Jesurgislac’s Journal

July 2, 2009

Reading Andy Olmsted

Andy once referred to me as “my arch-nemesis Jesurgislac”, which phrase I’ve come back to a lot since he was killed in Iraq.

I heard that Andy had been killed on Obsidian Wings: I read the post twice before I was sure I’d taken it in and understood.

What I wrote in the first minute I knew what had happened was:

Oh jesus christ.

I didn’t even know him well, and christ knows I’ll miss him. He was

I want to say something like “he was a gentleman” and I don’t mean anything class-orientated by it: I mean he had the root of the matter in him, he was the kind of soldier I couldn’t imagine *not* trusting to behave well, the kind of guy that a pacifist like me can respect for his courage and his decency.

And he’s dead. Jesus christ, goddammit, what a bloody mess.

If anyone’s passing on messages to the family, I add my condolences, little as they can mean at a time like this. But he’ll be missed and his death regretted even by people who never met him.

I suppose it’s something we’ll all have to get used to, as the years pass, mortality being what it is: the loss of friends – and good enemies – whom we never met.

I was not Andy’s nemesis: that came with a bullet. I never thought of myself as Andy’s enemy: I thought of him, while he was alive, as a grand partner in the fencing game of blog: the kind of opponent who’s never bitter or mean. Now Andy’s dead, I just think: we should remember – we should take care, all of us who knew the Andy who was G’Kar, the person whom we knew on the Internet, to remember: to take care of our memories.

Hilzoy notes here that Andy is now in print:

As I think I’ve written before, Andy Olmsted’s parents have collected his Rocky Mountain blog posts from Iraq into a book. If you’d like to order it, it’s now available at 1-800-882-3273. Andy’s parents will use any money they make above the production costs to establish a scholarship in his name at St. John’s Academy in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, where Andy went to school.

Writers make friends even after death: that too seems very like Andy Olmsted.

April 12, 2009

Lesbian and Gay Books Disappear

Years ago, in the city where I lived then, there was a gay bookshop. This wasn’t usual by any means in most UK cities, but my city had one. And then Waterstones came to the city. And they had the money to stock lots of lesbian and gay books – detective fiction, science-fiction, erotica, teenage fiction, humour – and they did. Instead of heading out of the way to a small bookshop that had a limited kind of stock, LGBT people could stop off at a mainstream bookshop and browse their way round a vast stock.

So when the gay bookshop went out of business, which it did, it didn’t seem to matter so much (well, lots of us were sad and angry, of course …. Waterstones wasn’t the only reason: but it was certainly a strong contributing factor: the main culprit was, as is usual with UK gay bookshops, HM Customs and Excise) …except that as soon as the gay bookshop had gone bust, Waterstones stopped stocking lesbian and gay books, and moved them. Instead of shelves out front for anyone to find, and a vast range of titles and genres – within a year, all the lesbian and gay books that Waterstones stocked were fitted into one shelving unit, in the basement, next to the heterosexual erotica shelving unit. I’m not joking. That’s exactly what happened. I may even have exaggerated how long it took.

Waterstones needed to stock these books when it was competing with a gay bookshop: when it was no longer competing, when we didn’t have a choice about where we shopped, or what books we could buy, Waterstones knew they could serve up crap. And they did. That’s the free market in action to diminish choices.

Amazon is most LGBT people’s gay bookshop of choice. Or rather non-choice: these days, unless you live in London, the odds are there is no where else you can buy gay books. There may be a shelving unit in Waterstones, somewhere at the back out of the way, or there may not.

And now Amazon have decided they want to do the online equivalent of pushing their gay stock to the back of the bookshop.

Mark R. Probst, author of The Filly, noticed something rather odd on April 10th:

On Amazon.com two days ago, mysteriously, the sales rankings disappeared from two newly-released high profile gay romance books: “Transgressions” by Erastes and “False Colors” by Alex Beecroft. Everybody was perplexed. Was it a glitch of some sort? The very next day HUNDREDS of gay and lesbian books simultaneously lost their sales rankings, including my book “The Filly.” There was buzz, What’s going on? Does Amazon have some sort of campaign to suppress the visibility of gay books? Is it just a major glitch in the system? Many of us decided to write to Amazon questioning why our rankings had disappeared. Most received evasive replies from customer service reps not versed in what was happening.

