, but as a short story, it’s just kind of WTFery all over the place.

Thirst by Vandana Singh (snakes)

This story is set in India and is centered around the festival of Nag Pachami (the snake festival). I liked this story, I found the prose very evocative (it helps that the author was born and raised in India) and while you’ve probably seen variations on the plot before, at least it’s not about wolves.

Grotesque Angels by Gwendolyn Clare

An interesting story that is clearly influenced by the works of H.P. Lovecraft, I really liked how the city itself is a sort of genius loci even if I didn’t really get what the titular creatures were (other than that they had wings and are apparently seen as monstrous, perhaps they do look like freaky angels).

Blue Joe by Stephanie Burgis

This is a story about the horrors of war, following your dreams no matter what, and loneliness, oh so much loneliness. It’s a story that’s pretty sad in a way, but it ends on an optimistic note. Overall it’s not bad.

The Were-Wizard of Oz by Lavie Tidhar

This is a dark alternate-universe take on The Wizard of Oz where Oz is a werewolf, written in the style of a screenplay. As much as I’m kind of tired of darker and grittier takes on well-known works like Oz, this story was okay, kind of depressing, though.

Seven Year Itch by Leah R. Cutter

This story is potentially triggery for parental abuse/neglect and is also a more “traditional” take on werewolf mythos. I thought this story was sorta’ meh, TBH, also it’s really short, so there’s just not a lot to say about it.

An Unnatural History of Scarecrows by Mario Milosevic

Well, here’s an interesting sort of shapeshifter. Unfortunately, the story’s so short that the novelty doesn’t really have a chance to stick. I kind of like the “lecture” format of the prose.

The Gaze Dogs of Nine Waterfall by Kaaron Warren

 This is a story about a woman hunting for vampire dogs in Fiji for a wealthy client. I didn’t really like it that much. The main character came across as slightly callous and the dialogue didn’t make much sense half the time. I also found the shapeshifting aspect kind of half-assed. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say the author has something against dogs, because it seems like a dog is suffering some sort of misfortune every page or so.

Snow on Sugar Mountain by Elizabeth Hand (fox)

This story one of the longest (if not the longest) in the anthology. It follows a recently orphaned teenager trying to live a solitary life as a fox and a retired astronaut named Howell. Most of the time I feel as if short stories could stand to be a little longer, but I think this one could definitely have been cut down a bit. There also seems to be this subtle racism going on with the Native peoples forgetting how to shapeshift and then white people stole their shapeshifting stuff. It just left a bad taste in my mouth.

The Aphotic Ghost by Carlos Hernandez

The titular ghosts are jellyfish. The plot is about a man looking to climb Mount Everest to bring back the body of his son. Trust me, it all makes sense by the end. I did like this story and the choice of animal was very interesting.

The Fowler’s Daughter by Michelle Muenzler

This is another of those really short stories. I didn’t like it very much. Basically it’s about….a fowler’s daughter….geese are involved.

Moonlight and Bleach by Sandra MacDonald (er…maid)

This story is a fun one about a were-maid. Yes, I mean this is a story about a woman who turns into a maid each full moon and has an obsessive desire to clean things. It’s a fun story.

She Drives the Men to Crimes of Passion! by Genevieve Valentine

The title is both an in-universe reference and a reference to the ending. It’s about a film producer/director trying to make it big with the help of an “exotic” actress.  Even the writing style is glamorous. The ending is actually pretty dark, though.

Coyotaje by Marie Brennan

This story is about a woman seeking to (illegally) immigrate from Mexico to the United States, but, as is to be expected in shape shifter stories, things aren’t always what they seem. Actually, the ending was kind of cliché.

Swear Not by the Moon by Renee Carter Hall (wolves)

Another really short story with an interesting take on werewolves; it’s definitely one that could have been a bit longer if “Snow on Sugar Mountain” hadn’t been so long.

Infested by Nadia Bulkin (various)

I didn’t really like this one. The basic premise is that you can pay a sorceress to curse someone and they become “pest-people” who turn into pest animals (like rats). It’s an interesting idea, but it’s wrapped up in this ridiculously classist narrative where “bad” people and poorer folks are automatically assumed to be pests, or it could be a very cynical look at city life, take your pick.

Watchmen by Aaron Sterns (wolves)

I didn’t like this one at all because the grimdark has been turned up to max and it’s really just another take on hyper-aggressive werewolves, and the author seems to have a thing for having women die horribly (not that the men don’t die horribly, but their deaths are quick compared to what happens to women) I don’t need that level of misogyny in my stories, thanks.

