It’s mid-July, and that means it’s time for this year’s edition of Lethe Press’s long-running anthology of the year’s best gay speculative fiction, Wilde Stories. Over the years, I’ve appreciated being able to follow this anthology series (and have reviewed most of the past volumes in this space, if I recall correctly). Wilde Stories reliably introduces me to fresh voices doing interesting things in the world of gay sf, and its sister series Heiresses of Russ has begun to do the same for lesbian speculative stories.
So, of course I like to check up on each new installment and see what’s happening inside. This year’s volume is no exception: in fact, I was possibly extra-intrigued by the fact that none of the contributors for 2014 have appeared in the series before. A whole new slate of names—all writing gay spec-fic—is an interesting change, certainly.
The thing that struck me most about this year’s collection is that these are, for the most part, not just stories by writers new to me but by new writers—people early in their careers, publishing primarily in small press anthologies and magazines. There are a few exceptions, of course, but the overall tone is exploratory; these are not all great stories, but each is attempting to do something interesting.
So, the overall experience of reading this volume can be a bit uneven. Nonetheless, I found it enjoyable, even when the stories themselves didn’t quite grab me. I appreciated seeing the early work of some of these folks, and a lot of it has definite promise. There’s a sort of stretching-towards-new-things, a rough but enthusiastic and charming spirit to this volume that I think we could often use more of. Year’s Best anthologies sometimes tend toward the same roster over and over again—but there’s something to be said for a retrospective that looks toward what’s new in the field as well.
As for the stories themselves, I’ve actually talked about one of them here on Tor.com before: the story I liked best from Wilde Stories 2014 is one of the best gay stories I read last year in general, “The Water That Falls on You From Nowhere” by John Chu. I wrote about that one in a Short Fiction Spotlight column, saying that it was “solemn and intimate, containing a full emotional range and the quiet sometimes-painful and sometimes-brilliant reality of queer life, cultural conflict, and problematic family politics.” I still think that, and I still think it’s a great piece of fiction. And I also appreciate that it appears almost in the center of this collection, a bright anchor for the rest of the pieces surrounding it.
Kai Ashante Wilson’s “Superbass” was another strong showing, lyrical and handsome, that dealt well with issues of gender, community, faith and family. I also like the subtle but clear use of dialect; the prose has a solid rhythm that flows throughout, particularly in the scenes of religious worship. The sense of culture is also powerful, built through a handful of specific but small details that draw the reader into a complex understanding of the rites and rules of the protagonist’s world.
“57 Reasons for the Slate Quarry Suicides” by Sam J. Miller is another strong piece, though much more on the “horror” end of things—as, frankly, many of the stories in this volume are. (And the Wilde Stories collections also tend to be, across the years.) It’s a list-story, which I tend to be a little iffy about as a form, but it works here reasonably well. The protagonist is simultaneously sympathetic and terrible, and the ending of the narrative is fairly brutal; it wasn’t entirely what I expected, but it did fit the piece. The title also gains a disturbing resonance in its implications about the deaths: that people think that it was suicide, when it was anything but.
Other stories throughout dealt with various different topics that are either relevant to gay experience or the generic conventions of gay fiction. The story titled “Grindr” is fairly obvious in that it’s about Grindr and a sort of haunting, for example—but that’s an interesting topic to deal with, one that does crop up in everyday life for plenty of folks. “Happy Birthday, Numbskull” seems barely speculative in the slightest, but does deal with a perhaps-formative experience of gender and identity formation that’s simultaneously comedic and horrible; I found it compelling.
Overall, Wilde Stories 2014 is a good entry in the series—uneven in quality, but mostly due to the inclusion of more fiction by folks who aren’t mid-career, and that’s a pretty good reason for the imbalances. Even the stories that I felt didn’t work were striving for something, and I appreciated them in context. I’d also note that for the reader who very much doesn’t like horror, this also might be a little heavily weighted in that direction—but for someone who likes the genre fine, this would be a good read.
Brit Mandelo is a writer, critic, and editor whose primary fields of interest are speculative fiction and queer literature, especially when the two coincide. She can be found on Twitter or her website.