R.W. Day's beautiful prose, characterization, the post-apocalyptic fantasy world she created and the young adult, coming-of-age story in A StrGrade A-
R.W. Day's beautiful prose, characterization, the post-apocalyptic fantasy world she created and the young adult, coming-of-age story in A Strong and Sudden Thaw caught both my attention and imagination from page one and I couldn't put the book down until it was done.
Approximately one hundred years after the Ice nearly ended civilization, the people of Moline, Virginia are still recovering from the catastrophe. The cold and snow still plague the north, but Virginia is a place where people can live, if not thrive. In some respects there's a regressive quality to life in Moline, as the people lead a life comparable to that lived in early 1800's America, with no electricity or running water, a one-room school house, a healer instead of a doctor, and the communing having adopted hardworking and god-fearing conservative values that at first glance seem quite familiar, but that later are revealed to be reactionary and extreme.
Using a beautiful narrative voice I fell in love with, A Strong and Sudden Thaw is told from David Anderson's point of view. David is the son of a Moline farmer and almost 17 years old. In Day's world, as in olden times, when David turns 18 he'll be considered a man in his community. When we first meet him, he's conflicted about his future and his straitlaced mother's plans to marry him off to the schoolteacher's daughter. David is part of a beautiful family -- all of them key secondary characters that complete this story.
David meets the new healer's assistant, Callan Landers, during a visit to the healer's house and they forge a bond through their love of reading and books. As the friendship grows, David slowly begins to feel a confusing attraction for Callan. During one of his visits to Callan, while accompanied by Elmer, a combination town bully and liar, he's shocked when he surprises the local artist, Taylor, performing oral sex on Callan. Elmer immediately runs to the authorities and Taylor and Callan are arrested for sodomy.
David is a well-defined central character. The reader follows David as he struggles to discover his strengths and becomes who he wants to be, an honest, independent-thinking David. Callan is also a well-drawn character, although as seen from David's point of view he doesn't come across as clearly defined. Besides David's family, Day develops other secondary characters within Moline's community to give this story depth.
Although R.W. Day maintains the focus of the story on David and Callan, there's a lot more to this book. The people of Moline are dealing with different threats: a pair of dragons have mysteriously appeared and are killing livestock and small children; the local representative from the Department of Reintroduction and Agriculture denies the existence of the dragons and refuses to help; and a neighboring town is suddenly abandoned without explanation. Day integrates all these threads, including Callan's sodomy arrest and trial, to create a cohesive story.
A Strong and Sudden Thaw was a page-turner full of adventure and one that drew deep, conflicting emotions, as the author swept me to the end and a partial resolution to the conflicts. Although those resolutions are satisfactory, it is obvious that there will be a continuation to the overall story arc. The sequel Out of the Ashes will be releasing soon and I personally can't wait to read it....more
In Vintage: A Ghost Story, Steve Berman writes a chilling tale of ghosts, mixes it with urban myth while capturing Goth youths' subculture, b4.5 Stars
In Vintage: A Ghost Story, Steve Berman writes a chilling tale of ghosts, mixes it with urban myth while capturing Goth youths' subculture, bittersweet first love, teen angst and the small town setting perfectly. A haunting and touching coming-of-age story full of dark humor that encompasses not only the unique struggles of gay teens, but the awkwardness, fears, anxieties and a sense of wonder that all teens can relate to.
The story is told in the first person point of view from our main character's perspective, an unnamed teen. It all begins at midnight on a chilly autumn night on a lonely New Jersey highway. Our young man encounters a gorgeous boy dressed in 50's clothing and after a short conversation the boy seems to just... disappear. This gorgeous apparition dazzles our main character, a shy and insecure young man. He finds out that Josh is an urban myth, the ghost of a young man who died decades ago and has hunted the same stretch of highway ever since. Curiosity, a wish to see beautiful Josh again, and the beginnings of a crush push our character to return the next evening to the lonely highway with his best friend Trace as he hopes for another encounter. He gets his wish... and more. Josh follows him home and our chilling story really begins.
What did I like about this book? It is fast paced, chilling and a real ghost story, no question about it. Josh is not the only ghost to populate this tale and as you can imagine some are nicer than others. There are Ouija boards, an exorcism and a scene in a cemetery that gave me the creeps! There's an offbeat cast of friends who give this story depth and definitely help with the chilling effect -- Second Mike definitely stands out in that respect. Trace, a gorgeous multi-faceted Goth goddess is also a key character in this tale. Liz and Maggie, a young teen lesbian couple, provide a good balance to our main character's personal struggles.
