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Sunday, May 21, 2017 - 09:44

One of the awkward things about re-booting November books is that several of them have been clearly marketed for the December holiday season. I decided to slip this novella by Tansy Rayner Roberts in anyway and do a two-fer by also mentioning the novel it's linked to, Musketeer Space (even though that isn't a November release). Gender-swapped musketeers in space? If that sounds like your catnip, this was written for you.

It’s festival time on Paris Satellite: a seven day whirl of drunken bets, poor decision-making, religious contemplation and tinsel. But mostly, poor decision-making.

Porthos and Athos aren’t going to sleep together, no matter what Aramis says. Aramis isn’t going to marry her girlfriend, Minister Chevreuse, which probably means they’re breaking up. Athos is not prepared to be visited by the ghost of his dead husband. Oh, and the Duchess of Buckingham is totally not going to hook up with the Prince Consort thereby causing an interplanetary diplomatic disaster… right?

When a group of “festive terrorists” start inflicting traditions from a very different midwinter festival on the space station via nano-virus, the Musketeers and the Red Guard are expected to work together to protect Paris Satellite. This isn’t going to end well.

Joyeux is the prequel novella to Musketeer Space, an epic gender-swapped space opera retelling of The Three Musketeers.

And here's the blurb for Musketeer Space itself:

“I haven’t got a blade. I haven’t got a ship. I washed out of the Musketeers. If this is your idea of honour, put down the swords and I’ll take you on with my bare hands.” 

Dana D'Artagnan longs for a life of adventure as a Musketeer pilot in the Royal Fleet on Paris Satellite. When her dream crashes and burns, she gains a friendship she never expected, with three of the city's most infamous sword-fighting scoundrels: the Musketeers known as Athos, Porthos and Aramis.

Even as a mecha grunt, Dana has a knack for getting into trouble. She pushes her way into a dangerous political conspiracy involving royal scandals, disguised spaceships, a tailor who keeps getting himself kidnapped, and a seductive spy with far too many secrets.

With the Solar System on the brink of war, Dana is given a chance to prove herself once and for all. But is it worth becoming a Musketeer if she has to sacrifice her friends along the way?

Adventures and duels and intrigues and the long, complex process of disparate personalities coming together to form a bond that goes beyond friendship! That was one of the atmospheres I wanted to evoke when I began writing the Alpennia series. My women lean more heavily toward intellectual duels and philosophical challenges, but there are still a scattering of swordfights, daring rescues, and breathless escapes. In Mother of Souls the stakes go beyond battles of honor to put the fate of Europe in play. And who would think that a composer's hidden mystical talents would prove the key?

The Great November Book Release Re-Boot is a blog series talking about November 2016 releases that may have been overshadowed by unfortunate political events.

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Saturday, May 20, 2017 - 14:40

Every once in a while, I see a movie because I don't feel like sitting in traffic. I was feeling rather dragged out yesterday after work, and even after my gym workout the traffic app showed red most of the way home, so I pulled up a movie app to see what was showing in the Berkeley/Emeryville area. Not feeling the love for the latest SFF releases, but one of the local art-house type theaters had an intriguing listing for A Quiet Passion, about 19th century American poet Emily Dickinson and starring Cynthia Nixon (as Emily) and Jennifer Ehle (as her sister Lavinia). Well, that sounded like a winner, with the bonus of comfy chairs and a bar-cafe in addition to the usual popcorn stand. How could I lose? Well...

Now it is true that Dickinson's life was not exactly a story of fame, fortune, and glorious literary and personal triumph. She had chronic physical and psychological conditions that overshadowed her entire adult life, including bouts of depression triggered by the deaths of friends and mentors, something akin to agoraphobia, and chronic physical conditions that may have included epilepsy. Her mother was chronically ill for most of Emily's adult life. But this film seems to take delight in emphasizing the miseries and anti-social aspects of Dickinson's life and to downplay her intellectual achievements. We see only a couple glimpses of praise and interest in her poetry from the men (always men) whose respect she desires, and a great deal of minimizing and mean-spirited taunting about it, particularly from her brother Austin.

