Patrick Lenton’s short story collection, Sexy Tales of Paleontology, is a fun, weird trip through an imaginative mind fed by pop culture, queerness, and joy in the otherwise mundane. Ranging in length from a paragraph to a three-part novella, these stories traverse the spectrum of speculative fiction, from giant killer robots to recalcitrant teens to doomsday preppers falling in love.

Although on the surface these are stories of weird, strange, funny, and impossible things happening in an offbeat version of the world we know, every story is driven by deeply recognisable human emotion and experience: revenge, loneliness, love, regret, trauma, kindness, peer-pressure, grief. Lenton uses robots, monsters, mammals, and lizards, as well as strange, impossible situations that can only be found in a fevered, well-read imagination, to explore depths and corners of the human experience. Queer experiences in particular radiate through most of the narratives, sometimes remarkable and a cornerstone of the plot, sometimes ordinary and mentioned in passing. But they are always undeniably present and real as the kind of writing that doesn’t rely on tired and unnecessary tragedy tropes. The first story in particular embodies this, about an individual who is 43 rats wearing a trenchcoat. It is a sort of parable of the queer experience, of public expectation versus private experience. It is, overall, refreshing and a relief.

A scientist with ailing lizards realises that love is the missing ingredient, with gory consequences.

A woman misses her dog to the point where she manifests an eldritch terror to replace it.

A million-dollar sex robot discovers sentience and then, eventually, regret, bringing to a halt the human vs AI robot war.

And a stray Kardashian relative finds a way to make all the unwanted attention work for him.

The stories of Sexy Tales are highly reminiscent of Julie Koh’s Portable Curiosities, but a step in a slightly more hopeful, less darkly sarcastic direction. And it is succinctly wrapped up in an otherwise nonsensical title: ‘sexy’ being what a person feels when they are truly comfortable in their own skin, and ‘paleontology’ being the study of fossilised life – life that had passed on but is undeniably present.

Read it for fun, read it to deconstruct, read it to de-stress; Sexy Tales of Paleontology is for everyone.

I was provided a free copy of this book by the publisher in return for an honest review.

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