Sunday, June 15, 2014

Photo Album: Warped Tour San Antonio with Motionless In White

General Summary: Vans Warped Tour San Antonio

The Van's Warped Tour kicked of on Friday the Thirteenth in Houston, Texas, then favored San Antonio as its succeeding tour date yesterday June 14, hosted by the AT&T Center. The sun held off from making a total appearance until roughly 2:15--ya know, just as my new metal music interest took the Kia Soul stage. Then it beat down on the hundreds of bodies gathered in front of the stage, turning us all into a writhing, moshing, sweating pit of stink and good-natured swearing. It was humid, and described by Motionless In White front-man Chris Cerruli as, "vile". No one disagreed. 

Attendance (with the exception of the main stages) was shoddy, I feel, for a music festival that size. My home town was already being wracked by a Spurs NBA championship finals winning streak, Father's Day Weekend, and the Alamo City Tattoo Expo, which may account for the somewhat small-ish crowd. I expected a great deal more from Warped Tour attendance, and despite the disclaimer that Warped Tour attendees were allowed to bring their moms into the park for free, somewhat overestimated the age-range. I think The Protomen did too, a little. They received little or no response for their "Only the Good Die Young" cover of legendary Iron Maiden--which just happens to be off of my favorite album of their's. I will be 29 next week. The best friend that attended with me is pushing 32. As some of the oldest people in attendance without children, we were almost bored.
The Protomen covering "Only the Good Die Young"

Some of the indie bands my friend had never heard of. Some of the metal bands I had never heard of--probably because they were unimpressive. Devil Wears Prada and The Protomen top the list of heretofore unheard of metal bands with any kind of stage presence or distinguishable sound. Air Dubai kicked a little ass early in the afternoon, reminding me of Outkast and wowing the crowd with a swirling mix of vocals and hip-hop with their second to last song, "Soul and Body". The Protomen recall their listeners to eighties hair metal, and their cover of "Only the Good Die Young" was spot on, which brought me running from behind the Pizza Hut truck halfway across the festival grounds. Punk band Yellowcard drew a sizable crowd, as did Mayday Parade.

Air Dubai

Motionless In White: Hell-Raising at Its Finest

Warning: adult language in this post. Don't like it; don't read it.

Set List (as far as I can remember)

Devil's Night
Puppets II
Black Damask
Immaculate Misconception

The band takes the stage. Chris Motionless, left.
Ryan Sitkowski, right. 
Motionless In White took the main stage at 2:15. The crowd amassed during Yellowcard and never left. My friend and I shoulder and muscled our way nearly to the front. From my vantage point, I could see center stage clearly. I knew this would be important when all the hands went up. Despite the "No Mosh" signs, I knew there would be a little jostling. I was unprepared for the "jostle" that was to follow, and honestly that was my fault. Naive? Nah, I'm just old. When was the last time I was in the pit at a show where I was actually in front? Green Day? Not a metal band. Korn? Hell no; you couldn't fight your way through those guys at Family Values to save your life and that was over six years ago. Moshing close to security would have been stupid, so the mosh pit started behind us, pushing us all forward while security pushed us back. It was awesome! All the oxygen in the world was gone, replaced with the sweat of the masses. All humanity never smelled so foul, and it was possibly the most incensing smell I've ever endured. It did not diminish the show; the stink intensified the atmosphere MIW emanated. I had sweated through my clothes in minutes. 

All hail the new metal gods! Chris Motionless, Center, Ricky Horror, left.
Ryan Sitkowski, right. I think that's Vinny Mauro on drums. 
As the band took the stage, I lost my mind--as was our wont. I have since been corrected at the drummer for this tour (and Reincarnate) is Vinny Mauro. I was wondering who would drum for MIW for Warped Tour after the announcement in April that Brandon Richter had stepped down from drums for Reincarnate. Unfortunately, my position left me unable to capture the band as a whole. Behind Ryan Sitkowski was Devin "Ghost" Sola, and directly to stage right of Ricky Horror was Josh Balz sporting very Empirical Sith raiment. Ryan Sitkowski appears to have "sewn" his lips shut to complete his image, and remained in character the entire time.  *Sigh* Ricky...

I must have sounded like some screaming boy-band-crazy psycho. Clearly I mistook these guys for Justin Bieber? No, you should have seen me crying when Iron Maiden did "Fear of the Dark" in 2011. The girl next to me/in front of me/on top of me seemed a bit disturbed, but not one single fuck was given.    

Another attempt to capture the whole band. Chris Motionless, center. Devin "Ghost" Sola, center-right.
Ryan Sitkowski, right. Partial of Ricky Horror, left. 
The set list was amazing. They played most of my favorite songs. "Abigal" I could take or leave. The fact that they played "Devil's Night" almost immediately was exciting and harrowing at the same time. We jumped, we swore, we raised our hands, and our middle fingers. Crowd surfers were being plucked up by security (wonder how MIW felt about that--it very much looked like they didn't care, which is fine. A low key song like "Sinematic" might have slowed things down, but then where's the fun in that?). Eventually people began to leave when they realized what they were up against. Many of the smaller girls left, as well as a man with his son. Should I have left? I am small. Fuck no, use me as debris to hurl at the stage. Hello Chris! Hello Ricky!

Head banging for "Puppets II"  
Such an amazing song selection! I can't get over it. 

"We may be losers but you can't kill all of us!" 
The song that literally had me ripping my vocal cords was "AMERICA" off of Infamous. I would have been severely disappointed if they had not played that. Chris turned around and raised his left arm in salute, spelling out "A-M-E-R-I-C-A". I was unable to capture any pictures of it, as I was a little too busy being insane. I want to thank MIW for playing it, though, as I have some amazing memories of it. The mosh pit behind us renewed its vigor, pushing us forward. I didn't have much of a view of the stage for "AMERICA". However, I could hear myself screaming over the others in the crowd. Air was hard to come by. It was jump or die, and I was glad to do it. My friend had to grab me before we got separated. One girl lost her glasses. I was practically on people's shoulders, jumping though my feet did not touch the ground. 

