Sunday, December 2, 2018

The People Who Cry Porn! On Defending Our Turf

Last year I read a fascinating little tome with the attention-grabbing title Ethical Porn for Dicks by Dr. David J. Ley. It's a fairly fast but nonetheless richly-enlightening read, which, alas, will not be read by those in the most dire need of enlightenment. Rich in insight and practical wisdom, the book is an unblushing, honest, straightforward discussion of the role of pornography in modern life, society, and mass media, and of the reasonable, ethical employment of pornographic materials as a means to a healthier understanding of ourselves and those with whom we seek to relate. I cannot recommend this title highly enough; suffice to say that it is essential reading for anyone interested in erotic storytelling, whether as a content provider or a consumer. I mention Ley's book in the context of this article because of his on-the-nail commentary about the contemporary--indeed never-ending--moral panic surrounding pornography (and, by extension, erotica). Here's just a snippet from the introduction:

We have internalized puritanical and negative ideas about about sex, we have no models for honest sexual communication, and we rarely see diverse depictions of sexuality in any media. As a result, we've  all got hang-ups, misinformation, and insecurities, and we are afraid to admit that we have them, or look at why we do. So when someone else demonized porn, we can latch on and say 'yeah, there's the culprit.' Then we don't have to look at our unrealistic expectations about love and sex, our isolation and fear, our untreated mental health issues, and our outdated relationship models...

Anti-porn crusaders, many of whom have a vested financial interest in perpetuating moral panic, have effectively boiled the vast diversity of erotic content down to a set of highly-misleading, reductionist stereotypes. But that's hardly the worst or most insidious tactic in these neo-puritans' well-worn playbook: 

A relatively recent phenomenon is how porn consumption is conflated with porn addiction models by a growing part of the psychological/therapeutic industry...

Of course, the anti-porn crowd will point to this trend in their arguments, yet, it is interesting to note, as Ley explains, that there exists not a single credible peer-reviewed scientific study to bear out any of the extravagant claims and assertions about the psychological damage supposedly done by pornography or the "evil" consequences of its consumption.

But still, these claims continue to be made on an almost-daily basis. Porn consumption is blamed for everything from declining birth rates to wild fires in the west, divorce, child abuse, rape, bestiality, and the general decline of "traditional family values"--whatever the hell those ever were. And, largely, these assertions go unchallenged, even when there is compelling evidence to contradict them. One would think it possible to bury this puritanical nonsense for good, and yet very few knowledgeable, articulate people from the "pro-porn" camp ever seem to get a hearing, let alone a word in edgewise, before being shouted down. Why should this be?

John Michael Greerone of the brightest bloggers of our day, has written about what he refers to as thoughtstoppers. Here's how Greer defines the term:

A thoughtstopper is exactly what the term suggests: a word, phrase, or short sentence that keeps people from thinking. A good thoughtstopper is brief, crisp, memorable, and packed with strong emotion. It’s also either absurd, self-contradictory, or irrelevant to the subject to which it’s meant to apply, so that any attempt you might make to reason about it will land you in perplexity. The perplexity won’t do the trick by itself, and neither will the strong emotion; it’s the combination of the two that lets a thoughtstopper throw a monkey wrench in the works of the user’s mind.

(NOTE: A thoughtstopper in this context is not to be confused with 'thought stopping,' the controversial technique sometimes employed in cognitive behavioral therapy as a way of dealing with PTSD. Here, we are talking about the intentional use of distractions in discourse, a way to derail thoughtful discussions of difficult topics, or dumb them down to the point of irrelevance.) 

So, try to have a reasonable, mature discussion of erotica, all someone has to do is inject the word 
"porn" into the mix, and out the window goes any pretense of thoughtful debate. Try to write a serious, evenhanded critique of any creative endeavor involving sexual content, no matter how obliquely referenced, and the whole piece is dismissed with a single utterance of the word "porn." 
This particular thoughtstopper has become the favored fall-back of pretentious, indolent columnists posing as social critics, as well as jaded,  intellectually lazy (or terminally stupid) bloggers who want to come off as world-weary (seen-all-that) and coolly above the fray. And this is nothing new, writers from D.H. Lawrence to Grace Metalious to  E.L. James have all had their work dismissed (justly or not) as "porn" and that was that till some subsequent generation with the gift of hindsight could have its say.

