Sunday, August 31, 2014

Review of "Picture Perfect: The Best of Donna George Storey"

I like the erotic fiction of Donna George Storey like I like wine and chocolate, an indulgence all too rare, yet never to be forgotten; I like it like I like making love to the symphonies of Rachmaninoff, like I like massaging a pair of beautiful feet and the feel of their owner’s response; like I like the quickening wonder of discovery, the texture and taste of homemade vanilla ice cream, and the films of Michael Powell, the beauty of the night sky beyond artificial illumination, the orgasmic thrill of insight, and the way a lover sighs when I kiss the back of her neck.

And I like these six superbly-crafted short stories, all impressively understated, yet powerfully, ineluctably sexy. Storey clearly understands that the quickest way to an intelligent reader’s turn-on is through his or her brain. This approach may strike some as oddly low-key, perhaps a tad too cerebral and slow-paced for the average smut-slut, the heat-factor a bit on the lukewarm side for the more voraciously undiscriminating members of the wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am crowd. Yet, this author clearly knows her audience, richly rewarding those willing to stay with her. Seldom falling back too heavily on paraphilic gimmickry or kink for the sake of mere shock value, never descending into gratuitous raunch or vulgarity, the aphrodisiacal potency of the writing is nonetheless undeniable. If this is “vanilla” it is the sweetest, most potent vanilla one could ever hope to taste, as in this passage from Blinded, the story that opens the collection:

I was wrong. I’d never realized how beautiful his body was. Not that I hadn’t appreciated it before, but I’d always focused my gaze on his eyes, his expressions. The rest of him I knew better by touch. But now, with his eyes hidden, I could see him with a new clarity: the rich, taut curves of his arms and chest, the hint of soft flesh at his waist that I found oddly pleasing. I noticed that the hair on his belly fanned out more luxuriantly on the left, and by contrast, his right thigh was slightly more muscular, a legacy of his college fencing days. It didn’t take long for him to get hard—it never did when we used the blindfold—and I got to watch that, the delicate jerking movements of his penis as it rose and thickened, drawn upward by invisible strings, which, I imagined, led straight to my hands.

This is marvelous writing by the standards of any genre, and there is a good deal more to be enjoyed here, from the pruriently playful title story to Spring Pictures, a return to the world of Amorous Woman, Storey’s remarkable novel of life in Japan, with all its deeply inscrutable erotic mystery and breathtaking wonder, to the odd sensual magic of Being Bobby, a diverting tale of imagination and physical empathy, to the outstanding To Dance at the Fair, a multi-part short story with the complexity and impact of a full-length novel, remarkable for its wealth of erudition, insight, and depth of feeling.

Unhesitatingly recommended!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Writing Through the Pain

I wanted to write something eloquent and moving this week about the death of the great Robin Williams, perhaps making a connection with my own life-long struggles with clinical depression and creativity. Unfortunately, I find that I am too damned depressed to go there, too weary, too sore, too angry; all I can do is write through the pain. I am hurting physically, frustrated, moods on a hair trigger, pissed off about all the thoughtless, cruel, clueless pronouncements from the pundit-sphere concerning the death of this beautiful, remarkable, loving and beloved,  extravagantly gifted, and deeply, profoundly tortured soul; sick of these unethical, overpaid, sub-moronic, shite-stained bullying bastards who know not one fucking thing about creativity or depression, sensitivity or kindness, yet blithely make their flippant armchair diagnoses of all those who suffer as “liberal sissies” or “cowards”, going on to tell us that we  should all just simply “man up” or “snap out of it” or “surround ourselves with positive energy” or “find God”, usually by embracing their particular perverted form of religion. (Been there, done that. I can tell you conclusively; it doesn’t work.) As far as I’m concerned they can all go fuck themselves or burn in that hell in which they claim so vehemently to believe.  (Does this seem insensitive or “not nice” of me? Too bad.)