While the movie passively gives a good depiction of how gender-segregated the social life of an unmarried woman of that era was, it comes close to entirely erasing the elements of romantic friendship that thread through her correspondence and poetry. Her intense friendship with her sister-in-law Susan Gilbert, supported through a voluminous correspondence, is reduced to a quiet confession from Susan that her marriage is troubled by her aversion to sex, later followed by Emily's angry reaction to her brother's extra-marital affair. This version of Emily's story takes the version where her singlehood (in addition to being motivated by her quirks of personality) was due to unhappy attachments to various unavailable men, or to older mentor/father-figures, and to a preoccupation with what she considered to be her physical unattractiveness. (I am agnostic on the question of Dickinson's self-understanding of her affections, but the erasure of the close relationship with Susan Gilbert is not forgivable.)

As the movie progresses (and it runs for slightly over two hours and you feel every minute of that) a combination of moody music, gloomy candlelit settings, long scenes of illness and affliction, and constant bickering interactions with her siblings make you feel that Dickinson as well as the viewer must have been longing for the release of the closing credits.

Pros: Excerpts from Dickinson's poetry are used to good effect in communicating mood and setting. The costuming looks pretty solid, although there were a few outfits that looked badly fitted in the upper torso. Cynthia Nixon does an excellent job of inhabiting the role of Emily DIckinson as depicted in this script.

Cons: The movie makes you wonder why everyone in the 19th century didn't just take to their beds and embrace oblivion in order to get all this dreary business of existence out of the way and move on to salvation. This is the most depressing movie I've seen in a long time, and that includes Lost and Delirious which is so evil I think no one should ever watch it again.

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Saturday, May 20, 2017 - 13:08

It's fascinating how the different communities we live in will shift and intersect in unexpected ways over time. Way back in the early '90s Kathleen Knowles and I worked at the same biotech company. I went off to grad school and then to a different biotech company, and she went in other professional directions as well. And then one day I went to a bookstore reading in San Francisco and found we'd come back on an intersection course as authors of lesbian fiction. Two Souls is the most recent book in a loose series beginning with Awake Unto Me, and A Spark of Heavenly Fire, set in turn of the century San Francisco and involving a social network of professional women. Two Souls brings the series up to the 1906 earthquake, which is a guarantee of drama for any historical San Francisco story!

Abigail Eliot is a brilliant naturalist whose entire life is dedicated to her work. When she meets an earnest doctor, Norah Stratton who’s new to San Francisco, they start an unlikely friendship. When the 1906 earthquake and fire strike, they’re both caught up in the event in very different ways. Will their tentative connection turn to a lasting love or will San Francisco’s great tragedy drive them apart?

One of the challenges in writing lesbian historical fiction set before the mid-20th century is to show women in the context of a like-minded community. How did they find and recognize each other? How did they come out to each other in a context when indiscretion could destroy lives? And how did that closed and secret aspect of their lives affect their personal relationships? One of the challenges and joys I've had in writing the Alpennia series--including the most recent book, Mother of Souls--is to create networks of this sort that are as realistic and believable as the rest of the historic setting.

The Great November Book Release Re-Boot is a blog series talking about November 2016 releases that may have been overshadowed by unfortunate political events.

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Friday, May 19, 2017 - 07:00

I've listened to Lauren Beukes talk about her books on a number of podcasts. This collection--Slipping--looks like an excellent introduction to the range of her writing.

A Punk Lolita fighter-pilot rescues Tokyo from a marauding art installation. Corporate recruits harvest poisonous plants on an inhospitable planet. An inquisitive adolescent ghost disrupts the life of a young architect. Product loyalty is addictive when the brand appears under one’s skin. Award-winning Cape Town author and journalist Lauren Beukes (Zoo City, Moxyland, Broken Monsters) spares no targets in this edgy and satiric retrospective collection. In her fiction and nonfiction, ranging from Johannesburg across the galaxy, Beukes is a fierce, captivating presence throughout the literary landscape.

The Great November Book Release Re-Boot is a blog series talking about November 2016 releases that may have been overshadowed by unfortunate political events. And I'm at a loss to come up with a clever way to tie in a reference to Mother of Souls on this one. Look: I wrote this fabulous book and more people should know about it and read it and tell their friends about how fabulous it is. That's all I've got this time.