I point this out because it is high time that we as erotic content providers stood up and defended our turf. Particularly in these last few years, we have found ourselves under increasing pressure, our art under attack, with the real threat of censorship growing every day, and iwe would fight back against these trends we need to recognize the most potent weapons in our adversaries' arsenal. Never let one of these blowhards derail a serious discussion again. Stand up, make your point quietly, reasonably, and with pride in your work! Never let them shout you down again. Never let them cry porn!

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Download a freakin' brilliant short story for free!

This weekend, Thursday November 29th through Sunday December 2nd is your chance to download my contemporary seasonal erotic short story, Eighteen with a (Silver) Bullet: An Erotic Christmas Carol  absolutely free!

Christmas Eve is Marla Jacobs' eighteenth birthday, but heck if she can remember anything about her past, especially where sexual experience is concerned. Will Marla find a cure for her erotic amnesia in time for her birthday party? Will she discover something about her past, present, and future as she shops for the perfect Christmas gift? Will a bizarre series of sexy twists and turns ultimately convince Marla to seek help in the most unlikely of places? 

Inspired by Charles Dickens' immortal holiday classic, 'A Christmas Carol', this contemporary erotic romp will entertain and titillate even as it tickles readers' literary sensibilities with a nudge and a wink at some of the sillier genre conventions of our time.

You can read more about Eighteen with a (Silver) Bullet here.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Twelve Notable Films "About" Sex

Notable films "about" sex, in which the cinematic storyteller has something important or, at least, interesting to say about erotic experience, as opposed to simply portraying eroticism, comprise a wide range of genres, styles, and moods. These are not necessarily the sexiest films ever made, nor is this list intended to highlight the steamiest scenes in modern cinema--there are plenty of websites for that already! The thing that all these movies have in common is that each in its own way treats sex as a normal, integral aspect of life, inseparable from human experience, neither an overblown mystery treated with such reverence and awe as to be rendered inaccessible, or some dirty joke guiltily whispered in the shadows, embarrassing all who hear it. The idea that sex is something perfectly-normal people do and often enjoy is a given in all these films; doubts about this fact are never the initiating event in the story, the "problem to be overcome" that confronts the protagonist at the onset of the narrative. With this in mind, here are a dozen notable films about sex, a list I've been compiling, mostly in my head, for the past few years, with no pretense of all-inclusiveness or critical opinion set in stone. You may recognize some of your favorites here, but if yours are missing, please, by all means, share them with me in the message section below. I look forward to hearing from you. Enjoy! (TAS)

Henry and June (Philip Kaufman, 1990)

Broadly based on the diaries of Anaïs Nin from 1931-32, a gorgeous film in all aspects, rightly hailed as a cinematic classic. Henry and June explores the beginnings of the relationship between Nin and American author Henry Miller and Miller's wife, June, in 1930s Paris. delving questions of art and propriety, the boundaries of sexual exploration and taboo, as well as the role of a liberated woman in society.

The Sessions (Ben Lewin, 2012)

Based on true events, funny, poignant, ultimately uplifting, The Sessions eschews pity and patronizing sentimentality to offer a refreshingly realistic portrayal of sex and disability. Superb performances, especially from Helen Hunt as a dedicated sex surrogate and William H. Macey as a sympathetic but often-befuddled priest/confessor.

9 Songs (Michael Winterbottom, 2004)

A film about four of my favorite subjects: sex, drugs, rock 'n' roll, and Antarctica, not necessarily in that order. What I find most to like about 9 Songs is its down-to-earth honesty and almost total lack of pretense. The story of a sexual relationship between two refreshingly normal human beings is framed by concert footage with emphasis on the shared experience of the audiences, and brief glimpses of the remote Antarctic ice fields, perhaps the most isolated places on the planet, posing the question what is the nature of loneliness?  To be sure, merely "not being alone" is not the same thing as being lonely when one can experience the most intense, agonizing sense of disconnection in a crowded concert hall, and yet find pure exultant bliss in the stark white wastelands of utter solitude. 

The simple mundanity of these lovers' lives comes as a big breath of fresh air after so many over-blown pretentious artsy-fartsy, supposedly "erotic" films about emotionally damaged people (Zalman King's Wild Orchid (1989)), Lie With Me (Clement Virgo, (2005)), In the Realm of the Senses (Nagisha Oshima, (1976)), Romance (Catherine Breillat, (1999)), and Eyes Wide Shut (Stanley Kubrick (1999)) to name but a few). While the sex here is extremely explicit, it's hardly adventuresome or kinky, and decidedly not pornographic. These are real people with names, feelings, normal-sized emotions and body parts, imperfect and unenhanced, making love the way real people make love, sometimes passionate and ferocious, more often warm, gentle and unhurried. Viewers who like honest portrayals of real people sharing moments of celebratory intimacy, some decent contemporary "underground" rock, and subtle unobtrusive art, will not be disappointed.

