Reading: A Companion to Wolves

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What this book is not: This book is not a male/male romance. This is not a bad thing. On the contrary, I think I was more relieved by the fact that it was not a romance than anything else that happened in the plot-line of the book.

What this book is: This book is a well-written fantasy novel that seemed to just get better as I read, instead of falling apart from an interesting premise as is so often the case. And, yes, there was some homosexual activity within the main story, but the variety of emotional love between men represented in this novel was refreshing. Rather than the book being all about the grand, sweeping romantic love that almost every book in the world features as the main driving force of every character to some degree, this book concentrates instead of a kind of bond between humans — in this case men — that is just as deep, just as important, and just as vital, even if the romantic aspect is either not present at all or buried under a lot more intense connections that supersede romantic love. There was the bond between the men and the wolves, the bond between the wolves themselves, the bond between human members of the ‘pack’, the deep abiding love of men who have given up everything in their prior lives to be in the situation they’ve chosen, and to fight alongside each other in a war.

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Art by Copperbane Studio

I almost hate to focus on the sex because while I found it titillating (hooray!) in the end it seemed to be one of the least important things about the novel (though admittedly one of the things that got me into the novel in the first place, because I’m always happy to see intriguing, unconventional sexual situations in books!), but given how the sex is represented in some of the comments at Goodreads and elsewhere, I want to address it.

I think any reader of BDSM novels will recognize some common themes within the story. Man is considered of equal rank and importance to his wolf  but in the matter or situations driven by pack instinct, such as mating, then the man must not fight the choices of the wolf. “It’s her [the wolf’s] choice,” was mentioned more than once with regards to mating, and it reminded me of BDSM scenes in which the sub allows the dom to choose a partner (or partners) for him/her to have sex with, and in which the sub allows the dom to choose what happens to him/her during a scene of any type.

It’s pretty clear in BDSM research I’ve done, while less clear in romanticised BDSM novels, that there are times the sub does not sweepingly love the choices of the dom, or even entirely enjoy them. And yet that is part of what they do enjoy or get out of the entire experience of being a submissive for a dominant. I suppose it was with that background education and mindset that I went into reading the mating scenes in the book, and I did not find them troubling or difficult to swallow. However, if that kind of reading (or in my case research for writing) isn’t part of your world, then the lack of swelling romantic feeling during the sex scenes might be off-putting. This might be complicated for a reader by not going into the book understanding point one above: this is not a romance novel.

Being who I am, of course, I did start to develop an attachment to various other men that I wished Isolfr would fall for, but in the end I was happy that was not the way the book went.

This book reminded me of a more enjoyable, more interesting, fantasy version of The Sagas of the Icelanders by Jane Smiley. Only better. Because that novel nearly made me cry tears of boredom. (Sorry, Jane Smiley!) This book was not written for the purpose of anything more than telling a sweeping tale of an unlikely, almost unwilling hero, and his wolfsister and pack-brothers. I was encouraged and relieved to find such a book existed in the world. Not every book featuring m/m relationships, or m/m sex, needs to be romance.

In other words, I loved this book for all that it actually was and didn’t hold it against it for all that it wasn’t. In fact, I rejoice in what it wasn’t. I wish that there were more books that understood that people enjoy epic books that also feature graphic sex, not just books that focus on sex (erotica) or books that focus on romance and sex (romance or romantica).  I would love to see more publishing options for that kind of premise, especially for LGBT titles.

Reading: Brave New Love: 15 Dystopian Tales of Desire

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Recently I’ve been on a book bender. Unlike an alcohol bender, where you end up saying all kinds of shit you wish you hadn’t, slurring your words, pointing your finger when you talk, and sometimes puking up your guts, a book bender is more like a calorie-less version of grabbing handfuls of cake and shoving it in your mouth, careless of how it smears on your cheeks and into your eyelashes. Nom, nom, nom, boooooooks! Must consume more boooooooks! Yummy books, with yummy words, oh, God, feed more more!

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Give me more!