Almost a whole pic of the band. From right to left: Josh Balz behind the keyboard,
Ricky Horror with his back turned, Chris Motionless getting it on with the mic,
Vinny Mauro tearing up the drums, Ghost Sola bringin it hard, and barely
visible is Ryan Sitkowski. Did I mention this entire band is hot?

The band's stage presence was some of the best I have ever seen at a festival concert where there was no real headliner. The second best headliner I have ever seen was Korn at Family Values, with Jonathan Davis coming onto the stage playing the bagpipes for "Chutes and Ladders"

So much swagger on that stage, it was soul-shattering! 

Chris Cerruli owned that stage. My friend tells me Ryan was spitting on the crowd. I didn't see it so my only response was, "It happens." 

Chris Motionless coaching the crowd for "Reincarnate"
Reincarnate is set to hit stores September 16, 2014. However, a small clip was released Friday June 13 with only the chorus. You would be surprised at the number of people who remembered the lyrics, including your's truly. Chris wanted a call-and-response, and coached us on the cues and timing. Trying to get us to scream "You make me fucking sick" in time reminded me that Chris Cerulli is an excellent guitarist and musician. The Instagram clips in which he sings and play acoustic will make you cry--or not. I defy even the most hard-core RPers to say they loved that more than me. Cerulli has no problem working the crowd and making us laugh at ourselves, "I've seen some of you clapping. I know a lot of you can't keep time--that's okay." Some video of "Reincarnate" was briefly on YouTube, but has since been removed. I guess until September, all we have left to remember is our memories of how Chris Motionless and the gang wrenched the last of our breath from our chests and the last of our hydration as tears fell from the eyes of fans and Nerd alike. I probably would have been more emotionally invested in the show had I been on my own. Still, nothing could quell the wonderful feeling of being one of the first groups of people to hear MIW play the title track off of their new album. At one point, I think I even made eye-contact with Chris, but that could have been the adrenaline and wishful thinking. It certainly felt like it. I caught him at a rare moment of total visibility somewhere over on stage-right, slightly bent at the waste during the chorus.

"Crawling from Hell...fallen from Grace...and there is nothing left to take..."

Finally a good picture of josh. For some reason, I cold never catch Ricky looking at the crowd.

Ryan and Ghost also have amazing stage presence. Chris banging his head for "Black Damask"
The band wrapped up the set with "Immaculate Misconception", my absolute favorite song from Motionless In White. I considered my life complete when Chris began with, "What the Fuuuuuuck!" More tears and screaming as we were prompted to join the band with "Open your mind before your mouth!" and the chorus.

"If all the words you say ever meant anything,
I'd take back all the lies against you that I sing..."

For me, this was the defining moment of the show. It was nearly impossible to see over the hands and phones that had become cameras, but the entire band banged their heads in unison, similar to the music video for this song, stomping their feet, the anger and resentment of the song captured on stage. 

Ryan showing us his stuff. Another good picture of Josh, only now we can't see Ghost.
The magnitude of the very short show on the very small center stage struck me like nothing else. MIW very much hold their own on stage like the seasoned musicians and tour-gods they are. It was incredible to see them all in action, to hear and see them in person, and to have my fondest wishes for this show come to pass. I was disappointed not to hear "Divine Infection", but I suppose a band must draw the line between us losing our fucking minds and the people in the crowd slaughtering each other in a heavy metal massacre. Nope. Won't put that evil on them. 

I was fortunate to be so close, and despite the fact that I've seen pictures of these guys a hundred times, it was as if I was seeing them for the first time--but it was also as if they were like six of my oldest friends stepping onto to the stage. Josh's band pictures make him look older than he is. Every single one of them is particularly handsome, young and up-and-coming. I expect great things from Brandon Richter going forward, and wish Vinny Mauro the best as he tours with this amazing band. If I ever see MIW again (which is a must), then I think I'll sit. Age and infirmity protect me from shame. 

The band is not big on fronting on social media. The band's works, and the fans, speak for themselves (plus they're all super busy), but you can find all of the band members on Twitter, and Chris Motionless on Instagram, as well as the offical MIW Twitter feed and Facebook page--just watch out for the fake pages the RPers host. They have a nasty habit of throwing people off. If you suddenly find yourself being invited to Chris and Ricky's wedding, you may have to ask yourself if you're following the right person. 

The best metal band of the decade. I look forward to when we meet again in September. 

One of my favorite promotional pictures from Infamous
Edit 06/17/2014: I went back and corrected all the places where I spelled Ryan's last name wrong. Sorry, man. 

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

A Moment in Time: A Reading With Patrick Rothfuss Pt 2

As most of /r/fantasy--and the nearly 400 people who showed up last night--are aware, Patrick Rothfuss performed a reading and Q&A last night on the second floor of Book People in downtown Austin, Texas. Mr. Rothfuss stopped by on his way from the Phoenix Comic Con for a chat with his Texas fan-base. 

Patrick Rothfuss reading a rare
example of when it's okay to right
a negative book review.
The reading began at 7:00 PM, but by 5:45, the only seating available was on the floor (where I ended up). By 6:15, the many fans and excited children that were still streaming through the door were packing into every corner of the room. As I mentioned, nearly 400 people came from all over Texas to partake of the joy of hearing Mr. Rothfuss and share "a moment in time," with other fans. Among the attendees were some Reddit folks--who I was fortunate enough to meet--and several of my close friends. It was kill-or-be-killed on seating, so none of us sat together, but a good time was still enjoyed by all, especially for the young people, who probably stood to benefit the most from hearing such an author as Patrick Rothfuss, who delighted everyone with real-world advice, some useful literary criticism regarding the evolution of the Fantasy genre, and a sneak peak at Rothfuss' short story, "The Lightning Tree", his Bast novella (bringing the character, Bast, back to life-- perhaps with Kvothe thinly disguising some displeasure at the opening of the story?) which can be found in the Rogues anthology, available from Bantam Spectra June 17, 2014. 

