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

 

 

Couches of Fabric and Snow by B. Whitt (review)

Tagline: Too lazy to work, to relate, to love, to really live…
Personal note: Story just baffled me, so I am not rating (but commentary with spoilers)

7&7 Anthology Book Cover

Vice #7: Sloth
Title: Couches of Fabric and Snow
Author: Brandon Whitt

Genre:   I have no clue (Horror?)
Format:  Short Story (33 pages)
Series: 7&7 Anthology

Publisher: DSP Publications (May 2016)

Bonus:   Free on publisher’s site

Rating: ? stars (out of 5)

For the sake of completeness in covering this entire anthology, I am adding my commentary with no rating on this story, even though the author’s take on the vice of sloth was so far from mine I just couldn’t connect (or rate it fairly).

DSP Publication’s anthology covers 7 virtues and 7 vices, and the theme of Brandon Whitt’s story is the vice of sloth.

Levitt is a teacher who just skates by at work with an attitude about doing as little as possible to get through the day. He is looking forward to chaperoning a school trip to the mountains where he plans to enjoy as much quiet alone time as possible.  Unfortunately, his type-A, smart, sexy, and super ambitious ex-lover is the principal of the school retreat facility, and facing his former love brings back emotions that the slothful Levitt has a hard time processing because he is so lazy.

This story just baffled me.  The author elsewhere commented he didn’t really get sloth and wasn’t sure how to write about it.  Other reviews have found the resulting story to be an interesting take on this vice with a worthy exploration.  I just did not get it – many of Levitt’s actions (or inactions) did not seem like sloth or laziness to me, but perhaps more indicative of mental illness.  The writing and story idea were not bad or particularly offensive (except for one possible interpretation), so I’m not inclined to rate it poorly, but it missed the mark so much with me I feel I cannot rate it all.  (I would have just skipped any commentary – which I should have done with another story – but I wanted to complete a review of the entire anthology.  Also, reading it did provoke some reflection on my part, so I will share some thoughts – with spoilers).

Commentary with spoilers:

Levitt did not seem like a typically lazy person to me – his inaction in response to all kinds of stimuli seemed to be an extremely over-the-top interpretation of the vice of sloth. On the one hand, this anthology is about all kinds of interpretations of each vice and virtue, so such an extreme approach to one of them is not necessary out of place.  (And a critique of the vice being portrayed as “over-the-top” is a little unfair from me, as I have previously remarked on the low level of anger in the piece on that vice.)

However, to me Levitt’s behavior did not smack of a lazy or slothful character flaw that hindered him, but instead it really seemed like mental illness or extreme depression.  One can argue that extreme practices of various vices could be the sign of mental illnesses or disorders in general: someone who is extremely lustful might be a sex addict or a victim of abuse; anger could be a sign of depression, PTSD, or abuse; gluttony could be the result of physical disorders, addictive personalities, or response to abuse, etc.  Still, many of Levitt’s reactions did not seem like someone who liked to avoid work, but more someone shut down by depression, or extremely low self esteem sometimes bordering on self-loathing.

I have been around plenty of people who avoid hard work or tackling difficult issues, but most of them either seemed much more calculating in their self-interest or focused on receiving some kind of self-pleasure through the easiest means possible.  I did not see those characteristics in Levitt, but rather a self-destructive, depressed, and ultimately self-loathing individual.  (I guess that’s a vice, but that seems far from the work-avoiding, self-centered, self-pleasuring countenance I equate with laziness and sloth.)

“Nor did he really care. He’d quit worrying about what cute guys thought about him long ago.” – I guess not caring what others think is a sign of self-centered laziness, but the total disregard of one’s own pleasure or attractiveness seems more like depression or self-sabotage (or low self-confidence) than slothful.

Levitt fell asleep in a program where his ex-lover wakes him up and then berates him, saying “nothing ever changes.”  This seemed much more like a physical or mental illness than lazy, slothful behavior.

LEVITT’S EXHAUSTION was so great, and so genuine, that he asked Ms. Apel to cover for him at the evening program.”  Again, this type of “great and genuine” physical exhaustion seems more like a physical problem or extreme depression rather than laziness.

After a rather devastating heart to heart with his ex-lover, he falls asleep in the office until 11 the next morning.  Again, would a slothful person just sleep where he’s at after such a devastating blow?  Too lazy to move after having one’s emotions ripped out?

