Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Collection edited by Tom Léger and Riley MacLeod (REVIEW)

Founded in 2011 as a specialty publisher focused on transgender narratives, Topside Press brings their first work to market with The Collection: Short fiction from the transgender vanguard edited by Tom Léger and Riley MacLeod.

Like most collections, this one is hit-or-miss, with some absolutely outstanding entries, as well as a few stories I admittedly skimmed through to the end. On the 'miss' side of the spine are a few bland, boring, slice-of-life stories that unfortunately tended to revolve around some sort of substance abuse. I realize the abuse is a coping mechanism, and that it's an authentic part of the life experience for some of those who live on the fringes of society, but I quickly lost patience with those stories, and was unable to generate the kind of sympathy needed to get involved with the narrative.

On the 'hit' side of the spine are those stories that have a true narrative arc, those that are genuine pieces of fiction, often charged with an undercurrent of imagination. "Black Holes" (RJ Edwards) is an interesting tale of genderqueer relationships and quantum physics - tilt your head and scoff all you like, but it works. "Tammy Faye" (A. Raymond Johnson) is a sweet fan-letter to a celebrity, thanking her not for something spiritual, but for inspiring a confidence in one's own fashion style. "The Queer Experiment" (Donna Ostrowsky) may have been a bit heavy-handed in its message about homophobia, but I quite liked the campy Victorian sci-fi element. "Masks of a Superhero" (Mikki Whitworth) is a subtle, understated story of an unusual superhero that almost sneaks up on you.

"Ramona’s Demons" (Susan Jane Bigelow) was easily my favourite story of the collection, an urban fantasy with a heart. Even if I saw a few of the twists coming, they way in which they were played out was wonderful, and I loved the message at the end about "unorthodox journeys" . . . delivered by a fire-elemental who was originally born a water-elemental. "Malediction And Pee Play" (Sherilyn Connelly) is definitely an odd story, but a solid runner-up for my personal favourite. It's a tale of sub-cultures, both gothic and fetish, involving acts of gender rebellion, fetish exploration, and satanic blasphemy. It certainly has the potential to rub some readers the wrong way, but it's the one tale that has me most curious about reading more from the author.

Like I said, it's an uneven collection, but that's likely to be the case when you have such a wide variety of authors tackling such a wide variety of genres. Fortunately, the stand-out pieces are well worth the price of admission, and you really have to admire Topside Press for what they've set out to accomplish.

[Reviewed by Sally]

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