I chose this book for an Erotic SciFi Club group read due to the broad acknowledgement of its appeal within our genre. I also had a personal agenda inI chose this book for an Erotic SciFi Club group read due to the broad acknowledgement of its appeal within our genre. I also had a personal agenda in selecting a so-called "classic"--I've been looking for the missing middle ground between Science Fiction and Erotica for years (consider what it implies about human sexuality), and "Victorious Star" looked like an ideal story to deconstruct in that aim.
The first part of this critique takes a pretty surly tone, and I apologize in advance to anyone harboring warm sentiments for the book as I will be evaluating it from the perspective of the SciFi literature it presumes to extend. But there is more to say after that, and for what it's worth my feelings did not end where they started.
Let us begin. -----------------------------------------------------------
I... I am... I am soaking you... "I am soaking you in my piss." The scent of male urine filled the shower.
Stop. What manner of beginning is this?
It is a theory of mine that every book has two beginnings; its literal entrance, and the crucial moment in the narrative from which its interpretation ultimately flowers. Despite its almost casual execution, the golden shower conferred on protagonist Victoria Star by her manly captors is the secret gravity of this story.
Why? Is it psychologically significant? Or even the hardest humiliation on the schedule? No. It's just the most calculatedly sensational of all the half-serious technical gestures connecting science with sexuality here. Victoria is being marked like an animal, part of an imprinting procedure that also involves drugs and sex magic. This book offers a steady drizzle of such wince-inducing situations from beginning to end, and it also develops big problems with logical continuity as we follow a deadly but beautiful starship navigator through the travails of abduction, seduction, addiction to and redemption by a pair of bisexual giants named Ravnos and Seht; the latter submissive to the former despite a double-endowment of fuckrods.
Anyone comfortable with even middle-tier SciFi is going to groan almost line by line through the asshaul of derivative tropes yanked into this story without any sense of discipline or aesthetic--usually from the most casual territories of the genre. Those committed to the higher genius of SciFi will find this book an excruciating read. I stumbled down three chapters just on the inertia of its acclaim before I had to stop and reckon the sheer volume of bad writing that had already accumulated. Morgan Hawke is not a capable stylist and Victorious Star doesn't offer any elevated moments where you can feel the author really reach for something subtle or beautiful. I was genuinely surprised by the artless prose given the general reputation of her work.
That's not all. The main characters in this narrative exhibit frequent u-turn changes in motivation and sensibility, at such implausible velocity on occasion I lost all conviction anyone had functioning objectivity on call by the middle chapters. The backstories provided are numbly unspecific hinterlands of experience, illuminated as required by the plot to a predictably complicated network of secret loyalties.
In this book, everything is rated class 4 or level 6 or capacity 9; the story is set far in the future but titanium is evidently still a wonder-metal; you can somehow fall through atmosphere a hundred times faster than an elevator will take you; machine mentalities are transferred into human minds by casual touch... in all, the "science" Hawke commands is so corny and unconvincing it may actually hurt your rationality to experience it. From the standpoint of a serious SciFi enthusiast, Victorious Star deserves just one, sadly unvictorious star. It would be considered almost unpublishable in that genre.
And yet, it was the comprehensive nature of its failure on logical terms that stirred me to question the basic business of rationality in storytelling--to the extent that I finally decided my self-appointed stewardship of "real" science fiction was just uncool. The greater feat of analysis here would consist in a sincere submission to the story on its own terms. So I tried that.
And you know what? I began to see something underneath the words that suggested the real reason for the popularity of this book--despite its stilted presentation you can clearly detect the author's deep investiture in the reality of her world. Hawke seemed genuinely aroused by her own narrative, and I realized it was strictly my decision whether to follow her there.
In this light the story started to feel more like the Star Trek novels I used to love, just retooled for kinks. Could I really not identify with that? As with Fifty Shades of Grey, it became obvious to me on second investigation that Victorious Star renders a genuine image of the feminine sexual subconscious; an unsated inclination to giant men with harder needs and steeper vulnerabilities than real life can supply. While the elaborately gay relationship between Ravnos and Seht cancels their masculine sovereignty over Victoria in my view, the author describes the triangular ardency of their menage with an obvious yearning for actualities; her feminine heat is blatantly felt between details borrowed from SciFi material distant in ambition and effect.
What this novel really wants is a competent editing--by someone who can connect the dots back to science with a sure instinct for technical credibility. But after thinking about it for a while I decided this would make a modest contribution to the result at best; Hawke did the harder thing by giving life to a true fantasy, however blunt its revelation. I have never encountered a work of erotica in the formal tradition of SciFi that can match the intensity of desire this story conveys, and for that I shall deal Victorious Star four of a kind, reserving just one mark for her rational resurrection into general literary distinction someday.
Gabrielle's Awakening is an unusual novel for reasons spanning the whole gradient of literary critique. I'll start with the problems.
Most people willGabrielle's Awakening is an unusual novel for reasons spanning the whole gradient of literary critique. I'll start with the problems.
