Saturday, December 27, 2008
More Than Human (1953)
By Theodore Sturgeon
A true, and very well deserved, science fiction classic, More Than Human is brilliantly original and, as with pretty much everything Theodore Sturgeon did, astoundingly well-written.
To detail what I mean by "brilliantly original," More Than Human is a series of novellas exploring the birth, and growth, of the next stage in human evolution. In the first novella we’re introduced to Lone, “the idiot” who is actually an incredible genius; Baby, whose mind functions like a computer; Bonnie and Beanie, who can teleport; and a young telekinetic girl named Janie. That’s great and all, but the brilliance and originality of Sturgeon’s masterpiece is that each of these people are not the single next step but all parts of one super-entity, a gestalt. There’s a problem with this new, emergent, being, however: it needs a conscience.
Sturgeon’s genius is throughout More than Human: the characters are engaging, never heavy-handed or simplistic; the science fiction elements are experiential and totally real-feeling, never embarrassingly melodramatic; and the story has a real impact because Sturgeon embraces a true understanding of humanity with all it’s glory as well as flaws, and so the book is never feels cheap or lazy.
More Than Human is one of those books that should be read by everyone, science fiction fan or not: it’s a true work of art.
Friday, December 26, 2008
Proceedings of the Second International Workshop on Nude Mice, The Madam as Entrepreneur: Career Management in House Prostitution, The Theory of Lengthwise Rolling, The Book of Marmalade: Its Antecedents, Its History, and Its Role in the World Today -- as a writer I’ve naturally been fascinated by weird and wonderful books like these (winners of the Bookseller/Diagram Prize for Oddest Title of the Year).
Some of the earliest unusual books have got to be the celebrated illuminated manuscripts. First created in such places as Ireland, Constantinople, and Italy by amazingly diligent monks, illuminated manuscripts reached their height in the Middle Ages. Very difficult to create, and so very expensive, they were mostly created as “altar Bibles” for churches or cathedrals or for very wealthy patrons. What’s fascinating about illuminated manuscripts, beyond their elegant and beautiful craft, is that often the text was almost neglected for the artwork, which explains why many illuminated Bibles contain simple typographical mistakes.
With the advent of Guttenberg and his press, as well as the immense cost and workmanship required to create illuminated manuscripts, the market for them dropped off. But that didn’t stop other artisans from creating works less beautiful yet still extraordinary in their right.
Take, for example, the book that’s in Mandalay, Myanmar (which used to be called Burma), specifically the Kuthodaw Pagoda. Guttenberg is commonly considered to be the man responsible for bringing cheap, affordable books to the European masses, but King Mindon of Myanmar didn’t have portability in mind when he commissioned the creation of his book in the middle of the 19th century. His Tipitaka Pali canon of Theravada Buddhism is the world’s largest book, and it’s not going anywhere -- each page, and there are 1460 of them, are marble, with the lettering done in gold.
Alas, in the late 1800s, the British invaded and much of the pagoda’s treasures -- including the book -- were damaged or stolen. But, fortunately, the structure has been restored, as much as possible, and the world’s largest book is still on display in all its non-paperback, non-portable majesty.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have the copy of Chekhov's Chameleon owned by the College-Conservatory of Music in Cincinnati. This special edition isn’t preserved against invaders, looters, or erosion, but instead a stray breeze: at .9 by .9 (that’s millimeters, by the way), the book has been authenticated by Guinness as being the world’s smallest. Just to give you an idea how small .9 by .9 millimeters is, next to this Chameleon, a kernel of corn is like a mountain: the book is about the size of a grain of salt.
But if you want to talk about weird, you have to connect these three words: KISS (the rock band), Marvel (the comic book publisher) and human blood. If you happen to own a copy of KISS’s Super Special comic book, published in 1977, then you own more than just a mediocre promotional gimmick. You actually own a tiny amount of Gene Simmons, Ace Frehley, Peter Criss, and Paul Stanley: namely their blood, which the foursome had extracted and was subsequently added to the ink used to print the comic.
