Thursday, September 16, 2010

REVIEW: Wilde Stories 2010 by Steve Berman (ed)

For some people, short stories are the ultimate literary form. Brevity is the soul of wit, so the saying goes, and there are those who believe that anything important enough to be said can be done so in less than 50 pages. Not this gal – give me a big, bloated, epic novel and I’ll take that over a short story any day of the week. Quite honestly, sitting down with a 1000 page epic makes me wet . . . the sense of anticipation, of rising climax, of delayed gratification, is almost sexual in nature.

That’s not to say I can’t appreciate a good story. When done well, they can be wondrous pieces of work. My introduction to Clive Barker was through the six slender volumes of the Books of Blood. After cutting my teeth on Pet Semetary, it was Steven King’s Night Shift collection that I gravitated to next. Even before that, having discovered him through my love of the Twilight Zone episodes, I devoured every Richard Matheson short story collection I could get my hands on.

So, that brings us to the Wilde Stories 2010 collection, edited by Steve Berman (a very good author in his own right).

For me, a great short story is built around one of two things – either the characters, or the setting/atmosphere. One or the other has to succeed in drawing the reader into the story; otherwise the plot itself falls flat. Here, rather predictably (since the gay theme most often originates with the narrator/protagonist), it's the characters that succeed. Although the restraints of the short story don't generally allow for a lot of growth, there were a few notable exceptions where I found the characters well developed. In particular, I’m referring to the entries by Bowes, Lane, and Hand.

Unfortunately, I didn’t find the setting/atmosphere aspect of these stories nearly as well developed. Looking back over the years, my favourite short stories are those that clearly establish a setting that drives the mood and the atmosphere of the story. As much as well developed characters can draw you into the story, it's a strong setting that isolates the reader from the real work and allows for that all-important denial of reality. Barron, Francisco, and Hand succeeded beautifully here, but (despite their respective stories' initial promise), Bowes and Lee just fell flat.

Aside from all that, there is some beautiful writing here. Personally, I’m not one to sit back and admire the language of a story, but a well-written story does creep a little deeper into your brain and establish some connections there. Although it’s been done before, I really like what Sheppard did with the ship's log, and I thought Hughes did an amazing job of telling an amusing story, as opposed to just telling a story with amusing elements. Hand and Lee, of course, are amazing in how they weave a tale, and I actually liked how ambiguous Cardamore's story was, despite some other reviewers’ feelings. Finally, I have to give Li credit for doing something different, but I found her accented syntax just too distracting.

All in all, for those who like their speculative fiction a little bit ‘gay’ then this a collection worth picking up. For most, I suspect it will be more of a pick-and-choose kind of collection, as opposed to a cover-to-cover read, but those stories that work, work well – and are worth the price of admission.

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