Full disclosure: D.L. King is a good friend, and the mastermind behind Erotica Revealed. Part of why we get along so well (unless we’re in Las Vegas, in which case I am persona non grata since I radiate bad luck) is our shared interest in fem dom. I’ve read many of her stories over the years, but as she mentions in her forward, you forget how very good they are. I loved this chance to reread some and to see the ones I hadn’t read yet. One of the things that sets D. L.’s stories apart from some fem dom is the infectious sense of fun. Everyone is having a good time.
And they’re hot.
In the first story, "Let’s Dance," the narrator meets Cute Boy in a dance club and takes him home for some fun with ropes and suspension. In "Cute Boy Gets Squeezed," we get to see these characters again from Cute Boy’s point of view. “Hey Cute Boy, you should come over here. I got something fun for you.” What she has for him is a vacuum bed. There’s a sweetness to these romps that make them a delight to read.
"The Treatment" is a steampunk tale that originally appeared in Carnal Machines (Cleis Press). A woman – well, she expresses it best, herself, here:
The young Englishman has an extraordinary amount of untapped energy, waiting to be harvested. Due to societal propriety and his acceptance that the female of the species is to be cosseted and revered, most of the young men of the upper and upper middle classes have very little experience of the flesh, other than as practiced alone, furtively, under their bedclothes, in the dark of night. She writes in her journal.
She finds a way to tap that energy for her home, much preferring it to gaslight.
Is being fucked in ass a submissive act? What if the person being fucked is a dom and the person fucking her is her submissive? In "Anal Submission… Or Not," this is the question. Philosophical discussions are difficult with distractions like black latex gloves and spreader bars. You start to feel a little sorry for poor Christopher as he tries to keep up his end of the conversation, until you realize how much he’s enjoying himself.
If you like more intense stories, "Perhaps A Worthy Offering" is set in the same world as King’s Melinoe Project novels. If you want to summon a Goddess, no average offering will do. And if that goddess has a taste for pain, then you can be sure the scene is going to push your boundaries with hot wax, blood play, and a bit of sacrifice.
If you like fem dom, you’re going to enjoy this collection. There’s voyeurism, foot worship, extreme play and even a disciplinarian librarian, so you can get your other kinks on too. These women are stern but loving and give their boys what they want. Maybe you should get a little spanking from them too.
D. L. King has drafted a fairly horrifying but still amusing work of BDSM fiction that runs the gamut from ridiculous sexual desperation to low-level criminal coercion. This novel is perhaps best characterized as eroto-medical science fantasy. It is as though one had entered the rarefied world of TV advertising. Everything is very sexy, form fitting, and all the equipment works.
I am obliged to point out here that King is the editor of Erotica Revealed and a colleague. As you will see, that has not hampered either my judgment or my frankness in looking at this novel. Erotica is a small world and those who write for this site should have the use – as well as the abuse – of its services. There is as yet no other site that offers literary criticism of erotica at this level. Call that vanity if you like, but the comment arises from several decades of experience as a published critic and editor in the arts.
The clinical research for King’s book seems careful and intensely precise. Each anal adjustment and scrotal manipulation is defined in close anatomical detail. Indeed, the Greek goddess, Melinoe, whose function was to terrorize humans, seems to have reached institutional form here. Amid the occasional old style flogging, far more advanced and exquisite punishments are employed by these pleasure/pain-obsessed femdoms. At the same time, The Art of Melinoe owes much to the horror theatre of the Grand Guignol enhanced by a lot of odd emotional detachment. Despite that, or perhaps because of it, everyone is constantly fairly happy at Club Melinoe, because all conflict has been erased. Those who do not measure up – literally or figuratively – are simply dispatched back to the ‘real’ world.
It is a perfectly integrated book that seamlessly presents a world of serio-comic agony enhanced by techno-clinical bliss. The narrative is very powerful in its ability to hold you. For me that is, in part, a function of how profoundly unnerving the book is; and then too, the ways in which delicate male body parts get forcibly held. We are gratefully spared the usual nonsensical rationale of female domination with its tedious diatribe about female superiority. These women are in charge because they want to be, and so do their boy toys. It gives them a chance to accommodate their sadistic tastes. Femdom rhetoric be damned; they are having fun.
