Michael Rowe, ed.
Completed 3/25/2020, Reviewed 3/25/2020
The second of a two-volume anthology, this book explores horror, suspense, the supernatural, and the macabre with gay and lesbian characters. Winner of the Lambda Literary Award for SF/Fantasy/Horror, this volume and its predecessor were also winners and nominees of several other awards in the horror genre. The stories that comprise Volume II are mostly of the macabre nature. A few are funny, a few are gross, a few are scary fantasy. Many of them make you reflect on life, love, desire, and despair, and of course, good and evil. I really enjoyed most of the stories. Most are written well. As usual with anthologies and collections, I’ll mention a few that I really liked.
The opening story, “Bugcrush”, is very weird but an excellent story. It’s about a teen boy who has a crush on the new kid. The new kid is an outsider with no friends at this school. The teen boy notices he has friends from another school. He manages to get invited to one of their get togethers, being led by his desire for the new kid. He finds out they get high by getting bitten by insect larva that secrete a mind-altering chemical. This story is really well written. I was instantly in the head of the main character and terrified as other boys coerce him into trying the drug.
The second story, “Polyphemus’ Cave”, is also well written. A closeted movie star in the ‘50s goes home for his abusive father’s funeral only to find out he was flattened by a giant cyclops from a traveling circus. The cyclops can read souls even though he can only communicate with what is probably ancient Greek. Again, I was instantly in the head of the main character. I think when it comes to short stories, that’s the mark of a good one. Can the author get you identifying with the main character quickly enough for you to totally experience the twenty pages or so of their story.
“On Being a Fetsih” is a gross but awesome tale. A gay teen ghost is conjured by a living gay teen and his two friends. The ghost falls in love with the teen and the teen gets off on the ghost. “Want”, another gay teen tale, has the main character buying a voodoo potion to get the love of the high school star quarterback. Of course, situations like this always go wrong.
“Numbers” took a while for me to figure out. Eventually, I concluded it was the ghosts of gay men who died from AIDS telling their stories. It’s written in a sort of journal style, recounting gay life in the ‘70s and moving into the AIDS era. One of the narrators is the so called “patient zero”, the Scandinavian flight attendant who had hundreds of anonymous sexual encounters in the cities he flew to.
As I noted above, most of the stories were really well written with terrific prose. I enjoyed most of them, even when I didn’t understand what transpired in the story. There were a few of these, where I thought, “What the heck was this about”. I only knew two of the authors, Poppy Z. Brite who wrote several gay horror novels, and Gemma Files who wrote the Hexslinger series among other books. Many of the authors were Canadian, as the editor is. Michael Rowe is also a journalist who currently contributes to the Huffington Post.
I give the book four stars. From the reviews I’ve read, the first volume is the better of the two, though this one won the Lammy. I’ll have to pick that one up as well. My only complaint with the book is that there were only two female-centric stories. Given the title uses the term “queer”, I would have liked to have seem more diversity in the stories, although queer back when the book was published in 2002 was just beginning to be widely used again to be inclusive of the wide spectrum of gender and sexual identities.