And Neither Have I Wings to Fly by Carrie Laben (crane, birds in general)

Just when I thought the book was going to end on a grimdark note, it ends with this nice sedate story about bird watching and people who shapeshift using animal skins. There’s also a nice queer twist at the end. It was a good way to finish off the anthology.

 Overall, I would say I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of diversity in this anthology, particularly on the human level. A good chunk of the stories have POCs as protagonists, two stories have romantic relationships between women (one is more blatant, the other is a bit more subtle). I would have liked to see more shapeshifters/were-creatures that weren’t canines (many had wolves or foxes) or birds, but there are definitely some more creative offerings. The major flaw with Bewere the Night is that none of the stories really grabbed me. I’ve read anthologies that were much, much worse (I hated Hotter Than Hell so much) but this is just okay, I guess, notable for its diversity, but none of the stories really stuck out to me. I also wasn’t prepared for how dark some of the stories turned out to be (which, if you’re a fan of horror, you might not mind as much) but on the whole, there are worse things I could have spent $2 on.

Bewere the Night definitely won’t be the last anthology I’ll ever review, so I think I’ll try out this format again, see how it works. 

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Adventures in Borgovia (The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing)

[Warning: This post will be very text and image heavy.]

Every so often I like to boot up a game that I’ve never played before and do something like a Let’s Play with far fewer screenshots, and for once, I’m playing a game that’s pretty recent (just came out yesterday on Steam) so here are my first impressions of The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing, a hack-and-slash Diablo clone (loosely) inspired by Bram Stoker’s Dracula. I haven’t really played any Diablo clones since, well, Diablo, so this should be interesting.

Hit the jump to begin our incredible adventure!

Continue reading Adventures in Borgovia (The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing)

An Open Letter to Everyone Involved in the Pop Culture Paganism Debate

Hello everyone,

I know some of you are sick and tired of hearing about this debate and wish it would just go away (sorry Elizabeth!) but I think I’ve reached the point where I really need to address the stupidity on both sides of this colossal anger-fest that passes for a “serious debate”.

As you know, I identify as a hard polytheist, I believe that deities are individuals, not aspects of One God and One Goddess, or facets of One Ultimate Cosmic Oneness….Thing, but individuals with their own thoughts, feelings, and motivations. I also believe (and this is important) that deities are very Real beings. They weren’t created by humans, and they have an independent existence from humans. I don’t pretend to know the answers to questions like “So, WTF were my deities doing before their respective cultures were around to worship them?” because (on top of being a complete mindfuck) those questions don’t matter to me.

What does matter to me is my relationship with my deities, my ancestors, the land and the spirits that live there. They come first, and they will always come first.

Firstly, to my hard polytheist friends, a few points:

Not all pop culture Pagans are the same. Perhaps you will remember an earlier post I wrote critiquing a post by members of the Raven Radio Crew, and the laughable idea that they were the “moderates” arrayed against “the crazies” (who were basically anyone who didn’t think like them). In case you need to get caught up, my post is here. Please go and read it if you haven’t already.

The thing is that framing this discussion as “true believer” polytheists vs. stupid, fandom-obsessed “all deities are thoughtforms” fluffy bunnies makes just as much sense as “the crazies” vs. the (not actually moderate) “moderates”.

That is, none at all.

Because, as I point out in my original post, there is a HUUUUGE amount of people who hold equal disdain for either party, like, say, ME, and most of my online friends.

In all seriousness, how many people came to Paganism through books like Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon, or, Hel, how many people use fiction as teaching tools? There’s a reason I have the Chalion books on my reading list, and it’s not just because they’re great fantasy novels, but because of the way they present deity-human relationships as eerily similar to intense deity-human relationships in real life. (“You are the tool, not the work. Expect to be treated accordingly.”) Hel, as my friend Ken recently pointed out, the Church of All Worlds runs on fiction (specifically Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein). For those who, for whatever reason, aren’t aware of this group, they’re an interesting bunch who put out the magazine Green Egg, which was really popular in the 70s and 80s.

So when some of you complain about stupid pop culture Pagans who are “wrecking polytheism”, you are erasing a significant number of Pagans, polytheists, and others who don’t buy what either group is selling. This includes some people that you probably think of as “good polytheists”.

But no one will take us seriously!” Oh, for the love of everything, where do I begin? Let’s start with the fact that no matter what you do, someone, somewhere, is going to think you’re nuttier than a box full of nuts with ground up nuts inside them. Whether it’s because you believe in the efficacy divination, the existence of Atlantis, or multiple deities in general. Actually, what I find ironic about this argument is that the folks who have made huge strides towards the acceptance of Pagans, polytheists and the like in North America have been some flavour of Wiccan.

