BURIED TREASURE ¶ Recommendations of Online Male Homoerotic Stories and Male Friendship Stories (and anything else that catches my interest)

(Skip to the text.) Visitors should be aware that some of the sites linked below are intended for mature readers. But not nearly as many as some of you would like.

2008 Recommendations

December 2008

Poisontaster: A Kept Boy. (Latest chapters.) The slave wants sex with his master. The master thinks that would be sexual abuse. ¶ Male homoerotic fiction, male friendship fiction, female homoerotic fiction, alternate universe, class/rank themes, erotic love stories, mental illness themes, real person fiction (CWRPS), shared universe (A Kept Boy), slave fiction. ¶ Online fiction. ¶ On-screen sex. References to topics of violence.

It is awfully intimidating to a writer to visit a fellow writer's Website and discover that their current word count is over one million.

Poisontaster's slave story A Kept Boy is still under novel length, but it's a work in progress, with such an avid set of fans that a shared-universe LiveJournal community has been set up for stories by other authors, set in the same universe as A Kept Boy.

The story itself is a familiar one to anyone who reads slave fiction regularly. An abolitionist who is forced by law to keep slaves buys an abused body-slave. The body-slave wants only to please his master and can't figure out why his master won't have sex with him. The abolitionist wants desperately to have sex with his new slave, but his principles won't permit it. Angst ensues, for thirty-plus chapters.

"Jensen's still getting used to things, finding his feet. All he's ever been is someone's body-slave."

"And you're going to fix that?" Ever asks, a weird coldness to her tone.

"Sure. Why not?" Jeff pushes up out of the chair, gathering up his unfinished plate and now stone-cold coffee for transport back to the kitchen. "I may not be able to give him legal freedom. Yet. But I can do my damnedest to give him every bit of freedom a slave can have in this world. And that includes freedom from me."

The author has a talent for humor.
Even from the first time Jeff saw him, Jensen was always . . . self-contained. Fastidiously clean, impeccably groomed and the same sense of physical deliberation as a cat. That's Jensen in a nutshell. So seeing him mussed, dirty and half-naked, in the middle of shedding his clothes is a little bit of a shock. A pretty pleasant shock from where Jeff's cock sits, dirty traitor.

Then he gets past the holy crap, wet dream come true and onto the fact that Jensen – who'd gone out as immaculately kept as ever – is as dirty and disheveled as if he's been mugged. "Jensen?" Stepping across the room isn't really a conscious decision, nor is putting his hands on Jensen's bare shoulders. A man's skin has no right to be this soft.

But the author can also move almost seemlessly into high pathos.
Once, when Jensen [had] still been quite young, Lord Cruise had taken him into the big downstairs ballroom, blindfolded him and then spun him around until Jensen was reeling and lightheaded.

"Now, find your way out," Lord Cruise had said and let him go.

Dizzy, blind, Jensen has no idea how long he bumbled around the ballroom, walking into the furniture, the pillars that had surrounded the perimeter of the huge octagonal space, gashing his feet on the little things Lord Cruise had left scattered on the floor. Long enough for him to give up, curling into a little alcove where he could touch the walls on either side and feel the third at his back. Long enough for hunger and thirst to sharpen his sense of disorientation. Long enough that he'd sobbed for Lord Cruise, please, please.

And Lord Cruise had come, wrapping Jensen in both his arms and holding him against the warmth of his chest. "This is what it is to be a slave," Lord Cruise had said gently, tugging the blindfold from Jensen's eyes and peppering his face with soft kisses. "A slave stumbles around in a dark room with no idea of what dangers there are or what way to go. A slave needs his master to show him the light, to show him the way to go, without damaging himself or anything else."

He'd carried Jensen out of the ballroom, crunching the broken glass and sharp bits of metal harmlessly beneath his shoes. He'd carried Jensen all the way to his own bathroom and picked the detritus from Jensen's bleeding soles with his own hands, bandaging them carefully and lovingly. He'd put Jensen in his own big bed, and ruffled Jensen's hair fondly. "And this is what a master does," Lord Cruise explained, curling up next to Jensen. "He takes care of his slaves. Do you understand, Jensen?"

Jensen understood.

The result is a compelling, character-driven tale about two sympathetically portrayed men, both striving to understand what the other wants and needs. It's a conflict story, but the conflict isn't between two people; it's between two ways of looking at the world.

Maculategiraffe: The Slave Breakers. (Latest chapters.) Three slaves deemed difficult are sent to the slave breakers for retraining. ¶ Male homoerotic fiction, male/female friendship fiction, heterosexual fiction, alternate universe, BDSM fiction, class/rank themes, erotic love stories, family relationship themes, femdom fiction, shared universe (The Slave Breakers), slave fiction, spirituality themes. ¶ Online fiction. ¶ On-screen sex. On-screen violence.

Like Poisontaster's A Kept Boy, The Slave Breakers has inspired a slew of shared-universe tales. In other ways, though, Maculategiraffe's series is very different from Poisontaster's. A Kept Boy is the tale of a master who is an abolitionist. The Slave Breakers is the tale of a master who is quite sure that there is nothing wrong with slavery; the only thing wrong is that good slaves are paired with bad masters. Therefore, he concludes, the best thing to do is to arrange for good slaves to be bought by the right masters.

The series is a trilogy, telling of three slaves who are trained by the master and his wife – the "slave breakers" of the title. I once put forward the notion that the series was a form of domestic fiction, only to have the delighted author inform me that she was an ardent fan of domestic fiction, and therefore she was not at all surprised that this feature had crept into her slave stories. Here is a scene that could have come straight out of Louisa May Alcott's domestic school novel Little Men:

After dinner, as on most evenings, the five of them sat in what Bran's mistress called the lounge. It was a quiet time. Alix sat at her desk, sorting through the day's mail. Greta nestled comfortably in a soft chair with knitting in her lap. Holden and Yves were seated at a low table, playing a game that looked like chess, but appeared to have different rules, or at least different stakes, judging from the tragic whimpers from Yves and unholy chuckles from Holden whenever Holden made a move, and the almost unnerving intensity with which Yves considered his own moves. Bran curled in an unobtrusive corner of the sofa . . .
The power of the series lies in its variation of characterization – all of the masters and mistresses and slaves have quite different personalities – and in the character growth that causes the series to travel in unexpected directions. Here, for example, is a side story about a slave trying to nudge into order a new slave . . . who, as it happens, will one day become the first slave's master.
Jer sat down next to him and patted his arm.

"Quit being such a baby," he said bracingly. "So he fucked you. You're a sex slave, if you hadn't noticed. Sex slaves get fucked by their masters. It's really not a big deal."

He expected one of Holden's trademark glares for that, and was all set to roll his eyes in return, but the gaze Holden turned on him, bleak and sick and empty, made his own stomach sink a little despite his conviction that Holden was making a huge deal about nothing. Obviously it wasn't nothing to Holden, but Jer was really having a hard time relating to a nineteen-year-old sex slave who acted like sex was some kind of unbearable trauma.