But there's more to Vintage than the chills and thrills. Real-life issues that affect teens are also addressed, some with a light touch and others with a bit more depth. Our cast of characters, from our unnamed young man to his friends, are either plagued by self-consciousness, low self-esteem, peer pressure and/or family issues, as the gay characters have their own added pressures. The social issues and the ghost story are well integrated, as one doesn't overwhelm the other. The characters' struggles and part-resolution become an integral part of the overall speculative urban myth that Berman creates.
Berman's writing style has a lot to do with my enjoyment of this story. Although there are minimal details when it comes to the background and history of the characters themselves, their essence and the most essential part of their past history are captured without lots of unnecessary detail. The same can be said for plotting, the substance is there but it's all done in a precise, sharp and minimalistic style that I enjoyed thoroughly.
Vintage: A Ghost Story by Steve Berman is a young adult book originally released in 2007, and re-released through Lethe Press Books. A finalist for the 2008 Andre Norton Award for best young adult speculative fiction by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America and in the category of Best Novel for the Gaylactic Spectrum Awards, this is a book that had been on my reading radar for a while and after reading it, I can see why it has received so much attention. I definitely recommend it. ...more
I've read one book by Sandra McDonald, The Outback Stars a military science fiction fantasy. I loved her writing and eye for detail, and her ability tI've read one book by Sandra McDonald, The Outback Stars a military science fiction fantasy. I loved her writing and eye for detail, and her ability to create fantasy and human characters. In Diana Comet and Other Improbable Stories, Sandra McDonald uses all those talents to their full extent. The result is a collection of unique, reality-based fantasy stories that are just plain gorgeous.
There are fourteen short stories in this collection, some are obviously related and some seemingly stand on their own, however all of them share the same fictional setting. Although the characters in this collection are varied and unique in each story, the most prominent and the one who binds this collection, is Diana Comet. The intrepid Diana is a gorgeous transgendered character who is fearless in her love and beliefs.
McDonald begins with a Prologue that sets the whimsical tone to this collection, and continues with the story of Graybeard and the Sea, a sentient wooden figurehead who longs for what he can't have, and where he first meets his young friend Cubby, a story that seems light and fantastical. As the book progresses, the subject matter in the stories gain depth with each telling and by the time Women of the Lace is read, the realization sets in that all the stories have been neatly and cleverly tied up by the writer.
McDonald's unique characters are as diverse as their stories. There are statues that come to life, terrifying sea witches, bewitched music boxes and aliens, rooting this collection firmly on fantasy. And then there are the highly effective human characters that populate these stories and give them that touch of passion and reality: Landers, the gay cowboy hiding his nature from society in Diana Comet and the Lovesick Cowboy, Lieutenant Teague and her Sergeant Liss fighting attraction in the middle of a war in The Goddess and Lieutenant Teague, Cubby and Rev. Sawberry Chicken's interactions in The Land of Massasoit, the general's fear in The Instrument, Jaleesha family's struggle between conforming and having the courage to fight the status quo in Kingdom Coming, and Diana dealing with grief, changes and taboos in Diana Comet & the Collapsible Orchestra.
Diana Comet and Other Improbable Stories felt different and unique and I re-read it once before writing this review. I loved this book and there's no doubt in my mind that this was essentially due to Sandra McDonald's writing and execution. She reels the reader in with the light fantasy and then goes deep, while using a light touch as she addresses contemporary issues through fantasy. Some characters and stories make more of an impact than others, but undoubtedly as a whole, this collection is a winner.
I loved Cardamone's story "River Boy" in Labonte's Country Boys: Wild Gay Erotica Anthology when I first read it and both the story and characters staI loved Cardamone's story "River Boy" in Labonte's Country Boys: Wild Gay Erotica Anthology when I first read it and both the story and characters stayed with me. I've been looking for something by this author and finally found this collection. I was not disappointed, the writing style is creative and the stories unique. There's horror, fantasy and the exploration of gay sexuality is there at the core. "Tank," & "Suitcase Sam" are two favorite stories. Cardamone finishes some stories and leaves others with ambiguous endings that left this reader thinking and wondering more than once. I'll definitely be re-reading some of them. ...more
I love the cover for The White City (December 31, 2010). This was the first of the three stories in the New Amsterdam series that I purchased becauseI love the cover for The White City (December 31, 2010). This was the first of the three stories in the New Amsterdam series that I purchased because it called to me. I read the series in chronological order of events and read this book after I finished New Amsterdam. The series really flows better that way in my opinion.
