Wednesday, February 25, 2009
Talking about an H. P. Lovecraft book is -- to paraphrase that old chestnut -- like singing about food, or writing about music. What makes it doubly difficult is that so many others have tried: Lovecraft’s probably been analyzed and dissected more than any other fantasy author. So much so that a comprehensive review has also to mention every other review, and so on and so forth ad infinitum.
But putting aside the difficulty of a review, and every other review, At the Mountains of Madness is still a brilliantly told horror story. Best of all, it’s almost a "perfect" Lovecraft story, combining everything that makes Lovecraft … well, ‘Lovecraftian:’ constant impending dread, mysteries beyond time and space, characters driven to the brink of -- and then beyond -- insanity, science knocking at the doors of the nightmarish unknown, and tantalizing clues to a star-and-time-spanning mythology.
Told by William Dyer, of Lovecraft’s ubiquitous Miskatonic U (“Go Pods!”), At the Mountains of Madness is about an expedition to Antarctica, which, in 1936, might as well have been the dark side of the moon. While there, Dyer and the other members of the expedition encounter various dreads and haunting mysteries (this is Lovecraft after all: specifics isn’t what he’s all about) until they discover an ancient city and with it, the horrifying secret of the Elder Things, the once-great-but-now-extinct terrifying rulers of time and space.
For a book written more than 70 years ago, At the Mountains of Madness still has a dreadful power. Like the tomes so often mentioned by Lovecraft, the novel crawls under the skin before twisting around the knots of the spine before working its way to the brain and then straight into the mind. Hallucinatory and haunting, the book reads more like a narrative nightmare than what most people think of when they think of a novel.
What’s particularly interesting about At the Mountains of Madness is how it forms a ‘bridge’ between Lovecraft’s mythology. Before it, his "horrors from beyond" were more mythological, but with At the Mountains of Madness he instead moves in a more science fictionlike direction -- a change many other reviewers have called extremely significant for his very long-lasting popularity.
Dream, nightmare, hallucination -- Lovecraft and especially At the Mountains of Madness might be hard to pin down, hard to quantify, but the work, and especially its author, remain truly great legends of horror, and not to be missed … if you want to lose sleep.
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
Monday, February 23, 2009
Scientists love a mystery. Biologists used to have the human genome, but now they have the structure of protein. Physics used to have cosmic rays, but now they have the God particle. Astronomers used to have black holes, but now they have dark matter.
And then there’s the puzzle, the enigma, the joyous mystery that dots the world over: the riddle of what’s commonly called Mima Mounds.
What’s an extra added bonus about these cryptic ‘whatevertheyares’ is that they aren’t as miniscule as a protein sequence, aren’t as subatomic as the elusive God particle, and certainly not as shadowy as dark matter. Found in such exotic locales as Kenya, Mexico, Canada, Australia, China and in similarly off-the-beaten path locations as California, Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, and especially Washington state, the mounds first appear to be just that: mounds of earth.
The first thing that’s odd about the mounds is the similarity, regardless of location. With few differences, the mounds in Kenya are like the mounds in Mexico which are like the mounds in Canada which are like the … well, you get the point. All the mounds aer heaps of soil from three to six feet tall, often laid out in what appear to be evenly spaced rows. Not quite geometric but almost. What’s especially disturbing is that geologists, anthropologists, professors, and doctors of all kinds – plus a few well-intentioned self-appointed "experts" – can’t figure out what they are, where they came from, or what caused them.
One of the leading theories is that they are man-made, probably by indigenous people. Sounds reasonable, no? Folks in loincloths hauling dirt in woven baskets, meticulously making mound after mound after … but wait a minute. For one thing it would have been a huge amount of work, especially for a culture that was living hand-to-mouth. Then there’s the fact that, as far as can be determined, there’s nothing in the mounds themselves. Sure they aren’t exactly the same as the nearby ground, but they certainly don’t contain grain, pot shards, relics, mummies, arrowheads, or anything that really speaks of civilization. They are just dirt. And if they are man-made, how did the people in Kenya, Mexico, Canada, Australia, China, California, Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, and especially Washington state all coordinate their efforts so closely as to produce virtually identical mounds? That’s either one huge tribe or a lot of little ones who somehow could send smoke signals thousands of miles. Not very likely.