In The Art of Melinoe, We again meet Ray, a diffident and malleable photographer who was the focus of King's first novel, The Melinoe Project. The setting is the mythical Club Melinoe, a femdom haven that is part residence, part resort, and part amusement park with very exotic rides. It has some resonance with the giddy island in Exit to Eden, but where that is a monochrome exercise in erotic fantasy, King uses her locale as a mirror – and at times a parody – of the world the novel creates. Like The Marrying Kind, King again uses an isolated female dominated community full of oddball amenities suited to female tastes, coupled with a great use of deadpan humor.
At times you get the feeling at Club Melinoe that Harriet (and ozzie, under close discipline and instruction) have set up a BDSM holiday camp. At other moments, you find yourself wondering if both Huxley and Orwell would not be freaked out by the soft-spoken, ham-fisted minxes who run this joint. It is not their gender per se that makes these femdoms scary. It is rather their state of mind, which could be characterized as a state of abandon. The people in charge at “Camp” Melinoe never ever doubt themselves. They shove in the well-greased, ever-larger butt plugs and turn up the electrodes. Then they go off – all playful girls together -- to the club breakfast bar for a fruit smoothie.
King's fiction is embedded in subtle humor; characters who are out of sync with conventional reality; and high tech, wacko hyper-sex. In the femdom world of Club Melinoe, the ladies are so fascinated with their advanced gear that they lose all sense of ethical proportion. In the case of one Melinoe psychologist, Dr. Westgate, sexual power leads her to criminal assault. She is brought up short by the leadership of Melinoe, hut the reader wonders why she is not beaten to death fairly slowly with a shovel on ethical grounds. In the Mafia, she would be. Her actions not only threaten the whole artifice of Club Melinoe, they are right up there with waterboarding and other such crimes.
It does not, and should not, matter if the males enjoy the abuse they suffer at Club Melinoe. Clearly they do, and that is their sexual right, but at this club men have lost the capacity to say ‘no.’ Even if they have abdicated that right as a choice, the ethics of such an arrangement are indefensible among conscious people. On the other hand, the point of having the club seems in part to remove the obligation to choose. That is a pleasure many modern people crave in the myriad of meaningless choices we confront every day. In that sense King is walking an edge of ambiguity that at once makes the club inviting and terrifying. It is free of the anxiety of choice and it is filled with the pleasure of fulfilled impulse. If you feel like it, do it.
The larger abstract issues of the club’s ethos – sexual and personal -- have all been worked out at the top, set down and articulated in a set of rules. It should be perfectly efficient, but of course it is not. Such tactics never are perfect, because they cannot be. It is impossible, as the instance of Dr. Westgate shows. D. L. King’s novel asks if a conscious being can fully and actually submit to another to realize their sexual desires? Can we ever fully suspend free will in favor of pleasure? How do we really discern the line between play and coercion especially if part of the pleasure is being coerced? For those who really want to be sexually enslaved, is it possible in a rational society? When does deeply committed play become the abdication of personhood?
These are unobtrusively insinuated inquiries. King does not stop the flow of the hermetic narrative to invite an outside eye to question. It is that very seamlessness that invokes the reader to ask, “Hunh, what the hell is going on here? What are these people really doing to each other? Where’s the referee?” In that sense King may have bested Huxley and Orwell.
The true distancing factor in King’s narrative is humor, which is very low key in addressing the frequent ironies of life at the club. For example, the staff of male slaves (stud muffins all) are recreational equipment for women who are often vain, vacant, arrogant, brutish, or downright stupid. These ‘Feminitrices’ of the club are, however, always presented outwardly as perfect, and none doubts that she is – ever – anything less. They may natter about the details of life, but they do not question themselves. It is only after witnessing their antics that the reader asks questions and draws conclusions. We ask the questions that the characters do not.
Ray winds up in the loving arms of his mistress, the perky and ebullient Sunny. He also becomes bejeweled and mutilated male version of O. O finally stands as a mute work of art – and possessed object -- in her owl mask. Ray is a marked trophy and happy to be so. One wonders about his fate when his looks and sexual powers begin to flag. He does not. He has embraced a cheery, mindless serfdom to Sunny with stimulating massage, balanced nutrition and all the ejaculations he can muster on command.
