It’s fair to say that most people see change as something inspiring nervousness at the least, or outright fear at the worst. People don’t often do well with change, and people like things to stay the way they are. I think that’s something we queer folk can understand – the oppositions we face are generally built upon that fear: different is scary, change is unwelcome.
So allow me to tell you that there’s a major change with Best Gay Erotica 2014, and that you shouldn’t fear anything.
Richard Labonté is a literary hero of mine. The man has been at the helm of the Best Gay Erotica titles since 1995, and I’ve long known that any anthology I pick up where Richard has had a hand involved is going to be a good one. More, I’ve been lucky enough to work with him a few times, and every time his guidance as an editor has been fantastic. Cracking open a Labonté book is a happy habit, and one I’ve grown accustomed to.
Richard has hung up his hat for the series as of this anthology.
I read that in the introduction by Larry Duplechan with my mouth a bit open. In my head I was still stuck at the notion that Richard Labonté wouldn’t be leading me through the anthology, and it took a bit to get past. I gave myself that moment, then read the rest of the introduction.
I’ve read Larry Duplechan in more than a few anthologies, and I know to expect great things from his stories, and by the time I got into a few of the tales in the anthology, that knot of worry about change had unraveled, and I was happily enjoying the collection that Duplechan has built. Moreover, the judge for the collection is none other than Joe Mannetti, which definitely strikes the right tone, no?
This anthology, like the many Best Gay Erotica titles that have come before, has a solid mix of well-known writers and new (or new-to-me) authors. There’s a real range present, and I was quite happy to see that range get some really fresh takes.
“The Piñata Conquest” springs to mind here. Boot LS puts together a really fun scenario here, and fans of spanking and bondage will all have a good time with this story of a fellow who is made to endure the gang-spanking (and reward thereafter).
Some of the stories drive a straight line (pardon the pun), such as “The Power Man,” by Lee Hitt, which involves a blackout and a hot electrician flipping all the right switches, but even those straightforward tales of men hooking up in moments of kismet are enjoyable and well-written.
In fact, I found myself smiling through many of these stories. There’s even a lovely conversation-free comic mid-way through the book, “Everybody’s Doing It,” by Dale Lazarov (script) and Jason A. Quest (art) that is sure to make you smile – the ending is nigh upon heartwarming.
Similarly, my day-job in the mall made Huck Pilgrim’s “Five Finger Discount” chuckle-worthy, with a hunk of a mall-cop and a petty thief getting his come-uppance in more ways than one. If only the mall-cops in my mall looked that edible.
None of these stories are misses. Fans of threesomes (and moresomes), bondage, hairy fellas or smooth fellas, hook-ups and long-term relationships, and lovers of a fine range of kink are all going to find something here, and it’s all done with a strong eye for flow and cadence of the tales in the greater whole.
Am I sad to say goodbye to Richard Labonté? Of course. It feels like the end of an era to me, and if it wasn’t for Richard championing the first collection in which I ever had a story printed to Cleis Press, I doubt I’d have even begun my own writing career. I’ll probably always have a wee pang at the lack of his name on the cover of this beloved series. But change doesn’t have to be scary or a bad thing at all. And Larry Duplechan proves that beyond a doubt with his debut turn at Best Gay Erotica 2014.
Give him a hearty welcome. It’s obvious he cares about the job.
One of the wonders of Best Lesbian Erotica is the range of women depicted in these stories: Desi, black, white, femme, butch, cancer survivors and disabled, skater girls and knitters – even skater girls who knit. What unites this disparate group of folks is desire and hot sex.
Since this is a Best Of anthology, there’s really no such thing as a bad story here. It depends on your taste. Do you want an unlikeable narrator who gets hers? Try Sharon Wachsler’s “Imaging.” Like BDSM? Xan West’s “What I Need” is intense, while DL King’s “Big Lesbo Cupcakery” is told with a lighter heart. Or maybe you like intense longing of the heart along with the sex, in which case I recommend “Run, Jo, Run” by the always good Cheyenne Blue or “Stich and Bitch” by A. L. Simonds.I’ll admit I was hesitant about the last entry, “Mommy Is Coming” by Sarah Schulman and Cheryl Dunye because it was in screenplay format, but it’s more readable than I thought it would be and it definitely evokes visuals.