Where depression is concerned, reticence kills. By this I mean the culture of reticence that discourages people from recognizing or acknowledging or even talking aloud about their own suffering, let alone seeking help for it. No one should ever be ashamed about what they feel. No one should ever be afraid to ask for help. Yet, too often, we’re told that we have to be “nice” at all costs; that we mustn’t “inconvenience” or embarrass others with our concerns. Well, you know what? Fuck nice. If my life is on the line I will be blunt, damn the torpedoes and whatever the hell the neighbors think.

I was in my early thirties when my depression became acute. One day I was hired to sing at the funeral of a man about ten years older than me, who, it turned out, had committed suicide after suffering in silence for some years. This guy had people who loved him and cared about him; he had a good job and, by all appearances, a great life; on paper it certainly looked a lot nicer than mine. Almost immediately upon learning the circumstances of this man’s life and death, I understood that I would end up like him if I kept to the path I was on. Back home that afternoon I called up a local mental health organization and asked for help.

Unfortunately, their idea of “help” was to send me to see a psychiatrist for fifteen minutes once every six weeks in order to “manage” my medication levels. For a time I was sent to a quack who was later arrested and indicted for insurance fraud—this after losing admitting privileges the two local hospitals. This asshole would get “touchy” if I asked the “wrong” questions, and I have no doubt he ruined many lives while amassing a huge pile of illicit cash. He might well have ruined mine, too. Ultimately, I told the people in charge that meds were not enough. I DEMANDED something more, something better, insisting that I needed someone to talk to—really talk to—about the things that were troubling me.

It took years finally to find a competent, honest professional therapist who actually listened to me and helped me. I was finally—after nearly twenty-five years—diagnosed with Bi-Polar II and PTSD, and given some practical advice for dealing with those concerns without resorting to medication, which had only dulled my creativity and dampened my libido—the two are closely related, in fact--without doing much for the depression itself.  In lieu of "wonder drugs" I developed daily habits and routines—including a writing schedule—to help me cope and keep the “black dog” at bay; developed a dietary regimen, and tried my best to get a reasonable amount of exercise each day. I avoid all fast food, drink alcohol very rarely if ever, and never drink coffee. (In spite of this, amazingly, I am a morning person. Who would’ve guessed?) For a few years I kept a list of my achievements from month to month so that I could never again lie to myself and say that I “never get anything done”. I have identified the things about which I am deeply passionate, and have embraced them, as if for dear life. At the same time, I have jettisoned many of the things that were a source of pain or irritation—marriage, religion, commercial broadcast media. I always endeavor to have a “project” or two or three so that my mind is always occupied. And though I still find myself slipping into that dark place from time to time, I have kept well for the most part, live quietly, simply, and, mostly, in solitude. I am physically healthy, and consider myself content. But all this, only because, somehow I found the strength to ASK FOR HELP.


Sunday, August 3, 2014

Review of "Spark My Moment: A Collection of Erotic Short Stories" by Jeremy Edwards

What a joy finally to have this outstanding short story collection available in e-book form after what seems far too long a wait. And though that wait was, in point of fact, only slightly less than a year, it was assuredly worth it in any case. Jeremy Edwards’ erotic fiction is, as ever, sunlit and cerebral, stylish, sensual and smart, light as air and heavy as thought. Oh, and did I mention funny? Mustn’t forget the funny; can’t, in fact, forget it after the two or three times I nearly passed out from laughing so hard.

Edwards is clearly in love with language—undoubtedly a good thing for a writer—fetishizing the idiosyncrasies of words the way almost all his characters seem to fixate on women’s panties. He likes to toy with connotation; test the supple bounds of metaphor and innuendo, engage in gentle, nerdish foreplay with his phrases, sentences, and paragraphs, feel them growing, changing, metamorphosing under his promiscuously practiced hands, making love to them, calling new, ever-more pleasantly surprising ideas and images into existence.

[She] wanted it both ways; she wanted the intense dark-chocolate rush of secret satisfactions; and she wanted the frothy strawberry milkshake of showing off—and even, perhaps, the caramel drizzle of being discovered. If she could have stood bare-assed in front of a gallery of the regular customers, with Paul pumping her pussy, and magically contrived things so the crowd was at  once oblivious to and acutely cognizant of the naked immediacy of her penetration . . . well, she would have done so faster than you could say ‘Pop’s not in’ to a bill collector.

