Spring 2022 Behind-the-Scenes Reading

[Image ID: A pile of books spread out on a desk. On the bottom, from left to right, there is the trade paperback of "The Trial of Magneto" and a single issue "Xena: Warrior Princess" comic. On top, from left to right, there is "The Maltese Falcon" by Dashiell Hammett, "Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean: How a Generation of Swashbuckling Jews Carved Out and Empire in the New Work in Their Quest for Treasure, Religious Freedom–and Revenge" by Edward Kritzler" and "Dracula" by Bram Stoker. End ID]

For March to May, I began making a concerted effort to chip away at the pile of books that have been sitting on my dresser for far too many months, two of those books can be seen in the above image and with any luck there will be four more gracing next quarters list.

Finished:

The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett- An excellent read. I already loved the movie and the Sam Spade radio drama, so it was sort of a guarantee that I was going to love the book too. Some older books you have to take with a very large grain of salt, but this, though it was clearly dated, really didn’t have too much to complain about. Even Joel Cairo’s homosexuality wasn’t as offensively written as I thought it might be. Was it stereotypical? Yes. Is Cairo a criminal? Also yes. But Hammett also gave Cairo a boyfriend who wasn’t the same sort of gay stereotype, you don’t even really know he’s gay until he’s revealed as Cairo’s boyfriend at the end, which was surprising and also kinda cool, in my opinion. 

I knew Cairo’s textual queerness had been cut from the film, but I was surprised at how much I unironically enjoyed how he was portrayed in the book. I would have loved him even if I wasn’t already a simp for Peter Lorre. It almost makes up for Hammett’s insistence on describing women as “erect.”

Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean by Edward Kritzler – This is an interesting look at the history of Sephardic Jews in the “New World” as they fled the Spanish Inquisition and how they used piracy to move against against the Spanish and secure their freedom from persecution in the New World. Ranging in period from 1492 to 1675, the book is incredibly thorough both in providing the stories of the Jews (who were openly practicing) and conversos (who were not) in Portugal, Spain, Holland, Brazil and Jamaica as well as providing the surrounding context, which was incredibly helpful for me who is decidedly not familiar with this period of history. 

There is also the tantalizing mystery of Columbus’ Jamaican gold mine and some documents unearthed that hint at its possible existence. That said, the author does a decent job of separating speculation and conjecture from what we can prove as fact, reminding us that tracking the history of conversos can be difficult as they were often intentionally trying to obscure their ancestry. The one thing I will say is that Kritzler does tend to conflate privateering and piracy, but it is a fascinating read regardless.

Xena: Warrior Princes, issue #0 – I picked this up on a whim at my local comic shop because it was the only Xena comic there and it was an issue 0, which I assumed would either be a one-shot or the start of a story. I was half-right. There is a one shot story in this issue: “The Temple of the Dragon God,” written by Aaron Lopresti, which is a short, fun Xena story featuring zombies and a soul stealing dragon. The second half of the issue, however, was part three of the story “Theft of the Young Lovelies,” written by Robert Trebor. I do not know what a “part three” is doing in an issue 0, but it’s not a particularly good story anyway (uncomfortably heterosexual with racistly drawn villains). 

“The Temple of the Dragon God” is by far the better story, and any heterosexuality is forced and unwanted as it should be, though Xena is unfortunately not exempt from 90s comic artists deciding to draw women tits and ass first with limited regard to anatomy and physics. I will say that it is somewhat mitigated by the fact that they are very clearly drawing Lucy Lawless and therefore can’t get away with Rob Liefeld-level art crimes. 

The Trial of Magneto written by Leah Williams – First off, I refuse to acknowledge the “Wanda and Pietro aren’t mutants” retcon. There’s no reason Wanda’s abilities with magic can’t be influenced or part of her mutation. Barring that, this was actually a really great self-contained story and it gave Wanda the catharsis and healing that she has desperately needed for a very long time, although, ironically, the five issues the story covers revolve around her death. While it does play off other storylines, you don’t necessarily need to have read them in full, though certainly being aware of them and/or knowing the gist of them is helpful.

I also really love that we got to see Hope, another telepath, being highly critical of Xavier’s messing around in other people’s heads, comparing his manipulation of Magneto’s mind while he is unconscious to torture. I love a good in-universe calling out of Charles Xavier. 

In Progress:

Sealed with Honey by the Magpie Artists’ Ensemble – Continues to be a delight. We got our first extra, non-letter bits, including pressed flowers and a “sketch” by our Parisian artist Gabriel, which was done as a print by the incomparable Marlowe Lune, who is providing all the artwork for the story. 

