The best speculative fiction - if not, by its very nature, all speculative fiction - explores issues of social justice and ethics, often along the linThe best speculative fiction - if not, by its very nature, all speculative fiction - explores issues of social justice and ethics, often along the lines of discrimination, prejudice and, beyond that, cloning, robotics - all things that ultimately lead to that unanswerable question: what does it mean to be human?
In 2012, a young medical student was travelling on a bus with a male friend in Delhi, India, when the five men and one teenaged boy on board beat her friend and dragged her to the back of the bus, to endure forty-five minutes of rape and assault. She died. The incident isn't isolated, but it's very blatant cruelty sparked protests and women-driven calls for change all across India. India may have a more obvious patriarchal ideology than Western countries like Australia, but when the bus driver in this particular case said in an interview that women are to blame for being raped, well that's not an Indian attitude at all. You here people - not only men, sadly - say the same thing in Western countries. Around the same time, a young Melbourne woman was raped and killed while walking home. We have a long way to go yet, in gender equality and respecting women.
Out of tragedy often comes something good, though, and one such example is Eat the Sky, Drink the Ocean, an anthology of shorts stories, graphic novel shorts, and one script written in collaboration between Australian and Indian women writers and illustrators. The title, according to the editors,
"suggested impossibilities, dreams, ambitions and a connection to something larger than humanity alone. ... This collection of stories embraces the idea of not just eating pie but of taking big, hungry mouthfuls of life and embracing the world. It's about the desire to have and do impossible things, especially things that girls aren't meant to do. We asked our contributors to re-imagine the world, to mess with the boundaries of the possible and the probable. ... Ultimately, this is a book about connections - between Australia and India, between men and women, between the past, the present, the future and the planet that we all share. If we had to name one thing we learnt in the process of making this anthology, it's the fact that when you eat the sky and drink the ocean, you are part of the earth: everything's connected." (Introduction, pages vii-ix)
Some of the contributors will be familiar to you; for me, an Aussie, the fact that my favourite author - Isobelle Carmody - was a contributor meant that I had to move this right to the top of my to-read list (I started reading it as soon as I got it, and actually finished it three days later - quite a feat for me at present!). Other names I recognised included Justine Larbalestier (I loved Liar) and Margo Lanagan (ditto for Tender Morsels). But I was blown away by so many of these authors and illustrators, unknown to me; I was truly inspired.
The anthology starts off strongly with the graphic short story, "Swallow the Moon", written by Kate Constable and illustrated by Priya Kuriyan. It is an uplifting, mystical sort of story, a story of hope and renewal around a deep core of tragedy. Set in a post-apocalyptic future, everything we know - all our 'stuff' - is gone; all that remains is the rubbish that drifts onto the beaches. The story was articulately told and beautifully illustrated.
It is from this story that the stunning cover illustration comes, too. It sets the tone and expectations for the rest of the anthology, which shows an impressive diversity of ideas and imagination, all linked by this common thread of a girl's place - and often, a boy's too - in society. Some of the other stories that stood out to me include "Memory Lace" by Payal Dhar - I am so a product of my society that I didn't see the 'twist' in that story! - "Anarkali" by Annie Zaidi and Mandy Orr, a graphic short story about a farming girl who is entombed alive for falling in love with the prince. She discovers she has the strength to escape, if she becomes one with her surroundings. In "Cast Out" by Samhita Arni, the familiar trope of exile into certain death for girls who exhibit sorcery - simply because it is not allowed - is given a strong, encouraging and hopeful ending when Karthini discovers a world in which she can be herself. In fact, that idea of finding your place, accepting yourself and being accepted by others, recurs in a number of these stories.
Several flip the gender imbalance on its head, like "The Runners" by Isobelle Carmody and Prabha Mallya, which also explores the idea of what it means to be human. As in some of the other stories, the central message is that how we perceive ourselves affects how we are perceived by others, and vice versa. If you are seen as human (meaning you are treated as one), you will be human.
Larbalestier's short story, "Little Red Suit" is a post-apocalyptic retelling of "Little Red Riding Hood"; it's not the only story to play around with well-known storylines and tropes. Environmentalism is also a running theme throughout this anthology, and it ties in well with the editors' comment about being connected to the planet. It made me think, what would this anthology look like if, keeping the same purpose and ideas and focus on girls, it was written by male authors? Because sometimes I wonder at that gender gap, that difference in perception that seems so hard to shift. What insights would we get? How do they see us, really?
Two of the stories - "Weft" and "Mirror Perfect" - deal with our contemporary society's obsession with appearance, and what we are willing to sacrifice for it. "Cooking Time", which I loved, questioned the point of survival for the sake of it, if there's nothing to enjoy. "Back-stage Pass", by Nicki Greenberg, is a short graphic story about Ophelia, and why she threw herself into the water, and the power of self that we gain when we take control of how we're 'written': how others perceive us, and the direction our lives take.
