Truth & Dare is the latest book published by queer publishers Cipher Press, and the debut fiction collection of essayist and writer So Mayer. The collection is full of both familiarity and strangeness, as Mayer takes us forwards and backwards in time, writing queer experience and futurity through a loving library, vampire relatives and space-time continuums warped by the search for the perfect dick. The stories traverse theme and genre, but queerness and gender-fuckery is persistent in all the worlds they take us too. Mayer imagines the fall of capitalism, a visit from the Devil, the end of the world. The Mayerverse is vast and full of possibility.
It is clear from the first page that we are in the hands of a writer who loves language, who rolls words around like wet clay, forming words and then reforming them, linking, playing, subverting. Words live at their fingertips.
Some stories are sci-fi, some scientific. Some are memoir, others essay. Some are allegoric, personal, fantastical. This is both a joy and a difficulty of the book. With such a range of stories held in one place there are always going to be those each reader connects more and less with.
Particular favourites of mine include 'Changing <=’, a reflection on the contrast between the gendered world we live in and the genderless possibilities of the underwater, what it means to swim vs what it means to swim in shared spaces, public pools.
‘Lyonesses’ is about a team of mermaids who grow legs and become football players. Their success is underscored by the same public anger we see lanced at trans people in sport. They are “shamed for our tails, told to jam them between our legs, which are called false because we made them for ourselves.”
In ‘fairy’ Mayer looks at Dead Poets Society through a queer lense, and asks: “where is there room for fairies” vs “faerie”?
‘ghost’ imagines poltergeists as our future queer selves - “a barely contained potential energy” - haunting children who aren’t allowed to be themselves yet.
Again and again, Mayer finds astonishing new ways to talk about, to investigate, to explode gender and sexuality on the page and the collection is conceptually astounding.
The writing is thick with references, a credit to the dexterity of Mayer’s own mind, how much it must hold, how quickly it can move. I could read this collection again and again and find more each time. But when the reader is being sent in so many directions so often, the story can get lost. And when the world-building is reliant on these references, the narratives can become hard to see/ visualise if these points of reference are not shared.
For this reason it is a book to give time to, to read slowly, to read again. Allow time to go in all the directions you are being sent and then to come back to where you started.
This collection confirms Mayer as a brilliant writer, thinker and storyteller, and it is a book to keep revisiting across a lifetime.
Buy your copy of Truth & Dare directly from Cipher Press here.