Edwards’ characters are invariably agreeable, thoughtful, introspective, enthusiastically willing, and astonishingly articulate where discussions of process are concerned; especially discussions of process occurring during the sex act itself. Look! Nerds want pretty much the same thing as everybody else. It’s just that sometimes we like to talk about the things that excite or frighten or turn us on in greater detail than the average moan or grunt can convey.

She was always using words that I found too beautiful to say aloud, words that I was afraid I wasn’t handsome enough to use. It was as if she could reach in and pluck all the finest nuggets from my passive vocabulary.

Or this:

I think identity is a lot like hit-or-miss photography. We keep taking pictures of ourselves, in different outfits and lightings and contexts, hoping for a likeness that resonates . . . and, of course, the actual person is infinitely kinetic and complex, and can never quite be captured as a concept, even by himself. And, at 18, I don’t know how to begin defining myself through something more personalized than homework or riffs.

Edwards is a master of erotic metaphor:

She opted to cut, flipping over and sliding her thighs apart like two glistening chunks of plastic-coated playing cards—revealing an ace.

Wise enough to employ it sparingly, the author demonstrates that he is one of the few contemporary eroticists talented enough to make second-person point-of-view seem interesting for more than a few paragraphs:

The lingering smell of your juice has now aroused me to the point of wildness. My nose presses lewdly into the joy-stained sheet, and I let my entire consciousness sink with it into olfactory paradise. I feel as if my very mind is between your thighs, my thoughts nestled within your pussy lips. I realize that when we fuck I am so focused on the sight of you, the sound you make, and the sensations of touching and being touched by you, that the powerful olfactory element must sometimes compete for my attention. Now the smell of this morning’s wet pussy is everything to me—it is the key that unlocks every sexual door in my head.

The mood throughout these stories is immutably positive, like a two-hour concert of chamber music played entirely in a sunny C-major; rich in delights to be sure, and yet, over time the mind needs some variety to stay focused. I kept wishing for some contrast, perhaps a mild disagreement in A-minor, an argument in some darker, more remote key, or even once, just once, a good cacophonically atonal knock-down-drag-out fight; any sort of realistic conflict that might reflect the way most human beings interact, finding themselves thrown together or, in spite of all their best efforts, inexorably alienated. In the absence of conflict, most of these stories convey a kind of wry detachment, rather like the protracted musings of some highly articulate smartass—a smartass with an abiding derrière fetish, and an obsession for panties as colorful and varied as the fruit flavors at Baskin-Robins’. Not that any of this is a bad thing, though, perhaps, the collection ought best be taken in smaller doses. (Admittedly, in reading it for review, I had to proceed non-stop under deadline from beginning to end; it would have been considerably more enjoyable to “dip in” to the contents here and there at leisure—though the publisher’s failure to include a working table of contents makes that virtually impossible.)

Indeed, the biggest nits I have to pick are with the publisher, rather than the author. Oh, how I wish publishers would bother to learn the unique ins and outs of e-book formatting and internal linking. What makes an e-book different from a “traditional” print publication after all? The ability to provide internal navigation and external referencing through hyperlinking is a true boon, and there is simply no excuse in this day and age not to have a clickable table of contents, especially in so extensive a collection. Additionally, there need to be definite page breaks after each story, if for no other reason than to facilitate accurate bookmarking (it’s not like one’s wasting paper, after all).

Complaints aside, this is one of the best single-author collections of short erotic fiction to appear in quite some time; unfailingly droll, intelligently adroit, effervescent, stimulatingly abundant, and consistently, happily surprising. Enthusiastically recommended!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Review of "Slave Girls: Erotic Stories of Submission" ed. D.L. King

