7&7 – Anthology (review)

7&7 Anthology Book Cover

7 Vices & 7 Virtues
Title7&7
A DSP Anthology of Virtue and Vice
Genres: Fantasy / Historical / Paranormal / Science Fiction (+Horror)

Format:  Anthology of 14 short stories
Size: 360 pages (122k words)

Publisher: DSP Publications (May 2016)
ISBN: 9781634773607

Bonus:  Free on publisher’s site

Rating: 3.5 stars (out of 5)

Tagline: Mixed bag of decent to excellent writing, innovative but a bit uneven stories, and a couple that push the envelope (but not necessarily in a good way for me)    Individual reviews below

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.


Individual Story Ratings and Summaries

The Darkness of the Sun by Amy Rae Durreson
Virtue: Faith. Genre: Fantasy
4 stars
Bereaved, unbelieving priest confronted with questions of faith. Set with an enticing array of characters in an interesting, slightly supernatural, pre-modern fantasy setting.
review

The Bank Job by Andrea Speed
Vice: Greed. Genre: Superhero
3.5 stars
Drats! Foiled Again! Attitudinal supervillain and minions encounter a couple of gay caped crusaders
review

Prudence for Fools by Sean Michael
Virtue: Prudence. Genre: Fantasy
3.75 stars
Magical seer with disturbing vision exiled to his husband’s remote homeland
review

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
review

Heirs to Grace and Infinity by C. Cummings
Virtue: Justice. Genre: Urban Fantasy
5 stars
Fugitive sorcerer matches wits with the Bureau’s top agent
review

The Rendering by J. Inman
Vice: Gluttony. Genre: Hateful Horror
Zero stars
– (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.
detailed review

Beyond the Temperance Effect by Serna Yates
Virtue: Temperance. Genre: Science Fiction
3.5 stars
How much temperance will you need for fifty years in space and beyond?
review

Covetous by Pearl Love
Vice: Envy. Genre: Horror (or torture porn)
3 stars
Pissed off ex-lover asked what he would give to get his desires
review

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
review

Horseboy by J. Tullos Henry
Vice: Pride.  Genre: Historic LGBT
4.5 stars
A Horseboy of the Lebanon, a Templar Knight, and intimate desert secrets
review

Train to Sevmash by Jamie Fressenden
Virtue: Charity. Genre: Contemporary LGBT
4.5 stars
Would James Bond off a Bond vixen? (LGBT agent version)
review

Red Light Special by Rhys Ford
Vice: Lust.  Genre: Urban Fae Fantasy
4.5 stars
Fae and elves and a succubus, oh my! (In Detroit)
review

Traitor by Clare London
Virtue: Fortitude. Genre: Spy/Cloak and Dagger LGBT
4.5 stars
Twice betrayed – interrogating one’s ex-comrade and ex-lover agent
review

Couches of Fabric and Snow by Brandon Whitt
Vice: Sloth. Genre: I have no idea (horrific interpretation possible)
No rating
Too lazy to work, to relate, to love, to really live…
review

 

 

Traitor by Clare London (review)

Tagline: Twice betrayed – interrogating one’s ex-comrade and ex-lover

7&7 Anthology Book Cover

Virtue #7: Fortitude
Title: Traitor
Author: Clare London
Genre:  Spy / Cloak & Dagger (LGBT)
Format:  Short Story (42 pages)

Series: 7&7 Anthology

Publisher: DSP Publications (May 2016)

Bonus:   Free on publisher’s site

Rating: 3.75 stars (out of 5)

DSP Publication’s anthology covers 7 virtues and 7 vices, and the theme of Clare London’s short story is the virtue of fortitude.

British intelligence officer Aiden is sent to interrogate a recently recaptured traitor, who also happens to be his ex-lover.  As if the situation was not bad enough, he must conduct the “interview” in the midst of his old unit that had expelled and demoted him not too long before.  Facing his former boss and seeing the depredations suffered by his traitorous ex make the cross-examination even more challenging.  How does the most skilled interrogator keep his own emotions in check to get to the bottom of his former friend’s dubious deeds?