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Thursday, May 18, 2017 - 07:00

Back when my first novel was just barely out on the shelves, Tami Veldura interviewed me for the newsletter she sends out to her fans and readers. It meant a lot to me to have someone treat me like a real author at that point. I'm delighted to return the favor by featuring Tami's book Learning to Want as part of the Great November Book Release Re-Boot. It's an erotic story of dominance and submission in a science-fictional setting.

Khoram is an enforcer, a bodyguard, but his boss has just betrayed him. Now he's stranded on a desert planet he's never heard of, chained to the only other human around.

Atash grew up in the cracks of Dulia's complex social structure, where dominance and submission are a man's worth. He's struggled for years on a lower caste but Khoram could be his ticket to a better life if they can find common ground.

Atash wants to teach Khoram the art of submitting by choice and maybe make a name for himself along the way. Khoram, however, isn't here to play Atash's political games. He's going to escape, if his former employer doesn't see him killed first.

I really appreciate the way networks of independent and small-press authors support each other in carving out niches in the publishing market. In many ways, they're reminiscent of the networks of connections and support built by the women of the Alpennia novels to carve out a place in a society that sees them as lesser creatures. Mother of Souls features networks of all kinds: of blood, of desire, of aspiration, of common purpose.

The Great November Book Release Re-Boot is a blog series talking about November 2016 releases that may have been overshadowed by unfortunate political events.

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Wednesday, May 17, 2017 - 07:00
Indomitable cover image

This is the only non-fiction post in the Great November Book Release Re-Boot: a biography of Barbara Grier, one of the founders of Naiad Press and a long-time lesbian activist. Indomitable: The Life of Barbara Grier by historian Joanne Passett chronicles her complex and jam-packed life.

Barbara Grier—feminist, activist, publisher, and archivist—was many things to different people. Perhaps most well known as one of the founders of Naiad Press, Barbara’s unapologetic drive to make sure that lesbians everywhere had access to books with stories that reflected their lives in positive ways was legendary. Barbara changed the lives of thousands of women in her lifetime.

For the first time, historian Joanne Passet uncovers the controversial and often polarizing life of this firebrand editor and publisher with new and never before published letters, interviews, and other personal material from Grier’s own papers. Passet takes readers behind the scenes of The Ladder, offering a rare window onto the isolated and bereft lives lesbians experienced before the feminist movement and during the earliest days of gay political organizing. Through extensive letters between Grier and her friend novelist Jane Rule, Passet offers a virtual diary of this dramatic and repressive era. Passet also looks at Grier’s infamous “theft” of The Ladder’s mailing list, which in turn allowed her to launch and promote Naiad Press, the groundbreaking women’s publishing company she founded with partner Donna McBride in 1973. Naiad went on to become one of the leaders in gay and lesbian book publishing and for years helped sustain lesbian and feminist bookstores—and readers—across the country.

Back when I started reading lesbian fiction in the 1980s, Naiad Press was one of the few companies publishing it, possibly the only one exclusively focusing on lesbian stories. Bella Books is something of a loosely-connected heir to Naiad, having picked up their inventory and continuing to publish many of their authors when the Naiad proprietors wanted to retire. That history was one of the reasons that Bella was at the top of my list when I was ready to submit Daughter of Mystery to publishers. As it happened, I didn't need to work further down the list. My most recent novel, Mother of Souls carries the heritage of a pubishing line that first and foremost supports the right of fictional women to love other fictional women, without apology or flinching.

The Great November Book Release Re-Boot is a blog series talking about November 2016 releases that may have been overshadowed by unfortunate political events.

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Tuesday, May 16, 2017 - 12:50

One of the protections that my Alpennian ladies have for their personal lives is the willingness of Rotenek society to look the other way. To enter enthusiastically into the belief that “nice women don’t do that sort of thing” and therefore that two women who are well-born and respectable could be the closest of romantic friends without ever stepping across the line into forbidden desires.

This attitude is grounded in the contradictory attitudes of the times. The people who celebrated and praised women’s devoted romantic friendships were able to reconcile that with their moral beliefs because they considered that love to be elevated and non-sexual. It wasn’t that they didn’t think women might be sexual with each other, but female homoeroticism was strictly Othered in their minds. It was a thing that foreigners might do, or lower class people, but not People Like Us. And it was that admission that lesbian sexuality could exist that served to place limits on romantic friendship and keep it from entirely subverting heteronormativity. Two women who rejected the pressure to marry men in favor of being devoted to each other risked the possibility of being accused of unnatural desires if their relationship were seen to threaten social norms.

