This collection includes science fiction stories such as: Despite his ability to control the ambient digital cloud, a foster teen falls for a clever con-man. Luring bullies to a quarry, a boy takes clearly enumerated revenge through unnatural powers of suggestion. In the aftermath of a shapeshifting alien invasion, a survivor fears that he brought something out of the Arctic to infect the rest of the world. A rebellious group of queer artists create a new identity that transcends even the anonymity of death.
... Miller’s long-anticipated first collection gathers fourteen pieces of his deliciously strange, sexy, provocative short fiction ... the stories within Boys, Beasts & Men offer 'an essential career retrospective': a glowing tracery of the fantasies, fears, and imaginaries underlying Miller’s fiction through the last decade—as well as his ongoing artistic growth ... One of the things I always appreciate about Miller’s work is his weaving-together of two fictional lineages: the tradition of political queer sf, and the tradition of weird gay art ... While spans a broad range of stories, the gathered pieces craft a cohesive world by deftly layering the 'unreal' fantastic through 'real,' mundane life ... And these prose techniques are grounded by an unapologetic, ferocious queer ethics ... Speculative fiction, then, offers a phenomenal opportunity for exploring the emotional truths of queer history(s): how those plague years felt, how both the survivors and the generations following in their footsteps feel. How our futures altered irreversibly. Reading some of these stories—whether for the second, first, or fourth time—I wept. No big sobs, just the reflexive choking up that comes and goes, the instantaneous tears ... Ultimately, the collected stories of Boys, Beasts & Men overflow with a relentless queer presence. I resonate with the book’s artistic sincerity, as well as its openness to desire, to horny risk and ferocious joy, to the 'everything all at once' mess of gay life. Maybe the framing tale—the slipstream collection of paragraphs giving us the eye, seducing us onto the stroll, as we read further—carries the greatest distillation of these energies. As the narrator writes of the man he follows from the bar, unsure of how their encounter will go or what might spawn from it, 'this, too—this fear, this risk—is part of the joy'. And so I also feel about Miller’s first collection.
While the spectacle itself is impressive enough, a kind of alternate-history literalization of fury, the story gains most of its strength from Miller’s effective use of multiple points of view ... Miller links the tales in Boys, Beasts & Men with short connective interludes that form a kind of ominous tale of its own – he got the idea from Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man, he tells us in his useful story notes – and that ends with the line ‘Take stories, see whole worlds.’ Given the pain and joy that Miller can so vividly evoke, it’s both an admonition and a celebration.
The stories in Sam J. Miller’s debut collection are unified by two core sensibilities: a keen awareness of the power of narrative and a morality that is radical in its compassion ... for all the variety of its stories, Boys, Beasts & Men is still a cohesive whole ... In large part, this is due to Miller’s distinctive voice and how his narratives all revolve, in some way, around love ... In these memorable pieces, Miller wields his efficient, unpretentious prose to create indelible impressions of moments, characters and twists. None of these characters or settings ever feel stale; none of the plot points hang around longer than they’re welcome. Miller deliberately leaves narrative gaps, inviting readers to imagine for themselves what fills those spaces while also encouraging them to find beauty even in the most harrowing times. Through every timeline, every cinematic reference (of which there are many) and speculative monstrosity, Boys, Beasts & Men is a reminder that stories matter, especially the ones we tell ourselves.