This entry is difficult to rate, as the spy genre is not particularly enticing to me, interrogation and psychological one-upsmanship are not normally particularly my cup of tea.  Still, the characters and setting were certainly intriguing and kept my steady interest throughout the narrative.  The physical intimidation discussed and displayed was just one piece for characters who were seasoned agents yet also struggled a bit to keep their personal feelings in check, a nice counterpoint making an already tense situation worse.  The psychological thrill of the personal, professional, and political conflict was certainly present and explored efficiently and quickly in this short story, as their past intimacy spilled forth and affected the story in unexpected ways.

 

Red Light Special by Rhys Ford (review)

Tagline: Fae and elves and a succubus, oh my! (In Detroit)

7&7 Anthology Book Cover

Vice #6: Lust
TitleRed Light Special
Author: Rhys Ford

Genre:   Urban Fae Fantasy
Format:  Short Story (38 pages)
Series: 7&7 Anthology

Publisher: DSP Publications (May 2016)

Bonus:   Free on publisher’s site

Rating: 4.5 stars (out of 5)

DSP Publication’s anthology covers 7 virtues and 7 vices, and the theme of Rhys Ford’s story is the vice of lust.

Tam the Fae is the Knight of Detroit, exiled by Oberon to keep an eye on all things supernatural in this struggling city.  When a graffito insults the mighty Fae overlord, and suddenly a Knight of Chicago comes poking around, things get complicated for the half-breed, semi-snarky hero.  Throw in a succubus that makes his dick get hard over the most unlikely of souls (including a barely sentient tree – splinters!), and the fae’s day becomes more than a little complicated.

This author’s lightly snarky, street-sounding dialog seemed particularly authentic to my not-so-delicate (unless, apparently, it’s horror) sensibilities.  The characters were enticing and fun, with plenty of attitude that did not undermine their basic likability (for me).  The setting was brief but compelling, begging for further exploration for fans of Urban Fantasy, especially Fae-centered stories in modern times.  (I absolutely love Fae characters with the right mix of haughtiness and sympathetic qualities, and this writer does an excellent job in creating interesting and likable-enough Fae.)

Writing –  Clearly this is my kind of writing.  I bitched and moaned about the lack of intemperant, pissed-off language in the “Canadian nice” story on anger, which is to say I am accustomed to a different (south side of Chicago) brusqueness to language.  This Detroit-Chicago story certainly had an authentic, sometimes over-the-top, chuckle-inducing writing that matched the setting for me.  I’m not sure how Fae are supposed to sound, but the main character sounded like he was from Detroit or Chicago to me:

Favorite, fun quotes (sometimes sounding a bit like an adolescent trying to be street):

  • “Detroit was a wasteland. Sure, there were pockets of the city refusing to acknowledge it was dying, kind of like watching a chicken running around the yard after its head’s been cut off. Lots of feathers flying, wings churning, and legs kicking up dirt—that was Detroit.”  Unfortunately there is plenty of truth in that statement, as I recently commented on in a reblogged post. 
  • “But then my dick was the most elven thing about me, and kind of an arrogant, self-serving ass hat on most occasions.”
  • “Death not only touched him, it skull-fucked him, slam-dunked his worthless ass into the end zone, then danced through his entrails”.
  • “Just… get your dryad to stop leaving orange spooge all over our bed. It’s kind of creepy.”

Excerpts From: 7&7 – A DSP Publications Anthology of Virtue and Vice. Dreamspinner Press, 2016. ePub.

Looking over the comments that amused me, apparently I have a bit of a thing for juvenile, street-sounding, snarky comments.

Train to Sevmash by Jamie Fessenden (review)

Tagline: Would James Bond off a Bond vixen? (LGBT agent version)

7&7 Anthology Book Cover

Virtue #6: Charity
Title: Train to Sevmash 
Author: Jamie Fessenden
Genre:  Cloak and Dagger / Spy
Format:  Short Story (58 pages)

Series: 7&7 Anthology

Publisher: DSP Publications (May 2016)

Bonus:   Free on publisher’s site

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

DSP Publication’s anthology covers 7 virtues and 7 vices, and the theme of Jamie Fressenden’s short story is the virtue of charity.

