Release The Virgins

ISBN: 1-5151-2384-0/978-1-5154—2384-3

This is the second best book I’ve ever read that was written on a dare. The first was “Frankenstein” by 18-year-old Mary Shelley, after she and her future husband, the poet Percy Shelley, spent a wet summer at the Villa Diodati in Switzerland with their friend Lord Byron, where it wouldn’t stop raining. They spent most of their time reading ghost stories in front of the fireplace during all those dark and stormy nights, which inspired Byron to suggest that they all write a ghost story of their own. Poor Mary spent many sleepless nights wracking her brain to come up with a scary story, until she had a nightmare about “a scientist who created life and was horrified by what he had made; her dream later evolved into the novel’s story.”[Wikipedia, “Frankenstein”]. I think we all agree that Mary Shelley won that competition.

Michael Ventrella agreed to edit this collection of twisted tales after spending a weekend at an unnamed fan con, while he and a group of literary friends were sitting at a table in the bar on the third night of this four-day convention. One of them caught a fruit fly, which led to a discussion about biology, during which Thomas Nackid, who became the book’s cover artist, told them about his time in college when he was taking a genetics class and had to get up in the middle of the night to “release the virgins” from the fruit fly cultures. This catchy phrase so inspired the other authors that an idea was born; a challenge to write a story which included the phrase “Release the virgins”.

After agreeing to collect stories for the anthology, Ventrella decided to throw open the submissions process to everyone. In the book’s introduction, he admits that he was “worried that we would not get a large enough variety of stories to make this worthwhile”. But after a week, he was forced to announce, “No more unicorns!” As a longtime unicorn lover, I for one would have enjoyed reading more than the one unicorn story he included in this anthology; “Valedictory” by Lawrence Watt-Evans, which is about a girl who, along with a group of other village maidens, acts as bait to lure the unicorns at the local preserve every year so their horns can be harvested for medicinal purposes.

But despite the dearth of unicorn stories, the rest of the stories he selected, by such well-known and eminent authors of sci-fi and fantasy as David Gerrold, Keith R.A. DeCandido, even my homeboy Patrick Thomas of “Murphy’s Lore” fame, all contain the required phrase, “Release the virgins”, a small pearl hidden within a tasty oyster of prose. Some of those oysters are tastier than others, at least from my point of view. Stories such as “Are You There, Cthulhu? It’s Me, Judy” by Beth W. Patterson, about a teenage Cthulhu worshipper at summer camp, and “Coming Attractions” by Daniel M. Kimmel, about an alien who becomes a successful Hollywood scriptwriter/producer, could have used a bit of cocktail sauce. Though I do like the way that Ms. Patterson managed to smuggle the phrase “Release the virgins” into her story. (The teenaged protagonist listens to her iPod while she’s riding horses; among her musical favorites is a group called The Virgins. She remarks to one of her friends, “I wish that some label would release The Virgins as a box set”.)

Among my favorites is “Sidekicked” by Hildy Silverman about an alternate universe Earth divided into Heroics and Villains by a godlike alien called the Architect, “with a smattering of ordinary folks to save or torment”, in which a teenage girl villain called Teen Devil accidently kills a hero’s sidekick and tries to make it up to him by replacing the boy, for her own nefarious purposes of course. There’s also “Innocence Lost” by Gail Z. Martin, where a witchy woman who’s a psychometric (able to read the history and magic of objects by touching them) finds an antique statue of the Virgin Mary stolen by the man who just bumped into her and uses it to find out that the man in question has been stealing statures of the Blessed Virgin from Catholic Churches, along with other holy images known for healing and warding off evil, to protect himself from a demon he accidently conjured up and can’t get rid of. All those statues of the Virgin Mary naturally lead to the required phrase, as in “…we need to get him to release the Virgins so they can go back to the churches where they belong.” The book is filled with better and worse ways of using the phrase, so be prepared to laugh or groan accordingly.

Patrick Thomas’s “The Running of the Drones” and David Gerrold’s “Dangerous Virgins”, which end the book, are neck and neck for sheer audacity. I can’t decide which story I liked better; Patrick’s is about a private investigator on a Terran colony world trying to find the lost virgin queen of a hive of Wornets, whose inexperienced drones, all eager to mate with her, hold a yearly race similar to the running of the bulls in Pamplona to determine who gets to her first. David’s story is about fan fiction and the weirdos who love it, writers and readers alike. (Don’t get your knickers in a twist, Space Cadets, I’m one of you and I include myself in the weirdo category.) One fanfic writer in particular and the know-it-all Trekker determined to bring him down for daring to satirize Star Trek and write dirty porn versions of all the sacred original Series episodes we adore (A Private Little Whore, Charle-SeX, The Naked Slime, I could go on and on but I’m both repulsed and fascinated by this nonsense, like a Vulcan on the verge of her seven-year itch). You’ll have to wait till the end of David’s story to see how he used the phrase, but Patrick comes right out with it at the beginning of the drones’ race to mate with their virgin queen.

