Can I be honest here? There are not many advantages to being a book reviewer.
The hours are terrible. I say that because I’m writing this whilst the rest of the world is asleep.
The money is abysmal: this month’s reviewing salary won’t pay the price of a tank of gasoline. (That said, with the way fuel prices are rising at the moment, I suspect there are some bankers and lottery winners who won’t be able to afford a tank of gasoline this month).
There are also times when I’m expected to read and review books that are an insult to the concept of publication. This used to be fun in the days of printed books, when I could angrily toss a book across the room and watch it smack against the wall; or when I could occasionally burn a paperback in my own homage to the historical mentals who have burnt books. But there are serious ramifications to personal cost when I do this with a Kindle.
Being a book reviewer doesn’t give me any street cred or kudos. People don’t come up to me and say, “Wow! Ashley, I hear you review books. What a sexy occupation. Please tell me all about that whilst I lavish you with pleasure and other sociological or psychological benefits.”
Yet there is one advantage to being a book reviewer. And that one advantage happened this month. This month I happened to be one of the fortunate ones who got an early chance to read Rachel Kramer Bussel’s latest anthology Going Down: Oral Sex Stories.
To show you how lucky I am, here’s a short piece from the opening story, “Pretty Dull.”
She didn’t think his wife or her husband were very giving and receiving sorts of people.
But oh, he was. His hand went to the side of her face, when she finally took him in her mouth. He didn’t push or force, however, or grasp a handful of her hair. Instead he cradled her face tenderly, as though he wanted to thank her through a touch.
It burned more deeply than the feel of him, all thick and too-hard in her mouth. Her clit jumped inside her already-wet panties, and when he carded his fingers through her hair she grew slicker still. Her cunt bloomed beneath no touch at all, and when she swirled her tongue around the glossy head of his gorgeous prick, the urge to touch herself grew too great.
She resisted, however. He’d resisted. She’d never seen him stroke himself, as he licked her pussy. He’d focused entirely on her, and she wanted to give him the same. She wanted to suck strong and fierce until his taste flooded her mouth—strangely sweet, in a way other men had never been—and moan in that exact way he had.
“Pretty Dull” is written by the eminently readable and talented Charlotte Stein. Charlotte knows how to write erotic fiction and she introduces characters who are living and breathing people. This story works as a piece of erotica as well as an emotional journey where exploration and generosity are contrasted against conservatism and repression.
This is, I think, a point of view which echoes the sentiment voiced in the introduction by Rachel Kramer Bussel.
I thought I knew, if not everything, quite a bit about the fine art of oral sex until I started to read the stories that came in for Going Down. In them, giving and receiving head became its own, if you’ll pardon the pun, head trip, and showed me that there is plenty for even the most seasoned connoisseur to learn and enjoy about an act that brings pleasure to so many.
Not that all of the stories in the collection focus on alternatives for repression or approaches to banish the dysfunctional. Jeremy Edwards, “Bubble Gum,” produces a piece of fiction where the narrative is less important than the tremendous physicality of the description. Similarly, Lucy Felthouse, “Clean/Dirty,” relates a first person narrative with the focus on the pleasure of oral sex between consenting adults.
But, as Rachel Kramer Bussel points out, this is an anthology that does not simply show oral sex occurring. The stories in this collection touch new areas and stretch the boundaries. One of my favourites in this category is Shanna Germain’s pragmatically titled short, “Sucking Casey’s Cock.”
“Danny, who taught you how to go down on a woman?” He laughed, and then it was his turn to blush a little.
“You.” It was true—when he’d gotten his first real girlfriend at eighteen, I’d been the one he’d gone down on first. He was the only guy I’d ever had between my legs, and I’d been surprised to discover that if you closed your eyes—and ignored the scratch of his teenage beard—tongues felt a lot alike no matter the gender. He’d made me come—twice, in fact—and I’d discovered something about myself, too. I liked having the power of telling someone what to do. I was a little lesbian domme in the making.
This is another stellar anthology from Cleis Press. The standard of writing is high and the depth of the subject matter is seldom short of thought-provoking. If there was ever a reason for a book reviewer to boast of an advantage to their job, then it’s being one of the first to read this delightful collection.
I went into Revolt of the Naked in the wrong frame of mind. I am a big science fiction fan, but came late to the party, and haven’t done much back-tracking. It was only a couple of years ago, for example, that I read Ringworld. Ringworld has a kind of “out-of-date” charm to it. As did I, Robot. No one would swear by saying “Sizzling Saturn!” for example. I flinched a few times reading those, and then got past it to the stories at the core – which I enjoyed.