There’s a lot of terrific writing in this abundant, sharply-focused theme anthology from editor D.L. King. Slave Girls is a collection of twenty-one surprisingly diverse short stories exploring the ‘s’ in D/s, from the sometimes breathless, needy, longing, hungry, curious, occasionally reluctant, perpetually horny point of view of the submissives themselves. Several of these stories are undoubtable masterpieces of the subgenre: Alison Tyler’s Cubed; Lisabet Sarai’s Muse; Dirty Pictures by Thomas S. Roche; the beautiful, imaginative and poignant My Master’s Mark by Lydia Hill; Erzabet Bishop’s The Red Envelope; Teresa Noel Roberts’ Bridle Party. I particularly enjoyed Summer Marsden’s stylish, character-driven, inward-probing Breathe:  
Breathing is the first thing an anxious person forgets to do, and then they wonder why they feel as if they’re drowning. Breathing is the first thing that Nick helped me with when our relationship went from part-time play-and-fuck-buddies to something more. He tells me what to do at times like this. I do it.  It is simple and perfect as that. A mystical symbiosis on which words would be lost.
Nina Fairweather’s Press My Buttons deftly explores the inner workings of a would-be submissive’s mind:
I didn’t want to be gagged. It limited my speech. I couldn’t communicate effectively. It objectified me. Yet when Lynn threaded the scarf through my teeth, under my hair and around my head, I could feel my sex throbbing. While she tied it tightly I could think of little else except the fact that I wanted to beg, and beg, and beg to be touched, but I could not. That seemed only to make my excitement more profound.
Equally impressive is the understated yet wholly ineluctable eroticism of Donna George Storey’s Passing the Final. Not relying on kinks or paraphilic gimmickry, never descending into raunchiness or vulgarity, the aphrodisiacal potency of the writing is nonetheless undeniable:
His bedroom was illuminated only by two thick, round candles arranged on the nightstand as if it were and altar. A satin robe lay shimmering in the golden shadows across the pillow. She hung her dress in his closet, kicked off her shoes, and slipped the robe over her lacy, bride-white bra, matching thong and thigh-high stockings. She paused to check her reflection in the closet mirror.
Don’t be afraid. The Master said you were ready.
He hadn’t elaborated exactly what she was ready for, but she would find out soon enough.For some reason he’s removed his quilt and flat sheet, but fortunately the room was quite warm. She stretched out on the bed, realizing she’d never been here without him beside, above, or below her.
So, clearly, what’s good here is very good indeed. It would not be honest, however, to say that everything is equally good—I’m not giving out trophies for T-ball after all—there is, unfortunately, a whiff or two of “bad”, and here and there even a soupçon of “ugly”. Several issues plague what I will diplomatically refer to as the “second-tier” stories in this collection; poorly conceived points-of-view; amateurish malapropism, a retreat to platitude and shallow stereotype, and a discouraging sense that some of these authors’ hearts weren’t in the project.
I have always tried to adhere to a set of simple rules for reviewing; foremost among these is never give a bad notice based on my bad mood. But what if the writing itself puts me in a funk?  Second-person POV is infuriating when it isn’t boring. Aside from the fact that I have no interest in being made a de-facto character in an author’s story, the conceit doesn’t—can’t—work because the author doesn’t know me, doesn’t understand my motivations and desires, what turns me on or makes me tick. Second-person also lends itself to a kind of soporifically sing-songy backing and forthing “I do this/You do that” ad sempiternum nauseum. Employ this kind of writing in erotica and what inevitably results is the literary equivalent of a checklist for an oil change. Thus, Evan Mora’s Noise was probably not the best choice for the opening story in the collection, and the title of D.L. King’s What’s Not to Like begs a very loaded question indeed.
Malapropism, if sufficiently glaring, can effectively put me off a story, especially if other issues have already gotten my attention. Please repeat after me; crescendo does not mean climax; you don’t “build up to a blazing crescendo” (again, Evan Mora’s Noise); the crescendo IS the building up.  I was already sufficiently annoyed with Graydancer’s sloppily written Savoring Little One not to overlook the author’s use of ‘attenuated’ when the word obviously ought to have been ‘acclimated’. Honestly, one can look this stuff up—and, clearly, there are many people who need to.
Beyond these basic technical considerations, there are a few aesthetic and philosophical issues to give thoughtful readers pause. I have to admit that I am weary of power-exchange stories in which Domination is reflexively (and simplistically) equated with Sadism and, conversely, submission with weakness. There is, too often, an unarticulated assumption to the effect that submissive tendencies indicate a psyche that is less than whole and submissives—especially female submissives—are accordingly portrayed as naive, airheaded pushovers, willing to be used, humiliated, and hurt beyond the point of reason and safety simply in order to feel loved and wanted. In fact, the best subs in fiction—and in life—are often plucky, strong-willed, fully actualized, “totally together” human beings who know precisely what they want, just as the best Doms know when to lighten up and show affection.
In addition to negative stereotypes, I got the impression that some of the authors here either had no real life experience on which to draw (or, perhaps, no life whatsoever), or were simply going through the motions of telling a steamy story without stretching their imaginations too terribly far. Is it possible to write convincingly about an act that doesn’t really turn one on? An act one would never truly enjoy in real life? Some writers pride themselves on their imagined ability to work in any genre, slipping into the established modes of convention the way many people change clothes in the course of a day, but just as genuine passion always shines through, indifference renders even the most engaging subjects drab and tedious. I do not like having to read that kind of writing.  
Still, on balance, the good and the great far outweigh the mediocre and the bad in this collection. Highly recommended for its ample trove of gems.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Review of "Darkly Delicious Short Stories" by Elizabeta Brooke

