I’ve been reviewing erotica for more than six years. During that period, I’ve probably read and passed judgment on at least fifty titles. (I’ll know exactly one of these days, when I finally find the time to update the publishing history page on my web site!) I wouldn’t be surprised if a quarter of these titles began with “Best”. Sometimes I wonder whether anthology editors or publishers just lack originality. Wouldn’t “Worst Bisexual Alien Leather Erotica” attract more attention?
Seriously, though, when I open another “Best” collection, I tend to do so with a barely suppressed sigh. Rarely, in my experience, do erotica anthologies deserve the superlative. Most commonly, erotica collections will have a few stories that are stellar, a few that are appalling, with the remainder being predictable and workman-like but unmemorable.
Richard Labonté’s collection more or less fits this pattern.
On the positive side, the stories in this anthology are surprisingly diverse given the narrow theme. Bondage includes rope, leather, silk, latex, hand-cuffs and even live snakes (more on this below). The essence of bondage is constraint, whether self-imposed or inflicted by another. The authors in this collection explore the broad limits of this definition. There are several tales – Larry Townsend’s giddy “My Eighteenth Birthday” and Simon Sheppard’s uncharacteristically light “The Man Who Tied Himself Up”– in which the main characters accomplish some amazing feats of self-restraint. Then there’s Doug Harrison’s sweet and satisfying tale, “The Harness”, which demonstrates that bondage isn’t just for bottoms.
My favorite tale in this collection is Shanna Germain’s “And Serpent Becomes Rod”. (I notice that Ms. Germain has received top kudos in several of my recent reviews.) The protagonist in this story, a wealthy submissive so jaded that he has become impotent, treks through the jungle to the summit of a volcano in order to meet the shaman-master whom he hopes will cure him. The shaman lives in a shack lit by hundreds of candles and inhabited by dozens of snakes. The snakes bind the man while the master takes him and makes him new.
When he stepped back, I tried to follow. The snakes held me there with a raised head, the slip of a tail along the curve of my balls. Everything drew up tight. Still. I bowed my head as much as I could without losing my breath. I waited for the man that I knew would save me.
...Something flickered at the crack of my ass. Snake tongue? Man tongue? I moaned, low in my throat.
The story is vivid, intensely physical, and unrelentingly arousing. What impressed me, though (other than the creative notion of using snakes as bonds) was the clear connection between sex and spirit. This acknowledgment that bondage might mean something, might be something beyond a mechanism of arousal, is missing in most of the tales in this collection.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Hot, anonymous sex is great, and gay fiction especially seems to like to celebrate it, as illustrated by Bill Brent’s enjoyable contribution, “Keeping It Under Wraps”:
We catch our breath, staring at each other and grinning like idiots. Soon we will leave this couch and become separated by ever-growing number of men, miles, days, years — but right now we’re just two blissed out guys, happy to be together in this room, no longer horny.
Bondage can be dangerous, though. It’s not the sort of thing one wants to undertake at the hands of a stranger. Bondage can also be a route to enlightenment, but few of the authors in this collection seem to view it this way.
A disturbing number of tales in the collection feature non-consensual sex and bondage. Perhaps the most extreme is “Marking Territory” by Sean Meriwether, about a petty criminal being pissed on, beat up and sodomized as punishment for double-crossing the boss. It’s hard for me to imagine that anyone would find this arousing — not because of the acts themselves (hey, I’ve fantasized about golden showers) but because of the absolute cruelty with which these acts are inflicted. Then there’s “The Taking of Brian Krowell”, which details a carefully planned rape. I have to admit that even though this story by Shane Allison left me queasy and uncomfortable, I was also aware that its remarkable portrait of a man driven to violence by frustrated lust made it one of the better stories in the collection.
His dick tensed in my mouth, beyond my tenacious lips, cum surging through his black body, willing or not... I left him stained with his cum, my cum, my spit, his jelly. Done. His never was my now.
