Wilde Stories 2013: The Year’s Best Gay Speculative Fiction – Steve Berman, ed. (Lethe Press)

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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

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