Reading Round-Up: June, 2019

Continuing the monthly summaries of what I’ve been reading and writing.

 

BOOKS

To keep my numbers consistent with what I have listed on Goodreads, I count completed magazine issues and stand-alone short stories in e-book format as “books.” I read or listened to 11 books in May: 4 in print, 2 in e-book format, and 5 in audio. They were:

1.       Lightspeed Magazine #109 (June 2019 issue), edited by John Joseph Adams. The usual fine assortment of sf and fantasy short stories and novellas. This month’s favorites for me were Ellen Kushner’s “When Two Swordsmen Meet,” Caspain Gray’s “Unpublished Gay Cancer Survivor Memoir,” Isabel Canas’ “The Weight of A Thousand Needles,” and Karen Joy Fowler’s “The Last Worders.”

2.       Alexander’s Bridge by Willa Cather. You would think that as an English major in college, I’d have read something, anything, by Willa Cather. But if I did, I don’t recall it at all (please forgive me, Professor Malcolm Marsden!). So I’m counting this as my first Cather work. I’d like to read more by her eventually. I found this one an interesting character study. Full Review HERE.

3.       The History of Soul 2065 by Barbara Krasnoff. I’d previously read only three of the twenty short stories that comprise this mosaic novel that covers fifteen decades in the lives of two families. Subtle magic, strong women, strong LGB representation, strong ties to the Jewish Diaspora.

4.       Spinning Around A Sun: Stories, by Everett Maroon. Flash fiction with sometimes horrific twists, these early stories by Maroon show hints of the style he works so well in his novel.

5.       Fresh Kill (Jimmy McSwain Files, Book 6) by Adam Carpenter. Jimmy McSwain is back for another round of mysteries, and Carpenter returns to the character and his New York City setting with style. Full Review HERE.

6.       Lumberjanes Volume 11: Time After Crime by Shannon Watters, Kat Leyh, and others. The latest Lumberjanes collection gets a bit timey-whimey, but in a very different way from Doctor Who. I was happy to see the focus this time is largely on Molly, with lots of character growth stemming out of her stressful family interactions.

7.       Shout Out edited by Andrew Wheeler. This is a wonderful YA graphic novel anthology of short stories featuring pretty much the entire range of LGBTQIA+ characters across genres from science fiction and fantasy to romance (and often intermingling several genres at once). I can’t praise this one enough.

8.       Synchronicity by Keira Andrews.  I am notoriously under-read when it comes to gay romance (as opposed to gay sf/fantasy/horror with romance or erotica elements). For some reason, much of the gay romance I have read falls into the sports romance realm, and this short about a synchronized diving team at the Olympics is no exception. Nicely written with likeable characters.

9.       From A Whisper to A Riot: The Gay Writers Who Crafted An American Literary Tradition by Adam W. Burgess. I’ve really not been doing well on the whole “read more non-fiction” thing, largely because I read non-fiction much slower than I read fiction. This work by Adam Burgess is a nicely-detailed look at a critically under-represented period in gay fiction, and it is worth your time seeking out. My full review is HERE.

10.   The Drowning Girl by Caitlin R. Kiernan, narrated by Suzy Jackson. A first-person narration ghost story high on eeriness but not gore, featuring a narrator who is lesbian and “crazy” (by her own words). I love narrators who tell you right at the start that they are not necessarily reliable, and IMP is one of those narrators. This is a really great listen. Suzy Jackson captures the main character’s innocence and slow fraying as she goes off her meds while relating her tale.

 

 

STORIES

I have a goal of reading 365 short stories (1 per day, essentially, although it doesn’t always work out that way) each year. Here’s what I did read and where you can find them if you’re interested in reading them too (with some short notes for stories that really stood out to me). If no source is noted, the story is from the same magazine or book as the story(ies) that precede(s) it:

1.       “Between The Dark and the Dark” by Deji Bryce Olukotun, from Lightspeed Magazine #109 (June 2019 issue), edited by John Joseph Adams.

2.       “An Advanced Readers’ Picture Book of Comparative Cognition” by Ken Liu

3.       “The Harvest of a Half-Known Life” by G.V. Anderson

4.       “Warhosts” by Yoon Ha Lee

5.       “The Last Worders” by Karen Joy Fowler

6.       “The Weight of A Thousand Needles” by Isabel Canas

7.       “When Two Swordsmen Meet” by Ellen Kushner

8.       “Unpublished Gay Cancer Survivor Memoir” by Caspian Gray

9.       “Dust to Dust” by Tochi Onyebuchi

10.   “Sun Sets Weeping” by Seanan McGuire, on the author’s Patreon page.

11.   “The Clearing In the Autumn,” by Barbara Krasnoff, from her collection The History of Soul 2065.

12.   “Sabbath Wine” by Barbara Krasnoff

13.   “Lost Connections” by Barbara Krasnoff

14.   “Hearts and Minds” by Barbara Krasnoff

15.   “Cancer God” by Barbara Krasnoff

16.   “In The Loop” by Barbara Krasnoff

17.   “The Ladder-Back Chair” by Barbara Krasnoff

18.   “The Sad Old Lady” by Barbara Krasnoff

19.   “The Red Dybbuk” by Barbara Krasnoff

20.   “Waiting For Jakie” by Barbara Krasnoff

21.   “The Gingerbread House” by Barbara Krasnoff

22.   “Time and the Parakeet” By Barbara Krasnoff

23.   “Under the Bay Court Tree” by Barbara Krasnoff

24.   “An Awfully Big Adventure” by Barbara Krasnoff

25.   “Rosemary, That’s For Remembrance” by Barbara Krasnoff

26.   “Stoop Ladies” by Barbara Krasnoff

27.   “Escape Route” by Barbara Krasnoff

28.   “Sophia’s Legacy” by Barbara Krasnoff

29.   “The Clearing in the Spring” by Barbara Krasnoff

30.   “The History of Soul 2065” by Barbara Krasnoff

31.   “Chamber Speed” by Everett Maroon, from his collection Spinning Around A Sun.

32.   “Crazy Making” by Everett Maroon

33.   “Connaissieur” by Everett Maroon

34.   “Dead Martha” by Everett Maroon

35.   “Lost Boy” by Everett Maroon

36.   “Conception” by Everett Maroon

37.   “Mummy” by Everett Maroon

38.   “Desperados” by Everett Maroon

39.   “The Seamstress” by Everett Maroon

40.   “Cold Statues” by Jay Lake, from The Many Tortures of Anthony Cardno, a charity anthology.

So that’s 40 short stories in June, keeping me way ahead for the year so far. (June 30th was the 181st day of 2019.)

 

Summary of Reading Challenges:

“To Be Read” Challenge: This month: 0 read; YTD: 3 of 14 read.

365 Short Stories Challenge: This month:  40 read; YTD: 240 of 365 read.

Graphic Novels Challenge:  This month: 2 read; YTD: 17 of 52 read.

Goodreads Challenge: This month: 10 read; YTD: 71 of 125 read.

Non-Fiction Challenge: This month: 1; YTD: 5 of 24 read.

Read the Book / Watch the Movie Challenge: This month: 0; YTD: 0 of 10 read/watched.

Complete the Series Challenge: This month: 0 books read; YTD: 0 of 16 read.

                                                                Series fully completed: 0 of 3 planned

Monthly Special Challenge: I may not do something like this every month, but I set a June goal to try to read primarily work by Queer authors or centering Queer characters, since June was Pride Month.

I think I was pretty successful with this one. I’m unsure how many of the writers in the June issue of Lightspeed Magazine identify somewhere on the Queer spectrum. But Will Cather was a lesbian, Everett Maroon and Caitlin R. Kiernan are transgender, and Adam Carpenter and Adam W. Burgess are gay. Many of the creators of the Lumberjanes series and most, if not all, of the creators of the stories in the Shout Out graphic novel anthology are Queer-identifying as well. And while Barbara Krasnoff is straight, The History of Soul 2065 heavily centers two queer couples with a third couple mentioned.

