Review of Making Contact Anthology

Standard

Rating:  4.25 – 4.5 stars

Space, the final frontier, as a certain well known Federation Captain would say on his 5-year mission into space, has always consumed our thoughts and dreams.  We have always wanted to know what is out there, its vastness and mystery ever present.  All we need to do is look up to be faced with the unknown. How will we get there and what or whom will we meet once we do are questions innumerable authors have tried to answer in poems, movies, stories and graphic novels. Making Contact is a new science fiction anthology from Dreamspinner Press that examines some of those questions along with what type of love will be found among the stars?

Making Contact gives us ten stories by eight authors.  The stories range from aliens attempting to “fit it=n” among the human inhabitants when they arrive on Earth, humans trying to live in isolation on a lonely outpost, intergalactic conflicts among the races, an alien drunk tank and pirates in space.  There is humor, mystery, heartbreak, and a swashbuckling yarn of space pirates and derring do.

I found this to be a really strong anthology and the variety of stories and themes keep me glued to the Kindle one after another.  Don’t expect cohesion other than the fact that they fall under the science fiction m/m banner.  Just a look at the authors represented should tell you that their visions of space are as unique as they are.  Their narratives explore space from so many different perspectives.  The first story, Better Than Cola by JL Merrow is the only one to feature an alien so far removed from the humanoid mold that the author had to come up with an equally alien method of sexual exchange.  I loved this story as it left me with more questions running around my head than was answered.  Some of the aliens are recognizable in form that the authors have put their own twist to, aliens with fur, aliens with different skins tones and facial markings, and even a new take on vampires in space that will break your heart as it did mine.

Normally when I review anthologies, I only mention the stories I loved.  In Making Contact, that includes them all in varying degrees.  Here they are in the order they appear in the book.

Better Than Cola By JL Merrow

Newly arrived on Earth to work in the Melliti embassy, Summer Storms meets Nathan Chambers, who is tasked with teaching the alien visitor how to deal with human social interaction. The thrill of casual touch exposes an immediate attraction between them, but how far can intimacy go between two totally different life forms?

JL Merrow has done a fantastic job of giving us an alien so far removed from us but still one whose thoughts and emotions can stir attraction in another.  Summer Storms is a plurality of beings contained inside a “human shaped envelope”.  They have to adjust themselves to casual human touch and the way in which their “envelope” reacts to the human sent to help them deal with interspecies interaction.  This story has so much charm while still being sexy and alien.  Merrow left me wanting to know more about their physiology and culture while giving me a satisfactory glimpse into the unknown.

Revolving Realities By Cari Z.

Dr. Eliot Hollister is desperate to locate the Ulysses and her crew before tragedy strikes… again. The lone survivor of a hostile attack compounded by human error, Eliot is using an alien artifact to search through alternate realities, trying to change the outcome in a parallel dimension. Eliot’s challenge once he finds the ship? Convince Captain Paul Alvarez he’s for real before the Ulysses falls prey to the same trap.

Cari Z brings alternate universes into play with her story of a lone survivor grabbing as a last chance to save his lover from death, even if it is not his actual lover, but the man he is in another universe.  Wonderful characterizations play off against time as Eliot tries to stop the scenario from playing out again in the new universe but runs up against the same scientist hell bent on exploring the world  beneath them.  His frustrations become ours because we know what will happen if he can’t stop the mission.  My only quibble is that it ended too soon.

The Sacrifice By Sue Brown

After twelve years, the leaders of the Free Worlds have finally found a man willing to sacrifice his life to the gods of Segelian to ensure an alliance with the mineral-rich planet. But when Stane raises the dagger to perform the rite, he looks into the human Steven’s eyes and is horrified to discover he is destined to kill his life partner. If Stane doesn’t complete the ritual, it will destroy any chance for a treaty… and it might also change the world of Segelian forever.

Sue Brown uses two worlds, one homophobic (human), one a male/male warrior culture and the extended war between them that will end with a human sacrifice.  She does a nice job of world building including a world divided by religious caste and the warrior caste and makes us believe it. I loved Stane and Steven however implausible the final intervention.

