Frederick Colson – The Devil is Gay (1965)

Review by Justin Tate

Happy Pride 2024. You know, not long ago in the early days of post-Obergefell v. Hodges, I believed Pride would become obsolete. Soon enough, I thought, we’d just be living our ordinary, twice-married, twice-divorced lives like everybody else. Nobody would care. It would be glorious.

Clearly I’m no prophet! Conservative fury over queer happiness is as vicious as ever and in a world where Roe v. Wade can be overturned, no freedom is safe. Every time I hear someone call a trans person mentally ill, which is every day online and by officials in high offices, I’m reminded that being LGBT+ was once reason enough to be institutionalized.

Gay pulp fiction from the 1960s and ’70s often tackled such dark topics. Being disowned by your family, blackmailed, fired from work, expelled from school, bullied to death, near-death or suicide, internalized homophobia, religious crisis, and extreme poverty due to any of the above circumstances. These were the matters of everyday queer life also portrayed in fiction. For some, particularly those in rural areas, the Sexual Revolution made things even more depressing. Progress was happening—you could see it!—but happiness remained just out of reach. Like dying of thirst in the desert with an oasis seen in the distance.

Now, nearly sixty years since The Devil is Gay was published, perhaps the most painful thing about the novel is that it remains exceedingly relevant. That’s a testament to our unfortunate current affairs, but also to Colson’s mastery of storytelling. What great art isn’t painful?

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Katharine Newlin Burt – The Red Lady (1920)

Review by Justin Tate

Hidden treasure, ghastly ghosts and a doppelganger who kisses her man. There’s a lot going on in this 100-year-old gothic!

Katharine Newlin Burt was a pop novelist whose bibliography of westerns, mystery and romance spans from 1912 to 1975, when she was well into her 90s. The Red Lady originally appeared in 1920, but the writing style feels as mainstream as more modern gothics. No surprise it was dusted off in the ‘70s when publishers ran out of new spooky books to print.

Burt was ahead of her time with a satisfying romance element, eerie atmosphere and solid mystery. There’s even dialogue suggesting a movie might be made of the protagonist’s adventure. A forward-thinking reference seven years before the first talkie that shows she really had a pulse on pop culture and current trends. As it turns out, The Red Lady never became a film, but nine of her other books were adapted for the movies in the 1920s.

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Esther J. Hamori – God’s Monsters (2023)

Review by Justin Tate

Found this book on the short-list for a Bram Stoker award. The premise of closely reading the Bible’s monstrous sections, and specifically the numerous occasions where God acts like a monster, intrigued me.

Even as a child, I found the religious interpretation of God as “Holy, Holy, Holy” inconsistent with the same dude who murders all of Job’s family on a gamble with the devil. It’s also God who sends multitudes to Hell, not the devil. It’s God who “hardens” Pharaoh’s heart and then punishes him for it. King Herod is the one who kills a bunch of firstborn children, the vile beast! But oh wait, God did the same thing. What’s up with all the murder and manipulation? Is Christianity nothing but mass Stockholm syndrome?

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Raymond A. Palmer – The Real UFO Invasion (1967)

Review by Justin Tate

With alleged revelations that the US Government has, for decades, been secretly reverse-engineering actual alien spacecraft and is even in possession of non-Earthly “biologics,” it seemed worthwhile to revisit UFO conspiracies from yesteryear.

Few were more prominent in the field during the 1940s-1960s than Raymond A. Palmer. He was quick to ask tough questions on the front line of famous sightings. To be fair, however, many of these UFO encounters became famous only because of his effective sensationalism. As editor of the popular sci-fi magazine Amazing Stories and then Flying Saucers, a periodical devoted to the documenting, researching, and reporting of “factual” unexplainable encounters with flying objects, he had a megaphone (and conflict of interest) to assure public obsession with UFOs remained high.

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Vincent Virga – Gaywyck (1980)

Review by Justin Tate

Gaywyck was a sensation when it appeared in 1980. Critics across the US and Canada heralded its excellent prose and landmark existence as the “first gay Gothic.” Though the peer-reviewed journal Gothic Studies recently debunked this claim, having unearthed an earlier (and better) Gothic novel with unambiguous queer characters from the Stonewall era, there are still these forty years where Gaywyck held onto the title.

