Monday, October 05, 2009

Book/Magazine Review: Wilde Stories 2009 edited by Steve Berman

Every Monday, I'll be doing bite-sized book/magazine reviews.

There's actually a lot of gay writers in the genre but the question in forming an anthology such as Wilde Stories is whether there's enough strong, gay speculative short stories to merit such a publication. It's a field that's more viable these days, with publications like Icarus Magazine and Unspeakable Horror: From the Shadows of the Closet, as opposed to a decade ago. But then again, editor Steve Berman draws a couple of his stories--and what I consider the more powerful pieces in this anthology--from venues that aren't necessarily dedicated to gay literature. And honestly, from the perspective of a heterosexual, that's what's surprising: I've encountered stories like "Firooz and His Brother" by Alex Jeffers and "AKA St. Mark's Place" by Richard Bowes before but I never pegged them as distinctly queer stories. Encountering them in this anthology places them in a new light, and makes one realize how wide-open the category of "gay speculative fiction" can be.

But let's go back to the initial dilemma of Wilde Stories 2009. Are there enough powerful stories to merit such an anthology? Well, to a certain extent, it's not: this book isn't as thick as a Robert Jordan novel (but then again, what anthology is?) and if quantity was your only metric (mine isn't) for a successful book, you might consider this slim pickings with only eleven stories. It doesn't help that of those eleven stories, three of them are quite short (and of those three, I was only satisfied with "Behind the Curtain" by Joel Lane). Despite those complaints, what remains is a selection of well-written stories. Are they comparable to, say, the award-winners and stories featured in other "Best Of" anthologies? In some cases, yes. For example, "The Bloomsbury Nudes" by Jameson Currier is a haunting story wherein the characters come to life and each one has a distinct personality. It's not easily classifiable as a ghost story but it produces the same impact and features all the tropes of what one would expect from such a tale. "AKA St. Mark's Place" by Richard Bowes conjures a certain era and tone of America and successfully juggles elements of the fantastic along with the horrific. And then there were stories which I felt were good enough or fun, but weren't necessarily the best of the best: "I'm Your Violence" by Lee Thomas, "A Troll on a Mountain with A Girl" by Steve Berman, "Firooz and His Brother" by Alex Jeffers, and "The Behold of the Eye" by Hal Duncan (and the last one is also going to be reprinted in Rich Horton's "best of online fiction" anthology).

One pattern among the stories in this book is that while the term speculative fiction is broad enough, most (if not all) of the stories here fall under the fantasy and horror bracket, instead of, say, science fiction. Tragedy and loss is also a recurring theme, which should set expectations at to what kind of mood Wild Stories 2009 sets. As far as themed, reprint anthologies go, Berman succeeds in forming an anthology with some solid and noteworthy stories given the hand he's dealt with.


Christopher Fletcher said...

I was pleased to see the Alex Jeffers story in this book. I'm a big fan. I included a Jeffers reprint in my queer sf antho, THINGS WE ARE NOT, which releases later this month, and will be running his first new previously unpublished sf short story in the next issue of M-Brane.

Christopher Fletcher said...

Or I should have said first new unpublished sf in a number of years--he's had plenty of other stuff out in other genres in recent times.

Steve Berman said...

My goal with the series is to bring quality spec fic to gay readers who aren't involved in fandom or the writing community.

For these readers, stories like the Jeffers and the Bowes would be totally new despite both being heavily reprinted in the spec fic Best of anthologies. These readers can pick up a copy of Wilde Stories and get the best (at least in my opinion, which I believe to be an educated one) of the past year's offerings under one cover.

Vince Liaguno said...

Charles, thanks for the mention of the Currier and Thomas pieces from the Unspeakable Horror anthology. We were very proud to have both stories included, and thrilled that Steve selected them for inclusion in this year's Wilde Stories.