In his introduction to Sensual Travels, editor Michael Luongo comes close to calling these stories true reminiscences, the authors “revisiting them in their minds as they wrote them down for these stories.” The Publisher’s note, on the other hand, states unequivocally that “This book contains works of fiction,” and the rest of the usual disclaimer. I only mention this because some of the writers do seem to be writing in travelogue style, more a series of anecdotes than fully rounded fiction, but some of the best pieces could just as easily be weaving true adventures into fictional form because that’s what these writers do best.
Besides the travel theme, the editor makes a point of telling us that the book is “literotica,” not “just erotica,” and I wondered whether some of the writers had taken this a bit too much to heart. Not that I mind literary references, but I couldn’t help noticing how many names from art and literature were inserted into a few stories. Frida Kahlo and Hans Christian Anderson were referenced twice, in fact, although I couldn’t make up my mind whether the one where the narrator goes to an exhibition honoring Hans Christian Anderson and a performance of Mary Poppins before getting down to extensive raw, dirty sex was intended to be a bit tongue in cheek.
None of this makes any difference to a reader’s enjoyment. The theme of the book is gay sex in the context of travel, and it certainly delivers all that. Some stories are a bit heavy on the travelogue-as-infodump front, but most of the local color and background is nicely—and sometimes exquisitely—handled. As to how well the sex is handled, well, that depends on one’s taste, but as a more or less objective observer I’d say that the erotic aspects won’t disappoint anyone with an interest in gay sex.
All of the stories are well done, in their own suitably various ways. The writers are all experienced at either travel writing or erotica, and sometimes both, so perhaps the editor can be excused for not taking too many pains with editing. The sort of errors my editorial eye catches are the kind of thing we all miss occasionally in our own writing, and it says more about my own tastes than any real problems that my list of notes was mostly about a few typos until I got to Lawrence Schimel’s “Water Taxi” and began to sit up and take notice. About time, too. I realize that my review has been altogether too bland so far.
Lawrence’s story is light, playful, and hot, with a committed couple in a public threesome on a pleasure boat off the coast of Spain, and plenty of erotic images. The one that really got my attention was the narrator’s comparison of his partner to the Colossus of Rhodes, imagining what it would be like “sailing between those massive thighs and gazing upward.” What can I say? I’m a whore for clever turns of phrase and ingenious imagery.
After that story, my notes overflowed with too many tasty bits to include them all here, and in any case readers with a more intense interest in the sex won’t care. Trust me, the sex is there, and so is sexual tension, as well as fleeting fantasies that sometimes can’t be realized, and never can be repeated. There are gay bars and sex clubs and bathhouses in Paris, Tokyo, Zagreb, and Bangkok, among others; there are hookups via the internet, romantic student encounters, train (and bus) sex, and a wide variety of scenarios both traditional and innovative.
I shouldn’t try to choose favorites among the stories, since I tend to get more of a charge from the sexy writing than from the sex, but I’ll do it anyway. Several of the writers were familiar to me already, and their work here was every bit as good as I’ve found it to be elsewhere. Felice Picano, Simon Sheppard, Lawrence Schimel, Trebor Healey, and Jeff Mann are folks whose work I admire no matter what they’re writing about, and they’re all in good form here. I have to say that Jeff Mann’s “Bondage Tape in Budapest” was also arguably the sexiest of them all; there may be someone, somewhere, who isn’t turned on by the image of a supremely strong man being tied and gagged and fucked, and reveling in his own helplessness, but even then it would be hard to resist Mann’s voice and style. Plus his rhapsodic description of Dobos torte, “rich, intense, and decadent,” is as sensual as the sex.
Of writers I hadn’t encountered before, I especially liked Sebastion V.’s clever voice in “Fantasy Night Train to Estonia,” with his reflections that “Traveling is all about letting go,” and “Fantasies and memories are soul mates, after all.” And Jay Davidson’s “Fest Noz” was both a charming ode to Brittany—“As much as I love Paris for its monuments and grandeur, I appreciated Quimper for its lack thereof,”—and a rueful memory of what almost might have been, but wasn’t.
My choices are really irrelevant, though. There’s something to enjoy in every story here, and someone whose buttons will be pushed by each one. If you have a taste for gay sex, good writing, and far-away places, it will be worth your while to see which ones take you where you really want to go.