I don’t normally read a lot of erotica, but this title caught my eye while I was at BEA. I’m not the type of person who is turned off by adult content in stories, but I do expect there to be some measure of a story and not just sex, otherwise I get bored rather quickly and go back to reading about dragons and robots and space pirates instead. The idea of mixing erotica with SF/F appeals to me because it means that authors have stepped outside of the rules of our own universe to create something new and imaginative, and each story is inherently a part of a larger world. There’s not much that I can say about the book as a whole, so here’s a brief look at each of the stories that it contains:
“Vaster Than Empires” by Allison Lonsdale – This is the story of a woman who is a creative and slightly crazy virtual reality artist. She has an affair with a man with a fetish for flowers. I enjoyed this one a lot, and I felt that the world that the author describes is a logical continuation of our own (and I’m basing this in part on my own observations from when I decided to briefly check out Second Life a few years back… for every artist/company/visionary creating stuff, there are at least a handful of people seeking to use new technology to fulfill formerly impossible fetishes). It’s imaginative, and Lonsdale perfectly captures the personality of an eccentric and tormented artist and juxtaposes it with the digital world.
“Fulgurite” by Vylar Kaftan – A college-aged virgin makes the decision to have sex with her boyfriend after a unicorn-cockroach vision tells her that she will be struck by lightning that day. Some obvious metaphors going on, and it made me feel as if the protagonist was mentally unbalanced rather than in a story with fantasy elements, but still interesting.
“Now I Live on the Street of Women” by Jason Rubis – This one has a post-apocalyptic feel to it. There’s been a war, and the protagonist was injured and left mostly paralyzed on the streets. Some women find him and pimp him out, and he comes to accept it because they take care of him when no one else will. In a weird way, they’re almost a family.
“Double Check” by Pete Peters – This was a very short story, so I’ll sum it up in two words. Sadistic chess.
“Metamorphosis” by Deb Atwood – A man who is mourning the loss of his ex meets a new guy at a bar. You don’t get the SF/F till the twist at the end.
“The Heart of the Storm” by Connie Wilkins – This one was among my favorites in the collection. It’s a well-developed alt-history featuring lesbian witches during WWII. Win!
“Alienated” by Helen E. H. Madden – A guy at a bar ends up hooking up with an alien and learning that there is more to intimacy than just a physical connection. It’s a cute feel-good story.
“Younger Than Springtime” by Grant Carrington – Two time travelers watch their younger selves. This story was sweet in an “Aww, how cute!” kind of way.
“Make Work” by Bryn Allen – I was impressed by the world-building here. It’s about a girl named Sarah who works for a religious order that keeps tabs on magical creatures who have become sentient. She ends up falling in love (and sleeping with) the guy she’s supposed to check up on, even though she’s not supposed to have feelings herself. I kind of wished there was more to the story; the society described seemed interesting. (Note: This is why I don’t generally read erotica. I’m reading a story about sex and the world-building is what I’m drawn to. Conversely, this is why this collection of SF/F erotica was so much fun to read. There can be sex AND worldbuilding. *evil grin*)
“The Digital O” by Kal Cobalt – A gay programmer named Corbin has a robot and programs him to enjoy giving sexual pleasure. This robot happens to be on the edge of sentience. The programmer’s partner has to learn to deal with the fact that their robot now wants to have sex, otherwise it’s feelings will be hurt. Meanwhile, he’s jealous. I liked the whole “nerdy programmers don’t necessarily think about the ramifications of their creations until after they’ve made them” subtext that was going on here, and the story made me laugh.
“Taste” by Jean Roberta – A woman has a dream about lizard creatures (use your imagination, I’m not going into detail). Very strange.
“A Feast of Cousins” by Beth Bernobich – Starts out at a family dinner, where we find out that the main character had her heart broken by her lesbian cousin. Then she receives a mysterious gift for an erotic massage. Weird, definitely weird, and I did wonder a bit at how the whole extended family seems so amenable to having sexual relationships with one other. Maybe it’s the inbreeding. *shrugs*
“The Boy Who Loved Clouds” by Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff – This was my number one favorite in the collection. It’s about a boy who grew up in a village in India, but moved to New York City to become a writer. While he lived there, he forgot both his roots and his inspiration. When he returns to his village for his father’s funeral, he glimpses a woman amidst the clouds who helps him to find himself. Beautiful, superbly literary, and not at all what I expected to find when I opened the book.
“Rainmusic” by Eric Del Carlo – A former rockstar lives alone on an outpost moon after an accident with his tech that killed a lot of people at a concert. One day an elemental sentient slime creature comes out of the rain and takes human form. Yup, you know where this is going. This story was also quite well-developed, and delved into the rockstar’s feelings about his accident and his decision to withdraw from the world.
“Passion Play” by D. L. Keith – Oooh, another of my favorites, and I wish that this one were a whole book. There’s a spy, and she’s delivering information to a contact in an artsy theater that happens to use variations of sex as their medium for performance. However, our spy finds that she’s been sold out, and ends up taking the stage, as it’s the last place that her enemies would look for her. She ends up starring in a play with an S&M vibe to it. I would love to learn more of the background behind this one; it feels almost like a scene from a larger epic fantasy work.
“Caught” by Paige E. Roberts – Fun space opera. Diana’s the captain of a starship, and she’s fighting against a rebel named Wolf. When he’s captured, she gets to interrogate him, and ends up beginning to doubt her own allegiances.
“Sybariote” by Diane Kepler – While on a mission, a man finds a sex doll robot and she slowly takes over his life. This was another one with fantastic world-building that feels like a glimpse of a wider saga.
One very very very minor thing that bothered me about the book is that the intro said there were sixteen stories, but there were actually seventeen. This shouldn’t bother me, but I spent about ten minutes counting and recounting and thinking that I was going crazy.
Overall, I enjoyed the collection more than I’d expected. Erotica is outside of my usual comfort zone when I’m looking for reading material, but this collection managed to intrigue me because each story felt like there was more to it than just sex, even if sex was the major plot point of the story. It makes good bathtub reading.