Virtual Death by Shale Aaron
What can you say about a pulp cyberpunk that seemingly no one has heard of? That it’s epic. From the ideas, to the strange characters and silly nuances of the constrained world in which I found myself, I fell in love with everyone. But none moreso than Lydia, death artist extraordinaire.
She is teen angst personified, the placid victim of Big Brother celebrity culture gone even more extreme. She drifts through her life and deaths almost without caring and is a poster child for depression (funny as her friend is a stand-up comic who specialises in depression).
To be honest, I don’t remember the end of this, but I vividly remember the journey, as an allegory for life in a book all about death, that’s all rather poignant, I think.
Holding the Man by Timothy Conigrave
I didn’t own a copy of this book until I won one recently in a Twitter contest from the NSW Writers Centre. But I read it almost twenty years ago when I was in high school. A friend (who I mentioned in my ‘coming out story’) loaned me her copy to read as part of a push to get me to realise my own sexuality.
I found the book utterly intriguing and of course, devastating. I yearned for their love (and was sadly not rewarded) in high school, and I wanted their constant connection but feared it at the same time. I didn’t even understand what much of it meant, but I thought about everything constantly.
Having now grown and experienced many of the things Conigrave talks about in his only, brilliant novel only makes it more visceral to me. Watching Holding the Man on the big screen was cathartic and beautiful in different but similar ways to the novel, something few things can be said to be. I highly recommend reading and watching both versions.
Warriors of Dawn by M.A. Foster
Another second-hand book I salvaged from some St Vinnies or another. After various markdowns for being I presume unsellable, I picked it up for a bargain. The cover intrigued me, with its hyperrealistic ‘ugly’ faces. I still do not know if these men are meant to be Ler or klesh. I find it highly unlikely that they would be the beautiful klesh, but the Ler were no less attractive as far as I could understand.
At any rate, it was not this that held me spellbound through the book, but the incredible characters of Liszendir and Usteyiin. Between these two women, an entire universe appeared, meticulously detailed and fascinating beyond words. Through this novel, the author takes world building to an exhilarating new place that few seem to manage.
It is to my shame and detriment that I have not pursued the other two pieces of this loose trilogy, but this seems to be the only one easily accessible. This would be an absolutely breathtaking film (Luc Besson would be my choice director), but wouldn’t they all? It’s just whether our imaginations can make them or not.
It by Stephen King
I had two copies of this book as a teenager. Both were secondhand. The one I still have was falling apart when I bought it at a St Vinnies somewhere but I stuck the spine back together with packing tape and read and re-read it until it fell apart again. It was the book that got me hooked on Stephen King, and it is something I think about almost every day.
There were three things that made this book stand out for me. One was that one of the first characters to die, Adrian Mellon, was an underage homosexual being mocked for his mincing gait and generally being a faggot. He is attacked by teenagers and thrown off a bridge into the river, where it bites him and drags him under to die. The utter brutality of this moment terrified me because I saw in Adrian my own dire future.
Second was a scene in a junkyard of confused teenage sexuality, wherein some straight boys experiment with one another. Their camaraderie and tense approach to what they saw as a sexual taboo was frankly quite arousing. Here, I hoped I saw some future, until it all went south for them. I suppose I was torn between wanting to be them and desperately wishing I was not one of them.
But the thing that really stuck with me was the notion of friendship that permeates It. I didn’t grow up in a small town, so my friendship bonds were not forged through proximity and similarity of lifestyle. So I will never experience the strength of such a bond, but It gave me a sense of it, enough for me to miss it without ever having felt it, and enough to make my heart break with nostalgia at the very thought.
It is a horror novel, with one of the most iconic monsters in history – Pennywise the clown – but for me, it is a tale of friendship, ennui and self-discovery, above all else, which is why I will always adore it.