Friday, December 26, 2008

Review: Unmasked: Erotic Tales of Gay Superheroes

Unmasked: Erotic Tales of Gay Superheroes
Edited by Eric Summers

Published by Star Books Press

Review by Michael Gellings

Unmasked is a powerful book. If there has ever been an unspoken assumption that superheroes are straight guys who just don‘t have enough time for their girl-friends, this collection of “Erotic Tales of Gay Superheroes“ (subtitle) thoroughly busts this myth. Of course, fighting for justice can be a very time-consuming business, but why not take yourself a superhero boyfriend and save the world together? Other superheroes in this collection of short stories are lonely fighters struggling not only to make the world a better place but also to find an occasional sexual adventure. Most protagonists are somewhat flat like cartoon characters. But that shouldn‘t come as a surprise in a genre that is closely tied to comic books. The superheroes are always tall, their muscles always well-defined, their tights always a snug fit. But there is a wide range of supporting characters, ranging from the vain careerist superhero colleague to an overprotective mother, and from a fag hag superwoman to the ex-boyfriend turned super-villain.

Ultimately the stories in this collection capture more of human nature than you would expect at first glance from such products of fantasy. Most authors demonstrate a great sense of humor, in particular DesertMac, Christopher Pierce, and Kiernan Kelly.

So most stories are fun to read, but a few present unhealthy attitudes towards sex. I think the most worrisome contribution in this respect is Sedonia Guillone‘s Hummingbird where the beaten-up victim of an attack badly needs rest and time for recovery, but instead engages in sex with his superhero rescuer. Of course, this too can be read as a reflection of real life, where sometimes sex does not fulfill a present need.

But overall, Unmasked is a very enjoyable read. Each story combines sex and adventure, and most authors tell their tales with a good deal of humor. If you are still looking for a gift for a gay friend or relative, stop looking and buy this book!


Friday, December 12, 2008

Review: The Writer’s Tale

The Writer’s Tale
Russell T Davies and Benjamin Cook

Published by BBC Books

Reviewed by Charlotte Evans
What strikes me most about Russell T Davies is that he’s one of us. Yes, he has the best job (lead writer and executive producer) on what is arguably the BBC’s best programme (and certainly its best drama). But he’s still a fan. A Buffy fan, a Doctor Who fan and a fan of television.

When Davies brought Doctor Who back to life in 2004 millions of people who’d loved it growing up tuned in. But I’d never seen a single episode. I’m from the generation that grew up watching Queer As Folk, Bob and Rose, The Second Coming, and even – long before I fell in love with Grey’s Anatomy and House – Children’s Ward.

Davies fans were introduced to Doctor Who and Doctor Who fans were introduced to Davies. But what about the next generation? They will only know Davies as the ‘Doctor Who man’ but I think that’s great too. They can go out and buy box sets of QAF etc and they can follow him after he leaves the show (in the more than capable hands of Steven Moffat– the man who gave us Chalk, Coupling and Jekyll, not to mention the some of the best episodes of Doctor Who such as ‘The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances’, ‘The Girl In The Fireplace’, the recent ‘Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead’ two part episode and the unforgettable ‘Blink’.)

This is an amazing book; the sort of book you only dream of finding. In terms of usefulness I can only compare it to Bob and Rose commentaries. But of course there is so much more of this. And there’s so much more to this.

The basic premise of the book is Davies and Benjamin Cook e-mail one another for a year in which Davies goes through the highs and lows of writing and exec producing Doctor Who.

And Ben does his best to remain invisible and not influence the show. He bravely asks the questions we all want to know the answers to and reminds Davies why he does it. He even asks Russell unexpected questions like ‘A question (a bit random, but bear with me): Have you been watching Skins?’ Which may sound like an odd question but is in fact a brilliant question – the sort of question writers ask each other. Davies doesn’t just talk about his writing; he talks about other writing. And he doesn’t just say what works – he tells us what doesn’t work (and more importantly, why).

This is a hugely important book containing the script as it’s written, rewritten and changed (for time, tone, or any number of practical reasons) but it’s also a fun book with e-mail subject lines like ‘James Marsters’ Arse’. It contains great pictures from the show and amazing drawings by Davies (is there anything he can’t do?)

