Sunday, July 31, 2011

review of Wilde Stories 2011

Book 41: Wilde Stories 2011 edited by Steve Berman, isbn 9781590213032, 289 pages, Lethe Press, $18.00

The Premise:  WILDE STORIES 2011 is the fourth installment in editor and publisher Steve Berman's annual collection of the best gay speculative fiction. This time he's drawn from a variety of anthologies and magazines to compile 14 stories with strong gay characters at the center of the action. The stories skew heavily to the fantasy and horror quadrants of the speculative fiction map; possibly there were just not that as many hard-sf stories with gay characters to choose from.

My Rating: 4 stars

My Thoughts:  I was already familiar with two of the entries: Christopher Barzak's "Map of Seventeen" from its appearance in THE BEASTLY BRIDE, and with Jeremy C. Shipp's "How To Make A Clown" from his FUNGUS OF THE HEART collection. I liked both stories the first time I read them, and liked them equally as well reading them again. Barzak's tale is great YA fiction with a straight female narrator talking about her older gay brother and his new boyfriend; Shipp's story is classic bizarro fiction that makes my brain hurt in a good way.

Possibly my favorite story in the collection was Laird Barron's "Mysterium Tremendum." I described it in a tweet as "Lovecraft meets Danielewski." I'd like to expand on that a bit: Barron, in his own style, evokes the best of Lovecraft's stories -- the focus on human characters chancing upon physical manifestations of the great unknown -- but the tone and pace of the story put me almost immediately in mind of Mark Z. Danielewski's THE HOUSE OF LEAVES. That novel is not perfect, but what lingers with me years after reading it is the sense of what I can only call "claustroagoraphobia." Barron's story (and Danielewski's) makes me feel tense because spaces that shouldn't be vast and endless (say, a cave hidden in a hillside) suddenly are, and spaces that should feel wide open (hiking trails in the Pacific Northwest) feel tight and threatening. For this story alone, pick up this collection.

I also really enjoyed Nick Poniatkowski's "How To Make Friends in Seventh Grade." It's not quite hard-sf, but that's okay -- a coming-of-age drama set against an "alien invaders are watching us" backdrop, it works very well because of the authenticity of the narrator. Sandra McDonald's "Beach Blanket Spaceship" is closer to hard-sf and feels reminiscent of the scenes from 2001 where Dave is alone with HAL and he knows something is not right but can't put his finger on what.

Barbara A. Barnett's "Mortis Persona" is also moving, a tale of love cut short by death and how both the departed and the left behind deal with it. There's a tinge of horror that is highly effective, but again it's the human emotions that make the story.

I'm a fan of pulp and Victorian sleuths, so I also really enjoyed Chaz Brenchley's "Hothouse Flowers, Or the Discreet Boys of Dr. Barnabas." It is an homage to Stoker and Doyle in style but is also entirely Brenchley's own. I'd enjoy further adventures of Messrs. Furnival and Alshott investigating the outre. They'd be a fine addition to the greater Wold-Newton Universe, as well.

I'll admit I struggled with Hal Duncan's "Oneirica." There were portions of it I liked, but I think I might have missed the point in it somewhere along the line. But even this story I can't say was "bad," just that it didn't work for me as well as most of the others. Likewise Alayna Dawn Johnson's "Love Will Tear Us Apart," Peter Dube's "Blazon," and Richard Larson's "The Noise." All GOOD stories, but for me not GREAT.

Joel Lane's "All The Shadows" was moving and didn't end the way I expected (that's a compliment). Jeffrey A. Ricker's "Lifeblood" shares some ground with Alayna Dawn Johnson's tale without sharing any plot points. Richard Bowes' "Waiting For the Phone To Ring" feels like it wants to be a novel but works in the shorter form.

Overall, a book well worth picking up when it hits stands in August. Of course, as with any multi-author collection, the stories I enjoyed the most may be the ones you enjoy the least -- but don't let that stop you from checking the book out and experiencing some authors you've never read before.

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