This was, more or less, my experience with Revolt. At first, something about the writing rubbed me the wrong way – but it took me a little while to realize what I was reading. This is – and I hope I’m not doing a disservice to the author here by saying so – set up to read like one of the golden age of science fiction stories. Rockets, and pod-like plants; plastics mentioned as some sort of uber-amazing material; all manner of science fiction tropes that you’ve not really seen since Flash Gordon hung up his golden shorts.
My resistance faded at the same time I had that realization. Read in this way – as a kind of homage – the book has real charm. I was waiting for someone to ride in on sky chariots with “laser guns” or something, and it started to be quite fun.
The crux of Revolt of the Naked is – unsurprisingly – a tale about an upcoming revolution, the revolution itself, and then some of what happens after. The planet Talanta is the furthest colony from Earth that was colonized, and maybe the only one to survive the plague that hit and wiped out almost everyone (and did cause the death of all the women). What were men to do but turn to genetic engineering of naked male slaves to do all the work while they drank, played, and had sex? There’s some interesting cultural shades to the tale – in the city above the jungle, men don’t allow themselves to be topped (that’s for the man-whores and the nakeds – who are slaves bound with the inability to disagree with any command given to them by their owner). In the city, men are basically rutting all the time and trying to trick each other into bottoming – which is the highest form of social ruin once this happens to someone – and then moving on after the conquest to the next. Down in the jungle, where the Jungle Men (no, seriously) draw the healing waters up to the city, they’ve got a more, uh, versatile outlook, and look up pityingly at the city folk with their naked slaves and hang-ups about anal pleasures.
I mean seriously. You’d think the future would have gotten over it by now, eh?
But! The revelations start to come – along with social upheaval – once the Jungle Men learn just where the Nakeds come from, and then the untimely arrival of a natural disaster does the unthinkable: the Nakeds are freed from their control, and then there’s the titular revolt, and everything starts to change. But will it be too late for Talanta? Have they lost the ability to clone more of themselves and make future generations? Is this the end of (incredibly hung) man as we know it?
(And I’ll just add here, without ruining it, that the solution to this particular problem was stunningly retro sci-fi and worthy of a genuine amusement – and I don’t mean that in a bad way.)
The story is linear, and more or less predictable, but that’s not a criticism. Again, if you’re reading in that “golden age” frame of mind, you’ll enjoy that. And this being an erotica review site, I should also say that every single man in this book is described as better than most burly fellas you’ve ever seen in real life. Not to mention hornier.
Part of this stems from the – of course – genetic engineering done on mankind to idealize him (which, for the record, means increasing both ball size and how low said balls hang, as well as general length and girth of said fella’s “meat.” Also included is a generally ramped up sex drive, with the ability to have six or seven orgasms every other moment). Everyone is muscular, everyone is sexy, everyone is ready to stop and get off. Compliments about each other’s body and “meat” (one of my only real complaints with the story is how often “meat” is used as the synonym of choice) abound. They’re also fashion-confused, since they’re constantly bulging out and/or showing skin despite putting on those tiny little loin-cloths. Fun-fact: man parts grow when aroused, next time, try lycra! I joke, but it’s another recurring theme to the tale – only the Nakeds wear nothing on hot Talanta, but Talanta is hot, so everyone else just wears sandals and loin-cloths. Specifically, loin-clothes that are designed to fail. It’s hilarious – again, in a good way.
Sex is explosive and sticky – and constant – and there are enough iterations and combinations that I think the author managed to hit pretty much every position, activity, and/or set-up in the 200 pages Sadero had to work with. Similarly, the descriptions and emotionality of the characters are also seen through that “golden age” lens: the epiphanies come quickly (as do the orgasms) and though the character progression can feel simplified because of this, it doesn’t feel out of place.
There’s a couple of dom characters, a submissive “but I like getting fucked a whole lot!” aw-shucks character, more than a few orgy moments, hairy guys, smooth guys, despicable bully/rapist guys, man-whores with hearts of gold, and loving guys with shady secrets. And they all have sex with each other, pretty much all the time. Characters come and go throughout the plot in a way that can sometimes jar – “Wait, what happened to so-n-so? And who’s this guy?” – but if you read the tale as a tale about Talanta, rather than any particular people on the planet, it works to that end.