Of course, Holden had acted more or less this same way when the master had ordered his hair shaved off, so Jer was leaning towards him just being an enormous drama queen by nature. He wasn't looking forward to Holden's first serious whipping. Argounov usually left the discipline of the new slaves to the veterans, and since Holden had a tendency to make himself into more trouble than it was worth to deal with – that and the fact that Jer was still ranking high and could deflect the others – he'd managed not to get himself anything worse than a few kicks and slaps and punches on the hall. But if Holden didn't shape up soon, Jer wasn't going to be able to protect him much longer, and if this was how Holden reacted to sex and haircuts, he might just combust from the indignity of a whipping.

Jer was really starting to wonder about this former master of Holden's. Holden refused to talk about him, ever, but judging from the way Holden had been acting, his former master had never hit him, yelled at him, restrained him in any way, restricted his diet, suggested he wear makeup, suggested he cut his hair, or had sex with him. Either that, or Holden was clinically insane.

Or both. Couldn't rule out both.

As this passage suggests, Maculategiraffe shares one important quality with Poisontaster: an ability to move the reader, within a few sentences, from tears to laughter and back again. It's a characteristic that other writers can envy.

Jane Carnall: Keptverse. Taken from an arena where slaves kill each other for the entertainment of free people, a slave is sent to a household where the rules for survival aren't clear. ¶ Male homoerotic fiction, male/male friendship fiction, male/female friendship fiction, female/female friendship fiction, alternate universe, crime themes, employer/employee fiction, erotic fiction, fan fiction (various fandoms), mental illness themes, prisoner fiction, shared universe (A Kept Boy), slave fiction. ¶ Online fiction. ¶ On-screen sex. On-screen violence.

When I'd reached the point in this series where the slave had been pulled from his mind-numbing work, had been unexpectedly sent to a new destination, had been placed into mysterious new circumstances that nobody would explain to him, had been beaten up by the man in charge of the new location, and had been threatened with a nasty death . . .

At that point, I thought to myself, "This had better be one of those stories of Evil Master Repents, or I'm going to regret having started this series."

What is actually taking place, I later learned, is far more terrible than the simple tale of an evil master with a good slave, and is revealed to the reader with a slowness that provides agonizing pleasure.

"Gerard lunged. He was seriously beginning to believe he would kill Richard for a decent night's uninterrupted sleep." Not having knowledge of the fandoms that are being drawn upon, I can't say how much the portrayal of the master owes itself to the canon writer and actor, but it is delicately done, leaving the reader feeling off-guard at every moment . . . just like the slave.

This is an unofficial contribution to the universe of Poisontaster's A Kept Boy – unofficial, because Poisontaster only permits real person fiction at her shared-universe community. You don't need to have read Poisontaster's story, but if you have, the first thing you will notice is how much grittier Jane Carnell's series is than Poisontaster's. No longer is pain presented as an opportunity for hurt/comfort; instead, it is offered as a window into how a society works, and how individuals within that society live up to their own ideals.

Gerard tilted his chair back and folded his hands across his stomach. He was smiling. "I'd say that of all my kids, you two like the idea of my owning Richard least, would you say that was a fair estimation?"

"I don't care what you do with that scumbag!"

Benton took a breath. "I think that it's fair to say we are both personally opposed to the ownership, buying, and selling of human beings. Very strongly so."

Ray glanced at him. "Or . . . what he said. Yeah."

The decision to start the series from the slave's perspective is a good one, because only gradually, as the reader is taken outside of the slave's head, do they realize to what extent something has gone wrong in the slave's mind. In this passage, one of the employees working at the house offers the slave the opportunity to use the bathroom.
There were disposable safeties in the guest bathrooms. Adam handed Richard one, and watched him get rid of the stubble.

"I thought you looked good in a beard."

Richard's hand stilled. He swallowed, hard, and his hand still did not move. He had been staring in the mirror with the agonised male squint of achieving a close shave, and Adam, watching, saw his eyes close.

After a moment, Richard's hands went down to the sink's edge, and clutched at it. His head bowed. After another moment, his legs shifted, a fraction wider apart. Then he did not move.

This is a work-in-progress, and I look forward to seeing how the series progresses.

Jane Carnall: MirrorM*A*S*H (Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, and 14) and MirrorM*A*S*H: Through the Mirror (Author's Website. Later chapters will presumably appear here.) A surgeon seeks to escape from the nightmare of war by buying a brothel slave. ¶ Male homoerotic fiction, male friendship fiction, alternate universe, erotic fiction, fan fiction (M*A*S*H), historical fantasy (Korean War), military fiction, prisoner fiction, prostitution fiction, slave fiction, spirituality themes. ¶ Online fiction. ¶ On-screen sex and on-screen violence.

He hated reading his dad's letters: he hated replying to them even more. Reading them only reminded him, too closely, that there was a world out there, outside the fences of the camp, outside the borders of Korea, a world from which he had come and to which he was supposed to return. Eventually. When they let him go. When he had done enough.

Writing back into this world was worse. He was spinning a story that was a lie from beginning to end. He could not tell his dad the truth about what he was here: he could not tell him what he had become. All he could do was hope that when they let him out, when they told him he could go home, there would still be a Hawkeye who could go home.

Usually, when I read a story, what carries me forward is the characters and the plot. That's why I nearly gave up on MirrorM*A*S*H. The slave in it was whiny, the master was clueless, and everyone else was disagreeable. The author later said that the plotting simply consisted of her "happily thinking up Really Evil Things that could happen to [the slave]." While I myself have not been immune to the temptation to do evil things to my characters while trying to figure out where the plot is going, it was a bit too obvious in this case that the story started off as (in the author's words) "never mind a plot." By the third chapter, I was yawning.

Talk about a clueless reader. The first warning I had that I'd misjudged what I was reading was little hints that the author had created an alternate universe. Then I began to pick up on the fact that this universe was a lot darker than one would expect from the already dark tale of the Korean War. Finally, I began to see that the author was exploring what she calls, in her work-in-progress sequel, "the shadow side" of her characters: the dark undercurrent of potential in the characters, as they appear in our own universe. But only gradually did I realize that she was actually saying something important about the shadow side of her readers.

Hawkeye dumped the man on his cot, kicked his shoes off, and lay down with him. An army cot was designed for one person, but he didn't feel like wasting any time. The man's unconscious body was relaxed and easy to manoevre. Hawkeye meant to fuck him now: he was angry and desperate. The man's life was now better measured in hours, not days.

He knew it wasn't going to happen after a few minutes groping: he was too tired and too drunk. He wrapped his arms around the man, and buried his face in the man's hair. "Damn you," he muttered out loud. "I never meant this to happen." He should have known it: he broke everything he touched. There were no exceptions, inside or outside the OR. The man would have been better off if Hawkeye had picked some other door in the brothel, and left him be.

Even so, by the time I had travelled two-thirds of the way through the story, I was only two-thirds emerged from my cluelessness. Thus the twist that occurred next got past my guard with all the ease of a cold blade in the guts.

Dusk Peterson: Love in Dark Settings (assorted stories and nonfiction). My own fiction and nonfiction. Male homoerotic fiction, male friendship fiction, male/female friendship fiction, heterosexual fiction, BDSM fiction, class/rank themes, contemporary fiction, crime themes, employer/employee fiction, erotic fiction, erotic love stories, family relationship themes, fantasy, gender variance themes, historical fantasy, leather fiction, love stories, mental illness themes, mentor fiction, military fiction, prisoner fiction, prostitution fiction, race/ethnicity themes, satire, science fiction, servant fiction, slave fiction, spirituality themes, theater fiction. ¶ Online fiction and fiction e-books. ¶ Main Bookshelf: References to topics of sexuality. On-screen violence (some stories). High Bookshelf: On-screen sex (some stories). On-screen violence (some stories).