Next on the list of explanations is that somehow the mounds were created either by wind and rain or by geologic ups and downs – that there’s some kind of bizarre earthy effect that has caused them to pop up. Again, it sounds reasonable, right? After all, there are all kinds of weird natural things out there: rogue waves, singing sand, exploding lakes, rains of fish and frogs – so why shouldn’t mother nature create field after field of neat little mounds?
The "natural" theory of nature being responsible for the Majorly Mysterious Mima Mounds starts to crumble upon further investigation. Sure there’s plenty of things we don’t yet understand about how our native world behaves scientists do know enough to be able to say what it can’t do – and it’s looking pretty certain it can’t be as precise, orderly, or meticulous as the mounds.
But still more theories persist. For many who believe in ley lines, that crop circles are some form of manifestation of our collective unconscious, in ghosts being energy impressions left in stone and brick, the mounds are the same, or at least similar: the result of an interaction between forces we as yet do not understand, or never will, and our spaceship earth.
Others, those who prefer their granola slightly less crunchy or wear their tinfoil hats a little less tightly, have suggested what I – in my own ill-educated opinion – consider to be perhaps the best theory to date. Some, naturally, have dismissed this concept out-of-hand, suggesting that the whole idea is too ludicrous even to be the subject of a dinner party, let alone deserving the attention and respect of serious research.
But I think this attitude shows not only lack of respect but a lack of imagination. After all, was it not so long ago that the idea of shifting continents was considered outrageous? And wasn’t it only a few years ago that people simply accepted the fact that the sun revolved around the earth? I simply ask that this theory be considered in all fairness and not dismissed without the same serious consideration these now well-respected theories have received.
After all, giant gophers could very well be responsible for the Majorly Mysterious Mima Mounds
Sunday, February 22, 2009
From the mythological specter of the doughboy who can only breathe mustard gas, to the coincidence of the crossword puzzle containing the code words for the Normandy landing, conflict can bring out both the best, and the downright strangest, in human behavior and belief. So much so, that it would take much more than this little slice of cyberspace for me to outline them all. Just limiting ourselves to inventiveness still packs weirdsville to its sprawling borders: the American kamikaze bats with their still-classified incendiary explosives, the stone-skipping delivery of the British dam-busting bombs, the around-the-corner Nazi submachine gun, Patton's phantom army, and the War Magicians — one of my favorites — a group of British dance-hall conjurers who put their sleight-of-hand talents to work making tanks into trucks, trucks into tanks, everything else into something else, all to trick the Axis.
One of my all-time favorites, though, was the one that just, almost, nearly happened. But before I reveal this glorious monument to inventive mania, a little first about its inventor.
Like many British eccentrics, Geoffrey Pyke at first appears normal when viewed through Who's Who, but a closer examination always gets the head shaking. Not to say that Pyke didn't give his all and then some to the war effort — not at all. But it also would be correct to say that what Pyke did give could be called quirky — and, at best, bizarre.
Apprehended trying to sneak into Berlin during the First World War, Pyke was sentenced to a prison camp. By noting that sunlight momentarily blinded his guards every day at one certain location, Pyke managed to escape, becoming something of a celebrity by accounting his daring escapades after the war.
Assigned to the War Office during the second great conflict, Pyke threw himself into devising all kinds of clever (and even often practical) means of aiding the war effort. Stretcher-carrying sidecars for motorcycles? That was Pyke. Pedal-powered shunt cars for railway yards? Pyke. Marking a special motorized cart that British commandos were to use with "Officer's Latrine" in German on them — so the Nazi's would leave it well alone? You guessed it ... Geoffrey Pyke. Disguising British agents as avid golfers, and then sending them all throughout Germany to secretly gather signatures on a poll to convince Hitler that his people didn't want to go to war? You guessed it. Like I said, quirky.
But the concept that propelled Pyke from simple, fascinating, oddity to the military limits of the delightfully absurd was the one he hit on while pondering one of the great problems of the Second World War: that allied shipping was being literally cut to pieces by the merciless, and precise, German submarine fleet. Even Kaiser with his smooth assembly line of cheap shipping couldn't compete with the appetites of the Wolf Packs. What was needed, Pyke considered, was some kind of strong military presence, a way of providing air cover for the desperately needed merchant ships.
