Gender. Sexuality. Race. Relationship. For most people these are binary absolutes, simple either/or definitions. You are male or female, gay or straig...moreGender. 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 book...moreDarcy 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.(less)
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-u...moreWhile 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.(less)
What a wonderfully diverse, beautifully inclusive collection Sovereign Erotics: A Collection of Two-spirit Literature is! I was fortunate enough to ha...moreWhat 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.(less)
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 showro...moreHaving 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.(less)
I’m sure some science fiction purists may be offended by the analogy, but D.B. Story’s work puts me in mind of Isaac Asimov . . . with a shot of Viagr...moreI’m sure some science fiction purists may be offended by the analogy, but D.B. Story’s work puts me in mind of Isaac Asimov . . . with a shot of Viagra. Yes, Sylvia’s Secret is one of his many stories about robots having sex (which is out of the world, if you’ll pardon the pun), but it also has a lot to say about questions of self-awareness, free will, and humanity.
Sylvia is a fembot, currently on her third owner, with one secret feature, and two crucial malfunctions. Designed almost solely for sex appeal, she has the perfect hair, face, skin, height, and figure to maximize her appeal to both sexes. Dressed entire in pink – fur fringed baby doll, silk panties, and pink fur high-heeled sandals – she serves as both a domestic and sexual servant for Stan, her current owner.
Her one secret feature is a beautiful, perfectly formed, perfectly lubricated, fully functioning penis that can emerge from hiding if she is touched in just the right spot.
Her first malfunction is that she has begun to develop self-awareness about her body, and how it pleases her. Her second malfunction is that she has begun to develop free will, overcoming her programming to initiate that pleasure.
When her owner asks a carefully worded question, intentionally designed to explore her malfunctions, she finds herself free to express her secret feature, and to exploit those malfunctions.
What follows from there is a series of sexual encounters that are sensual, creative, and immensely arousing – not the simple robot porn some readers might expect. Intertwined within the erotic embrace of human and machine are some deep thoughts, philosophical musings, and very human conversations. Make no mistake, this isn’t a story about robots falling in love, but it is one about the possibilities of friendship between humans and robots.
As one of his shorter stories, this is a fantastic entry-point into the works of D.B. Story. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and anxious to dive into one of his longer works next. (less)
I love science fiction books best when they do something a little outside the norm . . . when they push boundaries . . . and when they make you stop a...moreI love science fiction books best when they do something a little outside the norm . . . when they push boundaries . . . and when they make you stop and think. While I do enjoy some mindless carnage on the big screen, it simply doesn’t work for me on the page. Mind you, what I like on the page doesn’t necessarily translate well to the screen, but I have a pretty solid production crew inside my head.
Anyway, Triptych is a book that I’m delighted to say falls comfortably outside the norm, pushes sexual/racial/gender boundaries, and leaves you quite delighted to stop and think.
Take one heterosexual human couple. Introduce an oddly gendered alien into the mix. Then watch a family emerge, only to be confronted by the worst of both societies. As a story of first contact and social justice, this reminds me of the old TV series Alien Nation. It has that same conscience . . . . that same sense of something significant taking place on a personal and intimate level, even if it is approached in a very different manner.
Given Gwen and Basil’s role within the grand scheme of first contact, I was afraid we’d be left with a lot of technical asides and scientific musings to explore the aliens. Fortunately, nothing could be further from the truth. Instead of being cold and clinical, the approach here is warm and human. I won’t spoil any of what happens between them, but I will say I shed tears of joy and tears of sorrow for this unusual family, and that’s an accomplishment few authors can claim.
Not only is this a wonderful story, but it’s a wonderfully told story. Initially, I had my doubts as to how well it would work – not because of any failing on the part of the author, but simply because there were so many ways it could have gone wrong. Fortunately, the pop-culture references are used wisely; the aliens are neither almost-human nor completely-monstrous (but something interesting in between); the core relationship is loving and tender, presented as something natural (rather than erotic or taboo); and there’s no sign of the usual time travel clichés.
More importantly, beneath all the action and the drama, there are some big questions asked within the novel – the answers to which we’re guided, but have to realise for ourselves. That’s what makes a good science fiction novel memorable, and Triptych certainly is that.(less)
The line between science fiction erotica and erotic science fiction is often a thin one, and riding the literary edge of that line can be a difficult...moreThe line between science fiction erotica and erotic science fiction is often a thin one, and riding the literary edge of that line can be a difficult task. Stray too far to one side, and you risk alienating those who readers who don’t want any intellectual roadblocks to their arousal. Fall too far to the other side, and you risk losing readers who are uncomfortable with arousal intruding on their philosophical musings.
D.B. Story not only knows precisely where that line runs, but he makes adhering to it seem almost effortless.
Far Future Fembot: Bill's Story is, quite literally, a mind-blowing read. It is very erotic – inventively so – but within the bounds of a very unusual romance that seduces you into the larger story arc. At its warm and fuzzy core, this is a love story about a man and his robot. It’s a romance that begins with moments of awkward, innocent curiosity; develops into a playful game of discovery and delight; and continues to the pinnacle of true love and soul-deep commitment . . . before coming full circle to do it all again.
Bill is a wonderful character. He seems (perhaps) a little too perfect, until you realise we’re only really seeing him through his lover’s eyes. He’s kind, gentle, devoted, giving, and fiercely protective of his family. He is a man who takes nothing for granted, no matter how many times he passes through this life. Bill grows and matures throughout the novel, evolving from merely likeable to entirely admirable, but he never stops being human.
