I suppose it was bound to happen. I review Best Gay Erotica nearly every year, and I've always enjoyed it. This year, meh. It feels a little flat to me. It also seems a bit short at twelve stories and a graphic.. hmm. Can't call it a graphic novel. A graphic short story, perhaps?
Anyway, let's hit the highlights.
Simon Sheppard is a reliable writer, which sounds like an insult but isn't meant that way. His stories always grab me with wit, great writing, and deliciously raunchy scenes. His “Your Jock” is - deep inhale - evocative. You can almost smell it. And yeah, I'm a girl, but this is raw nerve erotica that makes my writer's eyes green with envy.
I'm waffling on “Sunday in the Park” by Jamie Freeman. On one hand, it's well written and interesting, but on the other hand, it seemed to lack that male energy I anticipate. But maybe you don't want your sex hyped up and in your face. Maybe you like it a bit more laid back. In that case, you might want to dive into Shaun Levin's “Foreigner's in Stiges” too, which is all kinds of lovely, lyrical, and melancholy.
“Translations” by Roscoe Hudson hits hard on the brutish German in uniform fantasy, but it hits that mark well. Intellectual, but rough too. If I ever meet Roscoe though, I'll have to ask him if you'd really use the more formal Sie instead of the more familiar du when a guy is ramming your ass. Yes, that's the kind of strange thing I muse over while reading erotica.
The rest of the anthology isn't bad, not by a long shot, but I've been spoiled by years of incredible stories all jostling for my attention. Maybe I just read too much erotica. However, while on a personal level I might give this a sideways rating, Best Gay Erotica remains one of the most anticipated anthologies of the year for a good reason. Just because all the stories didn't hit the right note for me doesn't mean they won't work for you. So I'm going to give it thumbs up, even if those thumbs aren't fully erect.
Maybe I’m jaded from reading so much erotica for so many years. Or maybe the Best Lesbian Erotica series, compiled every year since 1995, has set me up to expect every story to be brave, experimental, poignant or multi-faceted.
Whatever it is, the latest edition seems to have an excessively high ratio of sex scenes to plot, character development and settings. Of course, you could say. It’s erotica. In all fairness, these stories are well-written. In this sense, the series consistently lives up to its title of Best Lesbian Erotica, if “best” means written by competent professionals to produce the desired effects.
Here is my beef, as far as I can explain it in words: things have changed.
When the series was launched in the mid-1990s, graphic descriptions of lesbian sex were harder to find than descriptions of sex between men and women, or men and men. Sex involving transgendered folks was rarely even imagined. (To a large extent, this is still true.) As Tristan Taormino, original series editor, explained in her first introduction, references to lesbian sex before that point were characterized by euphemistic lines like the famous description of the consummation of a lesbian love affair in The Well of Loneliness (1928): “And that night, they were not divided.”
In 1995, detailed accounts of what could be done to stimulate, tease, torment or satisfy women’s most sensitive parts were a fairly radical thing even in a heterosexual context. When the graphic sex was woman-to-woman (or when it involved more than two female bodies), it was downright revolutionary. Anyone who remembered the Feminist Sex Wars of the 1980s was blown away by the vulgar, joyful, “male” (according to some feminist definitions) energy of this stuff, yet it was clearly not written by males. For one thing, the erotica in the Best Lesbian Erotica series showed a knowledge of female anatomy that few male writers (who are not also medical doctors or transmen) seemed to have. This writing looked like a message straight from the clits of the Amazon Nation. Or maybe from the g-spots.
The high-energy, high-impact quality of the erotica in this series has been maintained, but erotica has diversified since the 1990s. Probably more to the point, explicit sex has slithered into relatively “mainstream” fiction, including lesbian novels and short stories. “Mary fucked Sue” (and/or vice versa) is no longer the kind of plot which would get a lesbian writer kicked out of every lesbian-feminist community as well as her blood family.
I love the Best Lesbian Erotica series, and I have felt deeply honored to have my stories included in past volumes (in 2000, 2001, 2005, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009). However, it becomes painfully obvious over time that there are only so many ways to describe female plumbing and the things that can be done to or with it. Lesbians have sex, and we also have lives. My favorite lesbian fiction is the kind that acknowledges what sex is like in a complex, real-world context – or on Planet X.
In short, I would like to see a little more depth and diversity in the lesbian erotica of the second decade of the 21st century. I’ve probably been spoiled.
To give an example of the sexual descriptions in this collection, here is part of a scene from “Hot Yoga” by Anne Grip, a story that moves from a yoga session to a sex club:
The next thrust was so deep it made her scream. Or sing. Or cry. Tears poured down her face. Or snot. Or lube. Or come.