My book bender began when I was down with a pneumonia/mono double whammy and completely high on some codeine cough syrup that my doctor prescribed for me. All I can say about that stuff is that there were several times I found myself thinking, “Damn good thing that I’m not an addict, because this codeine stuff is the bomb.” I also managed to do things on this cough syrup like get a massive, huge bruise on the top of my foot that was extremely painful and very ugly, with absolutely no memory of doing something to cause it. I also apparently ordered ten Kindle books, and nine actual paper books while doped up on.

I’m not being monogamous at all during my book bender, and I’ve been smashing my face into the pages of books both digital and paper with almost no discrimination lately – Greek myths, fairy tales of Russia, Ireland, England, and Romania, a book about the brothers Grimm, still reading Deathless, still crazy about The Book of Imaginary Beings, and I also picked up a wonderful Adrienne Rich volume of poetry with a poem on page one that packs quite a punch. Nom nom nom, words! Give ’em to me!

Imagine the goddess in this picture is me, and that the puppies are books, and that rather than sitting peacefully with them, I’m devouring them madly, smearing their bookliness all over my face and hands.
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One of the books I codeine-ordered from Amazon, I have no recollection of ordering at all, to the point that I half suspect that they just stuffed it into my Amazon box and charged me for it for fun because they psychically knew that I was high on codeine when I placed the rest of my order. The name of that one is Brave New Love: 15 Dystopian Tales of Desire edited by Paula Guran. I have a vague, very fuzzy recollection of thinking to myself, “You know, you should really learn to curtail your words. Your word counts are too high. You should take a crash course in short fiction. Buy a bunch of short stories!” Perhaps this book came from that train of thought? Regardless, I own it now, and in the midst of my book bender, I started smashing the book to my face (symbolically; I don’t need to give myself a black eye from book-love) and nom nom noming on it in tiny snatches of time over the last week.

I just read "Foundlings" by Diana Peterfreund in this anthology. Pretty great story!

I can’t say that the entire book is delicious, but of the two stories I’ve read so far, one is fairly good, and the other was really quite fantastic.

I’ll start with the fairly good and move on to the quite fantastic.

The first was Beserker Eyes by Maria V. Snyder. Set in a future where gene tweaking has left some with a ‘beserker’ gene, teens are held in what amount to prisons until it is determined whether or not they are a risk to society. All in all, the story was engaging enough. Though, I’m assuming in order to meet a short story word-count, there did seem to be some rather sweeping violations of ‘show don’t tell’. I felt that it ended abruptly, and I thought that it made a better beginning to a longer novel than a short story. Perhaps Ms. Snyder will want to explore this universe more. I think that a longer, full-fledged novel that dealt with the events of the short story and the aftermath would be worth reading. Then again, I’m not familiar with her writing, and perhaps she already has done something larger with this concept. Or maybe this was just something she needed to get out, and for her it ended where, to me as a reader, it should have began.

The second story was Foundlings by Diana Peterfreund. In a world where the ‘birther’ movement has gone too far, teenage girls are taken in as soon as they are discovered to be pregnant – ‘for their own good’ and to mitigate risk to the unborn child. In a few short pages, Peterfreund introduces us to this world in a way that is organic, natural, and mostly believable. The relationships between the three characters are compelling and by the end of the short story, I was invested in all of them, proud of all of them, and emotionally moved by all of three of them. It really is a very beautiful story, and I anticipate that I’ll read it again.

I’ll let you know as I continue to read like a glutton if there are other stories in this anthology that might make it worth the cover price. As it is, I don’t regret my codeine purchase. Not at all.

ETA: I have since read The Salt Sea and the Sky by Elizabeth Bear. It was another situation where I felt like the short story was actually the beginning of something more. It was well written and I was curious about the characters, but at the end I was much more interested in what might happen next than in what had actually transpired so far. Still, it was well-written enough to make me look up Elizabeth Bear on Amazon, and I found that she is the co-author of the wolf books that I heard so much about a few years back. I went ahead and bough the first wolf book for my kindle and am pondering buying one of the Promethean Age books, but the $18.99 for the Kindle edition ($24.00 for the paperback) is a bit steep, especially given the book bender I’ve been on, I probably should wait. The wolf book was at least more reasonably priced.