A REVIEW OF DANCE OF THE WARRIORS BY KEVIN ESSER
Dance of the Warriors by American novelist Kevin Esser was published by the Acolyte Press in Amsterdam in 1988.
Warm Characters, Hot Sex
Loving relationships between men and boys remains the persistent theme of Kevin Esser’s fiction. His debut novel, was a character study of a lonely teacher and a Hispanic teenager who discovered themselves in their feelings for each other. Mad To Be Saved moved the emphasis from character to style, an autobiographical meditation on language and memory. Dance of the Warriors is his latest book, and Esser has shifted his focus again, this time to a science-fiction plot that depicts a bleak, but somehow hopeful future.
But despite the emphasis on plot in this eventful novel, its highlights remain the elements that made Esser’s first book his most successful: the skillful development of sympathetic characters and an unparalleled ability to craft erotic fiction featuring teenagers enjoying the thrills of gay sexuality. Dance of the Warriors uses on a story about an oppressive 21st Century America to provide an exotic backdrop for the tale of 13-year-old Teddy and his friend Cisco. Teddy, especially, chafes under the militaristic oppression of an anti-sexual society that forbids boys to appear in public with bare arms and sentences “fag-crims” to concentration camps.
Rumors of the "vags,” a homosexual warrior cult practicing guerilla warfare against the government from the hearts of the country’s decaying cities and his burgeoning feelings for 15-year-old Cisco help alienate the boy from the Federation, a Christian dictatorship that rules the listless population. But it takes the attention of Richard, an understanding older neighbor, to build the spark of Teddy's vague discontent to a lusty, rebellious ﬁre.
In Esser's description of Teddy's fascination with the dusky, Hispanic Cisco the writer finds his own voice, displaying a gift for nuanced emotion and detailed observation.
“Teddy stayed there on his knees, staring, not sure what to do next, feeling suddenly woozy and raw. More than anything, he wanted to touch Cisco. The desire in him was like a sharp hunger, an actual pain, a clenched shortness of breath. ‘You should get up,’ he whispered, using the words as an excuse to poke Cisco’s belly. The muscles were washboard hard from years of sit ups. Teddy poked again, still whispering ‘get up, get up,’ over and over like a soft nursery-rhyme refrain. Cisco let out a long raspy breath and scratched his forehead, pushing his bandana crooked with a sleep-numbed hand. Feeling another itch lower down, he raised one knee and scratched between his legs. Teddy watched him and waited. Cisco scratched slowly for a few seconds longer, then threw back his arm over his eyes. His left knee was still raised, angled slightly to the side. Timidly, cautiously, Teddy reached down and pressed at his friend‘s crotch, murmuring ‘get up, get up' – an incantation, a sorcerer’s spell. The Ferris Flambee Quartet segued from ‘Sunday Slaughter’ to ‘Savages in Wonderland,‘ electric sitars wailing, reverb-guitars echoing. He could see and feel the tubular bulge of Cisco’s dick inside -- maybe five limp inches, maybe even six -- firm as a slender sausage above the soft, rounded swell of his balls. Teddy squeezed gently at that hidden sausage, massaged it through the warm fabric, trying to make it hard, trying to make it bigger. Cisco flexed his hips, grunted softly. The lump between Teddy’s fingers started growing, stiffening. Cisco granted again, then dream mumbled and rolled onto his stomach.”
In that reference to Ferris Flambee and the electric sitars Esser’s imagination sounds tinny. And it’s strange that he’s chosen to write a science-fiction novel, since most often in this book, when the writing falters, becoming hackneyed, it’s in servicing the requirements of the genre. Esser’s vision of the future is second-hand, an amalgam of Orwell’s 1984, Burroughs’ The Wild Boys and porno pulp fiction about juvenile jails.
He’s more original, and always on target, with the chronicle of Teddy’s gradual discovery of his feeling for Cisco, and of the decidedly heterosexual older boy’s struggle to find a place for those feelings within their friendship. That’s a story more truly awesome than the battle of laser rifles and plasma bombs that climaxes Dance of the Warriors. And it’s one no writer working could tell better than Kevin Esser.
Reviewed by Chris Farrell in the NAMBLA Bulletin Vol. IX No. 7, September 1988, pp. 7 & 16.