Tag Archives: Steve Berman

Wilde Stories 2016: The Year’s Best Speculative Fiction – Steve Berman, ed. (Lethe Press)

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This annual collection of fantasy and sci-fi stories that probe the otherworldly implications of gay-male life was launched in 2008. Steve Berman, series editor and publisher, knows this territory well. For Berman, adolescence is a magical place where anything can happen. While writers of sexually explicit fiction must beware of describing “underage” sex, the writers gathered in this anthology describe the development of erotic feelings in teenagers in ways both daring and emotionally true. Several of these boys find boyfriends and counterparts who come from another place or era. In some stories, the protagonist finds or creates a doppelganger who may or may not be visible to anyone else.

In “Imaginary Boys” by Paul Magrs, David is followed by his “Novelizor,” an earnest classmate from a planet “about 300 light years from here,” whose purpose is to make sense of David’s life by narrating it. Lawrence, the alien disguised as a handsome earthling, is David’s first boyfriend, and the Boswell to his Johnson as well as the embodiment of his developing adult consciousness.

The intervention of an alien love-interest is repeated in “He Came From a Place of Openness and Truth” by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam, in which the alien has the familiar task of repopulating his own planet. Needless to say, the alien’s mission must be kept secret on this earth, and the young narrator willingly co-operates. The story title is ironic, of course, and the story explores the various kinds of secrecy that seem necessary to most teenagers who live with their parents. Having a same-sex lover from a different culture adds another wrinkle to the complicated business of growing up.

In “Envious Moons” by Richard Scott Larson, an only son watches from his bedroom window as Callie, a popular girl who played Juliet in a school play, is courted by a swarm of boys. In an apparently unrelated development, a mysterious male stranger appears one night in the narrator’s yard: “that was when I first saw your white chest, your body alight in an almost lunar glow . . . and I saw your face staring up at me. It was like I was seeing my own reflection upon the surface of the lake in front of the house.” The narrator rescues this visitor from the cold, and tells him about “the curves of her [Callie], the way she held womanhood up like a gown, something expensive in a store I wasn’t allowed to enter.” The visitor says: “I know what you want. I know what I can do for you.” When the stranger appears in Callie’s bedroom in her place, the narrator stares until the light goes out, and then, “I saw only my reflection staring back at me across the yard.” By means of the visitor’s intervention, the narrator becomes luminous, a center of attraction in his own right.

Several of these stories deal with the alternative culture created by a small group of outsiders in high school. In “Wallflowers” by Jonathan Harper, a group of bored outsiders in a small town discover a version of the haunted house on the edge of town, but this one is new and never occupied before. The “wallflowers” create their own secret by inventing an imaginary boy who acquires legendary status – and an apparent body. An awakening group consciousness seems to have the power to create something tangible.

Teenagers at the mercy of their parents and other authority figures have reason to fear being pressured to change into more socially acceptable versions of themselves, and drastic makeovers—consensual or not—are a science-fiction trope. In “Edited” by Rich Larson, a privileged young man named Wyatt is given a physical and psychological transformation by his parents as a birthday gift. As Wyatt explains to the narrator, his “bru” from a lower-income neighborhood, the erasure of Wyatt’s feelings for him makes Wyatt’s life “simpler.” In the last scene, the disillusioned narrator watches “the clouds eat the moon, Edit it right out the sky like it was never there, not really.” In this story, as in “Envious Moons,” moonlight is a hypnotic alternative to the sunlight of adult social reality.

In contrast to social conformity through technological intervention, “What Lasts” by Jared W. Cooper is an instruction manual for constructing a mechanical lover from discarded parts in a junkyard which is guarded by a kind of evil witch. The lonely young men in this anthology who need to find companions would surely be tempted to create them, despite the risks.

The need for survival in a hostile environment, and the heroic lengths to which some social outcasts will go to save their fellows, give momentum to a dystopian tale, “To the Knife Cold Stars” by A. Merc Rustad. In this story, the “cityheart” is a massive engine with its own will that feeds on the energy of young strays.