An American spy and assassin boards a long train ride in the Soviet Union to find the Russian sailor he must kill to complete his mission.  The problem is, the more time he spends with his intended victim, the more attracted he is to the endearing man.  While it was plenty LGBT-friendly, this story perhaps has more in common with a James Bond story than I would have thought.

Although longer than most of the other stories in the anthology, the prose moved swiftly with a well-written depiction of Russian comraderie (Tovarishch!) and the right touch of a group of sailors giving each other guff on a train.  The diminutives and expressions shared among the men reminded me of my time in the Soviet Union, and even the English prose sounded like Russian phrasing, mannerisms, and patterns of thinking.  The quick story feels authentic in its setting as well as in a little emotional turmoil in the protagonist’s thoughts.  I also found it evocative of the “song and dance” gay men needed to feel each other out in the days of a deep closet.

Possible spoilers:

The pull of “Little Yura’s” sweetness was hard to resist, although a well-trained spy should be able to complete the mission.  However, if you add in considerations of the taboo, sexual attraction dance between two strangers in an extremely homophobic world, I would think that connection would push strongly either one way (can’t leave a witness to homosexual activity behind) or the other (it’s hard to kill someone who shares such a deep, central, personal and hidden characteristic).  But my overall take?  It’s pretty difficult to kill a man after your mouth made sweet love to his luscious puckered hole.

 

Horseboy by J. Tullos Henry (review)

Tagline: A Horseboy of the Lebanon, a Templar Knight, and intimate desert secrets

7&7 Anthology Book Cover

Vice #5: Pride
Title: Horseboy
Author: J. Tullos Henry

Genre:   Historic (with a touch of Fantasy)
Format:  Short Story (28 pages)
Series: 7&7 Anthology

Publisher: DSP Publications (May 2016)

Bonus:   Free on publisher’s site

Rating: 4.5 stars (out of 5)

DSP Publication’s anthology covers 7 virtues and 7 vices, and the theme of J. Tullos Henry’s story is the vice of pride.

In the shadows of a burnt stronghold in the Levant, the horseboy with a secret works his herd of horses away from the fighting and towards possible safety.  The mounts respect the lad with the talent to soothe their kind, but lead him to an encounter with a wounded infidel, a Templar, his wounded warhorse, and his fallen knightly comrade.  The  situaton calls forth both magic and danger, with the local lad revealing secrets that usually bring death, while the Templar finds himself fearful and confused by the handful of foreign deception.  The two pose almost as much danger to each other as the desert heat and the vultures.

A trip to the Crusades and the wariness between religious enemies is timely in itself, but the author weaves timeless issues of sexuality and gender into this historic setting.  Add in a touch of supernatural folk tradition and the danger of being different in a society of strong moral norms, and the reader is treated to story that should work for LGBT-friendly hisotry and fantasy fans on many levels.  While we see the current struggle for gay and transgender rights as particularly heightened at the moment, it’s good to remember folk have always struggled with being true to themselves in the face of intolerance throughout history.

My one critique would be the theme of pride was very understated to me (although both characters proudly but secretly lived their lives, and had to choose whether they would swallow some to survive their encounter in the harsh desert).

Hope by Rick Reed (review)

Story tagline: Looking for hope in the crises around a mother’s death and one’s personal life
Personal comment:  Memories of slowing building hope during a key period in LGBT history, and an ex-lover who faced similar issues as the main character

7&7 Anthology Book Cover

Virtue #5: Hope
Title: Hope
Author: Rick Reed
Genre:  Contemporary Romance
Format:  Short Story (47 pages)

Series: 7&7 Anthology

Publisher: DSP Publications (May 2016)

Bonus:   Free on publisher’s site

Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)


This story took me on a trip to my personal bittersweet memories of a slow sea change in the realities and hopeful aspirations during a time of enormous crisis in the LGBT community.

