Two anthologies, disease and supernatural romance (the latter with Laurell Hamilton, though come to think of it I might be more interested to see her give the former a try).
The Touch, ed. Patrick Merla: Stephen-Elliot Altman created a new mutation, Deprivation, whose sufferers deprive anyone they touch of some sense: balance, sight, hearing, and sometimes more exotic ones. I read his book – a portion of which appears here as one of the stories in this shared-world anthology – a while back. It’s a good concept, and some of the stories are very good, though as a whole the collection didn’t make a good impression, and looking back I think it might be because the participants are not wholly in agreement about the rules of the game – what counts as a sense, how Deprivation spreads, etc. Moreover, the editors let some of the authors write out into the far future, which isn’t a good idea if you’re only going to have one volume, further harming continuity. This also weakened the metaphors by having the world change over the course of the volume from one just like ours except with an extra plague to a future in which Deprivation was only one of the strange changes. Thus, individually good stories don’t come together as a coherent whole. Ones I liked: Dean Whitlock’s “Waiting for the Girl from California” is a stylish bit about a girl who deprives people of their sense of time; Jan Clark’s “Marginal Existence” is a good exploration of what it’s like to be a non-Depriver in a terrified world; Harry Turtledove’s “The Lieutenant” is about new ways to abuse power; Tananarive Due’s “Suffer the Little Children” is about what Deprivation does to already-collapsing minority communities; and Link Yaco’s “Death Goddess of the Lower East Side” is the story of an ordinary woman living a life of quiet desperation, of which her Deprivation is only one part.
Laurell K. Hamilton, MaryJanice Davidson, Eileen Wilks, & Rebecca York, Cravings: Yes, I am weak. The front says this book contains “[a]ll-new sensuous stories from four of today’s most provocative authors,” which means that the characters get naked shortly after meeting and have moderately explicit sex. Hamilton’s offering, clearly a chunk from the next Anita Blake book, is as disappointing as you’d expect – I know that’s an oxymoron, but it does describe how I felt. Typos (misspelling your own character’s name? for shame) and poor editing didn’t obscure the big letdown, which was that Anita spent most of the time musing about her own fucked-up and not-well-fucked-enough mental state rather than kicking ass and taking names. When she’s psychotic, I can tolerate the loving descriptions of bondage outfits; when she’s just anxious and depressed about her relationships, I want to be elsewhere. But not in MaryJanice Davidson’s world. “Dead Girls Don’t Dance” is about a young vampire and the guy she had a huge crush on in her living life who meet cute, vamp-style, and go off so that the girl can make homage to the new Queen of the Vampires. The dialogue is teeny-bopper idiotic and the characters are fully suited to the dialogue. Eileen Wilks comes closest to the mark with “Originally Human,” about a succubus and the strange (but gorgeous, always gorgeous) naked man she finds one night. The characters were a little more likeable, but I still didn’t feel a real connection and thus the romance didn’t do much for me. I first thought maybe that was because the novella form was too short, but on reflection the slightly longer romances I used to read didn’t have much more character development, and I used to enjoy them because I was more willing to flesh out the heroine with my own images – more willing to accept being told about her appealing characteristics -- than I am now.
Similarly, Rebecca York’s werewolf story about a blind Tarot reader and the wolf-man who comes to her while seeking revenge for his wife’s murder just didn’t make me care about their forbidden love. The book did remind me how brutally awful it is to write sex scenes. There’s just so little margin for error. In York’s story, one character uses “penis” when I would have used an earthier word, and I was ripped out of the scene. On the other hand, Hamilton should recognize that, now that she’s gotten explicit, “ripeness” is just not an acceptable substitute for “cock” or, you know, “penis.” Especially twice in a paragraph. (No, I checked, four times in two adjacent paragraphs, describing one guy’s cock three times and a second guy’s once.)