But there were a lot of Liberty Ships, far too many to cover with even a token fleet. Not only did those transport need protection, but they needed cheap and easy protection, something simple to assemble, able to carry long-range aircraft, and not so expensive as to draw valuable resources from the battle fronts.
It would be easy to imagine Pyke sipping something cool when inspiration struck. But what really causes the head to shake is to remember that Pyke was a great British eccentric, and Brits (as anyone who has visited the UK can attest) are completely alien to anything tall, cool, and — especially — frosty.
Maybe it was watching winter slabs majestically move down the Thames, or pale masses of crystals sluice down a gutter, but whatever the inspiration, Pyke had his vision. But before it could be put into anything even close to reality, Pyke had to solve one fundamental problem: ice melts.
Pyke's vision was a marvelous, gloriously absurd one: 300 feet wide, 2,000 long mid-Atlantic runways. Displacing 1,800,000 tons of water (26 times the Queen Elizabeth), they would carry aircraft, munitions, crew, and — naturally — a refrigeration system that would guarantee that their 50 foot walls wouldn't fall to their greatest enemy (even more than Germany): heat.
These iceberg battleship/aircraft carriers would have been the stuff of nightmares: massive white slabs of steaming ice, churning through the sea, a flurry of aircraft and support ships darting around their bulk. The Germans, my guess, would quake in fear more from the audacity and insanity of their concept than any weapons they could carry.
But these tamed bergs wouldn't just depend on their mass and aircraft to defeat the German hordes. No sir, these were fightin' icebergs! Pyke envisioned a special system mated to the refrigeration equipment so the bergs could spray out super cold water, literally freezing enemy forces in their tracks. Code named Habbakuk after a character in the Bible known for saying: "I am doing a work in your days which you would not believe if told." To know truth, preachers say, study the Bible. How very true in this case.
But there was a big stumbling block to Pyke's incredible plans: whether his terrifying, freezing giants of the sea would turn to mid-Atlantic slush before ever encountering the Germans. The humiliation alone of having to scream for help as your ship literally melted around you was more than any sailor should ever bear. So, how to make nature act ... unnaturally?
The answer actually came from Max Perutz, who named his invention after Pyke: Pykrete. Take 14% sawdust and 86% water, freeze, and viola: a bizarre material you can saw like wood and wont melt. Well, okay, it actually will melt, but just a helluva lot slower than regular ice.
Pyke was so excited by this frosty invention that he showed the stuff to Lord Mountbatten, who was so similarly afflicted that he rushed into Winston Churchill's bathroom and in a scene too close to Monty Python to be anything but real, dropped a block of the stuff in the PM's bath water. Maybe it was the audacity, the lunacy of the idea, or some unknown properties of Pykrete, but Churchill caught the bug: Pyke and his iceberg navy got the go-ahead.
A site was found, a secret boathouse on Patricia Lake in Canada, and a small-size test was organized. Pyke was ecstatic as his materials were assembled into a model of his cold revelation. As a testament to either Pyke's brilliance or the twisted humor of the universe, the ice ship was a complete success: in other words, it didn't melt all through a hot summer.
Alas, the landings at Normandy made the ice ships unnecessary. It's easy to imagine Pyke, face beaming in joy, standing on the frigid deck of his dream ship, envisioning its monstrous kin rolling through surging seas, throwing cascades of freezing death at the German Navy, just as somewhere else in the world the war was turning away from needing their frightening, protective presence.
As to what Pyke did after the war, it's hard for me to say: his strange dream of a frozen navy lasting longer than anything else he contributed. But one thing I can guarantee: Pyke could never see the onset of winter without thinking of his great ships, and the battles they might have won.
This article first appeared in Meine Kleine Fabrik: Welcome To Weirdsville — http://meinekleinefabrik.blogspot.com
M.Christian (www.mchristian.com) has written 300+ short stories, edited 20 anthologies, and is the author of five collections and five novels.