Having checked several different websites, it seems like July is not a month that lends itself to any specific reading goal (it’s the National Month of several foods, though: National Baked Bean Month, Culinary Arts Month, Grilling Month, Horseradish Month, Hot Dog Month, Ice Cream Month, Blueberries Month, and Picnic Month!) So my mini-challenge to myself is going to be making July Series Month, to help me catch up on one of my year-long challenges (The “Complete The Series” Challenge).

Series Saturday: VICIOUS

Series Saturday is a series about … well, series. I do so love stories that continue across volumes, in whatever form: linked short stories, novels, novellas, television, movies. I’ve already got a list of series I’ve recently read, re-read, watched, or re-watched that I plan to blog about. I might even, down the line, open myself up to letting other people suggest titles I should read/watch and then comment on.

Vicious DVD covers.png

Warning: Mild Spoilers Ahead (Yes, for a sitcom.)

Vicious didn’t last long, but I think it’s possibly in my Top 5 favorite sit-coms. Had it had more episodes per season or lasted longer, my opinion might have changed. But the short, sweet run it had (14 episodes over a three-year span, including the extra-long Finale) was I think just enough to fall in love with these bitter, snarking characters and not grow tired of them.

Created by Gary Janetti and Mark Ravenhill, Vicious originally aired in the UK before making its way to the United States on PBS, which is where I saw the first season and bits of the second. I bought the DVDs to watch the episodes my DVR had somehow failed to record (including the Finale). Because of course I did. The series focuses on Freddie (Sir Ian McKellan) and Stuart (Sir Derek Jacobi), a couple who have been together for forty-eight years at the start of the first season. In short order, they (and we) meet their new, cute-as-a-button, young upstairs neighbor Ash (Iwan Rheon) and the speculation starts as to whether the young man is “family” or not (Spoiler: he’s not.). Freddie and Stuart’s lifelong friend Violet (Frances de la Tour) also takes a shine to Ash, although the couple’s other close friends, absent-minded Penelope (Marcia Warren) and acerbic Mason (Philip Voss) don’t seem quite so enamored of Ash at first.

The first season feels the freshest and most tightly written, perhaps because the writers are so invested in getting us to understand the characters and their relationships that they wrote seven mostly stand-alone episodes. Other than Ash being drawn more completely into the older characters’ circle, there’s no real “season arc” to speak of. Each episode sets up a situation, hits certain expected moments, and resolves by episode’s end. The running joke of Stuart constantly reintroducing Ash to Violet (“You remember our friend Violet,” often delivered as though the two have never met before) is the closest the writers come to a situation that lasts several episodes and then is resolved in the season finale. Season Two’s more structured lead-up to Freddie and Stuart’s wedding after fifty years together, coupled with a change in episode structure (every episode of season one started with Stuart on the phone with his mother and some Freddie-Stuart ribbing; season two’s episodes start with the two conversing as they walk down the street and something about the on-location filming feels out of place to me) makes the season feel less improvised and thus less fresh. There are still wonderful moments of comedy and character development, but there’s a lot of run-of-the-mill dialogue and situational slapstick as well (I’m looking at you, Mason, Penelope and the wedding cake!).

Both leads deliver their quips with just enough of a wink that the viewers understand these are two men who have developed a verbal shorthand where almost everything they say means “I love you and I wouldn’t change you for the world.” Relationship-wise, it’s clear that Freddie is a bit more dominant, Stuart a bit more submissive – and when the writers reverse the relationship (for instance, in the season two opener, when Freddie has to play subservient butler to a “straight, macho” Stuart to help Violet during a visit from her condescending sister), the writing is at its best. It helps that Sir Ian and Sir Derek obviously enjoy feeding off of each other’s energy, and one has to wonder how much of their banter was ad-libbed. (I also think it’s interesting that Sir Ian says they each had crushes on the other during early acting school days, but neither ever confessed to the other. I wonder what having them as the First Gay Couple of British Theater in real life would have been like.)

The characters’ styles are very different as well. In both dress and personality, Freddie is a bit haughty, Stuart more demure. Stuart wants to be liked/loved, while Freddie just assumes he is. They are both capable of delivering a cutting bon-mot towards their friends, however, and sometimes seem gleeful in inflicting pain. I do wish we’d seen more of what brought these five people together and just a hint more of the love they feel for each other; it’s the one true negative about the lead characters. Sure, in the season two wedding episode, they show some affection – but there’s a lot of dismissiveness and derision before that point. One starts to wonder why Violet, Penelope and Mason have hung around for so long. (Frances de la Tour has a great moment of honesty with Ash in the Finale on this very topic, but it reads as a bit too little too late despite how very good she is in the scene.) Every so often, one of the three scores some equally cutting points on the two leads (Penelope in particular).

And while Violet is pretty well developed over the course the two seasons (de la Tour’s boozier and more lascivious line reads and sub-plots made me wish this show had done a crossover with Absolutely Fabulous), Penelope and Mason fare less well. In the second season we get a bit more of a sense of Penelope’s life and the brave face she’s putting on (Marcia Warren is brilliant in those scenes, most particularly in the ballroom dancing episode and the Finale), but the reveal that Mason is actually Freddie’s younger brother is the definition of a throw-away line for shock’s sake, as is the line about Mason also being gay. Philip Voss does the best with what he’s given, but he’s given the least of the series regulars to work with until the Finale when he has a poignant exchange with Penelope about being there for her to the end, and an almost-poignant moment with Freddie over a good memory from their apparently otherwise horrific childhood.

Then there’s Ash, the young innocent thrust into this biting, sarcastic, awkward family unit. I think it’s a credit to Iwan Rheon and the writers that the character never loses than innocence, never really takes on Freddie and Stuart’s way of interacting with others (except in one episode, with disastrous results). Even though Ash is straight, this consistency in his character points up a generational difference: the biting humor of the old queens doesn’t quite work in younger relationships. Unfortunately, there are a few episodes where the writers decide that innocent = goofy/stupid, especially in season two and the early parts of the Finale. It’s a tendency lots of sitcoms fall into, making the innocence or good-nature of a character too broad. In another example the show subverting expected tropes, it’s not the old gay men who slobber over Ash (or, more common, old straight men making lewd suggestive comments to a beautiful young woman), but their friend Violet. The Violet-Ash dynamic is the second most interesting relationship in the show, but the writers show a remarkable restraint in just how far they let it go before resolving the tension.

In the end, for me it really comes down to my enjoyment of watching three great older actors (McKellan, Jacobi, and de la Tour) work their craft, and watch an at the time relative newcomer hold his own with them.

Check out Vicious on DVD or streaming if you like: sitcoms that center gay characters; snarky humor with an undercurrent of love; watching a group of old professionals knock it out of the park; Iwan Rheon not playing a Bastard (yes, that’s a Game of Thrones reference).

Series Saturday: the SPIRITS trilogy

Series Saturday is a series about … well, series. I do so love stories that continue across volumes, in whatever form: linked short stories, novels, novellas, television, movies. I’ve already got a list of series I’ve recently read, re-read, watched, or re-watched that I plan to blog about. I might even, down the line, open myself up to letting other people suggest titles I should read/watch and then comment on.

Spirits Series Banner.png

 

Jordan L. Hawk is a non-binary, queer and very prolific writer of M/M supernatural romance series, including the Whyborne & Griffin books (Lovecraftian in tone, and coming to a conclusion later this year), Hexworld (alternate history NYC where magic, and shape-shifters, abound), SPECTR (modern-day vampires and ghosts), and the Spirits trilogy, which is what I’d like to talk about today.

The Spirits books (Restless Spirits, Dangerous Spirits and Guardian Spirits) take place in a slightly-alternate history America at the turn of the previous century, wherein everyone knows spirits, and thus hauntings, are real. Some spirits are friendly, or at least essentially harmless, but some can and will cause great harm. As can, and do, people who pretend to be talented mediums but who are really just fakers.