TruDeviant’s “Number Twenty-Four” offers a similar scenario, a neglected and abused fag obsessed with a baseball player. In this tale the rape, though vivid and visceral, full of sweat-soaked uniforms and locker room odors, is nevertheless only fantasy. Does that change things?
At some level, all fiction is fantasy, though in some cases this is more obvious than others. Certainly the sex slave in the temple of the Owl Goddess in David Holly’s slightly ridiculous “A Gift to the Rising Dog Star” is pretty transparent, as is the world-weary dirty old man in “Norceuil’s Garden” (Andrew Warburton). In many cases, the fantasy aspect of these tales subordinates the story. There’s no real plot. The characters exist only to act out the author’s fetish. I might find a story arousing, but afterwards, when the tale releases me, I’m empty.
Some of the stories in this collection are well-written. A few show noteworthy originality. All in all, though, this anthology does not, in my opinion, completely merit its title. “Gay Bondage”? Certainly. “Erotica”? In some cases. But “Best” would be better reserved for a collection that more consistently challenges the mind and stirs the heart, as well as exciting the senses.
Cruising the Strip is a very entertaining anthology of lesbian lust stories by Karin Kallmaker and Radclyffe that take place on the Strip in Las Vegas. Both authors are well known and widely published with a very loyal following. One can see why. It’s the sex, and the sex is good. Vegas itself is largely incidental except for the occasional mention of gambling and an atmosphere of, “We’re here, so why not?” It’s an attitude that gives presence and sass to many of the characters.
Otherwise the city is one big hotel that supplies some desultory bourgeois delights and some gambling. That may be an apt description. These stories follow a fairly rigid formula of girl meets girl after which they encounter minor Plautine, collapsible obstacles. These are soon overcome or ignored – it is Vegas after all -- and the lovers climb, fall, or throw each other lushly, wetly, hotly and sublimely into bed. Well why not? They’re on holiday in the city of sinless sin.
I am not going to cite individual stories. These authors are not after narrative invention although Radclyffe is nominally better at it with her female lustlorn security guards, butch poker players, and lady lone-wolf anesthesiologists. Kallmaker is more interested in the “pneumatic” female form – as John D. MacDonald used to call them – on lipstick lesbians, a term I first came upon in Robert Campbell’s detective series about Chicago. I mention these two guys because they wrote to a formula too, and that was a great part of their appeal. Their editors were a little better which I will come to shortly.
These stories have two strong points the first being that the sex is truly very sexy because all the mechanics are there, but the sex, more importantly, engages all the characters senses. No matter how experienced they are, sex for these people is like the discoveries children make at the beach. Everything tastes, sounds, feels and especially smells newly exciting. So the authors get at the real chemistry of eroticism.
That makes sense when you consider that you are reading your way through a delicious firmament of pussy and sundry other female body areas of delight. The book is also instructive, up to a point, for the heterosexual male who yearns, as many of us do, for ever more information about how women’s bodies actually work, It is an interesting counter to the inscrutable explanations most ladies supply. Apparently it is simpler than we all, women included, think. It also involves a lot of stamina. These two writers should know given their lists of publications.
Over recent years of reading erotica/porn, I have come to the heretical conclusion that sex is pretty much sex. The idea that gay sex, lesbian sex, bdsm sex, or sex with Austrian osteopaths is somehow different than other sex, is essentially nonsense except by degree. The mind responds to another person, situation or thing that makes it go, “zing.” Interest quickens and the body follows suit. Then the mechanics may vary but the result is either satiety or not, which for the most part is in your head.
That is, I suppose, what makes lesbiana so erotic. I think women remain more aware during sex and so they are more attuned to their sensual tastes and possible variations to get there. As described in Cruising, they are numerous and lively, but they all lead back to orgasm which is no surprise, nor should it be. Often that is affected by means of a prosthetic cock. At times you get the impression that the authors feel men are simply an unsatisfactory version of women despite possessing these appendages. The point is made early and often that a rubber, steel, wood, glass, or even latex lover does not get tired, go limp, or fall asleep after coming. Of course the dildo never actually comes, but who cares? It is an unusual view though. I have never read a story where a gay man found a vagina to be a second-rate replacement for a male anus.
