Yes, there’s a gay version of Ronald Reagan in here, in one of the stories of Lethe Press’ Wilde Stories. The alternate history version of the former President is only one of the surprises in the 2017 edition of the year’s best gay speculative fiction edited by Steve Berman.
“Frost,” by ‘Nathan Burgoine borrows from “Frosty the Snowman” but in subtle ways (the mention of the broomstick was worth a smile!) and adds another origin story, as well as a poignant statement about the nature of magical transformations.
“Where’s The Rest Of Me?” by Matthew Cheney (the aforementioned alternate Ronald Reagan story) moves from the world of pulp-fiction in the 1930’s through pop-religious seminars in the ‘50’s, and into the ‘70’s. Supporting players include John W. Campbell, both of Reagan’s wives and the House Un-American Activities Committee. (Given the former President’s acrimony towards the LGBT community there are so many ways this story could have turned into gleeful revenge. It doesn’t.)
I’m coming to the point where I’m becoming crazy about anything A. Merc Rustad writes and “The Gentleman of Chaos” is no exception. It features a medieval setting where life is brutal and cheap. The title Gentleman is an avatar of Death.
“The Tale of the Costume Maker” by Steve Carr is reminiscent of one of Robert Bloch’s movie-tinged fantasy stories.
“Das Steingeschopf” by G.V. Anderson. Germany between the wars. A member of a guild of artisans is called in to restore an artwork in a world of living statues, called “steingeschopf.” As the artisan works to restore the statue (in elegantly-described passages) we see his memories as they are pulled into the steingeschopf; memories of his training and his relationship with a fellow artisan, frowned upon in early 20th-Century Germany. (Oh, and the story just won the World fantasy Award for Best Short Story.)
“Bull Of Heaven” by Gabriel Murray deals with faith in a religious order set in a world where androids and humans co-exist. When a golden android appears, he poses more questions than he answers.
“The Death of Paul Bunyan” by Charles Payseur is a meditation of sorts on the nature of and need for heroes and legends. In this case the immortals, and one time lovers, are Johnny Appleseed and Paul Bunyan. After Bunyan’s death, Appleseed is called upon for a task that only giant Paul might be able to accomplish.
“Turing Test” by Eric Schaller brings us the wartime Alan Turing as well as three (!) automatons of Oscar Wilde. “Sometimes they go missing,” the Wilde’s curator explains to Turing. “The group of them, like truant schoolboys.”
“The Sound a Raven Makes,” by Alaska resident Mathew Scaletta starts as a wry bit of grue setting up an old trope and then turns into something quite different. A fantasy version of backwoods Alaska with Sasquatch and fireweed is evocatively drawn.
“Angel, Monster, Man” by Sam J. Miller starts in New York City during the AIDS years when the city’s magic has become an ashen nightmare. Three men make up an alias to publish the creative work of deceased friends and they somehow create or summon the alias into life. Like “Where’s the Rest of Me?” this story could have degenerated into a revenge fantasy. Instead, it becomes a commemoration; an era frozen in amber. An alternate history, but a very dark one.
“Of All Possible Worlds” by Eneasz Brodski. A fantasy set in a Rome of blood and wizards and monsters. And dreams. “Above the Colosseum, the winged monster shrieked and swooped.”
“Most Holy Ghost” by Martin Pousson takes place in a Gulf Coast where voodoo and magic are whispered about and practiced. The narrator’s grandfather, who vanished years before (possibly literally) lives on in legend. The young narrator effects his own transformation.
Set in a World War I of airships and lingering ghosts, Amy Griswold’s “Ratcatcher” follows Xavier, a man with another’s soul inside him. Xavier and the soul of Thomas have a symbiotic (and not platonic) relationship with Xavier retaining his intelligence while having lost his own soul.
“The Drowning Line” by Haralambi Markov involves a family cursed by an ancestor’s ghost who dwells in water. Plenty of macabre water imagery in this well-told tale.
“My Heart’s Own Desire” by Robert Levy blends street hustlers and mages with magic taking the place of drugs. Our main characters are two men whose lovemaking produces a healing aura.
“Carnivores” by Rich Larson opens with hints of Phillip K. Dick for a story of the near-future where Neanderthals interact with contemporary humans. Finch (a “neo”) and his partner Blake are involved in loving each other and blackmailing other people.
In “It’s the End of the World As We Know It” by A. C. Wise there’s no fuss when the narrator takes a boy to his Prom. No fuss about his date being a zombie either. “People die and stay dead. Cal came back and I never questioned why, because he smiled his winning smile, and I wanted not to be alone so badly that I dared not ask any questions.”
Wilde Stories, 2017 benefits from Dmitry Vorsin’s cover as well as from the fine editorial hand and selections by Editor Steve Berman. In his perceptive introduction, Berman laments the possibility that the anti-gay tenor of the times may lead to a surfeit of dark tales in next year’s volume. But even in dark times, the stories in this volume offer wonder and escape. And this annual series’ continued existence should offer us all hope.
Jeff Baker writes about writing and reading sci-fi,horror and other sundry matters on or around the thirteenth of each month. He has been published in Queer SciFi’s “Renewal,’ among other places. He appears on Facebook as “Jeff Baker, Author.” He also blogs and posts fiction at http://authorjeffbaker.com. He lives in Wichita with his husband of one year, Darryl Thompson. They join in wishing readers a Happy Thanksgiving.