The theme of we-shouldn’t-do-this-but-we-can’t-help-it runs through several stories, including the ironically-named “Vacation” by Ali Oh, in which the lovers must be discreet in an overcrowded family home:
She doesn’t do this, not in her mom’s house. After a whirlwind of movement, I’m perched on the counter tiles, boxers on but stretched to allow her mouth. She wrenches my legs apart and pushes me against the cabinets. Her head is between my legs and I grab a handful of her hair as my blood heats up, and I feel myself get wetter as her tongue circles my clit, as she flicks languidly up and down, over my slit.
In story after story, women burn, melt, thrust, gush, gasp, stretch and scream. Reading this book is like watching a sex show combined with an opera. As in past editions, several contributors to this one are performance artists, and it shows.
The most memorable stories in this volume contain something besides (or instead of) uncontrollable lust. The opening story, “Touched” by Amy Butcher is a brilliant take on a standard “coming out” trope: the schoolgirl crush. There is no sex at all here, if “sex” means genital contact, yet one girl feels as touched by divine energy as Saint Teresa of Avila, and the reader believes her.
“Blood Lust” by Giselle Renarde features a mysterious woman whose back is as covered in graffiti as a bathroom wall, all cut into her flesh. She shows the narrator how to add her own mark without leaving a single drop of blood on the carpet. This scene looks like an acting-out of the impossible deal in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice: the merchant owes the moneylender a pound of his flesh as collateral, but the merchant’s clever female lawyer (disguised as a man, of course) points out that the contract doesn’t allow for the spilling of blood. In the world of Renarde’s story, pains morphs into pleasure, and the unbelievable becomes real.
Speaking of female blood, “Skin Deep” by Anna Watson is a realistic look at that touchiest of lesbian characters: a butch having her period. She doesn’t want to talk about it, but her understanding friend-with-benefits knows what she needs.
There is a refreshing amount of humor in some of these stories. “The Produce Queen” by Michelle Brennan is a lightweight anecdote about a woman’s fondness for raw vegetables. It’s not a new topic, but the author has a deft touch.
“Maid for You” by Deborah Castellano and “On My Honor” by D.L. King are entertaining scenes starring service submissives. In Castellano’s story, the “maid” is a friend-of-a-friend who shows up unexpectedly like a fairy godmother who materializes to relieve the narrator’s stress after a day of work, and in D.L. King’s story, the submissive has gone to a sex club on “uniform” theme night dressed as a Girl Scout.
“Never Too Old” by DeJay is the last story in the book, and it perfectly complements “Touched.” In DeJay’s hilarious romp, a sixty-year-old butch is taken aback when her “wife” of over thirty years discovers the world of sex toys.
On a more serious note, Sharon Wachsler’s “When You Call” is a subtly heartbreaking story about a disabled woman’s realistic fear of being left (again), and the patience of her committed lover. “How He Likes It” by Xan West, “Envy” by Lulu Laframboise and “Neck Magic” by Nancy Irwin are meditations on the emotional complexities of BDSM.
But if you like your lesbian erotica focused on a steady, uncomplicated climb to an earth-shattering orgasm (or several), there are plenty of hot quickies here. The one-handed stories work perfectly well. They might even work better for some readers than the more nuanced stories I prefer.
This annual anthology remains the gold standard of the genre.
I adore mythology. When it comes to the Greek or Norse myths, I could read and re-read for hours, especially since so many of the tales have been written – or re-written – in so many different voices. Interpretation, so often key in any historical pursuit, is everything, and where different tellings of the “same” tale can go can astound me. So I had high hopes for Seducing the Myth, and maybe that came into play a little bit too much, but the end result was a mixed bag. In her introduction, Felthouse says it was a close call between doing a mythology anthology and a paranormal anthology – and I have to agree, except that’s how I felt about Seducing the Myth.
It’s not that the myths the authors chose to tackle in the anthology were uninteresting – I actually found the range of myths quite intriguing, and many of the ideas were very clever. But there was an unevenness that crept in a bit too often – many of the stories read more paranormal than mythological.
The opening tale, “Djinn and Tonic” by Lexie Bay, was quick to illustrate that we weren’t going to be playing with just the typical Greek myths. I liked that – but then I found that I sincerely disliked Laura, the main character of the story. She likes her man more or less – it’s hard to tell if she loves him – but gosh if he isn’t just sad in the sack. But, he’s rich and he loves her and he’s a nice guy, so she’ll make a go of it – even if she does think he has a weak chin. When she thinks to herself that she’s being a bitch, I whole heartedly agreed, and had to struggle through the rest of the story. The erotic contents of her journey with her mother-in-law’s djinn – which she’ll inherit along with the house when she marries her husband – left me more annoyed than aroused. It’s not that the sex wasn’t well written – it was, and the author had a lot of fun with the wish-granting djinn – it’s just that this horrible woman was going to end up with everything. At no point did I have the slightest wish for her to end up happy.