You know, Wiccans, the ones who follow a religion that’s about sixty years old. Yeah, those people. The vast majority of which are non-BTW who most likely aren’t hard polytheists by any stretch of the imagination? The same people many of us like to complain about all the fucking time? (I know this because I, too, have my moments.)

Do you know what leads to people not taking someone seriously? Petty Internet drama.

Although, this blog does kind of run on petty Internet drama, so who am I to talk?

Also, as Del points out in this post, there are literally tons of modern things the average Pagan does that no one cares about. Seriously, how many people have talked about or actually made a playlist of songs for a deity? How many people pick out quotes from their favourite books that remind them of one of their deities?

And, for that matter, I should note that NO ONE made a peep about my musing that I might add an image of Yue to a shrine to Mani that I was thinking of setting up. Why? Because Yue is associated with the moon in the Card Captor Sakura universe, and I LOVED that horrible dub when I was little.

“But Gef,” you say. “You obviously aren’t planning on worshiping Yue, so its okay!” Really? Because I wasn’t getting that impression from some of the blow ups I’ve seen, and really, saying “all PCPism is wrong–except when someone I like is doing it” is just hypocritical, either own up to it or stop making blanket statements about really large groups of people!

Elua’s balls, it’s not rocket science!

Now, lest you think that I’ve devoted an entire post to ripping on my fellow hard polytheists, it’s time to address the other side of the debate, which is not without it’s share of idiocy.

All deities are thoughtforms/All myths are made up. I’m of two minds on this point. On the one hand, my own experiences have led me to believe that this is not the case, that there are things out there that weren’t created by humans, and exist independently of humans, but, on the other hand, if that is your belief, I leave you to it.

However, is it really that hard to understand why someone might just be a little pissed off when you go around declaring that their deities are fake? I’m sure you don’t like being told your practices are in any way fake, so don’t do it to other people.

All things are not equal. When I was a Wiccanesque Pagan, I was told “all sex is sacred” and it was some time before I realized that that statement wasn’t precisely true. After all, sometimes sex is “just sex”, it’s fucking, it’s “let us bash our bodies together for the sheer joy of bashing our bodies together”, what matters is your intent.

I would, again, adopt a more moderate stance, and say that while fan fiction doesn’t really have the same staying power or the kind of “oomph” of a Homeric hymn, that doesn’t mean that it can’t be used for devotional purposes or that someone can’t use cosplay as a way to honour a deity.

That said, all these arguments mean absolutely nothing in light of this last point:

Do your deities approve of what you’re doing? This is pretty much the argument that trumps all other arguments. If a deity says to you “I want you to write sexy stories with you and I as the main characters” are you seriously going to tell them “fuck no, that’s fan fiction!”

If a deity appears to someone in the guise of a fictional character? Who are you to question their choice of mask?

If you want to be the person to tell the gods that their way of appearing to one of their followers is wrong because it makes you personally uncomfortable, be my guest. I’ll be over here selling tickets.

Ditto for spirits and other beings.

And you know what, if someone has an experience with a character from a show or a book who doesn’t appear to be a construct or an entity using the character as a disguise, does it really affect anyone but them? Seriously, just treat it as someone’s UPG that you find interesting and discard it.

People share UPG with me all the time, and I freely discard the stuff that doesn’t feel right to me.

Most importantly, I think some folks have convinced themselves that their opinions somehow trump the opinions of the deities and spirits who are pretty much the ultimate arbiters of whether a thing is Okay to Do Spiritually. As such, everything and everyine else takes second base to what they want, because they are the ones who call the shots around here.

Always.

And you know what? So far my deities don’t appear to give a flying fuck about any of this squabbling, so you know what? I’m going to close this letter and follow their lead, keep doing my own thing, the usual.

Also, I should take the opportunity to note that I am not the Pagan Police, so chances are if you can agree to disagree with me, I will be happy.

And, apart from sharing my own forays into pop culture Pagany, that is all I will share on the subject.

Be excellent to each other,

Gef

P.S. If it sounds like I was a bit harder on the hard polytheist side of the debate, it’s because I am, in truth, most disappointed by the behaviour of some folks on *my* side, because it’s *my* side, dammit! Disappointed but, thankfully, not entirely disheartened.

 

Sturgeon’s 90%: Gatekeeper by Rayne Auster

[Warning: The following review is  NSFW.]

I decided to give books of a certain quality their own special title so that you could differentiate the snark from the more serious reviews, ergo “Sturgeon’s 90%” (props go to my friend Ken for coming up with the name).

The title that has the dubious honour of being the first book to be reviewed in this way is Gatekeeper by Rayne Auster, the book which taught me to never, ever trust a cover.

