I really like this collection, and not just because of its sexiness but because of the ways that some really imaginative and vivid speculative fiction elements form the backbones of each of these stories. As big a fan of explicit depictions of gay male sex as I am, an anthology of straight-up porn with no other major elements to it would probably not sustain my interest from cover to cover. Did I mention that I read this whole thing in one sitting, from start to finish? I did, and it was because each of these stories are beautifully told and packed with ideas.
Unlike my own anthology, the recently-published Things We Are Not, Wired Hard 4 is indeed explicitly a book of male/male erotica. But much like my book, this one is packed with terrific speculative fiction as well. I enjoyed each of the nine stories, but I think my favorite may be Zachary Jernigan’s “The Succession of Knoorikios Khnum” which blends seamlessly its erotic content with some astounding world-building and a solid plot with epic implications. Its language is frequently quite lovely and lush, and the milieu in which it is set reminds me somewhat of Samuel Delany’s Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand. I won’t say a word about its storyline, since it is rather spoiler-prone, but it is a real stunner. If it had been submitted for Things We Are Not, it definitely would have appeared there instead.
Shanna Germain’s “Beneath Sea and Sky” also stands out. A bit less fantastic or science fictional (at least for most of the story) than most of the entries in this volume, it is poignantly and achingly gay in a way that I would think that it would have needed to have come from the keyboard of a gay male. But I gather from the contributor bios that Shanna is a female, and there are indeed a lot of women who write great m/m erotica nowadays. The emotional honesty of this story and the way the writer somehow understands what it can feel like physically and emotionally for a guy to have sex with another guy under the circumstances she describes here is so authentic that I am left rather breathless by it.
This collection also has a solid core of kink to it with such stories as Gavin Atlas’s “Slavery By Degree,” which is a rather far-fetched, out-and-out sub-boy fantasy founded on some kinky-cool science-fictional technology and a gleaming nugget of truth about what even the sluttiest bottom really needs in life after all the fucking is done for the day. Comparable in kinkiness is the bizarre and somewhat creepy “Nectar” by Diane Kepler, which is also rich with sexy masturbation-fantasy gadgets, the kinds of things that dudes like me dream up during that morning half-sleep before its time to wake all the way up. As one reads it, one wonders, “Well, why is this meal that you’re talking about lunch and not breakfast?” Oh. Breakfast must be something else entirely, and we’ll find out at the end. Also, in the techno-kink category, there is Kal Cobalt’s “Parts,” a sort of cyberpunk sex vignette centered around some fabulous body-mod tech. Short and hot, its placement in the book was perfect, too, as a transition between the stories surrounding.
A couple of the other items verge into horror territory. “Balance of Power” by Jamie Maguire is possibly the least sexy tale in this book—at least as far as what gets me up—but it is one of the most remarkable vampire stories I have read in many years. Basically, Twilight can suck it. This here is some hardcore bloodsucking in the (very) old school fashion. Then there is Tom Cardamone’s “Royal Catamite.” Set in what seems to be a sort of ancient Chinese imperial court milieu, this one gets into what is taboo territory for most people—it is explicit in this story that underage boys are being cultivated as sex servants—but the biggest impact of the story comes in the form of some truly creepy body horror.
The collection leads off with Helen E.H. Madden’s “When the Angels Fall,” a touching (in more ways than one) drama about some familiar gay themes like family, spirituality and guilt, but with a terrific science fictional twist that I shan’t reveal here. It’s a fine start to a fine anthology, full of rich world-building like good speculative fiction should have, and also full of intense eroticism like good gay sex fiction should have.
So, as you can probably tell, I really dug this book. I freely admit that my own sexual characteristics probably leave me more vulnerable to its charms than, say, a str8 male reader might be, but it is nonetheless a good little compilation of inventive spec fic that I think an open-minded str8 dude and most female fans of spec fic could probably enjoy as well as I did. Or almost so, anyway.