In the preface and the introduction to Best Gay Erotica 2011, the two editors explain how much the publishing market for male/male "porn" has changed since this annual anthology debuted in the 1990s. Consulting editor Kevin Killian claims:
I came of age in a different world. How different was it? It was so long ago that I wrote a pornographic book without having previously read one, and I acted in a porn film without having ever seen one. I didn't know what I was doing in either case, but thinking about it now, I suppose early on I conflated sex with representation or vice versa.
Killian goes on to quote theorist Jean Baudrillard that in the current age of the internet, “there is no longer any pornography, since it is virtually everywhere.”
Series editor Richard Labonte comments on the demise of raunchy print magazines for gay men, some dating back to the 1970s, where at least one generation of gay-male erotic writers (or writers of gay-male erotica) first aired their fantasies in print.
Both editors ask whether there is still a need for anthologies such as this one in a world where (in Killian's words) "gay sex is fashionable and mainstream." Killian also points out that "sex sells," and it is used to sell every product on the market while distracting the public from social issues such as war and poverty. Both editors come to the conclusion that there is still a place for a book of sex stories that can be privately enjoyed by individual readers.
Amidst the loving descriptions of men's bodies (ripped, powerful or boyish) and cocks (long and slim, short and thick, monstrous, curved, veiny, with and without foreskin), there is actually a lot of discomforting contemporary reality. Although Kevin Killian claims that the U.S. war against Iraq haunts these stories as AIDS haunted gay-male erotica of the 1980s and '90s, the persistent homophobia of mainstream American culture is a clear theme in the stories by American authors, and it heightens the contrast between American culture and that of the stories set elsewhere.
Most of these stories reveal a society in which male-on-male lust is both widespread and denied, where real and virtual male bodies are easy to access (especially on-line or in porn videos), yet where a conservative establishment seeks to force all non-heterosexuals back into the closet, or (preferably) out of existence. While the technology in these stories is different from that of the 1970s, the fear, secrecy and distrust seem unchanged.
"Attackman" by Rob Wolfsham and "Bodies in Motion" by Johnny Murdoc both deal with the sweaty, homoerotic world of school sports. In "Attackman," a skinny skater-boy named Alex likes the crude attention of Max, the star attackman of the school lacrosse team. (Alex is supposedly a nineteen-year-old, but the dynamics between the two boys, the interest of their male English teacher and the constant presence of a Greek chorus of other jocks all reek of mid-adolescence.) Eventually the attackman attacks the school Gay-Straight Alliance in a semi-literate letter to the school paper before attacking Alex, once more, for being a "faggot" and for getting him in trouble with the school administration, which penalizes hate speech. Max can't leave Alex alone, and his motives become clear even to him.
"Bodies in Motion" looks at the love-hate relationship between a school jock and a school geek when both of them return to the same school as a science teacher and an assistant coach. This time, the geek is cautious and distrustful, and the jock feels rebuffed until the two men have an honest talk.
The most gripping depiction of this type of relationship is in "Saving Tobias" by Jeff Mann, a kind of modern-day Walt Whitman who sings the praises of the untamed men of the Virginia mountains. The Tobias of the title is both charismatic and repulsively self-satisfied:
His name befits him. Tobias. It's Hebrew for 'God is good.' God has been good to him indeed. So far. Handsome blond giant, wealthy, talented, powerful, he's as magnificent as Oedipus must have been a few hours before the truth, before the kingly fool thrust the pin of his mother's brooch, his wife's brooch, into his eyes. The truth can do that, certainly. Put out the eyes, splinter the soul, castrate, eviscerate, shatter. The truth is what I bring tonight.
So who is the "I" who stalks Tobias, a homophobic Republican senator? A vampire from the Scottish highlands whose lover was killed before his eyes in 1730. Derek the vampire is a kind of avenging angel who wants to save Tobias from his own ignorance and hatred while showing him the suffering for which Tobias is responsible. And while he's at it, Derek wants Tobias' blood and his ass.
Tobias is horrified when he realizes that his gun can't save him from bondage and worse. The violation of his flesh appears to dramatize Tobias' worst fear, but he eventually reaches the peace he has been unconsciously seeking. Of course, he expresses his surrender in Christian terms.