From the description at my site: "Dusk Peterson writes fantasy stories on friendship, gay historical fantasy tales, and contemporary gay fiction. Occasionally, a heterosexual love story will appear as well. Suspense plays an important role in many of the tales; the conflict in those tales is both external and internal. Peterson's stories are often placed in dark settings, such as prisons or wartime locations. The mood of the stories, however, is not one of unrelieved gloominess. Romance and friendship, especially male friendship, are recurring themes."

An excerpt from Rebirth, in the Eternal Dungeon series.

"Do you have any questions?" the Seeker asked. "About the routine of the dungeon? The times you will be fed? The questions you will be asked? The instruments of torture I use?"

The faintness went beyond Elsdon's voice this time and entered his body. He could feel the sweat upon his skin; he wondered whether he had turned white. He blurted out, "What if I'm innocent?"

The Seeker's green gaze did not waver. "If you are innocent, then I trust our time together will be short. I would far rather find a prisoner innocent than guilty; too many prisoners are sent to us, and the quicker that we can release them from here, the better. If your release is to the lighted world rather than to the executioner, it is likely to come more quickly. But we are commissioned by the Queen to ascertain the truth of accusations of death sentence crimes, and we are committed to fulfill that commission. Please don't waste my time with false pleas of innocence, Mr. Taylor. It will only make our time together more difficult."

Patricia A. McKillip: Alphabet of Thorn. A book in a mysterious alphabet draws a transcriber and her allies into a mystery of the past. ¶ Male/female friendship fiction, heterosexual fiction, fantasy, class/rank themes, love stories, mentor fiction, war fiction. ¶ Online samples of fiction books. ¶ References to topics of violence.

The premise of the novel is simple: A young transcriber in a royal library receives the opportunity to translate a mysterious book. As she does so, she finds herself obsessed with this centuries-old memoir of a sorceress writing about her love for a conquering king. Meanwhile, the transcriber's own fourteen-year-old queen, newly enthroned, finds herself challenged by hidden danger on all sides. Just how the queen will ultimately confront the danger, and the reason why the transcriber is obsessed with the book, is gradually revealed in a chilling manner.

Unlike many of Patricia McKillip's novels, this one doesn't feel as though it should have been published as a novella; there are so many subplots and characters that the length is just right. And like all of Ms. McKillip's novels, the style is beautiful and the setting is exquisite.

But as usual, she loses interest in the relationship aspects of the story. This has frustrated me with nearly every novel she has written, because her classic Riddle-Master trilogy shows that she's capable of having the relationship plotlines of the story dovetail neatly with the climax of the story. Ever since then, however, she's had a tendency to create wonderful relationships, and then quietly step away, leaving those parts of the story unresolved. In this case, we never learn how the two young men who both love the transcriber resolve their rivalry, or how the royal mage's relationship with her soldier husband develops, or what happens to the delightfully agitated transcriber who helps the protagonist obtain the book.

Ms. McKillip does make a relationship the heart of the resolution of Alphabet of Thorn, but the revelation of the relationship comes so late to the story, and is given so little time in which to develop, that it has a deus ex machina flavor to it.

Nonetheless, I'll continue to read every novel Ms. McKillip writes, if only because her heroes and heroines are so much outside the mold of standard fantasy heroism. Here, for example, is a typical McKillip blend of wonder and homeliness: "She came to her knowledge, her power, in odd places: in a line of poetry, in a tale the gardener told, in musty scrolls that made her sneeze and always began with dire warnings to the uninitiated."

And here is a passage about the queen and her primary counsellor, the royal mage.

The queen was in the wood. A week had passed since her coronation, and her guests showed no signs of going home. Elaborate feasts still came up from the kitchens, endless slabs of meat big enough to flag a floor, loaves of bread the size of cartwheels, tiered cakes she might have worn as skirts festooned with ribbons and scrolls and invariably topped with crowns shaped of beaten egg whites and gold leaf. Her guests had drunk small ponds of wine and roaring rivers of ale. They had drunk to the name of everyone who had ever ruled the Crowns of Raine, including a pair of twins who had killed each other in a brawl over which should be king in the middle of the coronation ceremony. Outside, the broad plain was littered with empty barrels and feathers and bones; it was turning into a midden. Late at night when the winds were still it smelled like one.

"I'll send them all away soon," Vevay promised. "But not until you know your ruling nobles' names, and their faces, and you can remember one striking opinion from each one of them. Dance with them. That's the easiest way to begin a conversation."

Tessera could only gaze at her, amazed, wondering who the mage thought she was talking to. One of Tessera's ladies-in-waiting, perhaps, those poised and smiling creatures who could drop an eyelid and unsettle a kingdom.

Vevay was beginning to look cross-eyed back at her, something that happened when Tessera had seemed particularly obtuse.

"Dance. You know. Movement of the feet in an orderly pattern in time to music—"

"I know," Tessera said hollowly. "I did it with my father."

By which she meant she knew how. But Vevay heard something else, apparently; she closed her eyes and pinched the bridge of her nose a moment.

"Your father. You are no longer a child, and your father is dead."

"Yes." She had to stop and swallow what felt like a hard little turtle lodged in her throat. "I guessed as much when he got buried."

Vevay closed her eyes again. The lines of her face shifted subtly, turning her somehow very old and very beautiful at the same time.

"I am sorry, Tessera. I only want – I want for you everything your father had."

Tessera looked past her, out the open window of the council-chamber where she met every hour with Vevay to be told whom she would speak to next, and of what, and what she had to gain or lose by it. A gull, hovering in the wind, looked back at her in her tower room, then caught a shifting angle of air and slid with dizzying grace to freedom.

Mary Stewart: The Moon-Spinners. A young woman visiting Crete stumbles across a young man in hiding from killers. ¶ Heterosexual fiction, contemporary fiction, mysteries, love stories, crime themes, prisoner fiction, race/ethnicity themes. ¶ Online samples of fiction books. ¶ On-screen violence.

I owe a lot to Mary Stewart, and not only because I've unconsciously cribbed from her Merlin trilogy numerous times over the years since I first stumbled across her novels in my mother's bedroom, at age thirteen. I've also borrowed freely from Stewart's romantic thrillers. The clever narrative device she employs in The Ivy Tree (which I could not possibly describe without offering major spoilers to that novel), her persistent use of determined-but-vulnerable teenage boys as sympathetic characters, her combination of life-threatening action sequences and heterosexual romance . . . all of these features have crept into my own writings, without my being aware at the time of their origins.

The Moon-Spinners is classic hurt/comfort. A young woman who is touring Crete stumbles upon a young man who is badly wounded and is hiding from men who want to murder him. The tough Greek man who is tending the young man tries to chase her away. He should know better than to try to chase away a Mary Stewart heroine.

"Have you any food?"

"A little. I had bread, and some cheese—"

"And fine stuff it looks, too." There was a polythene mug lying in the dirt beside the bed. It had held wine, and there were flies on the rim. I picked it up.