Later, Mr. Rothfuss conducted a signing, which I did not feel it was necessary to attend, as I have a signed hardback first edition of The Wise Man's Fear, which I purchased on accident at Barnes and Noble after Mr. Rothfuss came through Austin some years back during a book tour. After having met several authors--including Neil Gaiman in 2010--I did not feel the need to stand in that 400 person-strong line. I have left off the wonderful experience of meeting Mr. Rothfuss until the future. 

Mr. Rothfuss was a wonderful speaker. He used his incredible public speaking skills to make us laugh, and to even make us cry a little with touching stories about his experiences watching his little boy grow up. I learned a lot from his discussion, and from a reading of a negative book review, in which he spoke about the impact writing negative book reviews can have on authors, and of the few times it's necessary to write a "critical" review instead of a "negative" review. This caused me to re-examine some of my past reviews and decide I need to curb the venom. Rothfuss is not the first author to hint to me, either on a personal, professional or educational level, that I need to slow my roll a bit. Mr. Rothfuss even teased us a little by reading the first few lines of several other shorts in the Rogues anothology. Ready Player One author, and Austin local, Ernest Cline also made an appearance to see Mr. Rothfuss speak. 
Ready Player One author,
Ernest Cline.

As far as I know, there is no video of this reading and Q&A, and I think that's as it should be. I even deleted what little video I took. The audience curtailed digital documentation in order to open up our hearts and minds a little to a far more intimate experience not commonly found in public readings. Instead of a generic reading, followed by Q&A about his influences and inspiration, we saw a side of an author that was equal parts success and humbling reality, while sometimes being dogged by "Mid-Western Guilt" (I think there is a Texas-sized version of that too, and an Iowa-shaped version, if I'm not mistaken). What I love and appreciate most about last night was that I didn't feel like Austin was one more stop on an author's list of tour dates. Rather, I feel I experienced something that I can tell my children about when they sit down to Mr. Rothfuss' novels, "a moment in time," that will not be soon forgotten, but hopefully will be oft repeated. 

Monday, June 9, 2014

The Ninth Day of the Month Pt 1: A Reading with Patrick Rothfuss

Tonight the Bearded-One Speaks!

Happy Ninth Day of the Month, and what a Ninth Day it's turning out to be! First of all, it's raining in June. And I do mean raining! It's raining sideways!

The Beard accepts me!

Another Ninth Day dream come true: Patrick Rothfuss will be speaking and reading tonight here in fabulous downtown Austin, Texas. The event is hosted by The Book People, one of the few brick-and-mortar bookstores in Austin that isn't owned by Half Price Books or Barnes and Noble. The Book People are best known for their indie publications and offerings from local authors. The event starts at 7:00 pm. I plan on being there ridonculously early to get a seat and park. Bring dinner (I made a sandwich), or walk to the Whole Foods on Sixth and Lamar. 

I was going to get  my copy of Name of the Wind signed, but I had purchased a signed copy of The Wise Man's Fear, and so won't take up unnecessary space. 

My only hope for tonight is that Mr. Rothfuss will read from his next Kingkiller Chronicle novel, The Doors of Stone. However, there is also The Slow Regard for Silent Things, which I'm also interested in. 

Thanks to Mr. Rothfuss generously giving us his time, today's Ninth Day of the Month post will be in two parts, with pictures of the event to follow. Check me out on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for photos and video as well.   

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Reign of Ash Review Part 2: What Makes A Good Fantasy Novel?

Memorable characters, outrageously difficult tasks to accomplish within a ridiculously short time-frame, handsome male protagonists, ass-whuppin' female protagonists, bad bad vampire-man, and the name Lanyon Penhallow! All this and a slew of fantastically wrought minor characters and an uncommon setting--in the most pure definition of fantasy fiction--make for an amazing fantasy novel.

From her debut novel, The Summoner, Gail Z. Martin has been taking her fans on a whirl-wind swash-buckling thrill ride. Filled with dashing heroes, dastardly villains, romance and intrigue, Martin's novels give us everything we need in the quintessential fantasy novel. I am fond of comparing Gail Z. Martin to Raymond E. Feist in terms of scale. Huge maps, days of travel at break-neck speeds towards an unpredictable outcome define much of Martin's fantasy framework. Her latest novel, Reign of Ash, released in March of 2014, is one more notch in Gail Martin's blockbuster line-up.

What's New?  

For the first time in a Martin novel, the vampire is not a tertiary character, or a subjugated class of minorities. Enter Lanyon Penhallow, first introduced in Ice Forged, the Ascendent Kingdoms Series first novel. A lord of some wealth and considerable power, and a talishte. Unlike Kolin or Gabriel in the previous series, Chronicles of the Necromancer, and The Fallen Kings Cycle, Lanyon Penhallow and his brood are a rare breed, a set of powerful talishte that are involved from the beginning. The talishte are waging their own war, and this war and it's outcome comprises the backdrop for the Ascendent Kingdoms' novels. Enter Pentreath Reese. Vampire warlord bent on world domination, or someone content to sit back and watch the world burn?

Both lords represent a powerhouse of resources and wealth. Creatures who have nothing but time now find themselves finding time in short supply as the prosperity of the entire kingdom rests on the success or failure of the restoration of magic. Penhallow and Reese's characters are vital, irrevocable to the rest of the plot in ways vampires have not been in earlier novels

What Stayed the Same?

