Monday, August 31, 2009

Because of the Brave by Laura Baumbach, Z.A. Maxfield, & Josh Lanyon

TITLE: Because of the Brave
AUTHOR: Laura Baumbach, Z.A. Maxfield, Josh Lanyon
PUBLISHER: Aspen Mountain Press
LENGTH: Anthology (roughly 48k)
GENRE: Gay erotic romance
COST: $7.00

A trio of erotic stories about gay military men.

Purchase of the Because of the Brave through the Aspen Mountain Press website through September 11, 2009, will donate 15% toward the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a national organization dedicated to helping military personnel impacted by the “don’t ask, don’t tell, don’t pursue” policy signed into law in 1993. It’s a great charity, and the anthology more than worth it, but I’m going to go on the record and say I just wish the publisher paid more attention to their editing for works that will receive this kind of attention. To be frank, I don’t expect much from Aspen Mountain releases. Their editing is inconsistent at best, and I suspect that’s because the authors themselves vary in the strength of their technical abilities. But it’s frustrating to read something that’s clearly hoped to have strong sales and find it riddled with so many easy mistakes. Even Lanyon’s story suffers (how on earth does canon get mistaken for cannon in a military story?), and as much as I’d urge people to buy this, I do it with the caveat that it will probably really bother those readers who are sensitive to technical mistakes.

The anthology starts with out with Laura Baumbach’s “Designated Target.” Carson Crosby is spending Thanksgiving working at a local food bank. He is alone in the world after the death of his brother two months earlier. He spies a big, burly guy who is obviously military hanging around, and after a very brief conversation with him, flees when the way the man says his name just like his dead brother used to. The man helps out with an encounter with an abusive guy outside the church, and they stick together, getting to know each other and indulging their attraction. In reference to the editorial issues I mentioned, Baumbach’s story has it the worst (His imagination supplied a vivid reason for the respectable fabric bugle made me giggle hysterically because I’m fairly sure that g and l in bugle should be transposed), and thus, makes it harder than it should be to get through the novella. The story is saved by Baumbach’s passion and affecting characters. The chemistry between Carson and China (the military guy) leaps off the page, as does Carson’s grief. I found myself drawn to China, much like Carson is, and wish I could have had even more of him.

Next comes “Jumping Off Places” by Z.A. Maxfield. Peter Hsu has returned to the small town where he grew up to be there when his terminally ill mother dies. There, he meets Robin, the Jamaican CNA taking care of her at the hospice. Robin is out and proud of it, while Peter has hid his sexuality from everyone, including his mother. He’s been trying to live up to the hero image of his dead cop father, and finds himself failing at every turn. Dealing with the impending death of his mother is yet another failure in his eyes. This was the story in the anthology that got to me the most, and the one I found myself still thinking about long after it was over. There are a lot of different emotions going on in this. While there is definitely a romance going on between Peter and Robin, it is cloaked in layers and layers of issues, not the least of which is how these two very different men deal with the loss of a woman who means the world to both of them. The fact that Peter is in the military is miniscule in the face of this, as is the issue of their races (Peter is half-Chinese and has been dealing with that discrimination his entire life, while Robin is black). Neither of these really get explored, but I didn’t mind. I was too invested in all the other feelings that were going on. There’s the guilt, and the grief, and Peter’s inability to come out or let anybody in. I had thought I was affected by Carson’s grief in the first story, but that got eclipsed by how much I related and felt for Peter. He was the heart of this compassionate story.

Rounding out the anthology is “Until We Meet Once More” by Josh Lanyon. Army Ranger Captain Vic Black has a new assignment – to rescue a surviving SEAL in the middle of Afghanistan. He’s even more determined when he learns that it’s Sean Kennedy, the lover from the Naval Academy that he left behind. Lanyon’s story is drastically different from its predecessors, focused far more on the taut action of the moment, interspersed with emotionally taut flashbacks. It’s also considerably shorter, very concise in its presentation. While it’s the most technically proficient of the three, with elegant, crisp world-building that immerses the reader into the razor edge environment of the Middle East, it was also the story that engaged me the least emotionally. I was caught up in the action, but the flashbacks weren’t quite enough to create the fervency it felt necessary to appreciate the wallop of an ending. I’m not sure if making it longer would have helped, because then it would have been a different story rather than the whirlwind action story it was. It works well on that level. It just didn’t succeed as well as a romance for me.


7/10 – I just can’t get past the weak editing to better appreciate these


7/10 – The romance is strongest in the first two stories


7/10 – More uneven than I would have expected from these authors

Entertainment value

7/10 – Definitely recommendable

World building

7/10 – Lanyon’s is by far the strongest in this area




Caitlin said...

I haven't read Laura Baumbach in a loooong while and I've never read Maxfield, but I kinda agree with what you say about Lanyon's style.

I love his series works. You couldn't pry the Adrien English series out of the hands of my dead corpse, but some of his stories just don't work so well for me. I find his flashback stories really hard to deal with. There's something missing there, and I don't get as much emotional impact from those. Maybe I just don't find his relationships that interesting when they've already been pre-established. But then again, I really liked Somebody Killed His Editor; that one had a pre-established relationship but interestingly no flashbacks. I just probably don't like his flashbacks.

Your review does make me want to try Baumbach (again) and Maxfield though. And the whole review reminded me of a post I saw on fangs_fur_fey about how a story can be technically perfect in every way but leaves you cold:

Very interesting :)

Caitlin said...

Ah, just as a disclaimer: I don't generally have an issue with flashbacks. I've never been put off by them in other cases. XP