Gerry B's Book Reviews

Time Well Bent: Queer Alternative History, Edited by Connie Wilkins

  If you enjoy a broad variety of unique and imaginative stories, superbly written, then this book is for you.

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Book blurb: We have always been here. For as long as there’s been such a thing as sex, alternate sexual identities have been a fact of life. So why have we been so nearly invisible in recorded history and historical fiction?

Now editor Connie Wilkins, a Lambda Literary Award finalist, has assembled fourteen stories that span the centuries from ancient times to the Renaissance to the modern era and explore alternate versions of our past.

Their queer protagonists, who bend history in ways dramatic enough to change the world and subtle enough to touch hearts and minds, rescue our past from invisibility, and affirm our place and importance throughout all of history, past, present, and future.

Also available in Kindle version.

 

Review by Gerry Burnie

“Time Well Bent” [Lethe Press, 2009] is one of the more intriguing collections of stories that I have had the pleasure of reading—for a number of reasons.

The first, off-hand, is that it contains several tales about lesbian love; something that I have not had an opportunity to review, previously.

A Wind Sharp as Obsidian by Rita Oakes opens the collection and sets the tone for the stories that follow; inasmuch as it is an imaginative example of superb writing. Malianalli, a mortal, is in a relationship with the Mayan goddess Xochi. The story then goes on to focus on one moment in that relationship, and leaves the fictional consequences to take their shape in the reader’s imagination. This allows the author to concentrate on the political, physical, and spiritual world of the Mayan peoples at the cusp of the conquistadors’ invasion. An intriguing “What if” melding of history and fiction.

“Roanake” by Sandra Barret is the second ‘gal-story’ set in the early (1585-1587) Puritan settlement of that name in North America. Elizabeth, unhappy with the rigidly enforced gender roles of Roanoke, is fortunate enough to be mentored by Maigan, okitcitakwe (two-spirits) to the Croatan Indians. This story is unique inasmuch as it explores lesbianism in Puritan society, and the feminine side of ‘two spirits’. It also provides a ‘what if’ answer to the Roanoke mystery.

 In “A Spear Against the Sky,” M.P. Ericson has chosen the Roman settlement of Britannia as a setting, and two of the most famous women warriors in history; Boudica and Cartimandua. It is a story that adds an intriguing and plausible dimension to our patchy knowledge of events.

In “Great Reckonings, Little Rooms,” Catherine Lundoff shines her light on Woolf’s Judith Shakespeare as an Elizabethan cross-dresser in a story of complex relationships packed into this short story.

“The Heart of the Story” by Connie Wilkins is alternative history set in the second world war. It’s a compellingly solid and active world where mythology and history come together, around a fairytale lesbian love story.

“Morisca” by Erin Mackay is a juxtaposition of great leaders and lowly individuals, in a tale set in the fifteenth century court of Spain. This is a heart warming and charming look behind the scenes.

On the male side “The Final Voyage of the Hesperus,” by Steven Adamson blurs the lines between dreams and realities as the Hesperus sails between India and the sugar plantations of the West Indies. Woven into this is a male love story that is divinely inspired.

“A Marriage of Choice” by Dale Chase is a quintessential ‘what if’ story that imagines Thomas Jefferson debating the terms of the American Bill of Rights with James Madison—as narrated by Jefferson’s male lover, Caleb. Personally, I found this story the most fanciful and intriguing as the two most celebrated minds in American history come together to debate an issue that is not yet settled; i.e. same-sex marriage. A real flight of fancy!

“The High Cost of Tamarind” by Steve Berman is a slight juxtaposing two young men’s haunting past and present, but it was a bit too impressionistic for me to follow comfortably.

“Sod ‘Em” by Barry Lowe is an interesting tale set against an austere location and time—around the ninth or tenth centuries. It is a fairly credible recreation of the conditions a lowly monk might have endured, and almost certainly M/M relationships did result. The idea that the Bible, as we know it, is the product of various translations, transcription and interpretations over the centuries is a ‘what if’ story in itself.

“Barbaric Splendor” by Simon Sheppard is sometimes creepy guided tour of the fabled Xanadu; i.e. the court of Kubla Khan, and it is definitely not what popular, historical accounts have led us to believe.

“Opening Night” by Lisabet Sarai, is very cleverly set around the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, “Ruddigore,” but from there it departs rather dramatically from G&S history. Okay, I was prepared to live with that, but the North American connection left me backstage. Nonetheless, it’s an interesting take superbly written.

“A Happier Year” by Emily Salter is a charming period piece spun around E.M. Forster’s “Maurice,” a novella that was suppressed until after Forster’s death. Salter has created a very sensitive story in which she extrapolates how the publication might have affected society if it had been published before the Great War. She has also created a beautifully complicated character in Henry.

“At Reading Station, Changing Trains,” by C.A. Gardner recalls the story of  T.E. Lawrence’s life as he tries to hide from his fame and ‘other self.’ The problem being that he has revealed his ‘other’ in thefirst draft of his autobiography, The Seven Pillars of Salt (which he burnt). The second draft–sans any reference to it–has been stolen a Reading Station, but mysteriousl comes back to him through his friend, Feisal Ibn Hussien. It is the manuscript, therefore, that brings the two friends back together, and the question then becomes whether the modern history of Iraq would have been different if Lawrence had once again joined forces with Feisal? What if?

As an added feature the authors have each included an explanatory note at the end of their contribution, shedding light on the process and intent behind each entry.

If you enjoy a broad variety of unique and imaginative stories, superbly written, then this book is for you.

September 25, 2010 - Posted by | Fiction, Gay fiction, Gay historical fiction, Historical Fiction, Historical period

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