I selected this anthology for the simple fact that there are not enough inter-species love stories featuring tentacles. As a young man, I read Lovecraft and the tentacles were always associated with the darkness, evil, madness, and death. Tall, Dark, and Wriggly blows all of that out of the water and gives us a clear view of the benefits of a partner with multiple appendages. Oh the possibilities.
A Bargain by D.K. Jernigan
Small, thin and weak, Julian is of no use to his father’s fishing fleet, regardless of the skills he can offer. Having been unable to save his brother from drowning, Julian’s father is bitter and his mother indifferent. While wandering the breakwater, Julian spies Kith and strikes a bargain with the odd man in the water. A kiss, a simple kiss, is all it takes to seal the deal. The following week, the stakes are higher but the reward is justified. The third week brings chaos: Julian’s father followed him and attempts to capture Kith for his own purposes. Julian helps Kith escape, but now his own life hangs in the balance.
This was an interesting spin-off on the mermaid theme, but with a distinctly tentacular bent. Julian makes the best of a bad situation and we learn enough about him, his dreams, goals, and aspirations, to make his decisions and actions make sense. I am not saying that I liked those decisions, mind you, but at least enough information was supplied to help me to understand him. Kith is another thing altogether (pun intended) as his motivations for getting involved with Julian were not as clear to me.
Chained to the Wheel by Angelia Sparrow
Niall, aka the “Timberwolf,” may be the best Net-runner out there, but crossing Erik Ezikiel, owner of Ezikiel InfoTech, is a bad idea. A very bad idea. Erik has the resources, both in and outside of the Net, to catch him a wolf and then teach him a lesson he will never forget. Forced into a life of slavery, Niall thinks it is not all that bad until he considers that everyone he knew, both family and lover, are all gone forever. The life of slavery may be luxurious, but it comes at a steep price, or so Niall realizes in the end.
Chained to the Wheel was the type of story where I lamented the choices made by the protagonist at every turn. I just knew it was going to turn out badly for Niall but, of course, there was nothing I could do but read the story to what I thought would be its obvious conclusion. Both Niall ad Erik seemed a little on the two-dimensional side, Niall showing the most depth of the two, especially as he reminisces about family and friends that he will never see again. As for the story, not much new here. This reminded me of the Matrix, Tron, and any of the myriad of Sci-Fi stories out there, well except for the, you guessed it, tentacles.
A Home Among the Stars by Gryvon
Aaron is not cut out for life on Opus Dei, where homosexuality is against the law. With the help of his uncle Max, Aaron escapes to the stars on The Copernicus. Upon arriving at the space station, Aaron enlists the aid of Tiberius to locate his new employer, Ilyan. Ilyan is nothing like anything Aaron has ever seen before and the cantankerous half man, half octopus captures Aaron’s imagination and shows Aaron a side that no one else has ever seen. After a night of drinking, Aaron’s attraction to Ilyan can be contained no longer.
It may seem hard to believe that a naive young man from a backwards planet could adapt as well as Aaron did, but Gryvon managed to craft his character in a way that made the behaviour make sense. The cantankerous employer and the, for lack of a better word, comic relief, all meshed together to create a wonderful story of self-discovery. I can’t really say too much about Ilyan who was, by necessity, a shallow, two-dimensional character until the very end, and let me tell you, what an ending it was!
Deadline by Peter Hansen
Jonah and his husband Othosh have an unconventional relationship, not because they are both male, but rather because Othosh has tentacles, very handy tentacles. But two miles below the surface of the sea, Jonah has a job to do and Othosh is a distraction of a physical nature, and more importantly, dangerous if others found out about them. Snared in a trap, they can only hope that their captors are friendly and not looking for riches or worse, specimens.
Ah love, sweet, distracting love. This story had some good elements in it, but in the end, it left me felling flat. The characters, both main and secondary, were not engaging and the premise of the story and Jonah’s lackadaisical attitude toward his work, which he professed to loving and needing to do, bugged me a bit. There were some interesting turns of events between Jonah, Othosh, and their captors that although amusing, did not feel realistic to me.
Some sweet, and a serious amount of heat is to be had in Tall, Dark, and Wriggly and I for one will be revisiting some of these stories in the future, especially A Home Among the Stars which was my favorite story by far.