The White City is set in Moscow and believe me the setting is gorgeous! After the events that chased Sebastien and his court from New Amsterdam and the terrible loss experienced in Paris, he decides to move on to Moscow to bring an old acquaintance some sad news. Instead what he finds when he arrives at Irina Stephanova's studio is a murder. Soon, Sebastien, Abby Irene and Phoebe are embroiled in a crime investigation. But quickly Sebastien realizes that this murder is somehow connected to another murder that took place the last time he and Jack were in Moscow, a murder that also involved Irina Stephanova.
I loved New Amsterdam, but this has to be my favorite of the three books. It features two parallel mystery murder investigations and/or stories, one led by Jack and Sebastien, and the other by Sebastien and Abby Irene, both beautifully worked and weaved into one by the end. The characters, setting and atmosphere in this story are rich and well.. gorgeous. I loved the mood, the revelations that came from and about all the characters, and particularly about the wampier culture. The White City made me want more stories about Don Sebastien de Ulloa and more of Elizabeth Bear's writing. Highly recommended. ...more
As we all know, speculative fiction stories are tough to categorize. That is particularly evident in the Wilde Stories 2011: The Year's Best Gay SpecuAs we all know, speculative fiction stories are tough to categorize. That is particularly evident in the Wilde Stories 2011: The Year's Best Gay Speculative Fiction collection of 14 stories gathered and edited by Steve Berman, where you will find horror intertwined with weird fantasy, weird fantasy love stories, and even a mix of science fiction and pop culture.
It is also true that often within fantastical, horror-based and science fiction tales, the reader will find underlying pertinent social commentary. There’s no question that weather it is the subject of acceptance of the gay lifestyle by loved ones or society, bullying, child abuse or neglect, loneliness, love or loss, those social commentaries can be found in this collection. However, also present is the subject of love. Gay love or related themes are there for the reader to find in most of the stories, entwined with the fantasy, horror and science fiction.
I love my science fiction and there's nothing like weird fantasy, however horror is not usually the first choice in my reading agenda. Which is why it came as a total surprise when some of the stories I enjoyed the most fell under the horror-based category. Horror-based stories and weird fantasy rule the day in this collection with science fiction coming a distant last with only two contributors -- my one small niggle because of personal preference. However, there’s quantity and then there’s quality and those two science fiction stories are excellent!
With Wilde Stories 2011: The Year's Best Gay Speculative Fiction, Steve Berman gathered a collection that encompasses everything I've come to expect from LGBTQ speculative fiction. There are the thrilling and chilling moments that come from horror, the confusion and sudden realizations that go hand in hand with weird fantasy and that incredible sense of wonder that I never cease to experience when reading science-fiction, all of it successfully combined with pertinent gay themes and wonderful characters. However, none of the above would happen without successful execution by the authors, and Berman included some of the best along with fresh new talent in this collection. I loved it and recommend that the collection be read slowly for better enjoyment. Highly recommended.
In Silver Moon, Catherine Lundoff weaves a fantasy set in a small town where only a few women are called by magic to change into werewolves when menopIn Silver Moon, Catherine Lundoff weaves a fantasy set in a small town where only a few women are called by magic to change into werewolves when menopausal symptoms flare up. This book's premise is what sold it to me.
The story's central character is a woman of a "certain age" going through multiple changes in her life, including menopause. At first glance it might seem as if equating those biological changes with the werewolf theme is dramatic, but in fact I found it to be both creative and on target. Change. Through the theme of change Lundoff also focuses on other issues that affect women during this time in their lives. She adds insightful touches such as the "invisibility factor"* that women experience after they reach a "certain age," which ties in quite well with the issue of those same women being abandoned or dismissed by husbands or partners (like yesterday's news) for younger women.
I mentioned above that the story is about change, but in the end it's really about either fighting those changes or embracing them gracefully when the inevitable time comes. Lundoff serves this fantasy dish with a scoop of hope. While the main character in her story goes through that roller coaster, the other women show the final result: accepting change doesn't mean you have to give up love or sexuality, instead there is much to be gained, lots to offer and still great things to come in the future.