Enter Henry Strauss, a scientist who was misled and taken advantage of by a fraudulent medium when he was younger. Henry’s goal is to reduce the odds of people being taken advantage of by using scientific means to locate, attract, and ultimately remove the threat of, ghosts. His Electro-Séance does the trick, if he can get it to work correctly and convince people like the Psychical Society of Baltimore that it’s more reliable and effective than human mediums. Henry, and his assistant/cousin Jo, get their chance when they are invited by a wealthy industrialist to a de-haunt a house in upstate New York – in competition with a renowned medium, Vincent Night, and his partner Lizzie. The industrialist is pitting science against spiritualism, but Henry and Vincent feel an immediate attraction to each other. Complications (and a little bit of hilarity and sexual shenanigans) ensue.

The “science versus spiritualism” competition is really only a part of the plot of the first book, and the rest of the trilogy finds Henry and Vincent working together on cases that appear to be distinct but in fact lead to revelations about Vincent and Lizzie’s pasts and a threat to the whole world.

There are certain things one expects from a Jordan L. Hawk historical series:

·         Two engaging, but quite insecure in different ways, male leads (and chapters that alternate point of view between the two)

·         A slow-burn romance in the first book, but insecurity-driven misunderstandings even once they do get together

·         Steamy sex featuring those male leads, multiple times per book, although the number of scenes per book usually decreases the longer the series goes on

·         A diverse supporting cast

·         A well-developed world with internal logic to how the supernatural element works and consistency in whether the general public knows about/believes in the supernatural or not

·         High stakes (often life-or-death) for the characters, but also for the world or society they live in.

 

 But here’s the thing: Hawk’s books don’t feel formulaic even with all of these consistent elements. And each series, thanks to that intricate world-building and thanks to the variety of lead characters, feels different from the others.

The Spirits trilogy maintains its focus on ghosts/spirits, and eschews any other form of the supernatural. No werewolves, vampires, zombies, witches, or cosmic horrors. Just spirits and the people with the ability/talent to communicate with and affect them. Vincent Night is a medium (he can speak to spirits and spirits can speak/act through him). Lizzie Devereaux is a spirit-writer. Other supporting characters are sensitive in one way or another. And then there’s Henry, who wants to do what Vincent does through science, specifically electromagnetism, instead of spiritualism. But there’s nary a hint of other magic in the books at all, and that’s refreshing. (Even though I’ve joked with the author on social media about a story where Henry and Vincent meet my favorite Hawk characters, Whyborne and Griffin, it’s clear that these series are set in the same time-period but very different versions of “our world.”) This trilogy is an ongoing debate on science versus spirituality (or, if you’d like, science versus religion/belief), but the author at no point allows one to best the other. There’s a trend out there right now in fantasy novels for magic to work the way science does – rigid rules of use and conduct and cause-and-effect – and Hawk refreshingly doesn’t use science to explain the spiritual nor use the spiritual to justify the science.

As with many of Hawk’s romantic pairs, Henry and Vincent are a study in contrasts. Henry is literal in his approach, not prone to expressions of humor, insecure because people just don’t want to believe in his achievements (the reader sees right away that Henry’s device works, although imperfectly) and also because of the way he was taken advantage of as a young man (by a medium claiming to be speaking for his father without really doing so). Vincent is a bit more poetic, swaggering (but not overbearing) to hide his own insecurities which are based in his failure during a séance which led to his mentor’s death and in the fact people don’t want to believe he’s as intelligent as he is because he’s Native American. The attraction between the two is immediate (and acted on fairly quickly, if awkwardly). Their position as rivals for a big cash prize (which each needs to save their own business and keep themselves and their partners with food and shelter) is just the first road-block of many thrown in front of them by the author. But they do persevere and grow towards a happy relationship. (No unhappy endings or “murder your gays” tropes to be had in a Jordan Hawk book!) Although it’s never expressed in quite this way, what the men have in common is a loss of fathers via “possession.” Vincent was possessed by a malevolent spirit which killed his mentor/father-figure while in Vincent’s body, and Henry was “possessed” by the fraudulent medium who took advantage of Henry’s attraction and guilelessness to steal Henry’s inheritance away from him. Both of these possessions haunt the men, and affect not only their relationship with each other but with their friends. Vincent’s fear of being possessed again holds him back from holding the séances needed to keep his and Lizzie’s business open; Henry’s anger at being taken advantage of makes it difficult for him to compromise with the people he needs to make his business a success.

This may be the most diverse main cast of all of Hawk’s historicals, both in terms of ethnicity and gender, and that’s saying something. While Henry is a gay white man, Vincent is Native American, Jo is mixed-race (the child of Henry’s white uncle and a black servant), and Lizzie is transgender. Since the Spirits trilogy is primarily M/M romance, it would be easy to relegate Jo and Lizzie to the status of “secondary characters” but they really aren’t. They have their own character arcs and contribute to the successful resolution of the potentially world-shattering events they are taking part in, and they do get their own romantic sub-plots – they just don’t get any sex scenes.

And if that’s not a perfect segue, nothing is. As mentioned, it wouldn’t be a Hawk book without increasingly hot (even when they’re awkward) sex scenes between the leads. These scenes also tend to be lovingly romantic. But they are certainly not for the prudish. (I think the books read just as well without the explicit sex, but as the sex is part of what Hawk (as well as KJ Charles, Adam Carpenter, and other authors I enjoy) is known for, I can’t complain about their inclusion – and certainly can’t claim that they’re not well-written.

The trilogy tells a complete story, over the course of three interesting hauntings and along with a variety of sub-plots. I’m sure there’s much more that could be explored in this world and with these characters, but for now the author says the story is finished. (Maybe they’ll decide to revisit this world now that the long-running Whyborne & Griffin series is drawing to a close?)

Check out Jordan L. Hawk’s Spirits trilogy if you like: ghost stories, séances, M/M romance, diverse and well-written casts, and subtle, supernatural-based alternate history.

Reading Round-Up: May 2019

Continuing the monthly summaries of what I’ve been reading and writing.

 

BOOKS

To keep my numbers consistent with what I have listed on Goodreads, I count completed magazine issues and stand-alone short stories in e-book format as “books.” I read or listened to 11 books in May: 4 in print, 2 in e-book format, and 5 in audio. They were:

1.       Lightspeed Magazine #108 (May 2019 issue), edited by John Joseph Adams. The usual fine assortment of sf and fantasy short stories and novellas. This month’s favorites for me were Rati Mehrotra’s “This Way to Paradise,” Nancy Kress’s “Cocoons,” Matthew Kressel’s “Trust is Like the Sun,” Kathleen Kayembe’s “The Ocean That Fades into Sky,” and Sofia Samatar’s “Fallow.”

2.       Lady Susan by Jane Austen. I’ll admit I’ve read precious little Austen, despite having been an English Lit major. This was a fun, and apparently lesser-known, work of hers. I really enjoy epistolary stories when done right – meaning that parts of the story are left for the reader to “fill in the blanks” between what the characters are and are not saying to each other.

3.       In Re: Sherlock Holmes: The Adventures of Solar Pons (Solar Pons Book 1), by August Derleth, narrated by Steve White. I’ve been meaning, since I finished reading the full official Sherlock Holmes canon, to move on to his Praed Street successor, created by August Derleth. This is a good start to what was a pretty long run of stories and novels. Steve White’s narration is solid as well, although there were a few points where the voices he was doing didn’t seem to quite match the descriptions of the characters. I posted a lengthier review HERE.

4.       Two Todd Tales, by Joseph Pittman, narrated by Benjamin Seay. This was a re-read/re-listen of two great short stories featuring Pittman’s con-man Todd Gleason, one of which features a character named after me, so I might be a bit partial. Benjamin Seay’s narration captures all of Todd’s, and the unnamed narrator’s snark.