Margerit and Barbara’s relationship may seem “safe” but it treads a tightrope. Despite Margerit’s various expensive projects, she’s still an unmarried heiress. And Barbara is still an unmarried member of the titled nobility. Both states can be viewed as depriving some hypothetical man of what he considers his right to take advantage of those open positions for a spouse. There are men who are not above hinting at the consequences of gossip in order to convince one or the other to choose a more traditional life path.

At the same time, women who aren’t protected by society’s willingness to be oblivious walk an even more dangerous tightrope. And the divide of class can be wider than any commonality of desire. One of the things I wanted to do in Floodtide was to explore this contradiction. Even Roz (our narrator) has been blinded by the assumption that maisetras and mesneras “don’t do things like that.” But when she does see the light, she knows how little it means to her own life.

(from Floodtide, chapter not yet determined)

When I figured it out, my stomach knotted up as tight as a cramp. I knew the maisetra and the baroness were friends who loved each other, but I’d never thought about them being in love. Not like me and Nan. I never imagined them doing the things we had done. Maybe it should have made me feel glad to think the maisetra and I were alike that way, but instead I was frightened. It was one of those dangerous secrets Tavit had warned me about. The kind you didn’t want to know and you didn’t want people to know you knew. I thought about how the maisetra had hired me, even knowing why I’d lost my last place. Maybe that had been a part of it—thinking that we were just a little bit alike--but it wouldn’t go any further than that.

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Tuesday, May 16, 2017 - 07:15
Take Me Home - cover image

There are many types of romantic adventures in the wide world, even within the confines of contemporary realism. Lorelie Brown's Take Me Home plays out an adventure that start with what must be a fantasy for many contemporary lesbians. No, not that sort of fantasy. The fantasy of figuring out just how thoroughly one can blow the minds of disapproving relatives in a single go.

"Thanksgiving arrives in one week and one day. Feeling hemmed in by parental expectations? Are they disappointed by your sapphic proclivities? I can help! The only pay I want is the holiday meal!"

I didn’t know what I was looking for until I saw her Craigslist ad.

I love my family. I’m lucky to have them—well, most of them. But my aunt? I’m so tired of her giving my mom crap because I happen to be a lesbian. So one pink-haired tattoo artist pretending to be my girlfriend will annoy my Christian fundamentalist aunt right back and make my Thanksgiving perfect.

Only . . . Brooke turns out to be cuter and more complicated than I expected. And before you can say “yorkiepoo,” we kiss . . . and abduct a dog together. I want to keep them both—but Brooke isn’t the kind to be kept. Lucky for me, I’m the kind to chase what I want.

How times change! The characters in Mother of Souls are usually more concerned with flying under the radar--and essential component of happiness for a queer woman in the early 19th century. And Antuniet Chazillen wasn't specifically intending to shock Rotenek society in general, and her cousin Barbara in particular, when she embarked upon her new Great Work of alchemy. Margerit Sovitre wasn't intending to shock the dozzures of Rotenek University when she opened her women's college. Luzie Valorin never meant to shock anyone at the debut of her opera on the life of the philosopher Tanfrit. And yet somehow they all turned the world upside down.

The Great November Book Release Re-Boot is a blog series talking about November 2016 releases that may have been overshadowed by unfortunate political events.

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Monday, May 15, 2017 - 14:00

This book comes out of an era when “claiming historic figures for the team” was a major preoccupation of gay and lesbian historical studies. (And at that time it was very often narrowly “gay and lesbian” without additional letters of the alphabet.)

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Full citation: 

Aldrich, Robert & Garry Wotherspoon eds. 2001. Who's Who in Gay & Lesbian History: From Antiquity to World War II. Routledge, London. ISBN 0-415-15982-2

Publication summary: 

An encyclopedia of “people significant in the history of homosexuality."