"Go and wash this. Bring my bag, and my cardigan. They're where I dropped them when you jumped on me with your beastly knife. There's food there. It's not sickroom stuff, but there's plenty of it, and it's clean. . . . Fallen stones, what nonsense!" I turned [again] to Lambis. "What was it, a knife?"

"A bullet," he said, not without a certain relish.

"A bullet?"



"So you see," said Lambis, his surliness giving way to a purely human satisfaction, "you should have kept away. And when you go, you will say nothing. There is danger, great danger. Where there has been one bullet, there can be another. And if you speak a word in the village of what you have seen today, I shall kill you myself."

"Yes, all right." I spoke impatiently; I was scarcely listening. The look in Mark's face was frightening me to death. "But get my bag first, will you? And here, wash this, and make sure it's clean."

I thrust the mug at him, and he took it, like a man in a dream.

"And hurry up!" I added. He looked from me to the mug, to Mark, to the mug again, then left the hut without a word.

Go, girl.

The hero turns out to be as strong-minded as the heroine, which makes for some interesting interactions.

"Lie down," I said. "Come on, pull this up round you."

"You're cold yourself. You've got no coat." He sat up, seeming to come to himself. "Heavens, girl, I've got your woolly thing here. Put it on."

"No. I'm fine. No, Mark, damn it, you've got a temperature. Don't make me fight you every inch of the way."

"Do as you're told."

"I'm the nurse, you're only the patient. Put the beastly thing on and shut up and lie down."

"I'm dashed if I do. With you sitting there with nothing on but that cotton thing—"

"I'm all right."

"Maybe. But you can't sit there all night."

"Look," I said, in some alarm, for his teeth were beginning to chatter, "lie down, for pity's sake. We'll share the wretched thing. I'm coming in with you, then we'll both be warm. Lie down."

I did say this was classic hurt/comfort, right?

Scribe: Roman Enslavement. A modern woman is sent back to Ancient Rome, where she immediately becomes prey to plots against her liberty. ¶ Heterosexual fiction, historical fantasy (Roman Era), erotic fiction, slave fiction, spirituality themes. ¶ Online fiction. ¶ On-screen sex. On-screen violence. (Site warning.)

"I've just willingly read fifty-five chapters of Mary Sue het," my apprentice told me in wonder tonight.

I know how he feels. He was reading Scribe's Career Girl Blues as a prelude to reading its sequel, The Further Adventures of Clive, the Leather Hairdresser (just the name makes you want to go read it, right?), but I just finished reading Scribe's het slavefic Roman Enslavement. I tackle erotic het about once in a blue moon.

In this alternative universe (AU) story, a virgin woman (the virgin part is important to the plot) finds herself accidentally locked inside a museum overnight. She falls asleep on the altar of the goddess Dischordia, who, unfortunately, is annoyed and transports her back in time to Rome. There, in short order, the virgin woman (don't forget that virgin part) is enslaved.

The tale has the usual ingredients of Scribe's fiction: so-so style, sometimes ineffective character development, page-turning plots, and the occasional appearance of a character you want to take home and claim as your own.

So what does happen when a kick-ass heroine from the modern world finds herself in a society where she has no rights, even to her body? (Yes, you guessed already where that virgin bit was headed.) Scribe could have gone for the easy solutions: hurt/comfort, a master who lays the world at his slave's feet, a slave rebellion. Instead, Scribe examines the claustrophobic consequences of living in a society where all the odds are against you. Despite the author's willingness to offer an upbeat ending (one really needs to know that, by the twentieth depressing chapter), she doesn't try to make the world appear safer than it actually is. In that respect, of course, she is talking not only about an AU Rome, but about our own world.

"I'm not writing this as a manifesto against rape," comments Scribe defensively in an author's note, which suggests that she feared that some of her readers would feel she didn't handle the topic of sexual consent in a strong enough manner. In actual fact, I found the protagonist's helpless submission to her rapist's demands to be far more terrible than any screams would have been. It was something of a relief to learn that, by the end of the story, the protagonist hadn't lost her kick-ass qualities. A victory of personality over environment, one might say.

The work-in-progress sequel, Roman Enlightenment (warning: the blurb includes major spoilers for Roman Enslavement), reverses the plot, sending a Roman character into the future. Where Roman Enslavement presented tragedy, Roman Enlightenment opts for comedy as the Roman struggles to understand his surroundings.

"It's called a safety belt."



"If safe, why you tie me to seat?"

Lucius Parhelion: Acquisitions and Mergers: The Four of Wands. (Warning: The linked blurb at the publisher's site has major spoilers.) As two scientists prepare for the sale of their laboratory, the protagonist finds he must introduce his friend to the undercover portion of his life. ¶ Male homoerotic fiction, employer/employee fiction, erotic love stories, historical fiction (mid/late 20th century). ¶ Fiction e-books. ¶ On-screen sex.

In a genre where the only reason a male character is promiscuous is that he hasn't yet met the right man, slash fan fiction writer Parhelion was faced with a problem: Archy Goodwin. Archy is portrayed in Nero Wolfe canon as a man about town, dating women right and left, and presumably doing a bit more than dating as well.

The easy solution to this problem would have been to suggest that Archy was not really a serial lover by nature – that he was only biding time till Nero Wolfe swept him off his feet. Bravely, Parhelion sometimes refused to take this approach in his fan fiction.

Now Lucius Parhelion – who seems to have acquired a first name since the last time we saw him – has produced an original slash tale about a gay man about town, and in the process has offered a fascinating window into gay New York life in 1960.

One of the things I like about Parhelion's stories is his multilayered approach. Bob, a character in Acquisitions and Mergers, is not just the man who will break into Trip's happy round of visits to the gay cruising zones of the day. He is a social climber from a poor background, the owner of a scientific lab that is undergoing a business transaction, an employer with tolerance toward minorities, a widower, a suave manipulator, a man with decided views on interior decoration, and the owner of a cat named FaLa who steals the show from his human rivals in this story.

Hidden in the midst of all this is his friendship with Trip, a former prep-school linebacker, an M.I.T. graduate, a scientist, a Greenwich Village resident, a road rally racer, a reader of science fiction magazines, a regular customer at the notorious Everard Baths, a social nitwit, and a man with excruciating taste in interior decoration. A wonderful clash between him and Bob is inevitable.

One of my few running problems with Parhelion's writings is that he's often more interested in providing color than in tying all the pieces together. The color in this story is terrific – such as Bob's encounter with Village bohemians – but while that encounter does help to establish Trip's character and to give the reader a good sense of the social setting, I can't really see how it advances the plot. (Other than offering a character an opportunity for one of the best, unforeshadowed opening lines I've encountered in original slash.)

Maybe I just missed noticing the plot significance of the bohemians and other such color background, because one other frustrating quality about Parhelion is his tendency to be overly subtle. The actual nature of the business deal – which is the central nonsexual plot in the story – is revealed in dribbles, which I don't at all mind in itself, except that those dribbles never quite formed into any pattern in my mind. Obviously, I never took business classes. But not knowing what exactly Bob was managing to put over on his new business associates did make it difficult for me to assess how good he was as a manipulator, a vitally important aspect of his personality.