5.       Upon A Burning Throne (The Burnt Empire, Book 1) by Ashok K. Banker. As I said in my longer review HERE, I’ve pretty much burned out on “doorstop/encyclopedia-length” epic fantasy. But Ashok K. Banker’s short stories in Lightspeed magazine in recent months really whet my appetite for this, and I’m glad I read it right away. Great character development and world-building.

6.       The Hidden Witch (The Witch Boy, Book 2) by Molly Knox Ostertag. I have a longer review of this coming on Strange Horizons in a few weeks, so all I’ll say here is this is a wonderful second installment in Ostertag’s graphic novel series about a boy who bucks family convention to be a witch instead of a shapeshifter.

7.       Fool For Love: New Gay Fiction edited by Timothy J. Lambert and R.D. Cochrane, narrated by Roman M. Wagar. Most of the sixteen stories in this romance collection worked for me. Some are sweet, some are brutally funny, some are painful. My favorites include ‘Nathan Burgoine’s “Heart,” Greg Herren’s “Everyone Says I’ll Forget in Time,” David Puterbaugh’s “Thai Angel,” and Rob Williams’ “Party Planning.” Roman M. Wagar’s narration is wonderfully varied, voices crafted to fit each individual story.

8.       Black Crow, White Snow by Michael Livingston, narrated by Janina Edwards.  I am completely unfamiliar with Michael Livingston’s writing, and picked this up honestly because it was an Audible Original free book. I’m glad I did. The mix of Caribbean and post-apocalyptic world-building is wonderful. And Janina Edwards’ narration is warm and smooth and full of character.      

9.       Under the Sunset by Bram Stoker. One of my “To Be Read” Challenge titles for 2019, so there’ll be a longer review upcoming. But I have to say right out: as much as I love Bram Stoker in general, I struggled with this fairy tale story collection. It felt like he was trying to write in someone else’s voice, and it just didn’t work most of the time.

10.   Acres of Perhaps: Stories and Episodes by Will Ludwigsen, narrated by John Fleming. “Acres of Perhaps,” about the sudden dissolution of a television writing team in the 60s, is easily one of my favorite novellas of the past few years, and the rest of the stories in this collection, which I intend to post a longer review of soon, are equally engaging and thought-provoking. John Fleming’s narration fits the dark, not-quite-noir-but-close, tone of the author.  

11.   Algorithmic Shapeshifting: Poems (Conversation Pieces Book 68) by Bogi Takács. As I say in the longer review posted HERE, I am not a poetry reader overall and asked for an ARC of this accidentally. And I loved it. Recommended, especially to fans of poetry with speculative fiction elements.

 

 

 

STORIES

I have a goal of reading 365 short stories (1 per day, essentially, although it doesn’t always work out that way) each year. Here’s what I did read and where you can find them if you’re interested in reading them too (with some short notes for stories that really stood out to me). If no source is noted, the story is from the same magazine or book as the story(ies) that precede(s) it:

1.       “The Iron Man” by Max Gladstone, from Lightspeed Magazine #108 (May 2019 issue), edited by John Joseph Adams.

2.       “This Way To Paradise” by Rati Mehrotra

3.       “Cocoons” by Nancy Kress

4.       “Trust is Like the Sun” by Matthew Kressel

5.       “The Ocean That Fades Into Sky” by Kathleen Kayembe

6.       “The Portal” by Debbie Urbanski

7.       “The Minor Superhero, At Home After His Series Ends” by Adam-Troy Castro

8.       “The Convexity of Our Youth” by Kurt Fawver

9.       “Fallow” by Sofia Samatar

10.   “Vegetables and Vaccines” by Seanan McGuire, on the author’s Patreon page.

11.   “The Church Fire and Redemption” by T.M. Morgan from Lamplight Vol 7 #2, edited by Jacob Haddon

12.   “Marrow” by E. Catherine Tobler, from Black Static #65

13.   “Silencer Head Like A Hole Remix” by E. Catherine Tobler, from Interzone #259

14.   “Notes Upon the Diadem Club” by Lyndsay Faye, from The Strand October 2015, edited by Lamia Gulli

15.   “It’s All Right – He Only Died” by Raymond Chandler, from The Strand October 2017

16.   “An Actual Treasure” by David Marcum, from The Strand October 2018

17.   “Tonight, My Love” by Max Allan Collins and Mickey Spillane, from The Strand October 2018

18.   “Lady Hilda Revealed” by Bonnie MacBird, from The Strand October 2018

19.   “A Word from Doctor Lyndon Parker” by August Derleth, from In Re: Sherlock Holmes (Solar Pons, Book 1), edited by David Marcum

20.   “The Adventure of the Frightened Baronet” by August Derleth

21.   “The Adventure of the Late Mr. Faversham” by August Derleth

22.   “The Adventure of the Black Narcissus” by August Derleth

23.   “The Adventure of the Norcross Riddle” by August Derleth

24.   “The Adventure of the Retired Novelist” by August Derleth

25.   “The Adventure of the Three Red Dwarfs” by August Derleth

26.   “The Adventure of the Sotheby Salesman” by August Derleth

27.   “The Adventure of the Purloined Periapt” by August Derleth

28.   “The Adventure of the Limping Man” by August Derleth

29.   “The Adventure of the Seven Passengers” by August Derleth

30.   “The Adventure of the Lost Holiday” by August Derleth

31.   “The Adventure of the Man with the Broken Face” by August Derleth

32.   “The Antics of Anton Ardno” by Joseph Pittman, from Two Todd Tales

33.   “The Perils of Penelope Pittston” by Joseph Pittman

34.   “Thai Angel” by David Puterbaugh, from Fool For Love: New Gay Fiction, edited by Timothy J. Lambert and R.D. Cochrane

35.   “Love Taps” by Mark G. Harris

36.   “Matchmaker” by Sean Aniston

37.   “A View” by Brandon M. Long

38.   “Gratitude” by Felice Picano

39.   “Happy Hour At Café Jones” by Rob Burns

40.   “Trunk” by Trebor Healey

41.   “De-Anima” by Joel Derfner

42.   “Like No-One’s Watching” by Josh Helmin

43.   “At The End of the Leash” by Jeffrey Ricker

44.   “Two Tales” by Paul Lisicky

45.   “Heart” by ‘Nathan Burgoine

46.   “Party Planning” by Rob Williams

47.   “Two Kinds of Rapture” by Andrew Holleran

48.   “Everyone Says I’ll Forget in Time” by Greg Herren

49.   “Angels What You Must Hear On High” by John H. Rausch

50.   “Under The Sunset” by Bram Stoker, from Under The Sunset

51.   “The Rose Prince” by Bram Stoker

52.   “The Invisible Giant” by Bram Stoker

53.   “The Shadow Builder” by Bram Stoker

54.   “How 7 Went Mad” by Bram Stoker

55.   “Lies and Lilies” by Bram Stoker

56.   “The Castle of the King” by Bram Stoker

57.   “The Wondrous Child” by Bram Stoker

58.   “Acres of Perhaps” by Will Ludwigsen, from Acres of Perhaps: Stories and Episodes, edited by Steve Berman

59.   “Season 1, Episode 2: Ourselves and Immortality” by Will Ludwigsen

60.   “The Zodiac Walks On The Moon” by Will Ludwigsen

61.   “Season 1, Episode 5: Singing Each to Each” by Will Ludwigsen

62.   “The Leaning Lincoln” by Will Ludwigsen

63.   “Season 1, Episode 10: Guess What’s Coming To Dinner” by Will Ludwigsen

64.   “Night Fever” by Will Ludwigsen

65.   “Season 2, Episode 2: Dark Horse Candidate” by Will Ludwigsen

66.   “Poe At Gettysburg” by Will Ludwigsen

67.   “Season 2, Episode 8: Unable Are The Loved To Die” by Will Ludwigsen

68.   “On Stony Ground” by Cynthia Ward, from Analog May-June 2019, edited by Trevor Quachri

69.   “Repairs at the Beijing West Space Elevator” by Alex Shvartsman

70.   “Painting the Massive Planet” by Marissa Lingen

So that’s 70 short stories in May, putting me now way ahead for the year so far. (May 31st was the 151st day of 2019.)