And this is the answer he got, from Ashlyn D, at Member Services for Amazon.com Advantage:

In consideration of our entire customer base, we exclude “adult” material from appearing in some searches and best seller lists. Since these lists are generated using sales ranks, adult materials must also be excluded from that feature.

“Adult” materials, eh? Well: that apparently doesn’t include this:

With the first Centerfold, who just happened to be the radiant Marilyn Monroe, Hugh Hefner masterminded a cultural icon: Playboy’s Playmate of the Month. Now, for the first time ever, Playboy has gathered together every Centerfold from every issue into one luxurious collector’s edition. That’s over 600 beauties. We’ve reproduced these Centerfolds exactly as they appeared in the magazine to create a full-size, deluxe volume. Paging through this colossal, chronological collection provides a breathtaking view of our evolving appreciation of the female form: from the fifties fantasy of voluptuous blondes to the tawny beach girls of the seventies to the groomed and toned women of today.

But perhaps Amazon think people only buy Playboy Centrefolds for the articles.

I’ve never read these novels – so I checked out the Amazon pages for a few I do know. The Fires of Bride, by Ellen Galford, a beautifully funny novel about a lesbian artist who goes to live on a Hebridean island. No graphic sex whatsoever. No pics of naked women. No sales rank on Amazon, either. But it’s out of print, so perhaps that isn’t surprising.

How about Desert of the Heart, by Jane Rule? Even less sex than The Fires of Bride, and it’s in print. But it has no sales rank. How odd. What about Oranges are Not the Only Fruit, by Jeanette Winterson? Well, well: that has a sales rank on Amazon.co.uk, but not on Amazon.com. (Perhaps the .co.uk webmaster went on strike when instructed to consider Winterson, who is quite famous as a literary writer in Britain, a “lesbian writer” all of whose books are “adult” material to be pushed to the back of the shop out of sight?) Of course this is disgusting that Amazon should be doing this to any writer, any novel, simply because the subject matter is LGBT. It wouldn’t surprise me if, next week, Amazon.com reverses its decision over many novels with famous writers or with pro-active publishers: but the less-known novels, the small-scale publishers (and most LGBT books are published by small-scale publishing houses and are less-known novels) will find themselves still relegated to the shelving unit, in the basement, tucked away out of sight where the decent men who buy Playboy Centerfold won’t be disturbed by them.

c_smith_author writes:

Please note that just before this, Erastes’ Transgressions and Alex’s False Colours were topping out the rankings. Also note that The Filly is a YA Books, and therefore I would suggest one of the more important books to have out there for kids questioning their identity, and Transgressions and False Colours are being shelved with the Romance section of Barnes and Noble. Though as Mark points out, that is of no fucking importance because this is homophobic bias pure and simple.

I have no idea what to do about this except spread the message. If anyone has any ideas on what to do, tell me. Because I am not letting this lie. As vashtan said, they are happy to take the money, but not happy to give these books the recognition they rightly deserve.

I don’t know what to do either, beyond publicise Amazon being homophobic gits.

Update: Nicola Griffiths speaks out:

Amazon’s policy is idiocy of the highest order. Some thoughtless manager OK’d the low-hanging-fruit approach. (“Hey, if you want to protect Moral Americans from na-s-s-s-ty sexual content, then deleting all queer books from the rankings—and therefore the bestseller and some search listings—will get lots of ‘em at once! Woo hoo, straight Christians will be safe!”) That manager should be fired.

And then I want a public apology from Jeff Bezos.

This is important. A quick and quiet revocation of the policy is not enough. I want a public acknowledgement and a pledge to never again try to shove queers under the carpet. It’s the only way to counter the perception queer readers and queer writers don’t count.

Being invisible is dangerous. It ruins careers and it puts young readers at risk.

Nicola Griffiths is the award-winning writer of Ammonite and Slow River and other books with many lesbian characters. As far as I can see, all her novels had their sales ranks removed in the Easter wipeout, and though Amazon is restoring some of the high-profile books, they’re evidently not in a hurry to do that for all of the titles blocked from sales ranking.

I agree with Nicola Griffiths, wholeheartedly: the least that should happen is that the “glitch” is fixed, and fast, and then Jeff Bezos should publicly apologize for wiping so many LGBT books off the listings at Amazon.