What makes an erotic story memorable? You know the stories I mean, the ones that stick with you long after the book is closed (or your ereader is turned off). The stories that you recall days or weeks later with a frisson of arousal or a glint of joy, even when you can't quite summon the title or the author's name. What is it about those haunting, persistent tales?
For me, it takes something special. An original and surprising premise. Unusually intense, believably evoked emotion. An atmospheric environment that mirrors and amplifies the nature of the characters or the events. Or particularly creative and skilled use of language, the sort of consummate craft that triggers delight, admiration and envy, quite independent of the story content.
It's not the sex. Let's face it, even in real life, the thrills of physical stimulation and release, no matter how exquisite or overpowering, fade quickly from memory. What stays are the psychological, affective and spiritual aspects of the experience – the sense of connection or of transgression – the bittersweet knowledge that pleasure is always fleeting – the terrifying flare of understanding as you discover truths you'd always hidden, even from yourself. The stories that manage to capture these complexities and consequences of sex are the ones I'm most likely to appreciate when I read them, and to recall later.
The latest volume in the Best Women's Erotica series includes a few of those stories.
Please don't misunderstand me. Every tale in this collection is well-written and at least moderately hot. If you're looking for two or three hours of stimulation, I recommend this book highly. Both Ms. Blue and Cleis Press are known for producing high quality anthologies. (The explicitly labeled “Uncorrected Proof” I received had far fewer errors than many of the published ebooks I've had inflicted on me lately.) But for the most part, I found these stories to be mere diversions, tales of fantasies fulfilled that may well get you off, but which won't hang around tickling your imagination later.
Which tales will I remember from this book? Certainly I'd have to include Lucy Debussy's unusual “Mary Lou,” which features a woman masquerading as a man and working as a stoker on a steamer. I found the gender-bending premise as well as the unabashed sensualism of this story delightful, even if it strained the bounds of plausibility a bit.
Then there's “Her Forest, Her Rules,” by Laila Blake. The heroine in this tale is a member of a club that enacts fantasy scenarios each weekend, rather like the Society for Creative Anachronism. In the midst of the forest, where her group normally plays, Amy – or Amariel, as she calls herself, when acting her chosen part as an elf-woman – is taken captive by a guy with a sword, a man she's never seen before. Their banter and their connection are just delicious, a reminder that role-playing frequently reveals much about our true selves. The setting, tone and characters of this tale are all enchanting.
Another favorite was Sommer Marsden's “Gentleman's Valet,” a BDSM tale involving a married or at least long-associated couple. Looked at in one sense, there's nothing very remarkable about this story. I've read dozens of scenes with the same elements – paddles, alligator clips, and a viciously hard fuck. What distinguishes it, in my mind, is the portrayal of the dominant's emotions. D/s stories frequently focus on the sub – her fears, her paradoxical desires, her satisfaction. Ms. Marsden's story reminds the reader that doms are in it for their own satisfaction as well as for that of their subs – and that the sweetest experience a Dom can offer his submissive is the knowledge that she has pleased him.
In the gorgeous writing category, my top pick goes to Rose de Fer's “Nyotaimori.” I'm quite certain I've read at least one story with same premise: a woman bound upon a table and used as a presentation platter for food – in this case, sushi. (It's possible that I'm thinking of this exact tale, although it's not listed in the credits for previously published work.) However, this author brings the scene to life with painstaking and mouth-watering sensory detail.
My eyes betray nothing but gratitude for his offering as he places the tiny soft egg against my lips. With only the slightest movement I part them just enough to taste the salty juice with the tip of my tongue. It is heavenly. I close my eyes as I slowly draw the egg inside my mouth, bursting it with my teeth. It's only one little taste, one tiny bit of flavor, but it makes me sigh with pleasure. It mingles with the delicious scents all around me. The fish, the ginger, wasabi and soy sauce, his wife's perfume.... I feel myself growing even damper against the flask of sake, and I clench my inner muscles to intensify the sensation.
