Sunday, April 26, 2015

Review of "Lips Like Ice" by Peggy Barnett

This fascinating erotic sci-fi novel was sent to me “over the transom”, otherwise I would never have known about it. And that would have been too bad; Peggy Barnett’s Lips Like Ice is an exceptionally well-crafted piece of storytelling, effortlessly melding  elements of classic feminist science fiction in the best tradition of Ursula K. Le Guin and Margaret Atwood with an intriguing—albeit sometimes hair-raising—vein of extraterrestrial erotic romance.  

A young earth woman, Lydia, one day wakes to find herself transported to a cold, brutal alien world, where she has been consigned to the role of a pet for the spoiled, petulant, adolescent offspring of local royalty. The alien species on this planet, which Lydia can only describe as “Ice-Elf Monsters” is born genderless, and individuals eventually choose whether to become anatomically male or female, though that choice is often influenced more by political exigency and family expectation than the leadings of one’s heart. And woe to anyone who chooses “wrong”.

The story unfolds at a leisurely pace—sometimes, perhaps, a bit too languorously—focusing on the heroine’s inner monologue, her torturous journey of identity accompanied by a seemingly endless cycle of self-doubt as she struggles to discern her place in this strange new world.

She wakes when the light of the sun, filtered through the amber window, puddles golden and warm on her face. The Prince is sitting on a deep, plush chair beside the head of the bed. The spindly table that had once graced its position has been moved between the two windows, flush against the wall. The lamp is still upon it, but Lydia’s writing desk is on the mattress by her feet. It must be the weekend again. She isn’t sure; she keeps forgetting to make a calendar. Her period is over, so that’s been four days at least.

She sits up blearily and rubs her eyes. The air is comfortable this morning, which means the Prince must be too warm. He is wearing only a loose pair of trousers that end well above his ankles and are held on his narrow hips by a silver sash. He has a loose, linen-like shirt on as well, but the neck is unlaced as far as it will go, the vee gaping obscenely and offering a glimpse of pointed collarbone and a glimpse of the dusky blue ridge of his pectoral muscle. He hasn’t any chest hair. Or nipples, as far as she can tell.

It seems strangely sensual and modest after he had stood before her in all his proud nakedness the other night. Knowing what is beneath the billowing drape of sleeve, the fold of belt, makes her feel sort of squirmy inside, like she is privy to a secret that she shouldn’t have even known is a secret to begin with.

Later, when the Prince asks Lydia whether she chose to be female, she finds it difficult to give a simple answer:

“We don’t choose,” Lydia says, “We’re born one or the other.”

The Prince shudders and stills. “So I would have been male right from the start?”

“Well . . . it’s complicated. It’s not . . . there’s biological sex, and then there’s gender, and sometimes they don’t match. Sometimes biological sex isn’t just one or the other, either; and gender can definitely be fluid. And that’s not even talking about romantic or sexual attraction spectrums. Humans are . . . we. we’re a fucking compli—ah! Ah! God, are you actually-- !”

Her eyes slide shut as another orgasm rocks his body, stiffens him against her, inside of her. More pulses of heat, sweet and dark.

“Biology class is sexy,” the Prince rumbles in her ear when he’s stopped clutching and shaking. He laves her sweaty neck with his tongue. Lydia falls into her doze with a chuckle . . .

Lips Like Ice offers readers adventure and palace intrigue, seeking out new life and new civilization with a thoughtful exploration of gender issues, and a probing reflection on the nature of free will, specifically, how one’s concept of liberty defines his or her humanity.


