Why It’s Fantasy When Boy Meets Boy

Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan (co-author of Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist) is not a work of speculative fiction.  Or so I thought until I turned the first page.

Nothing in Boy Meets Boy defies the laws of physics.  The novel doesn’t feature any technological advances beyond cell phones and instant messaging.  It’s not just a clever title, it’s also a handy plot summary: Paul is a high school sophomore who falls for Noah, the charismatic boy who’s new in town.  Paul pursues Noah while navigating the complexities of friendships, ex-boyfriends, and high school life.

And yet as I began reading Boy Meets Boy, I got the strange feeling I was reading fantasy.  Maybe because Paul’s high school is not quite like any high school I know.  The star quarterback of the football team, Infinite Darlene, is also the homecoming queen; she has trouble getting along with the other drag queens in school because they feel she doesn’t care for her nails properly.  Paul’s kindergarten teacher helped him understand that he was gay, and when he came home to tell his mother, her reaction was to yell to his father, “Honey … Paul’s learned a new word!”  Paul helped found a gay-straight alliance in the sixth grade, mainly to help the straight kids with their fashion sense and dance moves.

Continue reading

Advertisements

World Con Countdown Plus Queer Spec Fic!

I’m writing in Brisbane, Australia, for my “Australia tour” in the lead-up to World Con next week.  Been visiting the fabulous Peter Ball and the inimitable Chris Lynch, hatching ideas for gonzo stories about puppet occupations and were-raves and the like. Can’t wait to be reunited with more Clarion South-mates in just a few short days!

Just before I left the States, I got my copy of Wilde Stories 2010, a lovely anthology of great gay speculative fiction from the past year.  My story, “Tio Gilberto and the 27 Ghosts” is included, as are some great stories by Rick Bowes, Laird Barron, Tanith Lee, and others.  Brit Mandelo gave it a lovely review over at tor.com.  And while you’re there, check out Brit’s series of posts on Queering SFF, which is chock-full of great reviews, interviews, and recommendations.

More posts to come … now back to writing…

In Which I am Surprised to Be Reading Several Series

Ack!  This is the obligatory oh-dear-I-haven’t-posted-for-more-than-a-month post.  I’ve been traveling near non-stop for work for the past couple of months, including a few not-fun episodes of being stranded in airports past 4 am.  This lifestyle has not been conducive to active participation in the blogosphere.

However (seamless transition), it has been conducive to a fair amount of reading.  To my surprise I’ve been reading several series.  Normally, I’m not one to read series, especially long series of thick books.  I look at a series like, say, George R.R. Martin’s epicly fat books of fantasy, and I think, “I really do want to read those, OR I could read, say, six unrelated books by six different authors in six different genres and learn lots of different tricks from all of them.”  And I invariably choose the later, because, well, basically, I’m a dilettante when it comes to my reading habits.

Yet, faced with epic multi-state journeys, somehow epic sagas seemed both appropriate and comforting.  These are the books that have been keeping me company in my travels:

  • C.J. Cherryh’s Foreigner series: A ship full of thousands of humans is stranded on an alien world, and after a devastating war between humans and the alien atevi, a fragile peace is made and a single human is appointed as the sole ambassador between the two species.  The series follows Bren, that sole ambassador, as he navigates between human and  atevi cultures–the latter of which has no concepts of friendship or love in the sense that humans understand them, but rather manchi, a feeling of devotion and loyalty to a leader and to certain associations.  This series is fascinating to me because it routinely breaks any number of writing 101 rules: the exposition is endless, the action often feels slow, and a number of character details and plot developments are “told” instead of “shown.”  And yet I find it utterly riveting.  I think it all works because (1) we’re so deeply in Bren’s head that it all flows naturally; (2) the alien culture is so rich and interesting I have no problem spending many pages exploring its most subtle nuances; and (3) Cherryh is just a master.
  • David Wellington’s Vampire series:  Wellington’s vampires are the antithesis of Laurell K Hamilton or Twilight vampires.  They are scary, vicious monsters and they most certainly do not sparkle.  The series follows Laura Caxton, a state trooper turned ersatz vampire hunter.  Wellington’s pacing and plot are brilliant, and the characters also evolve over the course of the series in interesting and unexpected ways.  (Full disclosure: Dave is a member of my NYC writing group.  I’ve gotten a taste of the upcoming fifth book, the final confrontation with the Big Bad, and am eagerly awaiting the chance to read the whole thing!)
  • Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim series: I’m a bit of a latecomer to this one, but am now a total convert. Scott Pilgrim is a young 20something doing many of those early 20somethings things–living with a roommate, dating, trying to make it in a band, navigating the world of landlords and jobs, etc. When he starts dating Ramona, he discovers he must fight her seven evil exes in order to continue dating her.  Fun fight scenes ensue, interspersed with soap operatic romantic drama.  O’Malley has basically invited a new sub-genre with this graphic series – superhero surrealism, perhaps? – and there’s a lot more to it than meets the eye.  And his ability to convey complex and intense emotions with only a few strokes of the pencil is mind-blowing.  Eagerly awaiting the final volume and the movie.