I read Silver Moon from a female's perspective, but this book is categorized as a lesbian fantasy. As such, and if you read this book from a concrete or literal point of view, I would say that it is high on the fantasy/paranormal with lots of action, amusing and insightful moments (at least they were amusing and insightful to me), and quite low on the romance. A quick, enjoyable read.
*(If you don't know what the "invisibility factor" means, you haven't turned 50 yet. It's when people, this applies to men and women, stop seeing you as a "woman," and in fact you become almost, if not totally, invisible.)...more
After the Red Wars are over and scientists used their genie boxes, what is left of earth's inhabitants have mutated in different and unexpected ways.After the Red Wars are over and scientists used their genie boxes, what is left of earth's inhabitants have mutated in different and unexpected ways. In a sliver of sand in the middle of the ocean by what was once known as the Florida Keys, a boy of undetermined age lies on a sandy beach as his emerald color skin soaks the run rays that give him life. Nanny died long ago and Leaf's only companion is his friend Skate, a two-dimensional sting-ray-like boy who dwells in the sea. He is Leaf's only friend until Scallop arrives on the island and thereafter visits him daily.
When Scallop's father is taken by slaver ships to forcibly join the Kudzu Army, Scallop is determined to save him and Leaf joins him on his adventure. Their journey will take them through overcrowded islands where Leaf will encounter what is left of humanity and the surviving culture for the first time. He'll meet Hardy, a strong, hard skinned green boy, the Albino White Flamingo, a seeress who will foretell his future, and along the way the boys will encounter hardship, betrayal, heartbreak, love and their ultimate destiny.
Cardamone is slow to reveal details of his world while initially focusing on Leaf and the immediate world around him, taking the reader on a journey of discovery and adventure by slow increments as he reveals the wider world and the full scope of his world building.
His characters balance each other out. Leaf is the main character and it is through his perspective that the story is narrated. There is a certain sense of detachment from the world about Leaf, yet he very much wants to be of the world and particularly yearns for Scallop. Leaf is both knowledgeable and naïve. His introspection gives his narrative voice an almost lulling quality that contrasts heavily with the progressively desperate and violent scenes in the story making those moments pop and linger.
Scallop is very much a part of the world and brings life and energy to Leaf's life and to the story, but Scallop gives only a small part of himself and seeks the impossible. Skate, the constant in Leaf's life, represents the unreachable. And then there's Hardy, who entrenched and thriving in the world of dive boys, becomes a teacher of pleasures, guide, enforcer, and bodyguard for Leaf and Scallop as their adventure takes them closer to slaver ships, the Kudsu Army, the ruined shores of what was once Miami and the world ruled by Pelican Kings.
This is speculative fiction, so the story takes some unexpected twists and turns from what initially seems like a boys' adventure into a progressively darker, complex world and into the weird. I particularly liked that Cardamone's characters are not set in stone and that they are not just mutants, but mutable. The queer themes in the story are part of the overall story arc with some dark, grand scenes, and also part of the lovely and intimate connection that Cardamone creates between his main characters.
In his post-apocalyptic novella Green Thumb, Tom Cardamone explores the darker side of humanity, as well as the environment, through a delicate character filled with beauty and a dense world building with heavy narrative and introspection. Cardamone's imagination and talent for the unusual are in full display as he combines incredibly tender moments, raw desperation, and violence with a delicate touch that at times become breathtaking. With an excellent story, memorable characters, and an ending that lingered with me for a quite while, this creative novella is most definitely highly recommended....more
I've only read one book by Lee Thomas, his novel The German. Since that turned out to be one of my favorite novels last year, I could not wait to readI've only read one book by Lee Thomas, his novel The German. Since that turned out to be one of my favorite novels last year, I could not wait to read Torn. I was not disappointed.
"How do you go on when something like that happens to your child?"
That's how Lee Thomas' horror tale Torn begins, and with that one sentence you know it's going to be a chilling tale. What begins with Maggie Mayflower's disappearance and a desperate search through the woods surrounding Luther's Bend by Sheriff Bill Cranston, his men and neighbors, ends in a chilling and unexpected scene when as Maggie is found they realize she has been used as bait, and a horrifying act takes place right in front of the Sheriff and a few of his men. Bill quickly finds Douglas Sykes, the insane man who kidnapped Maggie, and immediately concludes that Sykes is more than insane and dangerous, he's not quite human, and that having Sykes in Luther's Bend might just destroy the whole town.