Stella: An Erotic Kidnapping
Elizabeta Brooke is that rare creator of erotic fiction that is at once beautifully written, sharply perceptive, and probingly intelligent, but also thoroughly entertaining. She occupies her character’s heads with such seeming ease and naturalistic empathy that readers cannot help but be drawn in. Brooke’s work is always sensually charged, with rich, vibrantly erogenous atmosphere, never failing to touch us on an acutely visceral level. And yet, she does not shy away from psychological conflict or moral complexity—all-too rare in literature nowadays, and virtually unheard of in erotica. More than anything else, this is what makes Brooke’s work extraordinary, and, ultimately, destined to last.

It is thus something of an occasion to celebrate the appearance of this new collection of five short stories. Representing Brooke’s entire output in the form to date, Darkly Delicious Short Stories offers readers the rarest of gifts; sexy tales that they will actually want to read more than once.   

All these stories have been published separately before. Poe was included on EFTBB’s Best of 2012 list, and Knock: An Erotic Housecall was reviewed here just a few weeks ago. The new stories (including Knock) reveal the author’s movement in a somewhat more accessibly mainstream direction. Stella: An Erotic Kidnapping is a diverting, if fairly lightweight action/adventure piece with flashes of comic irony and a satisfying last-second twist; a heist caper infused with nostalgic “what-if-ing” and a bit of marvelously steamy present-moment “why-not-ing” as well.  

Wryly satirical on one level, funny, poignant and perceptive, Prissy: An Erotic Act of Kindness offers a sardonically delicious take on adolescent voyeurism, and the bewildering nature of “old sex” as seen through the eyes of relative inexperience. Prissy is a still-somewhat sheltered seventeen-year-old for whom thirty or—gods forbid!—forty seems unfathomably “old”. She is at once naïve and cynical, but it is a cynicism born more of ignorance and youthful absolute certainty than real-life experience. Will what she sees, hears, and learns broaden her horizons and open her mind, or leave her still more confused than before?  With its realistic and sensitive portrayal of adolescent emotion in the context of satiric fantasy, this may well be one of the most enjoyable stories I’ve read in a quite some time.


Brooke’s superbly affecting Roj, begins with the promise of a psycho-erotic masterpiece. Harried, constantly put-upon, thirtysomething housewife Lynne finds herself nearing the end of her rope, and contemplates the most extreme and final of escapes from a deeply unsatisfying existence. That is, until she is interrupted by a handsome young man, a school friend of her son’s, still almost a stranger to Lynne, a creature half-shrouded in mystery, the boy seems to possess everything her husband lacks; fire, passion, intelligence, and a terrifying beauty.