Each story offers something different to the conversation, in different styles and from different perspectives and genres. Some I loved, a couple I didn't quite click with, but overall, they showed how diverse we all are, women and men, girls and boys. We all have something worthwhile to offer the world. We can find safety and harmony and joy in working together and loving each other. And, ultimately, change is possible. ...more
In Dr Chandler's Sleeping Beauty, Dr Katherine "Kitty" Cargill has come to Sydney for a three month appointment in the emergency department to giveIn Dr Chandler's Sleeping Beauty, Dr Katherine "Kitty" Cargill has come to Sydney for a three month appointment in the emergency department to give herself time to recover from her fiance's betrayal with her best friend and the end of a relationship that dates back to childhood. Her first meeting with Dr Jack Chandler, the head of the department, doesn't go well and the two seem to instantly dislike each other. But they're also drawn to each other, attracted by looks and the thrill of going at each other - and they're neighbours, living in the same townhouse complex near Bondi Beach, and keep running into each other outside of work too.
But Jack's never hidden the fact that he's not interested in a relationship, preferring one-night-stands and short flings, and Kitty's still bitter and resentful about her best friend Sophie sleeping with her boyfriend, Charles - and to top it off, Sophie's asked her to be her maid of honour at their wedding. They both have personal obstacles to overcome; can they take open their eyes to see what's right in front of them before it's too late?
In Her Christmas Eve Diamond, Cassidy Rae returns to her post as the formidable dragon lady in charge of the nurses in her ward at a hospital in Glasgow after seeing her gran settled into a care home, to find three new doctors in the ward - and one of them, registrar Brad Donovan, takes it upon himself to charm the nurse into friendship. As Christmas - Cassidy's favourite time of year - nears, her relationship with Brad only strengthens, until he tells her about his little girl, a daughter he had with another doctor back in Sydney who he's been trying to find ever since the mother disappeared with her, possibly to America.
Knowing that Brad isn't going to stick around once he finds his daughter, Cassidy despairs - after all, she has no intention of leaving Scotland, no interest in living anywhere else. Can they find a middle ground, a way to stay together without compromising the things they love most in the world?
I've never read a Medical Romance before, and it not something I ever saw myself reading either. I don't remember where I came across this, possibly on an e-newsletter late last year, and at the time it appealed. I thought both stories were going to be set in Australia, which was one reason why I wanted to read it, another being a possible Christmas theme (I got this in December last year). The first story is an Australian one, while the second, even though it has an Australian character, is British.
I didn't mind the medical setting, even though some of the details - people's job titles for example - were over my head; I'm pretty well practiced at simply ignoring details I don't understand. As Mills & Boon stories, I was surprised at how little graphic content they contained - they were almost (but not quite) PG rather than MA. The sex was disappointing mostly in how it was described rather than quantity - it was quite dull. The only thing that actually stood out to me is how, in the first story, he puts on a condom before she gives him fellatio. Now, the first thing that makes me think is how disgusting that would be, as the woman, and secondly: Jesus, just how many STDs does he have that he needs a condom for a blowjob?! Let me discuss these stories separately now, as they're quite different.
Dr Chandler's Sleeping Beauty has nothing to do with the fairy tale, just in case you were wondering. If Kitty is a sleeping beauty, it metaphorical only: she needs to be woken up, to see things differently. But so too does Jake Chandler. He's your classic Mills & Boon hero: a womaniser - a slut, if you will, though I don't like to give that word any credit - and arrogant to boot. He's a doctor, not a millionaire, but he has the attitude of one. I didn't find him to be an attractive character which was part of my problem in connecting to this story - the other being Kitty herself, who didn't strike me as very bright and I couldn't see what the attraction was except for her cleavage. How am I supposed to believe people like Jack and Kitty fall in love with each other in just a few months when, rather than give me any reason to believe in it, you've gone out of your way to make them quite unloveable? I wasn't able to buy into it, it was just too forced and contrived.
Her Christmas Eve Diamond was more interesting and a bit different, and I liked Cassidy a lot more than I liked Kitty. More importantly, Brad was very likeable, very honourable, a real dear in fact. Only problem was that, funnily enough, he lost his sex appeal along the way. The two are not mutually exclusive, but there wasn't enough focus on the romance/sex side of the story, the relationship/family drama/character side took precedence instead. I normally wouldn't mind, but for as strong as Cassidy and Brad's friendship was, they lacked chemistry. I mostly just empathised with Brad losing his daughter like that - that would be so horrible, his ex sounds like a right cow, it's not like he was abusive or anything but she acts like he's a bad man. Though he's a bit of an idiot for not setting up formal custody rights at the very beginning. The romance is a bit of a side issue, the focus being more on Brad finding his daughter and Cassidy learning not to be afraid of living in other places.
