Sunday, October 20, 2002

Seeds of Fire

Laura Adams (Karin Kallmaker)
Bella Books

Seeds of Fire, the second entry of Laura Adams' magical Tunnel of Light fantasy trilogy is an enchanting gift to her readers. Opening just days after the ending of Sleight of Hand (the first book in the trilogy), Seeds further braids themes of reincarnation, loss, betrayal, and redemption through a circle of contemporary women -- Ursula, Autumn, Kelly, Taylor, Elizabeth -- who find themselves sharing dreams of earlier lives together. Intelligent and intense, these women possess strengths and skills they do not fully understand as they struggle to repair a tragedy that echoes through the ages. Sleight of Hand deals with the origin for the legend of St. Ursula and the 11,000 virgins (circa 450 C.E.) and though Adams provides a great deal of background in Seeds, readers will do better to read the books in order. (Besides it's more fun!) In this second novel, readers witness the gathering of Ursula's circle in the early 12th century. The bard Hilea has made a place for herself as the Abbess Hildegard von Bingen (a remarkable, real life woman and an inspiration for the series) in Cologne. Hildegard has written a liturgy for the legend of "St Ursula and the 11,000 virgins" to "call" the other women back together.

Believing they have lost Ursula to the Darkness, the contemporary Taylor, Liz, and Kelly are devastated. Taylor takes desperate measures to try to determine how their Lammas circle went wrong. In many ways Seeds is Taylor's story, revealing her early training in the Old Religion, and that even in her childhood she was "certain of her right to meddle." (92) Taylor must confront that hubris. She seeks answers to her failings, faces the Circle of All Circles, and finds herself again. Meanwhile Kelly, feeling betrayed and hurt, turns to other sources for comfort, a power that will further Kelly down a dangerous path. Adams' examination of Kelly's corruption by Darkness in the past and the present, is insightful, thoughtful, and forthright.

Unknown to the women of Taylor's circle, the mysterious "magician and warrior" Autumn rescued Ursula from the Darkness that has haunted them for over 1500 years. Ursula survived the magical transportation at the cost of her memory, adding confusion to their plight. When Autumn begins to dream of Hildegard's time, she finds that she has gone to great lengths to attempt to save Ursula in the past. Autumn knows that the danger of the Darkness is still waiting for them, and she is determined to protect Ursula this time. In addition to the mystical complications these characters face, old-fashioned poor communication plays a role in their dilemma. Even Autumn's dog, Scylla seems aware of this. When Autumn considers telling Ursula about her dreams, and the dog thumps her tail hard on the floor as though saying, "Yes, tell her, you fool." (101)

As is often the case with middle aspects of trilogies, Seeds is a darker story than Sleight. Adams' characters complicate their entanglements via miscommunication, assumptions, doubts, and secrets. Despite the ominously growing power of the darkness, Seeds is a pleasure to read. The historical segments are well researched and authentically recreated. The story is engrossing with interesting, rich characterization. Adams provides balance to the darkness with her quiet, ironic humor, and the potential for perfect love and perfect trust to triumph. One of the finest writers of "lesbian fiction" today, Kallmaker via her Adams pen name blurs genre lines. The woman writes wonderful, lively, lush fantasy stories. That they feature lesbian characters is added fun for her readers. Her writing entices us to enter a world not far from our own; yet it's a place where magic can and must be mastered. Adams weaves together powerful imagery and themes, including leitmotifs such as the reappearing Norns -- the three wise women or "Fates" in Norse mythology who represent "Became, Becoming, and Shall Be." Indeed, Seeds of Fire appears to encompass the "Becoming" aspect of the Tunnel of Light trilogy. This reader eagerly awaits what Shall Be in the upcoming final novel, "The Forge of Virgins."

-MJ Lowe

Tuesday, October 1, 2002

The Ghost of Carmen Miranda and Other Spooky Gay and Lesbian Tales

Julie K. Trevelyan, Editor
Scott Brassart, Editor
Alyson Books

In the anthology, The Ghost of Carmen Miranda and other spooky Gay and Lesbian Tales, the editors Julie K. Trevelyan and Scott Brassart have assembled a lively, lavender corps of ghost stories. As the title implies, this Alyson publication is not strictly a horror collection, although some of the tales certainly qualify. All the stories, however, focus on lesbian or gay characters as well as elements of the supernatural with manifestations of ghosts in some form or another.

Many of the stories, like Don Sakers' title entry "The Ghost of Carmen Miranda" -- wherein a morbidly obese gay man, trapped in a dead end existence on a space station, finds help and inspiration in a different kind patron saint -- are queerly witty and delightfully amusing. Several stories address the idea of the spirit of a loved one returning or being trapped until some unfinished business can reach closure. A. J. Potter's "Taking Care of Faith" fits this theme. The peanut butter eating ghost, Brandon, returns to his apartment, to check on his "widowed," lover, Evan. When Victor, the new renter, realizes it's not really strong cockroaches raiding his peanut butter, he is taken aback, to say the least. A rather nonchalant spectral Brandon, complains about Victor's choice of low fat variety, "It's peanut butter, for chrissake. If you're going to eat peanut butter, eat the real thing." (19)

Abbe Ireland's "Case of the Sapphic Succubus" features a "ghost busting" Frances who must face another kind of "bust" when she agrees to spend the night in a historic bed and breakfast with an unusual guest service. Frances learns that facing a succubus isn't as difficult as facing what resides in the researcher's heart. "Paisley" has an archaeologist in the Appalachias of East Kentucky disinterring a casket that holds the bodies of two women. When the image of a woman in a paisley print dress begins to visit Charlotte, one of the summer's grunt workers, the story of those long dead women becomes hauntingly real.

While many of the stories are touching, arousing, and humorous; several are spooky, and some of these tales brought genuine shivers to this reader. A leather master learns what it really means to own and be owned when a neglected lover returns as illusrated in Simon Sheppard's intense, erotic, and ultimate power exchange, titled "My Possession." From the skillful storytelling of M. Christian, readers are treated to "Echoes." And are asked to question how and why a man might become haunted and what lengths he might consider to exorcise himself. The idea of possession is further explored by Hall Own Calwaugh in "amat67.jpg." Keith has just been sent an email that will change his life and prompt him to question his desires, briefly. By far the most chilling story to this reader was J.M. Beazer's "The Thing at the Bottom of the Bed." Haley returns from her father's funeral to find herself facing a horror from which she has hidden for much of her life.

The Ghost of Carmen Miranda and Other Spooky Gay and Lesbian Tales, found its way onto this reader's bookshelf when it was published in 1998. A seasonal rereading of its stories, was no less touching, arousing, humorous, and most importantly, thought provoking. The stories mentioned here are just a few of the 23 contained in its cover. Although out of print, this title is worth tracking down. Think of it as your own little seance for the Halloween season and enjoy.