Lynne tried to smile at that but it was too hard. The weight of her sadness was a rock inside her chest that couldn’t be dislodged. She swallowed against it, trying to get some of her composure back. “It doesn’t matter, Roj,” she said, her voice husky and unfamiliar. Nothing mattered anymore.

“Yes it does,” he said, giving her shoulder a little squeeze.

His fingers felt big. Strong. She tried to remember the last time someone had consoled her. Couldn’t.

Brooke so skillfully builds tension in what is, after all, a fairly simple narrative structure, and so effectively brings us along with her, that it is almost painful when she overshoots the psychological climax, keeps the characters talking too long, dwelling too heavily on process when the time for words has passed, lets them turn away from each other, however briefly, when their sexual focus should only deepen. There is a point in any truly successful erotic narrative at which sophisticated mind-reading and metacognition needs to give way to simple sensuality and pure carnal release. While there is some tantalizing sexual tension here, and some wonderfully titillating potential, it feels, in the end, more like a tease than a full-blown erotic experience. Roj is thus a flawed erotic masterpiece, if not a true masterpiece of literary psychology.

While the four newer stories in this collection do endeavor to reach a broader audience, their genre aspirations do not detract from their decided literary quality and substance. Though I may complain from time to time about the excesses of genre erotica, ultimately, the only unredeemable sin as far as I’m concerned is bad writing, a crime of which no one will ever honestly accuse Elizabeta Brooke. Her Darkly Delicious is enthusiastically recommended.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Review of two short story collections by M. Christian

(The Mammoth Book of Erotica)

