This single-author collection of lesbian erotica, A Ride to Remember, by Sacchi Green includes stories that first appeared in anthologies such as Best Women's Erotica, Best Lesbian Erotica, Best Transgender Erotica, and two anthologies edited (and co-edited) by Sacchi herself. It's a pleasure to find them all in one place.
The strength of these stories is in the imagery, especially the sensual descriptions which seem to have no direct connection to sex. In every story, the setting sets the tone and blends with the sex scenes and the physical characteristics of the characters. In some cases, a spectacular natural environment (the Grand Canyon, the coast of New England) seems to inspire sex between women which could not have occurred anywhere else, or in any other way.
In "Petroglyphs," a woman who is at home in the wilderness senses that she has company:
Something moved among the Douglas firs where the forest sloped upward toward burnished rock. The short hairs at the nape of Sigri's neck prickled with the sense of being watched.
Sigri's mare shows a similar reaction.
A person with skin tones to match the burnished rock attacks Sigri, who fights back with the skill of long practice. Then the reader learns that the wrestling match is a game, not a historical battle of First Nations warrior against Viking explorer. The two women have an old agreement about which moves determine the winner. As the play-fight segues immediately into grappling of a different kind, the reader learns more about their relationship, and Sigri's commitment to her "wife" on the ranch.
Rock formations play a large role in this story, as well as in “Of Dark and Bright,” “Long Meg,” and “Bright Angel.” The distinct shapes, textures and density of rocks in natural settings suggest the physical and emotional strength of butch women who have survived beyond youth. In lesbian culture, rock suggests “stone” (an unwillingness to be penetrated or to be sexually passive), but the women in these stories are willing to give as good as they get, and vice versa.
The fantasy elements in these stories all seem connected to earth magic, the power of the natural world to transport a susceptible person into another era (which the rocks, the trees and the rivers “remember”) or another dimension. The effect of the descriptions is uncannily plausible.
“A Dance of Queens,” set in the time of Shakespeare and Good Queen Bess, combines several of the major themes in the collection: the power of the natural world, gender-fluidity, and an actual person (the queen herself). In this beautifully-written story, the author makes good use of the theatrical tradition in which all roles were played by males. In the artificial world of the Elizabethan theatre, feminine-looking boys were chosen to play women, and women who wanted to act had to appear to be males with an exceptional talent for playing female roles. (This is the plot device behind the film Shakespeare in Love.) In this story, the narrator is an actor whose "love" is another member of the troupe, and the Queen's messenger is a magical female dwarf. Anything can happen on Midsummer's Night.
In another famous-person story, "Dietrich Wears Army Boots," Marlene Dietrich entertains American troops in Europe during the Second World War. As a German actress who defected from her country, she knows how it feels to be an outsider. When she meets a Red Cross ambulance driver who is not as male as he looks, she keeps his secret.
The author convincingly evokes the live-for-the-moment atmosphere of wartime. In two stories, "To Remember You By," and "Alternate Lives," an American nurse has an affair with a woman pilot in 1943, then reconnects with her in 1978. The queer politics of the decades after 1969 are simply not relevant to this plot. Kay, the narrator, is a sexually inexperienced young woman during the war, and she is swept off her feet by Cleo, who loves the open sky. Kay has an epiphany:
I'd admired women before, but only esthetically, I'd rationalized, or with mild envy; and, after all, I liked men just fine. But this flush of heightened sensitivity, this sense of rushing toward some cataclysm... This was unexplored territory.
The two women are pulled apart by circumstances at the end of the war. For years, no one in Kay's life suspects how deeply she was affected by her wartime romance.
Eventually, the wife of Kay's grandson proposes to make a documentary about American nurses in the war, and her questions bring all the memories back. These memories include the story of her bittersweet reunion with Cleo in Alaska in the 1970s, when women are finally admitted into the U.S. Air Force and "the WASPs of WWII got a little overdue recognition." By then, it is too late for Kay and Cleo to pick up where they left off.
This saga hits all the right notes. It seems as believable as my own mother's story of her lesbian romance in New York City in the late 1930s, when "gay" bars were unheard-of, but "Bohemian" culture and special circumstances created social space for same-sex relationships. In the social mainstream, a lesbian identity was hard (if not impossible) to maintain, and my mother's wartime photos include shots of her wedding to my father, a dashing U.S. Navy officer.