In Torn, Thomas weaves a tale of horror with characters that quickly become important to the reader, from Bill and his family to his men, so that from the beginning the reader becomes invested in their well-being. Douglas Sykes' character on the other hand gave me the creeps, and that was his job in this story. His nightmarish singsong, rhyming, creepy dialog alone gave me goosebumps.
I am me. Can’t you see? I am me and he is he. When he is he, I can’t be me." Oh, lord... [shudder]
However as I found in The German, there's another story being told in this book that is tightly bound to that of the creepy characters and monsters. The title Torn refers to more than the graphic violence you might expect in a story where evil beast meets human. There's a dual meaning to the title, as a matter of fact "duality" is a word that also applies in more ways than one in this short story -- it is apparent in the monster that dwells within Sykes, as well as in the secrets that Bill keeps from the world.
Torn is a fast-paced novella packed with suspense, horror, and bite-your-nails action from beginning to end. I read it in one sitting and was breathless when done. I highly recommend it to lovers of horror or speculative fiction horror. This is another winner by Lee Thomas.
NOTE: I splurged on a signed special edition, hard cover copy of this novella. Even though the cover is really kind of scary, the book is actually beautiful with three illustrations inside the book by Vincent Chong that really capture the scenes described in the story....more
II've read and loved Barron's short stories. It is the reason I immediately purchased his full length novel The Croning. I thought The Croning began rII've read and loved Barron's short stories. It is the reason I immediately purchased his full length novel The Croning. I thought The Croning began rather well, with a fairy tale that Barrons turned into a dark horror tale. Unfortunately, the central character is rather uninteresting with a narrative voice that lacks excitement, and that never changes throughout the story. Flashbacks break whatever momentum is gained and foreshadow most of what's to come, so that by the end there are little of those moments filled with real terror left to this horror (or Lovecraftian) tale, although the weird fiction is there, and the ending is ambiguous enough.
The same brilliant qualities that I found in Barron's short stories were only present in a few chapters. The novel is full of unnecessary background detail about the central characters and even characters that are not pertinent to the story. I'm sad to say that I forced myself to finish the book looking for more of those few bright moments along the way. For an excellent example of Barron's works, I recommend reading his collection of short stories in Occultation and Other Stories.
First published in 2007, New Amsterdam by Elizabeth Bear is a steampunkish mystery series set in a world with an alternate history as a ba4.5/5.0 (B+)
First published in 2007, New Amsterdam by Elizabeth Bear is a steampunkish mystery series set in a world with an alternate history as a backdrop. The book is divided into vignettes or short stories where crimes are both committed and solved by the central characters. Spanning a period of time from 1899 to 1903, the six stories are linked and an overall story arc simultaneously developed to slowly reveal characters and give her worldbuilding depth.
Known in Europe as the Great Detective, Sebastien de Ulloa is such an old creature that he no longer remembers his birth-name or even when or where he was born. After the woman who made him immortal chooses to burn rather than going on, Sebastien abandons his European "court" and emigrates to New Amsterdam with "courtier," friend and assistant, Jack Priest. Sebastien himself doesn't really have a reason to live, but between willful Jack, the pleasure found solving murders, and the people he meets in New Amsterdam, Sebastien slowly finds reasons not to take that last walk into the sunrise. Two of those reasons are DCI Abigail Irene Garrett and author Mrs. Phoebe Smith.
Detective Crown Investigator Abigail Irene Garrett is a forensic sorceress in service to the British Empire in New Amsterdam. In a world where men rule, Abby Irene is scandalous, notorious, loyal and a woman to be reckoned with when it comes to seeking justice. Abby Irene is an aging beauty who had affairs with royalty and when Sebastien meets her, is having an affair with the married and powerful Richard, Duke of New Amsterdam. Of course that doesn't stop the hard drinking single-minded Abby Irene from becoming entangled with Sebastien, becoming a friend and eventually part of his "court."
Bear is known for writing excellent fantasy and building her worlds around alternate history, so there is no surprise that in that respect she excels in this series. In this world, the British Empire takes New Amsterdam (New York/Manhattan) from the Dutch during the Napoleonic wars. The American colonies are restricted to a small area, as the Iroquois, with their magic, stopped the British from further expansion, and the Spanish and French conquered and kept other chunks of North America. And in the late 19th Century the Revolutionary War against the Crown is brewing. Magic and sorcery are very much accepted and part of the culture in both Europe and in the New World, while wampirs and their courts are accepted in sections of Europe and outlawed and persecuted in the New World.