These are all quibbles; the relationship part of the tale is wonderfully built up, and if, in the end, Parhelion shows a tendency to fall toward standard slash solutions, he's given us plenty of reason why we would believe that such solutions would fit these characters . . . and has also shaken the complacency of her slash readers by suggesting that, as one character puts it, "It's not like I can help you throw dinner parties, or raise kids with you, or kiss you goodbye at the door each morning." Such was gay life in 1960, and Parhelion, admirably, makes no effort to gloss over the difficulties of the time.

Brideshead Revisited (2008 film). A remake of the classic tale of a university student's romantic friendship with an aristocrat. ¶ Male homoerotic fiction, heterosexual fiction, class/rank themes, family relationship themes, historical fiction (post World War One; World War Two), love stories, mental illness themes, military fiction, spirituality themes. ¶ Trailers of fiction films. ¶ On-screen sex.

In case you don't know the plot, Brideshead Revisited is a novel by Evelyn Waugh, set in the pre-WWII years, about a young man (Charles) who becomes entangled with an aristocratic Catholic family after he falls in love with the youngest son, Sebastian. Later, he falls in love with Sebastian's sister, Julia. The novel was turned into a miniseries in 1981 starring Jeremy Irons as Charles and Anthony Andrews as Sebastian. The novel has now been made into a film.

I'm just going to repost here what I posted at the blog of a friend, who hadn't seen the new film but had heard reports that the film de-emphasized the Charles/Sebastian relationship. Specifically, she had heard that Julia was inserted into a portion of the story (a trip to Venice) which had been confined to Charles and Sebastian in the novel.


You're correct. The reason for this change, I think, didn't have to do with the scriptwriter's desire to emphasize Charles/Julia at the expense of Charles/Sebastian (though, in practical terms, that's what happens). Rather, I think that it was due to a time-constraint problem. The way that the scriptwriter dealt with the problem of cramming a novel into two hours was by jettisoning most of the events in the middle part of the book – the part that featured Charles and Julia's growing relationship. He compensated for this by inserting Julia more into the earlier part of the story, so that we see Charles's feelings developing for Julia at the same time that he is in a relationship with Sebastian.

The result of this is that it offers a plausible explanation – which the novel never really does – for why Sebastian begins to distrust Charles. It's rather a clever device by the scriptwriter, even though it's not canon.

I thought that, as semi-fan-fiction (which is basically what it was), the film was a good effort. I really did not think ahead of time that the scriptwriter would manage to create a two-hour film that coherently covered the main events in the book, yet marvellously, he managed to. (The only thing I really miss is [Sebastian's younger sister] Cordelia; she got too little screen time, alas.) My problem with the movie lay with its de-emphasis of the religious aspects of the novel. Religion is certainly there, but you don't see Charles praying at the end of the movie, and that makes a big difference in the overall arch of the story.

I think it's a good film, worth seeing for its photography and for some of the acting (the scriptwriter retained the wonderful interplay between Charles and his father), but as one reviewer put it, "Ben Whishaw, as Sebastian, couldn't clean Anthony Andrews' wingtips." The 1981 miniseries is far better.

Lija O'Brien: Staged Life. (Warning: The linked blurb at the publisher's site has major spoilers.) A turn-of-the-century girl on the run from her abusive uncle seeks refuge with a company of vaudeville actors. ¶ Female homoerotic fiction, male/female friendship fiction, male homoerotic fiction, family relationship themes, gender variance themes, historical fiction (post World War One), race/ethnicity themes. ¶ Fiction books. ¶ References to topics of violence

This young adult GLBT novel about vaudeville players in 1918 is part of Torquere Press's new young adult imprint, Prizm. I don't know why Torquere's blurb writers feel the need to give away the entire plot in the blurb. Fortunately, having learned my lesson in the past, I avoided looking at the blurb beforehand, which left me pleasantly surprised at the appropriate moments in this novel.

The plot supposedly revolves around an orphaned girl's efforts to escape being taken into custody by her malicious uncle, but that part of the storyline is rather thin, I'm sorry to say (though the surprise ending is perfect). Much more interesting is the growing relationship between the protagonist, Nan, and two of her fellow vaudevillians, Beatrice and Pete. The angst level wasn't as high as I usually like in fiction, but the details about vaudeville life were enough to carry me through the more serene parts of the novel.

I dearly wish – though it's unlikely to happen – that we could have a sequel featuring Pete, because this scene is wonderful, coming as it does after nearly one hundred pages of slapstick comedy from Pete.

Nan had to use her entire weight to throw Pete into the corridor wall. She wasn't sure what, exactly, had broken the chains on his temper, but she'd never seen him this angry.

Beatrice said, her voice calm, "Eddie, shvayg. Be quiet." She took two more steps forward. "And stay quiet unless you want Murphy to know what kind of parlor houses you've been visiting. I've heard he's quite devout under all his blue humor."

Pete wasn't struggling any more. Now he'd turned away to rest his forehead against the wall, his arms spread and his palms pressed hard against the green-painted concrete.

Beatrice is more of an elusive character. I liked her a lot, but I couldn't quite get a sense of what lay behind her small, mysterious smiles. And I never did learn what came of her quest to be a scholar.

The scene-stealer in the novel is Mrs. Constantine. You need to read the novel to find out why.

Manna Francis: Quid Pro Quo. (Author's Website.) The latest volume in the Administration series, about a pathological torturer and his lover, who despises torture but loves SM. ¶ Male homoerotic fiction, male/female friendship fiction, BDSM fiction, employer/employee fiction, erotic fiction, family relationship themes, mental illness themes, mysteries, science fiction. ¶ Online fiction and online samples of fiction books. ¶ On-screen sex. On-screen violence.

This original slash book is the newest volume in a series featuring Val Toreth, a sociopathic investigator/interrogator (yes, that's a euphemism) who becomes a top in a BDSM relationship with a man who's a firm opponent to torture.

Here's Toreth in one of his BDSM sessions:

Toreth fished the new toy of a pocket before he took off his jacket and dropped it on a chair. The paper wrapper crinkled as Toreth opened it. A printed notice warned of the asphyxiation hazard and cautioned against use on unsupervised prisoners in the absence of an appropriate damage waiver. The grey plastic strap had a fastener and a central guard to hold a prisoner's teeth apart and stop them from biting themselves or anyone else. Single use, disposable and sterile. Not many workplaces offered such entertaining opportunities for stealing office supplies. . . .

"You don't want to hear about interrogations, you don't like the idea that they're happening at I&I, right now, and yet you're fucking a trained interrogator. Am I the only one here who thinks that's a bit strange?"

"If the situation bothers you, you are welcome to leave. I believe the terms of the bet have been fulfilled."

The arrogance, the effortless tone of command from someone in such a vulnerable position, made Toreth feel suddenly overdressed and impatient. "No, I don't think so. Just making an observation."

"Good." [The other man] lowered his gaze, waiting, breathing slowly.

I'd already read online all the stories in the collection except the title novella, which is new. As with the other stories in the series, the volume offers a chilling portrayal of the mindset of a sociopath. This is mixed in with dark humor, sex (much of it playful rather than dark), friendship, and family ties, as well as strong feelings by Toreth for his sex partner that are not easily defined (as shown by the endless debates over their nature by the series' readers). In short, this series is unusual and powerful.

I have to admit that the novella Quid Pro Quo won't go onto my favorites list, because it's a mystery novella, and I'm not much of a mystery reader, unless the mystery plotline is mixed in with character development or relationship entanglements or something else along those lines. But thanks to Toreth being such an interesting character, the story kept my interest from beginning to end and was more than worth the price of the book (which is quite reasonable, only $15).

