Fiction: “The Second Sun”

I know I’ve been rather quiet over, of late (more on this later), but how about a little lady-loving-lady themed reading material, to start your Monday off right?

A story by my… associate, 菊菜 瞬 (Kikuna Matata), illustrated by the fantabulous beili, is appearing in the current issue of Shousetsu Bang*Bang: Special Issue No. 9, “Earth, Wind, and Fire”.

The Second Sun” by 菊菜 瞬 (Kikuna Matata)
illustrated by beili

Isabel runs out of money in Stockholm. 

She could write to Sophy, of course; she did, in Vienna, where Bettina had said, We can’t have a mind like yours wasting away in that pit of a boarding house, only to abandon Isabel five days later to the company of her brother’s friends; and later in Berlin, where Alexander had said, very quietly, I don’t believe it is safe for you here, is it?, and Isabel had lived for some time under the protective watch of him and his servants: both, by long practice, most painfully discreet. Alexander had been a friend to her: he had even invited her to Paris, but she feared to overstay her welcome, and rode instead with Cenek Pechácek and his bad reputation to the university in Prague, where she picked up enough Czech to not be taken for a German and learned to drink with the scholars without ending the night vomiting into the snow; and when the eyes that fell upon her there began to stay too long, she went by carriage to Krakow, where she was dismissed from the observatory after a week and a half and, instead, bent her head over her calculations by wavering candlelight long into the night. She’d not given those sooty addresses to Sophy, no more than she’d written of the rattling carts that smelt of hay and dung; or the reek of tar and river-fish on her hands, or the expanse of ocean that finally at the end of summer lay itself at her feet at her in Danzig: lit in lavender twilight, her own silver road. 

London, she had thought with a shudder in Danzig; and then, Paris, but of course Alexander had been called back to Prussia; and then: North, towards the comet in the belly of Ursa Major, with Polaris above her shoulder. North, to Erik Gärnö, formerly of the observatory in Lund—or to Teodor Wåhlin, perhaps, known to grind his own lenses and returned from Uppsala. North, to Stockholm: where the air has snapping teeth, and one never runs out of sea. 

Read “The Second Sun” at SS*BB, or view the entire issue.

All characters appearing in this work are entirely fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. As always, this story is rated explicit and appropriate for adults only.

My fabulous illustrator beili also has an absolutely goooorgeous stand-alone piece in this issue: “With the sky full of diamonds“. Check it out and tell her how much you love it!

Recommended Reading: “The City War,” by Sam Starbuck

Sam Starbuck has been one of my favorite authors for many, many years, and I knew well enough that I would adore this story that I saved it for myself as a special treat.

It didn’t disappoint. Mr. Starbuck here, as always, has an incredibly deft hand with dialogue, and writes sex scenes that grow organically from and with the story and the characters, and the end result is brilliantly engrossing and alive.

Here’s the summary, copy-pasted from Riptide Publishing:

Senator Marcus Brutus has spent his life serving Rome, but it’s difficult to be a patriot when the Republic, barely recovered from a civil war, is under threat by its own leader. Brutus’s one retreat is his country home, where he steals a few precious days now and then with Cassius, his brother-in-law and fellow soldier—and the one he loves above all others. But the sickness at the heart of Rome is spreading, and even Brutus’s nights with Cassius can’t erase the knowledge that Gaius Julius Caesar is slowly becoming a tyrant.

Cassius fears both Caesar’s intentions and Brutus’s interest in Tiresias, the villa’s newest servant. Tiresias claims to be the orphaned son of a minor noble, but his secrets run deeper, and only Brutus knows them all. Cassius, intent on protecting the Republic and his claim to Brutus, proposes a dangerous conspiracy to assassinate Caesar. After all, if Brutus—loved and respected by all—supports it, it’s not murder, just politics.

Now Brutus must return to Rome and choose: not only between Cassius and Tiresias, but between preserving the fragile status quo of Rome and killing a man who would be emperor.

I always think it’s really remarkable when an author takes a story that most people know, in one form or another, and gives it a new and rich life that is denied to it in its best-known form, which is exactly what Mr. Starbuck has done here. I’m not at all a Classicist, either by education or inclination—I’ve read a lot of Mary Renault and I have the kind of vague familiarity with the 44 B.C. election cycle that one acquires over the course of being raised by feral Shakespeareans, but that’s about it—but the level of daily-life detail and three-dimensional character interaction present in this story completely transcends the idea of a story set against the backdrop of Caesar’s downfall. Caesar’s downfall is no backdrop: it’s woven intimately into all of Cassius, Brutus, and Tiresias’s interactions, even when it is not their subject; it weighs upon them and drives them, no matter how they may try to stand at a remove. And Tiresias, this total wildcard of a character with a portentous name, is beautifully crafted, and a wonderful surprise.

One of the things that’s often the trickiest to handle in fiction set in a different cultural or historical context is that the things the characters take for granted are very much not going to be the same things the reader takes for granted; but the characters don’t have any reason to make the differences explicit, since the differences are, within the characters’ points-of-view, transparent. I’m always interested to see how authors handle this as a narrative problem, and Mr. Starbuck has done an absolutely beautiful job. Rome’s sexual mores are very cleverly handled—of course; I’d expect nothing less—but in a lot of ways I think the strongest example of Mr. Starbuck’s skill with this issue is the early scene in which Brutus finds Tiresias in the stable. This scene is deeply painful to read, but utterly believable from both Tiresias and Brutus as characters, even in the parts where Brutus, the point-of-view character, is really in the wrong; and it does a tremendously good job of wrestling with an issue that we are as readers accustomed to wrestling with in a modern vocabulary without using that vocabulary as a crutch.

Mr. Starbuck also beautifully sketches his secondary characters: Porcia—Brutus’s wife—though she only appears in person briefly, is particularly delightful, and her relationship with Brutus is quite moving.

Overall, really powerful and gripping, the bitter along with the sweet. Highly recommended.

Sam Starbuck maintains a blog and website at Extribulum. You can pick up “The City War” from Riptide Publishing, either on its own ($4.99) or as part of the Warriors of Rome anthology ($19.97). I am reviewing my own copy of the stand-alone, and I don’t get paid either for this review or for you clicking on those links.