The theme of an encounter with a beloved enemy continues in several other stories.
"I Sucked Off an Iraqi Sniper" by Natty Soltesz (the title says it all) and "Hump Day" by Dominic Santi show the universal vulnerability of working-class men (however butch they may be) to political and economic forces beyond their control. In both these stories, lust and empathy transcend cultural differences.
In "Shel's Game," the young narrator was originally lured into a Dominant-submissive relationship by the balding, stocky, middle-aged Shel who used a sexy young man as bait. The narrator's first scene with Shel leads to many others which are both humiliating and thrilling. The narrator comes to realize that Shel, whom he ignored at first meeting, knows a few things about how to get him off.
In "Closet Case" by Martin Delacroix, the narrator explains his aversion to hypocrites:
Call me a jerk, but I have a problem with closeted guys, these so-called 'bi-curious' men. Deep inside most are gay, I believe, but they're scared to admit it. So they lead the straight life, looking down on us poor faggots. When the urge strikes they'll sneak off and slum with the queers, but an hour later they're back with the wife and the kids, safe and happy.
When the narrator, who has a fully-equipped "sex room" in his house, picks up a man who claims to be both married and inexperienced with men, the outcome seems predictable. However, there are several twists in this story. Both characters prove themselves to be untrustworthy but more compatible than they first appear.
Limited space does not allow me to describe every story, but each one is memorable in its own way. There are stories by Shaun Levin, Simon Sheppard and Shane Allison here, as well as a disturbing tale by Boris Pintar, translated into English from Slovenian. Remember "A Rose for Emily" by William Faulkner, a classic of southern-gothic fiction often taught in college lit. classes? This story is a gay-male European version.
The anthology begins and ends with two strong stories. It opens with "Beauty #2" by Eric Karl Anderson, about a bug-chasing fan and an AIDS-infected Dom who remains dignified and resolute in decline. The concluding story, "The Last Picture. Show" by James Earl Hardy is a fascinating look at the career of an African-American porn star, seduced away from his original dream of writing the Great American Novel. Instead, he becomes a tragic hero who finds love only to lose it too soon.The sex is this book is fully-described, but it is not a distraction from bigotry, injustice, generation gaps, power-struggles, or misunderstandings. These stories (including Jeff Mann’s vampire story and Shane Allison's dream-montage) tackle reality in all its complexity.
Where to start discussing this collection of goodies?
Normally, I review the Best Gay Erotica release and Jean Roberta reads Best Lesbian Erotica, but this year we switched to keep things interesting. While Jean probably has some nice things to say about Best Gay Erotica, I'm so glad that I got to read this.
As I read through an anthology, I bend down the page of a story that interests me. When I read the final story of Best Lesbian Erotica, nearly every story was marked by a bent page. That should tell you that Best means something in this case; it's not just a title. I read a lot of erotica. I get burned out. And yet, page after page in this book is marked.
So again, where do I start to discuss this anthology? Do I mention the anticipation of reading the contributions by Xan West (“My Precious Whore”), Sinclair Sexsmith (“A Quick Fuck in a Shadowed Corner”), or Catherine Lundoff (“Tree Hugger”) when I see their names in the table of contents? And oh, how they delivered. Xan and Sinclair each have a talent for powerful sexual imagery in hot dominance scenes. Catherine's forest ranger was the right balance of authority and down to earth sensuality, but the narrator got a huge smile from me for keeping her focus on what mattered to her.
As mentioned in the forward, many of the stories in this year's anthology feature butch/femme couples. Is there anyone as endearing as a sweet butch under the spell of a hot femme? Giselle Renarde's “Pointed Nails and Puppy Dog Tails” is laugh out loud funny with some hot foot worship by a rockabilly goddess, while in DL King's “Walk Like a Man,” it's the rockabilly boi who gets taken for a ride in his cherry 1958 Mercury Park Lane by a femme who knows what she wants.
In Kiki DeLovely's “The Third Kiss,” a woman uses social media to seduce the woman sitting across the table from her in a coffee shop. Is this a comment on how we're losing the ability to look someone in the eyes and talk to them? Or is this just the latest spin on the fine art of love letters? Is standing under a balcony really all that different from sending an instant message? Maybe the language changes, but in the end, conquest is conquest.