Revolt of the Naked is a curiosity. If you read it expecting today’s standard of Science Fiction, you’ll be let down. I nearly was – I had to stop, reset my mind frame, and start again. I’m still waffling over whether or not that meant I should nudge my rating to two-hands sideways, but I don’t think I will. If you enter Revolt of the Naked with a “Sizzling Saturn!” ready on the tip of your tongue and a willingness to enjoy it as a pulp sci-fi, I think you’re going to have a good time. It’s campy. It’s fun. It’s dripping with sweat and “juice” (which comes from the “meat”) and dialog that you always wanted Flash Gordon to say.
Especially in a loin-cloth.
In the excitement of the ebook revolution, lesbian erotic fiction seems a bit of the poor stepchild. True, Cleis Press publishes a couple of high profile lesbian collections each year, and Bold Strokes Books continues to offer F/F books to a mostly lesbian audience. Still, lesbian erotica is dwarfed by the enormous popularity of M/M and M/M/F erotica and erotic romance. I know from personal experience that it can be quite difficult to find a market for lesbian stories. And as a reader who enjoys quality F/F fiction, I've discovered my options are surprisingly limited.
Beth Wylde founded the Sapphic Planet authors community to provide support, advice and visibility for writers of lesbian fiction. The Sapphic Planet anthology is the first full length product of this community. The book offers nineteen stories in a range of styles and moods. Overall it admirably fulfills its goal as a showcase for the group's talented members. For someone like me, hungry for smart, sexy F/F stories, the book was a real treat.
The women in these tales cover the gamut of humanity – intellectuals, hairdressers, cops, beauty queens, femmes, butches and bois. Some stories focus on the erotic interactions of established couples, while others explore the intensity of chance encounters. Every story, though, features great sex: hot, wet, and explicit, with plenty of tongue and not a few toys as well. Though some stories are gentler than others, there's hardly a euphemism to be found lurking in this collection.
Possibly my favorite in the collection was Fiona Zedde's gorgeous “Love, Zora,” a sensual imagining of an affair between a young Haitian waitress and author/anthropologist Zora Neale Thurston during the 1920's Harlem Renaissance. The incandescent glory of first lust and the thrill of a power differential make this tale one of the most erotic things I've read in a while.
“Do you like me?” she asks, but does not wait for my answer. Her taste is sweet, like a mango in the heat of summer, her arms and throat brushed with the fine fur of peaches. She slides her hand under my skirt and lifts it, chuckles when she finds me wet and ready. Her fingers slide into me and I watch her greedily pushing under my skirt, looking for a place to call home in the wet folds of my quim. She doesn't mind that I don't move, that my eyes only flutter half closed as she pleasures me. My breasts feed her thirst, pebble and tremble beneath her tongue and teeth as they jut past the gaping blouse and jacket.
“You taste like caramel cream,” she murmurs into my skin. I forgive her the cliché as her mouth suckles and milks and I shudder quietly in passion. Her fingers plumb deep inside with a noise of decadence and of want spilling into the quiet space. My heart races. My neck bows. The air inside the car is hot. I come with the sound of a thousand sighs.
She's timed it perfectly. As the car slows down in the front of the building she pins up my hair, re-situates my hat. She is sliding her own gloves on when the driver opens the door. I know the smell of pussy floats out before us, announcing our pleasure like red banner in the chill night breeze.
Another outstanding story is Jodi Payne's “Licked.” Her heroine is a confident dyke on a business trip who's looking for a one night stand in the local lesbian bar.
I'm going home with someone tonight. Yes, I'm always this sure of myself. Tonight, I didn't even bother with a hotel room. I am seeing someone regularly at home, but like I said, home is a thousand miles away. As a wise man once sang, 'If you can't be with the one you love, honey, love the one you're with.’
Of course, anyone this arrogant is bound to get her comeuppance. The narrator finds herself intrigued, charmed and finally overwhelmed by a slight boi who's unexpectedly dominant. She doesn't regret it, even when she ends up being the one who's been taken, used, and dropped.
In Roxy Katt's irrepressibly kinky yarn “The Ungirdling,” a young office temp with a fetish for foundation garments seduces and subdues her matronly, girdle-wearing boss. The fact that this story is hilarious did not decrease its sexual charge, at least not for me.
Jean Roberta's insightful “Fame” turns on envy and hero-worship. The narrator thinks she's invisible to her famous-author neighbor, but she couldn't be more wrong.
Nan Andrews' story “Her Smile” is one of the longest tales in the book, recounting the gradual rapprochement of two very different women. Aside from its sympathetic heroines, I loved this story for its spot-on depiction of appearance-conscious Los Angeles:
The crowd at Jolene's was the hippest in town. All the right labels, all the right plastic surgery. It was surprising they ate or drank anything at all. No one here seemed larger than a size two. They sipped their neon-colored drinks, and I wondered why I'd come.