Ever.

See, I thought this was a pretty cover, but I have a high tolerance for anime-esque art, so YMMV. I have to say that, in general, I love contrast like this. The artist was clearly going for a fire-and-ice kind of motif, and, looking at this cover without reading the synopsis, I’d probably guess that it was about a romantic relationship between two men and there’s fire and ice mixed up in that somewhere. Perhaps the point is that they are opposites?

BTW, don’t be fooled by the right figure’s long hair, he’s rocking the pretty boy look.

This is the point where you say “It’s another one of those books, isn’t it?”

Yes, it’s a m/m romance/fantasy thing written by a woman. I’ve read a few of them in my short life, so I can’t say that I was under any delusion that what I was about to read would amount to award winning literature, but, well, the synopsis seemed mildly interesting.

In short, this book is basically my punishment for fetishizing gay men….again….

Let’s back up a bit. The basic premise is that there are two worlds, the Land of Gold (Duiem) and the Land of Silver (Careil). The two worlds were kept in balance by a group of individuals known as Gatekeepers. The Gatekeepers in turn were protected by Wardens who shared a deep emotional bond with the wards, that is, until the Wardens acted on false information and slaughtered the Gatekeepers, cutting both worlds off from one another and throwing them out of balance.

Duiem is now a desert world embroiled in war. Amidst all the fighting, the heir to the throne, Kaji, is to be bonded to a woman of the prestigious Kiyou Clan in order to fulfill an ancient prophecy. However, just as they are about to be joined, the ritual is interrupted by Aniol–a mysterious pale-haired man with no memory–and Kaji accidentally bonds to him instead. After being betrayed by forces that are too close to home for comfort, Kaji and Aniol are forced to brave the desert chasing an ancient legend telling of a mysterious land of water and air.

Or, to put it another way: Red Oni, Blue Oni: The Book!

Now, as I said, I enjoy contrast, I suspect many others find a certain appeal in sticking two characters with vastly different personalities in the same general area and getting them to work together or fall in love or whatever’s appropriate for the story, and it is, like tropes in general, not necessarily a bad thing in and of itself.

Or, at least, it wouldn’t be a bad thing in and of itself if the writing wasn’t so horrible as to make the fanfiction I wrote when I was eleven seem compelling and brilliantly characterized by comparison. You can even read it here, if you like, but, you know, I was eleven at the time, so it’s not my best work.

No, wait, actually, I changed my mind, don’t look at it, it’s embarrassing! I SAID DON’T LOOK AT IT!

………………

Anyways, you know how one of the most important rules of writing is to show, not tell? This author clearly has never heard of this rule, because that’s all she does.

She tells.

And tells.

And tells.

And tells.

On and on it goes, the telling. Don’t worry, ladies and gentlemen and persons of indeterminate gender, the author will leave absolutely nothing to your imagination, nothing to inference, you will know literally everything from what each character is feeling at that exact moment to how a plant blooming in a barren landscape is a symbol of hope and people are very happy that its there because it’s a symbol of hope for them.

Seriously, it’s like every single person, place or thing has a big neon sign next telling you exactly what their purpose is in the narrative. There’s no subtlety to it at ALL. Instead of making an attempt at showing the reader that the villain is clearly thinking evil thoughts, the author just opts to say “The villain was clearly thinking evil thoughts, and also he’s evil.”

This is one of the worst kinds of books, IMHO, the kind that treats its readers like they’re idiots who need to be spoonfed every single aspect of a book. Perhaps if I didn’t occasionally dip my toes into the genre, I’d make a snide remark about the intelligence of its fans, but quite frankly, I don’t think any fans deserve having their intelligence insulted to this degree excepting fans of Fifty Shades of Grey.

And, you know, there are some half-decent ideas in here, like the section before each chapter that slowly reveals the background events that let to the two worlds being so fucked up. The problem with these sections is that they needlessly repeat themselves, over and over and over, and come across trying to sound philosophical when they’re really just saying “and love is great” again, over and over and over.

My fellow writers: READERS ARE NOT STUPID! Please make yourself a sticky note with that phrase on it and stick it somewhere where you will see it every day.

While I’m on a roll, let’s talk about point of view and narrative voice, because Gatekeeper attempts to pull off a third person omniscient perspective with an alternating perspective, and the result is this horribly sloppy mess with characters somehow knowing what other characters are thinking and frequent changes in point of view within paragraphs with no clear demarcation between switches.

This leads to some really confusing moments where the reader doesn’t know how the fuck a character A suddenly knows character B’s name (when that character has not introduced themselves) or whether the story has suddenly switched perspectives within the same paragraph and the reader is now looking through character B’s eyes.

