Review of Xen, “Cracks”, in Steve Berman, ed., Wilde Stories 2018: The Year’s Best Gay Speculative Fiction (Lethe Press, 2018): 113-154 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)
I’ll admit, I started this story, struggled some ways into it, quit, and moved on to the next one in the anthology, promising myself to revisit it soon. “Soon” ended up being more than a month later, after I’d finished all the other stories, and had only this one left to review.
The second go at it went better, because it was more familiar; I wasn’t constantly double-checking who was who, or trying to compile all the little details of world-building that I was being fed, sometimes too obliquely to really understand how they fit together. But I still struggled; the process of reading it was simply a lot of work and I never felt like I was getting close to the characters. It’s also long — one of the longest, if not the longest in the anthology — and ended up taking me two nights to get through. Finally, by about 3/4 of the way in, I felt like I’d slipped into the rhythm of it, and knew enough of the background/history to be able to follow what was happening.
Ordinarily, it’s not a story I would have finished, but I did, and the ending rewarded my persistence. It has the sort of sweet, hopeful ending that marks out so many of the stories in this anthology, and in the 2017 edition of the same. That sort of happiness in the face of bleak despair is worth reading for.