Alone By Andrea Speed

Scientist Logan Murakami doesn’t have much to keep him company during his lonely vigil at Outpost Proserpina. But he knew that going in, and it’s the perfect place to focus solely on his work: a neuro-optical interface that would be the perfect engine for artificial intelligence… an intelligence that Logan hopes is taking on a life of its own.

What I loved most about this story is that it plays out internally in the mind of Logan Murakami.  Solitude and remoteness are definitely two of the factors to be considered when talking about space travel.  How to achieve it, do we need a base of operations to extend our exploration? And what type of person will be able to handle those conditions?  All compelling questions that need viable answers and Speed attempts to provide some of them in the person of Logan Murakami.  Raised in isolation in Alaska and solitary by nature, he unexpectedly ends up alone at the outpost and uses this time to perfect his neuro-optical interface with the goal of  having it attain intelligence.  What happens exceeds his expectations and gives him something so much more. Just outstanding.

Losing Sight of the Shore By Emily Moreton

Secondary communications officer Jay is assigned to a boarding crew when the Hydra discovers a seemingly abandoned, powerless ship floating in space. While exploring the derelict ship, Jay finds a barely conscious man with purple skin and silver eyes. After surviving a raider attack, Felix is understandably afraid to let Jay go—even when cultural differences threaten to stop any contact between them.

Moreton gives us romance in space that emerges from survivors of an attack upon their ship.  I liked the romance even if I wanted a little more of the alien culture and history of the purple skinned people living in ships among the stars.  I got some lovely bits of characterization from Jay and the other members of the crew, I just wish I felt I got the same result from the aliens.  A really sweet story that could have been fleshed out a little more to make it absolutely terrific.

Gifted in Tongues By JL Merrow

After inadvertently outraging local sensibilities, space pilot Torvald “Spitz” Spitzbergen faces a five-year stretch in a Lacertilian jail. His only consolation is trading insults with his cellmate, Tao, a six-foot libidinous Felid. But Tao seems to have a distinctly fuzzy understanding of the difference between fighting and foreplay…

Merrow gives us an alien drunk tank!  How could you not love this?  Spitz seems like the very type to get his drunk on, outrage the locals, and be very surprised to find himself with the remains of a hangover, two very different cell mates and the worst morning after he has had in a while.  I chuckled throughout this story, Merrow’s  descriptions painting the scene so perfectly that I had no problems picturing it all as it happens.  Cracked me up, made me blush, and left me wanting more.   Now if only I can talk the author into bringing Spitz and Tao  back for further adventures.  Pretty please?

Analytic Geometry By Andi Deacon

Kevin Ikoro has an incredible opportunity: his boss at Helix Multicorp wants an analyst’s view of how the corporation’s Exploration division works, and Kevin is now a member of explorer team Alpha 3IG. His teammates, a set of brilliant twins named Cameron and Theo Banark, are fascinating, and Kevin finds himself harboring a serious case of lust for Cameron. But exploration is unpredictable, and his teammates may not be what they seem. The shortest distance between two bodies isn’t always a straight line.

Another neat story full of twists that added dimension and depth to this little space gem.  I don’t want to go into this except that I loved the characters where the attraction of the mind trumps attraction of the body.  Sexy, humorous and with a little bit of mystery thrown in. Again the characters that Deacon creates here are so terrific, so unique that as the end I wanted so much more.  The surprise alone is worth the story but it is the family that is forming that captures my interest, imagination and heart. Just a great job.

The Monsters Below By Lyn Gala

Brai’s never dreamed of fighting the monstrous sub-humans who infest Kestia, but when his lover joins the service, Brai does what he always does… he follows. Then Rick is lost on his first mission, and Brai is left alone in a murderous rage. Now on his own first mission gone terribly wrong, Brai has his chance to get back at the monsters for killing Rick—only the government hasn’t been honest about the nature of the enemy, and Brai might find that the caves hide a secret that could change his life.