Nymphomaniac (Volume I and Volume II) (Lars von Trier, 2013)

Lars von Trier seems to take a perverse delight in letting his audience know that he detests everything--particularly his audience.  One need only look at films like Antichrist (with its horrific scene of self-inflicted genital mutilation) or the aptly title Melancholia (in which the earth and all life is literally obliterated) to recognize a deeply nihilistic worldview, and this is driven home with an unnervingly intimate force in Nymphomanic. Volume I is a taut, thoughtful exploration of sex addiction and promiscuity, rich in metaphor and psychological insight. Volume II seems at times to meander off on tangents that aren't nearly as engaging. In the end, the director builds a dazzling thought palace, only to knock it down right before our eyes in the final thirty seconds of Volume II like some petulant god declaring "I can create, but it's so much more fun to destroy!" as he thumbs his nose at anyone naive enough to become invested in his "vision." The joke is ultimately on us, but, perhaps, the journey to the punchline is the point.

Crash (David Cronenberg, 1996)

Based on J.G. Ballard's novel of the same name, and cleaving unfailingly close to the source material, David Cronenberg's Crash is a darkly understated masterpiece. This bleak, brooding, sometimes gruesome film is an unexpected sensual exploration of modern fetishism refracted through the lens of urban ennui, exploring the characters' paraphilic obsession with fatal car crashes--the twisted metal and broken bodies of once-beautiful automobiles an irresistible metaphor for the erotic death wish.  Chillingly intimate performances from Spader and Hunter help build a sense of uneasy atmosphere that is never truly relieved. I highly recommend the un-watered-down NC-17 version.

Sex and Death 101 (Dan Waters, 2007)

A surprisingly thoughtful comedic treatment of love, sex, and mortality. Through a cosmic bureaucratic mix-up, our hapless hero comes into possession of a list of everyone he will ever sleep with with in his life, assuming that he must die after his encounter with the final name on the list. Contemplating this conundrum through a series of weird, awkward, and sometimes hilarious encounters, with the gentlest of morals at the end, Sex and Death 101 is a delight!

Bliss (Lance Young, 1997)

This one's a bit problematic: while Terrence Stamp is, as always, watchable and, here, wonderfully engaging, the young couple he counsels is nigh on to insufferable, and one wonders why the hell these people came together in the first place. Yet, for all its more annoying aspects, the script is peppered with interesting insights and even a fair measure of wisdom regarding sexual self-awareness, with the frank recognition that sex is an integral part of human existence.

Fading Gigolo (John Turturro, 2013)

The presence of Woody Allen in a supporting role will no doubt be a deal-breaker for some, and that's too bad, as this little film has some very thoughtful things to say about sex, the paradoxical nature of loneliness, the clash of cultures, and the search for genuine connection in a bewildering world so full of stilted eroticism, yet so often bereft of love.

The Oh! in Ohio (Billy Kent, 2006)

This delightful, gently understated comedy stands out from so many failed sex farces precisely because it starts from the premise that sex is a natural aspect of everyday life, not a strange or frightening foreign force. A seemingly compatible couple's inability to achieve orgasm together leads each partner on a search for erotic satisfaction, whence all sorts of pleasurable wackiness ensues! Especially charming is the portrayal of the relationship between Parker Posey and Danny DeVito's happy-go-lucky older guy. Maybe the way to find that Oh! is simply to lighten up and enjoy the high dive into whatever unexpected pleasures await us when we hit the water!

The Diary of a Teenage Girl (Marielle Heller, 2015)

An engagingly frank look at sexual awakening, carried off with such artful subtlety as to mitigate some of the more cringe-inducing aspects of the story. Set in late-70s San Francisco, Alexander Scarsgård is the older live-in lover of an aging flower child (Kristin Wiig), gradually insinuating himself into the daughter's intimate space. If that were all--if this had been played for taboo sensationalism--this would be a pretty forgettable, not to mention repulsive, undertaking, but the story is so relentlessly, honestly character-driven, exploring every aspect of the young heroine's emotions, her dreams and fears, whimsical artistic impulses, hopes and aspirations, along with her own burgeoning sexual independence, that the film ends up touching and enriching us in ways we could not have imagined at the beginning. Some very imaginative film-making brings the teenage girl's inner world to vibrant life, an aspiring graphic novelist, she carries on conversations in her head with her idol, undergrond comix legend Suzie Petrovski, who shows up as a cartoon version of herself at one point to offer sage advice. A stellar performance from young Bel Powley as the aspiring artist of the title. Well worth a viewing!

