Sunday, July 24, 2011

Wild Passions (anthology) edited by SL Armstrong

Wild Passions by S.L. Armstrong
Publisher: Storm Moon Press
Genre: M/M, Fantasy, Science Fiction
Length: 188 pages

Summary: Authors: S.L. Armstrong, Cornelia Grey, Elizabeth Hyder, Wayne Mansfield, K. Piet, Angelia Sparrow, & Cari Z

Editor: S.L. Armstrong

Other worlds, other planes of existence, other places where humans are not the only type of creature to walk and talk. Human-like animals populate the pages of Wild Passions! These are not shifters, but humanoid animals that experience love and lust in their sometimes wild, sometimes civilized worlds.

Meet Liam, a half-fox in a world where 'urban jungle' isn't a metaphor. When trouble comes in the form of an organized militia looking to experiment, Liam must put his trust where he never expected -- in the hands of a human.

Koit is a Shterpi, a reptilian alien with a reputation for womanizing. A dare from a friend has Koit changing his target to other men, and he finds that variety really is the spice of life.

Alec and Nahale are feral-Maith, genetic offshoots from a fantastic race. Under pressure, Alec challenges Nahale for leadership of their clan, threatening to destroy the relationship they'd been building for years.

Panos only wants to live a normal life, free from the secret that's kept him isolated from others. However, he still needs a roommate, and his attraction to the other man has him wondering if opening up might not be so bad after all.

Ferran is making his last trip away from his home planet of Perelan before duty calls him back. But a rakish spaceship captain tosses a wrench into his finely crafted plans, and his world may never be the same.

Gordon and Leo work in the freak-show at a traveling carnival, wowing audiences with their half-animal physiques. But when animal constructs are second-class citizens and legal property of others, falling in love is the most dangerous act of all.

Wild Passions provides several fine takes on what love and sex might be like for other beings, alien or animal. The worlds vary from Earth to Earth-like, to not-Earth, and humans figure as everything from enemy to owner to non-existent, which means the variety editor S.L Armstrong put into these pages is really wide.

Cornelia Grey's 'City of Foxes' features a dystopian future where animal-people live in the cracks of society. Life is harsh, trust is rare, and when it does happen, it can bring everything down. This is my second sample of Grey's fine atmospheric writing; I could taste the grit of the city and feel the shards of betrayal. The love story plays against an exploration of man-as-animal and man-worse-than-animal: we humans need our shining individuals to have any claim to worth as a species.

'Trust Me' from Elizabeth Hyder takes us into space; several races co-exist in sufficient harmony to have joint ventures such as space stations and higher education, in a very easy-going society. A meddling friend of the half-Shterpi Koit prods him in the direction of same sex encounters – his blundering along is humorous because it has the feel of an elective class in a subject that has to grow on the student. His eventual partner is a really delightful pain-in-the-butt. Much is made of a Shterpi attribute that ended up feeling tacked on rather than integral to the story, but perhaps there will be other stories in this setting that utilize it better.

Co-authors S.L. Armstrong and K. Piet bring us 'Alpha's Pride,' which looks at authority and complacency as well as the relationship between two strong males. The power struggles between Alec and Nahele come from their different views of what is good for the tribe and branch into the personal; I bled with them because neither is entirely right or entirely wrong. The "other" here is not well defined, leaving them feeling more like aliens than part animal, but it's still a fine story.

Panos, from "I Do Like to be Beside the Seaside" is more closeted by what he is than by his sexuality, so trust is his huge issue. He fears, rightly, what could come from trusting Jason, because he could easily become the center of much horrible attention. Fortunately Jason's a good man with some useful skills, if not enough empathy early on. Given his situation, Panos had to either be inexperienced or have trusted before, but author Wayne Mansfield doesn't address either option, leaving me wondering.

Cari Z has drawn a love affair between the human captain of a passenger freighter and a scion of a great family from another planet. 'Opening Worlds' unfolds the relationship between Captain Jason Kim and Ferran, an empathic, be-quilled Perel, who doesn't have as many options in his life as he comes to wish for. Why this should be is doled out in small tragic bits, giving their love a special piquancy. The story is very tender and the resolution is cause to rejoice.

A bit of Depression-era steampunk closes the anthology. Angelia Sparrow's constructs, part animal, part human, are property, and as such their lives can be so awful they have to look up to see down. Arthur, the bear-boy, and his bear-mother are fortunate to be loved by Daddy Frank, who goes along with the charade of ownership only to keep them safe. Gordon, the lion-boy, is not so fortunate – his owners are abusive and predatory. 'Songs for Guitar and French Harp' has by far the darkest themes but is one of my favorites in this anthology. Arthur is both teen-aged boy and bear; his view of society is the outsider's view for both reasons, and he may be the only one in the world who can really be there for Gordon.

The stories here vary from good to very good, and are more imaginative than the inaccurate blurb-writing would suggest. The theme wobbles a little, in that several stories feature out and out aliens, but it's worth sampling their animal magnetism. 4 marbles

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