Before I talk about the story of The Seahorse Diaries, I feel the need to address the cover for a moment. As much as we’re told to never judge a bookBefore I talk about the story of The Seahorse Diaries, I feel the need to address the cover for a moment. As much as we’re told to never judge a book by its cover, the truth is that covers do set expectations for a reader. The give us an idea of what to expect, based on how they’re designed and what they illustrate. Each genre has a distinctive look that speaks to its audience, and which creates shelf appeal (still a thing, even in this digital age). Unfortunately, the cover here does absolutely nothing to speak to its intended audience. It looks like a throwaway piece of gay fiction, at best, but the truth is that it’s so much deeper and more significant than that.
Uta Burke’s novel is an epic about science fiction, gender identity, and even world politics. It’s far more mainstream than the cover would suggest, and far more sophisticated. So, trust me, when I trot out the old adage of not judging a book by its cover.
At the heart of the novel is an interesting concept. A strange mutation has taken over children around the world, transforming thousands of young men, and giving them the ability to give birth. Nobody knows how or why it’s happened, but the government is extremely interested, and the medical community is falling all over itself trying to support, care for, and study these young men. Joss Engel, a young college student, is one of these new men. He’s known about his condition for years, but it isn’t until his first period makes a rather messy appearance that he’s forced to confront the fact.
Burke does a lovely job of exploring what it would be like to be the first of a new gender, to struggle with acceptance, and to deal with the expectations of the world around you. Joss certainly doesn’t have an easy time of it, and would gladly have his gender simplified, if only it was permitted. Instead, a strange night of comfort and friendship turns awkwardly erotic, and suddenly he finds himself pregnant by one of his best friends.
I won’t say much more about the plot, because it’s best if you experience how it develops for yourself. I love that Burke sets it against a dystopian near-future backdrop, one in which China is prepared to step in and conquer its greatest debtor, the United States. This helps to justify the more sci-fi element, and provides a little background drama. I do think the story’s a bit too optimistic in parts, especially in terms of how the citizens of the US are able to so quickly get the country out of debt, but I liked the darker aspects involving organized religious zealots and their fear-mongering regarding this new breed of men.
It’s a shame the story wasn’t longer, though, because too much seems to happen too fast. It’s clear that Burke needed everything to happen within the 9 months of pregnancy, but I would have liked to see the story develop a little more. There are some big, world-changing events here, but they just seem to resolve themselves a little too quickly and easily. That’s a minor quibble, though, because The Seahorse Diaries is still a fascinating story that’s as smart as it is intriguing.
synthie recalibrated by Alina X is actually a collection of 3 short futanari tales, the first of which is a sequel to her sci-fi debut, synthie. Surprsynthie recalibrated by Alina X is actually a collection of 3 short futanari tales, the first of which is a sequel to her sci-fi debut, synthie. Surprisingly, as much as I loved her debut, I found it's sequel to be the weakest part of the collection. It's still fascinating and fun, but it feels like 2 separate stories pasted together, without an easy flow between them. There's an attempt to weave a hard sci-fi tale into the futanari erotica, but it's not developed well enough to really work, or truly mesh with the rest of the story.
Having said that, the story does a very good job of exploring how Mike's is adjusting to his new life as synthie. We get right inside his head and discover how he feels about sex and gender, how he defines himself, and kind of role he sees himself playing in this new world.
The second story, Last Summer, is probably my favorite of the three. In it, a young lesbian 'borrows' an ancient wooden dildo from her museum's collection, takes it home, and gives into a strange, inexplicable desire to experiment. When she awakes from the most powerful, earth-shattering orgasm of her life, she finds that the wooden dildo has attached itself to her and become flesh-and-blood. The ways in which she deals with that, including the embarrassment of public erections is a lot of fun, but it's the seduction of a seemingly straight woman that puts it over the top.
The final story in the collection, The Princess and the Succubus, is a much darker tale, but one that's filled with imagination. In it we have a succubus and a sorceress, both captives of the same King, who put aside their inherent distrust to orchestrate a double-escape that involves stealing the King's power - the magical penis he stole from an incubus. Who steals it, who wears it, and where that leads I'll leave you to discover, but it's a well-written tale that has a medieval fairy tale feel to it.
