Friday, July 28, 2017

Queer Smut Reviews - Nasty: Fetish Fights Back, eds. Anna Yeatts & Chris Phillips

Welcome to the second installment of Queer Smut Reviews. So make sure you’re wearing your protective poncho and buckle in, because it’s a rather wild ride. I’m looking at a collection of short stories today, Nasty: Fetish Fights Back, edited by Anna Yeatts and Chris Phillips of Flash Fiction Online. It’s smut for a good cause, too, as a portion of proceeds go to Planned Parenthood (which is even more important now, given all the health things going down right now). There are 27 stories in all, which...wow. And full disclosure, I wrote one of them. So really I’ll only be mentioning 26 stories in this review.

Now, I tried to look more closely at the stories that were specifically SFF. That doesn’t mean I just skipped the rest, but you’ll probably notice that my reviews are more robust for the SFF stories. This is both because smutty SFF is exactly what I want to be looking at and because if I wrote long thoughts on them all my hands would fall off. It’s a rather great collection, though, and I definitely recommend that people pay attention all of the stories. Part of the reason I want to look at smutty SFF with a critical lens is much the same reason that this collection exists—to try and bring people together to resist the idea that sexuality and bodies are topics that don’t belong in polite conversation. Where the stories shine the most, I feel, is where they look at consent and transparency, people talking to people and negotiating to make sure everyone is safe and getting what they want. Where I think the stories falter a bit is when they neglect that.

But enough stalling—let’s get to the reviews!

Stories:

“Devoured” by Lucy A. Snyder

Opening the collection with a story that opens with a vote is quite fitting, really, especially since the main character, Velouria, is full of regret and shame after the man she voted for turned out to be...well, basically what he said he was. The story is, in essence, about fire and punishment, ignorance and wanting. Velouria is full of unspoken wants and a sort of selfishness that comes from a lack of fear. When she voted for this new ruler, she thought he was all bluster, that there was no harm in it. She quickly discovers how wrong she was. And she’s quickly drawn into a sort of lesson taught by her superior, Lady Euphrates. The story is hot, both in its language and in the way it sexualizes the degradation play that goes on, [SPOILERS] Velouria made to face her action and her shame, in this case being beaten and made to eat a very spicy meal without water while being stripped of her clothing. The sexiness comes both from the way that the experience pushes Velouria to face what she really wants. It’s a story of desire and shame, and leading up to the vote what she’s ashamed of is her sexual desire. She’s afraid of it, and what she does with that is vote for someone who is toxic but who promises a release from fear. By the end, though, the shame surrounding her desire drops away—she lets it fall in favor of making amends for her actions and embracing who she is and what she wants. It doesn’t undo the harm does, but it does leave the characters in a place where they can go about doing the work to resist this new ruler together, without fear. It’s a smoldering story that does a great job of kicking things off right!

“Dendrophilia” by Ann Castle

If you’ve never wondered what being erogenously taken over by a fungus would be like, then you’re in luck! This story explores a number of things, not least among them the idea of the pleasure of surrender. The main character, Greta, is infected by a fungus, and the fungus wants to infect others, wants to spread. It expresses this as a desire to have sex with other infected people, to draw them into the forest where they will join with giant trees that seem to be the source of the fungus. I love the speculative edge of this story and the way that it works to be rather uncomfortable, the desire expressed both the fungus wanting to spread and the main character wanting to be a part of something real and meaningful. Like the last story in some ways, I see a strong vein of Greta wanting to embrace the fungus because it gets her beyond the constraints that she has to put on herself. That the fungus is this way for her to truly embrace her desires and express them in this vibrant and living way. It’s something that carries with it so much fear and much revulsion from other people who don’t want it, who want people to go on being “proper” in the face of this intense feeling, and who would lock Greta up if they knew how far gone she was. It’s a sensual and joyous story, for all that it’s also a bit about self-annihilation. To me, though, it’s about the annihilation of the structured, repressed self. It’s about rebelling in all ways and becoming part of a system that does things wholly differently, where there is no strict division of self. It’s an interesting premise and the execution is a rush of feelings and sensations. It’s a great story!

“Hypoxyphilia” by Tom Cardamone

This is a beautiful story of breath-play and consent (or lack thereof) and the power of being out of control. It’s powerful and very short but as it’s not speculative I’m moving on quickly. Still, you should definitely check it out!