In that sense, the sex, BDSM, and raison d'etre of this book have no direct reflection of the reader's experience of these things in life. They are instead nightmarishly muted dream images of such things. The characters inhabit the strange dimensionality of comics like the paintings of Lichtenstein. The book is a satirist’s take on the fantasy worlds of BDSM porn. What would happen if the world of Exit to Eden were rendered into physical and sociopolitical fact? How many dimensions could it have, and what would it be like?
The novel defines gender in its own unique way. All Melinoe males speak in the manner of hale-fellow well-met undergraduates who eschew the peculiar refinements of their mistresses' speech. They are buddies and fellow inmates of an underclass. They are all just, good-hearted 'regular guys' who enjoy being bound, whipped, stretched, tyrannized and electrocuted. Hey, Dude, whatever floats your boat, right? These men have a trained indifference to their abuse and, one wonders, to their abusers. They often seem on the verge of such bromides as, 'no pain, no gain.' They are not quite macho because they are so submissive, and yet not quite stupid either in their impish defiance.
At times they seem to wink at the whole deal when the women are not around. Their emotional connection to these women is so rote, regimented, and refined that one wonders how any real attachment could form. Everyone is centered on the male erogenous anatomy as equipment, particularly the penis and anus, in order to derive the maximum pleasure from their use. Male thoughts are disposable dross. Thus men are conditioned to stay tumescent for at least all their waking hours in case a hard dick is needed as toy or an appliance. One hopes these men are not subject to embolisms.
It is the equivalent of keeping an anus or vagina ready, lubed and pried open for constant readiness and instantaneous use, rather like a greased tool. That would seem to apply whether the surrounding person is awake, willing, or aware of what’s “up.” As vessels of female pleasure, these men are all young, pretty and fit. Like the Playboy mansion of old, no one bothers to read much at this club. Who has time? Ray, at one point, reels in exhaustion when faced with the intellectual challenges of watching daytime talk shows.
It’s not that these male or female Melinoans are characteristically dumb, but that their lives are so hermetic that they feel no need for reflection much less independent thought. Ray instantly apologizes any time he finds that his cerebrum has accidentally engaged, and he has come to a contradictory thought to what Sunny has laid down as policy.
There is no question of rape here. These men consent to their lot eagerly whether they understand it or not. The issue of free will, however, is both perplexing and deeply disturbing. The art of Melinoe rests on a consensus of submission. It is a regimen of gently enforced, seductive vacancy. Ray, the 'hero' is afraid of the staff psychologist, Dr Westgate. He deeply distrusts her. His trepidation is regarded as aberrant and merely symptomatic like a skittish animal. The ladies know best. The Art of Melinoe is a nightmare explication of American Momism.
How does that cohere with a work of rollicking super-enemas and gaily electrified testicles? The dark side of this book is key to the book's humor, which has genuine menace to it. The Marx brothers are only funny if they teeter at the edge of the pathological. How much mayhem might Harpo really commit? It's important that we never really know his limits; and what's more, neither does he. The Art of Melinoe constantly tweaks our credulity with whatever gross expulsion or ecstatic torment is next. If Harriet Marwood is the supreme mistress of intimate personal and protracted suffering, the Ladies of Melinoe are scary because, like the legendary governess, they are equally full of themselves.
Melinoe is also a trifle silly. Stripped of its stainless steel glitter, it is a league of secret sexual obligation among this band of beautiful and effortlessly wealthy female sadists. It is also a form of the Elks Club or Skull and Bones. Their standing as women and their sisterly bond takes precedence before their common obligation to reason and humanity. These women do not have or need ethics; they have each other. One wonders if there is a secret handshake like the Raccoon Lodge.
Girls are tidier than boys so the excess shit and cum are flushed nicely away, but the quotidian burdens of power remain. The ladies are compelled to guide, maneuver and patronize the males like five year olds. They often sound as much like baby sitters as whip wielding high tech dommes. And why not, given that they seem to enjoy that role just as much.
