Eighteen pieces, distinguished by an adult tone in the storytelling, and a sense of the amplitude of human feelings beyond the gay clichÃ‰s of purple prose and swish and bitching. These writers break out of the insular homosexual world of 50's and 60's gay fiction by assuming that a gay culture and a gay audience exist, and much dull background detail that once had to be painted in and explained can be taken for granted and skipped. Stambolian, a professor of French at Wellesley and the author of Homosexualities and French Literature, has made a superb selection from the younger gay writers, including first publication for C.F. Borgman, whose ""A Queer Red Spirit"" is outstanding. This amazing story tells about a gay astral spirit inhabiting a 24-year-old young hunk and using him for a writing medium to recount the old gay's long life story in the theater. Ethan Mordden's ""Hardhats"" is the moving story of an ironworker who takes his big, tattooed, homophobic ironworker friend to a leather bar when the friend is dying for a buddy to love; the friend turns out to be too real for the shirtless hunks in studs and straps. Edmund White abandons the fogbound myopia that marred his last novel, Caracole, to write the best story of his career, ""An Oracle,"" about a gay in long melancholia over the AIDS death of his brilliant lover, a redesigner of companies who redesigns the pale-spirited narrator as well and turns him into a real dresser with vibes to spare. How to overcome the loss of such an incredible partner? It happens in Greece, where a boy--whom the surviving lover is himself redesigning--becomes an oracle for the dead lover. Altogether, among the best gay fiction around.