As Cruising the Strip shows, the cock is a shape, a thing, not a personality trait, as many men would like to believe of their own strutting members. Thus the right shape in rubber, plastic, leather, or metal will do its job when wielded with the right knowing female authority especially if it is strapped firmly to her broad and luxurious hips. Whatever these authors think about male sexuality is unknown. as it never appears except in the form of an alien gender that exudes obsessive lust. I will grant that male sexuality is more a matter of frenzied intoxication than female. The male mind is overwhelmed by the senses. I am not sure that means that all humans with testicles are knuckle draggers. It doesn’t matter much here as men are not so much reviled as dismissed as irrelevant in these stories, which creates a rather odd version of the hairy, gold-chained, testeronic Las Vegas we come to know from the movies.
Having read a good deal of gay and lesbian erotica as well as other sexually 'specialized' fiction, the sex seems here just like vanilla hetero sex and its presentation is either good or bad depending on the insight and talent of the author as reflected in their sense of narrative structure and writing style.
Both authors – or their editors – have very distracting problems with indefinite antecedents to pronouns so that it is easy to lose track of what, ‘she is doing to her while she is doing something else to her and some other part of her.’ No sentence in the book is quite that bad but they come close at times. This lack of mastery of basic English skills tends to doom a lot of erotica to a transient status even when authors have more to offer than their errors suggest.
I also worry about character names that are so pat that they ring as synthetic and thus inter-changeable like Amber, Pepper Keri, Marcie, Harmony, and Sally. I was pleased to note that no one is named Kitty or Kitten amid all the talk about pussy. On the other hand, Radclyffe has a female character whose first name is Saxon. That shortens alarmingly to the phallic icon, Sax. It seems to me that is exactly like naming your daughter Ostrogoth which then turns into “Ossy”. Eek and Eiiiuuwww , it just doesn’t work.All that apart, there is a lot of wonderful sex here that is absolutely enthusiastically female and well worth your time if that appeals.
"Dark" has a variety of meanings in Western culture: obscure, hidden, mysterious, unconscious, exotic, violent, dangerous, associated with death or night, richly pigmented. The massacre and exploitation of darker-skinned peoples by Europeans have been rationalized by means of racist theories about who is “savage” and therefore in need of control.
The parallel treatment of women and animals has been justified by parallel theories. The fifteenth-century Christian Inquisition claimed that woman (femina) had "less faith" (fe + mina) than man, and was therefore more inclined to be seduced to the "dark side" by the Devil, envisioned as a black man or a bestial being with horns and hooves.
For centuries, the patriarchal Christian mindset, which produced these ideas, has also separated "normal" sex (horizontal, heterosexual, marital, procreative) from all the "perversions" of the instinct to mate. Supposedly, these overlapping concepts are no longer taken seriously by the enlightened, but the “darkness” described above still inspires an endless amount of horror literature, art and movies.
Every Dark Desire reads like the worst nightmare of anyone who still lives by a traditional Western value system. All the central characters are lesbian Jamaican vampires who enjoy the kinds of "power exchange" sex that go with blood sports. While they are all equal-opportunity predators when their blood-lust prompts them to hunt mortals, they prefer female playmates.
Silvija, the charismatic leader of a group of twelve vampires, is a 350-year-old survivor of an attempt by white soldiers to hunt down and kill off maroons, escaped slaves living in the hills. By the 1990s, Silvija has created, nurtured and protected her own endangered "family" of the living dead. These vampires literally seem like the dark side of European colonialism, the ones who weren't meant to survive.
This book stands out from the red sea of current vampire erotica and casts its own powerful spell. Although they are repeatedly defined as "beasts" and "fiends," these characters attract the mortal reader as they attract mortal characters in diverse places in the real world: Jamaica and Alaska, with kinky weekends in Los Angeles.