To stay on this somewhat morbid topic, there’s an anatomy book in the possession of Brown University that’s more than just a book detailing how the human body’s put together. In fact there are two weird things about this particular book. The first oddity is that while the cover might feel and look like fine leather it didn’t come from a cow -- it came from a human being.
The second odd -- and more than a bit creepy -- thing about this anatomy book bound in some person’s skin is that it isn’t at all rare. In fact many prestigious universities, museums, and certain private collectors have books also made from human skin. Mostly made from criminals or people too poor to afford a burial, the practice was fairly common in the 1800s. One 1816 edition even had the cheek to be titled The Dance of Death.
So the next time you pick up some bestseller -- or just a book I wrote -- think about how books themselves are worthy of many interesting books, and very unusual sizes as well as bindings.
Sunday, December 21, 2008
A great review for The Very Bloody Mary's from my pal, Colleen Anderson:
From the title you might think this is about drinking, or murderous monarchs. If you thought one of these, you’re close to the heart of the matter. But really it’s both, about bloodthirsty vampire queens. Some are not so much queen as just murderous gay vampires. If you’re familiar with M. Christian’s work, you know he’s a prolific writer, and his writing includes erotic tales straight, gay, lesbian, etc. He’s very versatile. So I confess to thinking this book would be about gay vampires with a lot of erotica thrown in. Though it has sensuous details this is more the tale of a gay vampire trying to gain experience as a detective. It’s a murder mystery with the supernatural thrown in.
While vampire detectives are not necessarily new, a gay vampire detective is. Valentino is thrust into the crime scene on a personal level, since his mentor is missing. And the crime scene: Vespa scooting vampires are killing the folks of San Francisco and risking the outing of all vampires, who tend to live by a code so that they aren’t hunted down. Coupled with mentor Pogue’s disappearance, Valentino has two mysteries to figure out.
The book opens with three different beginnings as Valentino tries on his authorial voice. This sets the tone, and gives this character high twinkiness. Valentino is a flamer, vapid and vain. The character was so irritating and flittythat I nearly put the book down, but his way in the world was intriguing. I think M. Christian might have cut it down a bit but then I realized there is a good reason about a quarter of the way into the book on why Valentino is acting this way. He comes to discover what’s been done to him and his personality deepens as it’s unlayered.
Valentino relies on other supernatural help and Christian’s writing uses some very descriptive phrases. For being an undead guy, Valentino is vibrantly alive and given to over verbosity that doesn’t stop in describing his zombie driver: “One time–big shudder here–I had caught a look at his eyes, two puss-filled boiled-egg eyes staring, unblinking, straight ahead, and didn’t sleep well for a week.” Of course that should be pus-filled not eyes with cats in them, but I blame the publisher for not putting a proofreader on it or maybe they did and missed it. There are very few typos, which is a good thing.
You get a good sense of Valentino’s world as he sees it. “Finally, the Brass Ass of the Great Emancipator (Abraham Lincoln) led me through silverfish heaven to a narrow doorway between the piles…In it was Saul, tarnished silver hair, rainbow sweater unwinding in spots into primary colors, brittle bones showing where unwinding yarn couldn’t hide it, eyes like bleached robin’s eggs, Indian blanket in his lap hiding the bones I knew weren’t just brittle but also didn’t work, and, because of those legs, an ancient wheelchair.”It took me a moment to realize he meant realbones, not bony legs; the visual setting is very concrete.
Much of Valentino’s descriptions go into overdrive, with buckets of adjectives. They hit their height when he’s talking about his lover, Julian. “Oh oh oh Julian Julian Julian–beloved, adored, venerated companion, compadre, mate, playmate, partner, betrothed, idol, best friend, love, lover–oh oh oh Julian Julian Julian…” A bit much? Yes, but then this is the turning point for Valentino.
