Full disclosure time. I have met the author, Charles Coleman Finlay, and I thoroughly enjoyed meeting him and had a delightful discussion with him. Overall, I really like his writing and wish him the best of success. That said, my first piece of unsolicited advice (and most likely worth exactly what he paid for said advice) is that he republish this terrific assortment (mostly) of short stories under a different title and with vastly different cover art.
You see, the cover art has a small boy chasing a slightly demonic looking leprechaun-like character through a forest. The title, "Wild Things", implies more fantasy than science-fiction - which is an immediate turn-off for us non-fantasy sci-fi types. Finlay's first novel, The Prodigal Troll, is much more in the fantasy vein, but his short stories run the fantasy/science fiction gamut and are quite, quite good.
In many ways, Finlay's writing reminds me of early John Varley....not only is the writing good, but the essential kernel of the idea is just simply intriguing and fascinating. In "Pervert", Finlay weaves a futuristic mystery story (with a fabulous mind-bending twist ending that I will not reveal) about a world where religious fanaticism has truly taken over. If the first lines, "There are two kinds of people in the world, homosexuals and hydrosexuals. And then there are perverts like me." don't hook you, then you just are not hookable. Pervert is most scary for what is not written, but what the writing has the reader conjure up having absorbed the prose.
If you had any doubts about where the critics of factory-farming see the world heading, try "A Game of Chicken". Finlay once again manages to produce tension, to introduce a vaguely disquieting disgust without ever becoming polemical or political. Well and quickly drawn characters, doing what comes naturally, do the work without ever seeming either threatening or preachy. Yet, as you hit the last line of this short gem, a small shiver - starting at the back or your neck - is produced.
Mix old Cold War with space travel, politics across planets and galaxies instead of countries and you get "The Political Officer", a taut military action thriller complete with nods to K-19 The Widowmaker and Red October. You can almost see Sean Connery and Harrison Ford in a few of the key parts. Finlay captures the Le Carre-esque inner workings of the security apparatus as well as the tension of military personnel preparing for battle. Well-written and believable....all the while being otherworldly at the same time. Very strong, very good. If it helps, this story has many of the elements that make the military descriptions in Scott Westerfeld's "Risen Empire" series so interesting, i.e., the ring of truth in the details of operation set is a wildly unfamiliar setting.
The only piece I really disliked was "We Come Not To Praise Washington" which is Finlay's attempt at alternative history. I don't know whether I didn't get it or the historical characters simply were so different than my understanding of them that I could not get into it or whether the concept didn't hold together. Whatever the reason, the story did not work for me. But it was really the only one in the whole collection that didn't work for me. That is outstanding in my experience for a short story collection.
Finlay does do fantasy....and while I typically have a minor allergic reaction (remember, I am the guy who would rather reread Dune 3 times than reread the Tolkien trilogy once), I rather liked "After the Gaud Chrysalis". In a short piece, achieving that rare situation where you convincingly create a whole different world (like Herbert, Varley, and Tolkien can do) is very tough to do and Finlay does much more than a journeyman's job in drawing you into this odd and different civilization. My biggest problem with most fantasy writing is not that the world being created is different, but that many authors cheap out and let "magic" explain the hard parts. For me much of that ends up being simply not credible. "After the Gaud Chrysalis" avoids that problem for the most part and it is the unfamiliar but credible that draws you in. I rather liked this one much better than the title story, "Wild Thing", but that is more to my taste than to Finlay's skill.
Finlay is an exciting new sci-fi writer. Mostly in the style of Varley, where really weird, fascinating, and thoroughly unique ideas are coupled with quickly drawn interesting characters in a convincing but only mildly familiar context, Finlay has great potential.
I hope he keeps writing short stories.