The story begins in Jamaica, a tropical tourist magnet with an ongoing history of violence, where the rich lock their gates against the poor, and where the mortal prey of vampires can easily be disguised as victims of random theft, rape and murder. Life in a Jamaican village, as distinct from the cities, is peaceful enough for Naomi, a young woman who lives in a manless family with her mother and her beloved young daughter.
However, Naomi can't resist another woman who catches her eye in the city of Negril, and she slips away from her mother and daughter for a few hours. Naomi is irreversibly "turned" without her consent. After she escapes, she must come to terms with her transformation. She dreams of what she has lost:
"Naomi dreamed that she was alive. The sun touched her with its soft golden fingers, filtering through her hair left loose and heavy against her shoulders. Its heat snuggled into her bare throat and along her arms like an old friend. She leaned against the iron railing of the terrace, looking down on a gold and green Negril. The breeze was light. Laughter hovered in the air like music and she turned, smiling, to find the source of it. Her baby, Kylie, stood on the terrace, laughing and spinning in a circle, while the sun sparkled on her wheat biscuit skin. Naomi's mama stood nearby, watching. Her look was wistful."
Fiona Zedde is not the first author to use the changing of a mortal into a vampire as a metaphor for "coming out" into a new identity, but Naomi's grief and confusion seem uniquely heartbreaking. Even after she has given herself a new name, Belle, and accepted the necessity of living with others like herself, her love for her child is a connecting thread between her old life and her new one.
The love of parents for their biological children rarely seems to be a feature of vampire fiction, but in this sense Every Dark Desire is parallel to Anne Rice’s first novel, Interview with the Vampire, in which the child vampire Claudia represents the author’s desire to resurrect her actual daughter, who died of leukemia at age five. In Zedde’s version, Belle loses track of passing time while Kylie develops into an innocent teenager, not knowing what happened to the mother who is determined to protect her from “monsters” like herself. Could this story possibly have a happy ending? Read it and decide for yourself.
Separated from her human family by her disturbing blood-lust and her vulnerability to sunlight, Belle is claimed by Silvija, who calls her “puppy” and reminds her of how much she doesn’t know about her new lifestyle. Anyone who has survived adolescence can imagine the humiliation of Belle’s position, and she reacts predictably by resenting and defying her teacher. Belle finds herself unbearably attracted to Silvija. In the tradition of the best BDSM fiction, Belle’s ambivalence and resistance to what seems inevitable lead her to self-knowledge and intimacy.
Spending her first winter as a member of Silvija’s clan in their luxurious dwelling in Alaska (chosen for its long hours of darkness), Belle comes to know her new companions in immortality. She is especially drawn to Shaye, a vampire of approximately Silvija’s age who still seems to have the energy and curiosity of a young girl. Appearances are deceptive, however, and Shaye is not Kylie. As in other vampire fiction, these characters remain physically frozen in the stage at which they were “turned,” but they continue to learn and grow inside.
There is enough hypnotic sex in this novel to satisfy readers who want to skip to “the good parts,” but the sex scenes are not simply a distraction from other kinds of tension. The reader/voyeur learns that the vampires of the “family” sometimes have consensual affairs with mortal women whom they could kill at any time. The reader also learns that the vampire clan has a polyamorous group relationship which changes every time a new member joins the group. Every seduction advances the plot, which includes elements of a whodunit, a romance and a coming-of-age novel.
The sensuality of the narrative style, the intensity of the characters’ emotions, and the complexity of the plot are all satisfying. Several of the physical details, however, seem overdone or inconsistent. Persistent references to the flowery smells of individual vampires become cloying.
Belle’s habit of breathing heavily in moments of passion until she remembers that she doesn’t need to breathe at all (being “dead”) seem unconvincing.
In addition, the reactions of Caribbean vampires to the cold air of Alaska in winter seem inconsistent. Either they are impervious to the cold, being both “dead” and superhuman, or they need to sleep pressed together to conserve the warmth they can only acquire by taking the blood of the living, but it is hard to see how the author could have it both ways.