Reading this story, I was reminded of my first taste of sushi, after a lover had described it to me as “an orgasm of the palate.” I also loved the pan-sexual quality of this tale, the way eroticism seeps into every sensation and desire expands to encompass every act and every gender.
Speaking of gender, I want to mention Nikki Adams' story “Chrysalis,” which chronicles an encounter between a high-achieving, domineering, lesbian lawyer and a sexy, feminine, pre-op transsexual. I found this story intriguing, although a bit overwritten. One doesn't encounter trans characters very often in Cleis' female-focused collections. The story is memorable because of its differences, not to mention the way the experience shatters the main character's self-confidence.
Finally, I loved Alison Tyler's “Close Shave.” Ms. Tyler's tales are always a guilty pleasure for me. More than any other story in the book, this one – where a cheeky girl wanders into a barber shop and demands that the studly young barber shave her pussy – pushed my personal buttons. Having recently reviewed Ms. Tyler's erotic memoir Dark Secret Love, I saw new depths in this barely-disguised fantasy, echoes of actual events and real people who made a difference in her life.
Rereading this review, I see that I've mentioned six standout stories. Out of a total of seventeen, I guess that's actually pretty impressive. Every anthology has stronger and weaker contributions. Every reader will resonate with different tales, depending on her own preferences and kinks. Not every story in this collection will stay around to haunt you. But I'd be surprised if you didn't find at least one or two that will.
Roman Discipline’s main feature is its historical setting, on which sex scenes are hung like clusters of grapes on a vine. To the author’s credit that particular metaphor does not appear, although the descriptions do go over the top from time to time. That’s pretty much inevitable when so many characters have so much sex in so many configurations within so few pages, with each encounter obliged to surpass all previous ones in order to provide for any story arc or structure, and on the whole the writing is quite good.
The story arc here works well enough for its purpose. Julia, a young Roman lady with an aristocratic husband, Marcus, and two infant sons, is despondent when that husband decides that he needs someone even younger for his bed. He graciously permits her to have discreet affairs of her own, as long as she helps him find a suitable slave girl or two and trains them in how to please him, since she already know his ways so well.
Julia does try, even though what she wants most is for him to want only her. She heartily enjoys a series of orgies, assignations with slaves and rentable athletes, and erotic adventures with a pair of slave girls from Lesbos who, of course, turn out not to be at all the willing and enthusiastic bed-partners Marcus hoped for. But in between the admirably varied and strenuous bouts of humping and spanking, Julia still longs for the love and undivided attention of her husband.
The characterizations are a bit tricky, but the author does manage to make Julia a fairly sympathetic figure. She’ll beat a slave in anger, then apply unguent to prevent infection in the whip marks, and even muses briefly but not too convincingly about the morality of owning slaves. It’s always hard to make the customs and attitudes of long-past eras mesh with those of modern readers, and in erotica of this sort I’m not inclined to be a stickler for historical accuracy in this area.
The book as a whole is reasonably good in terms of historical accuracy. The author has done her research when it comes to clothing and customs, as far as I can tell, and I suppose that when an occasional term sounds too modern we can shrug and admit that there was probably some similar term in Latin. The one thing I found unbelievable—well, all right, there were other things, but after all, this is erotica--was that Marcus would give his wife permission to fool around, with no apparent consideration that she might get pregnant. He saw no problem with producing bastards of his own with slaves, but no Roman of that standing would be happy if his wife did likewise.
Roman Discipline can’t be said to transcend the expectations of erotica, but it does fulfill them, with the added benefit of a setting portrayed with just the right amount of detail to maintain interest without being distracting. A short book, teeming with sex, with a nice bit of scenery and a hint of romance; not a bad way to spend a couple of hours. You might even learn a thing or two about ancient Roman garb and hairdos.
Had Dorian been anyone else, he might have been content with his new existence. Life had been pared down to a beautiful kind of simplicity, and for some it might have been enough. But the pressure of his lust had been building like the pressure inside the volcano that hovered over the valley; an explosion was imminent. The catalyst that finally triggered it would need to be masterfully executed, for he had to make up for many arid years of self-denial.