I must mention Betty Blue's “The Garden of Earthly Delights.” In a short story, it's hard to build a fantasy world, but Betty Blue manages to do it in style with a tale of a cross dressing girl and the exotic dancer she loves to watch. Rich in detail, with a hot sex scene, this tale will enthrall lovers of the fantasy genre and maybe convert a few readers too.
Do you want more? Yes, there's so much more. Artists, women in uniform, a tantalizing glimpse into life in India, basketball, ex-sex, latex, desire, love, and lust. How can you not love this book? Two thumbs way up.
Contributions by Renee Strider, Anamika, Xan West, Kiki DeLovely, Betty Blue, Sinclair Sexsmith, Kristy Logan, Kenzie Mathews, Giselle Renarde, Charlotte Dare, D.L. King, Theda Hudon, Nairne Holtz, Catherine Lundoff, Gala Fur, Sarah Ellen, Rachel Charman, Erica Gimpelevich, Heidi Champa, and A.D.R. Forte.
Rachel Kramer Bussel is the celebrated editor of countless anthologies. Fast Girls, Passion, Please Sir, Please Ma’am. The list of titles is incredibly long and the most recent to be added is Orgasmic.
As with all of Ms Bussel’s anthologies, Orgasmic is a polished collection containing first-rate examples of erotic fiction from a broad sampling of talented writers, all writing to the requirements of a specific theme.
This time the theme is orgasm. As Ms Bussel notes in her introduction:
I did my best to capture an array of big (and little) Os, moments where the world feels like it’s exploding in your body, orgasms that rock more than just your world. These stories capture the ferocity, intensity and power of women’s orgasms, however they’re achieved. I couldn’t include every way women come in this book, or it would be much longer than it is now, but I wanted to include a varied look at what gets women off, which means it’s not always a man or another woman, or even a machine that does the trick.
I don’t think it will spoil the surprise if I say that Ms Bussel has accomplished this objective. As with any themed anthology, the lure is always about the diverse range of stories. I will be eternally entertained by the idea that a disparate group of authors can all be given the same remit for a story and each produce something so different.
To illustrate this point, consider two stories from the collection: “The Big O” by Donna George Storey and “Belted” by the anthology’s editor, Rachel Kramer Bussel.
Donna George Storey is the supremely competent author of the novel length erotic masterpiece, Amorous Woman, as well as a wealth of short erotic fiction.
“The Big O” is a first person narrative following the mindset of a protagonist influenced by a self-help article: The Sexercise Prescription: A Stronger Secret You in Six Weeks. The narrator discovers the article at the beginning of a period when she is in the serendipitous state of being parted from her partner but desirous to have a pleasant surprise waiting for him when they are reunited in six weeks. What better surprise could there be than sharing a secret on his return?
“Belted,” Ms Bussel’s second person narrative, similarly deals with orgasmic secrets. The central character here gleans satisfaction from the specific sensation of a leather belt striking bare flesh.
And, perhaps, the contrast between these stories reflects the diversity and range within this collection. The use of different narrative styles aside, Storey’s protagonist is spurred by an external source to achieve an internalised goal. Bussel’s protagonist harbours an internal goal achieved through external stimuli. There is an element of pragmatic spirituality in Storey’s fiction that is the anthithesis of Bussel’s vulnerable cynicism. This is not to say either piece of fiction is better than the other; neither is superior nor inferior. The difference is only mentioned to illustrate that writing about orgasms, just like the experience of them, differs for every individual.
There’s a lot to be enjoyed in this collection. The anthology includes fiction from some of my favourite writers including Justine Elyot, Neve Black, Angela Caperton, Teresa Noelle Roberts and Elizabeth Coldwell. If you’re wanting to treat yourself to an entertaining read for the start of the New Year, you won’t be surprised to discover this collection is Orgasmic.
Let me begin by admitting that I am at a distinct disadvantage in reviewing this book. Despite its literary reputation, I've never been to Dublin. The closest I've been to Ireland is Boston. I've read some Joyce but found myself confused at least partially because of his references to places and historical events with which I was totally unfamiliar. Hence, I'm not particularly well-qualified to evaluate whether the stories in this collection succeed in bringing the city in the title to life.