In “Lockbox” by E. Catherine Tobler, the young male narrator is lured by his boyfriend to explore Exham Priory, a sunken structure that “had housed the worst of the worst,” including a legendary murderess. It seems as if the bond between the two young men protects them from harm. The narrator, a university student, writes his story as a class assignment, bristling with footnotes.

“Utrechtenaar” by Paul Evanby is set in 1729 in Utrecht, a righteously Protestant city in the Netherlands, where the Night Watch patrols the local cruising spot, and God help any young man caught out after dark. The narrator is a terrified university student who learns that the city is haunted by a sentry from centuries before who seems to be caught in a time warp. As alien as the Latin-speaking sentry is, he seems determined to protect the young man from the forces of repression.

A surprisingly small number of these stories deal with traditional relationships between young male ingénues and their older mentors. In “The Duchess and the Ghost” by Richard Bowes, an eighteen-year-old flees to New York City in 1961 because he knows he is “different,” and hopes to find his tribe. His mentor is a magnificent, fading queen who introduces the young man to the “Doorman,” a supernatural being who literally provides him with a new identity and who determines the length of his life. Although AIDS is unheard-of so far, no gay man of the time can assume he will survive long or well.

“To Die Dancing” by Sam J. Miller is also set in New York, but in a dystopian future, in which all “decadence” has been “cleaned up” by the governing Christian Right. A generation of young, queer New Yorkers who have never known freedom have one night in which to experience joy, inspired by legendary rebels.

In the majority of these stories, however, the young protagonists learn that older men (especially those with political or supernatural power) are not to be trusted, and the best allies are close to one’s own age. In two stories, ancient gods from specific other cultures claim human sacrifices, although homophobia does not seem to be a motive. In “The Ticket Taker of Cenote Zaci” by Benjamin Parzybok, a young Mexican man is a gatekeeper for a tourist attraction which was important to the ancient Mayans, who would surely disapprove of the commercialization of their sacred sites. It seems that they take revenge.

In “The Language of Knives” by Haralambi Markov, a man is officially designated as the one who must prepare his husband’s body for the gods who are meant to consume it, and the man’s apprentice is the couple’s “daughter,” who may or may not inherit her father’s role in due course. The grisly operation is described, step by step, as a last expression of love.

In “Camp” by David Nickle, a pair of upper-middle-class male newlyweds plan to spend their honeymoon in the scenic Canadian wilderness. They seem as innocent as a young heterosexual couple in a more traditional story; they don’t expect to encounter any discrimination on the road, and they explain themselves to everyone they meet. The older husband and wife who invite the newlyweds to an isolated camp seem overly friendly, but the young men see no reason to refuse the invitation, and they ignore the warning signs that something is amiss. The climax suggests a mythical transformation, but the role of the strange couple (deities in disguise?) and the power of the natural world are unclear.

The book concludes with “The Astrakhan, the Homburg, and the Red, Red Coals,” written by Chaz Brenchley. This witty story is about Oscar Wilde, using his actual assumed name (“Mr. Holland”) while in exile on Mars, which itself is a popular destination for space-travelers in nineteenth-century science fiction. True to the gay culture of their era, a group of middle-aged fellow-exiles gather on the colonized planet to share sexual access to a young man who works in a shabbily-genteel hotel. This carnal sharing enables them to communicate at an extrasensory level with each other and with non-human, shapeshifting beings. The men’s attempt to form a collective consciousness through sex resembles the tribal bonding of teenagers in other stories in this collection. In this case, however, the young man is a pawn or a toy for his elders.

Although today’s queer young adults come out into a more accepting society than that of the past, these stories show that youth is still a life-phase full of danger as well as transformation. Parents and teachers still discourage same-gender closeness, and the religious and political repression of the past could always return.  Just as the Hans Christian Andersen story “The Ugly Duckling” speaks to most young readers who feel as if they were raised in the wrong family or species and want to find their soul-mates, the stories in this anthology remind adult readers of how that felt.

