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

 

 

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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.

 

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.

Heirs to Grace and Infinity by C. Cummings (review)

Tagline: Fugitive sorcerer matches wits with the Bureau’s top agent

7&7 Anthology Book Cover

Virtue #3:  Justice
Title: Heirs to Grace and Infinity Gate
Author: Carole Cummings
Genre:  Urban Fantasy
Format:  Short Story (31 pages)

Series: 7&7 Anthology

Publisher: DSP Publications (May 2016)

Bonus:   Free on publisher’s site

Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)

DSP Publication’s anthology covers 7 virtues and 7 vices, and the theme of Carole Cummings’ short story is the virtue of justice.

The Orthodox government protects the nation from the dangerous magic of theurgists and their treacherous ilk. The Bureau’s buff and brave agents, with support from bright personnel like Kyle the computer and communication expert, are key to protecting the public from the nefarious Sorcerer.  This short story moves swiftly through the central players’ struggle with their own safety, their personal feelings and attractions, and eventually the larger issues of keeping society safe.  The author’s quick, strong, and tight story weave includes a wide range of personal, sexual, ethical and political challenges in a relatively small handful of pages.  The teasing glimpses of the dangers that a handful of magical individuals would pose in a modern society are handled deftly and create a nice tension in this Urban Fantasy setting.

Many novel length works do not address such a range of character, plot and setting issues so effectively, let alone in a work as short as this.  While some of the plot twists were predictable, there was also a surprise or two that worked well for me. Certainly the personal, ethical, and intimate themes the author explores resonated, hitting a sweet spot of what I personally find enjoyable in a short read. Still, I was also clearly impressed with how the plot and character and setting themes swirled together so nicely in a brief work.

Prudence for Fools by Sean Michael (review)

Tagline: Seer with disturbing vision exiled to his husband’s remote homeland

7&7 Anthology Book Cover

Virtue #2: Prudence
Title: Prudence for Fools
Author: Sean Michael

Genre:  Fantasy (with gay heroes)
Format:  Short Story (41 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 Sean Michael’s short story is the virtue of prudence.

The brief fantasy story pulls the reader in with attractive characters, including an exiled seer, his endearing and strong husband, and a loyal apprentice. Brawn was an aptly named and a wonderfully – well – brawny and stoutly loyal husband to the troubled Seer Del of the Red.  The setting was evocative and enticing, and the couple’s homecoming nicely bittersweet.  In such a short story, the author painted intriguing locations with a quick brush, including an tunnel-visioned royal city and court and a vibrant mountain tribe. The relationship of the devoted couple was perhaps the strongest, most alluring part of this brief tale.  A supporting character or two showed enough promise to warrant their own story.  In the end, the story was too short and a quick if a bit pat diversion, just whetting one’s appetite for more interesting, provocative, and tempting writing in a grander scale by this author.

Dark of the Sun by Durreson (review)

7&7 Anthology Book Cover

Virtue #1: Faith
Title: The Dark of the Sun
Author: Amy Rae Durreson

Genre:  Fantasy
Format:  Short Story (41 pages)
Series: 7&7 Anthology

Publisher: DSP Publications (May 2016)

Bonus:   Free on publisher’s site

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

Tagline: Bereaved, unbelieving priest confronted with questions of faith

Virtue: Faith

DSP Publication’s anthology covers 7 virtues and 7 vices, and the theme of A. R. Durreson’s short story is the virtue of faith.  The focus is a bereaved, isolated, and disenchanted priest who lost his belief while grieving for the death of his husband of thirty years. He interacts with a wide range of interesting characters who each face their own crises, in a pre-modern setting touched with just enough supernatural flavor to classify this as Fantasy.

The first two thirds of this brief piece enchanted me, quickly establishing an interesting setting, identifying with a saddened and sympathetic protagonist, and introducing an interesting group of supporting characters. In such a brief story, there was a nice range of personalities, each with a personal story quickly but convincingly and lovingly shared in a brief but tantalizing manner.

The setting, prose, plot, and personalities whetted my appetite, and I personally would be interested in reading more about the priest coming to terms with the passing of his husband, the abandoned poet, the couple seeking their missing third mate, the magically touched sellsword, the skeptical scientists, and the elder cleric and his devoted, liberated followers.  I imagine most readers would find the ending perhaps a bit surprising and certainly uplifting and rewarding.

Since this a personal, amateur review written as a hobby as much for  personal reflection as anything else, I’m going to add some personal comments:

Unfortunately this was not the perfect story for me. I certainly identified with the scientists and the formerly fervent but now disenchanted, unbelieving priest.  The exploration of the beautiful bounty of faith was placed into delicate and caring spiritual terms.  The genuine love and faith of the religious is a comfort to most, but the gentle care and fervent belief hit too close to home for me.  My extraordinarily religious family practices a similar, deep-seated faith touched by grace and love.  For intellectual and emotional reasons, I have moved firmly away from religious faith, keeping a hardened distance while still respecting those who believe in such a divine, truly evangelical (i.e. loving, not judging) manner.  For that  reason, the beautiful, uplifting, and not particularly religious but definitely faith-centered ending did not resonate quite so much for me personally.

On a contrary note, I want to express my appreciation for the author’s generally very positive portrayal of faith.  As far as I have personally distanced myself from theistic belief, the vast majority of religious people I have known are much more full of love than judgment or condemnation, even those who belong to groups that condemn LGBTQ sexual intimacy.  It’s nice to see at least an occasional  LGBT-friendly story that doesn’t use religion as a stereotypical and basically evil foil (although I know there are plenty of those harshly judgmental and damaging religious folk out there).

Overall, I enjoyed the author’s setting and characters, and I was also moved by the expressions of faith, caring and love, so I am interested in reading more of her works.