Speculative fiction isn’t like it was when I was a boy. H.G. Wells was just starting out, and Jules Verne was but a pup. Well, not quite that long ago…but it was still called science fiction and wasn’t taken as seriously as it is today. What hasn’t changed is the wonder of it all, and editor extraordinaire Steve Berman has collected some wondrous pieces indeed for his latest edition of Wilde Stories.
The opener (“Breakwater in the Summer Dark” by L. Lark) and closer (“Keep the Aspidochelone Floating” by Chaz Brenchley are reprised from Berman’s own The Touch of the Sea collection as are a couple of other items here, but their second appearance does nothing to dull their sheen. “Breakwater in the Summer Dark,” in particular, is a beautiful, haunting story of awkward adolescent love against the backdrop of publicity over a “lake monster” at a summer camp. Lark’s boys are achingly real, and I found myself just as involved this time as I was the first. Similarly, Brenchley’s “Aspidochelone” is as involving a pirate story as any I’ve read. These stories are perfect for this collection.
Also making second appearances…well, they all are as this is a reprint series…are “Tattooed Love Boys,” featuring Alex Jeffers’ trademark gender and genre bending, the post-apocalyptic pirates of Vincent Kovar’s “Wave Boys,” and Ray Cluey’s brilliant story of a San Francisco suicide and his rescuing boyfriend, “Night Fishing.” Cluey’s prose is so evocative, I nearly fetched a blanket against the chill of the bay—all the way in Denver.
But the chills in Wilde Stories 2013 are not all marine. K.M. Ferebee gifts us with a medical student with some interesting quirks in “The Keats Variation,” Richard Bowes shows us a man who is able to confront his own dark side in “Grierson at the Pain Clinic,” Rahul Kanakia’s “Next Door” immerses us in a world of futuristic squatters, and Laird Barron takes us into a haunted prison to expose us to “A Strange Form of Life.”
However, I was totally capitvated by Hal Duncan’s “Sic Him, Hellhound! Kill! Kill!,” a clever story of love and devotion between a vampire-hunting werewolf and his boy. Told from the werewolf POV, this story is as smart as it is smart-assed, with a powerful, unique voice and an action-packed climax that will have you on the edge of your chair. It’s impressive fiction, the speculative label notwithstanding.
But Berman and Lethe Press have done much to expand that rather limiting label, providing us with collections that mystify, astound, and inspire. I can’t wait for the next one.
“Breakwater in the Summer Dark” is from Steve Berman’s “Boys of Summer.”
©, 2013, Jerry Wheeler