I was not prepared for the heartbreak that is this story.  Lyn Gala gives us an intense, knuckle biter of an update of vampires in space and makes it hurt even as the characters bleed out and die.  Again for me to go into detail would ruin it but Gala’s characters are beautifully realized and the situation they find themselves in so dire that our hearts and minds are caught up in their plight immediately.  This story kept me up and thinking into the wee hours of the morning.

Feral By K.R. Foster

Desperate to end a war, the king of the Lunar Pryde agrees to submit one of his offspring to mate with a member of the Sol Pryde royal line. Cynfael, prince of the Lunar Pryde, fled the planet six months ago searching for freedom, and nothing could convince him to return… except his father’s threat to marry off Cynfael’s twelve-year-old sister Adara. After fighting for freedom his entire life, Cynfael must return to Starion to face his unknown mate and an equally unknown future.

What is it about felids or specifically felids that walk upright with many of the same emotions and thoughts of humans that captures our imagination so?  I kept running across so many of them from author after author and genre after genre. Still, I end of loving them all. Feral is Foster’s newest addition to felids in space. Cynfael is another prince being forced to wed the son of warring royal line and bring peace to the planet they inhabit.  There are so many nice touches here from Cynfael’s ability to communicate with the planet to a comb made of filed down teeth that I wanted an extended version to fill in the gaps left by the story.  We are left in the dark about the loss of Cynfael’s mother, the war ongoing, the purity of his genes (does it relate to his color?) and so much more. A little more volume was needed to add layers to an intriguing tale.

Ganymede’s Honor By Cornelia Grey

Colonel Ardeth Connor has been rescued from death, but he’s not sure his new life is any better: he’s effectively trapped aboard a rebel ship that defies the Federation to collect ice meteors, stealing life-sustaining water for the poorest of planets and asteroids. As an anonymous part of Captain Gabriel’s crew, Ardeth is biding his time until he can escape… and learning there’s more to space than just the Federation.

This story reminded me so much of an interview I just saw with an astrophysicist.  She was talking about space travel, space ships and the Tardis. Ok, yes, I am a geek.  I make no bones about it.  She was talking about the fact that our modes of transportation in space didn’t need to be those sleek versions that populate the page and  movie screen, that we could travel about in something as funky as a phone booth or a Rubic’s Cube.  On in this case, a space galleon similar to those that rode the waves way back when.  I loved this story.  It left me smiling for hours just picturing the Ganymede under her solar sails in search of meteorites to capture.  Cornelia Grey’s story gives us pirates in space or should that be rebels in space and turns it into a swashbuckling story of love, sexy rebel captains who shouts to his crew ‘Unwind those cables, bunch of useless yobs!” as they prepare to harpoon a ice meteoroid out of a swarm, and his crew man the sails and chains as the ship rockets under them.  What a scene, what a crew!  It got the blood boiling, the eyes wild, the heart pounding…..oh how I wanted to be on the ship with them and maybe snuggled up against Ardeth and Gabriel, just saying.  I do have a thing for his tats.

And just the idea of a galleon sailing through space, the stars all around her…that’s magic right there.  Grey’s story hit a lot of my buttons and left me cheering the crew on to great glory and many more stories.  I feel much the same about every author here with their diverse take on space and making contact.  I loved their stories, I wanted more of their aliens and human interaction.  I hope this spawns even more novels featuring the being that made me laugh, made me cry and made me exult that space means no boundaries of any sort.  No boundaries to the imagination and no boundaries as to who we can love and be loved by in return.  More please. Much, much more.  Engage.

Cover art by Analise Dubner, cover design by Mara McKennen.  Love the cover, great colors and a catchy design.

Review of Lashings of Sauce Anthology

Standard

3rdRating: 4.5 stars

Lashing: British slang for lots or large amounts.  In celebration of 2012 Olympics, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the 3rd Annual UK GLBTQ Fiction Meet, a lashing of authors from all over the Globe put forth an GLBTQ anthology of stories that highlight everything that makes Britain  (and mainland Europe) a great place for GLBTQ people to love and live.