This book carefully identifies the listings as “people significant in the history of homosexuality” thereby neatly sidestepping the question of personal identification or behavior. It is clear from the choices, however, that the intent is to focus on persons known or believed to have had homoerotic inclinations, although persons significant in cultural debates around the topic (such as Saint Paul and SIgmund Freud) are also included. The geographic scope is restricted to the Western world with the recognition that the concept of homosexuality around which the work is organized is linked specifically to that cultural context. There is a brief apology for failing at gender parity with the excuse that the focus on “famous” people will follow the disparity in historic recognition between the sexes.

A brief survey of the entries under “A” will give a sense of the coverage: out of 31 entries, 7 are women and 24 men; 7 are from the classical era (all men), 10 from the 20th century, and the remaining 14 covering the entire remaining scope of history.

While the individual entries are informative and nuanced in discussing the historic context and evidence, and provide a brief selection of references for further reading, the immense temporal and cultural scope of the work means that only a relatively small number of people are covered. I see this book as something of a “showpiece”--a proof of existence and exercise in presentation. It might be useful as a introductory text in an entry-level queer history course. It seems less useful as a general reference work for investigating random historic individuals one might want additional information on. In general, if a figure is included in this work, a reader with only mild familiarity with the history of homosexuality will generally know about that person’s relevance already. Conversely, if a reader is trying to track down information on lesser-known figures, those figures probably won’t be included. (It would also be nice if there were a cross-index of all the possible forms of people’s names, given the problems of alphabetizing and standardizing the names of non-modern people.)

In sum: a text for browsing but not particularly useful as a reference work, though that last evaluation must be understood in the context of the massive improvements in research resources made possible by the internet. This would have been more valuable as a reference at the time it was published (and even more valuable if it had been published a decade earlier).

Monday, May 15, 2017 - 10:00
cover image - League of Dragons

I suppose I'm cheating a little by including Naomi Novik's League of Dragons in this series, because technically the hardback was released in June. But the mass market paperback was a November book, so that's my excuse. And it isn't that Novok's Hugo-finalist series needs any extra publicity boost from me, but it's an opportunity to tell an amusing story about the power of the knowledgable independent bookseller. Back when the first book in the Temeraire series had been out for a little while, I wandered into my local SFF bookstore, The Other Change of Hobbit (now, alas, out of business) and while I was browsing the relatively new releases I idly remarked to Tom Whitmore that I was trying to remember the title of a new book that various friends thought I might like. He instantly handed me a copy of His Majesty's Dragon and I recognized it as the title people had been recommending. That was the extent of the clue: "a new book my friends thought I might like" and Tom's familiarity with my reading habits as a long-time customer. That's what we lose when we lose face-to-face independent booksellers. (P.S. They were all correct about me liking the book.) League of Dragons is the final volume in the Temeraire series.

Napoleon’s invasion of Russia has been roundly thwarted. But even as Capt. William Laurence and the dragon Temeraire pursue the retreating enemy through an unforgiving winter, Napoleon is raising a new force, and he’ll soon have enough men and dragons to resume the offensive. While the emperor regroups, the allies have an opportunity to strike first and defeat him once and for all—if internal struggles and petty squabbles don’t tear them apart.

Aware of his weakened position, Napoleon has promised the dragons of every country—and the ferals, loyal only to themselves—vast new rights and powers if they fight under his banner. It is an offer eagerly embraced from Asia to Africa—and even by England, whose dragons have long rankled at their disrespectful treatment.

But Laurence and his faithful dragon soon discover that the wily Napoleon has one more gambit at the ready—one that that may win him the war, and the world.

This blog series is all about recommending books, or at least featuring them (when I don't know enough about the specific work to recommend it). The fate of brick-and-mortar bookstores is not the only handicap that non-bestsellers face. While the rise of electronic self-publishing and small specialty presses has meant greater access of marginalized authors to publication, it has created a vast array of books that will never have shelf space in a physical bookstore. Other than the lost Other Change of Hobbit, and Laurel Bookstore in downtown Oakland, I have only once seen any of the Alpennia books on a physical bookstore shelf. (Though I have reports of sightings from readers.) This makes reader recommendations an invaluable resource. I am massively grateful to those readers who have enjoyed my books, including the most recent Mother of Souls, and who have shared that love with others.

The Great November Book Release Re-Boot is a blog series talking about November 2016 releases that may have been overshadowed by unfortunate political events.

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