This is a moody, atmospheric world with richly developed characters. As a wampir or vampire, Sebastien comes off as unusually unique, although he is constructed more or less after the traditional vampire. He's an immortal fighting time and history after surviving centuries by adjusting to changes and not growing too attached to mortals, or at least that's what he claims. He knits! And gentleness and warmth accompany coldness. Yes, Sebastien is different, and the logistics of how his relationships with his mortal court work are also different and unexpected. Abby Irene is a force! A relentlessly strong woman unwilling to show vulnerability to men or to compromise her beliefs. There are contrasts and similarities between Abby Irene and Phoebe who comes off as softer, but is just as strong and single-minded as Abby Irene. Oh and Jack! Lovely, loving Jack who at a young age has lived a lifetime.
Titles of stories in New Amsterdam: Lucifugous, Wax, Wane, Limerent, Chatoyant, Lumere. The mysteries/crimes are excellent although my favorite stories are the first three, Lucifugous which takes place in the dirigible while Sebastien and Jack are on their way to New Amsterdam, Wax and Wane taking place in New Amsterdam, and Lumere set in Paris oozes atmosphere....more
Last year I loved the Wilde Stories 2011 anthology, so picking up Wilde Stories 2012: The Year's Best Gay Speculative Fiction edited by Steve Berman wLast year I loved the Wilde Stories 2011 anthology, so picking up Wilde Stories 2012: The Year's Best Gay Speculative Fiction edited by Steve Berman was a no brainer for me. In this year's edition, I again found excellent creative speculative fiction by favorite authors plus new-to-me authors whose works I'm going to explore in the future.
The anthology begins with an excellent introduction by Berman, followed by fifteen stories and showcasing the wide range and variety he discovered in gay speculative fiction. Personally, I think that variety is what I love and enjoy the most about reading speculative fiction. That and the fact that there's no placing most of these stories into a neat little box even when certain genres are used as a base in their construction.
I'll give you a few samples of the variety found in this anthology. There are two stories that really touched me, "Ashes in the Water by Joel Lane and Mat Joiner," and "Hoffman, Godzilla and Me by Richard Bowes." These tales are quite different in setting, mood, atmosphere and writing styles, yet pain and loss oozes out of the pages while that darkness and other worldliness that comes with a speculative fiction story is central to both. And while one story is edgier than the other, they both leave the reader in deep thought while chilled to the bone.
There are also fun tales such as "The Peacock by Ted Infinity and Nabil Hijazi," a science fiction based love story, between a spambot program and a man, that made me snort and laugh from beginning to wonderful over-the-top end, and Tom Cardamone's very short excellent Chinese mythology-based story, "The Cloud Dragon Ate Red Balloons," which surprisingly left me with a smile at the end. These two stories while very different are both excellent, quite creative, and fun!
Of course a speculative fiction anthology would not be complete without the all popular horror-based tale, and this year Berman features great stories I enjoyed, his own creepy contribution "All Smiles," featuring young adults, is one of them. And while Steve Berman's story is full of dread and quick action followed by a hopeful ending, in "The House By The Park," Lee Thomas contrasts the bliss of a gay couple as they find love and lulls the reader with everyday life details while all along dark evil slowly hunts them.
Both horror tales are nightmare worthy, but compare that horror to the magic found in Justin Torres' creative fable "Fairy Tale," Ellen Kushner's fantasy-based tale of swordsmen "The Duke of Riverside," or another favorite, "We Do Not Come In Peace by Christopher Barsak" where Peter Pan-like young men in a familiar Neverland-like setting battle the Fair Ones, and you get the idea as to the variety of stories included.
I enjoyed reading this anthology slowly, savoring each tale on its own. It is interesting to note that even as personal taste led me to find favorite stories, it is also easy to say that the quality of the stories and writers, gay themes, plus the variety found in Berman's Wilde Stories 2012: The Year's Best Gay Speculative Fiction make this anthology an overall well-balanced, rock solid read. ...more
Do you think of romance when you hear the term speculative fiction? There is a kind of romance that goes along with reading speculative fiction. It'sDo you think of romance when you hear the term speculative fiction? There is a kind of romance that goes along with reading speculative fiction. It's true. I believe it happens because readers, or fans like me, fall a little in love with the what ifs and why nots, the unexplained, the unexpected, the twists and turns that sometimes push edginess into the weird. The wonder.