The vampire puppet-master has returned. Pentreath Reese makes Foor Arontola of Chronicles of the Necromancer look like the picture of sanity. Where Foor Arontola's ambition seemed to know no bounds, Pentreath Reese is determined to see magic restored to the natural order, thus rendering humanity as helpless as it ever was in the face of vampire subjugation. By his side is his trusty puppet-lord, Vedrand Pollard. 

Martin has a knack for hierarchies. Both Vedrand Pollard and Jared Drake (The Summoner, The Blood King) seem like monsters on the outside--and on the inside, truth be told. Compared to their vampire lieges, they are but mewling simpletons, weapons to be wielded in a greater play for power far surpassing their human toys' petty ambitions. 

Vedrand Pollard was rumored to be second only to Blaine McFadden's father, who was bad enough to warrant patricide. Imagine, then, a creature as ruthless as Pollard, capable of orchestrating assassination all the way as far as Edgeland, being humbled by something more powerful and fearsome than any torture device, more frightening than death itself. Here is a creature who has lost the meaning of fear, who will live until the end of time, or until he gets tired of it. Standing before him, and constantly dogging is steps, is the most feared of all monsters in human recollection: the vampire. Beautiful, powerful, hungry. Reese is not the kind master Penhallow is to Bevin Connor. Reese acts rashly, behaves illogically and sends his men on wild goose chases, and he is quick to punish them when they fail. Such is the life of one who serves a warlord. Compound this with the fact that this thing could tear your head from our shoulders with barely a thought, and can read your mind in the taking of blood and you have some very stressful working conditions. 

Gail Martin does an amazing job reminding her readers that vampires are creatures we have grown to love, but also remain creatures to be respected and feared. For a more in-depth look at Martin's use of vampires and subjugation, my gendered-reading here goes into more detail. 

Feasting! Let's not forget the feasting! There isn't much to eat in Donderath, but small social gatherings still have big meaning in fantasy fiction, grounding the reader in a sense of safety and security. Let the visithara rage; tonight we host tea and supper and a contra dance in the style of a dying way of life. Tonight we cling to what was, for tomorrow, we ride to reclaim the future. 

To Restore the Magic: The Allegory of Nuclear Fallout

I had made the comparison between the War of Mages (as I'm calling it) and the ever-impending threat of nuclear war in our reality in my review of Ice Forged, which is lost to us because my other blog went the way of the Do-Do. In a Reddit AMA, Gail Martin was able to address the fact that she did not intentionally write the War of Mages to represent nuclear war or the threat of nuclear war, but rather what might happen if our electric grid were to go down. Either way, something catastrophic would likely be the cause of the grid's destruction. 

The people of Donderath relied on magic much the same way we rely on electricity. They relied on it to keep their crops from withering, to make themselves comfortable and to keep themselves secure. Such a battle as the War of Mages that broke the bonds of magic and reduced magic to it's natural state, the visithara (the wild magic) could be easily likened to the aftermath of nuclear war, such as what was depicted in Book of Eli. Nature itself would be altered in the wake of nuclear fallout. I know Martin did not intentionally write this as an allegory, but I feel that anyone in my generation or the one before it (who would have personally--or who's parents would have--remembered the Cold War) can hardly ignore the fact that military tensions outside of our control constantly threaten our way of life. I feel that Martin, in many ways, does the reality of that fear justice in the loss of magic, and in it's shaky restoration, the ritual for which remains documented if you know where to look. Where our reality might have a spot of trouble is that our electricity relies on physical infrastructure that would likely have to be rebuilt, and even then there's no guarantee it would be the same as it was. 

Reese's War: The Story Arch

Slowly, as the novel progresses and we see more Pollard/Reese action--both in private audience and on the battlefield--Reese's motives become more clear, but his character's motivation becomes less so. Pollard's character is easy: he wants to rule Donderath. Unattainable dreams are the best kind, a certain Final Fantasy VII character once said. Reese seems to be happy just to watch all of Donderath writhing in its death throes. Reese is determined for Blaine McFadden to fail in his quest to restore the hasithara (domestic magic). His reasoning is unclear. He feels that the magic is in its purest form as the visithara, despite the fact that it's also very dangerous and unstable in that state. I recall a certain Tool album in which the right honorable Reverend Maynard James Keenan preaches the destruction of the "one great big festering neon distraction" that is California as it slides off into the Pacific, urging its misguided, corrupted populace to "learn to swim." Reese is not a preaching metal star: he is deluded, drunk on his own vision for a new world order. He will join Lanyon Penhallow, Blaine McFadden and Vedrand Pollard in their new titles of Warlords, dividing the power and resources of Donderath among themselves until one of them is powerful enough to ascend. 

Penhallow--tall, handsome, powerful, dashing, and dangerous-- is aware of Reese' vision for the kingdom well before anyone else is. He and Vigus Quintrell attempt to warn King Merril, to no avail. Thus Reese and Penhallow lock themselves into a secret war, a war that culminates in the ultimate fight to restore magic to the broken kingdom of Donderath. On the side of the Allied Forces: Lanyon Penhallow, Kierken Vandholt (the Wraith Lord), Blaine McFadden and his band of ex-cons, Traher Voss the Mercenary Rogue, and Niklas Thielsen, former commander on the front lines for king and country. On the Axis side: Pentreath Reese and his human puppet Vedrand Pollard. Grossly outnumbered, Reese and Pollard persevere in their attempts to gain the throne and restore the old world order to Donderath. Pollard is a despot, an illegitimate Lord of the Blood. McFadden is the disowned lord of Glenreith, disenfranchised and exiled after he murders his father for raping his sister. Where this war will end, no one knows for sure--except Gail Martin. Fantasy authors rarely disappoint when the need arises to leave us dangling in anticipation like squealing mice (small little mice with no hair and one leg).  

