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Edited by Jay Lake

Wheatland Press


176pp/$17.50/August 2005

Cover by Jay Lake & Stephen R. Stanley

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

If you're looking for an anthology of light, life-affirming science fiction, Tel:Stories, edited by Jay Lake, is not the book you're looking for.  The stories selected by Lake for this work are often stories of coming of age or fish out of water tales, yet even when his characters find their place in the world, these stories generally don't provide the reader with happy endings.

Ken Scholes's story "The Santaman Cycle" presents a look at the inherent darkness of Santa Claus in a very different milieu than he normally inhabits.  Although a very short story, Scholes breaks it into segments and gives it the feel of a much longer epic.  Another children's tale gets a treatment in Gregory Feeley's "Fancy Bread" in which Jack leaves his beanstalk behind to become a Medieval con artist.  While not as dark as many of the stories which precede it, "Fancy Bread" raises questions about good and evil be juxtaposing Jack's activities with the menace of the ogre he fleeces at the beginning of the story.

Brendan Connell's look at aestheticism in "Benares (a Metrophilia)" examines ways people can still feel pleasure while depriving themselves of the more traditional routes of excess and Greg Beatty also looks at strange forms of fanaticism in "The Song of the Solipsilepidopterist," in which his character, a natural recluse, attempts to branch out to join others of like interest, only to learn that he is more alone than anticipated.

Ambiguity also weaves its way through many of the stories.  Leah Bobet presents a young man home from college in "Dog Days" unsure of the proper way to tell his mother that he is not planning to return to school.  Yet his decision seems to be constantly in the balance and school may or may not be in his future.  Perhaps even more ambiguous is Charles Tuomi's "She Watches the Man," which is chilling in the way it can be read as a creepy tale of a stalker or a lesson in female empowerment, depending on which character the reader decides is the protagonist. 

While "Revenge in the Funhouse" could have been a metafictional romp, Ruth Nestvold infuses a sense of vicious retaliation into the stories she appears to be telling, all the while focusing more on her commentary on the process of writing. In many ways, this story seems to reflect the purpose of the entire anthology.  Nestvold tells a story while allowing herself the pleasure of exploring her writing style.  While all of the authors in Tel:Stories are clearly conscious of their writing styles and enjoy their excesses, Nestvold is the only one who specifically draws attention to it.

Reading all of the stories in Tel:Stories in a row may cause severe depression for the reader and it is amazing that Lake was able to complete the task of compiling this anthology given that he may have read many more similar tales before settling on these.  Despite the overall air of futility and depression, the twenty-eight stories in Tel:Stories are well-written and, perhaps because of their depressing nature or perhaps because of their literary excesses, stay with the reader long after the book is closed.

Author Title
Greer Gilman Jack Daw's Pack
Ken Scholes The Santaman Cycle
Carrie Vaughn Dana at Sea
Th. Metzger Hex-Ray Hoodoo Rapture
Brendan Connell Benares (a Metrophilia)
Ian Creasey In Profit and In Loss
Jetse de Vries Gaud, Cons & Spires
Tim Pratt Gulls
Darja Malcolm-Clarke The Sibyl of Tamarish
Mikal Trimm Wash Is Done
Leah Bobet Dog Days
Lawrence M. Schoen Stations of the Cheeseburger
Dean Wesley Smith Let's Pretend
Greg Beatty The Song of the Solipsilepidopterist
Steve Carper Holly:  New Paree Prime: Spring Two
Toiya Kristen Finley Juju Hoodoo Man Sangs th Blues
Forrest Aguirre Soma
Mike Philbin The Midas Touch
Jeremy Robert Johnson Last Thoughts Drifting Down
Anil Menon Love in a Hot Climate
Timalyne Frazier The Devil's Half-Brother
Paul Woodlin God Words
Sonya Taaffe The White Swan
Charles Tuomi She Watches the Man
Ruth Nestvold Revenge in the Funhouse
Victoria Elizabeth Garcia Town of Boar Hollow Ordinance No. VII-____-2001
Jeff VanderMeer Lost
Gregory Feeley Fancy Bread

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