The title of Will Ludwigsen's collection, In Search Of and Others is a take on the 1970's television program In Search Of hosted by Leonard Nimoy. That program specialized in debunking myths and legends, in other words as Ludwigsen says in his foreword, they in fact specialized in killing the imagination. However, this collection is his answer or the antithesis of all that: "What am I "in search of"? I'm looking for any signs of imagination in the universe, and if I don't find any, I'm willing to create some of my own. The truth that paralyzed me twenty years ago has come full circle: you don't find magic but make it." When I began reading this collection of 15 stories, I went in my own "search" for magic, the unexpected, those what ifs and why nots that keep the romance of speculative fiction alive and kicking for me.
In his first story "In Search Of," Ludwigsen creates his own version of the television program where he goes from giving general answers to well known events shifting to personal, more intimate moments and building tension until it ends with an edge. The collection continues with "Endless Encore," a fun story with a somewhat predictable outcome, followed by the brilliantly executed "The Speed of Dreams" which has one of those stop-on-your-track endings, and "Nora's Thing" with its excellent plot and beautifully organic finish. As I kept reading, I found that with stories about moving old houses, rednecks, canny realtors, and clowns, this collection just kept getting better and more consistent as it moved along.
At the back of this collection there is a short section where Ludwigsen explains what inspired him to write each story. In his witty explanation as to what inspired him to write "Universicule," he uses the phrase "coaxing meaning out of meaninglessness" while referring to language. This phrase brought to mind how we, as readers, bring our own baggage and imagination to the table, and sometimes "coax meaning" out of stories that may in fact have an entirely different meaning or no meaning at all to someone else. This is true of all stories, but then again that is the beauty of reading. In this case, what I found in Ludwigsen's stories seemed to touch on the personal.
For example, in reading "The Ghost Factory" I made an immediate connection between the eerily fictional circumstances presented by Ludwigsen and real life past job experiences, giving this piece a significance that goes beyond the obvious. This is a story set in a mental health institution narrated by an unethical psychologist. The narrator shifts from events that took place in the 1990's to his present position as the only resident at said institution. The one passage that made this story gel and snap for me is: "The whole world's a ghost factory. We all fade like the paint on these buildings, sometimes from too much sun, sometimes from too little. We blur and blend to the murky shades left behind when something vivid dies." At times the atmosphere in this story is oppressive and immediate which Ludwigsen juxtapositions quite effectively against the coldness of his disconnected characters, and at other times the sense of disconnect and distance is all encompassing. This excellent story is precise in its execution.
"Universicule" on the other hand provided me with quite a few chuckles regardless of the ending and great passages interspersed throughout the text. "[...] but here in person, smelling this loamy garden of a book --- God, you could plant seeds inside it and they'd grow trees of glass with absinthe fruit." In this story, a bibliophile writes letters to Charlotte to keep her informed of his progress as he obsessively studies and attempts to decipher the contents of a rare book. It builds to an unexpected ending, but in reality this story is an elaborate farce. "They miss the fluidity of language qua language." Hah! Written in letter form, "Universicule" is creative in writing style, development and content. I absolutely loved it.
"She Shells" is a great example of the diversity of stories found in this collection because this story borders on the creepy-horror category. It freaked me out! Again, this could be interpreted as a personal reaction since I suffer from deep-water phobia. I always blame my personal fear on the movie "Jaws" and that awfully effective music (not true, but it sounds better than the truth). In this story, Ludwigsen uses a seemingly simple narrative style and a very short story format heavy in atmosphere to great effect.
And the excellent "We Were Wonder Scouts" brought back memories of days when as a girl my imagination was the best entertainment and I believed in such places as Ludwigsen's fictional Thuria, and of one particular moment when cold reality interfered. But, there is always a place for Wonder Scouts like Harald; boys and girls who are willing to explore and look for the unexplained and the unexpected, the what ifs and why nots. I love that even after reality creeps into this story, Ludwigsen imbues it with enough imagination that the magic lingers to the end.
If you haven't figured it out yet, then I will tell you. In reading In Search Of and Other Stories, I found that Mr. Ludwigsen was quite successful in "making his magic." He took me along for a ride of the imagination and I loved every minute of it. Highly recommended. Grade A-...more