Short Stories 365/220

“Starpoint Rendezvous” by E. Craig McKay from Queer Fish (Volume One) from Pink Narcissus Press, 2011. Edited by Margarita Bezdomnya and Rose Mambert.

This story concludes the reviews for this anthology because I already reviewed “Color Zap!” by Sam Sommer from Wilde Stories 2012 (Short Stories 365/194).

There’s a complete world contained in this story. I was blown away by the complexity of the details set forth by the author. Consider:

The pool chamber rotated at a rate independent from the rest of the hotel complex…Crossing the atrium was to become part of an Escher sketch…The dining area provided and unimpeded view of space…filtered and shielded to create the stunning effects of an eclipsed sun with flaming corona.

There’s also a lot about the history of asteroid mining, what it takes to be a space prospector, and how they differ from their Earth predecessors. It’s all very interesting, and very complete. In some ways, it may actually be too complete. We’re given the entire story of the two main characters, Simon and Jeremy – how they met, how they came to be working together in this place, and what obstacles they face. That’s great and it was well done, but after the challenge was introduced I was expecting the story to stay in that particular moment. I thought the overview was finished and we were going to watch them overcome the challenge, but the story summarized the action instead and then jumped ahead to the next challenge. That, too, was summarized, and Jeremy and Simon head off into the sunset. I’m all for HEA, but I think I would have preferred it if we’d been given the most important moment of their lives, really close up. I wonder if this is the rough sketch of a much longer science fiction piece? If so, I’d love to see other incarnations.

Short Stories 365/219

“Super Love” by Chris Helton from Queer Fish (Volume One) from Pink Narcissus Press, 2011. Edited by Margarita Bezdomnya and Rose Mambert.

We’re starting to see more and more depictions of gay superheroes. Sometimes the wrongs they work to right are related to LGBT social justice issues, as in ‘Nathan Burgoine’s Lambda Award-nominated young adult novel Light. Sometimes the characters are superheroes who simply also happen to be gay, as is the case with this story. Both types are welcome.

This isn’t so much a tale about fighting evil; it’s about doing what it takes to have a successful relationship. It’s about the importance of putting the other person first rather than expecting them to be the one who always compromises, and about making sure that individual interests don’t become a wedge that drives a couple apart. It’s just that the job that takes up all the time of one of the characters happens to be one that requires him to wear spandex and a cape.

Short Stories 365/218

“Fools in Love” by Chelsea Crowley from Queer Fish: An Eclectic Anthology of Gay Fiction (Volume One), Pink Narcissus Press, 2011. Edited by Margarita Bezdomnya and Rose Mambert.

Two members of the kingdom don’t get along. The wizard Horatio despises the antics of the Fool. He views the other’s performances as a waste of his valuable time. He has better things to attend to, the much more important business of a learned man.

When the Fool has the audacity to single Horatio out during a performance, and mercilessly mock him, the wizard goes to the King. As punishment, the Fool is sent to work as the wizard’s servant for a period of one month.

Naturally, once they get acquainted they discover they are not so very different after all. In fact, they’re rather drawn to one another.

Short Stories 365/217

“The Golem of Rabbi Lowe” by Johnny Townsend from Queer Fish: An Eclectic Anthology of Gay Fiction (Volume One), Pink Narcissus Press, 2011. Edited by Margarita Bezdomnya and Rose Mambert.

I’ve said it before and I’ll surely say it again: one of the main reasons I read is to learn about perspectives different than my own.

I also say I grew up in a Jewish neighborhood, and when I do I often get the impression that people don’t fully grasp what I’m saying. Like they think there was one Jewish family and I’m trying to be all “Look how worldly I am”. No, when I say I grew up in a Jewish neighborhood I mean that in the brick townhouse across from ours it was the Brimms, and next to them, the Epsteins, and next to them, the Diamonds, and next to them, the Begas. I can’t recall who owned the last house in that row, it’s been too many years, but across from them (so in our row, but on the opposite end from our house) it was the Rosenbaums, the Goldblums, the Harrises, then us. Behind us, their tiny cement patio separated from ours by a narrow sidewalk, there were the Sangermans, and next to them the Goldsteins, then the Wassermans, then the Namordis, then the Blairs, and finally the Foxes. Further down the block were the Margolises, the Weinsteins, the Hockwerts, and just catty-corner from all of us, in an apartment building, was Eric Levy, who I took mime class with at the YMCA and on whom I had huge crush for a time. On the other side of the park, which was five houses away from our house, was my grammar school, where I made friends with, had crushes on, or was mortal enemies with even more Jewish kids. Mandel. Schwarzberger. Tecktiel. Horowitz.

Yada yada yada.

Growing up with people is not the same as looking through their eyes, of course, but it helps. It also makes one interested in reading stories told from their perspective. I read Rich Man by Sharon Pomerantz in one of those I-did-nothing-else-all-weekend deals. What can I say? She opened with a description of the main character’s neighborhood, like this:

For as far as the eye could see were miles and miles of Jews, families of four, five, and more packed into long, solid brick rows—so many ‘Steins and ‘Vitzes, Silvers and Golds—each house with its own narrow scroll of front lawn and a cement patio big enough for exactly two folding chairs.