Fulani’s “Andi in Chains” follows – and tackles the myth of Andromeda by turning everyone involved into crime families on a modern day coastal city. This story was my favourite of the anthology – taking the bare bones of the myth, twisting it perfectly into a contemporary setting, and heating up the temperature to a high pitch. When Perseus (a ruthless gun for hire) comes across Andi all trussed up for some pirates due to a turf war gone bad, well, things happen. I loved the retelling here – crime families, drug cartels – and it sizzled as well as being an incredibly clever idea.
Some of the stories show this same cleverness (Medusa in K.D. Grace’s “Stones” and the wonderfully done “Aspara” by Burton Lawrence, which tackled South Asian mythology), some less so, though they did grant some well-written erotic prose (“The Weary Traveller” by Indigo Skye, for example, is sexy but didn’t really reinvent the wheel). Some stories were good but didn’t really hit on a particular myth – they’re more magical realism or urban fantasy. Again, that’s not a bad thing – “Logan’s Treasure” by Lisa Fox had a decent plot – a captain finds a treasure that leads him to an island of bliss that might come with a terrible price – but I spent a good amount of time wondering if there was a myth I was forgetting or just missing. Was this supposed to be Theseus, maybe? Mermaids, the Undead, Fairies, Lost Seductive Souls – I kept struggling.
Similarly, “Beltane Fire” by Hawthorn – a really solid story, scorching sex, and as someone who has always loved watching the wheel of the year turn, I was very happy to see Beltane get some representation. This was another story I really thought was well-written and engaging, and wonderfully sexual in a very affirming way – but mythological? I’m not sure.
“The True Folly of Icarus” by Saskia Walker, “Saving Orpheus” by Indigo Skye, “A Temple for Hera” by Maxine Marsh and “In the Springtime” by Elizabeth Thorne are probably the stories that are the most like what I was expecting. These are myths re-told with an erotic lens. Others, like “Blooming April’s Flower” by Jillian Murphy, straddle the line a bit between paranormal and mythological.It’s this sometimes lack of focus that left me a bit befuddled with the anthology. There are some seriously strong stories here – again, I really enjoyed what Fulani did to the Andromeda myth – but overall, there was a lack of cohesiveness. If you read Seducing the Myth as a loose collection of erotic stories with some mythology, some magic, some spirits, and some paranormal, then I think you’ll have a good time. But for every two mythology stories, I felt like I bumped into one that fit more the paranormal niche instead.
Within the canon of erotic literature, it’s fair to say that three titles have dominated the genre. First and foremost is de Sade’s novella Justine (Les Malheurs de la Vertu, 1791). Explicit, graphic and wholly misogynistic, Justine follows the story of an eponymous hero doing the right thing and suffering for such virtues. There is a lesser known sequel to this title: Juliette. This story follows the fortunes of Justine’s sister (Juliette) who succeeds in life by being anything but virtuous. The one time Juliette does something virtuous, she suffers for it.
The second title to dominate the canon of erotica is Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s Venus in Furs (Venus im Pelz, 1890). Whereas de Sade had sexualised the brutalisation of women by men, Sacher-Masoch expanded on this idea and showed that women could sexually brutalise men (should they be commanded to do so by a man). Sacher-Masoch’s hero, Severin, begs the story’s antagonist, Wanda, to treat him as a slave. Wanda is reluctant at first, but ultimately takes to the role with vindictive enthusiasm.
And then there’s the third title to dominate the genre: The Story of O (Histoire d’O, 1954) by Pauline Réage. The Story of O is the story of one woman’s absolute submission to a dominant male master. It’s a tale that begins with emotional submission and ultimately ends in total physical submission.
Of the three books mentioned here, The Story of O has a lot more working in its favour in the opinion of this writer. All three books were originally written in a language other than English, and so they each reach the majority of English-speaking readers through translation. De Sade and Sacher-Masoch have both given eponyms to the language (sadism and masochism, respectively) but it is The Story of O that remains the more accessible of these titles.
The Story of O is the most contemporary of the titles – depicting a world which (save for the absence of computers and mobile phones) is not that dissimilar from ours. The Story of O also stands out amongst these three titles because it was written by a woman.
And I mention all of this to give a sense of place to Debra Hyde’s The Story of L. The title itself is an obvious homage to Réage’s masterpiece. The layout of the story, following the path to servitude taken by the story’s central character Liv/L, is equally reminiscent of the original. But, rather than producing a carbon copy of the original, set in the twenty-first century, Hyde has been clever and artful in her interpretation.
A chuckle floated to her, sounding at once pleased and amused.
“Hold out your hands,” came the command. Liv complied, expecting to be cuffed. But the next command baffled her. “Show me your ears. Now your neckline.”
