This is a set of reviews of eleven short stories anthologized in “GENOCIDE” by Tim Barrus, published in 1988 by Knight's Press.
Ten of the stories are accompanied by a poem, which will be considered as a group at the end of this series. These stories are written in the context of radical gay men (as contrasted with conventional gay men) during the Eighties, when the expansion and experimental edge of the culture was still persisting, but in the face of the terrible plague of HIV virus. The language and descriptions are on the edge for the mainstream, but not for the community of the author.
Do not expect to find out what is true and what is not. When a writer is working, the two are both raw material for the story. That’s the way it works. If you don’t like it, don’t read fiction. Maybe you shouldn’t read nonfiction either. Maybe you shouldn’t read at all, since reality is always filtered and composed.
When these stories were published by Knights Press, leatherfolk were still mostly underground. You could not yet get the directions for extreme sex on YouTube. One literal arson holocaust was at the gay Upstairs Lounge in New Orleans in 1973. 32 people died.
“The Dependency of Variables”
Two cosmonauts are sent into space in an “intelligent” spaceship. The ship, like the predecessors “Hal” or “Mother,” will define concepts if asked. “Genocide comes from the ancient Greek word: genos, meaning race or kind and refers to the systematic extermination of a people. The Romans bastardized the word and turned it for their own cultural purposes (they were very good at committing genocide) into: genius. A genius was a powerful guardian spirit assigned to a person at birth. Genocide connotes destruction while genius connotes an influence over destiny. End of definition.”
The ship, named Tsan, who appears to also be male, becomes jealous of the two humans, who are lovers, and freeze-locks one of the crew behind thick glass. The other broods masturbating in the crystal nose-cone where the ship can’t “see” him until he can’t stand it anymore and breaks open the glass on the freeze-locker.
The ship is very upset, so the two men allow him to come into the bow to deep-empathize while they make love. Before that, the ship defines love as “Damage. Pain. To give. All is program. End of definition.”
After the experience the ship defines love as “Lacking limits or bounds. Extending beyond measure or comprehension. Endless power. Greater than finite. Burn. Faster than Tsan. Madness.”
It’s an effective compact plot with an excellent philosophical point to make (jealousy comes from not understanding) but what makes the story remarkable is the language, a mix of terminology from math, science, and intensely romantic poetry. “This part of the virus universe was dense with the light from stars; it was fluid-like and white.”
If you take Auschwitz and a leper colony, mix them with Vegas and any small town traveling carnival (carne = meat), then think about Guantanamo, Japanese internment, and all the other attempts to confine and destroy some category of people, you’ll have the premise of this story. It plays out in terms of two boys (Star and Adonais) who are “body scrapers” whose job is to pull body parts out of the slush sump under the thriller rides.
Scraping was best at graytime. Most INCAMP, most Newkoomer, slept during graytime, that silent betweenspace which breathes with quiet unquestioning lust in the place where the night is not the day and the day is not the day. Graytime in the desert literally seethes with graytime shadow when the heat is not the heat and the bite-me cold slowly heroin warms itself into the stark reality of morning.” Think “dissociation,” when one’s mind goes some other desolate place in order to escape the unbearable. Think the Plains Indian Sand Hills.
Goya, the dwarf and wiseman, is there to give advice. He tells about Isaiah (who is an even more resourceful computerist and wizard). This is an apocalyptic story so they find Isaiah, and that’s the end of the story. (Both Isaiah and Adonais are ancient names for the Jesus figure. Star is the name of a Blackfeet equivalent hero.)
This vision of the deadly carnival -- or something very like it -- was brought to life in the movie “A.I.” (Artificial Intelligence.) by Spielberg with Jude Law as a sort of “goat-footed balloon-man” leading us along. A few days ago a young man got his head knocked off on the Batman roller coaster. This story is not as extreme as it might seem. In fact, that’s the point.
Angel Island is more remote than Alcatraz and the location of a detention center for immigrants, often from China and therefore “other”. They were detained unreasonably for long periods of time, even years, under harsh prison conditions. The author takes his lover on a tour there. They dawdle and are locked in. This is a real life experience that is buttressed with library research, universalization through the knowledge that this cruelty and suspicion is still repeated around the planet.
“Today the deserted streets of Angel Island seem ethereal. Echo echo. Many of the long dormitory structures have been fenced off. Trespassing is forbidden. This place is somehow windswept moon-sweet silent soundless like the desert.”
He summons up the figure of an old man once confined there, Yu of Taishan. When leaving, he looks back, “the forms and shadows saddened me; upon seeing the landscape I composed a poem.” The prisoners had scratched such poems on the walls of their confinement.
This unrestrained Henry-Miller-style ecstasy of sex and terror works both as an account of the Weimar Republic just before the holocaust and as a portrait of the unrestrained gay obsession with wealth and privilege just before the HIV plague triggered rumors of quarantine camps like leper colonies.
“Haunted the deathsoaked spirit of autumn in a place where mist pulled at your eyes, your conscience, and pulled at autumn as if autumn could be budged. The seaside gloom, the mist of France, could not be permeated. Not even by an over accumulation of rumor.”