Of the two, Her Christmas Eve Diamond was the one I liked more, it had atmosphere and a good sense of setting - it's winter and the hospital is freezing, and most of their patients are old people who can't afford to turn the heater on and nearly die of hypothermia - and focused on developing the characters. But neither of the stories offered the kind of emotional intensity or sexual chemistry - let alone tension - that I appreciate in romance fiction, and that made this a disappointing read....more
This is the companion anthology to a book I previously reviewed, Yes, Sir, also edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel. Please, Sir is similar but there isThis is the companion anthology to a book I previously reviewed, Yes, Sir, also edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel. Please, Sir is similar but there is a notable difference in the style of stories, and I found I liked it less than Yes, Sir.
A woman makes a bad joke about her husband at a party and must pay the price. Another discovers the power of her lover's choking hold on her neck. A woman's lust for her martial arts instructor leads to an exciting battle of power. Foreplay in public, at the opera. All kinds of sex and sexual play are on the table, and while some of the stories have great tension and interplay, some were more lacklustre.
These stories aren't porn: they aren't sex for the sake of sex. They all explore women and men's minds (but especially the former) and what makes us tick. They explore our darkest fantasies and liberate our desires. As Bussel puts it in her introduction:
If you ask me, submission is an art form. It requires dedication, focus, commitment and desire - and there’s no single way of doing it. It’s about unlocking something within yourself so you can reach beyond your normal limits, exposing your body and soul in order to go somewhere you cannot get to alone.
That's what I love about erotica, that psychological aspect, but I'm less keen when the writing gets too artsy-farty, as a couple of these stories did. I don't think of erotica as the kind of genre in which you want to play with experimental prose styles. It's just too distracting, detracting.
Of the 22 stories in this collection, the majority are nicely kinky, fun and thrilling. Some of them stand out, like the one about the woman who's fitted with a dog collar and leash - and nothing else - and taken for a walk in the park. Exhibitionism makes me cringe, but the story was fun despite it. There's great variety here, but not too many stand out in my memory, and they seemed somehow less than the first volume, Yes, Sir. A good read, but a bit forgettable. ...more
This collection of 25 Erotic Romance stories are, as the title suggests, written around the theme of marriage, especially weddings. Since there's so mThis collection of 25 Erotic Romance stories are, as the title suggests, written around the theme of marriage, especially weddings. Since there's so much in the way of sexual undercurrents around weddings and marriage, it's a perfect theme.
There are stories on the bride and groom getting naughty just before the ceremony starts; stories of the bachelor and hen's night and the honeymoon; and one great story about a marriage about to end in divorce that gets a timely second chance. Most of the authors are women but there are a few male authors here too, and two stories from the editor, Alison Tyler.
I enjoyed quite a few of the stories, but the ones that take place just before the wedding ceremony grated on me a bit because the characters kept focusing on all those ridiculous traditions and superstitions that so many people still insist upon. I get stressed just watching those TV shows around weddings, where people make themselves miserable because they insist on doing things a certain way for no real reason except lack of imagination. I had hoped the authors of this anthology would have a bit more fun with the wedding theme rather than simply staying within the confines of safe and normal.
Some of the stories are definitely racier than others. There are a couple of gay stories here too, which was a good addition even if they tended to lose out to the heterosexual norm (within the stories), which just made me feel sorry for the characters. About halfway through I worried about my choice in getting this book - I'm really not a fan of weddings at all, especially the traditional kind, so it was the kind of book I could only pick up for short stretches of time before giving myself a rest, or I'd feel too swamped by wedding crap. For one or two at a time, though, it was fun....more
I know, the cover is very, ah, eye-catching isn't it? This isn't the sort of book you want to read on the subway, if only so over-the-shoulder readersI know, the cover is very, ah, eye-catching isn't it? This isn't the sort of book you want to read on the subway, if only so over-the-shoulder readers don't get excited in a crammed carriage. Because this is a pretty raunchy book, and one of the better ones I've read.
This collection of nineteen stories from mostly female authors oscillate between structured BDSM and a more playful exploration of sexual desire - which is, if anything, psychological first and foremost. The theme of women gaining power and confidence through "submission" is strong here, as it generally is in erotica of this kind, and is explored through a wide range of scenarios, from the woman whose husband tells her exactly what she can have for lunch to the woman who takes a brave step in facing her secret desires.