This leads to scenarios like this:

Character A smiled at the man reading a book. Character B [the boy from the last sentence] closed his book and glared at Character A. What an ass! Character B thought.

Character A was very offended that Character B thought he was an ass.

Consistency, this book does not have it. I’ll say one thing for many of the other horrible books I’ve read: they might be craptastic, but at least this aspect is consistent.

Seriously, this is just not even trying.

So, the writing is craptastic, that’s been established, but, truth be told, other issues I have with this book have less to do with the book being craptastic and more to do with the entire “m/m relationships as written by women, particularly heterosexual women” genre as a whole. You have your aggressive, domineering “seme” type (Kaji) paired with your submissive, empathetic, effeminate “uke” (Aniol) who is always, always, ALWAYS presented as exotic and mysterious yet innocent (when Kaji isn’t drooling over his pretteh hair and eyes) in a way that Kaji is not during the times that the book switches to Aniol’s perspective. It’s so blatant that one of the FIRST THINGS Kaji says to Aniol after bonding with him can basically be summed up as “LOLZ UR THE GIRL IN THE RELATIONSHIP!” because of course there has to be a “guy” and a “girl” because it would clearly be expecting too much of this book to try something more original than heterosexist tripe.

I know,  I know, I’m expecting too much of the genre as a whole. Oh, no, wait, Wicked Gentlemen didn’t do it, so perhaps there is hope after all.

There’s also the near absence of women (not counting the ones that are dead, we have three women with bit parts at best), but again, it’s nothing you haven’t seen before if you’re even passably familiar with the genre.

Also, I think most of you will take this as a given, but the epilogue is not a good place for a hardcore sex scene. Seriously, I’ve read erotica with better sense than that. The epilogue is where you wrap things up all neat and tidy, not shove more penis in your readers’ faces. It just comes across as really, really awkward, and I’ve read erotica with better sense than that.

So, perhaps I was a little hasty in categorizing this book as a “romance” because there wasn’t really a whole lot of romance in it, just Kaji going on about how his “little mate” is oh so exotic and pretty and then a couple of sex scenes. I will give the book props for doing something other than the old “suck and fuck”. Suffice it to say that if you wish there was more bad anilingus in your m/m books, this book has you covered, but you still shouldn’t read it, because see above.

I will close by reminding you that I was so fed up with this book that I took it upon myself to write my own rendition of a scene. Thus far, I have never done this with any other book. No, not even Fifty Shades….

And now, a drinking game!

The Unofficial Gatekeeper Drinking Game

Take a sip when:

  • Kaji acts possessive towards Aniol
  • Aniol is described as “innocent”
  • Kaji refers to Aniol as his “little mate”
  • Whenever Aniol’s hair and eyes are mentioned (note: hair and eyes together)
  • Take two sips if the colour of his hair and eyes are described (keep the nearest hospital on speed dial)
  • Whenever someone speaks coldly or commandingly (“with command in his voice” counts)
  • Take two sips whenever someone speaks coldly and commandingly
  • Whenever the narrative brings up the Wardens killing the Gatekeepers
  • Whenever the white room is mentioned/whenever Aniol mentions something about being neglected
  • Whenever the author staunchly refuses to use personal pronouns. (ex. Aniol sat down on the bed. Aniol picked up a book and began to read. Aniol wondered where Kaji was because it was getting late.)
  • Whenever “Conflagration” is mentioned
  • Whenever Kaji’s prophecy is mentioned, take two sips when the *true* prophecy is mentioned
  • Whenever it turns out that one of the main cast is secretly a very important person
  • Take a sip whenever the text mentions Duiem’s perpetual wars or Careil’s paranoia
  • Take a sip whenever Aniol’s moonstone pendant is mentioned
  • Take a sip whenever the sun and moon motif pops up
  • Every time you encounter a name that starts with A, take a sip (first encounters only)
  • Take a sip whenever the author uses faux Japanese (“Taiyoukou”, “Kiyou” etc.)
  • Take a sip whenever a character does something exceptionally stupid or suicidal (ex. disobeying direct orders from a superior, taking an arrow/blade for a character, telling the antagonist to his face that you know he’s up to something)
  • Take a sip whenever a character can tell what another character is thinking just by looking at them

Take a drink when

  • Kaji and Aniol have sex
  • Take two drinks if the sex scene turns out to have been a dream
  • Take a drink whenever Kaji refers to Yuan as an idiot

Finish your drink when

  • A female character has a role that actually impacts the plot (note: dead characters don’t count)

The Fanatic and the Skeptic: A Tale of Two Characters

I don’t usually read author interviews, or at least, I don’t read them until after I’ve read their works. Partly because I just don’t find them that interesting most of the time, but also because I prefer to just experience the work, explore how I feel about it, and then go back and read the author’s stuff.