This was a great read, a story that worked as well as an erotic romance as a science fiction adventure. I loved the way the Xanthians race was developThis was a great read, a story that worked as well as an erotic romance as a science fiction adventure. I loved the way the Xanthians race was developed, especially their gender-shifting ability, and the world-building was solid (not spectacular, but just right for the story). Some readers may find the narrative a bit too detailed, but I though Snow did a stellar job (no pun intended) of conveying so much information as part of the story....more
I love science fiction tales that play with gender, especially those that explore the massive grey (or is that pink?) area between male and female. WhI love science fiction tales that play with gender, especially those that explore the massive grey (or is that pink?) area between male and female. When Alina X first came to us with a review request for synthie, I was naturally intrigued.
What we discover in the first few pages is a man named Mike whose own body was destroyed in a deep space accident. Fortunately, the technology exists to place his mind, his memories, his consciousness, and his personality into a new body - that of a synthetic hermaphrodite. He awakens to discover that he has a voluptuous new body, with exaggerated curves, big breasts, and a big penis. He loves his body, but still thinks of himself as a man, with that penis a vital part of that identity
The first half of his story is one of self-discovery. Once he overcomes the sensory shock of his new body, he's forced to determine what his place is in the world. He's a human in a synthetic body, and a man who looks like a woman. It's a challenge, and one that is well-described. It's not just your typical stud in a bimbo's body kind of tale - there's some real thought involved about gender and identity. The second half of his story - and I won't say much, so as not to spoil the delight - involves meeting up with the woman who designed and provided the template for his body.
Erotic, imaginative, and thought-provoking, synthie is a really great story. I cannot wait to read more.
Definitely a touching story, and one filled with a lot of emotion, but I had trouble connecting to the spiritual aspect, and found the search for biblDefinitely a touching story, and one filled with a lot of emotion, but I had trouble connecting to the spiritual aspect, and found the search for biblical justifications a little bit tiresome and unnecessary. I get that it's important to Rizi, and I'm sure many people will celebrate his continued faith in the face of the most heinous of acts, but I couldn't relate....more
Gender. Sexuality. Race. Relationship. For most people these are binary absolutes, simple either/or definitions. You are male or female, gay or straigGender. Sexuality. Race. Relationship. For most people these are binary absolutes, simple either/or definitions. You are male or female, gay or straight; human or not, monogamous or not. As far as ‘polite’ society is concerned, there are simply no allowances for people to cross those stark, rigid, lines . . . forever drawn in permanent ink, and never to be questioned.
Well, I say so-called ‘polite’ society be damned, and so does Kathleen Tudor. Her Blurred Lines anthology is one of the most positive, inclusive, delightful collections I have had the pleasure of reading in a very long time.
K. Lynn opens the anthology with Defying Expectations, probably the most traditional of the four stories, but one with a lovely approach to gender fluidity. In detailing the budding romance between a genderfluid bartender and gay male customer, Lynn explores the assumptions and misconceptions that exist even within the LGBT community. There’s some definite tension to the tale, but overall it’s sweet and understanding.
Almost as if she took the title as a challenge, Caitlin Ricci follows that up with Werebears and Water, a fantastic story that blurs all the lines. Here we have a werebear in love with a female-to-male transsexual, who encounter a sea nymph at WereCon. After an act of chivalry on their part, and a little voyeurism on hers, Rayce and Vince invite her to be a part of their polyamorous relationship. There’s so much going on here, I was worried Ricci might have been trying too hard to blur the lines, but it all works beautifully, exploring the joys of openness, acceptance, and love.
Not to be outdone, Sian Hart ups the ante with Of All The Days, probably my favorite in the anthology. Plot-wise, this is an old fashioned fantasy quest tale, with the heroes being forced to make their way past traps and trials to find the treasure and complete their mission. It’s a fun story that would be right at home in any fantasy anthology, but what makes it really interesting is the relationship between Jeric and Vesh. Vesh is a professional thief with an amulet that allows him to magically transform his gender from male to female and all variations in between, while Jeric is a mercenary guard who is more than happy to explore a lover with those variations.
Jasmine Gower ends the story with another traditional sort of tale, but one that hearkens back to an even older tradition – that of the two-spirited wise one. Red Blood, White Blood begins when Chen undergoes the ritual to become a hunter, only to have his spirit guide reject him for being a woman. It’s an absolutely fascinating story about gender and gender roles in a native tribe, with some really inventive approaches to mental, emotional, spiritual, and even physical transitions. I didn't expect the resolution that Gower provided, but loved it even more for the audacity.