Events pick up with dire and catastrophic discoveries. I don’t want to give it away but let’s just say the Very Bloody Marys are brutal, relentless, sociopathic, fashion sensitive vampires. As the fog clears from Valentino’s eyes he finds his world isn’t as he suspected. Sure it still has a few supernatural beings but all is not what it seems. He still richly describes things but there is a darker vein now to the vampire detective’s perspective. “The inky blackness didn’t so much as run as steadily walk out of that doorway. A pooling, a billowing, a smoking, and then up and into arms and legs and a wide-brimmed hat pulled down over hooded eyes.”
When Valentino runs into Ombre, even the supernatural shade notices something has changed though the gay vampire tries to hide it. “It’s just that you seem different somehow. The flippancy is still there, that much is clear, but it’s like something else is missing.”
And Valentino has changed on several levels. In the process of discovering what has happened to Pogue, being threatened with permanent annihilation and in stopping the brutal gang, he earns his wings. He solves the mysteries, stops the Marys and finally grows up a bit after 200 years. M. Christian wraps up the tale in a very satisfying and unpredictable way. It’s one of the many bright spots in the story; very little is predictable. You won’t see this as another tired take on the vampire trope. It’s refreshingly bright and if not a complete happy ending, one with suitable revenge.
If you’re looking for a good, fast paced read, or if you like mystery or fantasy or gay fiction. Or if you just want something different and new, this book will be as satisfying as a vampire’s first drink of blood.
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Monday, December 15, 2008
A sultry tale of dominance and submission through bondage, from the delectable pen of M.Christian.
We are lured into the dark world of Syvia's dungeon seductively, as through Christian's protagonist we experience the fulfilment and relief of total obedience to a patient, yet wilfull mistress.
There are no bonds here, just a promise. No whips, no chains; no manacles whips or restraints. No pain. The subject is simply forbidden to move.
It's a journey of self awareness, understanding, learning and resistance.
He's exposed, naked. He can blink; he can breathe and that's it.
It's a gentle story of humility and the freedom of relinquishing control told in M.Christian's beautiful prose.
An exquisite story.
Tuesday, December 09, 2008
I'll be honest, this is only the second time I've bought an e-book or e-story, which is silly, really, considering I'm stuck in a country with no proper bookstores. I think I've been suffering from the same, stupid prejudice as many people - if it's not on paper, it can't be any good. If you feel this way, then the sooner you rid yourself of the prejudice the better, because otherwise, you're missing a lot of good writing.
I just purchased, downloaded and devoured M. Christian's Hack Work, from the Logical Lust site. No one asked me to review it, so I have no idea if he'll thank me for this or not.
Hack Work is a short work of speculative fiction set in the city of New Orleans in an unspecified future. The main character, Moss, is a woman who hires out her body to "fares" who pay to have experiences through her - using her like a remote sensing device. Although she's been at her job for some time, the client who hires her on this occasion, prompts her to question her assumptions of complicity, accountability, and confronts her with her own reactions as a "puppet" in the process.
As with all M. Christian's work, it is exceptionally well written: spare where it needs to be and lushly original where it matters. He pulls you down into the humid, forsaken city expertly. His "taxi" girl is elegantly introduced through beautifully economical language. It's rare to find a short story writer who does this so proficiently, especially because having a good sense of who this woman is is integral to the story. It is her identity, her agency, or the lack of it, that sits at the crux of the tale.
Hack Work has both the elements I consider essential to good erotic fiction: sexual heat, of course, but also moral ambiguity. It touches tantalizingly on universal issues of free will and responsibility. The main character approaches and withdraws from her own involvement in the acts her "client" demands that she perform, and - rather intelligently, I felt - she leaves us without having reached any firm conclusions.
The title itself is a challenge. It brings up images of writer as "hack" and the old word for the driver of a Hackney Cab. It sews them together again, reminding us of how writing is a guided, mediated experience for the reader, and something akin to channeling a voodoo god, for the writer.
Beyond the enjoyment of the story itself, Hack Work stands as an excellent example of how to do intelligent, erotic, short fiction right.