More travels coming up, but will try to at least pop in and say hi here with some regularity…

Iron Man 2 Verdict

A highly enjoyable flick.  Not quite as tight as the first one was, but it definitely didn’t jump the shark.  The two-villains thing works fine when one villain is paying the other, rather than a cheesy team-up.   And the Black Widow wasn’t so much a love interest as an extra special effect that flirted with Tony Stark and did some secret-agent ass-kicking.  So most of my fears proved to be unfounded.

Of films of the man-pain genre, it’s one of the better ones.  The fact that Tony Stark is dying from the start of the movie gives him a deeper reason for his man-pain and makes some of his more extreme acting-out seem a bit more reasonable.  There’s just a touch of the Demon in a Bottle story from the comic, and the  scene where Tony gets drunk in the Iron Man suit is well-executed and quite appropriately uncomfortable.  And it was fun having Rhody in the suit as well as Tony.   More than anything else, the movie proves that Robert Downey Jr was born to play Tony Stark.  And Gwyneth Paltrow rocks as Pepper, who’s so much more interesting than the standard damsel in distress.

All in all, a fun movie.  And the fanboy in me can’t help but get excited about the upcoming Avengers movie….

Ghost stories, Ursula Le Guin, and Gay Trading Cards…

… are among the topics that came up in David Grossman’s interview of me over at io9, along with some discussion of my short story, “Tio Gilberto and the Twenty-Seven Ghosts.”  Check the interview out here in case you didn’t catch it yet.  David had some great questions and it’s cool to see io9 initiating some discussion of LGBT themes in spec fic. The interview is part of io9’s new “short story club” discussion group, a very cool feature showcasing a different SF short story each week – and the stories are always available online for free, somewhere across the vast lands of the internets.

In other Tio Gilberto-related news, Realms of Fantasy just announced its first annual Reader Awards, and John Kaiine’s illustration of the story was the runner-up in the art category.  It’s a gorgeous illustration, so it’s not surprising that many Realms readers loved it.  Congrats, John!

Five Signs a Superhero Movie Franchise Has Jumped the Shark

I didn’t catch the opening of Iron Man 2 yet, but several things I’ve read about the movie have got me worried.  I have no expectation that it will be as good as the first one; I’d be happy with merely decent.  My worry is that the Iron Man movie franchise has already completely jumped the shark.  To assess the situation, I’ve identified five signs that a superhero sequel has gone to very bad places.

(Note: My main focus here is on superhero movie series that start out at least decent and become quite indecent.  So there is no place for, say, Fantastic Four in this analysis, since that series had nowhere to go but up after its frightful start.)

1. Supervillain Proliferation

As a franchise goes on for one or more sequels, some brilliant producer inevitably gets the idea, “Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if there were two supervillains in this movie?”  Alas, it is rarely cool.  Mostly it just leads to a crowded cast and a crowded script, and lots of cornball moments.  An early example is Batman Forever, when the Riddler finds Two-Face in his lair and basically says, “Hey, we’re both supervillians with weird fetishes and a shared hatred of Batman.  Let’s team up!”  Jim Carey’s over-the-top humor almost makes it work.

More recently, Spider-Man 3 had a major supervillain overdose, with Sandman, a new Green Goblin (Harry Osborn), and Venom all crammed into one plot.

There are notable exceptions to the rule, of course. Batman Begins worked perfectly fine with both the Scarecrow and Ra’s al Ghul – but in that case, Scarecrow was working for Ra’s al Ghul from the start – very different from an awkward team-up or a jigsaw puzzle of disparate plots.  And, of course, at least two X-movies did okay with a team of super-villains.

Things don’t look great for Iron Man 2 on this count, with both Justin Hammer and Blacklash/Crimson Dynamo taking the stage.

2. The Hero Goes Bad, Often for Silly Reasons

The superhero going bad seems to be a low-hanging fruit for comic-book sequels, often for fairly contrived reasons, and almost always with disastrous results.  The first superhero sequel to go this route was probably Superman 3, wherein Supes goes bad after exposure to faulty kryptonite mixed with cigarette tar. But, without a doubt, the most painfully egregious offender on this score is Spider-Man 3, in which possession by the black suit makes Spidey go evil, exposing millions of unsuspecting fans to Tobey Maguire dancing awkwardly to disco music.  A lesser offender is X3: the Last Stand, with Jean Grey transforming into the evil Phoenix.

Also of note are the clever visual cues directors use to indicate the hero’s new, evil-fied persona:  evil Phoenix’s veins pop out of her skin; evil Superman is unshaven, has a tan, and a costume that looks like it hasn’t been laundered in a while; and, most frighteningly of all, evil Peter Parker has bangs.