I would have to say that this was the most fun and intelligent collection of erotic stories I've read so far, and I use those words deliberately. Reading the mini bios of the authors in the back, they come from all over the English-speaking world and from a wide range of backgrounds, and all of them sound like people you'd want to meet and have a laugh with. Their stories are refreshing and original and unpredictable, and my only complaint was that they were short stories - they often ended at such a great moment I definitely wanted to read more.
I have a feeling that even I, with my non-religious and open-minded upbringing by two unrepressed parents, will keep reading playful erotica well beyond the point where my sense of shame finally evaporates. Because even though I'm an atheist, it's inherent in my western culture that strong sexual feelings are, if not exactly wrong, to be kept quiet and hidden. Something to be embarrassed about, even now in so-called modern times. So far I've made great progress in being open about my appreciation and enjoyment of such stories, but those stern judging eyes of society are still there. I admire the women who write these stories, and are proud of what they produce. I would like to have that kind of confidence. ...more
I had to wait two years for this to come out in paperback, but I'm glad I didn't spend the money on the hardcover. It's not a bad couple of stories, bI had to wait two years for this to come out in paperback, but I'm glad I didn't spend the money on the hardcover. It's not a bad couple of stories, but they weren't up to par either.
The first story, "Untouchable" by Kresley Cole, is the 8th book in the Immortals After Dark series and follows on from the very first story in the series, "The Warlord Wants Forever" (which is in the Playing Easy to Get anthology or available online as a free e-book from the author's website). There are three - no, four, Wroth brothers, all vampires from Estonia: Nikolai, Murdoch, Conrad and Sebastian. This is Murdoch's story, his and Daniela's. Danii is a Valkyrie whose mother was queen of Icergard before being betrayed; thus, Danii is half ice-queen - literally. The Icere are a fey race in the Lore who live in a fortress made of ice; they are half-ice themselves, and for Danii, regulating her body temperature takes concentrated effort. She can't even let anyone brush up against her on the street. She's untouched, in all ways, but yearns to be touched, kissed, made love to.
When Murdoch, the ultimate womaniser and seducer, helps her defeat a band of Icere sent to kill her due to her status as exiled queen-in-waiting, he discovers Daniela is his Bride: the woman who makes his heart beat again, his fated mate. And unlike her Valkyrie sisters, Danii would like nothing more than to experience what Murdoch can offer even if he is a vampire. But they can't touch, not if Murdoch wants Danii to live. It presents the ultimate dilemma.
This story, much like the other short story in the series, is light on plot and focuses more intently on character development and a slowing building, genuine relationship that may have started with lust but develops into something more precious. While I did like the story and the characters, the slower pace and more serious tone made it less enjoyable for me. I'm pampered by Cole's skilfully interweaving plots and witty banter, and except for how Danii and Murdoch overcome the barrier between them - which was disappointingly obvious from early on - there isn't much of the usual Cole fare here. Still, it's a good story and good too to round out the Wroth brothers - I've read all their stories now.
The second story, "Tempt Me Eternally" by Gena Showalter, is the fifth story in her Alien Huntress series. I haven't read anything else in this series but that won't slow you down - much. I would like to have understood this futuristic world better, but if you have read other books in the series you don't have to worry about getting too much backstory in this one.
Aleaha is a shape-shifter, a woman who steals other people's identities. Currently in the body of Macy, a young woman who was murdered in an alley, Aleaha has followed through on Macy's abruptly-terminated life and joined AIR, "alien investigation and removal". A mission to intercept an alien invasion of Schön, who infect other species with a zombie-like desire for the flesh of their own kind (in particular, loved ones) goes awry when, instead of Schön appearing through the portal in the forest, a band of seductive male warriors called Rakan turn up. They too are on the hunt for the Schön, who devastated their home world and robbed them of women, and they've been slipping through portals to Earth for a while now to set up a base of operations to defeat the Schön.
AIR doesn't team up with aliens, though, so battle ensues. The Rakan are soul-stealers, though, and so fast they turn invisible. AIR is defeated, the agents taken hostage, and along with them Aleaha, who's captured the eye of the Rakan commander, Breean. Breean is far from repulsed by her unusual gift, and yearns to see the real woman under Macy's façade. But Aleaha, as much as she finds herself attracted to this big warrior, can't see him as anything but the enemy until her fellow AIR agents are freed.
This was a pretty good story - Showalter generally writes great chemistry and playful scenes, but I couldn't get into the story, both because it was shorter than a full-length novel and because I didn't understand all that much about the world. It also didn't have a resolved plot: the bigger plot was left open, and only the issue of their relationship was resolved at the end. I was expecting something a bit more final, but if you go into it without such expectations it'd be more enjoyable. ...more