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The Late, Late Review: Wild Things

9th Feb, 2024

Author: Peter Tennant

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This will be the last of my late, late reviews, unless I stumble across another cache of draft reviews that never came to fruition. Next week we'll be back to publishing reviews that are merely late, meaning books less than ten years old, rather than touching twenty.

Released in hardcover by Subterranean back in 2005, and presumably a limited edition, Wild Things consists of fourteen stories by Charles Coleman Finlay, a writer who published this collection and four novels between 2005 and 2009, but since appears to have focused on editing, winning a World Fantasy Award in 2021 for his time in the hot seat at The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. The book is still available used on Amazon and at, to my mind anyway, surprisingly low prices.

And so to the review.

In "Wild Thing" two creatures of the forest, existing in the borderlands between our world and the realm of fairy, become involved in the politics of Camelot, a beautifully written tale but overall nothing specially notable. "Pervert" looks at a future in which breeding is done by some form of artificial insemination and only perverts want to go with an actual woman, an idea that feels familiar and from a plot point of view offers nothing that lives up to this premise. "Still Life with Action Figure" explores the relationship between a struggling graphic artist and his famous painter father, a keenly felt character study, while "A Game of Chicken" is a black and barbed satire on the theme of factory farming, here taken to its logical conclusion.

More good stuff in off the wall vampire story "Lucy, In Her Splendor", with a couple caught out when they try their sex games with the wrong person and trying to undo the damage when one of them is infected. Lovely observation and nuances throughout this story. In contrast, "The Frontier Archipelago" briefly catalogues a mining accident in the asteroid belt, with little point to the exercise that I could see. Finlay uses the same characters and backdrop for "The Seal Hunter" in which a miner embraces desperate methods to solve a food crisis, the story rigorous in extrapolation, but all the same it didn't really feel convincing.

Lovecraft is satirised in "The Smackdown Outside Dedham" as a wrestling fan tries to raise tournament money by poaching the site where a meteor fell to earth, only to find squamous monstrosities lurking in those backwoods, a mildly funny story whose pay off doesn't quite deliver on the build-up. A story told as "Footnotes" probably sounded like a good idea at the time, and maybe would have been if it had been written by someone like J. G. Ballard, but this is instantly forgettable and, at the risk of sounding flippant, I have indeed forgotten it (I wrote that in 2006, not now when I've pretty  much forgotten all of these stories and a lot else beside). "The Political Officer" is the longest story here, an account of political machinations among the crew of a spacecraft on a sensitive mission behind enemy lines, absorbing and engaging while it lasts, but ultimately all much ado about nothing.

"Finding Quayle, Dancing Quayle" is an unusual take on the zombie story, with its dead hero portrayed sympathetically and never really pinning itself down as to what is going on. "After the Gaud Chrysalis" is perhaps my favourite story, a fantasy set in a world where three unlikely companions must join forces to thwart a magical invasion, or something like that. It's a romp of a story with great characters who interact credibly and a sense of enchantment about it all. In "The Factwhore Proposition" an internet information broker finds his job in jeopardy, but this is only the impetus he needs to make things permanent with his girlfriend. Finally, "We Come Not to Praise Washington" is an alternative history piece in which Aaron Burr is executed by Patrick Hamilton, well written and engaging, but I expect US readers got a lot more out of it than I did.

My jury is definitely hung on this one. I think, reflecting on the notes I made all those years ago, Finlay is a writer whose ideas appealed to me, but didn't always bring his narratives to a conclusion I found satisfying. In fairness, several of his stories have been in award contention, so perhaps the problem is me. That's often the case.






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