From veteran Friedman--prolific short-fiction writer and novelist (Let's Hear It for a Beautiful Guy, The Current Climate, etc.), as well as playwright and screenwriter--comes this collection of 40-plus disparate and darkly humorous tales. Included are the never-before-published ``The Gentle Revolutionaries'' and ``Age Before Beauty,'' along with the previously uncollected ``Icing on the Cake'' and ``The Gent,'' both serialized in Playboy, and ``Pitched Out,'' which first appeared in Esquire. Friedman's manly, controlled fiction belies an absurd black humor straining to run amok, with subjects ranging from hopped-up teens to Air Force flyers, from whores and gamblers to death-row culinary experts, and aging family men. Cantankerous, curmudgeonly, and just plain silly, Friedman's short fiction is all over the map. As Kirkus said in 1962 of Black Angels: ``Mr. Friedman can play it black, cool, sick, gimmicky, profound. And he does it all . . . in spades.'' A welcome, hefty collection of an American original's finest writing.