Wilde Stories 2016: The Year’s
Best Gay Speculative Fiction
Edited by Steve Berman
Lethe Press. 236 pages, $15.
This annual collection of fantasy and sci-fi stories that probe the otherworldly implications of gay male life was launched in 2008 and named for Oscar Wilde, who appears as a character in exile on Mars in a steampunk story (“The Astrakhan, the Homburg, and the Red, Red Coal,” by Chaz Brenchley) in the 2016 anthology. Many of this year’s stories feature the liminal quality of adolescent consciousness, especially that of the boy who feels so different from everyone he knows that he might as well be from another planet, era, or dimension. This is familiar territory for writer–editor Steve Berman, whose young adult speculative fiction could serve as a map for lonely teens who need to navigate the trackless wilderness of high school. Several of this year’s stories look like a rewriting of history, from which gay men have been largely erased except as criminals or heretics. Not surprisingly, living characters are haunted by ghosts, by characters stuck in a time-warp, and by their potential alternate selves. In some stories, traditional deities demand tribute lest they fade from human consciousness. Each story is worth reading, especially by anyone who feels haunted by a personal or collective past, or who worries about an apocalyptic future. The cover image, which shows an androgynous young man with red roses in place of hands, and a pair of open scissors between them, conveys the flavor of the collection. Painful transformation seems inevitable in these stories, but the possibility of blossoming from the site of a wound provides hope.
by Bryan Borland
Stillhouse Press. 86 pages, $17.
Bryan Borland proclaimed on an electronic billboard in WeHo during National Poetry Month this year, his face in lights: “We grieve like we eat like we kiss / these lantern ways of our American south.” The lines are from “Lonoke,” one of several wonderful love poems in DIG, Borland’s third poetry collection. DIG makes it clear that Borland is indeed a gay man from the “American south,” specifically, Arkansas. He is founder and publisher of Sibling Rivalry Press, based in Little Rock, and founding editor of Assaracus: A Journal of Gay Poetry. The fight for gay rights in Arkansas has been a long, rough road. As far as I know, Bryan Borland is Arkansas’ first notable out gay poet. In 2015, the Arkansas Times published Borland’s poem “Dive,” in which two men who “wear only what we have to today, ragged/ old shirts and shorts that show we’re/ interested in being men” walk through a terrifically hot (as in a hundred degrees) city, and the poem ends with a hot (as in très sexy) image of the two men screwing. DIG is a brave, loving, and lovely collection, a poignant shedding of any Arkansas-inflicted remnants of internalized homophobia, and a celebration of the poet’s marriage. The love poems speak louder and more joyously than the poet’s evangelical neighbors in the Bible Belt. “We know there will be gossip/ between the pews,” but the love between the poet and his beloved husband Seth is palpable enough to charm the Christians.