The author of several gay-themed stories and novels (Everybody Loves You, 1988, etc.), Mordden collects work by 14 writers, ranging from the highly acclaimed Michael Cunningham (``White Angel'') to the previously unpublished Richard Davis (``Marty''). The editor sets the stage with an excellent overview of gay fiction, from ``the first wave of Stonewall lit''--daring, albeit slightly precious--in the 1970s through the second wave that arrived in the mid-1980s and emphasized ``exploring the family- and-friends background.'' Most stories here are ``third wave'' in nature: ``political, archetypal, experimental.'' These writers, Mordden contends, are more activist and more stylistically inventive. This is certainly true of Jim Provenzano's ``Forty Wild Crushes,'' which takes the form of an elementary school memoir--with hilarious footnotes. But most of the other experiments fail. G. Winston James's ``John,'' a story about a black man in a 42nd Street sex shop, has potential, but it's impossible to follow the narrative as it intertwines past with present. Brad Gooch's ``Satan'' is a deplorably crafted mishmash of sexually explicit S&M imagery, exhibitionism at its worst. If these stories are any indication of where the third wave is headed, there are reasons to prefer its predecessors. The finest pieces here may not harp as insistently as second-wave fiction on the family/friends background, but neither do they present characters popping up out of nowhere. In ``Cruise Control,'' John Edgar Harris sensitively depicts changes in gay sex since the discovery of AIDS, presenting a conversation between the first- person narrator and a man 20 years his senior as they stroll through various Manhattan neighborhoods. Abraham Verghese's ``Lilacs'' tells of a man who's suffered from AIDS for nine years, longer than anyone expected; superbly crafted, this gentle tale suddenly turns into a nightmare. Some good moments, but many of these writers are so self- absorbed that they leave their audience little to relate to.