Conclusion: The Best Parts

Martin reminds her readers that her characters are human. Humans are capable of the most heinous crimes, especially nobility, who by virtue of their status and wealth, are conditioned to believe they are above reproach, and they are often above the law. Blaine McFadden's father beats and rapes his own children, forcing his oldest son to take matters into his own hands, after which his family is further punished by his disgrace. Martin reminds her readers that no one is perfect: if Blaine had left well enough alone, his family would have survived, but Blaine had a good heart, and could no longer watch his father brutalize his family. He chose, and even though his choice was unpopular, he did what he felt he had to do, and he lived with those consequences. His family did survive, even without him, but in hardship and struggle, a fact he was forced to contend with when he returned from Edgeland. 

Martin reminds her readers that humans are often vulnerable, unwilling heroes content with their lot in life until circumstance calls them to become more than they are. Bevin Connor was not much of a man, but he was happy in his service to Lord Garnoc. He suffers Penhallow's partnership through the kruvgaldur, and then falls prey to Vigus Quintrell's meddling. None of it is his fault or concern, until the Great Fire, when suddenly Bevin Connor, unwilling, stubborn and nervous, must rise to become the only link the Allied forces have to finding Vigus Quintrell and restoring the magic. He becomes a tool of circumstance without recourse. He has no natural defenses, has no skills as a swordsman, and no blood claim to power. He is dragged through dungeons, sewers, crypts and underground caverns against his will. His arguments count for nothing. Bevin Connor is the quintessential human being, an uncommon fantasy character. We are left with little more than pity for Bevin Connor, and we remember that we are only readers, who, like Connor, are more than happy to leave the swashbuckling to the heroes. 

Reign of Ash is a read worth partaking of this summer. Gail Martin is an author of class, a worthy contributor to the genre, and though she may disagree, I believe delving into her works reveals an author who is more than meets the eye. Beneath her stock fantasy characters are comforting traditional tropes. Meshed into her formulaic plot are pantheons of gods who's traditions are steeped in the symbols of our own ancestral mythology, in the symbols of the Dark Mother of Nineteenth-Century deconstructionists (visible in the Crone deity, Esthrane and Rakka) if only we dare to look for those symbols. Martin puts serious effort into the traditions of her characters, her people. Their rituals and shrines become part of the reading experience and strengthens the bond between the characters and the readers. If you have not yet partaken of Gail Martin's other novels, then make this your Summer of Magic. 


Gail Z. Martin is an author of sword-and-sorcery novels. Check out Chronicles of the Necromancer and The Fallen Kings Cycle. Don't forget her series of short-stories for e-readers, featuring resident bad-ass Jonmarc Vahanien. Her Deadly Curiosities short-stories are also available. Look for the novel, Deadly Curiosities June 25, 2014. Summer of Magic indeed. Look for Martin in the kickstarter anthologies Steampunk Versus Aliens, Athena's Daughters, Dance Like a Monkey, and hopefully, Heroes. Visit her blog page on the blog, Disquieting Visions, The Winter Kingdoms on Facebook, and 

All-Star Cast

I love the idea that one day Gail Martin's books will inspire film-goers as well as readers. So, as promised, an all-star cast of characters gets a real all-star cast!

The Cast:

Blaine McFadden: Robert Beitzel (he did good in TURN
Kestel: Emma Watson
Dawe Killick: Sam Riley
Verran Denning: Simon Peg
Pirran: Tom Hardy 
Lanyon Penhallow: 
Niklas Thielsen: Jeremy Renner
Bevin Connor: Alexis Cruz (from the 90s)
Pentreath Reese: Tom Hiddleston (release The Hiddles!)
Kierken Vandholt: John Hurt
Vedrand Pollard: Brad Dourif 
Aunt Gertrude: Rene Russo
Carr McFadden: Brenton Thwaites
...The Sister: Anne Hathaway
Zaryae: Tarja Tarunen
Vallerian: Doug Jones 
Borya: Shawn Ashmore
Desya: Aaron Ashmore
Traher Voss: Jonathan Rhys-Davis 
Vigus Quintrel: David Tennant 
Treven Lowry: Morgan Freeman (characters don't have to be white).

Penhallow's Brood

Geir: Chris Cerulli (better brush up on your vampires, Motionless!)
Tertiary vampires: Ryan Sitowski, Devin Sola.

Reese's Brood:

Ricky Olson
Josh Balz

If you haven't recognized the entire core of Motionless in White, that's okay, you will. They're gonna break onto the scene like a wave of awesome on the beach of whoa

Who should play Lanyon Penhallow? Hit me up on Twitter (@SquealingNerd), on the new Facebook page, show me who you would pick on Instagram (squealingnerd), or drop it down in the comments below. 

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Reign of Ash Review Pt 1: A Gendered Reading of Vampire Fantasy Fiction

I've decided to break this year's review of Gail Z. Martin's latest fantasy gem into two reviews, a regular review, and a gendered reading.

No one does a gendered reading because it amuses them; one performs a gendered reading unconsciously because they've been taught to. Not many casual readers are conditioned to do a gendered reading, and so many won't take interest. So, I've broken out my usual gendered reading of Gail Martin's novel, Reign of Ash. However, I feel it's important--especially these days--to remember that the United States--where I am from--has a culture of stringently defined gender roles, gender roles that are growing rapidly decadent. In order to discourse in gender politics (grossly oversimplified), one must realize that gender politics touches every aspect of our lives, even genre fiction, and that our political view points do much to shape our rhetoric, and our written works do much to strengthen or weaken our world views.  

I normally perform a gendered reading of fantasy fiction on traditional subject matter: the role of the female in fantasy fiction. However, fantasy fiction is not as often meshed with vampire fiction. Horror fiction can be meshed with fantasy and science fiction, but I do not usually see so obvious a connection. To give you the idea of a subtle connection, I reference Cat Valente's Deathless, in which the Lord of Life, Kosche, has also been interpreted as a vampire. A far more obvious gender reading of vampire science fiction could be seen in Brian Lumley's Necroscope series, more specifically, Blood Wars (the male/female interaction being my major point). In this respect, a gendered reading can also be easy or difficult. A gendered reading of R.A. Salvatore is simple, given the fact that the race of Drow is matriarchal. Cat Valente is a feminist author. A difficult gendered reading can be done to Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun, since a feminist or gendered study of the text will likely also be psychoanalytical. 