Monday, February 16, 2009
Okay, I know I’m late with this – but my heart was in the right place. Which is more than a bit apt considering what this column is all about.
I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: writing is NOT easy – professionally, but most of all psychologically. Any writer who sends their work out for consideration, as opposed to just sticking it in a drawer, is putting their emotional life on the line every time they mail the envelope or hit the SEND button. When a story’s rejected, the writer has no one to blame but themselves. They can’t point to the actors, the screenplay, or the special effectors like a director can. They can’t accuse the opening act, the acoustics, or the crowd like a musician can. When things go wrong for a writer it’s just them, in the dark, with their mistakes.
That’s why it’s very important that you take care of yourself. Even though it’s well-nigh impossible, try to separate yourself from the work. Remind yourself that YOU didn’t get rejected, the story did. Repeat the mantra that being a writer is a work in progress, that your next story will be better. Never forget that everyone – and this really is true – gets rejected. Try to hold your own hand, pat yourself on your own back and – most of all – keep working.
But there’s a problem. Except for a few very rare exceptions, it’s nearly impossible for you to perform that anatomical and emotional contortion of holding your own hand or patting yourself on the back … or kissing your own cheek, bringing yourself a cup of unexpected but very needed tea, or telling yourself the magic words of “It’s going to be okay” or “I believe in you.”
This is where someone else comes in.
You won’t find this listed in many books on writing, but I’ve come to realize that it’s essential. Writing can be a very hard -- and often lonely -- life. But it doesn’t have to be. Taking care of yourself is one facet of surviving as a writer, but finding someone who understands and cares about you and your work is essential. Some writers use friends, relatives, parents, or members of a support circle for a hand to hold, a shoulder to cry on, or a pal to laugh with.
Others are blessed with a partner who understands how hard being a writer can be, someone who knows the aches and pains as well as the joy of putting thoughts to paper. I’m lucky – very lucky – to have found that myself. I am fortunate beyond words to have a woman in my life who has given me what I’ve always wanted – someone to share writing and every other aspect of my life with. I love you, Jill.
Sorry for the Hallmark moment, but I do have a point. As I said, I’m lucky. It took me a long time and just the right set of circumstances to get to the wonderful situation I’m in right now. Before -- and this is also the case for many other people -- I was involved with people who may have been caring and understanding but who also simply didn’t “get it.” What’s worse is that many writers are involved with people who can’t even provide the “caring and understanding” part of that – or who are disinterested if not resentful or even hostile to their partner’s needs as a writer. I know this is a column on smut, but I want to step beyond those boundaries and say that if anyone in your life isn’t supportive then you should dump them and move on. Writing, to repeat, is damned hard – but being with someone who puts down your work, sabotages your craft, or makes writing harder than it already is not someone you should have in your life.
Beyond the obvious, though, or the supreme intimacy of sharing your bed as well as your writing with a partner, it can be very hard to notice when someone is no longer a help but has rather has become a hindrance. All too often when a writer finds a person who will even read, let alone critique, their work they hang on to them like grim death – even when they are doing more harm than good. For example, here are some questions you should be asking when you get feedback from anyone – including a loving partner:
Are they speaking from prejudice? A good reader should be able to suspend their personal likes and dislikes and comment on only the story. If they rip the work – or you – apart because they personally don’t like the sex, the setting, the characters, etc., without giving thoughtful feedback then this is someone who doesn’t deserve to see your work.
Are they jealous? Too often an insecure reader will dig for fault when none is present because you have surprised or intimidated them with your abilities. This is not to say that all criticism should be viewed with paranoia, but when comments come with too much vitriol or are making too much of small errors then you might want to raise your eyebrows.
Are they making unfair comparisons? If your story was written for TRUCKSTOP TRANSSEXUALS IN TROUBLE, you don’t want a reader telling you that your style, characters, setting, and is no where near the quality of, say, Dickens, Hemmingway, or Shakespeare.
Are they mixing you and your work? Back to TRUCKSTOP TRANSSEXUALS, you don’t want comments like “Baby, I didn’t know you were into that stuff,” or “How often do you think about things like this?” or “I think you need therapy.” You may very well need therapy, but you certainly don’t need remarks like that.