 

Summary of Reading Challenges:

“To Be Read” Challenge: This month: 1 read; YTD: 3 of 14 read.

365 Short Stories Challenge: This month:  70 read; YTD: 200 of 365 read.

Graphic Novels Challenge:  This month: 1 read; YTD: 15 of 52 read.

Goodreads Challenge: This month: 11 read; YTD: 61 of 125 read.

Non-Fiction Challenge: This month: 0; YTD: 4 of 24 read.

Read the Book / Watch the Movie Challenge: This month: 0; YTD: 0 of 10 read/watched.

Complete the Series Challenge: This month: 0 books read; YTD: 0 of 16 read.

                                                                Series fully completed: 0 of 3 planned

Monthly Special Challenge: I may not do something like this every month, but I set an May goal to try to read primarily short story collections and anthologies, since May was Short Story Month, and also to read some non-fiction about Asia and/or the Pacific Islands and/or about the Jewish Diaspora, since May was also Asian/Pacific Islander Heritage Month and Jewish-American Heritage Month.

I blew it on the Asia, Pacific Islands, and Jewish Diaspora mini-challenges – only Bogi Takacs’ poetry collection really counts toward the last of those three, although at the end of May I started Barbara Krasnoff’s The History of Soul 2065, which would also count towards the Jewish Diaspora challenge had I finished it in May (it was the first book finished in June, though!)

I was more successful on the Short Stories challenge, reading 70 stories, the bulk of that coming from 5 of the books and 1 magazine read in May.

June is Pride Month, so my mini-challenge is to read mostly books and stories by or about people who identify somewhere on the Queer (QUILTBAG+) rainbow.

An Incomplete List of Queer Creators

Every year, just before Pride, I say I’m going to write a post promoting other queer writers/artists/musicians. And every year the month goes by and I end up thinking “Man, I wish I’d written that post about other queer creators…”

So this year, here it is, and only one week into the month itself!

This is by no means a complete list. It’s mostly about people I’ve worked with, I’m friends with, and/or whose work I love, but it also includes some people I’ve yet to read but have heard good things about.

Caveat: I’m only including here people I have confirmed, either via open online presence or by talking to the person, are openly Queer: that is, they are “out” on their social media. I have no interest in forcing anyone out of the closet just because I love their work. So if I have any doubt as to whether someone is in fact open about their queerness, I’m going to put them in my “Allies / People Who Write About Queer Characters Even If They’re Not Queer Themselves” follow-up post in a few days.

Also: There’s no particular order to this list, either. I’m not even going to try to do this alphabetically. But I am going to try for categories (although some folk fall into more than one).

Also Also: If you should be on this list and you’re not, you were not left off on purpose! Send me a message and I’ll edit to add. I’m kind of winging this in an effort to actually get something posted, and I’m sure I’m forgetting people!

Writers

Steve Berman – gay short story and novel writer, editor, and publisher. His own work is mostly in the fantasy/horror realms, but Lethe Press publishes authors in pretty much all genres. Twitter: @thesteveberman

‘Nathan Burgoine – gay short story and novel writer, in the science fiction, fantasy / urban fantasy, horror, erotica and romance realms. Twitter: @NathanBurgoine

Richard Bowes – gay short story and novel writer, in the sf/f/h realms. One of the Beloved Elders, in my opinion. Twitter: @rickbowes

Christopher Barzak – gay short story and novel writer, in the sf/f/h realms. Twitter: @CBarzak

Adam Carpenter – gay erotica and crime author.

Ellen Kushner – lesbian short story and novel writer, mostly in the fantasy realm, perhaps best known for her novels and stories of the Tremontaine family and the City they inhabit. Also perhaps well-known for being married to Delia Sherman. Twitter: @EllenKushner

Delia Sherman – lesbian short story and novel writer and editor, mostly in the fantasy realm. Twitter: @deliasherman

Seanan McGuire / Mira Grant – bisexual short story, novel, and comic book writer. As Seanan she writes fantasy, science fiction, and urban fantasy novels and novellas and the on-going Spider-Gwen title at Marvel. As her own evil twin Mira, she writes sf-horror. Twitter: @seananmcguire

Bogi Takacs – agender short story writer, poet, and blogger. Twitter: @bogiperson

Everett Maroon – transgender short story and novel writer and memoirist. Twitter: @EverettMaroon

Alex Bertie – transgender memoirist and YouTube personality. Twitter: @Alex_Bertie

Dane Bauer Hassid / Dane Kuttler – queer poet and local activist.

Jeff Baker – gay short story writer.

Michael Nava – gay crime author. Twitter: @micnavawriter

Lydia Schoch – queer science fiction author. Twitter: @TorontoLydia

Vylar Kaftan – “queer as fuck” science fiction and fantasy author. Twitter: @Vylar_Kaftan

Jean Johnson – bisexual, gender-fluid sf/f author. Twitter: @JeanJAuthor

Peter Dube – gay author and poet.

Adam Burgess – gay non-fiction author and blogger. Twitter: @HeWritesWords

Jerry Wheeler – gay author, editor, and blogger. Twitter: @jw_den

Jeanne Kramer-Smyth — bisexaul author and photographer.

Sarah Pinsker – queer musician and sf/f author. Twitter: @SarahPinsker

K.M. Szpara – queer sf/f short story and novel author. Twitter: @KMSzpara

Lee Thomas --  gay horror author.

Hal Duncan – gay sf/f/h author. Twitter: @Hal_Duncan

Bart Leib and Kay Holt — queer publishers of Crossed Genres. Twitters: @metafrantic @sandykidd

Amara Lynn — Enby queer urban fantasy author. Twitter: @AmaraJLynn

Clarissa C.S. Ryan — queer sf/f author. Twitter: @wintersweet

Jordan L. Hawk — queer non-binary author of fantasy M/M romance. Twitter: @jordanlhawk

Kace Alexander — genderqueer sf/f author. Twitter: @kacealexander

 

Musicians/Singers

Greyson Chance – gay singer/songwriter (alternative) Twitter: @greysonchance

Ryan Beatty – gay singer/songwriter (pop/hip-hop)

Darren Hayes – gay singer/songwriter (pop)

David Roundsley of Munich Syndrome – gay singer/songwriter (electronica) and memoirist

Levi Kreis – gay singer/songwriter (blues) and Tony Award winner.

 

Comics Creators

Joe Phillips – writer/artist (House of Morecock, Joe Boys) Twitter: @joephillipsart

Tim Fish --  writer/artist (Cavalcade of Boys) Twitter: @timfishworks

Alex Woolfson --  writer, Artifice, Young Protectors Twitter: @alexwoolfson

Pride Month Reintroduction

Here we are at another Pride Month.

This website is, and always will be, a safe space for anyone who identifies anywhere in the collective realm of “queer.” Whether that identification is based on sexual attraction, romantic attraction, gender identity, or the confluence (or lack thereof) of all three: you are welcome here.

Not that this information isn’t available elsewhere on this website and across my social media, but occasionally it’s good to write a new post reminding people of who I am and what I’m about. So:

Your host and author, Anthony R. Cardno, is:

·         gay

·         cis-gender male (pronouns He, Him, His)

·         of Scottish, Italian and Polish extraction  (second-generation in the US on the Scots (Dad’s) side, and either second- or third-generation for the Pole and Italian (Mom’s) side)

·         non-denominational Christian with an open and accepting spiritual side (but raised Roman Catholic)

I came out in my late twenties. Slowly at first to my close college friends and immediate family, then to high school and childhood friends and extended family and eventually professionally. The response was a lot of “well, I always suspected but didn’t want to rush you,” which somewhat made each subsequent coming-out conversation easier. I was lucky enough to have a ton of love and support, which so many of my peers did not have, and so many folks now coming out still don’t. My process was perhaps easier than may others, but it wasn’t necessarily smooth. Mom told me she was fine with it as long as I didn’t “embarrass her in front of the neighbors” (polite speak for “I don’t care what you do at college, but don’t mention this around our community”); Dad was honest that if I’d come out as a teen his reaction would have been very different and perhaps even emotionally, if not physically, violent. And of course there were the handful of old friends who said they didn’t care “as long as I didn’t hit on them” (Interestingly, that almost always came from the guys I never even vaguely had a crush on in elementary, middle, or high school.).