Donning the humble peasant’s garb that had become his daily attire, Dorian set forth on foot for the mountains, looking like a man with nothing but the clothing on his back and only his wits to guide him. He had no purpose or destination in mind, yet his feet seemed to be leading him somewhere. The first night he slept rough, awakening as dusty and dirty as the impoverished beggars who occasionally traveled through the towns and villages. His shabby appearance, combined with a
few words of Quechua, aided him well enough to locate a bed on the second night. The fact that it was located inside the monastery he had heard about gave rise to a plan that would be a masterpiece of corruption. It came to him the moment he saw the young monk working in the vineyards. The frank purity in the man’s broad brown face cried out to Dorian to sully it.
It’s a sad truth that we live in a society that celebrates youth and beauty over experience and substance. Many people believe this is symptomatic of modernity, and cite examples from football and music and the entertainment industry. The truth is: our society has always been this fucking stupid.
Oscar Wilde’s original title, The Picture of Dorian Gray, illustrated this point to a Victorian audience on its release in 1891. The Faustian themes of a man selling his soul in exchange for eternal youth are unmistakable and clearly struck a chord with the readership of the day. The themes obviously struck so much of a chord that zealous editors butchered the title before sending it to print and Wilde still had to apologise for the remaining content.
As Szereto explains in the preface:
In writing The Wilde Passions of Dorian Gray, it has not been my intention to “re-imagine” the original work or revise it by filling in the blanks, but rather to continue from where the tale left off, bringing Dorian Gray out of Victorian London and into the present day, with several stops along the way. Obviously, I have had to take some liberties with the original text, altering the incident of Dorian’s purported death in order to allow readers to follow him through time. What I did not alter was the nature of Dorian Gray’s character. Wilde portrayed him as a sexual profligate and, yes, even a murderer. For Dorian to live on, he needed to become progressively more debauched from when we last saw him, descending into an abyss of degeneracy that perhaps Mr. Wilde himself would never have envisioned.
The Wilde Passions of Dorian Gray is an exciting and compelling continuation of the original story. Szereto’s Dorian Gray is profligate, wanton and debauched. He strikes the reader initially as a character who lives for the thrill of satisfying every unfulfilled appetite. His debauchery knows no limits as he pursues the extremes of experience in every field.
“My lovely little whore, your body never lies to me,” Dorian whispered into the dainty swirls of her ear. He felt her interior clench in response and knew that her battle had, indeed, been yet another artifice designed to put coins into her purse. He couldn’t altogether blame her. In all likelihood Madame Cherie paid the young ladies in her employ a pittance of what she took in for their services. Perhaps he would be extra generous tonight and leave Celestine with an amount equivalent to the pleasure she provided, though he’d make certain that she earned it.
Dorian spent himself once, only to continue without cease, working toward his second climax as Celestine’s passions pulsed hotly against his immersed flesh. Just as the pressure in his testes became too much to bear, he heard a muffled cry from below. It was followed by his own as he released himself inside her. Hot tears flowed in salty rivulets down Celestine’s pleasure-flushed cheeks, leaving pale tracks through the rouge painted on her cheeks. Had Dorian seen them, he might have mistook them for tears of suffering rather than what they truly were—for by then Celestine’s feelings were such that she believed she could not live without him.
Dorian’s demands for new experiences take him around the world. His invincible immortality allows him to endure extremes that we mere mortals could never tolerate. But still he wants more. He is not content with male, female, hermaphrodite couples or orgies. He yearns for the satisfaction that can only come through redemption from his sins. Ultimately, perhaps, Dorian Gray is acknowledging that experience and substance are superior to the passing falsehoods of youth and beauty. Then again, perhaps that’s only one possible interpretation.This is strong writing, as is to be expected from a celebrated author of Szereto’s calibre. The title excites where it needs to, relays a compelling narrative, and continues the story of one of literature’s most enduring characters. Definitely worth the read.