Rating: 3.5 stars
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Tangents & Tachyons is an anthology of short stories ranging from classic science fiction — with aliens, time travel, and dystopian futures — to a battle between angels and demons, all coming together in the story of a closeted gay man in the 1980s working as the editor of a ‘zine called Prolepsis (also the title of one of the stories) who is given a submission by a mysterious author who is not what, or who, he seems to be.
In Prolepsis, we meet Sean Miller. Sean loves science fiction, the endless array of stories that span all of human emotion and potential with an eye forever forward, looking into a bright and hopeful future with space travel, domes on the moon, terraforming, alien species, and an entire galaxy open to exploration. It helps if they’re well written, of course, if the characters have charm and charisma, if the plots are engaging, but some days, you have to settle for salacious or popular just to move copies.
When I.H. Tragitto sends him an envelope — a pink envelope — Sean is taken aback. Not just because of the envelope, but because of the story. While there have been gay characters lurking on the edges of stories in the mid ‘80s, they have never taken center stage like they do in Tragitto’s story. A story where a man is married to another man. A husband. And for Sean, it’s a revelation. It inspires him to reach out on CompuServe (an early social media platform) to see if anyone knows anything about the author. Instead, he meets a kid — well, someone not yet legal, at any rate — who ends up reaching out to Sean. A kid who tells him he’s gay, and who ends up being the first person Sean comes out to.
With that fuse lit, Sean’s life explodes. He takes chances, both with the ‘zine and his life. He comes out to his roommate, to his sister. He flirts. He goes on a date. And through it all, I.H. Traggito stays a shadowy, hidden figure. Sean’s decision to publish the first Tragitto story and then the second, changes everything. Because representation matters, in science fiction, in fantasy, in everything. For Sean to be able to show gay characters having adventures, meeting aliens, flying to the moon and beyond, it shows young gay, lesbian, genderqueer, and nonbinary people that they are just as valid. Their dreams, their aspirations, their stories are worth being read.
It’s the strongest story of the collection, but I do have a fondness for Praidolia, which reads a little like the X-men combined with the Midwich Cuckoos, to me. Simon, a young man, has always had a gift. He can bring patterns to life. Imagine looking at the clouds and being able to turn the bunny or the dog or the giant hand into an actual thing reaching back at you, something that everyone else can see. To hide it, Sean wears glasses that perpetually blur his vision; he tries not to focus on shapes. He tries to fit in. When a professor approaches him, telling him that he’s not alone, Simon is whisked into a group of people just like himself. But when push comes to shove, will Simon choose to follow the life he had before — a mom, a job, school — or follow his gift to the stars that call to him?
Several of the stories in this book have been published previously and at different times in their life — either in other collections or as stories on their own. Each story has a small comment from the author on when it was written, and what inspired it. The majority of the stories feel either like the ending chapter of a book I haven’t read, or a middle chapter, and while each are self-contained worlds, it does make for some jarring reading. Even if I didn’t connect to all of the stories in this collection, I truly enjoyed two of them very much, and the writing was strong, the ideas were clear, and the author’s voice, as seen in their characters, came through strongly.
Prolepsis does sound intriguing! Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Elizabeth.