Saturday, December 12, 2009

Review: Wilde Stories 2009: The Year's Best Gay Speculative Fiction

Wilde Stories 2009: The Year's Best Gay Speculative Fiction
Edited by Steve Berman

Published by Lethe Press

Reviewed by Paul Kane


These eleven stories display a match made in heaven and, on occasion, consummated in hell: speculative / slipstream literature conflated with a queer/LGBT sensibility. Joel Lane’s Behind the Curtain, a skewered take on the vampire tale, is a case in point. Set amid a landscape of urban decay and environmental collapse, it has a protagonist intent on cruising for a bruising; or a bloodletting, anyway. Vampire romance, as a genre, is all the rage with adolescent girls at the minute; this story is a more carnal version of the form.

The most impressive piece of fiction is AKA St. Mark’s Place by Richard Bowes, though the ending is a bit perfunctory, mind. In essence, the story traces the relationship between three troubled souls - Judy, Ray and BD - from the mid-'60s to the early 1970s. Their relationship, a tangle of fate, is not so much a love triangle as a triangle of intimate complicity; and the most effective passages evoke the frisson of feeling that occurs when you notice properly who people are, how they see themselves. The clairvoyant element here adds a layer of mystery, but does not dispel the gloom of two take-home truths: families are ramshackle dwellings, unstable and insecure, is one; another: the abused will somehow tend to become abusers.

Another highlight of the collection is a tale entitled Bluff, by that formidably accomplished writer, L.A. Fields. His contribution touches on lust, longing, a little death (in the Elizabethan sense, natch) and maybe the larger one. Though a small example of what he can do, it is effective nonetheless.

Finally, to end, comments on a couple of other contributions. I’m Your Violence by Lee Thomas starts out as a police procedural in the vein of James Ellroy: a grisly sex murder, the leading turn an act of near-cannibalism. It then veers off in a weird (or an even weirder) direction but a fruitful one, with an interesting moral ambivalence at its core. As a writer, Thomas is a real find and his protagonist here, a detective by the name of Dean Kaiser, is surely too intriguing a character to be limited to a run-out in just one story. Echo by Peter Dube is different again, having a thread of subtle disquiet which evokes that dark genius Thomas Ligotti, or some of the rare fictions of Guy Davenport. It seemed to tell of a curious fate, yet was as much a meditation on memory and lost time. A strange, suggestive story.


Paul Kane lives and works in Manchester, England. Hewelcomes responses to his reviews and you can reach him at ludic@europe.com

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