cover image Boys, Beasts, and Men

Boys, Beasts, and Men

Sam J. Miller. Tachyon, $17.95 trade paper (330p) ISBN 978-1-61696-372-9

Loneliness, manhood, and ferocious queer joy pervade the sincere but safe debut collection from Nebula Award winner Miller (The Blade Between), whose sweeping prose is hemmed in here by a narrow range of ideas. The strongest pieces are thick with both the tenderness and ugliness of imperfect relationships. “We Are the Cloud” literalizes systemic exploitation and the concept of cognitive load in a New York where the poorest’s neurological processing runs free Wi-Fi for the wealthy. The poetic “Conspicuous Plumage” inverts the complex aftermath of a gay-bashing without devaluing its target. The Soviet era–set “The Beasts We Want to Be” directly grapples with toxic masculinity. Attempts at retold material founder, however. Both the King Kong riff “Shattered Sidewalks of the Human Heart” and The Thing sequel “Things with Beards” overshoot sincerity and land as clumsy didacticism. Throughout, overly literal metaphors and too-neat allegories undermine the complexity of Miller’s diverse, magic-tinged relationships. The textured landscapes will satisfy dedicated speculative fiction readers, but many will be frustrated by the emotional and structural unadventurousness. Miller doesn’t take many risks here, and these pieces are worse off for it. Agent: Seth Fishman, the Gernert Company. (May)