All in all, I found “Release The Virgins” to be a very satisfying read. Some of the stories were more satisfying than others, but even the worse ones I had to give an A for effort. Get a copy of your own and spend some time releasing the virgins while pondering whether to imprison or release the writers responsible for all these virgin efforts. (But I still think it could have used more unicorn stories!)

Book Review: FIERCE: The History of Leopard Print

TITLE: FIERCE: The History of Leopard Print
BY: Jo Weldon
PUBLISHED BY: Harper Design, An Imprint of HarperCollinsPubishers
ISBN: 978-0-06-269295-5
Review copy provided by author

Review by Ida Vega-Landow

This book is dedicated to “the BIG Cats, the people they INSPIRE, and the people who work to preserve their lives and HABITATS.” But it’s intended for all you wild things out there who love to wear leopard print. It’s a historic study of the vivid, spotted fur of a beautiful beast whose strength and independent nature inspired women, who are usually the downtrodden, powerless members of society, to be strong and fearless too.

Being a livelong lover of leopard print myself, I have worn it in every way possible. My favorite loafers and sneakers are leopard print; so is a well-worn pair of high heels, along with one of my mock turtleneck tops, a short-sleeved blouse and a pair of stretch pants. Of course I have a leopard print nightgown, and a sleepshirt, as well as pajamas. I also have a leopard print bra, for which I have yet to find matching undies. I laugh to scorn the conventional notion that women over fifty shouldn’t wear leopard print. I’ve worn it more often since I turned fifty. I use it as an accessory, to set off my favorite clothes. I don’t think I’d have the nerve to wear head to toe leopard print, though certain celebrities, from Peg Bundy of “Married With Children” to Pat Benatar, who regularly performed in a leotard or catsuit, are not shy about doing so.
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Book Reveiw: “Indigo”, a mosaic novel

Indigo, a mosaic novel
By Charlaine Harris, Christopher Golden, Jonathan Maberry, Kelley Armstrong, Kat Richardson, Seanan McGuire, Tim Lebbon, Cherie Priest, James A. Moore, and Mark Morris.
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Publication Date: June 2017
ISBN 978-1-250-07678-6
Book supplied by publisher

Review by Ida Vega-Landow

This is the second book I’ve read that was written by a committee. The first one was “Naked Came The Stranger”, back in 1969, written by Penelope Ashe, which was a pseudonym for a group of twenty-four journalists led by Newsday columnist Mike McGrady. He wanted to write a book that was both deliberately terrible and contained a lot of sex, to illustrate the point that popular American literary culture had become mindlessly vulgar. McGrady was convinced that any book could succeed if enough sex was thrown in. He was right; the book became a bestseller. After the hoax was revealed, it sold even more copies. This proves that you can never go broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public, according to H.L. Mencken, renowned author and cynic.
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Book review: Joe Steele by Harry Turtledove

I’d like to publish the following guest review by my favorite collaborator, Pet Leopard, as a warning of things to come after the nomination of Donald Trump on January 20th. God help America.

“Joe Steele” by Harry Turtledove
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication Date: 12/01/2015
ISBN-13: 9780451472199
Book supplied by Reviewer

Guest Review by Pet Leopard

Well, according to a popular old saying: “The more things change, the more they stay the same. Harry Turtledove’s thought provoking masterpiece, “Joe Steele”, is a testament to the truth of that line of reasoning.

As a child of the early 1960’s, I have lived through both Kennedy assassinations, the Vietnam War, the Cold War, the Iranian Hostage Crisis, the Gulf War, the attacks on the World Trade Center, and a horrible decade-long period of warfare in Afghanistan and Iraq. Although Mr. Turtledove references an alternate history that’s set well before the earliest of those events had taken place, there are many parallels that resonate very closely.
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Book review: “Do You Want to Know a Secret? The Autobiography of Billy J. Kramer

BY: BILLY J. KRAMER with Alyn Shipton
PUBLISHED BY: Equinox Publishing 2016
ISBN: 978 1 78179 361 9
Review copy sent by publisher

Review by Ida Vega-Landow

The British Invasion didn’t just bring The Beatles to our shore. It also brought a great many young British bands eager to follow in their footsteps. Some went on to become big stars, like The Rolling Stones and The Who. Some were one hit wonders who just came and went. But one enduring presence was a lad who befriended the Fab Four when they were all just aspiring young musicians in Liverpool. His name was, and is, Billy J. Kramer.
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Book review: My Kid Brother’s Band a/k/a The Beatles!