Dracula by Bram Stoker – I have read “Dracula” many times. It’s one of my favorite books, but I, like so many, have signed up for Dracula Daily, which emails you the novel chronologically based on the novel’s epistolary structure. It started on May 3rd and has been sending out a chapter/section every day there is journal entry or letter in the book. The novel isn’t written wholly chronologically, so this is a fun new way of experiencing the novel if you’ve read it before and also an easily digestible way to experience the novel for the first time. 

You can still sign up as it will be running until November, and all the previous entries are archived on the Dracula Daily website for easy catch up!

Different Loving edited by Gloria G. Brame, William D. Brame and Jon Jacobs We’re back on the kink research train. I feel like this book is probably going to stay down here for a while as I read it alongside other books, since it’s rather chunky and also, based on past experience, I find that reading books that are predominantly interview compilations can be a slog to read cover to cover with no breaks.

I’m a couple chapters in now and I really appreciate that they have paired the interviews with additional context and discussion. Chapter two in particular was right up my alley with a discussion of early sexology and how that has influenced modern views on sex and what is deemed “perverse.”

No progress has been made with The Wild Beyond the Witchlight due to our game being on hold, but I hope that will change soon.

The Route of Ice & Salt by José Luis Zárate, translated by David Bowles

The cover of The Route of Ice & Salt. Using varying shades of blue and white the background is the bow of a ship moving through water.

Over the boat is the author's and translator's name, José Luis Zárate, translated by David Bowles. Over the water is the title in larger font. The Route of Ice & Salt. 

The snapchat caption reads: Hot vamper summer, followed by a forward facing boat on water emoji.

(Not spoiler free)

It wouldn’t be quite accurate to say I was expecting this book to be less queer than it was, but I was expecting it to be more subtextual. I suppose that’s because I was thinking about the time period in which “Dracula” was originally was written, and how queer readings of “Dracula” all rely heavily on coding and subtext. Not that this is in anyway a bad thing, I loved every queer minute of it and I am so so very glad that we now have an English translation of this wonderful book.

Book quote: "I am the Captain. 
Impossible that I order one of my men to come to my cabin and ask him to undress, much less insist he stand still and permit me to clean him with my tongue, lightly biting his flesh, trembling with craving for his skin."

Snapchat caption: I was expecting the queer aspect to be more subtle than this, but who am i to complain about a book being MORE GAY than i expected.

“The Route of Ice & Salt,” as you may have already guessed, is explicitly queer and you never forget that for one moment. The whole novella is grappling with the overlapping acceptance, shame and guilt of one’s own identity and actions as well as society’s perception of queerness as monstrous. It opens with our narrator, the captain of the Demeter, musing on his mens’ bodies, expressing attraction, but also noting that it wouldn’t be appropriate for him to act on that attraction, and it ends with the captain proclaiming as he faces the monster aboard his ship that he is not a monster for his desires. 

Book quote: "I know that Thirst is not evil in and of itself, nor Hunger a stigma that must be erased by fire and blood.
Not even Sin.
It is what we are willing to do to feed an impulse that makes it dangerous."

Snapchat caption: Yes yes, this

Much like the original novel, “The Route of Ice & Salt” is epistolary, and made up of the captain’s log and his private diary. It is in the private diary that we learn about the captain’s inner life and how he navigates his sexuality. There is a fine balance between erotic and horror, particularly as the captain’s dreams become influenced by the vampire aboard the ship. 

It is in these dreams that we learn about the captain’s lover, Mikhail, who is rather at the center of the captain’s turmoil surrounding his sexuality. He blamed himself for Mikhail’s death, following his brutal murder at the hands of the townsfolk. It is also noteworthy that they treat Mikhail’s corpse as if he were a vampire, cementing the connection between the monstrous and the queer.

There is repeated connection too of vampire bites to the neck and the bruise sucked into the neck by a lover. In fact, when the captain sees such a mark on one of his crew, his mind goes to the later instead of the former. 

My absolute favorite thing about the book, however, was how brought up various different cultural ideas surrounding vampires, even before the captain knows there is something on board he would call a vampire. The vrykolakas of Greece, the strigoi and vrolocks of Romania, the rakshasa of India. It was an expansion of vampire lore, through the lens of these sailors’ own backgrounds as well as lore of the places where they had sailed, which I thought was just… so great and clever.

Book quote: "Is it not said that to kill the vrolocks, the vlkoslak, the bloodthirsty living dead in Romania, one needs only living water?"