As an example, early on in the book, Ray finds himself trapped in a chastity device put on him by Sunny. It's aim is to make tumescence excruciating, a practice the Melinoe ladies find highly amusing despite the obvious danger of killing the interest altogether. Ray finds himself with a towering erection that puts him in such agony that he is reduced to pounding on his own caged dick to reduce his suffering, but alas, to no avail. The scene is as ridiculous as it is hopeless, but once endured, Ray confesses his attempt to ejaculate to Sunny and raises no objection to the device. Instead he confesses his earlier discomfort with adolescent shyness as though his predicament had been somehow self-inflicted. Sunny benignly forgives him for suffering, and domestic bliss settles over them like a deep impenetrable fog once again.
D.L. King has a subtle and exacting sense of humor, which we have seen in her other works. Sexual compliance in King's world is always more than you bargained for. It is juxtaposed between a velvet trap and a grueling seduction. Her characters tend to occupy her world with a circumspect, comic ambivalence. Doubt is not much of an issue, but one is always a little on guard. Doubt at Melinoe is what our psychologists now call 'inappropriate behavior' which in reality stands for 'inconvenient dissent.'
In King's world, the mistress is always right and the measure of that is the satisfaction of the vagina by all means physical and psychological.
What could possibly be sexually arousing about hospitals? OK, there are nurses, and untold opportunities to be forcibly undressed, and the chance you could be subjected to enemas, and bed baths and…
Wow! It looks like I answered my own rhetorical question.
The Melinoe Project starts in the not too distant future when we meet Raymond Reynolds. Raymond is sick of his job as an office temp. He’s a photographer by vocation and specialises in pictures of submissive men – a subject with which he has a lot of sympathy. He’s proud to admit that his own sexual preferences run to being submissive. And he’s eager to explore his limitations in that sphere of personal development. Taking a break from the temping work, and hoping it’s going to be a permanent break, Raymond enrols as a test subject for the Melinoe Project.
[In a way I think DL King may have made a slight mistake here. If Raymond were really into suffering and humiliation (and wanted to be at the mercy of domineering, ball-busting bitches) he would have ignored the Melinoe Project and stayed working as an office temp. I’ve done that gig. I’ve grovelled beneath power drunk females as they forced me to plumb the depths of office servitude and lick their metaphoric boots – or at least do lots of invoicing.]
The Melinoe project is the brainchild of the beautiful and brutal beauties at the Melinoe Research Institute. These are the same people behind Club Melinoe: “the hottest and most exclusive Fem Dom club in the country.” All these elements are tied neatly together as the story progresses and we learn more about Raymond’s goals and ambitions, his dreams and desires, and his dark, deviant needs.
The Melinoe Project is DL King’s first full length title. The author of many arousing short stories, King exudes a formidable talent for teasing, torment and titillation. In this all out extravaganza of female domination and male submission King excels. The tone of The Melinoe Project is tempered slightly by the flavour of romance, but it’s a romance on the strictest of terms and with an edge that’s as hard and cutting as surgical steel.
Although I try to avoid clichés [we all know they’re old hat – I usually avoid them like the plague] the phrase “pushing the envelope” kept springing to mind as I read The Melinoe Project. King takes the punishment further than anything I’ve read before. Raymond is a tough cookie, and he takes more than most men could endure. But still DL King makes him, and the reader, squirm as the story moves to its satisfying climax.
The characterisation in this story is strong. The reader can sympathise with the frustration of Raymond’s plight and empathise with his desire to succeed. The opportunity to be a part of Club Melinoe is his ultimate ambition, which lends credibility to the effort he invests in getting there.
But it’s not just the protagonist who is competently portrayed. The dominant but kind-hearted Sunny blends a penchant for mastery with a wholly believable soft, seductive centre. In contrast the vicious and brutal Susan was so perfectly created she reminded me of every bitch of an office manager who has ever tried to metaphorically brand me with a cat-o-nine tails.
The Melinoe Project is not for everyone. The story does push boundaries and takes the genre of fem dom and male sub to a new and shocking level. But we all need to push ourselves to new levels every now and again. Do you still want to know what could possibly be sexually arousing about hospitals? Read The Melinoe Project. If you like your women strong enough to make your men cry, and you like your men punished good and often, you’ll find the answer written on every page.