Labyrinth (Jim Hensen, 1986)

This may strike some as an odd choice--perhaps even a bit of a creepy one--to include on a list of films about sex; but this gentle children's classic, written by Monty Python's Terry Jones, directed by Muppet-creator Jim Hensen, and starring pop-music icon David Bowie as the Goblin King, and the then fourteen-year-old Jennifer Connely (in her first major cinematic role) has quite a lot to say on the subject. Indeed, Labyrinth may be seen as an allegory of adolescent sexual awakening--a young woman's coming into awareness of her own erotic nature. The shifting labyrinth of the title may be seen to represent the confusion and claustrophobic sense of aloneness a young person may experience in taking their first steps into adulthood. The goblin king's erotic interest in the girl--virtually undisguised--may strike some as off-putting or simply perverse, but a deeper interpretation reveals a universal human truth, the irresistible magnetic force that is the formative singularity of our humanness, the promise of mystery that is for the adolescent both a source of dread and ineluctable curiosity. Yet, as in all great fairy tales, these ideas are so subtly woven into the fabric of the narrative, as not to disturb the more tender sensibilities in the audience--or the sheer fun of the story! (I only first saw this film as an adult well into my fifties and the erotic metaphor was glaringly obvious; no doubt if I'd seen it first as a youngster, the subtext would have gone straight over my head.)

Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love (1996, Mira Nair)

Set in medieval India, this lavish, gorgeously-shot epic tells the story of a peasant girl, Maya (Indira Varma)--beautiful but hopelessly poor--who rises to become the favorite courtesan of a spoiled ruler, much to the chagrin of the young queen, Tara (Sarita Choudhury) Maya's childhood friend. Maya is tutored in the disciplines of the Kama Sutra, even as she becomes the love-obsession and muse of a handsome young artist, and so we end up with something like two intersecting triangles... It's all so hopelessly romantic! While there are no graphic portrayals of intercourse here, there are one or two pearls of erotic wisdom that elevate this above the typical Bollywood melodrama.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Now available: "Eighteen with a (Silver) Bullet: An Erotic Christmas Carol"

Eighteen with a (Silver) Bullet: An Erotic Christmas Carol is now available on Amazon.

This short erotic tale was inspired, in part, by Charles Dickens’ immortal classic A Christmas Carol, written and published in 1843, and now long in the public domain.  I have freely and unapologetically borrowed material from the novel, including the names of several characters. Those readers intimately familiar with the original text of A Christmas Carol will be sure to find many small—and even a few rather obscure—references to episodes and characters from Dickens’ novel here.

My purpose in writing Eighteen with a (Silver) Bullet was solely to entertain through the use of parody and social satire with a contemporary erotic sensibility. Prigs, prudes, and purists will probably not be amused; my unhallowed hands have most definitely disturbed the similes of Victorian propriety, though I doubt the Country’s done for as a result. We have reached an almost-absurd level of moral panic in these times regarding the portrayal of adolescent sexuality, to a point where it has now become de rigueur in erotica to beat readers over the head with the fact that imaginary characters are “eighteen or older” as they engage in fictional behavior, which harms no one in the real world.

Thinking about this, I envisioned a scenario in which someone “old enough to be a character in an erotic short story” might wake up on the morning of their eighteenth birthday with near-complete amnesia regarding puberty, adolescence, and the all-important years of their formative erotic experience. Of course, I play this scenario for laughs, even going so far as to break the “fourth wall” from time to time in the service of satire. Yet, in all seriousness, if we cannot learn to be honest about things that happen quite naturally every day, come to mature grips with our normal human desires, or, at least, develop some proportional sense of humor about ourselves as sexual beings, a lot more than the Country’s done for. 