She’s inspecting me, Liv discovered. Cassandra voiced the final step in the process.
“Lift your skirt and expose yourself.”
The gesture felt unduly feminine to Liv but she complied.
Inwardly, resistance and distaste roiled, but submission was not meant to be trouble free. Struggle came with the territory.
Her skirt raised, Liv shrank as the room’s warmth made her all too aware of the vulnerability that came with nakedness.
“So, she’s truly naked,” Cassandra observed. “Not so much as a ring on her finger.” A pause followed the appreciative assessment. “You may lower your skirt.”
Lowering her skirt, Liv sighed. Another hurdle passed. How many more would she have to jump to reach Cassandra? She knew better than to think Cassandra would allow her to simply walk across the room and throw herself and her lust at her. The dynamics she had agreed to did not work that way.
This novel is Debra Hyde’s stylish way of interpreting a classic story of lust and passion and bringing it up to date as a love story between experienced participants from the world of BDSM. Hyde’s narrative is accessible and uncomplicated and she presents this story with a convincing air of authority.Any reader sharing Liv’s journey will be drawn into the realism of the story world and mesmerised by the way Hyde brings this homage to life. This is a definite recommendation for all lovers of lesbian romance and those who enjoy contemporary interpretations of classic erotic literature.
I opened this book in a rather skeptical mood. At first glance, “women in lust” seems like an overly generic theme for an erotic anthology. Couldn't any erotic story (except, of course, gay male erotica) be viewed as appropriate? Isn't lust what erotica is all about?
Yes, and no. The implicit contrast in the tales collected in this volume is lust - as opposed to love. It's not that these stories all feature casual sex or encounters with strangers, although many do. Some of the most intense tales involve long-term partners, and even some of the less committed couples obviously love one another. The overall premise of Women in Lust, however, is that desire and its fruition can be intense, fulfilling, life-changing, on its own, regardless of whether love is present. With my current immersion in erotic romance, where love is the sine qua non of any sexual activity, I find this perspective refreshing.
“Guess,” by Charlotte Stein, is a case in point. In this tale,the hero and heroine play a game, where one is blindfolded while the other perpetrates various acts upon his or her body. The story makes it clear that they've indulged in this activity many times before – but the uncertainty, along with the purely physical sensations, keep it new. The focus is on arousal, here and now, even though the couple's shared history deepens the experience.
Donna George Storey's “Comfort Food” lingers lovingly – or perhaps I should say “lustfully” - on the sensual pleasures of preparing and consuming food. Ms. Storey's forty-something heroine savors the body of the young chef she seduces with equal delight. The heroine's recent divorce and subsequent loneliness provide an emotional backdrop, but the focus of the tale is mutual pleasure, not existential healing.
In the original and insightful “Bite Me,” Lucy Hughes illustrates how lust comes first and perhaps, love might follow afterward. A college boy admits his masochistic cravings to his female pal, and she discovers that the process of inflicting that pain is far more exciting than she would have ever guessed.
Elizabeth Coldwell explores the thrill of rough, filthy, anonymous sex in her elegant story “Smoke,” then turns the tables at the conclusion by bringing marriage into the mix. In “Cherry Blossoms”, the deliciously sensuous offering from Kayar Silkenvoice, a visitor to Kyoto has a peak experience of exquisite release in the hands of her female masseuse. Portia da Costa's “Naughty Thoughts” turns on the ever-popular trope of the insightful Dom who intuits a woman's submissive desires even when she tries to hide them. Does he love her? When he spanks her, it hardly matters. Clancy Nacht's “Bayou” teems with the languid, steamy sensuality of the swamp, where fevered desire can be kindled and quenched in a matter of minutes.
Shanna Germain's stunning “Beneath the Skin,” a chilling yet believable portrayal of knife play, deserves special mention. The narrator must love the man who cuts her – how could she trust him if she did not? - but the experience of coming under the knife has an immediacy that pushes everything else into the background:
Each pull of the knife is different from the last, and the same, too. The way it starts, sharp pinprick; the way it slides, slippery line of pain; the way it ends, fading so quick into nothing that I am already aching for the next one. I feel like a knife myself, lying so straight and still, everything honed. Invincible even as Kade is opening my skin, exposing the part of me that no one else has ever seen.
“Don't come,” he says. “You'll shake too much.”
This is lust refined by fear, lust that does more than kindle pleasure, lust that strips away illusions and reveals truths so dark one can scarcely bear to look at them – and yet cannot look away.Women in Lust includes many other notable tales, some by familiar favorites (Justine Elyot, Jacqueline Applebee, K.D. Grace, and Ms. Bussel herself), others by authors new to me. Almost every story revs up the heat. Overall, this is a strong collection of well-written tales that demonstrate the many varieties of lust that women can experience – no happily ever after required.