The title story of the book, "A Ride to Remember," is a historical piece with a steampunk flavor. In fin-de-siecle London, a young woman opera singer is invited to spend a decadent weekend with a group of young men-about-town, disguised as one of them. A mechanical genius unveils a steam-driven carousel as the climax of the house party. His audience seems unimpressed until the mechanical animals reappear with live female riders, all naked except for masks, boots and headdresses. The circular, up-and-down movement of the animals facilitates a dazzling sexual display. The young woman in trousers has a life-changing experience.
The different historical eras dealt with in this book are parallel to different stages of an individual life. Several of these stories show the "second adolescence" of an older woman in love. In "Of Dark and Bright," the narrator contemplates her crush on another woman:
The author's own experience has clearly resulted in a richness of perspective. There are only thirteen stories in this book, but each is almost as complex and absorbing as a novel.
Where does this surge of raging hungers fit into life's cycle? ...You'd think some wisdom would have been gained, in all that time; but not enough to ease me through this turmoil.
As a huge fan of short fiction, the first thing I want to say about Justine Elyot’s The Business of Pleasure is that it reads half as short fiction, and half as a novella – and that this “short fiction” half is a good thing.
The half that reads as a novella is about Charlotte – a submissive woman with a boring job who has decided to contact “the Number.” The Number is a business catering to the sexual desires of its clientele, and we see Charlotte live out her fantasy of being submissive to two men in the first chapter – and then return to Charlotte every other chapter thereafter.
Charlotte’s course takes her further and further into the machinations of this company, and she gets more and more involved with the two strange men who run the Number. That these two men are dominant sexually – and both arouse her in different ways – is the major crux of Charlotte’s story, and the central tale to the narrative in general. Unfortunately, I had a hard time connecting to Charlotte’s story.
The alternate chapters, however, were where The Business of Pleasure caught and kept my attention. As I mentioned, each reads almost as a short story – though some characters will carry over into another chapter or step into the Charlotte narrative – and involves a single client of the Number setting up their first appointment with the company and finding release from their daily lives.
These chapters were more varied – though for the most part all the women in the book, with one exception, are submissive – and brought a more varied sense of sensuality to the book than the Charlotte chapters. I did find myself wishing that one or two of the women would have been a bit more sexually dominant, but the various scenes purchased by the women – the dirty mechanic shop, an exhibitionist window, a porn stage, a pleasure harem – weren’t cookie-cutter clones of each other. The characters themselves were also varied, and didn’t read as clones of each other. Though their fantasties were ones where they were treated as sexual objects, the women’s personalities weren’t all passive and meek. Even the men involved –mostly actors picked up by the Number – had some depth to them in a few of the non-Charlotte chapters. These stories were where it was at for me, and I’d say that if you’re a lover of short erotic fiction, they’ll suit you.
The Charlotte story itself left me frustrated at times, though not in an erotic sense. Throughout the whole story, The Business of Pleasure has scorching, well-written erotica. There’s the occasional turn of phrase that might make you blink (orgasms that take off like a jet pack?) but the overall scenes and erotic interactions are hot. It was Charlotte’s incredibly submissive character that I had trouble connecting with. Her dilemma (which man of the two men) annoyed me at times, since in my reading experience it seemed that she only emotionally connected with one of the two men. It left me feeling like it should have been an easier decision, but this isn’t to say it didn’t make sense for Charlotte to waffle. She is a character not very able to be forceful in any way, and making a choice was a part of this. Unfortunately, that left me more annoyed with her than empathetic to her.
If there had perhaps been a few stronger women in the storylines tucked between the Charlotte pages, this might not have stuck out so much. Charlotte is one of the most submissive personalities I think I’ve read in erotica so far – and between all the other women who desired to be treated as whores or tarts or sluts, it just hit a point of overload in my mind. I needed a woman – or two – to take charge to take the reader in a different direction for a moment.If you like erotica with submissive women, however, this story will suit you more than fine. I didn’t realize I had this bias until about three quarters of the way through. As I said, the alternating non-Charlotte chapters read like high-heat erotic short stories – and I did enjoy those. I’m curious to see if Elyot has any short fiction collections, as I’d be interested in reading those.
Of all the sub genres of erotic literature, none depends so much on convention as BDSM. Eternally popular scenarios occur again and again: the stern schoolmistress and the disobedient pupil; the Victorian master and his innocent maidservant; the secluded mansion that serves as a playground for perverse, decadent sadists and their abused slaves. Connoisseurs of D/s fiction (among whom I count myself) experience a warm surge of pleasure when we recognize one of these classic tropes. Despite the fact that we've encountered them again and again, these scenes have what it takes to push our buttons.