DSP Publication’s anthology covers 7 virtues and 7 vices, and the theme of Rick Reed’s short story is the virtue of hope.

In 1997, Todd moves from the big city to his mother’s house upon her passing, finding a couple of surprising companions and advisers in the small town. The man next door, Cal, who took care of Todd’s mother in her final days, is welcoming but uncertain about the man from the big city who had missed his own mother’s funeral. In addition to some distrust from his new neighbor, add some very disturbing health news from Chicago and possible hallucinations in his mother’s house, and it seems Todd has little hope for any kind of a normal life.

The author touches on a couple of monumental and deeply felt issues that have dominated the gay community in different years over the last decades.   The story focuses on a period that saw a sea change from despair and resignation to brighter, more hopeful outlooks.  It was a quick but nicely personal and evocative trip through the realistic fears and the beginnings of a different outlook for the main character. The specter that offers the despairing man advice was a nice touch as, for me, it serves as a symbol of reaching for hope from a place that isn’t necessarily real or realistic but important to voice and latch onto none-the-less.

In this way, the author captured something very real to me (and I’m sure many others), the beginnings of true, realistic hope in the aftermath of an oppressive reality.  His wistful, aspirational tag at the end just reinforces the importance of this virtue and another nod to how wonderful it can be when “unrealistic” hopes are actually achieved.

Personal Reflections (with spoilers):

This quick read hit home very deeply for me as I lost a friend and former lover to HIV/AIDs during the same period covered by the story.  He faced the same hopelessness at the beginning of this period, as well as the loss of his mother.  Unfortunately for my friend and ex Eric, the hope of the new therapies did not materialize soon enough.

I vividly remember the very slow change in reality and realization that HIV was no longer an absolute death sentence, and how the people with HIV gradually began to live and plan for longer and longer lives.  The process was a slow one, as in the gay community in Chicago (where I was) and, I’m sure, around the world, we were still dealing with and reeling from the loss of so many friends and family, loved ones and lovers.  When I sang at an exhibition of the AIDS Memorial Quilt on World AIDS Day in the late 1990’s, I remembering feeling the hope that HIV was no longer a death sentence despite the devastation that each panel sewn onto the quilt represented.  The author captures a key time when hope for a long and fulfilling life became more and more real again for so many of our brothers and sisters.

I normally take into account how a story makes me feel as much as how much I appreciate the strength of the writing and general work.  This is one story I am happy to acknowledge there may be little or no objectivity in my rating, but works for me as a glimpse at a key period in my personal and LGBT history – and the author’s choice of “hope” is perfect.

Covetous by Pearl Love (review)

Tagline: Pissed off ex-lover asked what he would give to get his desires

7&7 Anthology Book Cover

Vice #4: Envy
Title: Covetous
Author: Pearl Love

Genre:   Horror / Torture Erotica
Format:  Short Story (26 pages)
Series: 7&7 Anthology

Publisher: DSP Publications (May 2016)

Bonus:   Free on publisher’s site

Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)

DSP Publication’s anthology covers 7 virtues and 7 vices, and the theme of Pearl Love’s short story is the vice of envy.

Passed over for promotion by his ex-boyfriend, Jonathon is pissed off and upset about his lack of upward mobility, envious of those with more success.  Seeking solace in drink, dancing, and men, he pushes aside his pain and decides to indulge some wanton desires in the midst of his depression.  Finding himself in the middle of what he yearns for, he has to say what he is willing to give up to receive all he covets.

Overall, Jonathon really did not convey particularly excessive envy to me.  Yes, he seems to want higher status and possesses the drive for “more” then most and he clearly casts a yearning eye at the finer things earned by those around him.  But his relatively common level of greed catches the eye of terrific evil that sets out to lure, seduce, seize and torture him.  The increasingly brutal scenes are extremely graphic and horrific.  I don’t mind the explicit pain, but as a consequence of the “evil”of his greed, it seemed way over the top.

Fans of bloody, horrific torture kink will probably be the most appreciative of this story.