Hack Work, by M. Christian, can be purchased HERE
Monday, December 08, 2008
Prolific erotica writer M.Christian has been described more than once as a literary chameleon, and with good reason. Although he is straight and male, Christian has published single-author collections of both gay (Filthy) and lesbian (Speaking Parts) erotica. His books include a scifi erotica story collection (The Bachelor Machine), gay vampire thrillers (Running on Empty and The Very Bloody Marys) and the peculiar Me 2, which has been praised as insightful social criticism and panned as a poor-taste publicity stunt.
I was flattered when he wrote me asking if I’d give him press quotes for not one, but two books that he had coming out soon. Flattered, and jealous, given my own glacial rate of publication. Sure, I told him, but I’ve got to read the books first. Within half an hour, I received digital Advanced Reader Copies of Brushes and The Painted Doll.
If I didn’t know that these two books had been written by the same author, it would be difficult to tell. Brushes is a fascinating literary exercise, a novella in which each chapter presents the perspective of a different character. The various narrators are linked by their connections, casual or intimate, with Escobar, a fabulously popular painter hailed as an artistic genius. Escobar is hardly a person for these characters. He is a mirror, a distorted reflection highlighting their failings, magnifying their inadequacies. His sexual charisma, his incandescent talent, his elusive insight into the souls of his subjects, all are legendary. Everyone craves his attention. Everyone envies his success ....
Friday, December 05, 2008
These six quick-read stories offer something about anything for anyone -- gay, straight, lesbian, BDSM ... you name it - including stories that have never been previously released or published!
"MOVING" - Straight BDSM erotica
In Sylvia’s dungeon, when you’re told not to move you’d better not ...
"TWO MEN IN A BOAT/ON THE SCREEN" - Includes gay erotica
Two steamy tales, of two quite different types of passion!
"HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD" - Gay erotica
Sometimes meeting your big screen hero doesn’t end quite the way you wish ...
"HACK WORK" - Speculative, futuristic, straight erotica
In the future, we may use others remotely for our own pleasures, but what of the one ‘taking the ride?’
"SUNLIGHT" & "HER MASTER'S VOICE" - Includes gay and BDSM erotica
Another two scintillating tales of sensuality, both quite different.
"A LIGHT MINUTE" - Lesbian erotica
Online, Sasha has breath-
M.Christian is an acknowledged master of erotica with more than 300 stories in such anthologies as Best American Erotica, Best Gay Erotica, Best Lesbian Erotica, Best Bisexual Erotica, Best Fetish Erotica, and many, many other anthologies, magazines, and Web sites. He is the editor of 20 anthologies including the Best S/M Erotica series, The Burning Pen, Guilty Pleasures, and others. He is the author of the collections Dirty Words, Speaking Parts, The Bachelor Machine, and Filthy; and the novels Running Dry, The Very Bloody Marys, Me2, Brushes, and Painted Doll.
M. Christian is the chameleon of modern erotica. One day punk, another romantic; one day straight, another totally perverse and polyamorous. But always sexy and and gripping.
- Maxim Jakubowksi, editor of the Mammoth Book of Erotica series
M. Christian is to erotica what Swarovski crystals are to Liberace: essential.
- Clint Catalyst, author of Cottonmouth Kisses
M. Christian's stories are the fairy tales whispered to one another by dark angels whose hearts and mouths are brimming with lust. He goes beyond the pale, ordinary definitions of sexuality and writes about need and desire in their purest forms. Readers daring enough to stray from the safety of the path will find in his images and words a garden of delights to tempt even the most demanding pleasure-seeker.
-- Michael Thomas Ford, Lambda Literary Award winner and editor
Wednesday, December 03, 2008
Some things are amazing because of their size. Others, no less amazing because of their lack of it.
Doll House enthusiasts usually trace the origins of their fascination to European “baby houses” of the 1700s, though kids were kept far, far away from these elegant treasures; they were more a status symbol than a real plaything.
If you want to use a broader description, though, miniatures more suited for children to play with arguably have roots as far back as the ancient Egyptians, if not further.
