This collection of fifteen stories of man-to-man lust is vividly written, but doesn't pretend to be literary. These stories first appeared in the 1980s and early '90s in stroke magazines and anthologies. As the author explains in her introduction, a widespread belief of the time was that no self-respecting gay man could get it up or get off to words written by a woman -- at least if he knew. And thus Christopher Morgan, a name meant to suggest an approachable man's man, was born as one of the author's personas.
Laura Antoniou's diverse body of work is being collected, edited and republished in shiny new formats, which makes it easier for fans of her writing to find it all. She is probably best-known for her omni-sexual Marketplace novels about a fictional organization for the training and leasing of voluntary slaves in various countries. This novel series as a whole has a complex plot with plentiful sex scenes involving every gender, orientation and implement a reader is likely to have met or heard of. The imaginary world of these novels is absorbing, and even the most minor characters are three-dimensional; their doubts and confusion are sometimes as intense as their desires, whether they are male, female, transgendered, Dominant, submissive, or any combination of the above. There was nothing else like this when these books first appeared, and there still isn't.
Compared to the world of the Marketplace, Antoniou's porn stories are simple vignettes, peopled by social types that barely escape being stereotypes of the genre. It is easy to see why the earliest readers of these stories didn't associate them with The Marketplace or with the lesbian-oriented Leatherwomen anthologies written by Antoniou under yet another pen name.
Now that the author of all these works is "coming out" (her term) as one person, certain characteristics of her style can be seen running through all her work. The narrative voice in her fiction (even when it is third-person omniscient) tends to be direct, unpretentious, attentive to detail and (before her work was seriously copy-edited) sprinkled with grammatical mistakes. A few errors have survived the polishing process, but the reprinted versions of her works look better than the originals.
Here is the author's explanation of her methods and goal as Christopher Morgan:
Short story work is best suited for one-handed reading. Just long enough to catch your interest and get you going before you have to go to work, or out to the bars, or back to sleep. Novels require plots, and time spent not having sex. Short stories get right to the point. They meet -- they screw. It's easy, quick -- and fun.
These stories all feature oral and anal sex, and nothing more complicated. The title of the collection refers to one of three stories named "Dream Lover Interlude," each with a different subtitle. The first interlude is about an imaginary "shop stud," an unself-conscious working-class hero. The narrator imagines his crotch:
I can always see that special worn out area, that long, narrow tube down from the button fly, where my man's heavy cock rests during the day, rubbing the inside of those pants until there's a clear outline of pure sexmeat, showed like the finest craftmen's work.
The description of the dream-man, a fantasy within a work of fiction, combines physical characteristics with markers of occupation and social class:
His ass is tight and round in those heavy jeans, a shop rag or bandanna sticking out so he can get at it to wipe the sweat from his hard pecs, his thick arms, and his cut stomach. When it's really hot, he'll tie it around his forehead to keep the hair and sweat out of his deep blue eyes, and he'll look like an almost primitive man, a blacksmith or a woodworker, alone with his tools and his work, every pulsating inch of his body used and flexed through a long day.
The dream-man is generic and idealized, but he serves as a model for several of the other characters in these stories who appear just when the narrators wonder if they will ever get laid in the real world.
In every case, the admired "stud" turns out to be gay himself, or he is willing to be initiated into gay life. Each story is told by a first-person narrator who sometimes wants to run the fuck, sometimes wants to surrender to a charismatic Man, and sometimes wants a buddy who is willing to take turns.
The danger of lusting after a "real man" who doesn't seem "queer" is that he might not be. In one of the more realistic stories, "Looking for Bubba," a young man from the urban, white middle class travels through the American South alone in search of a "Bubba," a genuine southern redneck who will fuck him roughly. The narrator gets more than he wants when he exchanges a look with a man at a revival meeting, thinks he recognizes an invitation, then is threatened with rape by two men who call him a "faggot." They make it clear that it is not a term of endearment. The narrator is held by force, hit, kicked, taunted and threatened. To his great relief, he is rescued by a neatly-dressed black man who takes him home to be nursed back to health. As it turns out, this man is gay and well-hung as well as decent and considerate: exactly what the narrator needs.
Compared to the irony, symbolism, social commentary and virtuoso writing that have slipped into male-on-male erotica (including the annual Best Gay Erotica), these stories look as charmingly naive as small-town boys from yesteryear. One can imagine Christopher Morgan stroking his own dick while writing his fantasies with the other hand. How postmodern.