Are the comments constructive? Get rid of – as fast as possible – anyone who does not say something, anything, good about your work. If all you get are brutal criticisms or even just witty put-downs then turn right around and insult the size, shape, or hygiene of their genitals. Okay, that might be a bit harsh, but a good reader will always give good with the bad, even if it’s just that your font was pretty and you spelled most of the words correctly.
I could go on but I hope I’ve made my point. Writing is hard. Writing is VERY HARD. But the people in your life shouldn’t make it any harder. Find friends, pals, buddies or even lovers who know, understand, and sympathize with what being a writer is -- and who, most importantly -- will be there with a cup of tea, a kiss on the forehead, or even just a few kind and supportive words when baring your soul on the page gets just a little too cold, a bit too dark, or a touch too lonely.
You’re a writer – and that’s special and brave. You’re worth it.
Sunday, February 15, 2009
Back in the good old days -- which everyone pretty much agrees were pretty damned rotten -- what you wore was a matter of life and death: simple rotting cloth was common, leather was rare, but for the gentleman of standing, it was armor or nothing.
The first appearance of armor is a matter of much debate. Some say forged metal is key, in which case the toga-wearing crowd would be the first. Others insist that even wood worn as protection could count, in which case you'd have to go as far back as the sticks and stones brigade.
But most everyone agrees that back in those rotten times, when men were knights and women were damsels in distress, armor was at its height.
The first armors were life-and-death simple: crudely formed metal plates designed to keep spears and swords out and the knight inside them safe. But as weapons got more sophisticated during this Middle Ages arms race, smiths had to keep up, making their suits stronger, lighter, and more flexible until they'd reached the pinnacle of defense as well as offense.
One of their brilliant innovations was perfecting mail ... and, no, I'm not talking about the 'rain nor sleet' variety. Rumored to have been first created by the Celts many centuries before, it was a process that worked its way up through the ages until it reached armorers who took the basic idea to new heights. The idea is astoundingly counter-intuitive: instead of making your armor out of slabs of sturdy and very protective metal, why not make it out of thousands and thousands and thousands of carefully connected rings? It worked remarkably well: light as well as strong, it gave the wearer flexibility -- often the key factor between leaving a battle on horseback or on a stretcher. When plate armor was added to mail the result was the classic -- and devastating -- armor of the Middle Ages.
It's hard to imagine now, but for a long time a knight on horseback was the terror weapon of the age: galloping into battle on monstrous war horses, often also well-armored, they were as terrifying as they were indestructible. Nothing could touch them but they, with sword and lance, could pretty much take on anything and anyone -- except for maybe another knight.
As battle became more and more ritualized -- leading up to jousting, which we all know and love from the movies -- these metallic behemoths became less utilitarian tanks and more statements of rank and wealth. Only the rich or the nobility could afford armor, but only a really rich man or very wealthy Baron, Duke, Prince, or King could afford a fancy set.
And, Lordy, did they get fancy. After a point, armors began to look more like dinner services than battle gear: immaculate metal work, precious metals, often comically flamboyant crests and standards, useless -- though striking -- flairs and sculpted forms, and the gleaming reflections of meticulously polished metals.
Just take a look at the armor belonging to that spokesman for restraint and modesty, Henry the 8th: not only was it state-of-the-art for its day, but it was designed and built -- as was most armor of the day -- to the wearer's dimensions. In the case of Henry, though, his personal suit looked like it was more portly battleship than streamlined destroyer. And who can forget the Royal ... um, 'staff' shall we say? Looking at a set of his armor, the question becomes was it designed to protect or brag? But, to be honest, we can't fault Henry for his choice: his armor was never really designed for war -- mainly because the suit of armor's time had passed.
Absolutely, the suit of armor was the terror weapon of its day. But every day ends, and in the case of the classic suit of armor, its end was just about as bad as it can get.
1415, Northern France: on that side, the French; on the other side, the English. Although the numbers are a matter of much debate, it's commonly believed that the French outnumbered the English something like 10 to 1. For the English, under Henry (the 5th, forefather of the afore-mentioned 8th), it wasn't looking at all well. The likelihood was that they were going to be, to use a military term, 'slaughtered.' But then something happened that didn't just determine the outcome of the war but also changed Europe forever, as well as doomed the standing of the suit of armor as the ultimate weapon.