Coming Out is NOT a one-time deal. It’s an on-going process as new people come into your life or as (thanks to social media) childhood friends come back in touch. And I’d be lying (or at least committing a sin of omission) if I didn’t admit that I do still find it stressful in professional (day-job-related) settings, for whatever reason.

So coming out happened in my late twenties, almost 25 years ago. But like many people, internally I knew (even if I didn’t acknowledge/accept) much earlier. A recent thread on my Facebook page about “the most obscure shows you watched when you were around 10 years old” reminded me that even at that age I had what I now can admit were crushes on actors like David Doremus (from “Nanny and the Professor”), Ike Eisenmann (from the “Witch Mountain” movies), Brandon Cruz (from “The Courtship of Eddie’s Father”), Jack Wild (from “HR Pufinstuf” and “Oliver!”), Tommy Kirk (from a dozen Disney movies), Donny Osmond, and pretty much all of the Brady boys. There were crushes on older guys too, of course … but these are the guys I remember wishing I could be best friends with, have sleepovers with, could just cuddle up with – long before any kind of sexual attraction was evident (and never mind that many of these actors were people I was seeing in re-runs and were thus actually older than me – 10 year old Anthony’s brain didn’t really take that into consideration).

As puberty hit and the sexual attraction component also kicked in, so did embarrassment, anxiety and a fear (thank you, Roman Catholic Church!) that I was inherently evil – or at least not “good.” Those insecurities manifested in several ways. In middle school it came as a tendency to do anything I could to not have to go to school (which my parents viewed as a return of a “habit” I had during my one year in Catholic school in Astoria, NY – but my theories about what was going on there are something for another post, if ever). In high school and for several years thereafter, it manifested as a limited form of self-harm involving scratching my wrists (which I recently posted about on my Instagram).

I stopped physically self-harming a long time ago but I still struggle with depression, insecurity and social anxiety issues, part of which stem from those years of not accepting my sexuality and part of which stem from completely different things.

So naturally as a reader and viewer I tend to seek out the kinds of characters I didn’t see growing up (except as jokes or villains; the subject of a post later this month). As a writer, I don’t intentionally limit all of my characters to those I would have liked to have seen but almost every story I write has a queer character of some kind in it somewhere, and usually more than one. Because we’re not just tokens; we’re a large part of the human community as a whole. As a blogger, I want to support and promote creators who identify as queer or who produce work with queer characters, because we won’t be fully represented at all if we can’t represent ourselves. (I also actively seek out work by creators who aren’t white, in case you’re wondering. Because I want to see work that represents humanity in all its diversity and wonder. But that’s a post for another time as well.)

I love to read, write, and consume pop culture largely in the “speculative fiction” / “genre” realms. I love live theater. I love live sports, too, but it’s very hard to convince me to watch them on televisioin (get me to a game, especially the faster-paced ones like hockey, soccer, basketball, and I’m all in; put it on the television and I’m bored). My sense of humor swings from snarky to puns and back, and if I don’t say something every day that qualifies as a “Dad” joke my nieces and nephews are gravely disappointed. I love my family – the genetic one and the found one.

Today, and every day, I send all my love to my fellow Queers around the world. Wherever/however you identify: gay, lesbian, bi, pan, aro, ace, trans*, non-binary, gender-fluid, questioning or anything I've inadvertently forgotten; whatever your "out" status: publicly, privately, or not at all. You are unique, you are you, and no-one should take that away from you. (Nor should anyone try to force you out if you're not ready or are in an unsafe situation.)

And of course, to my nieces and nephews who identify anywhere in the wide realm of Queer: I love you, every day and always, whether you’ve ever told me you’re queer or not.

Series Saturday: Planet of the Apes TV Show

This is a series about … well, series. I do so love stories that continue across volumes, in whatever form: linked short stories, novels, novellas, television, movies. I’ve already got a list of series I’ve recently read, re-read, watched, or re-watched that I plan to blog about. I might even, down the line, open myself up to letting other people suggest titles I should read/watch and then comment on.

Planet of the Apes TV.jpg

The Planet of the Apes television series aired from September to December, 1974, cancelled mid-season with 14 episodes filmed but only 13 aired (although there seems to be some debate on which episode failed to make it to air). As much of a Planet of the Apes fan as my father was, I’m almost positive we watched these episodes when they originally aired, but being all of 10 years old at the time, my memories are vague; I have much clearer memories of seeing these episodes in the 80s, after they’d been re-cut into five (increasingly horribly named) movies for syndication. I even remember the framing device with Roddy McDowell as an older Galen, which apparently only were used when the movies aired on ABC affiliates on weekday afternoons. (These framing bits are sadly not on the DVD release. Perhaps for the best, as it leaves Virdon and Burke’s ultimate fate as described in the framing bits non-canonical. Not that anyone is likely to revisit this in live-action form…)

I of course followed up my recent re-watch of the original movie franchise with a re-watch of the TV series (and I’m intending to re-watch the Filmation animated series soon-ish). In some ways it was exactly as I remembered it: mostly fun, a bit over-acted, a bit formulaic, and with very little obvious connection to the movies.

The set-up, much like the first two movies in the franchise, is that astronauts Virdon (Ron Harper) and Burke (James Naughton) crash-land on what they think is an Earth-like planet (losing their only other shipmate in the process) where Apes are the ruling class and Humans are basically well-treated slaves with an occasional veneer of autonomy. They figure out pretty quickly that they have actually landed on Earth in the future (something the viewing audience already knew, so why keep the characters in the dark?) Hunted by council president Zaius (Booth Colman) and General Urko (Mark Lenard), they go on the run with sympathetic and inquisitive chimp Galen (Roddy McDowell).  Along the way they teach humans to want freedom, convince some apes (usually chimpanzees like Galen) that the current system is unjust, and have really awkward fight scenes with lots of gorillas.

Characterization is mostly one-dimensional, although the four leads (I include Mark Lenard as he appeared in almost all the episodes filmed) do their best with what they’re given. I’d like to think that if they’d run a full season or longer, the characterizations would have gotten a little deeper – but this was still the early 70s, when each character in an ensemble cast filled a particular function. Virdon is the home-spun leader; Burke is the ladies’ man (although he only gets one one-off unrequited romance, with a blind ape, compared to Virdon’s two with humans); Galen is the inquisitive, naïve one. Booth Colman’s Zaius, similar to Maurice Evans in the first two movies, knows more about the past than he’s willing to admit to anyone (the show of course never addresses whether Colman’s Zaius is an ancestor of Evans’), while Lenard’s Urko falls somewhere between the implied military clearheadedness of James Gregory’s Ursus (in Beneath) and the simpleminded buffoonery of Claude Akins’ Aldo (in Battle) – it really depended on the scriptwriter that week. While there are many actors who return in bit-parts over the run, only John Hoyt (the Star Trek OS doctor before Bones) recurs as the same ape, Prefect Barlow, in two episodes. It is interesting to note that Bobby Porter, who played Caesar’s son in Battle, plays two different ape pre-teens on the TV show. (It’s a shame they didn’t let him play a human in at least one episode.)

Other major differences from the movies: The setting is clearly the northern California coast (with visits to “San Francisco” and “Oakland” ruins, and several very clear, if crude, wall-maps) as opposed to what turned out to be New York / New Jersey in the movies, a shift undoubtedly made because the show was filmed on backlots and in the hills outside Los Angeles. The time is a few centuries before the events of the first two movies but well after the events of Battle for the Planet of the Apes: humans are not completely mute uncivilized pack-animals as seen in the first two movies, but they don’t have near the autonomy implied by the end of Battle. And the majority of the episodes are formulaic in a way the movies never quite were.