Here is a list of stories and authors in the order they appear:

• Post Mortem by Jordan Castillo Price
• Dressing Down by Clare London
• Et Tu, Fishies? by JL Merrow
• Zones by Elyan Smith
• Sollicito by Charlie Cochrane
• A Few Days Away by Elin Gregory
• Vidi Velo Vici by Robbie Whyte
• Shelter From Storms by Sandra Lindsey
• Faulty Genes by Rebecca Cohen
• Lost in London by Tam Ames
• My Husband by Zahra Owens
• Waiting for a Spark by Lillian Francis
• Social Whirl by Emily Moreton
• School for Doms by Anne Brooke
• Dragon Dance by Josephine Myles
• Reclaiming Territory by Becky Black

The stories contained within this anthology really run the gamut of GLBTQ sexuality as well as genre.  Here you will find stories of wereshifters of London (no, not those, quite the contrary) to lesbians in love, love in transition, timeless love or should that be love amuck the ages and finally lost lovers reunited after a long separation.  There is humor, ok, humour (sheesh) and brooding, and angst, all the emotions love pulls out of you and more.  And oh what authors await you between the pages, it is almost sinful to have such a wealth of talent in one book.

Some of the stories don’t fall into the realm of books I normally read and review but I will say that I enjoyed them all.  Thank you for my visit into f/f fiction as well as D/s.  There are stories of transgender persons and one who cross dresses with panache. These stories manage to combine great characterizations, vivid descriptions from locations all over Britain and plots that make you guffaw and break down in tears.  Here were some of my favorites among a list of outstanding stories:

Et Tu, Fishies? by J.L. Merrow.  When Bill leaves his fish tank along with his flat in the hands of Marty for the week, Marty was prepared for many things.  Cleaning, feeding the fish, masturbating in Bill’s bed, lots of things.  Nothing, however, prepared him for Arthur, the weird upstairs neighbor.  That would be Arthur Prefect. When Marty challenges him on his name, he says it used to be Herbert Wells.  Right.  And Arthur has lost his lover.  That would be..nope not giving that one away.  Yes, indeedy, we are off on a wonderful romp involving lashings of vodka, wine , walnuts and cheesy balls.  And time travel, snappy dialog and drunken sex.  Loved it.

Sollicito by Charlie Cochrane.  She did it, she went ahead and did it. Charlie Cochrane gives us weresloths of London.  With shifters of all sorts bounding across the pages of book after book, there was nary a weresloth among them.  Until now. Told from the point of view of an unnamed bloke who sprouts fur and long curved claws at the most inopportune moment, he bemoans the fact that his shifting, unlike the numerous wolf shape shifters, has no rhyme nor reason to it.   One moment he is fine, the next he has fur and the urge to move slowly along a balustrade.  Yes, insert spew event.  The whole story is like that.  While laughing out loud, I found a new phrase to use “divvy doo dah”.  Love the sound of that.  Had to look up Martin Johnson (not a clue), read the words “brolly dangling stage” several times as obscene images flittered across my mental landscape while remaining completely in the dark about the Junction 6 of the M40. Yes,I know.  It’s a British thing!  Love this story even as it boggled my very American mind.

Vidi Velo Vici by Robbie Whyte. Whyte uses a clever format for this story of lust, if not love discovered during a daily commute through traffic.  Each day Evan sets out for the office in his car only to find himself trapped in horrific traffic. Each day finds him on the phone to his sarcastic assistant, Tia, to have her rearrange his schedule as he is going to be late into the office.  Monday, 8:38 am and Evan’s car mirror is clipped by a cyclist weaving through the clogged cars.  Evan’s rage is only abated by watching some outstanding glutes in tight spandex peddling away.  Day after day, Even and the faceless cyclist appear on the same road and at the same time.  You listen in on Evan’s inner dialog as he watches for that magnificent physique to appear in the mirror, Evan consults with his sat-nav with the voice of Vader, Evan talks to Tia whose droll comments on Evan’s current legal case involving a shih tzu,  dog custody and someone named Antonio who he keeps sleeping with had me giggling madly.  It’s funny, it’s real, and has a great ending.