The French didn't know what hit them. Well, actually they did, which made their defeat so much more hideous: there they were, the cream of French soldiery, marching to seemingly certain victory, their mail and plate glistening in the sun, their monstrous metal weapons and protection the best of the best of the best.
Then the arrows started to fall, shot by Henry's secret weapon: the English (technically Welch) longbow. In one horrifying volley after another, the French were cut down by an enemy they couldn't even reach, their precious armor pin-cushioned, their army pinned to the muddy ground.
Clothes make the man, yes. And for a very long time armor was the end-all, be-all, go-getter power suit of the time. But times change -- and all it took was some people with a few bows and arrows to point that out.
Saturday, February 14, 2009
Honesty from the outset~I like stories which are a bit out of the ordinary bordering on quirky. The Very Bloody Marys is definitely that. I mean seriously 'a marauding gang of Vespa-riding vampires'?!? You gotta love that concept.First things first~This book is written in the first person from the point of view of the main character, Valentino. As I've said before this is a POV that I have mixed feelings about. In this instance, however, it worked for me for a couple of reasons.The first reason is that the author gave Valentino a conversational voice; very much like he was sitting down next to you recounting his day (or night in this case), which I immediately connected with. The second was my affinity with Valentino himself, who is pretty much a sarcastic smart-arse with a significant dash of loser. Needless to say that I could sooo relate. *g*Let me give you all a taste:
It was one of those awful San Francisco nights: a heartbreaker wrapped up in a smothering fog smelling like diesel oil leaking from a busted-up truck, the streets all reflective with the tears of a thousand broken hearts, and the bloated bodies of all those leaping lovers floating up from the icy darkness of the bay…
Nah, too much of a downer. Besides, Hammett and Chandler - or at least the fifty million trench-coated, alcoholic, chain-smoking Bogarts who worshipped them - would have my balls on an outrageously baroque platter.
This is the city. Half a million people trying to carve out their own piece of the American pie, serve it up on affordable china purchased on credit from a moderately upscale chain store to their 2.5 kids, spicing it up every once in a while with a clumsy fondle of the babysitter or the tennis coach. It’s not a bad city, as cities go, full of pretty good, fairly decent people who usually play by the rules. But when they don’t that’s where I come in. My name is Valentino.Yes, it's cheesy and littered with cliches and puns. Yet, for me, it was successful because of the fact that the author is unapologetic in his play/use of language and has his tongue firmly trapped in his cheek. Think noir and you'll be on the right track.The story also appealed to me because Valentino is very definitely a reluctant hero, which is a character I adore... when it works. It very much does in the case of The Very Bloody Marys and as the story progresses our hero grows too, but remains 'human', faults and all.A couple of issues/warnings~Some may, as I did, find the story slow going at the start. Whilst I understood the author was providing the reader with an understanding of Valentino's character prior to the main events, I found the 'inner dialogue' a little too much to begin with.I also got the impression in the first few pages of the book that Valentino is retelling his story to us/the reader. I personally didn't think this followed through for the rest of the book. This didn't bother me because I much preferred the story the way it ended up being told. It's just something that could, I think, be easily dealt with whenever there is an opportunity to in the future. (That is if, of course, I'm right. :) )This is not a romance in the hot sex, HFN, etc kind of way. There are elements of romance, although not what many will expect or want. *zipping mouth* Not saying any more for fear of spoilers.The 'marauding gang of Vespa-riding vampires' only have a few appearances, which I was a little disappointed about. Still, you couldn't ask for a more unique catalyst.My recommendation~This is not a book that will appeal to all. It is for those intrigued or interested in noir, which has dark humour and a supernatural twist - and I do mean twist because it IS a crime/mystery and is meant to keep the reader guessing - and that it does! *g*
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
Take a trip to the always-great Erotica Readers and Writers site to read the always-fun Donna George Storey's great piece: I Want to Sleep with Your Husband: Adultery, Exhibitionism, and Other Reasons I Write. You'll be glad you did!