He walked and he walked. No thoughts. No feelings. No hunger. No hurt. Just exhaustion. Levitt was tired. So very, very tired. Yet still he walked. Until he didn’t.

He sighed, content. Levitt began to feel warm. He’d found his couch after all.”

What I got out of the ending is Levitt’s mental state was so screwed up, he walked into a blizzard, laid in the snow, and basically enjoyed the “warmth” of the snow carrying him off to suicidal oblivion.

This certainly wasn’t a story I enjoyed, but the examples were so extreme as to not make sense to me except in the terms of extreme depression and/or mental illness.  Most of the time, Levitt did not seem to be consciously practicing a vice, but was so wrapped up in his drained condition that any capacity of self-love or even self-preservation just led to totally unconscious and oblivious self-destruction.  I guess that is one way to interpret the consequence of extreme “sloth,” it just did not resonate as that vice to me.

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

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.

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).

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.

The Rendering by J. Inman (review)

Tagline: Fat gay guy gets led-on, lured in, teased, tantalized and then… sweetly written sickness (that turned my stomach)

7&7 Anthology Book Cover

Vice #3: Gluttony
Title: The Rendering
Author: J. Inman

Genre:  Horror
Format:  Short Story
Series: 7&7 Anthology

Publisher: DSP Publications (May 2016)

Bonus:   Free on publisher’s site

Rating: 0 stars (out of 5)

DSP Publication’s anthology covers 7 virtues and 7 vices, and the theme of J. Inman’s short story is the vice of gluttony.

They need a fucking trigger warning.

————————

Review:

I have two extremely negative reactions to this story. The first is this is an extremely horrific “historical” folk story, but the publisher provided basically no warning of its content. Even worse, the horrors in the story are sharpened by taking the most intimate fears, desperation, and longing hopes of a very often disdained subgroup in the LGBT community and viciously and maliciously exploits them for a cheap thrill.

Upon reflection, this story reminds me a bit of the brilliant but depraved story The Lottery. Whereas The Lottery was a sick but pointedly insightful critique of human social customs and potential for cruelty, The Rendering takes a horrific folk/fairy tale and targets an often troubled, marginalized, and disrespected group in the LGBT community.

It’s really a horror story (despite how the publisher only lists as historical or fantasy as possibly relevant genres) and I find many horror stories to disturbing, and some extreme ones, such as The Rendering, to be way beyond the pale for me, and therefore I obviously personally avoid them if at all possible.  I understand and respect that there are fans who find these types of stories to be engrossing and entertaining, and I do not begrudge authors for writing them or readers for liking them. I do expect authors and publishers to provide fair warning and clear labels, and in this case I believe they clearly failed.

There are several genre headings listed on the publisher’s website for this anthology (Fantasy, Historical, Paranormal, Science Fiction), but not one of them is horror. The book’s description does warn the exploration of virtue and vice could “sink to the darkest and most perverse depths.” But they go on to say the stories “explore the call to good and evil – and the consequences of answering it.” So one could reasonably expect there to be no horror in this collection, and any “consequences” fit whatever “evil” is explored. What I take from this is the consequence of an exploration of the “evil” of a gluttonous gay man’s deepest, most intimate, and most fervent yearnings is to be tantalized, lured, led on, and teased until they find a fate of torture and slow, agonizing death. Having little or no warning about this type of content is pretty disturbing.

It was pretty clear from the start of this work – the title is obviously indicative – what was set-up to happen, but I thought surely they would end up with a surprise, since most of the other works in the anthology included a significant a twist at the end.  Not this one. I couldn’t believe an LGBT-friendly publisher would go to such a hateful, shaming, horrific place with no warning (this is historical and a consequence of gluttonous “evil”?).  I thought this telegraphed ending to be especially unlikely given how lightly the other vices were dealt with in this anthology (except for one other, which unfortunately I read last after I had recovered from this one), which makes a lack of any real warning extra-galling. Their story on anger has one guy unilaterally impacting another’s business, and the “anger” response is one slightly brusque conversation. But they turn the fat gay guy into an extraordinarily gluttonous pig but extremely sympathetic and endearing in his yearnings and needs – and then treat him much worse than, well, it’s hard imagine a worse emotional or physical fate (and I’ve read plenty of edgy, non-con and torturous works over the years).

There was one other horror story in the series, but it didn’t bother me personally nearly as much.  However, I imagine other readers might find it even worse than The Rendering, making me doubly question the publisher’s publicist’s judgment and sensitivity.