Format: Anthology of 14 short stories
Size: 360 pages (122k words)
Publisher: DSP Publications (May 2016)
Bonus: Free on publisher’s site
Rating: 3.5 stars (out of 5)
The establishment of a new boutique (LGBT-friendly) imprint to explore a wider-ranger of immersive, unique and unforgettable fiction is a welcome development. This anthology of 14 short stories on each of 7 vices and 7 virtues provides a good introduction to a range of writers and styles that expand significantly upon the offerings of typical Dreamspinner releases. “Speculative fiction” covers a wide array of approaches and genres, and a nice variety is reflected in the collected works.
Overall, I found 11 or 12 of the 14 stories to be rewarding, short reads, although one I found to be particularly offensive and another rather baffling. I’ve included brief ratings and summaries of each story below along with links to more detailed reviews.
Horrific Content Warning:
Unfortunately, one or two of the pieces significantly push the envelope without, in my opinion, nearly enough warning. I would classify two of the pieces as full-on horror (and the ending of a third can be interpreted that way). Horror was not listed as a genre in the publisher’s description. Although the blurb mentions “rise to the highest heights – or sink to the darkest and most perverse depths,” they also mention that the stories cover the consequences of the the call to good and evil, as well as there are pleasures to be found in the darkness. These descriptions, combined with a lack of a horror tag and a general light treatment of vices in most of the stories, did not prepare some readers (including myself) for a couple of stories that went much, much darker than the others.
I am all for writers writing what they want, and readers enjoying what they like, but I would have much preferred a clearer indication (e.g. a horror tag in a more prominent place than buried in the editor’s introduction) to prepare me for the story I found to be particularly offensive. It might have been the most well-written piece in the collection, but without a horror tag and based on the tenor of other stories (light treatment of vices, many with surprising twists at the end), despite some clear telegraphing of the direction, I couldn’t believe the story was heading to such a torturous, shaming ending without some kind of twist.
The Darkness of the Sun by Amy Rae Durreson
Virtue: Faith. Genre: Fantasy
Bereaved, unbelieving priest confronted with questions of faith. Set with an enticing array of characters in an interesting, slightly supernatural, pre-modern fantasy setting.
The Bank Job by Andrea Speed
Vice: Greed. Genre: Superhero
Drats! Foiled Again! Attitudinal supervillain and minions encounter a couple of gay caped crusaders
Prudence for Fools by Sean Michael
Virtue: Prudence. Genre: Fantasy
Magical seer with disturbing vision exiled to his husband’s remote homeland
The Gate by J. S. Cook
Vice: Anger Genre: Noir Fiction
2.75 stars (higher if you like Noir Fiction)
A gay man sees a seedier, dark side of the wartime effort
Heirs to Grace and Infinity by C. Cummings
Virtue: Justice. Genre: Urban Fantasy
Fugitive sorcerer matches wits with the Bureau’s top agent
The Rendering by J. Inman
Vice: Gluttony. Genre: Hateful Horror
– (excellent writing, rating based on lack of a “horror” tag)
It was pretty clear from the start what was set-up to happen, but I thought surely they wouldn’t go to the obvious outcome, as most of the other stories in the anthology had a surprise twist in the end. Also, despite the clear signs from the story, I couldn’t imagine going to such a hateful and shaming place, taking an extremely sympathetic character (except for one over-the-top vice) to such a torturous end (and, of course, based on the genre headings, I was not expecting horror). In some ways, I think this piece had possibly the best writing, which may have ended up making the offensive, fat-shaming ending so incredibly much worse for me because of the empathy I had for the character. While reading, I thought a twist in the ending was especially likely given how lightly most of the other vices were dealt with in this anthology, which makes this lack of a horror tag extra-galling to me.
Beyond the Temperance Effect by Serna Yates
Virtue: Temperance. Genre: Science Fiction
How much temperance will you need for fifty years in space and beyond?
Covetous by Pearl Love
Vice: Envy. Genre: Horror (or torture porn)
Pissed off ex-lover asked what he would give to get his desires
Hope by Rick Reed
Virtue: Hope. Genre: Contemporary LGBT
5 stars (no-doubt based on a personal connection)
Looking for hope in crises around a mother’s death and one’s personal life
Horseboy by J. Tullos Henry
Vice: Pride. Genre: Historic LGBT
A Horseboy of the Lebanon, a Templar Knight, and intimate desert secrets
Train to Sevmash by Jamie Fressenden
Virtue: Charity. Genre: Contemporary LGBT
Would James Bond off a Bond vixen? (LGBT agent version)
Red Light Special by Rhys Ford
Vice: Lust. Genre: Urban Fae Fantasy
Fae and elves and a succubus, oh my! (In Detroit)
Traitor by Clare London
Virtue: Fortitude. Genre: Spy/Cloak and Dagger LGBT
Twice betrayed – interrogating one’s ex-comrade and ex-lover agent
Couches of Fabric and Snow by Brandon Whitt
Vice: Sloth. Genre: I have no idea (horrific interpretation possible)
Too lazy to work, to relate, to love, to really live…