Originally published in 1991, Steam by Jay B. Laws is a gay horror novel that was timely in its day, could be read today as a throwback by horror fans who were around back then, and would probably have to be consumed as a time capsule by horror fans born post-80s.
Gay horror author Hal Bodner writes the new intro, in which he references several times that the book might be foreign to modern readers because it deals with AIDS and bathhouses. On top of that, it regularly drops the names of seventies disco songs and is comfortingly retro for Gen-Xers like me, because characters don’t have the convenience of cellphones and even experience the horrors of phone booths. Eek! But seriously, it shouldn’t be considered “foreign” to modern readers—it should be looked at as an entertaining fictional horror story that offers a view of our gay past to a new generation of gay men, who should know where we came from to know where we could be heading.
Steam has to be read carefully because it jumps from one seemingly unconnected character and story to the other. The trick is to realize there are two different “realities” occurring. David, the main character, is dealing with a friend dying of AIDS in 1980s San Francisco when he begins to experience inexplicable, supernatural occurrences. Meanwhile, happily partnered Mick is being terrorized by an obscene phone caller, and a chain of events leads him to believe the caller has infected him with some sort of disease.
As David and Mick are haunted by nightmarish men and monsters, their connection becomes clear—in a twist right out of Stephen King, one of the two men has spawned from the creative mind of the other. The two realities must come together to conquer the hideous sexual predator that is drawing men into its bathhouse of horrors.
Along with similarities to Stephen King, Steam delivers surreal “other realms” and hellish, psychosexual situations in an openly gay context that should appeal to fans of Clive Barker as well.
Steam by Jay B. Laws is now available in paperback and ebook format from ReQueered Tales.