I want to sleep with your husband. I want to press my naked body against his hot flesh, breathe in the scent of him. I want to rub my palm over his chest and belly, taking in the textures: smooth or hairy, taut or meltingly soft. I want to close my fingers around his cock, savor the sounds he makes when I stroke it, feel it swell and stiffen.
Wednesday, February 04, 2009
Here's a little pre-release sampling of Licks & Promises, coming soon from Phaze Books:
Licks & Promises is a new erotic short story collection by a master of the genre. If you like your sexy stories sweet, silly, scary or simply outrageous, this is the book for you! Featuring classic M.Christian stories plus some tales that have never been seen before. This is one book you'll read, re-read, and remember for a very long time.M.Christian is an acknowledged master of erotica with more than 300 stories in such anthologies as Best American Erotica, Best Gay Erotica, Best Lesbian Erotica, Best Bisexual Erotica, Best Fetish Erotica, and many, many other anthologies, magazines, and Web sites. He is the editor of 20 anthologies including the Best S/M Erotica series, The Burning Pen, Guilty Pleasures, and others. He is the author of the collections Dirty Words, Speaking Parts, The Bachelor Machine, and Filthy; and the novels Running Dry, The Very Bloody Marys, Me2, Brushes, and Painted Doll. He can be found at http://zobop.blogspot.com/.
M. Christian's "The Train They Call the City of New Orleans" from Licks and Promises
Someone bumped into her elbow, jogging her memory. With a sharp shock, she straightened.
“Sorry,” said a heavy voice from above. His smile was bright, beaming as it was tossed back at her from over his right shoulder. Her artist’s eyes picked him apart: the dull reds of his wool shirt, the aqua and white of his worn jeans, the terra-cotta of his comfortable leather boots, the marbling of his black and white peppered curly hair and beard. The smile stayed a bit too long, a touch stretched out as he took a seat three rows ahead of her.
That damned place, she thought, that awful place. Iron balconies and brick, a turgid river moving with eternal purpose, shanty-shacks and mansions, crawfish and red peppers, too-sweet drinks and strong shots, an atmosphere of vomit and magnolia blossoms. She’d begun there as if it was just the same as the Pacific Northwest, just warmer, with more colors -- but then it had started. Slowly, as said, insidious. Laying awake on a hot night, fanning herself with a magazine, body bare for a simple cotton dress. Thoughts had emerged, and she’d found herself pacing -- at first in her mind and then with her feet, like a trapped jungle cat.
She’d had lovers before, of course, but they’d been intellectual, artistic interludes -- executed with caution. They had either faded way, leaving nothing but memories, or had broken apart with only a few tears. But after she’d started renting that little place, the high-ceilinged loft near the river, she’d begun to crave, to hunger, in a way that was unfamiliar. Maggie had eaten before, but now she wanted to hunt and feast.
On the train, leaving that hot and humid city, she looked at the back of his head, recapturing for herself the breath of his shoulders, the tightness of his stride, the strength of his legs, the firm muscles of his back and ass. It was too easy to picture him, standing on the rough boards of her studio floor, clothes piled into a far corner. Standing firm and large before her. She saw her hands as holding a bit of charcoal, capturing the flow of him, the planes and curves of his broad, firm body on a sketchpad.
It had been that place. It had hexed her, seeped into her open pores, worked its way into her. All that light, heat, spices, had done something to her. It had started burning her, making her smoke and steam.
She started masturbating. Casually at first, but then with a passion for herself that no lover had ever shown. It became an act of love, a thought-out and anticipated event. She’d spend the sweltering days thinking of a fantasy, constructing in her vivid imagination the location, feel, the color of his eyes, the sound of his voice, the words he’d speak, the feelings that would come to her. She’d sketch him, capturing him on a few scraps of paper: his face, his chest, his arms, his legs, his penis -- both hard and soft. Then, prepared and burning even hotter as the sun set on the filigreed rooftops, she’d stretch out on her cheap little bed, pull up her simple cotton dress, and tangle her fingers, at first, in the curls of her pubic hairs, and then with a few deft strokes, part her lips and relish in the humid excitement of her cunt. Her other hand would be reserved for her tight nipples, the right when she wanted the familiarity of her favorite breast, the left for when she imagined his mouth, hand, there. It would go on for hours, and then even longer as the reds and yellows of her pallet, of the city, had started to really penetrate her skin.
