Jay Tobias Lake, . . Prime, $29.95 (160pp) ISBN 978-1-930997-57-8

Considered one of the rising young stars of fantasy fiction, the prolific Lake amply demonstrates his talent in his second story collection (after 2003's Greetings from Lake Wu ). Set in the author's home state of Texas, these 16 tales mostly involve down-and-out types, illiterates and no-goods, people who devote their time to drinking, fornicating and just holding on. High points include the arresting title tale, a ghostly yarn of adultery and revenge; "The Oxygen Man," which imagines a future where the poor live in plastic-sheeted hovels, hoarding the tokens needed to purchase breathable air; "The Goat Cutter," which details a young man's unfortunate meeting with the devil; "Naked and Homeless on Golgotha," in which a schizophrenic has a similarly unfortunate encounter with Christ; and "Pax Agricola," which concerns the dangers inherent in too much good luck and explains why one should never purchase one's vegetable seeds from hippies. By turns horrific and hilariously funny (or both), these beautifully written stories feature strong characters, a well-delineated sense of place and a powerfully skewed vision of the world. (Mar.)

Forecast: Having corralled a John W. Campbell Award, as well as Hugo and World Fantasy nominations, Lake could win more major awards with this outstanding effort. A blurb from Alex Irvine will alert his fans.