“Caught by Skin” by Steve Berman from Second Thoughts: More Queer and Weird Stories (Lethe Press, 2008).

Do you remember that I said, in the reviews of the stories in the author’s first collection, that between the time when I first read them and when I re-read them for this project, my memory had ascribed authorship of several of the pieces to other people, because they were of such a wide variety of styles?

Yeah, that.

It’s not quite twenty years from right now. At least I think it’s twenty, and not a hundred and twenty, or two hundred and twenty years. It’s “5.35”, so May, 2035, and the story world doesn’t feel all that different from certain portions of the world today, I’m sad to say. I suspect these characters would feel right at home in the gay nightlife districts of many cities. Or the not gay ones, for that matter, anywhere that’s sadistically trendy or given over to keeping up with the Jonses Kardashians and keeping up appearances. The main character seems to be close kin to the “real” housewives of Bravo, closer still to the Stepford Wives. And look – we’ve left behind worship of the golden calf of Capitalism and come back around to literature and cultural criticism.

Main character Shawn sips a drink in a bar and scans the crowd looking for a familiar face. It’s more difficult than you’d imagine, because this is a future in which faces can be picked from a catalog, stretched over bone and stitched on. It’s not enough anymore to have the right hairstyle, clothing and car. Plastic surgery has become de rigueur, and what’s in changes faster than the inventory at Target.

As I said before, it’s 5.35. Shawn’s face, though, is an 8.34. He’s searching the crowd for his best friend, Nate, who he believes adopted the 1.35 look, and maybe since has even gone to 5.35, meaning he’s far trendier than Shawn, much more up to date. He’s probably hanging with his “gaggle”, i.e. other guys with his same face. Who would hang with a loser sporting last fall’s look?

(Side note: Years ago a group I worked with—so, technical theatre folk—agreed/decreed that the correct term for a group of actors is a gaggle and the correct term for a group of technicians is a shitload.)

I’m certain this story made enemies, and I’m pretty sure the author doesn’t care, or at least decided not to let that stop him. If you read the notes following the entries in this collection you already know he has…How shall I say this? Nerves of steel. Not the exact term I had in mind, but the more polite one.

How does the saying go? Courage is not the lack of fear, but rather the judgment that something is more important than fear.

Did I say steel?  I meant titanium.