Love Without Gun Control

Is there any style or genre that M. Christian can’t (or won’t) write in? After reading these two very fine short story collections from one of today’s most prolific professionals, I’m leaning heavily towards “no”. The ‘m’ in M. Christian seems to stand for “multi-faceted”, or possibly “mega-multi-tasker”. The guy certainly is versatile, as well as daring, imaginative, often funny, and seldom—if ever—unentertaining, one of those writers who seems to be everywhere at once, though if he has, in fact, cracked the saintly secret of bi-location, he’s not talking.   
Betty Came, a gathering of half-a-dozen of Christian’s erotic short stories, is part of super-editor Maxim Jakubowski’s on-going Mammoth Book of Erotica series, which, to date, includes some of the best, biggest, and brightest names in contemporary sex literature. My only serious complaint about this present volume is that, with over 400 erotic stories to Christian’s credit, six is hardly a very satisfying sampling—rather like one of those teeny weeny boxes of Godiva chocolates that seem to appear out of nowhere during the holiday season, containing barely enough to whet a healthy appetite.
Not that what is here isn’t worth sinking one’s teeth into. I like the pungent, near-future-ishly noir atmosphere of Everything but the Smell of Lillies, its character’s perverse motivations, and the way the author plays a fearlessly seductive game of literary Chicken with one of erotica’s major taboos, skirting, but never straying completely over the line. I like the title story’s portrayal of life on the edge of subsistence and sanity, and, in The Colour of Lust (related from the point-of-view of a pool hustler’s perpetually frustrated girlfriend), the edge of love and ennui. But Christian always has his lighter moments, too, as in the darkly comic Regrets (think Boccaccio meets The Hangover), and the crafty foray into Steampunk in The New Motor:
It is not our place to say, via hindsight, what exactly happened that one particular night. It’s easy to dismiss, with scorn, or even a kind of parental, historical fondness, that he was just visited by vivid dreams, a hallucinatory fever, a form of 1854 delusion (after all, we smile, frown, grimace, laugh or otherwise; this was 1854); or some hybrid kin of them all; a vision one third unresolved traumas, one third bad meal of steak and potatoes, one third nineteenth century crippling social situation. What we cannot dismiss—because it’s there with miniscule precision, in detailed blocks of blurry type in rag pulp sidebills, in the fine filigreed pages of the genteel or just the skilled—was that John Murray Spear, a spiritualist of some quite personal renown and respect, did indeed depart Miss August’s Rooming House for Gentlemen of Stature (near the corner of Sycamore and Spruce in Baltimore, Maryland), and go forth to tell anyone who would listen—sand some did, as those newspapers reported and those diaries told—about his visitation by the Association of Electricizers . . .
The sexy bits aren’t bad either! Highly recommended.
Love Without Gun Control
Readers get an even broader sense of Christian’s range in Love Without Gun Control, the author’s 2009 self-compiled and –published collection of short fiction, most of which originally appeared in genre anthologies, now-defunct niche-specific literary magazines and long-since cached or dead-linked websites. These fourteen stories run a dizzying—and impressive—gamut of mood and style, each with its own carefully measured ratio of light to shadow, buoyancy to seriousness, horror to humor, and hope to despair.
Christian has clearly learned from, and distilled the essence of the best examples of 20th-century American fiction, everything from Ray Bradbury and Jack Kerouac to Cormac McCarthy and Stephen King. He does not shy away from his influences, but has wisely allowed them to sing through him as he delves the deep, sometimes silly recesses of the American psyche. The title story is a broad, campy social satire in addition to being a pitch-perfect sendup of old Western movies and TV shows, while Wanderlust and Orphans pay dark homage to the uniquely American mythos of “the road”—think Steinbeck’s musings on Route 66 in The Grapes of Wrath, or the arid, windswept, dread-haunted vistas of Stephen King’s The Gunslinger and The Stand.
In Needle Taste, Christian shows that he is no less adept at horror of the decidedly psychological variety. Techno-thriller melds seamlessly with High Fantasy in The Rich Man’s Ghost; political satire meets The Zombie Apocalypse in Buried with the Dead, while knotty existential drama and the classic Post-Apocalyptic narrative come together in 1,000, and Nothing So Dangerous, a story of love and betrayal in a time of revolution. Perhaps my favorite stories in this collection are the beautiful, elegiac, Bradbury-esque Some Assembly Required, a narrative at once clever and poignant, and the brilliantly breezy Constantine in Love:
It was called The Love Shack, and it sold all kinds of obvious things: candy, flowers, poetry books, jewelry, balloons, perfume, lingerie, and many other sweet, frilly, and heart-shaped items. It stood alone, bracketed by two vacant lots. Its busiest days were just before Valentine’s and Christmas. It was described by many newspapers and tourist guides as “. . . the place to go when love is on your mind.”
The night was dark, the place was closed. The streets were quiet.
Then the Love Shack exploded—with a fantastic shower of fragmented chotchkes, and flaming brick-a-brack, it went from a shop dedicated to amore to a skyrocket of saccharine merchandise.  Flaming unmentionables drifted down to land in smoking heaps in the middle of the street, lava flows of melted and burning chocolate crawled out for the front door, teddy bears burned like napalm victims, and cubic zirconia mixed with cheap window glass—both showering down  the empty, smoldering hole that used to be the store. 
A few complaints as well. In several of these stories, I found myself wishing for a stronger editorial hand. The text is rife with typographical errors and the kind of occasional omission of verbs and articles typical of the “cranked-out-in-a-terrible-hurry” manuscript. Several otherwise excellent stories (Hush, Hush; 1,000; Friday) are simply too long to effectively maintain the emotional impact for which the author aims. I found them overly repetitive and rather dull, with the narrative lines collapsing into nebulous incoherency. After all, the “short” in short fiction should be a clue to the essence of the form; all unnecessary baggage and ballast summarily jettisoned to achieve an economy of language, and, with it, maximum expression. These are all issues a good, personally detached editor, or even an honest beta reader might have helped to resolve early on. Christian is an established and well-respected editor in his own right, but no matter how skillful or perceptive an author may be as an editor of other people’s work, when it comes to self-editing, even the best and brightest have their blind spots.
Still, there’s far more to like and admire in this collection than to kvetch about or pan. Readers will be well-rewarded for what is, in the end, a ridiculously modest price of admission. Recommended.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Annoucing EFTBB's new "sister" site

Classics for the Big Brain is now live. This is a site dedicated to some of my "other" passions; classical music, record collecting, and movies.

EFTBB won't be going away; there'll still be regular posts with the reviews and commentary regular readers have come to expect. (Look forward to something new this coming Sunday.)