Anyways, there’s usually one question I see over and over in interviews with authors: Are any of your characters based on people you know?

I can tell you right now that there is one character in one of my stories who is based on someone I know from university.

Well, actually, the truth is my characters are based on….me.

Many of you know that I like to do this nerdy thing called participating in play-by-post roleplaying games, an activity that not only improves my writing, but helps me figure out things about myself through those characters.

This is a tale about two specific characters. I’m going to call them the Skeptic and the Fanatic.

The one thing you need to know about the Fanatic is that he was extremely devoted to his deities, even to the point of making other characters uncomfortable. Unfortunately, he wasn’t a very good candidate for the priesthood because he just didn’t really have the discipline for it. I guess “fanatic” isn’t really the right term, because he wasn’t really very concerned with what other people did, he just really, really loved his deities.

The second character, the Skeptic, was an atheist in a world where it’s pretty much a given that deities exist and they talk to people. Also, love is stronger than gravity. The Skeptic, however, thinks that this is all bullshit, and his fellow citizens are fools for believing in fairy tales. He was also, yes, kind of grumpy in general, and the sort of person who liked to appear cold and aloof and somewhat unfeeling until you discovered he faithfully maintained a cookbook belonging to his mother, for, um, research purposes, of course.

In my time on that board, I had the opportunity to play both of these characters numerous times, and over time, they changed. The Skeptic became a bit less curmudgeonly, even though he still thought the vast majority of folks were fools, and although the Fanatic’s devotion didn’t lesson, he did manage to learn a little discretion.

I actually played out a thread once with another player where the two of them met, and surprisingly, they managed to not kill each other, though the Skeptic was very clear that he didn’t like the Fanatic, and the Fanatic was chill because he’s laid back like that.

The thing is, the interplay between these two characters is something that is constantly playing out in real life. There are days I am filled with the love for one’s deities that the Fanatic seemed to bask in every day, but there are other days when the Skeptic takes the reins, and I’m left with the feeling that maybe what I’m doing isn’t really helping. Maybe everyone is delusional, and I (like my character) am the Only Sane Person in the room.

See, because unlike the Fanatic and the Skeptic, I don’t live in a world where you literally see evidence of the deities everywhere, where no one (apart from the Skeptic) questions that deities exist, and that they are active in the world.

Even if that weren’t true, though, the Fanatic doesn’t worry too much. He just goes into it with an open heart and does the best he can. The Skeptic doesn’t work that way though, he needs Proof, and he doesn’t trust anything he can’t see and verify for himself.

This is why I found their development so fascinating, particularly on the Skeptic’s end, because although he was still his grumpy, atheist self, his mind had expanded so he didn’t automatically dismiss someone as foolish because they believed in deities, and he learned to lighten up a whole lot.

Anyways, my point is these characters are both a part of me, and sometimes I have moments where I feel more like one than the other. Unfortunately, my character development will probably take much longer than there’s did.

Yes, I have some strange voices in my head. You see, when you become a writer, you suddenly have all these characters hanging around, telling you to write things. Don’t worry, you’re not crazy, or actually, you might be a little crazy, but that’s okay, it’s all a part of being a writer.

Rewrite: An Experiment

I’m conducting a very scientific experiment, for science. In a nutshell, this book I’ve been reading (full review to come) has been very frustrating, so frustrating, in fact, that I’ve been rewriting scenes in my head just to make it bearable.

The following is an excerpt from the book in question (which, if you’re curious, is Gatekeeper by Rayne Auster. Below the excerpt, I’ll post my reworking of the same scene. You tell me which one you like more.

Sound simple? Okay, let’s begin.

The context for this scene is that main characters Kaji and Aniol have been ambushed by a group of warriors from a fierce tribe known as the Ruel. Their companion Rogue intervenes, and they find out that he’s actually a master assassin who graduated as a class of two from assassination school (the other students came down with a case of dead), obviously, Rogue is pretty badass and not to be fucked with.

The following is the actual excerpt from Gatekeeper. I won’t put it in blockquotes so it’s easier to read:

“‘Release them,’ the cold voice ordered, clearly expecting to be obeyed without question.

‘No,’ the warrior blatantly rebelled against the direct order. ‘They must die.’

‘Are you questioning my authority?’ the cold voice questioned, sending chills down even Kaji’s spine.

‘No, I’m questioning your loyalty,’ the warrior spat, challenge and disrespect in his tone.

