"What is it about tentacles that capture the imagination like nothing else? From The Dream of the Fisherman's Wife to the eldritch horrors of Lovecraft, what horrifies us often arouses us, too."
It was that blurb intro that first caught my attention and convinced me to give Tall, Dark, and Wriggly a read - despite its somewhat corny title and cover that leads little to the imagination. What we have here are four stories edited by D.K. Jernigan, spanning the genre spectrum from science fiction to horror, and from romance to erotica.
D.K. Jernigan opens things herself with A Bargain - the strongest, most interesting, and most well-rounded story in the collection. A coming-of-age romance, this one has a decidedly faery tale feel to it that works. It's a tale of life by the sea, of not fitting in, and of finding oneself in a bargain of a very unusual nature. There's some real drama and suspense here, with an erotic element that's far more sensual than explicit, putting a tentacle twist on mermaids.
Chained to the Wheel by Angelia Sparrow is the one story in the collection that I didn't care for. Not that there's anything wrong with Sparrow's writing - in fact, I've enjoyed her work before - but I simply don't get the appeal of 'cyber' tales. That disconnect from physical reality robs the tale of all drama and suspense for me, negating any sort of threat or peril. I know, I know, there are very often real-world consequences to life online, but they just hold no appeal for me.
The first of two interstellar sci-fi tales, A Home Among the Stars is, by far, the strongest in terms of world-building and cultural exploration. Gryvon presents us with the tale of a young man rescued from the religious intolerance of his homeworld and thrust into a whole other situation. I really liked the evolution of Aaron's character, and found him to be quite enjoyable. The romantic tentacle encounter is teased early on, and looms over much of the story, but it's still a pleasant surprise in the way it finally takes place. The ending didn't quite work for me - it just asked too much of the reader in terms of suspension of disbelief - but that doesn't ruin the overall effect.
Finally, Deadline is the one story that actually opens with the tentacle romance, and then goes on to explore the consequences. Peter Hansen explores themes of sexual orientation and xenophobia in a story that starts out bold and fun, and then becomes much darker. While the characters were a bit thin, and didn't really engage on an emotional level, there was some genuine suspense here that made me wonder if or how it would all be resolved.
Overall, Tall, Dark, and Wriggly wasn't quite the collection I expected - I would have enjoyed some darker, more horrific themes - but it was an interesting read that I suspect will have some cross-genre and wide-audience appeal.
Kindle Edition, 115 pages
Published May 9th 2014 by Storm Moon Press