If you want to write and/or love Doctor Who, if this wonderful writer has changed your life in any way – then read this book. Because Davies is not only an inspiration, he’s absolutely one of us (he too has crushes on hot TV actors and days when he admits ‘I’m glum’) and when Ben asks him why he does interviews for the Daily Mail Davies answers: ‘It’s publicity [for the show]. Moreover, it’s two pages on me and my success, as a gay man, in a paper that vilifies homosexuality. Visibility is a good way of changing things.’ (Hurrah!)

And when you come to the end of this marvellous book you have two options: read it again or begin writing. I recommend the latter.

Charlotte Evans writes “I’m a twenty-three year old writer, currently working for my local library service. Lovely to be surrounded by books all day, depressing that they're all written by 'celebrities'. I'm interested in reading, TV, theatre, stand up comedy, film and music.”


Friday, December 05, 2008

Review: Oscar’s Books by Thomas Wright

Oscar's Books

Thomas Wright

Published by Chatto & Windus

Review by Giuseppe Albano

Oscar’s Books refashions Wilde’s life through the literature which engaged him, to varying degrees of intensity, from boyhood and student-dom, through his years of success and disgrace, imprisonment and illness, and even beyond the grave. Books, for Wilde, were intellectual worlds to be broken down and appropriated into his own writing and dinner-party banter, but his most prized tomes also served as visually aesthetic objects, things to be seen and photographed with and to embellish his ‘House Beautiful’, even if the evidence shows that he’d often recklessly slash open, scrawl over, and tear out their pages.

Wright’s thesis – that literature didn’t just inspire Wilde; it made him – is explored in various ways, but wades into risky waters when extended to the influence of Plato on Wilde’s sexuality: ‘Could it be then that a dead philosopher stimulated, or perhaps even engendered, Wilde’s latent attraction to other men?’ It’s an interesting enough question in a queer studies sort of way, but applying a neat theoretical shortcut to understanding something which cannot (and need not) be explained away here seems silly and unconvincing. Where cultural constructionism fails to deliver answers Wright takes a stab at psychoanalysis, calling the kites doodled on Wilde’s Trinity textbooks ‘symbols of the lightness and sensitivity of a mind which soared on the currents of its reading’. Lest anyone should suspect Chatto & Windus to be offering funny mushrooms as perks of their publishing deals, Wright swiftly concedes that ‘they also testify to the fact that even the most dedicated of classicists was sometimes known to nod’, thereby restoring Sound Judgement and Good Humour. Phew!

The author’s passion occasionally slides into bizarre fetishism, not least when imagining every practical and decorative detail of Wilde’s working library. Appropriately enough given the subject, these guesses can lead to paradox. Wright surmises of his hero that ‘If he shared the typical Victorian gentleman’s horror of having his books handled by servants, he would have tidied them up himself at the end of each working day’. Apart from Wilde’s likely horror at being cast alongside ‘the typical Victorian gentleman’, surely, given his visionary wish in ‘The Soul of Man under Socialism’ that workers be freed from the shackles of their class and allowed to explore literature, he’d have been less possessive with the very instruments of revolutionary change? This book won’t change the minds of those who think that Wilde was a bit of a lipstick socialist.

Sometimes Wright’s guesswork and inability to resist a pretty cliché conspire to muddle his argument. On the auctioning off of Wilde’s collection after his trials, Wright deems it ‘highly unlikely that [his friends] were able to out bid the dealers’, which would be fine if he hadn’t revealed just three paragraphs earlier that ‘The volumes were sold for a song’. (Maybe the dealers were in fine singing voice.) And while much meticulous research has obviously gone into this study, it leaves a curious question unanswered and, indeed, unraised; namely Wilde’s relationship with French boulevard drama, whose plots, as Ignacio Ramos Gay has recently argued, he quarried for his comedies.

But – and it’s a Big But – the enthusiasm with which Wright presents his subject is an often wonderful thing. This book was born of a love which grew to an obsession and is utterly gripping throughout, if you can forgive its stylistic tics and occasional methodical pickles. It also provides fascinating insights into what sort of writer Wilde was and, given his post-prison forays into popular English fiction, a genre he’d previously scorned, what sort of writer this self-confessed plagiarist might have become had he lived longer.

Giuseppe Albano has a PhD in English Literature from Cambridge University and is a former fellow of Edinburgh University's Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities. He lives in Edinburgh and works at Hawthornden Castle International Retreat for Writers, Midlothian.