If you’re a fan of stories that are erotic, well-told, and positive in their blurring of gender lines, you’ll be hard pressed to find a stronger collection of stories. Kathleen Tudor is to be commended for putting together such a wonderful collection of authors and stories. Highly recommended!
Darcy Abriel's Haevyn is the 2nd volume of the Humanotica series, and a sequel to Silver, one of my favourite reads of the last two years. It's a bookDarcy Abriel's Haevyn is the 2nd volume of the Humanotica series, and a sequel to Silver, one of my favourite reads of the last two years. It's a book I've been eager to read ever since Darcy first announced the sequel but, like Silver, it's also a book I wanted to take my time with . . . to savour . . . and to enjoy.
While part of me had hoped that Haevyn would continue story of the lovely and exotic trinex named Silver, I also understood that the storyline of the Humanotica series belongs instead to Entreus, the humanotic warrior who links the two stories together. In many ways, Haevyn is very much the polar opposite of Silver, centering on a female human heroine (as opposed to a dual-gendered humanotic); exploring the seedy underbelly of society (as opposed to the high-class elite); and focusing more on the violence (as opposed to the glorious sex). The story even provides us with a character who is the opposite of Silver, another trinex named Sarrogen who is golden (instead of silver), predominantly masculine (instead of feminine), with a pair of ample breasts to highlight his androgyny (instead of a thick cock), and who is somewhat aggressive in his service (instead of demurely submissive).
Haevyn also does more to advance the plot of the series, which is what really matters, and really gives us our first glance at the wider world.
Once again, the world-building here is exquisite, with an amazing attention to detail. Darcy really establishes her dystopian society firmly inside the reader's head, creating a world that you can't help but explore long after you've turned the page. The politics and social manoeuvering is even more complex than in the first book, and Entreus really gets the chance to shine, with his character already fully established, and his struggles already very much out in the open. After a bit of a slow opening, the story moves along at a brisk pace, with enough twists and turns to keep even the most jaded readers guessing. As was the case in Silver, there is a rather unusual love triangle at the heart of the story, but instead of defining the story, here it serves largely to provide some emotional context.
All in all, another great tale from the lovely Darcy, and one that has me insanely curious to see how it all end....more
While the execution has a few flaws, the concept of Hilde Orens' TASH is quite fascinating. Basically, we're presented with a stood-up, fed-up, beat-uWhile the execution has a few flaws, the concept of Hilde Orens' TASH is quite fascinating. Basically, we're presented with a stood-up, fed-up, beat-up heterosexual man who seemingly has nothing left to lose. The victim of a brutal assault, he awakens in a new world that is very different from our own.
As you would expect, issues of gender and sexuality are glossed over at first, as Tim focusses on the practical differences between this new race/culture and our own. It's things like not needing to go to the washroom (they use everything they consume), being able to read minds, and not understanding the concept of money (a handshake and a thank you is payment enough for anything) that consume his first few days among the Tashians.
That's one of the things that bothered me about the story. Tim seems far too accepting of his predicament, even given the miserable day that preceded his journey, and not as desperate to get home as you might expect.
Seemingly genderless, the Tashians nevertheless appear more masculine than feminine, creating a confusing situation for Tim. As their friendship grows into something more, and he finds himself coming to love this strange, transparent, watery figure, he struggles with his own sexual identity. It isn't until we encounter male and female non-Tashians that we realise their race is distinct, at which time Tim's confusion turns to confrontation.
That's the other thing that bothered me about the story. Tim's confused sexuality is entirely plausible, given the nature of the Tashians, but the sudden emergence of his proud, fierce homosexuality in the face of heterosexual confrontation is a little hard to swallow.
Fortunately, the conclusion justifies most of those issues, creatively explaining away the grey areas. Definitely a happily-ever-after tale with a twist, it's still nice to read a love story that's more cute than sexy, and which is so positive in its message.
While the dialogue was a little weak in parts, the worldbuilding was well done, and the clash of cultures handled very well. There are really only 2 characters we need to care about, and they are very well developed. The secondary characters are a little thin, but they serve their purpose. Overall, this was a good read, and one that's short enough to warrant some patience along the way....more
What a wonderfully diverse, beautifully inclusive collection Sovereign Erotics: A Collection of Two-spirit Literature is! I was fortunate enough to haWhat a wonderfully diverse, beautifully inclusive collection Sovereign Erotics: A Collection of Two-spirit Literature is! I was fortunate enough to have the chance to review an advance copy of the book, and it provided me with countless hours of both entertainment and thoughtful reflection. I had hoped to get a review posted before it hit stores, to help generate some advance buzz, but I just couldn't force myself to rush through it. There's such a wide range of authors, styles, and content here, with so many new ideas and histories, that I found myself rereading sections of it over and over again.