True doll houses, mixing elegant miniaturization but still letting the kids play with them, really began to come into their own with the industrial age, around the turn of the 20th century. The finest makers of houses, and naturally the furniture to go in them, were usually German (before the first world war) and then the British and Americans (afterwards). Dolls and their houses existed before machines took the place of skilled craftsmen of course, but only rich kids could get them -- and then only played with them very, very carefully.
Some of the kids who enjoyed them grew up and transformed their childhood fun into a seriously wonderful hobby, if not magnificent art.
One of the more celebrated doll houses lives in the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. Created by legendary silent picture actress Colleen Moore with the set designer Harold Grieve, the fairy castle is a magnificent work of art as well deliriously scaled precision. Towering more than eight feet tall, the house features murals painted by someone you may have heard of (Walt Disney), chandeliers with real diamonds, the tiniest Bible ever written, tapestries featuring the smallest recorded stitches, a library of more than 100 hand-printed books, a pure silver bathtub (with running water), and still more amazing treasures and exquisite details.
Being a screen queen gave Colleen Moore an opportunity to create a magnificent fantasy castle, but if you want true opulence in small scale you have to … well, let’s just say it’s good to be the queen.
Created in 1924, Queen Mary’s doll house has a pedigree worthy of any stately home in England; the queen’s cousin, Princess Marie Louise, commissioned the famous architect Sir Edwin Lutyens to construct it.
But the Queen’s dollhouse was more than a plaything. It was, and still is, a frozen moment in British history, a miniature collection of the pride of the empire with works and features showcasing the best the country had to offer. Like Colleen Moore’s castle, the library had an extensive collection of handwritten books, but because she was the queen, after all, the royal doll house’s library had unique works by Kipling and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
Moore’s house had running water, but the queen’s house not only had that but a flushable loo, too. And that’s not all: the floors were done in fine woods and marble, the kitchen sported a working coffee mill, and even the wine cellar featured bottles containing real wines (and not just the cheap stuff, either). Many of the rooms were also mirror copies of rooms in Buckingham Palace, which is where the Queen’s doll house resides.
There are simply far too many curiosities and small-scale wonders to talk about in one article – from immaculate working steam trains and gasoline-powered racing cars. Nevertheless, I want to close with a fun little oddity: the biggest of the smallest.
Sure, some might argue about its standing as the biggest/smallest but you have to admit that the model of Shanghai in that city’s Urban Planning Museum is magnificent and, despite it’s scale, simply staggering.
A three-dimensional depiction of what the city might look like in 2020, the model fills a vast room bigger than 1,000 square feet in size. What gives you a headache about this incredibly detailed model is that, yes, the model is huge, but only because it’s a scaled reduction of the city itself: the largest model of what will be the largest city ever to exist on the planet.
Makes you feel small, doesn’t it?
Tuesday, December 02, 2008
(the following is part of an ongoing series of columns I'm doing for The Erotica Readers & Writers Association on the ins and outs and ins and outs and ins and outs of writing good smut)
Should you blog? Yes.
What, you want reasons? (sigh) Okay, here are a few good reasons why you should immediately –- or close to -– start your own blog and what you should put in it.
First of all, as I said last month, everything’s changed, especially in the writing world. Understand that these days, in this new world, anyone can be a writer, which is the good news as well as the bad news.
While publicity and exposure have never been things a writer could ignore, or did so at their peril, they’ve now become absolutely essential. You have to find some way –- any way –- of standing out from a growing throng of people who are also yelling at the top of their literary lungs for the attention of editors, publishers, or even readers.
Blogging is a great way to do just that: it’s free, easy, fun, and a good way to show off your work and build an audience. Frankly, there isn’t a reason not to blog, aside from the seduction of spending too much time on it, thereby keeping you from what’s really important, which is your fiction writing.
Two things to think about before you start: one, decide on a program or platform. Some people like Wordpress but many (like me) don’t like the HTML headaches. Others (like me) prefer Blogger since it’s amazingly easy to set up and use, and also features a lot of cool features that Wordpress does not.