What I'm not often privy to is the exclusive bond between fantasy--sword and sorcery fantasy--and vampire fiction. In fact, that's what I love about Gail Martin's books, outside of the other stuff. Vampires are often the subject of urban fantasy (like Twilight or The Coven of Shadows series), and if I'm missing something, I would expect someone to set me right. 

Gail Martin has married two societies in a fantasy setting that, traditionally, are kept apart, hidden by either necessity or stigma. Here we see vampires--or talishte--living and working among mortals, and having a presence in court politics and academics. Of course, that is they live and work among mortals until the reign of the old king, and his descending bloodline. Forced to play nice with the nobles, waging their own secret wars are the lords Lanyon Penhallow and Pentreath Reese. I'll expound upon Lanyon Penhallow's character and everything unimaginably cool about him in the next review. 

What Martin has also done is reinforce some very traditional vampire lore: vampires cannot appear during daylight; vampires may only be killed by being stabbed through the heart or decapitation; vampires possess a form of flight. However, much is left to fictional license: vampires can produce a bond similar to creating a fledgeling without turning the human. This process is called the kruvgaldur, and saved numerous characters, but is particularly useful to the character Bevin Connor. 

And so, our gendered reading commences. 

The Talishte: General Sentiment

Despite the general tolerance for "biters" who can prove themselves respectful, there is a stigma attached to being talishte, as well as a certain burden. There is an inherent lack of trust that must be associated with something that looks like people but also feeds on people. There are other burdens as well. Trapped within their forms, the talishte can live for as long as they please to, or are condemned to. Penhallow asserts ferocious tenacity, but has also been living with the fact that he has watched kingdoms come and go, and remembers the exile of the fabled Knights of Esthrane. It haunts him. For Pentreath Reese, eternal life is a chance to see his every ambition come to fruition.   

While Lanyon Penhallow was busy cultivating a relationship with humanity, Pentreath Reese preferred haunting humanity's footsteps, giving his entire race a name the vast majority of them did not deserve, at least in this story.  

Subjugation and Penetration: The Kruvgaldur

Which brings me to my next numbered point on my rhetoric outline. Man or woman, ugly or beautiful, the vampire is the masculine, dominant figure. Make the vampire as effeminate as you want, you only increase the allure, for now beauty and masculinity are combined. In anime, we call this "bishonen", the transcendence of beauty beyond inherent sex (not gender. Sex and Gender are different). A powerful female vampire is also masculine in nature. She is the combination of sexual power and masculine strength. Vampires, therefore, are probably the most dangerous sentient creatures in our lore, and it is no wonder that we are at once attracted to them and afraid of them. 

The vampire breeds hermaphroditically by virtue of the way they feed and propagate their species: the penetration of teeth into the skin. Yes, fangs are phallic symbols regardless of the sex of the vampire. For vampires, feeding and sexual intercourse are linked. "The blood is the life." Bram Stoker had no idea he would be creating the definitive vampire character and it's much-sexualized nature.

Gary Oldman's Dracula is apparently a diva, taking drop-dead-sexy vampirism to a whole new level.

 A vampire draws blood in order to live, and also exchanges blood to create a new vampire. Bram Stoker created a creature that was very sexualized, combining the sexual pleasure of the flesh with propagation and the act of feeding parasitically on human beings. It is arguable that Stoker's Dracula was an allegory to the spread of venereal disease. The vampire's "curse" or "the dark gift" or "kruvgaldur" can only be transmitted by the full-on exchange of blood, just as venereal disease are exchanged through the swapping of fluids, often during sex, but not exclusively, as we know. If Brian Lumley has
taught us anything is that, depending on the vampire, it doesn't take much. Most blood-born diseases are communicable by the accidental swapping of fluids, like using a dirty tattoo needle. Lumley used this liberally. Even the saliva or sexual fluids of the lord Nephran Malinari was virulent enough to make the change. 

The human, by virtue of being not only essential to a well-balanced vampire diet but also the most similar in evolutionary status to the vampire, is  the vessel through which vampirism continues. It is no wonder, then that the superior species can so easily manipulate the inferior one. Vampires of popular fiction possess at least some form of guile, telepathy or compulsion that can remove the willpower of the inferior species--and even inferior vampires. The kruvgaldur is the talishte's bond to non-vampire lieutenants. The kruvgaldur is brought on by a small exchange of blood. The more often the blood is exchanged, the more powerful the kruvgaldur

Many times throughout the novel, the kruvgaldur is administered without permission, as in Blaine's case, in an attempt to save a stricken individual. The human is at their most vulnerable when they receive the kruvgaldur in this manner. The scene that comes most readily to mind is that of Bevin Connor's encounter with the vampire Wraith Lord, when he must channel the Wraith Lord in order to defeat an ambush by Pentreath Reese. We'll get to Kierken Vandholt in a second. I want to focus right now on how Lanyon Penhallow saves Connor. 