Reviewed by Jean Roberta

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Out In Print’s Best 13 Reads of 2013

I came across some absolutely amazing books in 2013; volumes that uplifted me as a reader as well as encouraging me to grow as a writer if for no other reason than to produce work as funny or bittersweet or beautiful or just plain damn good as the books listed below. Well done, everyone. This list is in no particular order, but they are all excellent. If you haven’t purchased them yet, you really need to. So without further adieu, here are Out in Print’s Best Reads of 2013:

Bitter-Orange-Cover-Shadow-V6Bitter Orange – Marshall Moore (Signal 8 Press) Buy from Amazon

Moore’s story of an individual rendered literally invisible is both stunning and satisfying, being at once a cautionary tale as well as a comment on our technological civilization (if those two words aren’t contradictory). But Bitter Orange is also possessed of a paralyzing wit that seeps through the dialogue and drips onto the prose itself. Moore is at his funniest when he’s making a point, and these points are so sharp, they hurt. In a good way.

Unknown_13A Romantic Mann – Jeff Mann (Lethe Press) Buy from Lethe Press

Mann’s fiction and essays are well-represented in many Best Of lists, but I found this volume of poetry to be as deep and poignant as any of his prose. Perhaps more so. Be it his romanticism, his BDSM predilections, his love of food, or his love of men, all are on display here in a celebration of language, lust, and lore. Even if you don’t normally enjoy poetry, you might find this a winning entry point. I urge you not to pass this by, for without it, you do not have a complete understanding of this multi-faceted author.

358171Light – ‘Nathan Burgoine (Bold Strokes Books)  Buy from BSB

I loved this remarkable debut novel, from its romantic underpinnings to its superhero flair to its slightly politicized action scenes. It has winning characters, a juicy plot, a neat twist, and a real love of language and storytelling at its core. And a dog. Can’t forget the dog. I have been proud to be associated with Burgoine at nearly the inception of his career, and it continues to be my pleasure to cheer him on.

350351Fortune’s Bastard (or Love’s Pains Recounted) – Gil Cole (Chelsea Station Editions)  Buy from TLA Gay

This marvelous Shakespearian mashup (of “Twelfth Night” and “Merchant of Venice” among others) is a delight in more ways than one. It inhabits the Shakespeare idiom perfectly in terms of language as well as character and plot. It’s so damn assured that I was in awe of how totally it achieves what it sets out to do. More than a pastiche, it’s perfection.

cache_280_427_3__80_ArtonFireArt on Fire – Hilary Sloin  (Bywater Books)  Buy from Bywater Books

This fictional biography of painter Francesca deSilva is memorable not only for the story it tells, but for the essays on deSilva’s work sandwiched between chapters of her story. Those essays are as brilliantly satirical of art criticism as deSilva’s story is involving and engaging. Her art informs her life as much as her life informs her art. But even if you’re not an art critic, this wonderful book is a portrait of a fascinating life. And an untimely death.

imgresThe Dirty Trilogy – Ashley Bartlett (Bold Strokes Books)  Buy from BSB

I don’t think this is a cheat since two of the three books came out in 2013 – Dirty Sex, Dirty Money, and Dirty Power are really all of a piece. Bartlett’s POV character, Vivian Cooper (Coop, please) is a marvel–a romantic, streetwise, smart-assed heroine who will leave you laughing tears. The plot is long and convoluted, involving love, the Mob, a fortune in gold, besties, fake parents, and real heartbreak. Start with the first one and hang on, baby.