My Kid Brother’s Band, aka The Beatles!
By Louise Harrison
Published by Acclaim Press, 2014
ISBN: 978-1-938905-52-0
Review copy sent by publisher

Review by Ida Vega-Landow

I first saw Louise Harrison at this year’s Fest for Beatles Fans in Rye, N.Y. She spoke about her brother George with so much love and affection that I decided I had to read her book to learn more about the man we Beatles fans call The Quiet Beatle, but she called her little brother. I was half expecting a puff piece making George look more angelic than was humanly possible, like another Harrison bio I read (see my earlier review, “Here Comes the Sun: The Spiritual and Musical Journey of George Harrison” by Joshua M. Greene). Instead, I found an honest, in-depth history of the author’s life during World War II as well as before and after her little brother became famous.
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Book review: Here Comes the Sun. The Spiritual and Musical Journey of George Harrison

Here Comes the Sun. The Spiritual and Musical Journey of George Harrison
By Joshua M. Greene
Published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2006
Review copy provided by publisher

Review by Ida Vega-Landow

Let me say right from the beginning: I loved this book! Despite the obvious proselytizing on behalf of the Hindu religion—what used to be known as Krishna Consciousness here in the States—Joshua M. Greene, writer and producer for PBS and the Disney Channel (he also wrote “Justice at Dachau” and “Witness: Voices from the Holocaust”, which was made into a PBS-TV documentary), has written a tender, loving account of the life of George Harrison, before and after the Beatles, and how his faith in Krishna helped him to overcome all the emotional and financial setbacks in his life, ultimately allowing him to die with grace after losing his battle with brain cancer.
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Book review: Dark Money

Dark Money
By Jane Mayer
Published by Penguin Random House
ISBN: 978-0-7352-1033-2
Review copy provided by reviewer

Review by KM Warner

By now it’s well known that Charles and David Koch have been very busy in distributing substantial amounts of money in support of right wing causes. What wasn’t well known before the publication of Jane Mayer’s meticulously researched book Dark Money The Hidden Agenda of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right was that they and similarly minded economic libertarians have been embarked on a forty-year effort to remake the American economic, political and cultural system in their own image through the strategic establishment of tax-deductible philanthropic organizations that are little more than fronts for the funders’ business interests.
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Book review: Sadistic Pattern, by Michael J. Molloy

SadisticPatternBookSadistic Pattern
by Michael J. Molloy
Published By: Gypsy Shadow Publishing, 2015
ISBN: 13: 978-1619502758
Review copy sent by author

Review by Ida Vega-Landow

It’s been said by the philosopher George Santayana that “those who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it”. I think that saying should be amended to “those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it”. Such is the case with Professor Roger Lavoie, the central character of this new suspense novel by Michael Malloy, whose previous novel, “The Diamond Man”, gave us a look at love and baseball. Now branching out from romance to suspense, Mr. Malloy has given us a study of one man’s slow descent into madness as events from his past repeat themselves in the present.
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Book review: Citizen. An American Lyric

Citizen. An American Lyric
By Claudine Rankine
Published by Greywolf Press
Review copy provided by the publisher

Review by Ginger Mayerson

Racism is bad, insidious and ubiquitous, and nothing is ever going to get any better until the singularity when we no longer have bodies or something. Yes, and it makes me feel bad that there isn’t even a glimmer of hope for the situation to ever get microscopically better until the singularity or something. Alas, what else can one do but strike up the band, and pour out the wine, if that’s all, all there is. So I am silenced by Claudine Rakine’s “Citizen” because there is nothing for me to say about it because she says it all: racism is bad, insidious and ubiquitous, and nothing is ever going to get any better.

However, I’m happy for all the success Greywolf Press is having with this book. They are nice people who publish what they believe in and deserve all the success in the world.

I’m also happy for the Fountain Theater in Los Angeles for having their very successful readers theater interpretation of “Citizen” extended into October. I saw it tonight, and the acting, the staging, and use of the text is superb. Try to see it if you can.