Authors of BDSM tales (again, a group to which I belong) have a difficult task. Somehow we need to use the emotional impact of these familiar scenarios without becoming trapped by stereotypes. In some cases, the key to keeping BDSM erotica fresh lies in creating distinctive, involving characters that draw the readers' empathy. In other stories, a skilled author may twist or invert the conventions. The student may end up caning the professor or the maid may turn out to be a good deal naughtier and more experienced than her employer realizes. Whatever approach we take, we face a tremendous challenge.
The Perfect Submissive by Kay Jaybee does not completely succeed in meeting this challenge. This novel recycles traditional scenarios without adding much that is new. The one-dimensional characters for the most part fail to engage the reader's sympathy or interest. The BDSM activity offered by the book is relentless, occasionally creative, and frequently extreme, but neither the dominants nor the submissives seem to be motivated by much beyond a desire for physical release.
The novel is set at The Fables country hotel. Owner/manager Laura Peters maintains a special set of rooms on the fifth floor for guests looking for more than bed and breakfast. Room 50 is a dungeon, 51 a Victorian study, 52 a school room, and so on. Laura employs a number of staff to assist her in catering to her guests' desires, including the sexy, stern dominatrix Miss Sarah and the jack-of-all-perversions bartender Master Lee. When twenty five year old Jess Saunders takes a job as The Fables' new receptionist, Laura is convinced that the demure, curvy red head is a natural submissive and sets out to initiate the poor young woman into the delights and dangers of BDSM.
Jess is the most appealing and believable character in the book. Her demanding, unpredictable employer both intimidates and arouses her. Consistent with Mrs. Peters' intuitions, Jess discovers that the scenes played out on the fifth floor turn her on more than anything she's previously experienced. She's appalled by the personal perversity her training reveals but helpless to resist her own lust. Her uncertainty and confusion ring true.
Mrs. Peters, in contrast, seems superficial, arrogant, self-centered and cruel. She uses Jess for her own pleasure without the slightest sense of responsibility. I suppose that some readers enjoy bossy, ultra-bitchy dominants who hurt their submissives just to prove that they can. That sort of emotional dynamic doesn't interest me, however. I prefer mistresses and masters who recognize the value of the sub's surrender and show some concern for his or her well-being.
The other characters exist mainly to serve as props in the kinky fifth floor scenarios, including the climactic test of Jess' discipline and endurance in the ominous room 54. They are all, of course, physically attractive and sexually insatiable.
In addition to its general lack of originality, The Perfect Submissive suffers from some rather poor writing. Ms. Jaybee's prose exhibits confusing POV shifts, ungrammatical sentences, and incorrect punctuation, as well as what I would consider an overabundance of adjectives and adverbs. Many of these problems could and should have been caught by a competent editor. Consider the following passage, which I found by opening to a more or less random page.
Hastened into position by his mistress, Paul's shirt was torn from his back, his smooth torso bent over the desk's leather inlay, and his outstretched muscular arms grasped each side of the desktop. Jess gasped at the sight of his arse. It was truly gorgeous. She was so close to him, only two metres away. She could smell his desire and almost taste the frisson of fear that ran down his spine; prone and vulnerable, as he anticipated the first strike.
Balling her hands into fists, Jess's fingernails dug into the flesh of her palms as she waited in unexpected harmony with the man before her...
Verbal modifiers ("Hastened..." and "Balling...") followed by an inappropriate subject in the main clause are one of my pet peeves. I'd also like to know how one could taste a frisson of fear.The awkward, amateurish prose begins on the very first page. If I had not made a commitment to review the book, I would have given up on the book immediately. Now I'm glad that I didn't stop, though, because reading this book taught me a lesson. Despite the problems I've cited, I did find some parts of The Perfect Submissive arousing. Ultimately, it didn't matter that the writing was flawed or that the characters were shallow. I'm somewhat embarrassed to admit that the stereotypes still turned me on. The journey of a kinky soul discovering her true nature is a theme dear to my heart. I enjoy a tale of erotic self-discovery even when it's told badly.
In the not too distant past, erotica editors bluntly stated that they didn't want to see science fiction or fantasy in submissions to erotica anthologies. Circlet Press was the only publisher supplying it to grateful readers. After a brief - but still too long - silent period, owner Cecilia Tan embraced ebooks, and suddenly Circlet was stronger than ever. (They have some books in print too) Thank goodness. The offerings from Circlet are unique in quality, style, and there's still no better place to get your fix of science fiction/speculative fiction/fantasy erotica.