I’m not sure how they’d depict an evil Iron Man, since Tony Stark already has a beard and what-not, but it does sound like Stark is a bit of a jerk in Iron Man 2, but far from full-on evil.

3. The More Plots the Merrier

This one is a close corollary of indicator #1.  As villains proliferate, so too do the number of plot convolutions.  Many storylines are crammed together – some of them even interesting! – but none are explored in-depth because the script is just too crowded.  Witness Wikipedia’s sad attempt to briefly summarize the premise of Spider-Man 3:

The film begins with Peter Parker basking in his success as Spider-Man, while Mary Jane Watson continues her Broadway career. Harry Osborn still seeks vengeance for his father’s death, and an escaped convict, Flint Marko, falls into a particle accelerator and is transformed into a shape-shifting sand manipulator. An extraterrestrial symbiote crashes to Earth and bonds with Peter, influencing his behavior for the worse. When Peter abandons the symbiote, it finds refuge in Eddie Brock, a rival photographer, causing Peter to face his greatest challenge.

Yikes.  A more distressing example was X-Men: The Last Stand, which took two awesome storylines directly from the pages of the comic books (Chris Claremont’s classic Dark Phoenix Saga and Joss Whedon’s more recent “mutant cure” story), and then put them in a blender to make one awful mess of a movie.

No one seems able to summarize the plot of Iron Man 2 in three sentences or less, which has me worried.

4. Awkward Love Sub-Plots

At some point in any superhero series, the standard superhero love interest gets boring, and convoluted love sub-plots often ensue.  And so we have Lana Lang attempting to fill in for Lois Lane’s absence in Superman 3, Cyclops getting killed off so that Wolverine and Jean Grey can have more sexy screen time in X3, and a lazily undeveloped love triangle between Peter Parker, Mary Jane, and Gwen Stacy in Spider-Man 3.

With both the Black Widow and Pepper in Iron Man 2, this may be yet another sign of danger…

5. The Title Has a “3” in it

As you may have noticed, I’ve picked quite a lot on Batman Forever, Spider-Man 3, X-Men: The Last Stand, and Superman 3.  All four represented turns for the worse in series that, up until that point, had produced movies that were at least decent, if not excellent.  One final thing they all have in common is that they were all the third in the series.  So perhaps there’s still hope for Iron Man 2!

Superhero Self-Help

Just finished reading From the Notebooks of Dr. Brain by Minister Faust.  The novel is a hilarious send-up of the superhero genre, told in the form of a self-help book for superheroes: “When Being A Superhero Can’t Save You from Yourself – Self-Help for Today’s Hyper-Hominids.”  The novel is narrated by Dr. Eva Brain-Silverman, who is leading six dysfunctional superheroes through group therapy in the wake of a fellow hero’s death. The opening paragraph gives a pretty good flavor:

You can wrap a steel I beam around your neck with your bare hands and wear it like a tie.  You can swim so quickly that you can go back in time to offer Columbus correct directions to India.  You can climb the outside of a building, regurgitate the ton of paper you’ve eaten, and weave a beautiful multilevel hive while not paying a cent in downtown rent.

But are you happy?

Faust not only riffs off superhero psychology to hilarious effect, he also explores a sort of alternate Marvel/DC universe that is as diverse as the real world.  His racial (and gender/sexual orientation) critique of the superhero genre is brilliantly constructed – and brings a lot of laughs along the way.

At about 100 pages in, the book started to feel a bit slow to me, and I even wondered if there was really enough material for a 385-page superhero send-up.  But then it quickly picked up again, and there was a series of twists and revelations that were unpredictable, engaging, and just plain fun.  As the novel approaches its climax, the complex social criticism beneath the humor comes into sharp focus, and the result is nothing less than mind-blowing.  My laughter and pleasure in the book slowly gave way to anger as the intensity of the larger plot became clear.  Without getting into spoiler territory, the ending is unexpected, but completely apt, and it got me thinking about endings more generally.  So many endings aim to leave the reader satisfied, sad, even horrified – but rarely is anger the intended reaction.  Perhaps more books ought to do so; there’s no shortage of injustice for us to be angry about.

My sense is that Faust’s critique is not so much of psychology but rather a certain aspect of the individualistic, self-help culture – a paradigm that, when taken to its extreme, tends to pathologize self-sacrifice and heroism, and leaves little room for an understanding of social justice.  It’s quite impressive that a book so successful in its humor is also so successful in its thought-provoking social commentary.

Faust is also brilliant at voice and dialogue – his mastery of multiple dialects reminded me of greats like Mark Twain, and that alone makes the book worth reading.  Recommended for anyone who loves superheroes, social criticism, or laughing out loud.