As a bonus (like those old-time commercials: "And that's not all! In addition to this fabulous novella, we'll also send you . . ."), the volume also has five other stories, all very good reading. If you like m/m stories, and you like reading them in print, I highly recommend Quid Pro Quo, as well as its predecessor, Mind Fuck.

Megan Whalen Turner: The Thief and the rest of the Thief series. There's more to a young thief than his prison-keepers realize. ¶ Male friendship fiction, male/female friendship fiction, heterosexual fiction, class/rank themes, fantasy, love stories, military fiction, prisoner fiction, servant fiction, spy fiction. ¶ Online samples of fiction books. ¶ On-screen violence.

This is the first volume of a trilogy of fantasy novels by Megan Whalen Turner: The Thief, The Queen of Attolia, and The King of Attolia. (The trilogy is labelled historical fantasy, but the historical part is too slight to qualify the books for that genre, to my mind.) In the usual manner of library logic, I found the first volume in the children's department, the third volume in the young adult department, and the second volume in the adult department.

It would work equally well for all three readerships. It's hurt/comfort darkfic; any trilogy that starts with the sentence, "I didn't know how long I had been in the king's prison," automatically gets my attention. The title character of the first novel, who's an irrepressible troublemaker, was interesting enough a personality to carry me through the first two books, which I thought were moderately good, up to the third book, which I really liked.

Here's a snippet from the first novel, after the thief has been taken out of prison and presented to the king's magus.

I looked again at the chairs. I picked the nicest one and sat in it. The magus stiffened. His eyebrows snapped down into a single line across the top of his face. They were dark, though most of his hair had gone to gray.

"Get up," he commanded.

I leaned farther into the feather pillows on the seat and back of the chair. It was almost as good as clean clothes, and I couldn't have gotten up if I had tried. My knees were weak, and my stomach was considering tossing up the little I had recently eaten. The chair back came to just behind my ears, so I rested my head back and looked up my nose at the magus, still standing by his desk.

The magus gave me a few moments to consider my position before he stepped over to the chair. He leaned down until his nose was just a few inches from mine. I hadn't seen his face before from this close. He had the high-bridged nose of most of the people in the city, but his eyes were a very light gray instead of brown. His forehead was covered by wrinkles brought on by a lot of sun and too much frowning. I was thinking that he must have done some sort of outdoor work before he started reading books when he spoke. I stopped thinking about his complexion and shifted my gaze back to his eyes.

"We might someday attain a relationship of mutual respect," he said softly. First, I thought, I will see gods walking the earth. He went on. "For now I will have your obedience."

Naomi Novik: Victory of Eagles and the rest of the Temeraire series. When Napoleon threatens Britain's future, a captain and his dragon must choose between the claims of conscience and the bindings of duty to one's country. ¶ Male friendship fiction, class/rank themes, gender variance themes, historical fantasy (early nineteenth century), mentor fiction, military fiction, prisoner fiction. ¶ Online samples of fiction books. ¶ On-screen violence.

Naomi Novik's new Temeraire novel is out. For those of you who don't know the series, think Master and Commander, but instead of captains on ships, you have captains on dragons. Ms. Novik posits the existence of an aerial corps during the Napoleonic Wars, with dragons as airships. The series is friendship fiction, describing the love between a captain and his dragon.

The previous novel ended with the protagonist in mortal peril. It's hard to know what to say about the latest novel, Victory of Eagles, without giving away the plot, because the surprises begin in the first chapter. I'll content myself with saying that Ms. Novik has a wonderful way of melding action, character development, and theme so that they all dovetail at the end of the book. The relationship between Will Laurence and his dragon Temeraire is just as touching as in the previous books: an idealistic, honor-bound officer paired with a young, commonsensical dragon. In his own way, Temeraire is as much an idealist as his captain, but only in such a manner as to bring himself into trouble with authority. By contrast, Laurence has a strong desire to adhere to the demands of service and loyalty to his country. In this novel, as in the previous one, this desire brings Laurence into conflict with his conscience. Laurence's deepening agony and Temeraire's increasing anxiety over him are beautifully portrayed.

I was thrilled when I reached the acknowledgments and discovered that it includes a tribute to the fan community. Ms. Novik really has become the poster girl for fan fiction – such a shining contrast to all those professional authors who try to hide their literary origins. (On an e-mail list recently, a fan cheerfully revealed that a professional author's protagonist first appeared as an original character in a fan fiction story written long ago by the author. The author – who posts regularly on the list – was noticeably silent in response to this observation.)

Ursula K. Le Guin: The Other Wind. Haunted by disturbing dreams of the dead, a widower seeks help from Earthsea's former Archmage, now an old man. ¶ Gen (with a heterosexual fiction subplot), class/rank themes, fantasy, race/ethnicity themes, spirituality themes. ¶ Online samples of fiction books. ¶ References to topics of violence.

This novel in the Earthsea series came out in 2001, but I found the fourth volume (Tehanu) terribly disappointing, and the fifth volume (Tales from Earthsea) was only mildly interesting, so I wasn't expecting much from the sixth book of the Earthsea series.

Oh, my, was I wrong.

Things that could have been done better:

There were too many loose ends in the novel, mainly caused by Ms. Le Guin telling the reader what had happened to characters and events in past books. Yes, it's entertaining to know what happened to the slave-trader from the third book in the series, but what did that have to do with this plot?

I've heard that Ms. Le Guin had harsh words to say about J. K. Rowling's novels. Granted that Ms. Le Guin is a far superior stylist to Ms. Rowling; I still think Ms. Le Guin could take a lesson or two from Ms. Rowling on how to plot. Ms. Rowling never inserts a detail into her novel unless it's going to play a role in the plot.

Things I found intriguing:

In the third volume of the series, The Farthest Shore, Ged says of a dead man, "His death did not diminish life. Nor did it diminish him. . . . There [in the world], he is the earth and sunlight, the leaves of trees, the eagle's flight. He is alive. And all who ever died, live; they are reborn and have no end, nor will there ever be an end."

A beautiful image, but I'm sure I'm not the only reader who noticed that that is not how death is actually depicted in The Farthest Land. In The Other Wind, Ms. Le Guin bravely tackles this contradiction head-on. I always find it especially satisfying when authors set out to resolve problems in their own works.

Things I feared I'd get:

I hated Tehanu because it was filled to the brim with disagreeable characters (even the sympathetic characters spent most of their time yelling at each other), because Tenar acted like an idiot (why didn't she warn Lebannen of the danger on Gont when she had the chance?), and because Ms. Le Guin's musings on gender took the form of heavy-handed didacticism. The only thing I liked about the novel was the tender exploration of Ged's fears.

Things I loved:

Nothing I disliked in Tehanu turns up in The Other Wind. There are no disagreeable characters in the novel, the only person who doesn't act sensibly is Lebannen – and his idiocy is amusing rather than irritating – and gender differences are explored in a light and easy manner.

Moreover, the supernatural scenes are haunting, and the ending is oh so right. I had to blink back tears.

By the way, I can't help but notice that Lebannen spends the entire book (1) telling everyone that he has no desire to marry, and (2) almost weeping over the fact that Ged isn't there. I'll just point out that fact. The rest of you can draw your subtexty conclusions.

