Title: Release The Virgins
By: Michael A. Ventrella, editor
Published by: Fantastic Books
Review copy sent by Publisher
Review by Ida Vega-Landow
This is the second best book I’ve ever read that was written on a dare. The first was “Frankenstein” by 18-year-old Mary Shelley, after she and her future husband, the poet Percy Shelley, spent a wet summer at the Villa Diodati in Switzerland with their friend Lord Byron, where it wouldn’t stop raining. They spent most of their time reading ghost stories in front of the fireplace during all those dark and stormy nights, which inspired Byron to suggest that they all write a ghost story of their own. Poor Mary spent many sleepless nights wracking her brain to come up with a scary story, until she had a nightmare about “a scientist who created life and was horrified by what he had made; her dream later evolved into the novel’s story.”[Wikipedia, “Frankenstein”]. I think we all agree that Mary Shelley won that competition.
Michael Ventrella agreed to edit this collection of twisted tales after spending a weekend at an unnamed fan con, while he and a group of literary friends were sitting at a table in the bar on the third night of this four-day convention. One of them caught a fruit fly, which led to a discussion about biology, during which Thomas Nackid, who became the book’s cover artist, told them about his time in college when he was taking a genetics class and had to get up in the middle of the night to “release the virgins” from the fruit fly cultures. This catchy phrase so inspired the other authors that an idea was born; a challenge to write a story which included the phrase “Release the virgins”.
After agreeing to collect stories for the anthology, Ventrella decided to throw open the submissions process to everyone. In the book’s introduction, he admits that he was “worried that we would not get a large enough variety of stories to make this worthwhile”. But after a week, he was forced to announce, “No more unicorns!” As a longtime unicorn lover, I for one would have enjoyed reading more than the one unicorn story he included in this anthology; “Valedictory” by Lawrence Watt-Evans, which is about a girl who, along with a group of other village maidens, acts as bait to lure the unicorns at the local preserve every year so their horns can be harvested for medicinal purposes.
But despite the dearth of unicorn stories, the rest of the stories he selected, by such well-known and eminent authors of sci-fi and fantasy as David Gerrold, Keith R.A. DeCandido, even my homeboy Patrick Thomas of “Murphy’s Lore” fame, all contain the required phrase, “Release the virgins”, a small pearl hidden within a tasty oyster of prose. Some of those oysters are tastier than others, at least from my point of view. Stories such as “Are You There, Cthulhu? It’s Me, Judy” by Beth W. Patterson, about a teenage Cthulhu worshipper at summer camp, and “Coming Attractions” by Daniel M. Kimmel, about an alien who becomes a successful Hollywood scriptwriter/producer, could have used a bit of cocktail sauce. Though I do like the way that Ms. Patterson managed to smuggle the phrase “Release the virgins” into her story. (The teenaged protagonist listens to her iPod while she’s riding horses; among her musical favorites is a group called The Virgins. She remarks to one of her friends, “I wish that some label would release The Virgins as a box set”.)
Among my favorites is “Sidekicked” by Hildy Silverman about an alternate universe Earth divided into Heroics and Villains by a godlike alien called the Architect, “with a smattering of ordinary folks to save or torment”, in which a teenage girl villain called Teen Devil accidently kills a hero’s sidekick and tries to make it up to him by replacing the boy, for her own nefarious purposes of course. There’s also “Innocence Lost” by Gail Z. Martin, where a witchy woman who’s a psychometric (able to read the history and magic of objects by touching them) finds an antique statue of the Virgin Mary stolen by the man who just bumped into her and uses it to find out that the man in question has been stealing statures of the Blessed Virgin from Catholic Churches, along with other holy images known for healing and warding off evil, to protect himself from a demon he accidently conjured up and can’t get rid of. All those statues of the Virgin Mary naturally lead to the required phrase, as in “…we need to get him to release the Virgins so they can go back to the churches where they belong.” The book is filled with better and worse ways of using the phrase, so be prepared to laugh or groan accordingly.
Patrick Thomas’s “The Running of the Drones” and David Gerrold’s “Dangerous Virgins”, which end the book, are neck and neck for sheer audacity. I can’t decide which story I liked better; Patrick’s is about a private investigator on a Terran colony world trying to find the lost virgin queen of a hive of Wornets, whose inexperienced drones, all eager to mate with her, hold a yearly race similar to the running of the bulls in Pamplona to determine who gets to her first. David’s story is about fan fiction and the weirdos who love it, writers and readers alike. (Don’t get your knickers in a twist, Space Cadets, I’m one of you and I include myself in the weirdo category.) One fanfic writer in particular and the know-it-all Trekker determined to bring him down for daring to satirize Star Trek and write dirty porn versions of all the sacred original Series episodes we adore (A Private Little Whore, Charle-SeX, The Naked Slime, I could go on and on but I’m both repulsed and fascinated by this nonsense, like a Vulcan on the verge of her seven-year itch). You’ll have to wait till the end of David’s story to see how he used the phrase, but Patrick comes right out with it at the beginning of the drones’ race to mate with their virgin queen.
All in all, I found “Release The Virgins” to be a very satisfying read. Some of the stories were more satisfying than others, but even the worse ones I had to give an A for effort. Get a copy of your own and spend some time releasing the virgins while pondering whether to imprison or release the writers responsible for all these virgin efforts. (But I still think it could have used more unicorn stories!)