from Eighteen with a (Silver) Bullet

Marla was eighteen to begin with. Eighteen with a bullet, there was no doubt whatever about that. She had the birth certificate to prove it, and that was good enough for any court of law in the country. She had the body to prove it, too.
Still, Marla was not entirely convinced.
We’re not talking barely legal here with eighteen in air quotes; some overeager seventeen-year-old using a fake ID to get into a club, or fudging her date of birth by a week or three in a plot to bring down the adult film industry. No, Marla was really and truly un-fucking-deniably eighteen, and today, Christmas Eve, was her birthday. She was old enough to vote or be drafted—assuming they ever brought back the draft. Old enough to be independent and make her own decisions—assuming none of those decisions involved the consumption of alcohol. Old enough to be a character in an erotic short story.
Oh yeah! Marla was eighteen if you know what I mean, nudge-nudge, wink-wink: you must understand this or nothing sexy or exciting can happen in the story that is about to unfold. Marla Jacobs was eighteen, and that was where the problem started: She couldn’t remember anything before waking up on the morning of the 24th—at least, nothing having to do with sex. Surely something must have happened between the ages of twelve and seventeen. So why was it all a huge blank?
Like a woman with no shadow suddenly appearing out of thin air, Marla had no erotic backstory.
If only I’d been a character in a detective novel, she thought bitterly.
She tried asking her parents at breakfast that morning, but nobody would tell her anything about the “time before”—it simply was not talked about. Her folks began to hem and haw when she hinted at the mystery of her adolescence, mumbling as if their mouths were full of mush.
“Some things are on a strictly need-to-know basis.” Marla’s dad pretended to glance at his watch before rushing off in terror. Her mom heaved a heavy sigh and changed the subject...

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Review of 'Medusa's Touch' by Emily L. Byrne and 'Hard Drive' by M. Christian

Medusa’sTouch  by Emily L. Byrne

What is at heart a fairly conventional f/f erotic romance is here gussied up as space opera with an interesting transhumanist element. TiCara X273 is a medusa pilot, having received a set of neuro-synaptic implants that allow her to interface with the space freighter she captains. TiCara’s implants also enhance and help to moderate her emotions; these “medusas” sometimes seem to have a will of their own, which makes for some of the story’s most entertaining moments. When TiCara is commissioned to ferry an aging corporate bigwig to a remote system in search of a technological fountain of youth, she jumps at the prospect of a rich payoff, along with the opportunity to make time with said bigwig’s beautiful assistant, Sherin. Pursued by space pirates and corporate secret police, aware of a spy in her midst and unsure of whom to trust, TiCara has plenty to occupy her when she isn’t lost in romantic self-doubt, obsessing about or actively pursuing Sherin.

Drawing heavily on the conventions of cinematic space opera, space travel here is portrayed as relatively easy and routine, imaginary tech helps to gloss over problems of distance and time, and space battles in zero gravity are played out like conventional earthbound shoot-‘em-ups. While, in real life, there may be ten thousand potentially fatal hazards in space at any given second, Byrne generally keeps things sufficiently engaging to encourage a relatively hefty suspension of disbelief.   

I found Byrne’s style a tad dry in spots, a little too bogged down with superfluous stage business that doesn’t seem to put the story forward in any meaningful way. At times the generic erotic romance elements—endless daydreaming and adolescent self-doubt—detract from the sci-fi/adventure narrative, dulling the sharper edges of the plot.  Like too many stories of this kind, imaginary futuristic jargon and slang can do more to impede a clear narrative flow than enhance a sense of authenticity. When tech overwhelms the humanity of the story, neither science nor fiction are well served. I would have liked to read more about the villain of the piece, who is by far the most interesting character in the tale, and could have used more of a build-up to raise the stakes of the ultimate set-piece, well done as it is.

In the end,  I think Byrne has succeeded in creating an entertaining, essentially human story with Medusa’s Touch and that is an achievement not to be dismissed. Recommended.

As the subtitle suggests, all of the stories in this collection have appeared in print before. I have reviewed several of the earlier anthologies from which this material is drawn, and much of it holds up quite well.

At his best, M. Christian is a master of speculative fiction, highly imaginative, ironic, wickedly funny, fast-paced, endearingly snarky, and one hell of a fine writer with a Promethean gift for evocative settings and memorable set-ups. Pieces like Honky Tonk Lagoon, Prêt-à-porter, The Bachelor Machine, Hot Definition, Everything But the Smell of Lilies, The Hope of Cinnamon  and Subsequent State are little masterpieces, as fine as anything in contemporary sci-fi.

Christian’s writing can also be pretentious, self-indulgent, plodding, bloated, obsessive, continually flogging the same not-particularly interesting transhumanist concepts, unwilling to put his shopworn darlings out of their (and the reader’s) misery. Yes, the notion that humanity may become so dependent on technology, on being “connected” that we forget how to sense or feel anything genuine is a profound idea, a cautionary tale for our age, but the novelty wears off pretty fast, especially when the storytelling is unfocused, taking too long to reach its destination, ironic twists, clever as they may be, coming too little and far too long after the reader’s interest is lost.