That formula was basically: The Trio get comfortable hiding with a human family/community (occasionally a sympathetic ape family as in “The Good Seeds”), something happens to alert a gorilla patrol or local garrison to their presence, there’s a fight or two, and the Trio moves on (usually just ahead of Urko) rather than endanger their new friends. Two episodes (“The Trap” and “The Legacy”) take place in the ruins of human cities that clearly show we’re in the future of Earth, and each involve Urko somehow learning-but-not-learning that Humans used to rule over Apes. “The Legacy” also implies that there are other still-functioning but hidden computers out there that could enable Virdon and Burke to return home. (It’s never clearly stated, but I think one must presume that their mission launched after Taylor’s and Brent’s missions, but before Cornelius, Zira, and Milo arrive in the past; otherwise why would Virdon and Burke be so surprised at the Ape-Human reversal?) But other than those two episodes, the settings for each episode are rural areas usually “a day or more hard ride” from Central City, where Zaius and Urko are headquartered.

More than half of the episodes stick to the formula and eschew both deeper world-building and heavy-handed political commentary. But there are a few episodes that must have felt topical/controversial at the time and still do (although rather heavy-handed in execution). In the final filmed episode, “Up Above The World So High,” a human figures out how to make a working glider and a female chimp decides to use it for terrorist attacks against Zaius’ council regime. In “The Cure,” the Council considers the genocide of a human compound to prevent the spread of a unknown fatal disease while “The Liberator” features a human enclave ready to use gas-bombs to wipe out the apes. “The Interrogation” focuses on the Apes re-learning old human torture techniques, and “The Deception” has the Trio facing off against KKK-like masked ape “dragoons” bent on keeping the “animal” humans down.

There are a lot of recognizable faces (or at least, recognizable names attached to ape make-up) among the guest stars: a pre-Bad New Bears Jackie Earle Haley, a pre-Beastmaster Marc Singer, a very-pre-Hill Street Blues Michael Conrad. The aforementioned John Hoyt is among then-veteran character actors like Royal Dano, Roscoe Lee Browne, Martin E. Brooks and John Ireland and femme fatales Beverly Garland and Sondra Locke.

An additional six scripts were written but never filmed. Interestingly, the original pilot and second episode were written by Rod Serling but rejected and never filmed. Some of these scripts are available online (including the Serlings) but I’ve yet to read them.

The show’s failure is largely blamed on its time-slot competition (popular comedies Sanford & Son and Chico & The Man), but I have to wonder if the show would have been more successful had it been green-lit and aired during the height of the original movie franchise’s popularity as opposed to after that popularity had begun to wane. Then again, had they been filmed concurrently, I doubt Roddy McDowell would have done the show. And I can’t imagine caring as much without his endearing, if sometimes infuriating, Galen at the center of things.

SERIES SATURDAY: The original Planet of the Apes franchise

This is a series about … well, series. I do so love stories that continue across volumes, in whatever form: linked short stories, novels, novellas, television, movies. I’ve already got a list of series I’ve recently read, re-read, watched, or re-watched that I plan to blog about. I might even, down the line, open myself up to letting other people suggest titles I should read/watch and then comment on.

 

Apes Original Franchise Banner.png

I have no idea which of the original Planet of the Apes movies I saw first.

Given that they were released in theaters between 1968 and 1973, when I was at the tender ages of two through seven, I definitely encountered them on television. In the mid-70s through mid-80s, New York City-area television stations WNYW (Channel 5), WWOR (Channel 9) and WPIX (Channel 11), all then local and not network-affiliated, aired a wonderful weekend mix of genre and genre-adjacent movies: everything from the Apes to Japanese kaiju to wire-fu martial arts to classic Universal monsters to Abbott and Costello and the Bowery Boys. Somewhere in that mix, I encountered the original Planet of the Apes franchise. I may have seen them in release order or haphazardly. I may even have seen episodes of the live-action 1974 television series before any of the original movies, since the TV episodes were chopped and combined in 1981 into five two-hour “movie” presentations (but the TV series is a discussion for a different post).

Whatever order I saw the movies in, I fell immediately in lifelong love with the concept, the campiness, the make-up. And that love has only grown as the franchise has been re-worked and re-launched across movie and print media. (One of my greatest regrets is selling my Marvel Comics Planet of the Apes magazine collection; another is throwing away the Mego Planet of the Apes action figures I played with until they’d be worth nothing on the collector market. Hindsight is 20/20, or something like that.)

I recently re-watched the original five movies in release order, and I still love them. The ape make-up may be unrealistic compared to the motion-capture effects of the newest Apes trilogy, but it has such charm, and such consistency across the franchise (slight differences in the facial structure for chimps, orangutans, and gorillas, less diversity between individuals of a sub-set). I did always find the stratification of clothing (all chimps wear the same color, etc.) a bit less realistic. Why is it that SF (definitely in the 50-60s-70s, and even somewhat now) can imagine complex alien races but not imagine that they might have thriving clothing industries similar to our current day? I wonder if any writer has explored the idea that part of the Apes structured society was a dress code? (I’m not as up on the comics and prose canon-adjacent material released in recent years as I am on the filmed/televised canon.)

The body language of the various ape characters, especially in the first two movies, also fascinates me: the way most of the chimps are more hunch-shouldered and subservient despite being the obviously smartest ones in any room (even the teenager Lucius comes across as smarter, if not less impetuous, than the adult gorillas); the orangutan characters always seem to walk with their heads held high and shoulders wide; the gorillas all move like spacially-unaware linebackers. This changes a little bit in the fourth movie, when all of the apes are subservient and non-verbal, but it’s otherwise consistent.

As a kid, the cold war and racial strife allegories went right over my head. As an adult watching with a slightly more critical eye, they’re obvious without being too ham-fisted in the delivery. I can’t accuse them of being subtle, especially in the fourth and fifth movies, but I also don’t feel like every other line of dialogue is telegraphing the issue to the viewers.

Other things I didn’t notice back then but picked up on now: the fact that Roddy McDowell did not play Cornelius in “Beneath the Planet of the Apes,” the only live-action Apes entry of the 60s-70s that he missed out on; that the timing of Cornelius, Zira and Milo fishing Taylor’s original spacecraft out of the sea it crashed in, getting it working, and getting into orbit just doesn’t add up based on Cornelius, Zira and Lucius’ location in the first half of Beneath (there’s a recent novel that tells this story; I haven’t read it yet but I hope it doesn’t just hand-wave the time component); that Natalie Trundy is the Mark Lenard of the Apes franchise, playing a mutant (in Beneath), a human (in Escape), and a chimp (in Conquest and Battle). (Mark Lenard was the first, and maybe still only, actor to hit a similar trifecta in the Star Trek franchise, playing a Romulan, a Vulcan, and a Klingon) …

And the geography. Oh my god, the geography: at the start of the first film, Taylor’s crew crashes into a large lake in a canyon area. (I don’t know where they filmed it, but it sure looks like the American southwest.) At the end of the film, of course, we get the famous reveal of the Statue of Liberty half-buried in the sand of the ocean as Taylor finds out he’s been on Earth the whole time.  In Beneath, Brent and Nova track Taylor into the underground city, and we see mock-ups of famous NYC landmarks, including Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, where the Omega Bomb resides.  In Battle, we find out that the city Caesar led the rebellion in in Conquest is … New York City? Because Kolp is ready to launch that same Omega bomb… but the city we saw in Conquest and Battle looks absolutely nothing like Manhattan or any of the boroughs. I still can’t, even with my willing suspension of disbelief, figure out how the American northeast changes so drastically between the 1991 setting of Conquest and the 3978 setting of the first film. I’m still not even sure of the distance Taylor and crew travel on foot at the start of the first movie: are we to assume the lake/river they crash in is a transformed Hudson River Valley? That feels too close considering the number of days they seem to travel before the landscape changes to greener and they enter Ape territory. Is it the Delaware? That might be a little more plausible. The Susquehanna or Ohio? I just don’t know. it does occasionally keep me up at night.