While it’s Bill who keeps us firmly grounded in the story, it’s Anna who enables our imagination (and our libido) to soar. She is, in every possible respect, the perfect robot. Originally designed to be a sexbot in a human brothel, Anna is supremely knowledgeable, and equally talented in all matters sexual or erotic. Over the course of the novel she is gradually transformed by the enduring love of Bill, her eternal owner. Although we never forget that she’s a robot, her ongoing evolution into a sentient being is handled so well, we never question her place alongside Bill as his equal in the relationship.
Thanks to the longevity of human souls and robot circuits, this is a story that takes place over hundreds upon hundreds of years. The mystery of that longevity is certainly one of the driving forces behind the story, due largely to the unusual way in which it’s told. The chapters alternate between the entire span of the distant past, and (for the most part) a single night in the far future. Every ‘past’ chapter bring us a little closer to that far future, slowly narrow the initial gap of centuries down to a handful of years.
Like I said, it’s the romance of Bill and Anna that drives the story, but the way in which the story develops allows for far more intellectual exploration than most readers would expect. This is a novel about religion, politics, and philosophy. It’s a story of the human spirit and human rights, neither of which we discover is the sole prerogative of human beings. It’s not a heavy-handed or preachy tale by any means. Instead, it’s one that prefers to subtly exemplify and illustrate its teachings, rather than just talk about them.
If you’re uncertain about the concept of inter-species romance, especially one involving a robot, please don’t allow yourself to get hung up on the concept of a sex-toy with legs. Think, instead, along the lines of Star Trek’s Data, Robert A. Heinlein's Friday, Isaac Asimov’s Bicentennial Man, or even Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands – characters who become so endearingly human, we want them to actually be human.
There is so much more that I could – and want to – say about this, but explaining it all away does not do justice to D.B. Story’s writing. In order to fully appreciate what he’s accomplished here, you need to read it . . . savour it . . . and enjoy it. This is a story that will cause your heart to race, your chest to heave, and your mind to spin. It will arouse you, educate you, and (above all else) entertain you. (less)
The Flight of the Silver Vixen is the kind of book you’ll enjoy immensely, but really wish you could have read as a young girl. It’s a fun, all-girl,...moreThe Flight of the Silver Vixen is the kind of book you’ll enjoy immensely, but really wish you could have read as a young girl. It’s a fun, all-girl, swashbuckling adventure that makes you giddy with joy, even as it causes you to pause every once in a while to reflect upon what's happening beneath the story.
This is the story of a band of teenage girls who steal an experimental spaceship called The Silver Vixen. Forced to enter an ether crease (think Star Trek wormhole), they find themselves on the other side of the universe, on a planet very much like their own, and surrounded by barbarian space-pirates. That’s where the obvious conflict begins, but centuries of isolation on their sister world have created societal and political differences that create deeper, more subtle conflicts of their own. As you might expect, the girls are forced to grow up quickly, as very adult demands (the kind upon which entire civilizations turn) are suddenly placed on them.
To truly appreciate the threat posed by The Kang, it is first necessary to understand the question of gender that’s at the heart of this novel (and which, coincidentally, first appealed to my own heart). The Flight of the Silver Vixen is the story of an intemorph race, one that, to all appearances, consists entirely of women. Of course, when it comes to sex and gender, it’s never quite that simple, and this is by no means a Utopian sexual ideal. In fact, the division of gender is still very sexist, with the blondes being smaller, cuter, more emotional women who need to be buckled in and coddled; and the brunettes being physically larger and stronger women who take on the heavy jobs, and who are often (affectionately) dismissive of their blondes.
The Kang, meanwhile, are schizomorphs – gender mutations who have split into two visually distinct male and female sexes, each exaggerated and extreme in adherence to ‘human’ stereotypes. Beast-like, violent, and aggressive, the men of The Kang are sword-wielding barbarians who could have escaped from any teenage boy's swords-and-sorcery fantasy. Although less advanced in all areas of development, they’ve armed themselves with stolen technology, and are guided by the Dark One (an ancient demon who plays a significant role in the two sister worlds).
The writing is solid, the characters are well rounded, and the dialogue is wonderfully natural – it pulls you in and makes you wish you could interject, comment, and take part in the discussions. There are elements of (alien) teenage girl speak, but these women are mature beyond their years. It is primarily through their interactions with each other (and their sister civilization) that the book’s concepts and assumptions about gender, social class, and philosophy are fully explored. Instead of forcing understanding upon us with narrative asides and long, drawn-out explanations, we are almost subconsciously fed a little more knowledge with every interaction.
Additionally, the more we get to know these girls, the more plausible it seems they’d be able to get away with stealing the Queen’s ship . . . and the more plausible it seems they’ll be able to deal with so many levels of conflict. This is, indeed, a swashbuckling adventure, and one that mixes interstellar battles, sci-fi motorcycle races through fantasy wildernesses, gun-battles and sword-battles (sometimes at the same time), and some verbal sparring that’s as fun and feminist as it is clever (think Buffy the Vampire Slayer).
My only complaint (and I realise this is a limitation of YA fiction), is that I would have loved to learn more about the sexual nature of the intemorphs. There are a few tantalizing hints and suggestions, and perhaps the questions are meant to be more exciting than the answers, but it still leaves me wondering how it all works. I'm not talking graphic or obscene - I'd just be interested in seeing how a romance might be handled, how a family unit operates, or simply whether attraction lies alongside 'gender' lines (blonde vs brunette) or is more open. I suspect there is still more story to come, so maybe we'll learn more as we go.
Regardless of my curiosity getting the best of me, this is a stellar effort (if you’ll pardon the pun) and definitely worth a read.(less)