Connor and Penhallow have been connected by the kruvgaldur since the last novel, Ice Forged. Connor suffers the kruvgaldur as a necessary evil, until as a last resort, Penhallow must administer a large dose of his blood to anchor Connor's life force. Penhallow uses his compulsion to calm Bevin Connor to a semblance of reason, as obviously the boy is panicking. For all of Connor's protests, he allows the kruvgaldur. Penhallow assures him he will remain human, but begs him to see reason. There is a massive sense of urgency, and the language of the kruvgaldur exchange is quite sexualized, "There was a moment's pause, and then Connor felt cold flesh pressing against his lips (Martin, 396)." Despite the fact that the reader is thoroughly aware the "cold flesh" is Penhallow's wrist, Martin leaves this sentence remarkably ambiguous. These two men, one the vampire lord, and the other a supine human, locked in the vampire exchange, Connor naked to the waste. The kruvgaldur is very homoerotic, though neither of the participants are necessarily homosexual, and though the language is sexualized, there is no sexual pleasure taken. Unlike some writers of vampire fiction, I feel Martin does not take the exchange "all the way." Anne Rice's two homoerotic characters take decided pleasure in the fluid exchange. In Charlane Harris' own work, the vampire, Eric, takes direct sexual pleasure from the exchange, regardless of purpose. Martin's description of the scene seems to imply that Penhallow and Vandholdt whisper near Connor; my mental images were a bit more sexual. Of course, I'm familiar with other vampire tropes, and I found the distance between these characters uncomfortable. I may have filled in those gaps myself. I felt Connor's clinging to his own life force as a sort of...pleasant boundary, separating these characters from a slightly less homoerotic scenario, like a woman just layin' there and thinkin' 'bout all them pretty flowers, a sort of falling inward to escape outward trauma.  We know Connor doesn't want the exchange. He has no choice, and now it's possible this has become a rape-like scene, a scene in which a struggling subjected individual fights the advances of his savior/rapist. Add to this the masculine vampire and the feminized human, and the tone of the scene changes entirely. I doubt our author had this in mind, and it seems a more direct interpretation is in order. Martin does not seem to have an issue with sexual characters. Her characters are not chaste saints. One of her characters is a courtesan. I dare you to look that up and tell  me you can dance around what that entails, and I doubt Kestle laid back and thought about all those pretty roses. Yet the obvious male/female romances juxtaposed to the distanced homoerotic vampire scene leaves me wondering if something about the exchange disconcerts our author, or if it's never occurred to her. Psychoanalysis gave birth to gender studies, so I'll just leave this on the table: why are female/male love scenes okay, but male/male ones are kinda not the same? Vampires allow authors to fudge gender roles. It's difficult for me to fathom the distance without reading to much into it. 

Possession, Vulnerability, and the Othering of the Latent Consciousness: Kierken Vanholdt "The Wraith Lord" 

Poor Connor. No matter what, some creature was going to take advantage of him for the greater good of the dungeon party. I imagine playing Connor's PC goes something like this:

Connor roles his twenty-sided dice.

"I make a fortitude save."

He roles a 0. His dungeon master shakes his head.

"Actually you don't make a fort save. A monster inhabits your body, burning you from the inside and taking over your entire consciousness, pushing you to a far corner of your brain. You can't even hope to save yourself, because the other guy is also slowly killing you."

Sounds like my luck when I play D&D, or even better, when I play Minecraft. 

There is a loss of "self" involved in the possession process: the act through which Connor (or whoever else is possessed) can make no decisions or actions of their own volition. The aggressor: Kirken Vandholt, the much-feared "Wraith Lord". He is no longer a being of corporeal form. Unable to assist in the destruction of Pentreath Reese and the restoration of magic in his current state, Vandholt must take on a corporeal form, or temporarily take control of one. This is dangerous. At any point, Vandholt could have simply chosen not to leave. He could have burned up whatever was left of Connor's life force and taken the body for his own. The shot at pretty much being handed a body to inhabit was tempting, but true to form, Vandholt was as good as gold. 

Connor is the definition of vulnerable, but he is also inferior in status as well. He is low-born, a squire to Lord Garnoc. He lacks skill with a sword, strength of limb or even much in the way of worldly intelligence. He's a cutie-patootie stuck in the horrible aftermath of the Cataclysm. Worse, he's a Medium, able to channel spirits of the dead, the ultimate form of physical violation short of being force-fed the kruvgaldur--a Medium who cannot stop an attack. Kirken Vandholt is wizened; he was present at the raising of the magic at Mirdalur, and he is a former Lord of the Blood. He is Connor's better in every feudalistic way, and then his superior in masculinity by virtue of being a wraith, not to mention a vampire, capable of entering poor Connor's body, thrusting his own consciousness to the fore, reducing his host to a puppet--but only when invited, like a good wraith lord. There is a sexualization of the act of possession taking place, a dans macabre of mores and social contexts that keeps up the pretense of civility, trying to wrap up the brutality and horror of the act itself in pretty language and "please" and "thank yous". Connor is aware that it's a very thin disguise. 

 Vampirism and psychic interference have long been held as acts of violation. A vampire violates it's intended victim by thrusting the force of its essence--sometimes willingly, but also unwillingly--on a new thrall or fledgling. A psychic may break down barriers and reach into our deepest thoughts, where the idea of privacy is abandoned. However, Connor is unique, in that he seems to have  no control over the spirits who possess him. Much like in real life, there is no natural defense or shield against invasion. I find Martin's use of possession to be more than an apt allegory for sexual assault. I defy any rape victim to claim they attempted to keep their aggressor out, but their shields couldn't withstand the onslaught, so they ended up getting raped. That's simply not how it works. Connor is constantly threatened to be consumed by spirits in an area. In this case, I one might not think of Vandholt as an aggressor, but of Connor as chronically fragile. Connor and Vandholt parlay this obvious vulnerability through give-and-take. Only Connor's ability to be possessed by the Wraith Lord saves him and his companions from the Guardian in Valshoa. Even in this, though, the risk is dire. Connor is constantly being confronted with choices: let my friends perish, or come close to dying myself; accept the kruvgaldur and risk the change, or die as a result of refusal. There is no symbiotic relationship between Kirken Vandholt and Bevin Connor. 