Below the fold: Screenshots of the page for Playboy Centerfolds on Amazon.com (which is evidently not “adult” material, as it has a sales rank) and the page for Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit, on Amazon.com, with sales rank suppressed on account of it being “adult” material. Also compared: Unfriendly Fire: How the Gay Ban Undermines the Military and Weakens America, by Nathaniel Frank, with Fight Club, by Chuck Palahniuk. One’s about DADT, one’s about young straight men beating each other to a pulp; guess which one is considered “adult”?

Update: Amazon Rank Open letter on Booksquare Amazonfail on Twitter.

(more…)

September 26, 2008

Left Behind: After five years

Nearly five years ago, on 17th October 2003, Fred Clark began to write a notable series of posts dissecting one of the worst novels ever to achieve commercial publication: “These books are evil, anti-Christian crap. This weekend, I’m beginning a new series of posts in which I’ll go through these books, page by page.”

(The first couple of posts tagged Left Behind were written just over five years ago: Hide the beer, the pastor’s here and In the sweet by and by. These are useful to read if you’re interested in the religious side of it, but do not deal directly with the appalling novel.)

Left Behind: Pretrib Porno introduces Rayford Steele:

The first words of Left Behind are “Rayford Steele,” the protagonist’s name.

L.B.: Meet Buck Williams and L.B.: Meet the GIRAT

The Buck Williams of Left Behind is even more of a superstar. He’s a kind of journalistic James Bond. The Greatest Investigative Reporter of All Time.

Anyway, here’s how the GIRAT reported, firsthand, from the scene of an all-out nuclear surprise attack:

To say the Israelis were caught off guard, Cameron Williams had written, was like saying the Great Wall of China was long.

Just remember, when L&J discuss good writing, this is what they mean.

L.B.: The denial of death:

Left Behind has been praised by some as an “evangelistic” book, but it’s not. Although the book does attempt to scare people into conversion, that is secondary. The authors’ real message for those they regard as unsaved is to thumb their nose and do a little victory dance. “You just wait until Jesus gets back and proves we were right and you were wrong. Then we’ll see who’s laughing at who.”

At the moment, the earliest posts about Left Behind are on page 22 of the tagged posts: but if Fred (as he promised) continues with Tribulation Force, this will change. Typepad’s unhelpful paging system makes the old comment threads a pain to read, which is a pity, because there were some terrific comments in there.

But there are insufficient words to praise Fred Clark’s achievement. Go, read. This is great stuff, and Fred Clark deserves all honour and praise.

March 19, 2008

Arthur C. Clarke: 1917-2008

Filed under: writers and books — jesurgislac @ 1:11 am
Tags: ,

“It is not easy to see how the more extreme forms of nationalism can long survive when men have seen the Earth in its true perspective as a single small globe against the stars.” – The Exploration of Space (1951)

“I dearly wish to see lasting peace established in Sri Lanka as soon as possible,” he said, referring to Asia’s longest-running war in which the Tamil Tigers’ campaign for an independent homeland has left tens of thousands dead.

Although the conflict started in 1972, fighting has been escalating in the island since late 2005, when a Nordic-brokered truce unravelled.

“But I’m aware that peace cannot just be wished — it requires a great deal of hard work, courage and persistence,” he said in a taped message released to reporters here before the celebrations.

Clarke, who also wished for evidence of extra-terrestrial life and for the world to adopt cleaner fuels on his birthday, said he did not feel “a day older than 89″ as he completed “90 orbits around the sun.”

“I have no regrets and no more personal ambitions,” said the writer, who was confined for the past three decades to a wheelchair because of the effects of post-polio syndrome. Sydney Morning Herald, March 19 2008

I was re-reading Imperial Earth just recently. He wasn’t an especially good writer of fiction: while his sexual orientation didn’t intrinsically have to be a handicap – a good writer can transcend the social restrictions, a great writer transform them – I notice the real feeling between Karl and Duncan, and wonder if Clarke could have been better at writing human relationships if he had not grown up in a country, at a time, when his normal sexual orientation would have got him two to five years in jail. But he was an astonishing writer of ideas.

“No, merely mildly cheerful.” – Arthur C. Clarke, if questioned on his sexual orientation. Bless.

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