Monday, February 02, 2009
The first thing that stuck me about Painted Doll was the very mannered, structured and layered language; clause upon clause of dense evocative phrasing which could serve to push readers away, but instead drew me deeper into Domino's world. The effect is a little like standing on a beach with the waves of a rising tide lapping at your toes until you're standing calf deep without really having made the decision to get wet.
The chaotic, dystopic future in which Painted Doll is set is expertly sketched amongst this layered detail. It is sufficiently fully realized to be concrete and real; sufficiently impressionistic to leave me with intriguing questions. I suspect the Ecole Polytechnique's creature may not be an obvious choice for a sequel, but the glimpses we're given into his/its mind really grabbed me.
This rich, layered language also heightens the erotic scenes in the novel - both the artificial professional sessions, where Domino wields distilled emotions without so much as touching one finger to her male clients, and in the more innocent and earthy remembered sex she shared with her female lover, Flower.
It must be admitted that the story is let down by some poor proofreading, which has let assorted typos, missing words, and formatting problems mar the text. This is a real shame as other details - the choice of title font, and the fans used as section breaks, for example - were so spot on. At the same time, there's more het sex and male-gaze than I was expecting from the back-cover blurb.
That said, the only element of the story itself that left me unsatisfied is that I am still, after two readings, unsure if the moment when Claire miss-steps, bringing the action to its climax, is meant to signal extremely strongly her fear and confusion, or if I have miss-interpreted how Domino's neuroscopic art works. I suspect the flaw may be mine.
As a fan of the epistolary novel, it was an unexpected joy to find this vein of letter-based story telling running through this cyberpunk thriller. Although we never meet Flower directly, her character and her voice shines through. We only get to see the first flush of their love affair through the cracks in the masks of Domino's new life, but I could still see why they would fall in love, why it was worth risking so much to be together, which means that what happens to Flower as the story comes to an end really hits home.
This isn't an easy romance, either in its plot or the reading experience, but it is a very strong, compelling story which drew me in, and which I will remember for some time. M. Christian masterfully slides between the different parts of Domino/Claire's identity, building and revealing the world, the character, the conflict at the heart of the story, and it's a grand ride.
Sunday, February 01, 2009
This makes me so grateful for the internet, where groups of like minded people can find each other. Virtual communities rise up bonded by common passions.
Just one such group has been traipsing around blogland, scantily clad with cooking utensils in their hands. A rogue group of erotica writers has banded together to share their love of food and sensual pleasures. I’m honored to be a part of that group, comprised of authors on both coasts of the US and in Great Britain.
M, for Movable Feast
Today, having feasted through our main course, we take a break before completing the meal. It is Super Bowl Sunday, and my beloved Pittsburgh Steelers are in contention again, so I’m preparing a repast of chorizo appetizers, duck enchiladas rohas, white rice and black beans (yes Donna, I’m changing the menu as I go. I do that.)
M, for Mexican Food
But, in the midst of this feast, I have been honored to have made a new friend out in erotica blogland. One who I share another passion with.
Anyone who has been out in the land of erotica will likely know the name M. Christian. This ridiculously prolific and talented author has written and had published just shy of a bazillion stories. He has his own unique formula for writing erotica. It’s obviously working.
M, for M. Christian
The common bond of writing erotica draws us together, but it is the other shared passions that truly cement the deal. Passions like cooking, in the aforementioned progressive dinner.
With M. Christian, I have found a kindred spirit in the love of British Humor. A fan of the Pythons, Blackadder and a host of other such shows, M’s sense of humor is in evidence in his blog Frequently Felt which has features on such topics as a Chilean designer who decks out models as sexy Virgin Marys and (ouch) penile fracture.
If provoking, um, I meant, thought provoking subject matter like the above is not your cup of tea, track his publication progress at the Imagination is Intelligence with an Erection (not fratctured) Site.
And here’s a sample of another common passion M and I share. Lovely British ladies (especially those with a great sense of humor) in the body of one Carol Cleveland.
M, for Monty Python:
A wink’s as good as a nod to a blind bat, eh?