41XZwbtIirL._SY346_Conjure: A Book of Spells – Peter Dube  (Rebel Satori Press)  Buy from RSP

A grimoire, no less. Elegant, understated prose poems promising “To Strike Obstacles from Your Path and Unlock Doors” or “To Undo an Error Past” but are mystically metaphoric. In terms of difficulty, this is the most challenging book I’ve read all year. Once its secrets were unlocked, however, I found it fascinating, enthralling reading — all the more interesting for the amount of work I put in. It’s not for everyone, but those who get it will be truly affected.

17949975Thoreau in Love – John Schuyler Bishop (CreateSpace)  Buy from Amazon

An entirely successful vision of what some missing pages of Henry Thoreau’s journal might have revealed, this marvelous piece of historical fiction is told with verve and enthusiasm. It takes chances with character, liberties with history, and its readers for a lusty, dizzying ride. Bishop’s research is impeccable but barely shows, Thoreau at last coming through as a person instead of a historical figure. It captures the heart as well as the head. 

cache_280_427_3__80_giraffepeoplelargewebGiraffe People – Jill Malone (Bywater Books)  Buy from Bywater Books

Much more than a young adult novel, Jill Malone’s Giraffe People is a wonderfully voiced and nuanced look at fifteen years old. The perspective is as adult yet as childish as you remember your own life at that time. If you have forgotten what fifteen was like, you need to read this. If you remember, you’ll be as involved in Cole Peters’ life as she is. And Malone maintains this voice with remarkable consistency, never putting a foot wrong.

Where Thy Dark Eye GlancesWhere Thy Dark Eye Glances – Steve Berman, ed. (Lethe Press)  Buy from Lethe Press

If any author’s work needed queering, it would be Edgar Allan Poe, and Steve Berman has collected a wonderful batch of take-offs, pastiches, and imitators–except none of those categories approaches the sheer originality of the stories, essays, and poems here. And the book looks as good as it reads. Lovingly produced and sumptuously written, Where Thy Dark Eye Glances is a class act that deserves your attention.

5100A Horse Named Sorrow – Trebor Healey (University of Wisconsin Press)  Buy from Amazon

Trebor Healey breaks his long silence and absence from fiction with a beautiful, elegiac road trip as Seamus Blake carries his boyfriend’s ashes back to Buffalo as he’d promised him he would. But as road trips go, he finds the journey to be more important than its end. Lyrical and sad, Healey’s prose uplifts rather than depresses. If you have ever had grief in your life, this will speak to you.

Who_the_Hell_is_Rachel_Wells_lgWho the Hell is Rachel Wells? – J.R. Greenwell (Chelsea Station Editions)  Buy from Giovanni’s Room

Eleven short stories collecting the best and worst of Southern manners and mannerisms, this collection is by turns heartbreaking and hilarious, sometimes in the same paragraph. Caricature? Well, yes. But there are characters here as well. Both subtly shaded and as outrageous as the best/worst drag ever, this batch of stories never relents in its celebration of Southern culture. Which is no contradiction in terms.

dickinstein-frontcoveronlyDickinstein: Emily Dickinson, Mad Scientist – Shannon Yarbrough (Rocking Horse Publishing)  Buy from Rocking Horse Publishing

An inspired mashup of Frankenstein and Emily Dickinson, the execution is as accomplished as the concept. By combining these two apparently disparate elements, Yarbrough illuminates both halves of the equation. Emily Dickinson wasn’t a mad scientist, of course, but Dickinstein certainly gives us the freedom to reimagine her.

And there you have them–a baker’s dozen of the most wonderful treats 2103 had to offer. Now, we begin expanding our critical waistline for 2014. It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it….

©  2013  Jerry L. Wheeler

Please note: The books included may not have necessarily been published in 2013, but read and reviewed here at Out in Print in 2013.

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The Lavender Menace: Tales of Queer Villainy! – Tom Cardamone, ed. (Northwest Press)

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Everyone loves the hero, right? Especially those with superpowers, colorful costumes, sidekicks, and witty banter. Personally, however, I’ve always found those tortured villains more interesting: Lex Luthor or Mr. Myxzptlk over Superman, Doc Ock over Spiderman, the Joker or Penguin over Batman (except you were never sure about Batman–he’s my favorite). That’s why I was so excited when I heard about this book. Then I saw Tom Cardamone was editing, and my expectations tripled. Thankfully, nobody disappoints here, so no one dies at the hands of this arch-villain-critic.