“Midnight’s Knock on the Madness Door”
The simple version is that a Chilean young man needing help because of politics knocks on the door of two lovers. All are paranoid because they are “outliers,” “Others” -- stigmatized. It is dangerous but the two lovers willingly expand to a triangle. Then the refugee becomes very ill, which means getting him into a clinic. But they manage it. What they must do is terrifying, but it is balanced by the ecstasy of sex mixed with love, graphically and poetically described.
“Sometimes it is a fulltime job keeping the madness on the other side of the door; sometimes it is impossible and the madness comes in and takes a seat, has a cocktail, sometimes two.”
At present homosexual acts are punishable by death in some African countries. Technically, homosexuals were forbidden in Sochi during the recent Olympics. In those places, no one wants to hear a knock on the door. But being gay is not the only way to be marked for death.
Yes, this is Native American warriors, two of them, lovers, and armed with modern firearms. They are resisting genocide in a time of dystopia. “Their morality was the morality of survival.” This time there is a ten-year age difference between the lovers, which seems to play out in a man/woman (top/bottom) sort of way. Both hunt (with bows and arrows) but Tewa, the softer one, cooks. Pawnee restricts Tewa as a way of protecting him. They are doing well enough that they become the nucleus of a tribe, but they end up digging a lot of graves.
“Sometimes it seemed as if a powerful light emanated -- blazed -- from every grave they dug.”
The premise of the story is that two lover/brothers are in a post-apocalyptic time when the world is radioactive and lack of water has reduced the land to sand. “The only extremes left to it were the extravagant temperatures of natural extremes.” Human babies, if they lived long enough to be born, were “twisted and twisting in grotesque and strangulated forms of pain.”
The boys live by killing sand wolves made man-eaters by consuming the debris from burning virus camps, burnt to sterilize and eliminate. Stumbling, sharing body fluids, they barely make it to an oasis and find there a man named Zealot, another of those Hebrew/Greek blind visioneers. He asks them to make love so he can witness and experience their desire second-hand. Then he dies, content, and they bury him. It is a Dionysian defiance of death before the planet dies.
A figure called Athanasia (A-thanatos, NOT death) appears. “Above their canyon, Athanasia with her carnivorous skywinds sang and laughed and danced and bitched with her inevitable treachery.” The story ends: “It had once been a great planet of war and slavery. It had once been a great planet of demonic fools. Genocide. It was now a great silent baptised planet of eternal sand. Lullabye lullabye.”
“A Farewell to Love”
A successful writer is old enough to be gray (48). He’s living in New York City in a winter like this one and he’s got writer’s block. In the time of the book, one had to have papers about HIV in order to travel between countries, but his are in order. He goes to Mazatlan, which is very rural, at least at this time. Naturally, he falls in love with an innocent beautiful Mexican boy whose toothlessly grinning mother sends him over. The time comes for him to return to Manhattan, but at the last minute he decides not to go, which means -- probably -- he will never be able to go back. It’s an erotically baroque fantasy fit for Zorba the Greek. The title is ironic.
“The first time is always an explosion of awareness that is better than any fantasy could hope to be. Better even than death’s malicious promise of an orgasm. Worth the risk.”
Leatherfolk iconography includes a motorcycle, black leathers, ordeal flights across the country, revisiting old haunts, including all races but only one gender, being always a fugitive from capture, and experiencing service in Vietnam where all the rules were broken. In this story a white man with a black lover must flee to a Native American former lover. He hides with Jimmy Dog until the Indian man takes the motorcycle to go into town, where he is captured, never to return. All three are united by being faggots.
The lonely sound of trains on the prairie is conflated with the box cars that once transported Jews to crematoria. “It was after three, somewhere off the road. Somewhere quiet and inviolate. Somewhere where the owls stood watch. The Harley cooled with an almost evil seethe. Sean could hear the soft, enigmatic sound of a train in the raving distance. The whistle of the train. The far-off approaching rhythmic horror of the train. The trains were always full of faggots.” The men who escape do not weep. They stand drenched in rain, “renegade soaked in the pouring rain.”
Rain is the theme and symbol of this story. It could easily be a Sam Neill film. A repressed priest (that’s Sam) and a wanton young male lover (Jude Law?) who is the indulged son of a French Marquis are coincidentally and for different reasons banished to a small Polynesian island. The priest tries to get control of the Marquis’ son -- and himself -- but instead is thrown into madness.
Joseph Joseph is the native lover of Justin Bovee, the son of the marquis. “His culture had many stories about gods (and such) who had made love in rain. It was supposed to be somewhat magical. The two of them often went to the grassy spot when it poured. As the water fell, and the forest around them steamed with aquatic humidity, Joseph Joseph showed Justin Bovee other things that he had not yet learned.”
“The Forest and the Echo”
Star and Adonais return in another story. This time they have escaped INCAMP, which is described in the most horrible of terms. The desert they must cross is an ordeal that nearly kills them. Just in time they are rescued by the quiet ones and agree to be enslaved by Coriaceous (Leather) Pawnee, who is the head of the tribe. Lawrence of Arabia has found the Tauregs.
“It was now safe for the brothers to look into the fired redness of the witchy indigo sun. It was the wonder of wonders; Star and Adonais could read into themselves to look at themselves in sweet rich starless midnightblue fuckingboy awe. Lullabye lullabye. Heroin razzle heroin dazzle.”