It wasn't for the food. Jolene's was known for having the most erratic menu in town. Raw food, foams, towering creations of air and straw; anything and everything as long as it was trendy. Some meals were truly inedible, but that wasn't why my agent wanted to meet here. It was to see and be seen.
“Brotherly Love,” by Beth Wylde, is a warm-hearted tale of a woman who thinks her sapphic tastes are a secret – until her brother-in-law sets her up with the girl of her dreams.
I was delighted to see a story from Tenille Brown, the first (for me at least) in quite a while. Her “Taming Tildy” features a woman's discovery of how she can make her spoiled brat lover behave.
Dylynn DeSaint's “Haircut” is a very naughty tale of a woman's after hours encounter with her hairdresser. I loved Ms. DeSaint's description of her heroine's sensations as she dons her harness, inserts her cock and steps out into the streets of New York.
Allison Wonderland's “Bathing Beauty” provides a playful, arousing snapshot of a committed couple, proving that there's nothing better than getting wet.
These are just some of the book's highlights. Practically every story was sexy enough to be worth reading. My primary complaint about Sapphic Planet is that the majority of tales in this collection are too short for my personal tastes. The book is 280 pages long, but in the format I received, each page held only a couple of paragraphs. I suspect that most of the stories fell into the 2000-3000 word range – enough time for an intense sexual encounter, but not much leeway for complexities or character development. I'm not faulting the craft in the most of these tales, but I found myself a bit frustrated when story after story ended – just as I thought things were getting interesting.
If you're looking for lots of lesbian sex, though, in all its moods – sweet, hot, rough, desperate, moody, guilty, mysterious, bittersweet – you can't go wrong with this collection. Hopefully there will be other, similarly entertaining volumes coming from Sapphic Planet.
I have a confession: I don't enjoy reading about female submission. It annoys me.
Perhaps I should qualify that. I don't enjoy stories that feature female submission to a male, probably because I've met too many pathetic male "masters" who are inexplicably humored in their delusion of supremacy by their female partners. I don't have the same intensity of reaction to f/f, m/m, or genderqueer/f/m/genderqueer BDSM, which made reading Say Please a lot more fun than most BDSM anthologies I'm assigned.
So you may be wondering what I find to like in the lesbian BDSM tales of Say Please. I'm here to look at the quality of writing, not conduct a wetness test. Besides, what gets me off probably isn't what gets you off, so that's a useless way to look at these stories.
If you like your fantasy scenes on the rough side, you'll find plenty in this anthology. Purge by Maria See may be the most controversial as it includes forced vomiting, but it's worth a read even if that's a squick for you, simply for the insights to a top who has a hard time handling what she's done and needs aftercare herself. There are a few stories with hardcore slapping too. A Slap in the Face by Rachel Kramer Bussel, The Cruelest Kind by Kiki DeLovely, and Feathers Have Weight by Alysia Angel feature some hardcore slapping. As Sinclair Sexsmith mentions in the introduction, slapping can be a hard limit for many people. While you may not think of it as rough, public scenes can be a huge turn-on in fantasy that would leave you terrified in reality. A Public Spectacle by DL King lets you enjoy the fantasy from the safety of your reading nook. And if piercings make you squirm in good ways, be sure to read Unworthy As I Am by Elizabeth Thorne
There are lots of lovely gender play stories to choose from. Do you like domestic discipline? You'll love Housewife by Gigi Frost and Gentleman Caller by Sossity Chiricuzio. Or maybe you're into bending gender until it's undergone an origami transformation, in which case Black Hanky by Sassafrass Lowrey, Going the Distance by Elaine Miller, Not Without Permission by Sinclair Sexsmith, and Strong by Xan West are going to speak to you.There's a lot here for the fan of BDSM. Is it lesbian? Yes, but there's wider identity here to embrace too. But no matter how you identify or how fluid the sexuality or gender of your fantasy lover is, I'm sure if you're into BDSM, you'll enjoy this anthology.
These stories all share a common premise. All feature a kind of magical telescope that enables the viewer to see into hotel rooms at a distance, all involve the fictional Skylane Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada (“Sin City”) and the collection as a whole is a fundraising project to help finance the next annual conference of the Erotic Authors Association, which met for the first time in Las Vegas in 2011. In a sense, this collection captures the exuberant spirit of the first conference, which took place in the delightfully tacky Flamingo Hotel. A short elevator ride from the conference rooms, there were showgirls, slot machines, a sex shop and live flamingos. It was a place where, it seemed, anything could happen.