Friday, April 17, 2015

A new story by TAS on Madeleine Shade's site

Read my brand new story, The Fire-Hostage, debuting on Madeleine Shade's site as part of her Fairy Tale Friday series.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Review of "Generation Game: Five Linked Erotic Short Stories" by Secret Narrative

Generation Game is a book that many of us have been waiting for all our lives, a happy surprise, even if it arrives possibly just a little too late. As a young blade, perpetually obsessed with “older women”, fifteen or twenty years my senior—sometimes even more mature—I might well have killed—or, at least, done something jaw-droppingly rash—for a sexual mentor like the one in these lithe, literate, compellingly steamy stories. More’s the pity that, now in my late-fifties, this sixtysomething goddess probably would have nothing to do with the likes of me anymore. Ah! If youth knew! If age could!  

In any case, it’s long past time somebody offered so frank and artfully-written a declaration of mature desire in this terminally youth-obsessed culture of ours. Secret Narrative—a crappy pen name for so fine a writer—offers an honest, deep-probing character study, untainted by the prejudices of youth, the willful ignorance and blatant denial that brands sexually active adults over a certain age as pervs, dirty old men, MILFs, DILFs, GILFs, trouts and cougars.

On the other hand, if we are to be labeled in any case, why not simply turn and embrace the labels?

The product of a young man’s cock is as elixir to my antiquated soul; I settle into the cocoon of my sofa and replay a recording of Paloma Faith at the Albert Hall. I consider the sound of applause. Like falling rain; heavy and relentless, and I wonder what it’s like to be on stage accompanied by a sparkling voice, an orchestra, chorus, and backing singers, and yet alone. I imagine those thunderous handclaps are for me, and take a bow. Faith’s dress is beautiful, crafted in late forties style, with matching shoes; they look handmade. I shall buy myself a perfect copy of the outfit and wear it to my debut gang-bang date. My Play On. I want to be played, a trail of many fingers on my vibrating skin, a hum of cells, thrumming sensation to my aching core.

The truth is that desire evolves, tastes become more sophisticated—or sometimes ferociously simple—the mature pallet craves what young tastebuds are incapable of sensing. Age perceives time differently than youth, and can be more deliberate in going after what it wants. But the flame never truly burns out, though our bodies sometimes betray us, gravity takes its toll, and experience etches its history of stress, pain, and laughter in our very flesh.  

Nature waves a heraldic flag of symptoms as an alert to the crumbling decay of lost youth. Simon Conrad arrived at other side of my acrid years, appearing as an unlikely savior, triggering an abundance of plentiful hope. My cells sparkled like new growth in a spring garden and I allowed the sun to open my petals, reveal my nectar, and now they suck where the bee sucks . . .

The five stories in this little collection artfully interlock to form a satisfying narrative totality. The writing is elegant and engaging for the most part, though the author gets carried away with the very sophistication of her prose from time to time. This is especially evident in the third story, Lethal Lesson, which wanders dangerously into the realm of effusive language. On balance, though, Generation Game is among the most deeply satisfying, thoughtful, perceptive, and pleasingly, deliciously mature erotic reading experiences of recent memory.

Enthusiastically recommended! 

Monday, April 6, 2015

A New Foreword for "Kiss-Off the Devil"

Today I am launching a spruced-up second edition of my most recent short story collection, Kiss-Off the Devil. The original version hasn't sold well at all. Unsurprisingly. I knew that these darker, more literary stories would be a tough nut for many readers to crack, and yet, I am more confident about the quality of the writing now than I was at first publication a year ago. The problem may have been my original foreword, which went into torturous detail about what the stories were not--not porn, not romance, not strictly literary, nor even erotica in its broadest commercial sense, though there are strong erotic elements in all the stories. I was overly apologetic about this; too concerned with "improper observers" taking offense at my work; worried over what conclusions readers might draw about me personally. No more! I proudly offer the new foreword for your consideration. 


