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Saturday, September 16, 2017
LONELY SHORE, second CHAOS STATION series gay SF
JENN BURKE & KELLY JENSEN (Chaos Station #2)
$3.99 ereader platforms, available now
Rating: 4* of five
The Publisher Says: All they can do is live day to day...
Felix Ingesson has returned to his duties as the Chaos's engineer with Zander Anatolius, his ex-boyfriend-turned-broken-super-soldier, at his side. Hope means something again. But there's nothing Felix can do to battle the alien poison flowing through Zander's veins, or his imminent mental decline. With each passing day, the side effects of Zander’s experimental training are becoming more difficult to ignore.
When the ruthless Agrius Cartel seeks their revenge—including an ambush and an attempt to kidnap the Chaos’s crew—Zander is pushed over the edge. He can no longer hide his symptoms, nor does he want to. But hurting Felix when he’s not in control of himself is Zander’s worst nightmare—when it nearly happens, he agrees to seek help. Even if that means trusting the unknown.
As Zander places his life in alien hands, Felix appoints himself his lover’s keeper. And though he tries to be strong, he can’t ignore the fact that he might lose Zander…forever this time.
My Review: Burke & Jensen slayed me. They made every choice inevitable and each response inescapable. And, in the end, ma'at is preserved.
There is more to say but I can't find the words or the coordination to type them just now.
*******THE NEXT DAY********
This is going to be one of those "why this book made me feel thus-and-such" reviews. If those personal-reflection reader response reviews piss you off, and gawd knows there are plenty who feel that way about them, scroll on.
For most people, falling in love doesn't fix things, it fucks them up. Falling in love with someone whose background is the diametric opposite of your own is exciting, and challenging, and well within the definition of "a really crappy idea." Felix the station rat and Zander the rich kid...inherent inequality in the relationship's power structure and all the resentment that breeds on both sides...none of that is delved into very deeply because the current story arc is very much about survival. Zed's survival as a living being and Flick's survival as an emotional being.
The titanic tsunami heading for the men is the physiological modifications that Zed, hollowed out by the incalculable and unfixable loss of Flick to the stin, volunteered to undergo. His transformation into a part-stin superwarrior, done in a last-ditch effort to stem the tide of losses to the stin, was a success in that Zed can replicate the stin warriors' greatest advantage over humans: the ability to phase shift, or locate themselves physically in a dimension just enough different from 4D spacetime to prevent humans from touching (therefore killing) them, but still close enough to allow those in it to see and interact with targets trapped within 4D spacetime.
In a universe with 11 dimensions as M theory requires, that's plausible to me, as is the existence of j-space, the hyperdimension that allows interstellar travel without breaking the cosmic speed limit c . Scientists are eyerolling, wincing, and generally scoffing I'm sure. Plausible is all I myownself require of fiction, not strict scientific rigor. I want writers of SF to allow me room to suspend my disbelief, not require me to fling my admittedly meager scientific knowledge out the proverbial airlock.
Back to Zed...his abilities helped win the war (sort of) for humanity because he disobeyed direct orders and saved a group of civilians even though it ran the very real risk of revealing his and his team's megasuperdouble secret modifications. His act was publicly revealed without his knowledge and this fictional universe's superpower, called the Guardians because no one knows what they call themselves, step in with their superpowers and call a halt to the stins' effort to eradicate humanity. Then Zed and his fellow modificatees are...abandoned. Cut loose. Left to twist because supporting them would mean acknowledging them and that would have horrendous political consequences.
Support them? What, pray tell, is the problem with that? Don't we always support our veterans? Hmm? Don't we always take care of the men and women who are damaged and the families who are destroyed by the will of the politicians in pursuit of the Greater Good?
Zed and his team are losing themselves. Losing their minds, literally, as in the depredations of Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia and disease...kuru for one nightmare-inducing example. Flick is trapped in hell with the man he loves vanishing before his eyes. Zed will be there, fully himself one moment and the next he's simply gone. Unresponsive at best, inappropriately responsive at worst, defaulting to his military training in managing phase shifts to respond to threats. Who happen to be his friends aboard the Chaos and his true love. When Zed comes back from one such moment while throttling the life from Flick, everyone knows the end of Zed's life is coming closer by the moment. It's impossible he'd want to kill Flick.