In short, what we have is a mixed bag, though I think what’s good—even great—here outweighs what isn’t. Recommended on balance.   

Sunday, October 21, 2018

'La Sonnambula'--a story by TAS

La Sonnambula

And when had this jejune infatuation metastasized into madness? When had casual admiration turned to worship, and worship to obsession? Christian could not pinpoint that moment in memory when his feelings had changed. In fact, his feelings had not changed by any qualitative measure, but only in the grandeur of their intensity. And was that not wholly apropos, considering the passion She inspired in millions?
But no passion was like his!
He had all Her albums, of course: mass-produced sonic souvenirs of every production She had ever taken part in, from Her early scene-stealing triumphs as a twentysomething Susanna in The Marriage of Figaro and Zerlina in Don Giovanni to Her mature, quasi-notorious transpositions of the great bel canto roles. Somewhat rarer were the printed programs, mementos from opera houses and recital halls around the world, each one autographed in the same flamboyantly elegant hand “with love to Christian, my biggest fan!”
With love! Could it be true? No one had ever loved Christian before. No one had ever desired him—he with his twisted body, withered legs, and freakish face. No one had ever been drawn by the sound of his voice or the cleverness of his conversation. No one would ever be attracted by the beauty of his mind or the worthiness of his character. And yet, She never failed to write “with love”!
No matter that it was his handsome ‘abled’ proxy who procured the autographs, a hired agent who brought flowers to Her dressing rooms with Christian’s effusively scribbled notes in scented envelopes. “She bowed her head and smiled a little to herself” the surrogate might report, or: “She read the note and caught her breath, laid her hand upon her bosom, blushed, and sighed...”
“But was there no reply?” Christian would complain after demanding to hear the minutest details of the encounter a double-score of times. “Had She nothing personal to say?” Like some histrionically jealous tenor in a superheated operatic love triangle, Christian was insanely, epically, grandiosely enthralled.
And so had it been, ever since the day he first heard Her music and was mystically made whole, that dream-glimmered evening when, venturing out in disguise, he saw Her in person for the first and only time. She had moved with such imperious grace, virtually gliding onto the stage, Her gown scandalously low-cut, Her voluptuous form resplendent amidst a spangled galaxy of sequins, blazing out like super novas whenever She turned this way or that. And when She sang Ah! Non credea mirarti, inflecting every sigh and coo, her very breath an erotic miracle of melody, Christian had become unbearably erect, even as he wept for beauty. Oh Goddess! What was ‘reality’ compared to this? Could any passion be more true?
He pleasured himself to the accompaniment of the memory, though it had taken years to overcome the shame. He masturbated with feral abandon to the sight of Her image, portraits on the cover of Classical Music and The Gramophone, or photos on album jackets. His particular favorite—most reliably arousing—was the jacket cover of Bellini’s La SonnambulaThe Sleepwalker—where She appeared in the guise of the lovely, angelically unselfconscious Amina, photographed from above the bosom, eyes closed, head demurely bowed, admiring the fragrance of a lily, her long black hair drawn up off naked shoulders, high and away from the neck, coyly hinting at complete nudity below. Christian had the photograph, digitally blown up larger than life, ensconced behind a velvet curtain in his listening room like a holy relic, a miraculous icon only to be revealed on High Feast Days.
He had recruited a small army of talented underground artists, painters, sculptors, pornographers, occultist pimps and free-lance paparazzi, all to feed his insatiable need for novelty. Christian was a man of perverse and singular taste with the means to indulge his paraphilic fancies. The rooms he now occupied had once comprised the suite of his father’s law offices; the oak half-paneling bespoke a clientele of taste and discretion, the sumptuous wainscotings the discreet comings and goings of storied wealth and power. The son had inherited the father’s riches without his responsibilities or reputation, yet the money was more than enough with which to lay the foundations of a dazzling paracosm. The apartment was nothing now so much as a museum—a sacred shrine consecrated to the mysteries of the great Casta Diva, Her music and Her matchless beauty. Within those six richly-appointed rooms Christian was docent, curator and patron, high priest, celebrant and supplicant.
Her recordings played constantly, piped through the entire suite so that the sound of Her singing filled the air like incense. His motorized wheelchair whined across the shimmering terrazzo floors with their ouroborus-patterned mosaics, carrying him from room to room as he made his morning rounds, the daily ritual of adulation. The narrow halls were lined with autographed headshots and posters, the library with diverse memorabilia, clippings, and varicolored stage bills, all in matching gilt frames. For the sitting room, Christian had commissioned a rendering of Her as Amina, based on the same album cover that never failed to inflame him, but now in three dimensions, a bare-shouldered bust in white marble set within a mirrored alcove.
And, so that he might adore Her perpetually in the intimate sanctity of the boudoir, Christian had ordered a trio of pornographic parodies, a lascivious triptych in oils conjured, alas, not from life, but from his artist’s prurient conjecture. Above the headboard, She lounged in insouciant splendor, shamelessly thrusting her pelvis up at the painter like the cheeky peasant girl in Goya’s La maja desnuda. Opposite this, where Christian could admire it as he waited for sleep, a sensuous nude after Titian’s Venus of Urbino, the Goddess couchant in languorous dishabille, a knowing smile upon her sultry lips. To his left, the most daring of all, a re-imagining of Bronzino’s Venus and Cupid, Folly and Time with Christian himself idealized as Cupid, drawing near to kiss his lover, his perfect, healed hand incestuously cupping the Goddess-mother’s naked milk-white breast.