I must have a dark side if I am to be whole
(Carl Jung)

The stories in this collection won’t be for everyone. This is a given. A writer cannot please all the peple all the time, especially when he or she writes about sex. There’s always somebody out there itching to take offense, jonesing to be outraged; looking for any excuse to stampede the moral high horses, or let slip the dogs of some imaginary culture war. Always somebody bombastically bewailing the wretched state of our times—often getting paid good money to tell us what we’ve come to— decrying the moral dry rot in society as evidenced by the coarsening of language on TV sit-coms, easy access to internet porn, or the latest teenage dance craze— even as horrific violence and chronic systemic injustice barely rate a raised eyebrow. Always somebody, invariably too close to power for comfort, demanding that books and film uphold a simplistic, knee-jerk reactionary movie-of-the-week morality in which sex—especially celebratory sex outside of “traditional” marriage—  is always a sin, and those who enjoy it are punished accordingly without fail. Always somebody somewhere—perhaps even at the back of our own minds—enforcing the notion that art needs to be “socially acceptable”—predictable, comfortable, sterile, chaste— and that fiction “needs to be nice.”

But truth—which is, after all, the ultimate object of fiction—isn’t always nice. Nor would a world in which everyone always told the unvarnished truth have much use for literature. As it is, our present plain of existence is rife with secrecy and deceit, and we must invent stories in order to tell ourselves the uncomfortable and often-convoluted truths society would silence. It is through fiction in its most subversively potent form that we expose the great lies of our time and unmask the venial fibs of unexamined everyday existence, revealing, through the voices of imaginary people, real-life hypocrisy for all it is.

Indeed, if we would dig down to the roots of human folly we should expect to get our hands at least a little dirty. But the beauty of transgressive fantasy, as a character in one of these stories, The Why in Everything, points out, is that “we can go visit that dark place, go there and come back without getting physically banged up or mentally fucked up.” We can safely explore the very things that make us most uncomfortable, and ask ourselves why we react and feel the way we do upon our return. And when we ask why, inevitably we begin to grow, taking a step towards self-awareness and enlightenment. 

“Our inhibitions can be quite useful,” the narrator of All He Surveys tells us, “Thinking about the choices we face is not a bad thing . . .

. . . but when we let our inhibitions do our thinking for us we’re in trouble. When we attribute too much importance to these rather primitive psychological defense mechanisms they begin to impede our intellectual and spiritual growth. Treating them as if they were some sort of moral imperative, existing purely for some higher spiritual purpose which must be heeded under any and all circumstances, we willfully ignore a whole world of valuable experience and knowledge, finding it all the more difficult to realize our full potential.

And besides, challenging our inhibitions can be a thrill in and of itself, as the title character of Becoming Roxanne explains:

And there’s that Beauty and the Beast thing again. It’s like an automatic turn-on deep down inside of my gut. Like the more inappropriate or different a guy is the more I can’t resist fucking him. The real thrill’s in overcoming my hang-ups; the more out-of-my-league some guy is, the wilder the ultimate rush of getting it on with him.

Sometimes, even more often than those perpetually-outraged talking heads would have us believe— people in the real world do things simply because they are pleasurable, and there need be no other reason. As the insatiably curious, hypersexual heroine of Detour: Alternate Timeline would have it:

Love is love, and sex is sex. And sometimes if you’re lucky you get to have sex with somebody you love . . .  Other times—most of the time, maybe— it’s one or the other. Love’s a lot harder to find than sex, and the two things don’t always line up the way we’d like them to. Sex—lust— comes and goes; people who love each other can wear out their physical attraction. If we insist on always having love in the equation, the world’s a much colder place. We all end up a lot lonelier . . .

* * *

If the nine short stories in this book were made into movies they would probably end up being rated somewhere between R and NC-17. Not so much for graphic content (though there is a fair amount of that) as for “adult situations,” the frank exploration of certain subjects still considered taboo by a society deeply in denial. It’s less clear as to where those movies would be screened. In some cinematic limbo, I suspect, halfway between the art house and the grind house, never wholly at home in either venue. A tough sell in any case, though I hope there are at least a few intrepid, open-minded patrons willing to pay the price of admission, if only to be entertained for a little while.

Terrance Aldon Shaw

April, 2015