Despite the wish-fulfillment nature of the voyeuristic fantasies in this book, most of these adventures could have happened. The pacing (for lack of a clearer word) is exceptional in most of them. Each move is described in such detail that the sex scenes seem to occur in real time: it takes the reader approximately as long to read a story as it would to watch two (or more) strangers get it on behind huge, un-curtained windows.
In several of these stories, the strangers who are watched from a distance remain strangers, and that is part of their appeal. A vision of Las Vegas as an oasis in the desert where people from elsewhere come to indulge their appetites is prominent in some of the stories. In “Sin City” by Anandalila, the male watcher observes a rendezvous between a businessman and the mistress who consents to meet up with him in various cities, on his terms. She does this because he offers her sexual thrills she can’t get anywhere else.
Gambling, an activity which is exciting because it is risky, makes an obvious analogy for edgy sex, for leaving the curtains open so anyone can watch, and for masturbating while watching. Interestingly enough, most of the tourists in these stories are not experienced gamblers who win money. They know the cards are stacked in favor of the house. In most cases, however, their sexual experiences provide them with valuable memories.
In the humorous “Room 1101” by Nik Havert, a losing gambler returns to his hotel room, looks into the telescope and sees a gorgeous woman who is deliberately giving him a show. She writes her room number on a piece of paper and holds it up to the window, clearly inviting him to come join her. His mishaps along the way are frustrating but hilarious. Like a lost traveler in a past era, he finds his way past various obstacles until he arrives at his destination.
“Zoom In,” a Marketplace story by Laura Antoniou, can best be understood by readers who have discovered her novels about the Marketplace, a fictional international organization for the recruitment, training and selling (or leasing) of voluntary slaves. In this story, a British “spotter” comments on Las Vegas as the home of American excess while observing an heiress who reveals herself as a member of the pervarotti, a kind of aristocracy into which one must be born.
The other BDSM stories (to use a vast generalization) show that a Las Vegas hotel is the perfect anonymous place for activities that might be more awkward at home. In “Private Viewing” by the editor, D.L. King, the female narrator has come to the city to gamble, and is pleasantly surprised to see a sister domme playing with her boy-toy in another room. In “The Birthday Present” by I.G. Frederick, a domme brings her boy to Las Vegas to play, and he is delighted to run into a “brother,” his friend and fellow-bottom. What follows is a female-dominated threesome.
One would expect the sex trade to loom large in these stories, but the only scene that explicitly deals with prostitution is “Window of Opportunity” by Cecilia Tan, in which a female watcher has sent an inexperienced young woman to a male customer who thinks he is getting her, the woman who made the deal. The watcher is amused and aroused:
Fuck, is he good? Your face tells me he is. Maybe he’s one of these guys who imagines he’s in a porn film. He must have a nice view of his own reflection in the window there. Looks like he’s doing you nice and slow right now.
Several of these stories feature self-stimulation by ordinary people who are married with children and who surprise themselves by what they are willing to do while alone on vacation. In “Alone Time” by Cecilia Duvalle, Karen follows her husband’s instruction via long-distance telephone call. In a parallel story, “Dancing Waters” by Nan Andrews, Elaine follows the telephoned suggestions of a persuasive male voice. In “Vegas Lights” by Jade Melisande, Grace learns what turns her on when she watches a cigar-smoking man blindfold a woman, then let two other men enjoy her, within limits. The next day, the man gives Grace a nod and a smile of recognition. Thus she is forced to think about her own desires in the sober light of day.
One of the themes of this collection is that voyeurs often learn more about themselves than about those they watch. In “Seeing Clearly” by Genevieve Ash, the male watcher realizes that the man and woman who are touching each other in front of a window are a couple, two people with an intimate, complex relationship. Love is shown to be the ultimate aphrodisiac, although (or because) it is not a physical activity that anyone can perform on a whim.
In “The Mist Between Us” by Penny Amici, the female observer watches a man put a collar and chain on his female plaything. The watcher, who has apparently not recognized lesbian desire in herself before, becomes aware that she is intensely attracted to the pliable, submissive body of the woman.
Much of the appeal of voyeurism comes from the revelation of hidden truth, including the secret activities of the servants or the staff when they are off-duty and unaware of being watched. In “The Art of Watching” by K.D. Grace, a maid is caught masturbating while watching others through the telescope. The male hotel patron who catches her thinks she is in his power, but all is not as it seems. In “Dazzle” by Dominic Santi, a man watches a series of scenes in the supply room, which is clearly a favorite meeting-place for the hotel staff.This collection of stories is the next best thing to a trip to Las Vegas: not the Lost Wages of reality but the Sin City of imagination.