More important than Gaywyck’s claim of being first, however, was its mainstream appeal. It was popular in the gay community, but also a favorite among women and straight men who enjoyed the genre. The first edition ran 45,000 copies and sold out quickly, as did the second printing of 55,000.

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Belle Bruck – Women Work, Men Weep (1942)

Review by Justin Tate

Circa 1942, mid-WWII and the same year “Rosie the Riveter” was launched, this newsprint novel seemed certain to explore male anxieties around women arriving in the workplace. Based on the delicious title, I had hopes of fierce female characters trampling upon the pathetic squabbles of men who simply cannot handle co-ed colleagues and bosses. Might this be a lost masterpiece of early feminism?

My expectations were too high, but the story does illustrate the dizzying lengths a 1940s man might go to avoid having a female superior. Sadly she falls for the scheme and, in the end, gives up her entrepreneurial dreams to become a wife. The plot is a nauseating cringe-fest for modern audiences, but that’s not to say the writing is bad or it’s not intriguing from an historical perspective.

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Clara Coleman – Nightmare in July (1965)

Review by Justin Tate

Circa 1965 and written by the mysterious (and possibly pseudonymous) Clara Coleman. Archival resources and Gothic bibliographies delivered no information on the author except that they are responsible for at least two additional novels, The Scent of Sandalwood (1966) and Timbalier (1969).

Timbalier was published under the name “Clayton Coleman” and while it is not 100% clear that Clara and Clayton are the same person, it seems likely. There are no copyright listings for the Clara Coleman novels in the Library of Congress, but Timbalier is credited to Clayton W. Coleman. Perhaps the “W” will be helpful if future researchers become interested in this author.

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Chuck Tingle – Straight (2021)

Review by Justin Tate

Move over Jonathan Swift and Mark Twain, there’s a new king of satire! Chuck Tingle has been tackling all manner of societal issues over the last several years. Usually this involves mimicking erotica tropes to reveal the absurdity of news headlines and other pop culture conundrums. With brief stories and endless creativity, Tingle often adapts our world into the Tingleverse in real time.

Straight is his first venture into horror tropes for social commentary, and it’s also his longest work yet. The result is an absolute delight.

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Billy Farout – Man, It Must Be Heaven (1972)

Review by Justin Tate

Gay afterlife meets John Lennon utopia in this fantastical pulp novel. Murder, vengeful ghosts and tongue-in-cheek religious commentary are thrown in for good measure. As a literary artifact it offers a delightfully campy lens into the fantasies and fears of queer existence during the early 1970s.

The novel opens with Reggie Poppov waking up in the “Gay Wing of Purgatory.” He’s disoriented and wearing a big poofy wedding dress. Leaning over him is a “half nude angel” whose rippling physique makes him “more handsome” than Michelangelo’s David. The angel asks what happened to him. Reggie gradually recalls that he had dressed in wedding drag so he could legally marry his boyfriend, Bob. While posing for pictures on the Golden Gate Bridge, however, Bob pushed him over the edge so he could inherit Reggie’s family fortune.

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Johann Kreig – Pyro-Sex: The Erotic Response to Fire and Flame (1969)

Review by Justin Tate

“It was a pleasure to burn” famously wrote Ray Bradbury—but I doubt he was thinking about the kinds of fiery lust found in Pyro-Sex. Seemingly unhinged in its presentation of clearly fictionalized case studies, the book validates itself by arguing that the “sexual root of pyromania has been entirely overlooked by almost all criminologists” (8). With the aid of allegedly real criminal confessions, the book claims it will leave readers with a new understanding of sexuality’s role in the “impulse to pyromania” (166).

In these pages we meet such disturbed characters as Steven, the “runt” whose reduced stature makes him appear significantly younger than he is. Worse yet, his dick is also diminutive. After ridicule in gym class and traumatic dates where girls laugh at his little pecker, he begins to have pyromaniac fantasies.

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