Aside from these details, this novel shows that there is still some life left in vampire fiction, a genre that refuses to rest in peace. Fiona Zedde has done a remarkable job of adapting the well-worn tradition of Dracula, the archetypal vampire as a European aristocrat in his remote mountain castle, to other places, cultures and desires. The “dark desires” of socially-marginalized characters might simply alienate some readers, but the magic works for me.
In the UK during the 1930s the practice of homosexuality was forbidden by law. Those found guilty were incarcerated and ostracised from ‘decent’ society. Those suspected were often subjected to brutal and vicious physical attacks from vigilante gangs of bigots. With the period’s economic problems, and the impending threat of another World War swelling from Europe, it’s hard to imagine a less appealing time for any man to lust after another man.
The Palace of Varieties is set in the 1930s. The story follows the homoerotic adventures of Paul Lemoyne. Its author, James Lear, manages to do something that few other novels would dare attempt. The Palace of Varieties dares to make the depression gay.
The Palace of Varieties comes from Cleis Press, one of the US’s leading imprints in erotic fiction. James Lear, author of Hot Valley, The Back Passage (and several other highly acclaimed titles) takes his readers to a London variety theatre in the 1930s: the perfect setting for a risqué romp where the men are men and the women are incidental.
The Palace of Varieties is more than a well-written erotic novel. James Lear has captured the spirit of 1930s England by writing in the distinctive style of the Edwardian novel. Quickly introducing his cocksure hero, Paul Lemoyne; wrenching him from the family home in the country and thrusting him into gainful employment at the South London Palace of Varieties; Lear leads the reader backstage with a pass that is firmly stamped: ACCESS ALL AREAS.
It’s hard not to enjoy this novel. Lear’s central character, Lemoyne, narrates the events and his voice his that of a roguish uncle, sharing confidences and reminiscences over a postprandial brandy. The period setting of the story is, as previously mentioned, hostile and homophobic. Yet the story pushes this bigotry to its rightful place in the background as Lemoyne concentrates on the important things in life such as money, sex and love.
My late father worked the UK’s music halls at a time not so long after the setting of Palace of Varieties. His anecdotes about the conflicting camaraderie and cattiness of theatrical life were brought to mind as I read the interactions between Lear’s richly crafted characters. Consequently, I can’t fault this story for its feel of authenticity.
On one occasion my father asked a musician who shared his dressing room if he could borrow a comb before going on stage.
“No,” said the musician. “It’s my comb and I’m not going to lend it to you.”
“Then shove it up your arse,” my father replied tersely. He then went on stage to perform his act. When he came off stage the musician was in his dressing room, bent over, with a comb sticking out from between his buttocks.
“What the hell are you doing?” asked my father.
“You told me to shove it up my arse,” the musician explained. “What do you want me to do now?”
I mention this only because either of these real life characters could have been drawn from Lear’s Palace of Varieties.
Lemoyne’s story properly begins in the Palace of Varieties but the character springboards from there toward bigger and brasher adventures. Lemoyne works as a stage-hand, a male prostitute and a model before moving out into the world to broaden his horizons in other areas. However, the essence of Edwardian theatricality remains a mainstay of this brilliant, boy-on-boy novel.
The sex is wonderfully written with Lear treading a fine balance between the gratifying and the gratuitous. Lemoyne’s character is an affable chap, game to try anything once and anxious to do it repeatedly if it proves enjoyable or profitable. His hedonistic amble from one encounter to another makes for a compelling read that hurries the story along like a runaway steam train.
Predictably, Lemoyne is handsome and hung but I’m of the mindset that no erotic fiction (homoerotic or otherwise) would work well if the central character were ugly and equipped like an under-developed gerbil. That said, the main feature of Paul’s attractiveness is neither his good-looks nor his donkey-sized dick: it’s his charm that shines through every page. Lemoyne’s excess of personality makes the denouement of this novel a climax that has to be reached.