The things I did notice, even as a kid?

1) The very clear shift in who the audience was supposed to be rooting for. In the first two movies, we’re clearly meant to root for (if not identify with) misanthropic Taylor and chivalrous Brent, lone speaking humans aided, mostly in secret, by one other non-verbal human (Nova) and at most three chimps (Zira, Cornelius, and their nephew Lucius) working in secret against their own obviously oppressive government and a hidden city of mutants. The third movie isn’t subtle about flipping this dynamic on its head: now we’ve got three chimps (Zira, Cornelius and poor, doomed Milo) trying to escape the clutches of an increasingly-oppressive human government with the help of only three humans working in secret (Dixon, Stephanie and Armando). Conquest is almost a complete flip of the dynamic of the first movie, with our solo hero (Caesar) and his non-verbal female interest (Lisa) being aided by only one sympathetic human (MacDonald). Battle completes the transition by relegating even the friendliest humans to supporting cast status (at best) and centering on ape vs. ape politics and those pesky evil mutants again.

2) Those apes looked nothing like the real chimps, orangutans and gorillas in our world. Even then, I wanted some kind of explanation as to how they evolved. How did chimps become human-sized? How did orangutans and gorillas all become so slim? And how did they all become so uniform even within species? It’s what I now call the “one line of dialogue” rule – if it can be explained in one or two lines of dialogue (and this certainly could have been), then the writers need to make that happen. But obviously, in the original Apes franchise, none of the several movie (or TV series) writers cared enough to postulate some kind of human gene-manipulating interference.

And I think that’s the interesting dichotomy of the original Apes franchise: while it did try to comment on weighty topics of the day (not just the Cold War and race relations, but the treatment of women and human abuse of nature vs. stewardship of it and fears of a threat from outer space wiping us out), it also didn’t really expect to be thought about too deeply, and so some gaping plots holes sit in plain view without a patch-job in sight.

Still: plot holes and weird geography are a part of the original franchise’s charm, and I will never stop loving it. It will stay near the top of my Favorite Movie Franchises list, always.

(Since it’s not a part of a series and thus doesn’t really fit into any of the posts I’m planning, this is probably the place to mention Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes remake/reboot/whatever-you-call-it. I didn’t see it until just last year. I found that it had a lot of the original franchise’s charm in terms of make-up and costumes and plot-holes and that it seemed to be trying to tackle some weightier subjects like the original franchise (militarism in particular, this time). I didn’t hate it as some people did. But I did find the “twist” ending to be gratuitous and unnecessary, almost as if someone (Burton or the studio) thought that in order to make this the start of a new franchise, they had to twist the original twist. And it just didn’t work, on any level. Even as meta-commentary, it fell flat. But I am glad I finally watched it, and I had fun watching Tim Roth and Michael Clarke Duncan chew the scenery.)

Catastrophic Attraction Complex: Book Edition

“Catastrophic Attraction Complex.”

I’m not sure where I first heard this phrase. I’ve done Google searches that only bring up the times I’ve used the phrase in my own blog posts and guest blogs, so I might even have made it up myself. Who knows. What I do know is: it’s the phrase I use to describe those attractions that are so intense, immediate and pervasive that common sense and logic fly out the window. We all have them, but they’re different for everyone. Usually when I refer to my Catastrophic Attraction Complex, I’m about to talk about my attraction to men (and occasionally, yes, women) with red hair, from the strawberriest of strawberry blonds to the most merlot of wine-dark gingers. In fact, a look back at a 2012 guest blog about My Literary Crushes on Roofbeam Reader’s site shows a preponderance of redheads. But that’s a whole different post from today’s topic, which is….

My Catastrophic Attraction Complex to Matching Book Cover Designs.

I’m sure at least some of my fellow bibliophiles will be able to empathize with me here.

Now, I’m not talking about books by the same author in the same series that have consistent cover design elements (like every volume of the Dresden Files having Harry, with hat and staff, in a dramatic pose above or below the book’s two-word title, or Ellis Peters’ Brother Cadfael books all having a nicely-painted medieval dead body in a box under the book’s title). It’s a given that readers of such series want all the titles in said series to match, and get very upset when, say, the publisher decides to start issuing the series in hardcover after years of issuing it only in paperback.

I’m also not talking about an author’s non-series books all being reissued with common cover design elements (as seems to happen every few years with the works of Stephen King). If I own most of the author’s non-series works in earlier editions, I’m usually not interested in buying newer editions just to get the covers to match. (Now, if I don’t already own most of those works, sure – a few years ago Lawrence Block brought some of his long-out-of-print crime fiction out as LB’s Crime Classics, with a very simple matching cover design, and I ate that up. Likewise if the re-issues have new material added, as when Titan Books re-issued a bunch of Philip Jose Farmer books with matching cover designs and new forewords and afterwords by Farmer scholars.)

What I’m talking about primarily is publishers bringing out themed sets of books by different authors all with the same front, spine, and back cover design. (I recently asked the hive-mind on Twitter if there’s an industry-specific term for this other than “trade dress,” and so far the response seems to be “no,” but I look forward to hearing if there is one.)

I fall, and fall hard, almost every time.

The most obvious examples in my personal library right now are the ever-enlarging collection of slipcased hardcovers from The Library of America, which I started purchasing intermittently several decades ago and which I may never successfully complete as a collection, and several bookshelves worth of the complete-to-date run of titles from Hard Case Crime with their matching spine logos and painted retro-crime-pulp covers (there is still hope, however dwindling, that I will someday read every HCC title; at least I’m keeping up with current releases).

And this doesn’t include the shelf of Lawrence Block HCC titles!

And this doesn’t include the shelf of Lawrence Block HCC titles!

My friend Dave (who enables and encourages my weird “must have them all” book-buying habits) can tell you all about my frantic NYC bookstore searches to find all the volumes in HiLo Books’ “Radium Age of Science Fiction” after discovering all but TWO of the series in a book store in Chelsea Market. Yes, reader, you know me well – I bought them all, then spent months tracking down the remaining two. (My obsession with buying books in actual book stores as opposed to ordering online is the topic of a whole different post.) Something similar happened upon discovery of Knopf Doubleday’s “Vintage Movie Classics” series, although I didn’t find the majority of those in one store to start with.

Vantage Classics covers.jpg

When I first started traveling the country for my full-time job twelve years ago, I also started haunting used-book stores. Mostly to fill in or rebuild paperback series I’d lost over the year (Perry Rhodan, Doc Savage, Tarzan, and the like). But then I started seeing these Wordsworth Editions anthologies of supernatural stories, all with sleek black/grey trade dress covers.  Now I have a bookshelf of them, although I’m pretty sure I’ve a long way to go to have all of them.

Wadsworth Editions covers.jpg

About a year ago, I found Melville House’s reissue of George Eliot’s “The Lifted Veil” in a bookstore in Newark Airport, and found it was part of their “The Art of the Novella” line, all with matching cover designs. Yep, I’m a subscriber now.

Art of the Novella covers.jpg

I try to resist. I really do. I asked myself recently, “Do I really need to buy the complete Otto Penzler “American Mystery Classics” re-issue series when I have so many of the titles in dog-eared paperbacks I found in used-book stores over the years?”  The answer seems to be “Yes,” because I have a bookshelf with the full run Penzler has issued to date. (And it looks like a third series will be issued in Fall, 2019!)

Okay, the cover design changes from Set 1 to Set 2. Sue me.

Okay, the cover design changes from Set 1 to Set 2. Sue me.

There are, I think, far worse Catastrophic Attraction Complexes to have. And of my two, it’s probably better that this is the one I act uncontrollably and impulsively on (I may be catastrophically attracted to redheads, but that usually manifests as an inability to complete simple sentences around them; no rash impulses getting out of hand there!). Of course, the friends who have helped me move house in the past few years may not agree with this assessment!