Oh! To be an object of desire rather than of pity, not some hideous monstrosity hiding in the shadowy wings of life. Every night before Christian fell into the malefic abyss of fitful slumber, he would mouth a prayer to the uncaring cosmos, the simple hope that he might dream of being more than worthy—indeed, of being whole. Surely then, when the Diva stepped on stage and looked out upon Her adoring congregation, She would recognize Her biggest fan in the flesh at last, no longer just another face among the throng of guileless postulants—those eager, wide-eyed matinée mystagogues—but, in truth, Her most devoted disciple, acolyte, suitor, consort and thrall.
And yet, in his most lucid dreams, Christian always stood before a mirror, forced to look at himself as if through Her eyes, feeling nothing but repulsion and disgust. Soon, with a chilling ecstasy that simultaneously terrified and aroused him, Christian began to see himself as the lecherous Count Rodolfo, contemplating the rape of Amina as she sleeps, groping her thighs and breasts through the maiden-white muslin of her nightdress, feeding on her beauty like a vampiric wraith.
What could it mean? Increasingly, Christian sought refuge in the occult, consulted psychics and seers, read Crowley and Naglowska’s works on sexual magic and ritual—going so far as to set up an altar in what had been his father’s panic room. Christian began to save his own ejaculate, believing that it possessed the power to draw the Goddess to him. He kept his spendings in a crystal vial, the pale fluid that burst from his loins whenever he focused his intentions solely upon Her, preserving it for use in potions, aphrodisiacs, love philters, and his long-dreamed-of elixir of youth and beauty, smearing it around the illuminated margins of the personal stationery on which he penned his letters to Her, asperging it like holy water on the flowers he sent, anointing whatever of Hers came into his possession.
He became fanatical in his quest to obtain personal objects—anything She might have used or touched. He acquired props and costume jewelry, rhinestones and sequins; a faux-pearled filigree from the headdress She had worn as Cleopatra in Handel’s Giulio Cesare in Egitto, Desdemona’s lace handkerchief from Rossini’s Otello, and one of the all-important bracelets from La Cenerentola. Yet far more precious were those intimate everyday articles that are seldom noticed and hardly ever missed: a pair of underarm liners used once in Sydney, lipsticks and make-up compacts left behind at Glyndebourne, Zagreb, and San Francisco, a laddered stocking cast off in Brussels, even a pair of petite culotte lifted from Her dressing room in Zurich, a vulgar act of larceny facilitated by a generous bribe to someone on the cleaning staff.
Most treasurable and venerated of all was a lock of the Diva’s soft raven hair, adoringly bound in a cloth-of-gold ribbon and stored in a luxuriously lacquered pyx. Each year on Her name day, Christian would bathe and purify himself before ceremoniously removing this most sacred fetish from its hermetic resting place, and stroking his cock to within an inch of ultimate bliss, gently flagellating his presumptuous parts, once for each year of Her life.
Gradually, his body began to undergo a change. Or perhaps it was that Christian could feel a second body being born from the seething putrescence of the first. He no longer required his wheelchair, but could, when he slept, leave his old body and move about unaided, albeit with no small exercise of will, scuttling clumsily across the floors or slithering up the paneled walls, leaving a trail of ichorous corruption in his wake. Ghostly tentacles sprang from his heart and burst forth into the world, reaching out in all directions, seeking Her, wrapping themselves around Her soul like the rapacious tendrils of a carnivorous plant, probing Her private vulnerabilities, drawing Her inexorably to his ravenous maw.
The tabloid presses began to hum. ‘Real-Life Phantom of the Opera!’ the yellow headlines howled, ‘The Prima Dona and the Pervert!’ ‘Crazed Fan Threatens Diva! Performances Canceled.’ Unflattering photographs were splashed across the covers with promises of more inside—rumor, speculation, and lurid innuendo in seven major languages—She looking tired and frightened, hair and makeup in unbecoming disarray as bodyguards hustled Her past the paparazzi, an inadvertent flash of leg as She was bundled into a waiting limousine.
Evidence was turned over to Interpol and the FBI for psychological profiling and DNA analysis. The mainstream media took notice. A police artist’s sketch of the suspect was circulated alongside excerpts of the letters he had sent Her. “The deviant rantings of a sexually dysfunctional ghoul,” the chief investigator was quoted as saying, “an erotomaniacal philistine utterly dissociated from the concerns of decent human society.” Disturbed, unbalanced, depraved, the papers called him, a sociopath, a mad man. Yet not even the most mercenary among them dared reveal the bloody final detail, more horrifying for being real than the most unspeakably depraved flight of salacious fancy.
‘I shall be with You soon forever, my Adored One!’ the fiend had written before sealing the parcel containing his ultimate oblation, a knot of the singer’s own hair braided tightly around a severed human penis, trussed up with a cloth-of-gold ribbon. ‘Accept this humble token of undying devotion from one who is and shall ever remain your biggest fan! Addio, mia musa splendida! Mia casta! Mia bellisima! Mia divina per sempre!’
Nothing out of the ordinary was found in Christian’s apartment, no trace of the obsession that had for so long defined his pitiable existence. Until, citing tenuous probable cause, the authorities had broken down the door of the former panic room and discovered a body lying on an improvised altar in a macabre parody of saintly dormition. It was by then no more than a desiccated husk, the mummified remnant of some hideously tortured abomination, forlorn in its sinister brokenness. The creature’s lips were drawn back from crooked, yellowing teeth, its mouth, from which the last scream of existential panic had long since departed, frozen in a hideous oblate rigor. The hollow crater of its chest suggested a violent outward eruption, as if whatever once had pulsed and flourished there had outgrown its imprisonment, breaking free to wreak its ghastly vengeance on the world.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Review of 'Viking Wolf' by Emmanuelle de Maupassant