For Connor, even for his conscious mind, there is a constant othering, a constant displacement. In this context, almost every scene of possession is a rape-scene. I am not saying a literal "Connor was raped!" scene. I mean a rape scenario harkening back to when Paris brought Helen back to Troy with him. Even if she left willingly, the fact that she was married to Menelaus made Paris the aggressor (boy what a firebrand he turned out to be too). Connor lacks control over everything around him, even his own body. The significance lies in the fact that Connor is male, broadening the gap of sexual assault to men. I compare Connor to Adainne from The Sworn and The Dread. You may remember my rather cruel, "herp-a-derp, I'm just a whore," rant. Adainne was not just a prostitute, but a ghost-whore, someone who's mind was violated and othered by an invading force, but then who's body was violated through sexual intercourse, often resulting in both mental and physical trauma. Her consolation: it paid well. How much you wanna bet not every one of those encounters were heterosexual? Possession is a common denominator for this author, it seems, the great equivocator. What hope has any human for physical safety in a world where anyone can be possessed, or taken by a vampire? I'm suddenly lacking my carefully crafted desensitization. I'm very scared right now. 

Connor is deeply feminized: he is constantly under the threat of violation; he has no control of events, decision making or even where he's going next. His arguments constantly come to naught, and some mage rooted around in his head with a Sharpie and left him dozens of notes for others to decipher. Again, I maintain that, for a fantasy character, Connor is chronically fragile. 

Thus, Connor becomes the party whipping boy; his vulnerability made him an excellent mark for both Vigus Quintrell and Lanyon Penhallow. It seems the only use a human has to a vampire is through some sort of service. We must admit that a human being is inherently inferior to a vampire, and assume that subjugation is in their nature. They are at the top of the food chain, so to speak. A vampire's ultimate goal is to fulfill their own ends, which take precedent over other creatures' needs. A vampire is the ultimate administrator: thralls do their bidding, lesser creatures come when they call, and if this does not occur through the natural order, then through compulsion or guile. We see this most dastardly of vampire traits in Pentreath Reese, who's subjugation is not apologetic or accidental. Lanyon Penhallow and Reese are both aware of their power; the difference lies in how it is used. Reese forces a powerful man, Vedrand Pollard, to his knees regularly, a fact that Martin makes a point of reminding us. I'll resume this line of thinking in the next review, but to return: vampire subjugation is not limited by sex or gender. A male may subjugate a male (Connor and Vandholt);
a female may subjugate a male (Claudia and Louis in Interview with a Vampire, where Claudia is often depicted above Louis in some way, even when he plays the father-role). Traditional gender roles simply do no apply. 

Conclusion: The Bad Vampire Never Left

As our society moves closer to equal rights, it has become more and more common to see authors take advantage of gender roles and twist them to the psychoanalytical rhetoric being exercised in the text. This is not always done consciously, thus it is not always read consciously. A reading of Stephanie Myer or Anne Rice will both render different results, but contemporary fiction takes shifting ideas of gender roles into account. Without performing a psychoanalytical analysis of the text, it's difficult to pin point exactly what purpose Connor's vulnerability holds for the author or the reader, or what it means for gender roles in fantasy fiction in general.  

We must then look to the vampire for our analysis. The vampire's role in fiction has always been one of subjugation, a mix of awe and horror that both excites and frightens us to our core. A vampire is welcomed with open arms and, "Come and take me," followed by, "Please don't hurt me." It could be that vampires represent what we fear most: our darkest desires, the most basic Id that cannot be expressed because of social mores or learned behaviors. It could be that vampires are a reflection of our own sexual repression, that vampires can take our sexuality where we fear to let it go. Another argument can be made that we project our vanity, our fear of our own mortality, and our fear of our own sexuality onto vampires. Do our warped psyches stare back at us from the page? Where will vampires go when we no longer need to fear sexual "deviance", or practice sexual repression? Will they continue to have power over us?

Taking the vampire into consideration, we examine a very human character, something that even seems to be lacking in a fantasy fiction--a very real human, a human that is vulnerable, average, terrified, feminized in the context of the rest of the characters, the Ned Brookshire of Fantasy Fiction. Bevin Connor is so human it's frightening. I believe that this is the reason Connor disgusts me as a character, and why Penhallow and Reese remain so attractive. Who wants to be human? Connor. Connor wants to be human, and he is probably the most sane character in the entire novel. 

In our curiosity for answers regarding the future of gender roles in fantasy fiction, we have only to look to the present. Our poor Connor is subjugated and othered by a vampire presence of male sex, a thing outside fantasy fiction that would quickly garner scrutiny if not outrage. One has to ask: why is it okay for this to be so in fiction, but not so in reality? Why is it okay to condemn homoerotica in real life, but allow it as a Freudian exercise in fiction? Why do we mirror rape, subjugation and othering of ourselves in our fiction? One has to wonder about the nature of a society who has come to love and admire a scapegoat creature, who we hated and feared in our ancestry, but who now holds so much power over us. Do we fear death so much that the idea of being young forever drives us into the arms of the only species on the planet--short of ourselves--that is capable of wiping us out? Our ideas of beauty, youth and worth are all called into question by the way vampires have changed in lore since they first began to plague our sleep and haunt our steps. 

The deconstruction of gender roles through the use of characters to whom sex or gender does not matter is changing the way we think of fantasy fiction. However, the way we view sexual equality is also changing, which in turn changes the way we represent people of different sexual orientation outside of the traditional one. Will the vampire revert to it's previous form? Probably not, for now those who struggle with sexual equality have found themselves another scapegoat. We are both repulsed and jealous of this creature. We fear their touch, and require their power, their freedom. The character has embodied everything we hold dear, and yet we instinctively hide from it, and it may be we are only hiding from our primitive selves.

The subjugation and oppression the vampire is capable of, now more than ever, should once again remind us that vampires are but demi-gods who are at once terrible and beautiful. Our dependence on them only works their favor. For this reason, if for no other, they are to be feared. We'll be doing gendered readings of vampires until we no longer have a need for them--so probably until the end of time.