Queer Little Nightmares: An Anthology of Monstrous Fiction and Poetry
David Ly & Daniel Zomparelli, eds.
Paperback / Ebook
Arsenal Pulp Press, October 4, 2022, 272 pgs
There are a lot of publishers you might not have heard of, but most of them are not doing the kind of important work that Arsenal Pulp has been doing for quite a while. Landmark titles include 2004 anthology So Long Been Dreaming: Postcolonial Science Fiction and Fantasy, edited by Nalo Hopkinson and Uppinder Mehan, which featured early work by Karin Lowachee, Nnedi Okorafor, and Vandana Singh among others, including Eden Robinson’s powerful short story “Terminal Avenue;” and Joshua Whitehead’s anthology Love After the End: An Anthology of Two-Spirit & Indigiqueer Speculative Fiction, one of the very few speculative fiction anthologies focusing specifically on work by Indigenous authors, and perhaps the only one of these to focus specifically on queer and two-spirit authors from within those populations. In fact, this small press that you might not have heard of has been showcasing marginalized authors and getting nominated for (and sometimes winning) awards for over fifty years.
This review is a bit late, but dear reader, I hope you’ll forgive me. Just as Nalo’s anthology1 was overlooked by a lot of the major genre outlets, its publisher tends to get overlooked—and I’d like to give them some space and consideration. So let me tell you about some of my favorite reads from a fun horror anthology called Queer Little Nightmares!
Jessica Cho’s poem “Declassified” opens the book, and this is a great strategy, because it’s marvelous. Cho demonstrates mastery of phrasing and imagery while also, in a few brief lines developing a fully formed narrative, complete with an unexpected but brilliant ending. The piece is full of vivid emotions, movement, and meaning. It’s also a quick read, one which makes you want to read more.
Short story “The Ghost of Pride Past” by Cicely Belle Blain utilizes straightforward but well-crafted and effective prose, bringing the reader into the life of Bradley who, at first, seems like a fairly familiar aging queer. Familiar, because he is in many ways somebody that many of us can probably relate to. The aching joints. The questionable choices. The coping mechanisms. As the narrative orients the reader, making the experience even more palpable, you quickly realize Bradley has some traits that hopefully are not your own. What follows is similar to A Christmas Carol to a degree, albeit condensed, and with a vengeful ending instead of a redemptive one. It makes sense, since Bradley is the type who has done things which have had permanent and terrible effects. This isn’t going to be fixed by buying someone a turkey. Moreover . . . well, this is a horror anthology, and vengeance is definitely a horror tradition.
Levi Cain’s “Gruesome My Love” is kind of . . . beautiful? It’s a great take on outcast lovers, where a human is dating a demon and no one can seem to accept it. It might be because death and chaos is an ever-present part of their relationship. This isn’t a “smoldering hot” demon you might see on some Buffy rerun, Charmed reboot, or erotic fantasy book cover: this is one of those monstrosities whose presence causes anyone who sees it to flee, vomit, or pass out. But the story excels at being both entertaining and an examination-through-exaggeration of the very real trials of queer relationships: what is painful in real life is rendered humorous and gory and larger-than-life in the narrative. Because said narrative is focused on the relationship, and the story of lovers who have found each other but can’t find acceptance—rather than an author just trying their best to stuff a story with what they think people will see as weird—the piece succeeds where others with similar ideas might stumble. It is, in fact, weird, over-the-top demon stuff, and it is also well-written and awesome.
“The Vetala’s Song” by Anuja Varghese begins with an effective opening, using intriguing ideas and subtle tensions to build strong reader engagement. Then Varghese layers in nuanced notes on cultural interactions, as well as more personal-feeling notes on hidden and forbidden love. The love story itself is relayed briefly, yet lands as touching and tender without being saccharine, which is a testament to the skill of the author. The underlying drive of the point of view character also drives the read. Pain and prejudice and vengeance are motifs, but the throughline is actually love and connectedness, and it’s a powerful message, singing through the horrors of the world. Really wonderful, moving work.
“The Creation Of Eve” by Victoria Mbabazi is another fantastic poem. Simply powerful from the outset, not just in themes but in language, structure, and word choice. Seething and clever, each line compels the reader to keep going, until landing pure, glowing empowerment with a few final words. Absolutely breathtaking.
David Ly and Daniel Zomparelli have pulled together a talented set of authors, and the above is a sampler of what’s in store. If you like short fiction and poetry, this is a good book to pick up. If you’re looking for work by authors from typically marginalized demographics, then you need to get this anthology. As for Arsenal Pulp, they don’t exclusively publish speculative titles, but they do put out a bunch of work which deserves more attention. Start by browsing their online catalog (arsenalpulp.com) and give allied publisher PM Press a glance while you’re looking around.
1 Consider the impact this book had on N.K. Jemisin as testament: bit.ly/3IhBJCr.
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