Snapchat caption: Love how the vampire mythos of various cultures has come up throughout the book.

Some potential warnings to note, in addition to the aforementioned murder:

There are several mentions of age gaps between partners. The captain is noted to have been younger than his lover by some undisclosed number of years, and there are several mentions of ambiguously young sex workers.

Additionally, if you are familiar with “Dracula,” you will know that no one living survives the passage from Varna to Whitby. This is a queer erotic horror story that fleshes out a small piece of the original novel. There is a cathartic ending, but if you’re looking for a fluffy happy ending, this probably isn’t the book for you.

That said, I would highly recommend this book to fans of “Dracula” and anyone looking for queer horror or queer nautical fiction. 

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Dracula in Istanbul by Bram Stoker & Ali Riza Seyfioğlu

Picture of the book "Dracula in Istanbul: The Unauthorized Version of the Gothic Classic" held up by a hand. The cover is in sepia tones with a pale brown background with  a sketchy black skyline. In the foreground there are stairs leading up to an open door where a shadowy figure stands. The title font is read and the font 
word "Dracula" imitates blood smears.

The snapchat caption reads "Bootleg Turkish Dracula"

There is so much to love about “Dracula” and there is just as much to love about “Dracula in Istanbul.” At once familiar and wholly new “Dracula in Istanbul” is a Turkish “translation,” of “Dracula” and an incredible example of transformative fiction and how translation plays a part in that. 

Picture of text from the book's forward. It reads "There is no clear information as to why Ali Riza Seyfi claimed to be the author of the book and why he did not introduce it as a translation."

The snapchat caption reads, "Iconic."

The first big difference can be noticed immediately just by looking at the book, it’s a good deal shorter than the original. My copy of “Dracula,” a 1965 Signet Classic, comes in at 382 pages while “Dracula in Istanbul” comes in at a neat 139 pages. This is primarily because one of the major omissions that Ali Riza Sefioğlu makes is the removal of the entirety of the Renfield plot line. Other omissions are made as well, but this one is by far the biggest and most noticeable. 

The forward and introduction give a good break down of some of the larger changes, including the setting, character names and characterization, and thematic plots. The whole narrative is moved from Victorian England to Turkey immediately following the Turkish War of Independence. This necessitates some changes by default, Jonathan and Mina become Azmi and Güzin and London becomes Istanbul. 

The distinction between Christian and Muslim reactions to vampires is also made apparent, and in fact comes up as a relevant point on more than one occasion, such as when Azmi sees the Transylvanian townsfolk’s reaction to Dracula and when Resuhî (Van Helsing) is explaining to everyone about vampires and how they are dealt with and called in various cultures. 

As I noted before, this was published not long after the Turkish War of Independence and as such there is a strong emphasis on nationalism and Turkish pride in the book. Şadan’s (Lucy) suitors are all Turkish and their proud service for their country during the war comes up time and time again. This applies even to our Quincey equivalent, Özdemir. The dashing American, becomes descended of the Efe group who, while from a different part of Turkey, were still noted as proud Turkish individuals. There is more discussion of this this in the forward and introduction, as well as in helpful footnotes throughout.

Now we come to my favorite change. Count Dracula is explicitly identified as Vlad the Impaler. There is passing reference to this posibility in “Dracula,” but “Dracula in Istanbul” takes that thread and runs with it. The references to this that run throughout the book culminate in a grand speech on the history of Vlad the Impaler given by Resuhî right before the final showdown with Dracula. 

Picture of text from "Dracula in Istanbul," it reads: 
"If you were here now, and saw that this large woman and her husband cross themselves in fear, you would immediately think of the terrible Voivode Dracula from history. That unmatched barbarian, famed as the Impaler Voivode, who impaled thousands of Turkish captives along Danube River! That ugly and vile historical face!"

The snapchat caption reads, "I am loving the increased reference to Vlad the Impaler."

The only change that really made me a bit sad was that Dr. Afif (Dr. Seward) did not record his diary the way he did in the original, although of all the changes I’m not quite sure why I found myself missing that one so much. I’d never paid it that much thought before. 

If you are interested in vampiric lore and Dracula, I would highly recommend checking this version out. It’s an excellent read and, as someone who has mostly consumed Western versions of vampire lore, I found the cultural changes very interesting to see. 

Picture of text from the book's afterward, it reads: "...for Draculla did not merely travel to Iceland and Istanbul but infected the entire world."

The snapchat caption reads, "What a baller line to end the book with."

You can get yourself a copy of “Dracula in Istanbul” right here. 

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