For anyone who enjoys their fiction when it’s fun and frantic, The Palace of Varieties will provide all the entertainment a reader needs.Editor’s note: From The Independent (3/30/2008), James Lear is the erotica pen name belonging to British author Rupert Smith
This is GLBT month for Erotica Revealed. After reading the first chapter of Beth Wylde’s novella, The Big 4-Oh!, I was worried that I’d I miscommunicated with her and she’d sent me a heterosexual story instead. “Not that there’s anything wrong with that,” to quote Jerry Seinfeld. The mistake would have been mine, however, so I kept reading, and found that the story included one of the oft-overlooked letters of GLBT: B, for bisexual. So it turned out happily after all.
Turning out happily is a good place to begin the discussion of this novella. The Big 4-Oh! fits under my definition of romantic erotica rather than literary erotica. One frustration I often have with reviews is when they dwell on what a story isn’t instead of appreciating a story for what it is, so I’m going to review this novella with the standards of romantic erotica in mind. (If you want to get into a long discussion about the difference between literary erotica and romantic erotica, email me.)
Abigail is a high-powered divorce attorney on the brink of turning 40. She’s not too happy about that. In fact, she’s in a rather pissy mood as this story begins, and her ire is directed at women who dare to be younger than she is. After the requisite long soak in the tub, she hops into the shower, only to be caught by her husband Dave in flagrante delicto with the showerhead. Lucky for Abigail, Dave is an understanding kind of guy. Rather than being upset about what she’s doing, he gets turned on. This trait is going to come in handy later.
Dave gives Abigail a piece of sexy lingerie that is described in minute detail, as is every other outfit worn in this story. While that may come off as a snarky statement, there are many readers who cherish lingering over the details of clothing in an erotic story. The rituals of donning stockings, garter belts, and high heels are a big turn-on. If you are among the legions of people who enjoy reading about sexy clothing, I promise that this story won’t disappoint.
Before Abigail can try on her new outfit though, she and Dave start talking about his friend Craig, his friend’s psycho ex-girlfriend Veronica, Abigail’s ex-girlfriend (now best friend) Candice and two other people. If that sounds like a lot of characters, you’re right. Too many are thrown in that don’t really belong in the story, and each is given almost a full background story. This story would have benefited from concentrating on the four major players. Another problem with this scene is that Dave and Abigail are discussing all these other characters during foreplay. If my partner got that chatty during sex, I’d be reaching for a ball gag. But that’s just me. Anyway, it turns out that Craig’s psycho ex-girlfriend Veronica is having a sex party at his house that night, and Craig wants Abigail and Dave to drop by to make sure things stay friendly, which is why Dave bought the sexy outfit for Abigail. Dave is turned on by the idea of watching Abigail get it on with one of the female party guests, which is why he wants to go. Plus, he’s a super pal for Craig – something that will also come in handy later. Abigail thinks it’s a bad idea, but she’s a sport, so she agrees to go.
It turns out that Abigail is right about it being a bad idea to go to the party. A cat-fight with psycho-ex Veronica (Craig’s ex, not Abigail’s ex) ensues. Craig, Abigail, and Dave flee the scene. Abigail feels bad about what happened (not the fight, but denying Dave the chance to watch her have sex with another woman) so she calls her ex Candice and sets up a three-way with Candice and Dave on her birthday.
On the day of Abigail’s birthday, she and Candice prepare a scene for Dave to walk into. Dave walks in, but with Craig along. Seems he was planning a little m/m/f action for her birthday. They work out a four-way solution - the guys watching the women together and then the women servicing the men – in a long sex scene. Eventually, the heterosexual couples pair off for a happy ending. (In both senses)If you’re bisexual, you may feel that this story perpetuates the stereotype that bisexuals are into in threesomes and swinging. But if you’re looking for a story with a loving married couple at the core who play with multiple partners, The Big 4-Oh! will probably appeal to you. This is romantic erotica, and hits every note that a fan of the genre expects. However, using a literary standard to rate the writing, which is what we do at Erotica Revealed, I can’t give this novella higher than a sideways recommendation.