Much has been made of the “outsider” kinship queer men and women share with superheroes, but where many would concentrate on the heroic aspects, most of the heroes in these stories are members of Leagues or Organizations, loosely knit governing bodies that put heroes with heat vision or super strength or flight or any number of super-attributes clearly on the inside. Thus, to get back to the outside, Cardamone has chosen to concentrate on villains.

A look at the cover and a cursory glance at the title would indicate these stories are overdrawn and over the top. While some of them are, a number retain a surprising subtlety.  The telepath in ‘Nathan Burgoine’s brilliant “Lesser Evil,” tips his way into a love affair with Aleph, implanting a suggestion that Aleph loves him. Burgoine’s portrayal of Psilence’s delicious guilt is both heartening and heartbreaking. And just when you think you have the ending figured out, he takes you another way which is simultaneously characteristic, yet uncharacteristic of his lovelorn villain.

Less subtle, but still effective, is the betrayal in Steven Berenzai’s “The Web,” which sees Daytripper falling in love with Arachnid, a fellow possible inductee into yet another Superhero League. At a pivotal moment, however, Arachnid tricks Daytripper and reveals himself as a villain, provoking a wonderful final battle that is satisfying on a number of levels. Jamie Freeman also turns in a wonderful performance with “The Meek Shall Inherit,” a cautionary tale that takes place in the futuristic Christian States of America as the Inheritor incinerates the religious bigots. Although this would seem to put him in the superhero side, revelations at the end put him squarely in the villain camp, no matter how much the reader would wish it otherwise. In doing so, Freeman asks some tough questions about the nature of good and evil as well as the grey area between the two.

But as I said earlier, everyone acquits themselves well in this collection. Marshall Moore goes all high fashion with “After Balenciaga,” which has the evil Couture bringing back designers from the grave, pitting Chanel against Dior to wickedly tongue-in-cheek effect.  Lee Thomas is his usual brilliant self in “The Third Estate,” incorporating some leftist sentiment into the villain Legion, who destroys corporations and executives, much to the dismay and ultimate betrayal of his partner, Curtis. The title character of Cardamone’s own “The Ice King,” first seen in Steve Berman’s criminally underrated queer spec-fic magazine Icarus, takes time out from freezing back-of-the-bar sex tableaux to reunite with an old college roommate he once loved. Also worth mentioning is Jeffrey Ricker’s “Scorned,” featuring Megawatt, a Hannibal Lechter-type desperate to regain his power and escape from his prison cell.

As if all this wasn’t enough, Rod M. Santos takes us clear over the top with “The Knights Nefarious.” This outrageous tale has a henchman named Muse trying to win the love of his master, Dr. Schadenfreude, by scheming to capture the good doctor’s arch-enemy, Captain Strategem, and presenting the hero to him on his birthday. He does so with the help of a rather motley crew of amateur villains: El Fantasma que Sangra (The Ghost Who Bleeds), a robotphobe named Armored Suit Man, a trenchcoat-wearing Flash Forward who opens his coat to expose a hypnotic psychedelic tattoo, Robigus, a Roman god who protects corn from blight, and Chocolate Bunny Boy, who can shoot chocolate rabbits from his palms. In an absolutely inspired moment that had me snorting ginger ale up my nose during the climactic battle, Stratagem puts an arm up to ward off Chocolate Bunny Boy’s attack, exclaiming incredulously, “You’re assaulting me with Easter candy?” Even my dogs were laughing.

You’ll find no better book of queer supervillainy anywhere. I can hardly wait for the next volume. Please, Tom, tell me there’s another in the works!

©  2013  Jerry L. Wheeler

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