Five hundred pages later I looked up again.

This story was also quite compelling. Set in the 1500s, it tells the tale of Rabbi Lowe, a devout man who strives to do his best to counsel his people. He’s also a very lonely man, because he’s gay, and loath to sin, and he believes the Torah declares homosexuality to be a sin. He is human, however, and he tries to find a compromise that would be pleasing to God. Although he is married, he entertains the idea of asking God for a golem—a reanimated corpse, and soulless—to be a companion to him, and ease his loneliness. It isn’t until their area is attacked by narrow-minded, blood-thirsty gentiles, though, that he beseeches God to create the golem, and then he asks on behalf of his people. Keeping the creature around after the attack is thwarted is icing on the cake.

One last thing. You may recall what I wrote in one of my earliest posts, about the impact that my mother’s becoming good friends with gay activist/actor/director/writer Michael Kearns had on nine-year old me:

After getting to know Michael, in all his glorious complexity, I started noticing – and challenging – anti-gay propaganda. I knew it was bullshit because what they said didn’t match up with who I knew.

Yeah well, that goes here, too.

Happy Rosh Hashanah.

Short Stories 365/216

“This Won’t Hurt a Bit” by Thomas Kearnes from Queer Fish: An Eclectic Anthology of Gay Fiction (Volume One), Pink Narcissus Press (2011). Edited by Margarita Bezdomnya and Rose Mambert.

After so many fantastical tales, I wasn’t expecting gritty realism, and this is a hard story to read. The narrator’s friend Blake is severely emotionally damaged, and it has manifested in his drinking heavily and staying in a physically abusive relationship. I remember reading an article, many years ago, about physical abuse between gay couples, and how it is very rarely acknowledged. I have to say, I’ve seen almost nothing about it since. In that respect, this piece is very welcome.

Still, Blake is out of control and in a lot of danger, as is the narrator, who doesn’t seem to realize it. It’s nerve-wracking. At the start of the story the main character has just left an encounter with a man he met online, whose bedroom habits he found boring to the point of being irritating. He gets a distress call from Blake and goes rushing off to save the day. For the remainder of the story we watch as he vacillates between those two options: safety and boredom or interest and danger, as we wait for the other shoe to fall.

(For a review of “The End of Our Broadcast Day” by the same author, see Short Stories 365/289.)

 

Short Stories 365/215

“The Hollow Hills of New Hampshire” by Frank Muse from Queer Fish: An Eclectic Anthology of Gay Fiction (Volume One), Pink Narcissus Press (2011). Edited by Margarita Bezdomnya and Rose Mambert.

This collection calls itself eclectic and it certainly is that. Here’s a tale about a brownie, the Scottish relation to leprechauns, elves and gnomes.

Poor Derek MacLeod. Just a week ago he returned from his father’s funeral and the ordeal of watching him succumb to death after a protracted illness; now the strain of it seems to be taking a toll on his mind. He’s begun hallucinating, seeing—and conversing with—a stranger only three feet tall, buck naked, and not pleasant to look upon, who appeared out of nowhere in Derek’s apartment the night he got back.

What’s worse, Derek has flashes of memories of having seen the stranger before, at various points in his life (usually after funerals), and many more memories that are evidence that what the stranger says is true: he’s a brownie who has served their line of the family as a house servant for centuries. Their prized family recipes and meticulous way of keeping house? All him. He does the work in exchange for being able to live in the sunshine and enjoy the occasional saucer of milk. Without that arrangement, he’ll have to return to the Land Under the Hills, the world from whence he came. A book Derek inherited from his father warns that when enraged brownies can become malevolent spirits.

All those funerals mean that Derek is the last remaining McLeod of his line, which means that the brownie is now his house servant. It also means the brownie has a vested interest in seeing that the line continues, so he won’t be forced to return to the underground. The trouble is, Derek is thirty and has no interest in ever becoming a father. The story explains this by citing the fact that he’s gay. Although in real life lots and lots of gay men are fathers, it works as a device to set up an interesting conflict. Who will win the battle, the man or the brownie?

Short Stories 365/214

“Zombie Hunt” by Danielle Renn from Queer Fish: An Eclectic Anthology of Gay Fiction (Volume One), Pink Narcissus Press (2011). Edited by Margarita Bezdomnya and Rose Mambert.

This is the second zombie story in the span of four reviews. I know I wrote in the previous one that I’m not much of a fan of such stories because there’s nothing appealing about zombies. Yeah, well, this story solved that problem. It does for zombies what Blade did for vampires. James “Lazarus” Hunt is a hybrid, not fully a zombie but definitely no longer human, either. He works as a zombie slayer, protecting a refuge of humans. Every once in awhile he returns to the town for some of the comforts of civilization: nourishment, in the form of human blood; a bed; a bath. Yes, you read that right. A bath.

This time when he returns to the city one of the blood donors tasked with supplying him with his meal catches his eye, because he’s trying desperately to do so. Evan wants to get closer to the zombie slayer, and he’s not going to take no for an answer.

There’s enough back story here for a much longer story, and it was all presented effortlessly. I don’t know about further adventures, since this feels pretty complete, but I’d definitely keep an eye out for more work from this author.