So I have to judge this anthology based on whether the stories created a distinctive world that I could clearly imagine - whether I'd recognize Dublin if I visited after reading these tales. Of course, the normal criteria for reviewing erotic fiction also apply. Is the story original? Is the writing competent? Are the sex scenes intriguing, arousing, emotionally involving?
Sex in the City: Dublin includes two exceptional stories that do all of the above and more. Stella Duffy's "Of Cockles and Mussels" offers a lyrical portrait of an earthy fish monger named Molly Malone, who claims she fucked James Joyce and was the inspiration for Molly Bloom. Never mind the literary references, though. This gorgeous story evokes all the breathless intensity of first love, or first lust (it has never been too clear to me whether the two can be teased apart).
If there's one thing I know to be true about Molly Malone, it's that she was not sweet. Not sweet at all. She was wild and funny and exhausting to be with, she could be cruel too, had a mean temper and a hard jealous streak. But God she was good, to watch, to drink alongside, to play, to laugh, to fuck. And definitely more salt than sweet. Alive, alive oh.
The story also paints a vivid picture of working class Dublin, in the rhythm of its language as much as its descriptions. The narrator is a dirt-poor, hard-working Catholic girl:
Middle child of five and all those boys, you know my mother didn't have anyone else to help her keep them all clothed, fed, washed, clean. I hated doing the laundry, all that endless scrubbing of filthy boys' shirts and underpants. My brothers are not the only reason I started with women, but knowing a little too much about the ways of men certainly did make a woman a more interesting possibility when I was just sixteen.
When she catches Molly's eye at the market and gets invited to visit, the narrator's mother, surprisingly, doesn't raise a fuss. The mother understands that her daughter may be treading a different path than her own and is glad of it. That's only one of the joys of this story.
The other standout tale, for very different reasons, is "Picking Apples in Hell" by Nikki Magennis. In this sassy, sexy story, the narrator Niamh meets up with her old lover Frank, who has returned to Dublin for some undoubtedly dodgy purpose. Once again, the language catches the rhythm of Irish speech:
"So what's dragged you back, Frank?"
"Oh, c'mon now. Can't a man visit his home town without good reason?"
"Don't try telling me that you were missing the ole place," I said, keeping my voice nice and flat.
What I didn't say was: tell me you were missing me, tell me you couldn't forget me, tell me you'd cross the sea for one more shot of that filthy, mind-blowing fucking we used to do.
Niamh discovers that Frank is indeed involved in a dangerous and illegal game, but she can't help surrendering to her lust - and her nostalgia:
That mouth. It might have produced some of the filthiest lies you've ever heard in your life, but there's no denying that when Frank McAuley kissed you, it was enough to make St. Peter forgive the devil. He tasted of whiskey and wet nights on the town, he covered my lips with his own and devoured me, drew me forward so it felt like I was falling.
I loved this story for its colorful depiction of the seedy underside of the city as much as for the characters and the sizzling sex. The fact that Ms. Magennis pulls off a deft surprise ending was an unexpected bonus.
Compared to these two stories, the other contributions are at best workman-like but unremarkable. Ken Bruen's "Love is the Drug" is a wry, humorous piece about a regular guy from New Jersey who travels to Dublin looking for love, only to have all his romantic illusions about Ireland shattered. "Abstract Liffey” by Craig J. Sorensen offers complicated and ambiguous characters with whom you can identify - a hallmark of Mr. Sorensen's fiction - but as far as I could tell, the story could have been set anywhere. Elizabeth Costello's "The City Spreads Startlingly Vast" is an eloquent tale of sex as an antidote to grief, but once again, did not seem particularly Irish. Several of the stories I actively disliked - but of course, that's only one reviewer's opinion.
This isn't a bad collection, but I will admit that after having read Sex in the City: New York, I was disappointed by this other volume in the same series. I'd chalk up my reaction to my unfamiliarity with Dublin, but the fact that two of the tales did succeed in making me see, smell, and taste the city suggests that the problem lies elsewhere.