Another ultra-steamy winner from Emmanuelle de Maupassant, rapidly establishing herself as the undisputed queen of erotic romance, Viking Wolf takes up where the first book in the series Viking Thunder (among EftBB’s Best of 2017) left off.

In my review of the first book I said: “Viking Thunder is an exquisite piece of writing by any standard, imaginative historical fiction at its finest, and one of the sexiest tales I’ve had the pleasure to read in—ever.” In this exciting, and gorgeously-written sequel, the Middle Ages’ hottest couple, Anglo-Saxon Elswyth and her Viking lover Eiric return to the norseman’s home in Svolvaen. But it’s not all hearts and flowers in spite of the erotic heat generated by these two, darker conflicts loom, and, this being erotic romance, a virtual long-boat-load of heroinic self-doubt pads a goodly percentage of the narrative. Eirik’s elder brother, Gunnolf, jarl of Svolvaen turns his lustful eye on the Northumbrian beauty, and one can almost smell the testosterone in the air. When Eirik and his sister Hekla are conveniently sent off to a neighboring community in order to establish an alliance, Elswyth is without allies, a virtual stranger in a strange land, very much at Gunnolf’s mercy. With lots of political and romantic intrigue to go along with fascinating discussions of Viking lore and legend, the story is compelling, vividly related, and seldom dull.

One criticism: the climactic set-piece is “muffled” and too abrupt where it ought to have been vivid and expansive. It is over so quickly that some readers may be left scratching their heads, wondering what actually happened—not to mention how or why. The language in this sort of passage needs to be acute and highly descriptive, showing readers everything that goes on, even as it is paced in such a way as to keep them on the edge of their seats. Here it feels rather perfunctory, as if someone were in a terrible hurry to wind up the story with its de rigueur happy ending, and used the set-piece as a convenient way to get there without putting anyone we care about in serious peril. While this is not a fatal flaw, I do hope that the planned sequel to Viking Wolf will feature a climax as powerful and memorably worthy as the story that goes before it.

This minor point aside, Viking Wolf is eminently entertaining and enthusiastically recommended!