Shelter From Storms by Sandra Lindsey takes us back to the French Revolution as a wounded, frail Louis appears on the doorstep of Daniel Elcott in England.  He has made his way through war torn France to Daniel’s country manor with only a small dirty calling card to hand the butler. Once the men were lovers when younger, now Daniel is married with children.  But Louis has no where else to go as he has lost it all.  The men reconnect as Louis falls ill and Daniel attends to his needs.  Their love sparks once more as Louis convalesces.  Daniel finds that with Louis’ return so does the man he once was.  Lovely, well told story that brings history to life and makes a gay relationship seem not only possible but realistic as well.

Lost In London by Tam Ames.  Here we meet Kevin Larton, from Calgary in Canada.  He’s in London to go to school but finding it difficult to navigate his way.  He is finding his courses difficult, making new friends more so and when it comes to reading maps and getting around town, he is at a complete loss.  It doesn’t matter that he is here to get his PhD in Economics or was a city planner.  Kevin just can’t read maps so he is always lost. A chance meeting with Benjamin White gives Kevin a change in direction.  Everything starts to become possible, friends, degree and perhaps even a boyfriend.  There is a hilarious drunken scene, wonderful characters and I learned what a feedlot was.  Ewww.  Great story, though.

My Husband by Zahra Owen charts one person’s marriage through the tumultuous stages of their transitioning from female to male.  There is never a missed step as Owens treats the subject with sensitivity and authenticity.  Told from Sam’s POV, we meet Sean their husband and see their courtship and marriage through Sam’s memories.  Owen gives us a glimpse of what it must feel like to be born in the wrong body and the journey one person makes to correct nature’s mistake. Poignant and lovely.

Dragon Dance by Josephine Myles is the penultimate story and one of my top two (I have no intension of telling you all the other, guess why don’t you).  I love going to Chinatown here in DC and watching the Dragon Dance during the Chinese New Year so imagine my delight over a story wrapped around two friends and their families preparing the costumes and dragon for their neighborhood’s New Year celebration. Gan and Archie are two lifelong friends whose families are equally close in their small village’s Chinese community.  As their mothers make the Dragon from crimson parachute material and fashion the pearl it will chase after, the boys discover their sexuality and the love that has always been present.  Myles pulled me in completely from the vibrant portraits of the boys as they dance the Dragon Dance. As they practice, their movements are jerky and uncoordinated with respect to each other but as they communicate their love and desire  it becomes sinuous, motions beckoning each other forward that mimic the depth their relationship has finally achieved.  I could picture it unfolding so real did it all become. Sigh.

Reclaiming Territory by Becky Black is the last story of the anthology so it is fitting that it is the story of  an old love lost and then later reclaimed.  Jim and Andy are riding a motorcycle and sidecar to Whitby, a place full of memories for both men and their relationship, good and bad.  As they wander through town, making various stops we learn their history and what is has taken for the men to get to this stage in their relationship where they are now.  The story bounds between 2012, 1987 the year they broke up, and 2009, the year they reconnected.  Jim is so very human in his fears and faults as is Andy in his anger over Jim’s betrayal and cowardice.  All it takes is a look at the date and remember what it meant to be gay during that time period.  Yes, things have changed, yes, they have gotten easier in some parts of the globe but this story is a reminder of the fears of coming out and staying together as a gay committed couple that many had during the 80’s.  It is fitting that in celebrating our present, the past is never forgotten and Black does an outstanding job of bringing that  to us in the forms of Jim and Andy riding into the future firmly hooked together by vehicle and by choice.

Go out and grab this anthology, read each story, find your own favorites, Mine might shuffle as I read it once more.  Happy Jubilee, Queen, Great Olympics, Britain and have a wonderful time at the UK GLBTQ Fiction Meet.  I really wish I was there with you.  Divvy doo dah!

Cover art by Alex Beecroft.  Smashing I say! lol