Most of the anthologies I review have fairly concrete themes. During the past year, I've tackled collections on the topics of lesbian lust, dysfunctional romance, one night stands, female submission, and gay sex in the afternoon. Indeed, one sees calls these days for stories focused on particular sexual events: anal sex, oral sex, orgasms, spanking. Books like these target specific audiences who want to know exactly what they can expect from the stories inside.
When I picked up ComingTogether: In Flux, a charity anthology on the slippery topic of “transformation”, I had little idea what I would find within. Having finished the book, I find myself astonished by the myriad creative ways the authors of these tales have interpreted the theme. About the only things these stories have in common are originality and exceptional craft.
The book begins with Angela Caperton's “Lawman”. An aging, retired member of an elite cadre of morality police enjoys the first blow job of his life as he tries to let go of the craving for the chemicals that made him a superman, but denied him desire. Even with a stranger, the experience of unfettered sex changes everything.
“Final Note” by Shanna Germain comes next – a wrenchingly honest portrayal of a woman whose long-time partner lies dying.
“Clara, Clara, Clara.”
My name slips from her lips, caw-cawed as though she is a dying creature on a sidewalk and not a full- grown woman. Not an adult, not a lover, not the former fabulous Raven Freemont. Just a fragile thing, wings crushed, beak croaking out the only word it can still remember. I need to end it.
The darkness of this tale is relieved by startling passion, as Clara burrows into the body of another woman to soothe the pain she can scarcely admit.
After this difficult story, editor Nobilis Reed transforms the mood completely in “Actual Size”, a bawdy tale featuring hypnotism, ménage and self-expanding breasts. He takes the anthology theme more literally than many of the other contributors, balancing philosophy with raunchy physicality. His other story later in the volume, “Explosion”, features psychological transformation, as the fallout from a mysterious blast turns women into insatiable, demanding dominants.
In Xan West's “Ready”, an uncertain young man trusts his rough but loving Daddy to take him where he needs to go. I'd read this story before and loved it. I found it every bit as intense and poignant upon rereading.
Ann Regentin's “Meltdown” is more an essay than a story. In luminous prose, she draws an extended comparison between the ruined, twisted environs of Chernobyl and her own experience of sexuality mutated by disability. Defying expectations, she paints her life as fundamentally changed but not necessarily diminished.
I, too, have stabilized, and I think I seem asexual to most people, just as Chernobyl seems quiet under its concrete lid. Who would imagine a disabled woman otherwise?
But in solitude, I have gone feral, able to give in to every desire, and fiercely defensive of my territory. Female sexuality is a powerful force, one that most cultures put enormous time and effort into controlling, and mine is now unchecked. It can go anywhere it wants, burning through what was supposed to contain it, consuming everything manmade and transforming into something no one has ever seen before, including me.
Several of the stories feature science fiction themes. Peter Tupper's “Upgrade” envisions an increasingly depopulated world as humans elect to “upgrade” their consciousness, transferring their memories and cognitive processes to a sort of group mind. Two late adopters – strangers - come together for a last, wistful coupling before relinquishing their physical bodies and their separateness.
“Feast of the Incarnations” by Gayle Straun is a wildly imaginative political fable of corrupting power and liberating sexuality, where the ruling class do nightly backups of their consciousness so that they can be reincarnated in the event of their assassination.
The book includes several stories about shape shifting: ancient vampires in Skylar Sinclair's “Love Everlasting,” werewolves in Mildred Cady's “Three Moons,” finned and scaled mer-creatures in Jhada Addams' “Water Shaman.” Meanwhile, Kissiah Aiken's “Transformative” deals with a real world shape shift, as the narrator crosses genders from female to male – and then realizes this is only the first stage in her change.
Possibly the most erotic tale in the mix is the lovely “Unlock My Heart”, by R. Taylor, about a female automaton, created as a servant for humans, seeking her one true mate.
She knew her lock by heart, having examined it with mirrors and fingers often. It was set low in her abdomen, decorated with silver filigree that stood out against the deep purple of her ceramic skin. It had a rounded upper opening extending to a long rectangular hole, seven tumblers waiting inside to be depressed by the properly-shaped key. The man gazed at her lock as his key extended with a small grating sound. It seemed to be a match, with its curved top and oblong base, and crenellations that looked as though they would fit into hers. But only the test would tell.
The ending of this story took me by surprise – but then, pleasurable surprise was a common experience for me while I was reading this volume.
If you're looking for a whole book full of stories about the specific kinks that push your buttons, you might find Coming Together: In Flux a disappointment. If you're more like me, capable of being aroused by a novel premise or a stunning sentence, buy this book.
All profits from the sale of Coming Together: In Flux benefit the Woodhull Sexual Freedom Alliance.