There was a flurry of motion, a blur of movement, that ended with cold steel pressed against the warrior’s throat, a shallow cut similar to that upon Kaji’s throat trickling blood. Rogue glared at the warrior, sandy hair shifting in the cool breeze, blade glinting in the fading sun. ‘My loyalty is never in question.’ Rogue drew the blade across the warrior’s throat, adding a second thin cut to the one already there. “They are under my protection. Now order your men to release them. At once.”

The warrior swallowed, the blade at his throat cutting in deeper as he considered his options. ‘Release them,’ he whispered, the sound barely a breath above the wind. The warrior’s men released Kaji and Aniol.”

And now, after some thinking about it, here’s my rendition:

“Release them!”

The warriors turned as one towards the speaker. In the dark, Kaji couldn’t see much, but he knew that voice anywhere. It was Rogue! But how had he known they were in trouble, more importantly, why did he speak with such authority to these soldiers of Ruel?

One of the soldiers turned his attention away from them to address the blond assassin, who stood with the relaxed posture of a lion surveying a group of mice. “No,” he spat. “They are of our sworn enemies, the Taiyoukou Clan! They must die!”

Rogue narrowed his eyes, and Kaji saw the soldier blanch with fear. “You question my authority?” He asked softly, too softly.

The soldier was shaking now, Kaji could almost taste his fear in the air. He had made a mistake, and everyone knew it.

Yet the fool was still speaking. Shut up! Kaji thought. Shut up and perhaps you’ll walk away with your life!

But to no avail, the fool kept one speaking: “I wonder at the loyalty of a man who has been gone for so long!” He cried, his voice rising higher in pitch like the last desperate cry of a dying man.

It was, appropriately, the last thing he ever said.

Before anyone could react, Rogue darted forward, his dagger painting a red line across the man’s throat. The man collapsed, his lifeblood staining the sand of Duiem, a blot on an otherwise pristine landscape.

“My loyalty is never in question,” Rogue hissed as the man gurgled and expired. The blond man’s gaze swept over the assembled soldiers, who were shifting nervously like a herd of cows who had encountered some strange, new thing.

“–and neither is my authority,” he continued. “Further disobedience will be punished by death.” He jerked his head towards Kaji and Aniol. “Now, let’s try this again, shall we? Release them!”

This time, their captors obeyed without question.

And that, everyone, is how that scene would have played out if I had originally written it.

This book can pretty much be summed up as a whole bunch of wasted opportunities. if you ask me.

Anyways, let me know what you think of my little rewrite/re-imagining/attempt-to-make-this-book-bearable.

Two Worlds 2 Headshot FAIL!

This is why Gef doesn’t upload videos of her playing games, because she doesn’t want you to see how much she fails at them:

Video recorded with Fraps. No audio, sorry. YOU SHOULD HEAR THIS MC GRUNT! IT’S HILARIOUS!

Also my MC is so pretteh, I made him pretteh because the game doesn’t give you the option to play as a girl.

Air (Thoughts on the Elements, Part 2)

This is part 2 of my random ramblings/free association on the four elements (part 1, on fire, can be found here.)

Breath.

Breathe in, breathe out, lungs expanding and contracting. A cold wind that chills down to the bone. Movement, communication, speech, language, shouting, whispering, being full of hot air (like a balloon). A spring breeze that carries the scent of flowers. The wind dances, it howls,  it whistles, it tosses things about.

Water is life, but so is air (even more so) without it, we die, our bodies picked apart by birds, wings to fly. I always wanted a set of wings when I was little, now I’m terrified of going on airplanes. I like it when my feet are on solid ground (that isn’t moving) although my head often stays in the clouds.

Heh, air-heads, intellect, a razor sharp mind (I’ve never understood this air/swords association) quick as a thought (Thialfi knows that better than anyone).

Holding your breath in anticipation (or just to see how long you can do it), something that leaves you breathless (for me, it’s running), a gasp, a sharp intake of breath, a kiss, depending on someone else to breathe, breathplay–no, let’s not go into that.

The gentle breeze carrying the scent of lilacs, the howling during a thunderstorm, tornado, hurricane, a savage dance that destroys everything in its path.

Hail to air, raging tempest, barest breath.

Deck Review: The Arthurian Tarot

It’s time to break up the Serious Business with another review, don’t you think? (For those of you who only recently followed me, I post reviews of things when I’m bored, which is all the time.)

The latest addition to my ever-expanding tarot and oracle collection is The Arthurian Tarot by Caitlin and John Matthews. Just to be clear, this is not the same deck as Legend: The Arthurian Tarot by Anna-Marie Ferguson, the similar names apparently confuse people. The edition I bought is the newer version in the green box with white bordered cards. There is an older edition (Hallowquest) with black borders, but it’s out of print and really expensive.

