Thursday, April 22, 2010

Review: Contraband by Charlie Vazquez (Rebel Satori Press)


CONTRABAND is only the second novel by Charlie Vazquez and I look forward to many more from him.  He and I crossed paths on Twitter and after learning we shared interests, he was gracious enough to send me an ARC of his novel and allow me to review it.

Told in the first person, it is the story of Volfango Sanzo, a Latino man who is a government employee in a near-future America.  The country has turned in on itself because of civil war and revolution; government designed operating systems have rendered all other computers useless, communication satellites have been seized and media outlets restructured, all for the Revolution.  Curfews are mandated and public executions of dissidents have become popular entertainment.  It is in this America that Volfango works, as an employee for the Ministry of Technology.  But it wasn't always so.

Volfango remembers places and people seen with his father who was a sea-loving man, so much so that he left his children and wife behind to sail again on the sea, never to return.  Volfango remembers places full of color and music and people full of passion and life.  Now his life is working in the Ministry,always under the eye of the Republican Guard.  And Volfango also has secrets of his own, secrets that make him paranoid and fearful for his life.  Then he hears rumors of people "sinking down", defecting undeground to escape.  When his government mandated "gene test" is scheduled, he is so afraid of renegade genes in his DNA being discovered that he sinks down and tries to make a life underside, where everone he comes into contact with is a rebel and where he is also looked on with suspicion by them.

I read this book in one sitting.  Vazquez's colorful language is absolutely poetic and he also kept Volfango's adventures underside coming at me at a fast pace.  I found myself eagerly turning the pages to see what happened to Volfango next. And the other undersiders that Volfango meets on his journey are a gritty cast of characters indeed.  There are ex soldiers, thieves, prostitutes, high born citizens and even circus folk and for Volfango, they are all not to be trusted.

Vazquez was inspired by Latin American revolutionary struggles and this informs his near future, Big Brother setting.  There is no escaping the effects of the Revolution for Volfango.  He is never at peace and lives his life by doubting everything.  He becomes too bruised by the conflict raging topside and even within himself to express his emotions to those most close to him.

CONTRABAND is a fast paced, riveting tale that I enjoyed very much.  I am now going to seek out Vazquez's first novel as well.  Do yourself a favor get a copy of CONTRABAND today.  It is available on Amazon and at Rebel Satori Press as well.  You won't be disappointed.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Review: Tales From The Sexual Underground by Rick R. Reed (MLR Press)

This was the first collection of short pieces from Rick that I've had the pleasure to review; I dove into it immediately, eager to see to which dirty corners of the backrooms of his mind he would lead me.  And I wasn't disappointed.

I knew that Rick would excite and titallate me with this collection.  What I didn't expect was how uncomfortable some of the subject matter would make me.

Rick is very upfront in his introduction and tells us that he "wanted to write about people that were not just out, but out there, people who lived their sexual lives in ways most of us could only imagine...and for whom the flavor vanilla had absolutely no appeal."  And he covers this ground quite well, delving into topics like different sexual fetishes, the lure of the internet and thought provoking pieces that examine love,sex and monogomy in relationships.  Then there are the stories where he looks at gay men and drugs and bad judgement and HIV and it is here with these tales that I felt myself start to squirm a little.

To be sure, Rick isn't saying here that all gay men act as some of his characters have.  But the reality is those who haven't are in the minority.  Who among us hasn't seen a "sex god" and wanted to do whatever we had to to get into his pants?  Or been too high from a night of partying that we didn't think of the possible consequences of our actions?  Those consequences can be devastating as seen in "Negative. UB2", "Stranger Danger" and "Getting a Workout At The Health Club".  These stories made me shiver as I read them because the danger in them is very real.  The sexual underground indeed because we know the risks but ignore them for the more immediate gratification.

Equally chilling are "Meat Mallet" and "Craigslist", which had a cliff hanging ending that made me scream and then scream in frustration for wondering what happened next.  And there are the funny, laugh out loud tales as well: "The Truth-And The Myths-About Being A Slut", "Sick Day" and I am now waiting for Rick to collect all of the adventures of his friend Pete Thickwhistle ("Big And Sexy: A Late
Night Tale", "Glory Hole Grabber") into one volume, they are that hilarious.

Yes, I thoroughly enjoyed this collection and the ride Rick took me on in its pages and would absolutely recommend it to readers of horror and gay lit.  It definitely isn't for everyone but if you proceed with caution, you will be titillated, amused, thrilled and chilled.  Open your mind (or your legs) and you will enjoy the ride, too.