The desperate hail-mary play of taking Zed to Qek (the ashushk pilot)'s home world to seek treatment for the incurable and rapidly progressing condition that induced stin-state abilities have gifted Zed with is, ultimately, unsuccessful and Zed dies during the last-ditch treatment. The Guardians swoop in, take Zed's body, and fix him; during his time being fixed by them, Zed learns he has a higher purpose in the Guardians' plans for the galaxy and they want him to remain among them. The pull of his all-pervasive love for Flick leads him to decline the opportunity to fully be whatever they plan for him to be, and with great sadness the Guardians return Zed to his true love, his dear friends, and his family.
Now comes that personal stuff. Flick's grief on losing Zed again (remembering that they were separated by war for a decade) is so accurately and harrowingly rendered that I was left a sobbing wreck. I've experienced a lot more grief than most people have because I was a young gay man during the AIDS epidemic. Loss was common. Grief was pervasive. And then I went and fell in love with a man who had full-blown AIDS.
Three years of good days, bad days, worse days, hospitalizations, spending nights in bedside chairs, doing small practical things like sponge baths and, later, diaper changes, holding Bland's hand when he was only bodily present and crying as quietly as I could hoping against hope he'd come back and then hating myself for wishing it on him as he came back in horrible pain. Two friends of ours, Joe and Domingo, would come and get me every so often and take me to some restaurant near Columbia Presbyterian and feed me something. I'd usually break down and sob somewhere along the line, and I still can't quite believe that they kept doing it for me, for Bland, subjecting themselves to public embarrassment like that. I was well beyond caring about suchlike nonsense at that point.
Then came the day that, looking at Bland lying helpless and hooked to a ventilator, a morphine drip, IVs of useless drugs trying to combat the cytomegalovirus killing him exquisitely painfully and slowly, and the fog of my wretchedness lifted for the first time in what felt like forever. I went home to compose myself and, for the first time in what felt like forever, didn't cry the entire subway ride from St. Luke's-Roosevelt to my home in Battery Park City.
My stocky Bajan wrestler was dead and he was never coming back. His body was there, and once in a while he'd try to come back to me sitting there holding his hand by squeezing it and focusing for a brief second or two on me before the fog came back. I was holding him inside this hell because I loved him and he loved me and I couldn't let go.
So the next morning I went, as always, to the hospital. Walking into the ward in a clear, in fact crystalline and brittle, bubble of purpose. I found Bland's younger sister sitting with him, a deeply religious young woman of the finest kind. She loved the sinner and, if she hated the sin, she kept it to herself, for which I was and am grateful. I sat down next to my true love, took his other hand, and said, "I love you too much to see you suffer this way. It's time to let go. Let go and go home, my love." I repeated this for hours as he tried to...I don't know what, speak or communicate...in brief spurts between vacancies. His sister held his other hand and, when I couldn't speak, said the same thing to him.
We left together. She drove me home, I thanked her for the ride, and she said, "no one could ever hope for a better friend than you are to my brother. Thank you."
That night Bland died. He was 34. I was 31.
It was two years before I could sleep in our bed. It was six years before I could climb out of the bottle and coke vial to decide to live again. (A terrifying heart arrhythmia made the choice stark.)
And, this past May, it was twenty-five years since Bland Jentry Carr and I died. I put together a face to wear while I did the whole existing thing, but I was gone and not for the first time in my life. Whoever I am now is not the man I was or would have been if I'd kept hold of my Beejay. I suppose it's one reason I attract young men as lovers...in a funny way this old crippled-up man is really just 25. I'm not sure how I got here, to be honest, and there are days when I'm not sure I'm all that happy to be here, but here is where I am. Like Flick, I'll keep putting one foot in front of the other until I do what needs doing.
But I won't get Flick's miracle. Reading about it, however, satisfied something very, very deep inside me. That something that says "yes" to the bass thrum of loving another being so completely that their happiness and your own are completely entwined.
I still talk to Bland every morning as I shower and move through my routine. I don't believe in a god, I don't believe in a heaven, but I do believe that the huge energy of a human life leaves some mark, some dent in the fabric of spacetime, and I address myself to that. It is enough for me to express my love for all the men I've lost over the horrible plague years to those dents in spacetime. Reality is unforgiving, but fiction kisses it better.
Read this series. It kisses your hurts better (after inflicting them, that is).