I’m of two minds when it comes to tarot decks, I like my decks to be as “traditional” (particularly RWS traditional) as possible, but at the same time, I like it when decks do something different (but not too different). There isn’t a single deck that completely satisfies these contradictory impulses, so I have to settle with sometimes preferring my RWS clones, and sometimes wanting something different.

The Arthurian Tarot definitely falls in the “something different” category.

First, the basics, the cards measure about 2.4″ x 4.5″, each card image is bordered by a white border (which forms a sort of “window”) with a knot design in the upper corners. The backs are green with a gold knot pattern and fully reversible. The deck comes with a little purple booklet that has card meanings and spreads designed specifically for the deck. The suits are spears, swords, grails, and stones, court cards are maiden, knight, king, and queen.

Let’s talk about the art, shall we? The first thing you should know about the art is that you can’t trust images that you see online (including the ones I’m going to show you) because not only are most of the images of this deck of the OOP black-bordered deck, but the colours seem faded when compared to how the deck looks in person. At first, I was skeptical that the white borders wouldn’t be a distraction when I read with the cards, but I’ve actually found that the borders are more of a help than a hindrance with the system the Matthews have set up (more on this later). The images are brightly coloured without being eye-poppingly bright.

I suspect what will ultimately make or break this deck for you is its non-traditional system. For starters, nearly all of the majors are renamed. The Fool becomes The Seeker, The High Priestess becomes the Lady of the Lake, Justice becomes Sovereignty, and so on and so forth. The only cards that remain unchanged are the Star, the Moon, and the Sun. Even with the name changes, the majors are more or less RWS-esque in their imagery and meanings.

The minors, on the other hand, are landscape scenes (apparently of actual landscapes in Britain that you can visit) with few (if any) human figures. Each suit is also tied to a particular season. This is an interesting idea, as the images lend themselves more readily to meditation. but may seem a bit lonely if you’re used to minors with a little more movement. The scenes are meant to draw the reader into the images, to derive meanings from their experiences rather than just doing things as the book says.

Actually, I think one of my biggest gripes is the Little Purple Book, because while the interpretations it gives for each card are about as RWS as RWS can be, I suspect the average reader would be a bit puzzled by the choice in imagery, especially since at times the Arthurian legend doesn’t seem to mesh well with each card. Spear Five, for instance, is supposed to represent the combat between Balan and Balin, two brothers who unknowingly kill each other. The image shows a large stone with two crossed spears leaning against it. Now, I suppose you could figure out that the card has something to do with competitiveness and strife, but it just seems like a lot to remember for that many images.

Personally, I found it much easier to go “into” the scene in the card and interact with the objects there. As an example, I pulled Spear Ten from the deck and tried to imagine myself on that path with the two crows, and what I felt was this feeling of foreboding (crows, I might add, kind of freak me out) and the spear to my left was bloody, as if it had just been used in a battle. It was just a really creepy, not-nice card, and I didn’t really want to hang around there anymore.

This wasn’t even really a reading, this was just me pulling a card to try the method outlined in the book.

Oh, and the deck did have a moment when it kicked my ass. I decided to use the “Soul Protector” spread to get some help with my writing. The idea of the spread is that you are “assigned” one of the Majors to help you with your issue, in much the same way that King Arthur would assign a knight to help people in trouble in the stories.

Suddenly, there’s Gawain staring me in the face….

And I’m all like “Ohai, Gawain, I should get back to writing my queer version of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, shouldn’t I?”

Also, Gawain is probably my favourite knight.

Did I mention this was after I shuffled and scattered and cut the deck like crazy?

Yeah, the deck kicked my ass. It was the best ass-kicking ever.

Besides the not quite helpful book, the other gripes I have with the imagery are small. Gawain, for instance, has now been nicknamed “Pillow Knight” because his shield looks like a pillow, and I have no idea what possessed the artist to draw the Green Knight like he’s someone trying to camouflage himself by pasting an entire bush to his body.

Oh, and then there’s one of my pet gripes–cards that look like other cards. This deck is driving me crazy with it, because Sovereignty (Justice) looks a lot like the traditional Temperance card (even with a white and red river) and the actual Temperance card (the Cauldron) reminds me of the Wheel of Fortune, because round things and fate. Sovereignty is probably the one card in this entire deck that is bugging the crap out of me.

It is not okay to make cards that look like other cards, OKAY?!

Overall though, it’s a pretty deck and an interesting deck to read with.

Okay, done talking, have some pictures:

img030 img031Sorry for the hugeness of the pictures.