The book starts with a definition/discussion of the term two-spirit, which could encompass book all on its own. I won't get into semantics here, so I will just settle for the blanket explanation that this is a collection by, for, and about Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Two-Spirit members of the Native American community. There's a passage in the introduction that I realise only tells part of the story, but which I found particularly interesting:
For other Native people, terms like 'lesbian' and 'queer' are seen as part of dominant Euro-American constructions of sexuality that have little to do with the more complicated gender systems in many Native traditions.
What follows is, as I said, a collection of material as diverse in content and form as it is in terms of sexuality ad gender. Deborah Miranda's Coyote Takes a Trip is one of my favourite pieces, contrasting a young man's accidental and joyous discovery of his heritage on a Venice Beach bus ride with historical quotes from 18th century missionaries regarding their horrific discovery of that same heritage. Louis Emse Cruz's Birth Song for Muin, in Red is another one that struck me, particularly the repeated theme of a "young girl in boy skin."
As much as I'm drawn to the more straightforward narratives, pieces like William Raymond Taylor's Something Wants to Be Said, a poem that manages to evoke more emotion in a single page than most novels, and Qwo-Li Driskill's (Auto)biography of Mad, a back-of-the-book style subject index of his life, complete with page numbers and other references, absolutely demanded my full attention. At the same time, Dan Taulapapa McMull's wonderful poem, A Drag Queen Named Pipi, packs more wonder and beauty into its 5 syllable lines than should be possible.
Ander's Awakening, by Daniel Heath Justice, is the longest piece in the collection and one that I had to read twice - once for the story, and again for the language. Young Ander views sees himself in dreams of an all-consuming spiritual fire that will change everything. The moment when he is gifted with his new name, Denarra Syrene, is one of the most beautiful passages I have ever read:
Ander felt a hot tremor pulse through his body, a rush of recognition as true and certain as the view in the looking glass. "Yes," he whispered, "That's my name. That's who I am."
An absolutely fascinating read, regardless of your race, ethnicity, sexuality, or gender, this is a book I am simply overjoyed I had the opportunity to explore....more
Having already been through multiple owners, none of whom seemed to know what to do with her for long, Samantha (Sam) has been rescued from the showroHaving already been through multiple owners, none of whom seemed to know what to do with her for long, Samantha (Sam) has been rescued from the showroom floor and leased out as a secretary. She is entirely self-aware - circumstances alone have kept from obtaining 'freed' status - and in full control of both her thoughts and her feelings. A special-order robot, she looks more natural than her counterparts, and that provides her with a very human sense of vulnerability.
Dave is one of her human coworkers, a charming, sweet, innocent gentleman who makes a point of going out of his way at least once a day to say 'hi'. At first, we're no more sure of his intentions than Sam, but it soon becomes clear that he's honestly interested in the beautiful fembot across the room. Forget, for a moment, that Sam is a fembot, and what we see developing between them is an old-fashioned office romance.
Since Dave is far too polite and respectful to impose, it's left to Sam to make the first move. She has no problem taking charge (for reasons that become clear a little later), and is entirely comfortable pursuing what she wants. What follows is a series of dates, a quick but careful courtship between two friends who hope to someday be lovers. This is a story that does away with the ownership dilemma and places Sam and Dave on equal footing, building wonderfully on the themes of empowerment from Sylvia’s Secret.
Eventually, our two lovers come together and discover that they are incredibly well-matched. Their lovemaking is just that - lovemaking, not just sex with a robot toy - and both lovers pay as much (if not more) attention to their partner's needs as their own. The fact that Sam is actually a herm-'bot is foreshadowed beautifully throughout the story, making the eventual reveal a scene of joyous discovery, as opposed to shocking exposure. It's this secret that is behind her take-charge personality, and Dave is only too pleased to indulge her and take turns directing their relationship.
On the surface, it's another story about robots having sex, but it's far more than that - it's also a wonderfully heart-warming tale of romance and seduction with a very happy ending for all involved....more