Most people will be troubled by the prose, which is ornate, tediously over-adjectivized and burdened by the constant deployment of conspicuous terms like "beguiling", "supine" and "voluptuary". The author also has difficulty structuring complex sentences to an elegant result--page by page the experience of reading this novel is damaged by the constant obligation to parse coordinate clauses lacking all demarcation by the em-dash and semicolon; indispensable tools for intricate prose. The dependent clauses are the most seriously abused--it was quite taxing to reconfigure them into comprehensibility again and again.
Oddly, I don't think these problems are due to poor editing. To the contrary, there were no blatant spelling or punctuation errors in the book.
The author employs a mostly "romantic" writing style to depict what was essentially a 250 page sex scene between recently widowed Gabrielle, dominant Michael (her dead husband's business partner) and Raoul (Michael's pal in the mysterious Order of the Black Lily). But the language is grindingly precise about certain things like bondage setups and sex toys--almost like a patent application--to a decisively unerotic effect right when I wanted it the most.
And that brings us to the middle ground of the critique. Michael and Gabrielle have some interesting moments and I definitely found myself aroused a few times. Michael employs a variety of electrostatic whips and attachments to confer precise levels of pain on Gabrielle, sometimes using wireless telemetry to confound her instinct to secrecy. I don't personally find electricity sexually authoritative, and electrostatic devices typically work at 20,000-50,000 volts--unlike low voltage T.E.N.S. units (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation), which are actually used as bondage toys.
The point-of-view starts exclusively with Gabrielle, then proceeds to shift over a series of awkward installments to include Micheal's inner voice, which I didn't really want to hear since it was just as predictable as his "I'm in charge" dialog. Frankly, I wish his character was more cryptically rendered. Raoul's arrival later in the story reduces Micheal to a Beta male anyway, squandering his long-cultivated authority.
Now on to the good.
The author is clearly infatuated with novel erotic toys, which is a rare and marvelous instinct. It is a theory of mine that human sexuality is about to fundamentally change--but not due to genetics or drugs or electro-neural stimulation. Our physiology observes a fundamental scheme of limitations and dualities designed by evolution (or otherwise) to keep us existentially centered between ambition and reward. There will be no dark future of "jacked-in" pleasure-fiends because such people would never reproduce or even strive to maintain their condition.
So whenever I discover mechanically inventive sex toys I am interested--because they are the real future of human sexuality. And there are several toy concepts in this book that I really liked, especially the "plumb-bob" vaginal stimulator and the "labial wheel" Gabrielle is suffered to endure.
There is also some great language. That's the confounding thing about Gabrielle's Awakening--had the whole narrative been executed to the level of its best moments it might have been a four-star work. Unlike most authors in the genre, Alexandra Adams is not limited by intelligence or ambition; were she to consolidate all her desire in one place for long enough I have no doubt something very remarkable would result.
The Ninth Orb is a fast-paced exploration of alien mating customs--and the complicated proposition of joining cultures by social-sexual compact.
LeaderThe Ninth Orb is a fast-paced exploration of alien mating customs--and the complicated proposition of joining cultures by social-sexual compact.
Leader of a small complement of pioneering women, Eden Chisholm (project leader and central protagonist) is charged with the establishment of a new colony on an unexplored world. Encountering humanoid exiles called Xtanians--males dichotomized by evolution into warrior/breeder roles--she is forced to integrate their colonies due to rigid protocols governing male-female obligations that arose in the aliens' troubled prehistory. As a result the women of her group are required to take whole "broods" of men as lovers to avert a political disaster. The Xtanians are in time revealed to be of human origin and biologically compatible with the women, implying they represent a kind of genetic redemption for the human race.
As many have noted, the erotic material occurs late in the narrative. The first two-thirds of the Ninth Orb might very easily have been a Star Trek novel in premise, tone and terminology--which is no insult as I happen to love those books. When Eden finally gets it on with the Xtanians, the resulting encounters (which involve many alien brothers at a time) are passionately depicted, and I doubt there are many women who would have trouble displacing themselves to these circumstances of the story. The Xtanians turn out to be telepathically linked to each other, allowing members of any brotherly brood to to oblige a woman's every desire using a cooperative apparatus unknown to human men. Toward the end Eden's pregnancy by the aliens subsumes all other plot considerations; not unreasonable given the total trajectory of the story.
The Ninth Orb is especially interesting to me as I have been recently debating the theory of sexual dominance on various threads, contending that one cannot (as often happens in fiction) put two "alpha" personalities in mutual authority over a submissive subject. It doesn't work in my view as the whole concept of dominance by way of gender distinction comes into question when there are various grades of authority visible within one gender. This inevitably happens among dominant human men negotiating a common desire.
Ms. O'Connor raises the fascinating possibility that a telepathic link and appropriately functional psychology might allow men to cooperate with sufficient efficiency to effect an uncompromised multiple-dominant menage--perhaps the most trenchant female sexual fantasy. But the Xtanians are rendered considerably less expressive than human men due to the compensatory gravity of demeanor needed to protect their Dom appeal; we're talking about heterosexual brothers in intimate association here, after all.
Kaitlyn O'Connor commands language to reasonably good effect--there are some nice moments in the Ninth Orb. But her literary prowess is inconsistently exerted (there are a lot of errors and repetition), and much of the prose would benefit from reconsideration. Had she chosen to isolate her interest with this novel for a while it might have become a four-star work though, and I remain ready to change the rating if she does!...more