A great example of this is Cecilia Tan's own The Prince's Boy. For you lovers of high fantasy sword and sorcery with an epic battle over the hero's soul (I almost said hole), this is the story for you. Tan knows fantasy fiction. She knows what we love about it, and she knows how to write the genre without ever resorting to anything that reads like standard issue plot line. Sadly, because this is a real bang-for-your-buck offering at around 500 pages, I only had time to read the first volume and four chapters of the second volume (because I couldn't resist), for this review. But I plan to finish it when I have time. That's the power of some damn fine story telling.
Originally published as a serial on Circlet's livejournal (or website), you can now get all the episodes of this story in one (or two) convenient files. Serialized fiction, as Cecilia notes in her preface, is different from reading a standard novel. This isn't like the old time short reel movies, but more like fanfic (fan fiction). And like fanfic, it's slashy (M/M, or male on male), but you know, sometimes, that's exactly what you want to read. (If these terms are confusing you, I'm sorry, but it will take much more space than I have here to explain slash and fanfic. Unfortunately, if you look it up, what you're going to see is a lot of patronizing male prats explaining how women think and feel, and getting it all so horribly, laughably wrong that you'll be left thinking that fanfic or slash are bad things. They aren't. Send me a private email if you want to discuss this further.)
But what's the plot? you may be asking. I feel as if anything I say might give away too much, and part of the joy of fantasy fiction is the story unfolding before you. There's a prince and he has a whipping boy he's grown to love. Unfortunately, a very bad person wants to break them apart and control the prince. There's heartbreak, there's dark sorcery, there's a lot of man on man sex, and there are soldiers. And that's just in the first half! Don't make me tell you more and ruin it.Some readers might be a bit squeamish about the BDSM elements, the torture, and the non-consensual sex. Consider yourself warned, although I didn't think it was too much. The only downside I saw was that because this was a serial, Tan tried to have sex in almost every scene, and after three hundred pages, I was getting a bit milk-fatigued. That may just be me. And that's the tiniest of crits, because overall, I thought this was an excellent high fantasy adventure. As I mentioned before, I still want to read the second half. So thumbs up.
“Blues is a feeling. You can write the truth with the blues. In the blues line, it always brings up on somebody you love or somebody who quits you. The blues gets to the nitty gritty with no foolishness in it.”
—Bukka White (1966)
THERE ARE only a few dream assignments which fall in the lap of a writer. When an editor asked me to pilot a collection of erotic stories based on the blues. I leaped at the glorious moment.
This is how Cole Riley’s introduction to Too Much Boogie begins. And, I have to admit, I find this somewhat daunting. Whilst I can identify with the enthusiasm that anyone feels for their personal passion, I’m not a big music fan. I enjoy some classical stuff. And I can sit through an opera or a musical without self-harming. But if someone turns on a pop radio station in my presence I will punch them in the face. And if they start to tell me about the soul-satisfying qualities, or the truthfulness of a piece of jazz, one of us will be poisoned.
Fortunately Too Much Boogie does not come with a soundtrack. And, from the moment I read Alegra Verde’s “The Things I Used to Do,” I have to admit I was hooked. The eroticism is frank and powerful. The content of the first story is written with an attention to stylish sexuality that is swift and scorching. And, as it transpires, you don’t have to have an innate understanding of jazz, or the blues or any other type of music to enjoy the content of this book. All you need is an appreciation of well-written erotica.
In D L King’s “She had to go and Lose it at the Astor” the eroticism lurks constantly beneath the surface of a misdirecting narrative. The protagonist, Minnie, presented as a model of decorum and naïveté, goes to the Astor with the intention of losing it. And it would be a hard-hearted reader who doesn’t lose it before the conclusion of this particular story. Superbly exciting writing.
Or take Lisabet Sarai’s “Red Eye.”
She arched her back, letting him bury his flesh more deeply in hers. She clenched her inner muscles around his hardness, wanting to swallow him, to make him part of her. He rammed his cock into her again and again, one hand over her mouth to stifle her cries. She writhed against him, each stroke a shuddering, prolonged delight that nudged her closer to the ultimate pleasure.
Aside from being devilishly erotic, as Sarai’s writing always is, ‘Red Eye’ is tinged with a bittersweet pathos that makes the sexual excitement all the more vivid.
Occasionally whilst going through this anthology I feared that the content suggested a Marxist reading. There seems to be a strong correlation between sex and money in several of the stories. There also seems to be heavy reliance on the objectification of the female as though she’s an accoutrement or accessory to be purchased and possessed.
But, from the little I understand of Blues music, the typical lyrics of this genre tend to suggest objectification and the commodification of sexual services in a patriarchal hegemony. Which is my way of saying that this semi-misogyny is appropriate for the theme of the stories.