Diana Gabaldon: Lord John and the Blade of the Brotherhood. Lord John finds himself caught between his duty toward the military and his duty toward a fellow soldier he may or may not love. ¶ Male homoerotic fiction, male friendship fiction, class/rank themes, family relationship themes, historical fantasy (Enlightenment Era), military themes, mysteries, prisoner fiction. ¶ Online samples of fiction books. ¶ On-screen sex. On-screen violence.

I liked this volume in the Lord John series much better than Lord John and the Private Matter. Though I appreciated Private Matter being a novel where the fact that the protagonist was gay wasn't played up as the main point, I was beginning to think that Ms. Gabaldon was creating one of those 1970s gay characters who spends his entire life being unloved. If you grew up in that era, you know the sort of character I mean. There's a scene in the movie Fame, for example, where three friends get together: a straight guy, a straight girl, and a gay guy. At the end of the scene, the heterosexuals end up in each other's arms, and then the gay guy goes off unnoticed and sings a lonely little song by himself. That's how homosexuality was perpetually depicted in that era, and that's what Lord John's life was beginning to look like to me.

Anyway, in this novel, Lord John finally gets to do something gay other than sigh over Jamie Fraser. Or rather, in addition to sighing over Jamie Fraser.

Jamie Fraser steals every scene he's in. I didn't notice when reading the Outlander series (which is the series that the Lord John series is a spin-off from) that Jamie is a striking character, because he's in so many scenes there, and he's surrounded by colorful Scots. But when he appears in a novel filled with bland Englishmen, it's like he's a riotously colored wildflower in a garden of limp daisies.

Oh, and may I just say a thank you to Diana Gabaldon for continuing to avoid inserting political correctness into a series about the eighteenth century? The anti-homosexuality speeches were splendidly placed within the plot. (Though Lord John's outrage at being accused of sleeping with boys seems rather anachronistic, given that pederasty remained mainstream within homosexuality till the twentieth century.)

Alas, Ms. Gabaldon gives in to the same temptation that Ms. Le Guin did, of providing details that are interesting to readers of her other novels, but which play no real role in the plotline of this novel. That's the only major flaw I noticed.

Catherine Jinks: Pagan's Crusade and the rest of the Pagan series. A cynical streetboy pairs up with an idealistic Crusader. ¶ Male friendship fiction, male homoerotic fiction, class/rank themes, historical fiction (Middle Ages), mentor fiction, military fiction, spirituality themes. ¶ Online samples of fiction books. ¶ On-screen violence.

This is exactly the sort of book I usually avoid: a historical novel filled with modern slang. I'm sorry, but when a twelfth-century character says, "Hip hip hooray," it's hard for me to suspend disbelief.

But I can't stop reading the novel, because it has a wonderful, Due South pairing: a pure, upright knight and his cynical, wise-cracking squire.

He throws me one of those long, blue looks. One of those serious looks aimed straight at the heart.

"Do you understand what a wonderful gift you have been granted, Pagan? Do you understand how God has blessed you, with this gift of learning?"

Who, me? The butt of the backstreets? You're thinking of someone else, surely.

"My lord, I'd rather have been blessed with a strong right arm. Or fists like lead melons. Or even sharp fingernails would do. Something a bit useful."

A reasonable request, I would have thought. Especially for someone in my condition. But he sighs, slowly, as if I'd just told him that tapeworms are human, too.

"I don't know what I'm going to do with you, Pagan." (Sounds familiar.) "You're clumsy, you're untrained, you have no – no calling, no discipline, no discretion, and no sense of responsibility. You have fallen among wicked men, and delighted in wicked deeds. I know you're young, but – Pagan, surely with your gift of learning, and your quickness of mind – you must have seen what you were doing. You must have chosen your own path. Only fools lose their way among sinners, Pagan, and you're no fool."

God preserve us. This is worse than the beating. Why not give me the boot and be done with it? I can't stand this kind of thing.

Fans will want to check out the LiveJournal community pagansfandom. And before you jump to conclusions about the twisted imaginations of fanfic writers: there is homosexual attraction in a later work in the original series. Young adult historical fiction has sure changed from when I was a teen.

June 2008

Recommended fanvids. Male homoerotic fiction, male friendship fiction, fan fiction (various fandoms), music videos. ¶ Online videos. ¶ Mixed ratings. On-screen sex (brief; some videos). On-screen violence (some videos).

My off-site links to fan-made videos that I've enjoyed.

May 2008

Robert A. Heinlein: The Puppet Masters. Male friendship fiction, heterosexual fiction, love stories, science fiction, employer/employee fiction, family relationship themes, spy fiction. ¶ Online fiction (authorized edition) and fiction books. ¶ References to topics of sexuality. On-screen violence.

Published during the anti-Communism period, The Puppet Masters tells of an American intelligence agent's attempts to fight an insidious threat from outer space. The novel has many of Robert A. Heinlein's favorite themes: the need for private ownership of firearms during times of crisis, the equality of men and women in the workplace (with the women subsequently showing a keen desire to immediately follow the orders of any man who threatens to spank them), the relativity of all social customs (especially social customs governing the use of clothing), and the supreme importance of picking a cat for your companion.

There's a heterosexual love story in the novel, but it's overshadowed by the emotional bond between the intelligence agent and his boss, with whom, it turns out, the agent has closer ties than that of employment.

I entered our section offices through a washroom booth in MacArthur Station. You won't find our offices in the phone lists. In fact, it does not exist. Probably I don't exist either. All is illusion. Another route is through a little hole-in-the-wall shop with a sign reading RARE STAMPS & COINS. Don't try that route either – they'll try to sell you a Tu'penny Black.

Don't try any route. I told you we didn't exist, didn't I?

There is one thing no head of a country can know and that is: how good is his intelligence system? He finds out only by having it fail him. Hence our section. Suspenders and belt. United Nations had never heard of us, nor had Central Intelligence – I think. I heard once that we were blanketed into an appropriation for the Department of Food Resources, but I would not know; I was paid in cash.

All I really knew about was the training I had received and the jobs the Old Man sent me on. Interesting jobs, some of them – if you don't care where you sleep, what you eat, nor how long you live. I've totalled three years behind the Curtain; I can drink vodka without blinking and spit Russian like a cat – as well as Cantonese, Kurdish, and some other bad-tasting tongues. I'm prepared to say that they've got nothing behind the Curtain that Paducah, Kentucky doesn't have bigger and better. Still, it's a living.

If I had had any sense, I'd have quit and taken a working job.

The only trouble with that would be that I wouldn't have been working for the Old Man any longer. That made the difference.

Thomas Mott Osborne: Within Prison Walls. A prison supervisor has himself incarcerated in order to experience life behind bars. ¶ Male friendship nonfiction, memoirs (Edwardian Era), prisoner nonfiction. ¶ Online nonfiction and nonfiction books. ¶ On-screen violence.

When prison commissioner Thomas Mott Osborne stood up in front of thirteen hundred prisoners at the state prison in Auburn, New York, and announced that he planned to have himself voluntarily incarcerated for a week, some of the prisoners were naturally skeptical. Would the man who had once served as mayor of Auburn really be willing to live in a four-foot-wide cell? Would he be willing to do manual labor in the workshops, follow the strict rules of the prison, and eat the often inedible prison food? Most of all, would he be willing to do "bucket duty," carrying his own human waste daily from his cell?

