Glitter & Mayhem is an anthology of fantasy, science-fiction, and horror that takes mythology to a nightclub, dusts it with glitter, gets it drunk, then takes it out onto the dance floor to grind the night away.
It's one of the more interesting anthology themes I've seen recently, even if it is a bit hard to define. Something something parties mumble glam rock. While I didn't love every story in Glitter & Mayhem (when does that ever happen, anyway?), it occurred to me that many of these stories would not have been written at all without such an oddball theme for the authors to bounce off of, which is pretty cool. I mean, maybe stories about cosplaying cops, psychic vampire roller rinks, and anthropomorphized cocktails were just laying around waiting for the right anthology, who knows?
If you look closely at a nightclub scene or the lives of party monsters, you inevitably find a hollow darkness, or perhaps a rotten core. There are lots of interesting stories to be told about that darkness, and the best ones in this book do (like Rachel Swirsky's "All That Fairy Tale Crap" and William Shunn and Laura Chavoen's "Subterraneans"). The weaker stories seem desperate to glorify constant hedonism, resulting in stories that feel shallow and glib.
There are two stories in Glitter & Mayhem focused on the travails of roller derby teams. They also happened to be the two stories I didn't finish. Not that I have anything against roller derby, but both had a sort of chatty tone that wasn't to my liking. I was also a bit disappointed with Cory Skerry's "Sooner Than Gold," because it's an excellent story that screeches to an abrupt halt. It feels unfinished, like the first chapter of a novel. I'd love to read the novel, but as a short story it felt like a tease.
The anthology gathers steam the deeper you go. Like all good parties, there's a subtle undercurrent of latent eroticism in many of the stories. It only bubbles up to the surface occasionally, like in the almost-threesome in Diana Rowland's "Blood and Sequins," and in the aforementioned "All That Fairy Tale Crap," which starts right off with Cinderella going down on one of her step-sisters.
The characters are a diverse lot. Tons of female protagonists. Tons of queer protagonists. Tons of mythological creatures living in the contemporary world protagonists. I list those together because I think there's a connection, possibly the strongest single theme running through all these stories. Stories about selkies and sirens and their modern problems reframe the villains of fairy tales and myths (the "other" the virtuous heroes are so often aligned against), placing that "other" front and center, looking at things from their point of view. It is not a stretch to realize that trans people, people in polyamorous relationships, and gay people have also been treated as the other; also seek a reframing.
This culminates in one of my favorite stories in Glitter & Mayhem, Amal El-Mohtar's "A Hollow Play." A polytriad of uncommon mythical creatures meet a human in the throes of longing for a missing friend. They can all help each other, but the dynamics of the relationship create an aching, haunting sense of loss. This is the "pebble in your shoe" story for me, the one that stuck with me long after I read it.
My other favorites include "The Electric Spanking of the War Babies," by Maurice Broaddus and Kyle S. Johnson, which takes the spaced out psychedelic science-fiction of Parliament-Funkadelic's mothership connection, rolls it around in some Sly Stone and Jimi Hendrix, and takes it all deadly seriously. You would think a story populated by "Afronauts" from a galactic empire powered by Groove would be played for laughs, but that would be Unfunky.
Daryl Gregory's "Just Another Future Song" is an elaborate homage to David Bowie, a montage of imagery from Bowie's lyrics with a killer one-liner ending. It requires a certain facility with Bowie's back catalog – if you don't recognize the Moon Boys or lines about sailors fighting in dance halls, it will be only so much gibberish. Tansy Rayner Roberts' "The Minotaur Girls" achieves both a vertiginous sense of weirdness and a deep nostalgia for the childhood we can never reclaim. "Two-Minute Warning" by Vylar Kaftan is an all-too-brief slice of cyberpunk about a virtual reality combat game called Dancekill.
It's devilishly difficult to review an anthology. "You will like some of these stories. Others you may not like." I'd have maybe liked a bit more Iggy Pop and a little less Donna Summer. But Glitter & Mayhem gets high marks for going places not a lot of anthologies go, for letting authors play with unusual ideas, and for what is likely an unintentional unifying theme: the outsiders coming in to enjoy the party, as long as it lasts.