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Jeff Baker—Boogieman In Lavender

                                         Wilde Stories 2016

                                                By Jeff Baker

 

            Science fiction, magical realism, fantasy and plain old horror. All are on display in the 2016 edition of Wilde Stories, editor Steve Berman’s annual “best of the year” collection devoted to gay speculative fiction.

            “Imaginary Boys” by Paul Magrs is one of several stories in Wilde Stories with a young adult protagonist. In this case David, raised by a single working mother, dealing with homophobia and with a visitor from Somewhere Else thrown into the mix. The story is both touching and funny with laughs coming from the least-likely scene in a book of gay male stories; a hilarious scene of David’s mother giving birth.

            “Camp” by David Nickle starts off with a camping trip, moves on to a missing person and into a bit of magical realism.

            “What Lasts” by Jared W. Cooper is cast as a set of instructions to a man building a “bot” to replace a lover and then rebuilding himself. A world and a story built in a few brief pages with lines like; “Step 5: Fall in love. Do not skip this step.”  Do not skip this story.     

            As atmospheric as a walk in a catacomb by torchlight, “Utrechtenaar,” by Paul Evanby vividly depicts the sights, sounds and smells of Eighteenth-century Utrecht, a Utrecht of furtive encounters between men in the night shadows. The narrator stumbles through a forgotten entrance into the city’s catacombs which date back to Roman times. He finds them inhabited by someone for whom time has no meaning. “Utrechtenaar” is simply one of the best new stories I have read in a long time, a worthy addition to any collection of fantasy stories, with a finely-evoked historical setting.

            “Edited,” by Rich Larson, follows three high-school buddies after one of them has been “edited” at the insistence of his rich parents. Full of futurespeak like “nerve mesh,” and “mirrorgrins,”as well as references to “one of those sexy gel fridges where the stuff hangs suspended in the air bubbles,” it is a blend of dystopian sci-fi and sweet, sad nostalgia for the reality that you can grow away from good friends.

            “Envious Moons,” by the similarly-named Richard Scott Larson, gives us another young narrator, one seemingly obsessed with Callie, the impossibly popular girl next door who he can’t have. The story introduces into his closeted life, dripping wet, a mysterious girl out of nowhere.

            Haralambi Markov’s “The Language of Knives” is a compelling grotesquerie of magic and loss in a world run by gods with “appendages.”

            “The Duchess and the Ghost” by Richard Bowes begins in the early 1960’s in New York City and involves a young hustler, a “duchess” and a bargain made to mysterious forces. “Fifty years and a day seems such a long time when one is only twenty.”

            Jonathan Harper’s “Wallflowers” is more suspense or crime story than sci-fi or fantasy, but is an excellent read. More young adult protagonists, this time who may have taken things to the extreme. The story just skirts being the kind that might have been seen on “Alfred Hitchcock Presents.”

            “Lockbox,” by E. Catherine Tobler, is horror. Much of the horror is reminiscent of Poe and Lovecraft, told partly in footnotes. The story begins with an implication of humor and moves through a dream into the maw of terror.

            Chaz Brenchley’s “The Astrakhan, the Homburg and the Red Red Coal” has been picked (deservedly) for another “best of” collection. The story sets an unnamed Oscar Wilde holding court among the expatriates of a steampunk Mars of the early 1900’s. What follows is a lively discussion which moves to an experiment invoking the mind-expansion of absinthe and other drugs so prevalent in the era.

            “To Die Dancing” by Sam J. Miller offers a fundamentalist future (or possibly present) on a night of revelry when they play recordings of singers in this world where women are forbidden from such activity.

            “He Came From a Place of Openness and Truth” by Bonnie Jo Stufflebean again brings us a young narrator and an otherworldly visitor, in this case an extraterrestrial, who become sexually involved but with different needs and results than the usual. It includes one of the best lines in the book; “Turns out that aliens are pretty damn good at road trips.”

            In “The Ticket Taker of Cenote Zaci” by Benjamin Parzybok, Eduardo, a young poet, works at a tourist attraction in a small Mexican town, and spends his time pining for his boyfriend Ronaldo. He comes to the realization that the cenote, or natural pool at the heart of the attraction may be very un-natural, building to an inevitable tragedy.

            “To The Knife Cold Stars” by A. Merc Rustad opens with a scene reminiscent of the “Six Million Dollar Man” and moves through magic, post-apocalypse and a demon. “The stars were cold and bright, knife tips gleaming against black satin.”

            Readers today live in a boom time, a veritable glut of “Best of” genre anthologies and the annual “Wilde Stories” collection (and its companion volume “Heiresses of Russ”) are among the must-reads.

 

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Jeff Baker blogs about writing and reading sci-fi and horror and other sundry matters around the thirteenth of each month. His fiction has most recently appeared in Queer SciFi’s “Flight,” and in Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine #21. He blogs and posts fiction at http://authorjeffbaker.com  and wastes time on Facebook as Jeff Baker, Author. He lives in Wichita, Kansas with his husband Darryl.

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