He did all this and more, as recounted in this gripping memoir, mainly consisting of passages from the journal he kept at the time he served as prisoner "Thomas Brown, No. 33,333x" in order to learn more about the prisoners' lives. Lest the reader think that Osborne has exaggerated the emotional impact of his stay on the other prisoners, he includes prisoners' written accounts of his imprisonment, as well as letters they sent him afterwards.

Osborne denies elsewhere that he has sentimental goals for the prisoners; however, his belief in the prisoners' humanity, and his certainty that their essential goodness can be brought to the surface, is manifest in every page. Also clear is that he is a creature of his era, writing in a year – 1914 – when men could speak unashamedly of their friendships with each other. The backbone of the tale is Osborne's growing friendship with Jack Murphy, a fellow prisoner whose insights and sacrifice would allow Osborne to make his mark on Auburn Prison.

After about half an hour spent in the cells, from eight to eight-thirty, we are off to work. Again the keys are turned in the locks, again the clicking of the levers, again the hurried march along the gallery, again my heavy shoes clump down the iron stairs, again we form in the sunny doorway, again we march down the yard to the basket shop.

As we break ranks my partner, Murphy, comes forward with a cheerful smile. "Well, Mr. Brown, how do you feel to-day?"

"Fine," I respond briefly, and we step to our working table.

"How did you sleep?"

"Not very well; I kept waking up all night."

"Well, don't worry. It's always like that the first night; you'll sleep better to-night."

And with this comforting assurance we hang up our coats and caps and start to work.

The convict instructor, Stuhlmiller, comes to our table. "Well, Brown, how did you like bucket duty?"

"Oh, I've had to do worse things than that," I reply. "I don't know that I should select that particular job from preference; but somebody has to do the cleaning up. That's the reason I was once mayor of Auburn."

The fruits of Osborne's friendship with Murphy and other members of Auburn Prison would soon make themselves known. As a result, the final chapter of the book, when paired with the first, must be one of the most moving passages in prison literature.

The last two chapters of Osborne's 1916 book, Society and Prisons, provide a low-keyed afternote to Within Prison Walls, describing later events at Auburn Prison, as well as Osborne's brief tenure as warden of the notorious Sing Sing Prison. In addition, Osborne Stirs Carnegie Hall Throng with View of Mask and Whip from Sing Sing, a 1916 New York Times article, gives a glimpse of Osborne's work; it is one of many New York Times articles referring to Thomas Mott Osborne. Today, the Osborne Society continues the work of that its founder began: to help prisoners re-enter society and to educate people on the benefits of prison reform.

Erich Maria Remarque: Excerpt from All Quiet on the Western Front. Life in the World War One trenches is only kept bearable by friendship. ¶ Male friendship fiction, historical fiction (World War One), military fiction. ¶ Online samples of fiction books. (This extended excerpt at Google Books has some missing pages. See also my recommendation of the film adaptation.) ¶ References to topics of sexuality. On-screen violence.

Four idealistic eighteen-year-olds join the German army and find that their lives have narrowed down to the absolute essentials: food, rest, friendship, and killing.

My eyes burn with staring into the dark. A star-shell goes up; – I duck down again.

I wage a wild and senseless fight, I want to get out of the hollow and yet slide back into it again; I say "You must, it is your comrades, it is not an idiotic command," and again: "What does it matter to me, I have only one life to lose—"

That is the result of all this leave, I plead in extenuation. But I cannot reassure myself; I become terribly faint. I raise myself slowly and reach forward with my arms, dragging my body after me and then lie on the edge of the shell-hole, half in and half out.

There I hear sounds and drop back. Suspicious sounds can be detected clearly despite the noise of the artillery-fire. I listen; the sound is behind me. They are our people moving along the trench. Now I hear muffled voices. To judge by the tone that might be Kat talking.

At once a new warmth flows through me. These voices, these quiet words, these footsteps in the trench behind me recall me at a bound from the terrible loneliness and fear of death by which I had been almost destroyed. They are more to me than life, these voices, they are more than motherliness and more than fear; they are the strongest, most comforting thing there is anywhere: they are the voices of my comrades.

I am no longer a shuddering speck of existence, alone in the darkness; – I belong to them and they to me; we all share the same fear and the same life, we are nearer than lovers, in a simpler, a harder way; I could bury my face in them, in these voices, these words that have saved me and will stand by me.

All Quiet on the Western Front. (See also the trailer.) Life in the World War One trenches is only kept bearable by friendship. ¶ Male friendship fiction, historical fiction (World War One), military fiction. ¶ Online videos and trailers of fiction films. (See also my recommendation of the novel.) ¶ On-screen violence.

In a shocking departure from Hollywood's usual tendency to soften the edges, this 1930 film is a faithful adaptation of the novel of the same name, refusing to flinch from showing the painful realities of World War One, both tragic and mundane. (There can't be many movies that feature a lice-picking scene.) Like the novel, the film's plotline centers upon the protagonist's friendships with other soldiers.

With such a strongly anti-war message, it's a wonder that this film ever passed the censors; it has been banned a number of times since its release and has also been re-edited to appear pro-war. The version available online at the Internet Archive is a restoration by the Library of Congress of the original footage.

The stark black-and-white photography is so appropriate that it makes one grateful that color films weren't often produced at that time. The battle scenes are both emotionally moving and technically impressive for their period. The only major flaw is the acting, which can be atrocious (though I should note that other critics disagree with me about this, praising the acting). I recommend reading the novel first, to the get the full impact of the better work, but the film is worth watching afterwards.

Drama Queen (Flash). Music by Bimbo Boy. Directed by Johnny K. Wu. Male homoerotic fiction, contemporary fiction, music videos. ¶ Online videos. ¶ References to topics of sexuality.

A good-looking man thinks he's the best thing since sliced bread, but a group of queens see through him. Bimbo Boy is an emerging Swedish pop singer; you can visit his site and listen to the rest of his music.

La Vie Boheme A and La Vie Boheme B (flash). Music and lyrics by Jonathan Larson. Directed by Chris Columbo. (See also the wonderfully innocuous trailer, which gives no hint of the transgressive nature of the film.) Male homoerotic fiction, female homoerotic fiction, heterosexual fiction, male friendship fiction, music videos, contemporary fiction. ¶ Online samples of fiction films and trailers of fiction films. ¶ References to topics of sexuality. References to topics of violence.

A tribute to bohemian life from the rock musical Rent, which is about a group of artist-types living in New York City's Greenwich Village. I hope that whoever choreographed this scene got an award. Pay close attention to the rapid-fire words and movements, including the straight guy in red dancing with gay guys in the second part.

The gay male couple in the film are Collins, a philosophy teacher who is also an anarchist, and Angel, a street drummer who is also a drag queen. I thought their song I'll Cover You was only mildly interesting till I saw the zestier version of it that occured in a tenth-anniversary reunion of the stage actors (who happen to be the same as the film actors, in this case). Their most tender moment in the play comes in Christmas Bells, nearly two minutes into the video, when Angel is buying Collins a coat. The intimacy that Collins manages to convey through the simple act of touching Angel's face is a mastery of understatement.

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