Paula Guran Reviews Boys, Beasts & Men by Sam J. Miller

Boys, Beasts & Men, Sam J. Miller (Tachyon 978-1-61696-3729, $17.95, 330pp. tp) June 2022. Cover by Jennifer O’Toole.

Occasional encounters with Sam J. Miller’s novels (The Art of Starving, Blackfish City) and short stories certainly impress, but only an assemblage like this can truly display his talent, versatility, imagination, and flat-out uniqueness. Warning: all story descriptions herein are lacking because they cannot come close to conveying the nuance and many layers Miller mixes into a story. His tales invariably strike deep into both a reader’s heart and gut. Unabashedly queer, he frequently explores the relationships between par­ents and children, friends and lovers, and siblings, but those connections often act as an arc for an overall meaning: together we can, collectively, do something about the monsters.

“The Heat of Us: Notes Toward an Oral His­tory” is about Stonewall, resistance, and activism. Collective power is, perhaps, most plainly con­veyed in “Angel, Monster, Man”, which begins in 1987 when a trio of gay men invent “Tom Minniq” – a synthesis of the many brilliant, queer artists who died before their time. Tom transcends their invention.

A living dinosaur is discovered in “Allosaurus Burgers”, but the true story is about the moment a son learns his mother is merely human. The US has become a place to immigrate from in “Calved”, but mostly it is the heart-rending story of a man who does a tragically wrong thing in an effort to gain his son’s love. In “When Your Child Strays from God” a son is growing into someone his mother does not comprehend. She uses a drug that induces shared hallucinations to pursue him. It’s a wild and wacky but still profound story. “Conspicuous Plumage” concerns a young woman who wants to see how her brother was killed. It’s a lovely story about a brutal murder.

A gay 16-year-old uses a special power to wreak revenge on six vicious bullies and loses a friend in “57 Reasons for the Slate Quarry Suicides”. “We Are the Cloud” is set in the near-future where human brains – inevitably those of the poor – are used for data processing. A cloud-porting gentle giant of a young man in foster care learns that desire is a dangerous thing and that he is more powerful than anyone imagines. “Shucked” explores how one never really knows those one loves. Set in revolutionary Russia, “The Beasts We Want to Be” involves a strange painting and a young man who loses the friend who helped him realize who his is. Lonely In “Ghosts of Home”, Agnes appeases household spirits in bank-owned dwellings that are doomed by imminent destruction. She discovers the spirits have a special mission for her and to never take either love or a home for granted.

Movies are a starting point for a couple of stories. Something of King Kong still survives in “Shattered Sidewalks of the Human Heart”. The Things from The Thing film take on a wildly different meaning in “Things with Beards”. “Sun in an Empty Room”, original to the collection, is told from the point of view of a canary yellow Salvation Army sofa.

There is also a story contained in fifteen connecting “chapters” that introduce sections. Among other things, it tells us “the world is way weirder and more full of monsters than any of us ever suspect…” and that “telling stories is a way to feel less like the only creature like me in the whole dark, cold cosmic multiverse.” After read­ing Boys, Beasts & Men one can’t help but feel Sam J. Miller realizes the truth of these statements more than most of us. Learn from him.

Paula Guran has edited more than 40 science fiction, fantasy, and horror anthologies and more than 50 novels and collections featuring the same. She’s reviewed and written articles for dozens of publications. She lives in Akron OH, near enough to her grandchildren to frequently be indulgent.

This review and more like it in the July 2022 issue of Locus.

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