Two, you have to decide what your blog’s about. It’s tempting to make it a personal thing, a site to show off your writing. Although that approach is fine and good, those types of blogs can (at best) sometimes be a bit dull or (at worst) make a writer feel obligated to constantly post new content. I recommend either a blog mixed with a hobby as well as your writing, or two separate sites, one for your writing that you don’t update a lot and one you post a lot of fun stuff to. Say, for instance, that you like food. Then do a sex and food blog that mixes your work with food-related stuff. (Donna George Storey does this well with her Sex, Food, and Writing blog.) Or you could do sex and movies, sex and travel, sex and … well it’s really up to you.
Just do what you feel comfortable doing because that's the only way you'll continue to blog.
Personal experience time! I’m not an expert but I’ve had a lot of fun with my own blogs –- and they seem to be going fairly well. I've created three separate blogs:
• www.mchristian.com is a site where I post my writing stuff (reviews, stories, essays like the one you’re reading right now, book announcements, and such)
• Meine Kleine Fabrik (http://meinekleinefabrik.blogspot.com) is the site my brother and I started to share the fun and weird stuff we’ve collected over the years or just stumbled across
• Frequently Felt (http://frequentlyfelt.blogspot.com) is where I post funny and strange sex stuff as well as work by writers who I’ve either contacted or who have sent me great things to post (and you can do the same -- just write me).
I recommend posting at least once a day, and consistently; people forget very quickly about dead or slow sites. You have to keep things flowing to keep people interested and reading. Once a day works for me, as I can post to all three blogs in about half an hour, which leaves me a lot of time to work on my fiction writing. I also cheat a bit in that I rarely write fresh content for my blogs, preferring to repost older material instead of spending precious time writing new stuff. I'm fortunate to have archives bursting with material, but I realize not everybody will be in a similar position. Basically, do what you can to prevent the blog from sucking time away from your "real" writing!
There are lots of sites out there with hints and techniques for running a successful blog so I won’t go into much detail about that topic here (besides, as I said, it’s all new and changing anyway). Here’s a quick rundown of things to remember, though, when you’re blogging.
One of the biggest, and most confusing, things about running a blog is posting content that isn’t your own. Technically, and legally, you should always get permission from the original source but that’s too often a huge headache and/or impossible. This is where what you should do (legally) and what most people go (realistically) part ways. Since I always try to be a law-abiding citizen … stop laughing … I must advise you to follow established procedure. There’s lots of sites out there that can help you with your copyright questions. Check out the U.S. Copyright Office's list of resource links for more information. I feel Creative Commons offers some of the best (and simplest) solutions and resources to make this topic less confusing.
Beyond the fun of figuring out what’s legal, a common mistake bloggers make is not putting an email address on their site(s). Yes you’ll get spammed (we all do) but what’s worse: spam or not hearing from some editor, publisher, or reader? I’ve tried to reach out to many writers only to find no way of reaching them on their site –- and so they’ve lost an opportunity. These days writers can’t afford to lose any possible gig or connection.
It’s also important to play with gadgets and gizmos. Blogger has all kinds of cool modules you can add to your site: video clips, sound clips, RSS readers, you name it. People expect multimedia these days—pages and pages of text is a kiss of death for blogs.
Checking out other blogs and sites is essential. There’s nothing wrong with learning from other’s successes and doing to your own site what they’ve done to theirs. As long as your content is different, no harm done. And the afore-mentioned gadgets and modules make it very easy to add or subtract features. Just experiment and see what works, or doesn’t, for you.
I could go on (and I will in future columns) but this should at least give you a start. Think about what you want to do with your blog, settle on a focus you can play with for a long time, and then set it up. Once it’s done and you feel good about sticking with it, then you can begin to reach out. Again, more on that very soon.
But in the meantime always remember that blogs are like writing and life itself: if it’s not fun, if you’re not enjoying yourself, then you’re doing something wrong. So have yourself a blast with this great exposure and publicity tool –- and blog away!