Those of you who have toyed with or even lived a term of service may wonder at just how hard it could be to attain the level of excellence required by the Marketplace. After all, you muse, these are people who will be called slaves. Owned chattel, their lives formed and polished for the pleasure and use and amusement of those whose need is to control and improve.
Many of you believe that the right attitude combined with some physical charm would be more than adequate to the task. It is not. Even the most gifted of naturals, those individuals whose wrists are naked without restraints and whose souls are bleak without guidance, need to be trained.
This passage from the introduction to The Marketplace introduces the (submissive) reader to a fictional, international organization for the training and sale (or lease) of voluntary slaves. The unnamed narrator adds: I shall be awaiting you. You will learn to hate me.
The discreet narrator is never clearly identified, and most of the novel seems to be written from an omniscient third-person viewpoint. By the last page, it seems clear that the person most likely to be telling this story is Chris Parker, the majordomo of the slave-training establishment. He serves the owners, Alexandra and Grendel, by training novices who wish to be made ready for sale to private bidders. He is not clearly a slave, yet he is not a master. Even his gender seems ambiguous.
The reader is introduced to four slave-trainees when they arrive at the training house, one by one. Claudia is small, cute and exquisitely poised when pouring tea, but her Mistress finds her limited and boring; if Claudia can't be trained to serve in a variety of ways, her Mistress is willing to sell her. Brian is an attractive young man in leather who persuaded his Master of the moment to bring him in for training. He thinks his looks and boyish pout should be enough. Sharon looks like a centerfold and is a magnet for men outside the world of the Marketplace; she finds her own way to the training house by dishonest means, and thinks her looks will assure her a position as a pleasure slave. Robert is a large man who left a suburban marriage and a good job to become the "maid" of a pro Mistress; after he lost all his confidence and was given away, he was brought in for training.
Alexandra and Grendel agree that none of the four novices has the quality they are looking for. They seriously consider rejecting them all as inferior "merchandise," yet the four characters have complementary flaws, and therefore they have potential as a group. They are all accepted, placed under Chris Parker's command, and kept naked for weeks. Under the authority of the owners, he develops a regimen for the four trainees that is intended to break their egotism while nurturing group spirit, new skills and true pride in service.
Interspersed with the third-person narrative are the personal stories of Claudia, Brian, Robert and Sharon, as told to each other after lights-out in their shared dormitory. Each tells the others how they came to the training-house that serves as a gateway to the Marketplace, the ultimate destination for those who are drawn to service. Each life-story is moving in its own way.
First published in 1993, this novel is one of the classics of the genre, and it is worth reading more than once. The discipline and the sex scenes appeal to a variety of tastes, but none of the characters is a cliche, and their development drives the plot.
Like representative human sinners seeking spiritual refinement, three of the four seekers discover their own potential. Sharon, the character who comes closest to being a stereotype, provokes punishment and gets it, but for her it is not a learning experience, and her fate is much different from that of the submissive Barbie dolls of BDSM porn.
The novel, like the trainees, began life in need of polishing. The original Masquerade Press edition, credited to "Sara Adamson," was full of minor grammatical and typing errors. After the demise of Masquerade, the book was reprinted by Mystic Rose Press with a subtle, upscale gray cover showing a photographic image of the training house that resembles a vintage postcard. The manuscript, however, was brought into print with the original glitches intact. The current edition, published by Circlet Press under its new Luster imprint, has been lovingly copyedited so that its style is now worthy of its content. The cover features a photo of a lock for a Marketplace slave collar being handed to an impeccably-suited character over the bent back of a slave-trainee against a background of Edwardian wallpaper.
Although Circlet Press specializes in erotic fantasy and science fiction, the realistic setting and plots of The Marketplace and its sequels seem like a good fit for Circlet and vice versa. Laura Antoniou's novels already have a cult following, and Circlet has a niche market. The launch of the Luster line, like Circlet's growing collection of e-book mini-anthologies, seems likely to help the press to survive in hard economic times. The other novels in the "Marketplace" series are all scheduled to be launched by Circlet in the coming months. In order, they are The Slave, The Trainer, The Academy (a theme anthology), The Reunion and The Inheritor, forthcoming.
In the sequels, the reader learns more about slave contracts, specialized slave roles (including "grudge slaves," or official scapegoats for bitter or frustrated owners), training for the trainers, the administration of the Marketplace, individual relationships and the background of the mysterious Chris Parker. This is the kind of virtual world that has the same enduring appeal as those of the best fantasy novels.