“Bodies Like Galaxies” by A. Merc Rustad

This story explores bodies and space, expectations and desire. The story centers Mads, a trans man, and Kim, his genderqueer partner. Together they navigate a session of uploading, where they get to experience being something completely different than what they are, and yet at the same time it’s an affirming process, this process of moving outside their bodies and then back, showing them that they are infinite, are galaxies of feelings and sensations, a complex web of planets and stars and hopes and desires. The story steps into and out of this uploaded session as it does a great job building up this future world where such technology is possible. And the issue at the heart of the story is really the two characters revolving around how people treat them, around their bodies, around the perceptions that people weaponize against them. And they fight back, refusing to allow other people to define them or who they are. They embrace the way that the uploading allows them to grow and change, and experience something wholly disconnected from the bodies that people misinterpret. To me it seems freeing but not in a way that erases their bodies or what they have together, the tender ways that they can make love even when not infinite galaxies entwined in each other’s embrace. It’s a sexy story that looks at scale and scope in interesting ways, looking at the internal depth these characters have, this boundless complexity that can’t hope to be contained in the shells of other people’s expectations. They are themselves, and it is beautiful and sensuous and right. And it’s a fantastic read!

“Aural Sex” by Jaye Wells

Well, I’m not going to try and say that synesthesia is speculative, so I’m afraid I won’t be looking too closely at this one either, but it’s an amazing story about a woman who is sexually aroused by words. At first by hearing them. It’s also about the beauty of language beyond hearing, though, and gah, it’s just so sweet and awesome and you should definitely read it for some warm fuzzy sexy goodness!

"Breathless” by Rose de Fer

Another story that deals with breath play but here with corsets specifically and the feeling of being compressed. It’s a compelling piece but another that’s not really SFF so I’ll hurry along. The piece does a nice job conveying the sense of being short of breath, though, constricted. Not my particular thing, but vividly detailed and nicely rendered.
 
“Galatea” by Cassie Alexander

This is another that I hesitate to call SFF because the central meaning of the story really comes from the piece not being speculative. It finds a man who rather disdains women, who finds them noisy and bothersome and wants nothing to do with them, and yet who maintains in his mind this picture of a perfect woman and proceeds to sculpt her. It’s a story that leans on myth and leaves some question as to whether the main character is seeing something that’s there or not, but I strongly lean not, because it seems so much that the man is is this idea to retreat away from consent. He wants to own a person, to control them in basically all ways, and to be in complete control. There’s an uncomfortable feel that permeates the text for me, and it makes for a rather dark read. It’s quite interesting, though, and the letter frame of the story is one that I appreciate, because it adds this entirely different layer to it, as I imagined what it would be like to receive such a missive, and all that it implied. So yeah, a very interesting piece!

“Masks” by Nathan Burgoine

Another story that sizzles, this one without any sex on screen, as it were, but rather alive in a fire of memory and a desire of things to come. Again, as this isn’t SFF, I won’t linger too long, but I love the energy of this one, the chemistry of these men, the way they circle each other and the way the main character seeks to remind this other man of a connection that they’ve shared, that they can share again. It’s fun and it’s steamy and it’s alive with the promise of what comes next. Definitely check this one out!

“Space Pussy!” by Matthew F. Amati

As the title of this piece might suggest, it’s just a lot of fun. It sees Mei-Hua, the first human ambassador to Space! finding herself in the great beyond with a shiny new body that, among other things, is designed for all the sex imaginable. And really, all the sex. It’s a story that captures a pulpy and humorous feel to it as Mei-Hua explores space and all its kinky frontiers. In many ways it’s a way to throw out the way that Star Trek, for example, seems rather prudish when dealing with alien species. Even Kirk never really got up to that much in his vast travels, and certainly not outside of what a regular human body could enjoy. But this story shows that, when let outside the bounds of what has been historically defined as human, one of Mei-Hua’s first inclinations is just get down to getting down. It has the feeling of a young person suddenly freed from parental oversight and wanting to do all the things they were told they shouldn’t do. Here, though, it’s Mei-Hua’s inhibitions that are taken away, and while the superego is away, the id will play. And it’s just so much fun to hear about the different sex the galaxy is full of, and how Mei-Hua approaches it with gusto. The story is irreverent and silly at times, but also just a great time!

“Cold to the Touch” by Tim Waggoner

This story teases a SFF idea at the end of the story but it’s much more about people finding each other through a shared desire, a shared sensation. The cold. Which is often depicted as the opposite of sexy, here is explored in erotic enthusiasm by Celia and Travis, a couple who are aroused by the cold, by the added sensation of it, the exhilaration of it. I like the way that the piece stokes this very cold fire, showing how the two people feel alone except for each other, their coldness sustaining and comforting but making them something of outcasts. Like I said, there’s a bit of a promise of magic at the end that cuts the tragedy of the piece somewhat, but it’s still a rather dark read, given everything, this cold no less consuming than a fire and just as dangerous. Another interesting and sexy read!

“My Best Dish” by Steve Berman

This story mixes cannibalism, vulnerability, and vulgarity to good effect to capture a surprisingly tender moment between two men out eating some vegan hot dogs. And really, that is not a sentence I ever expected to write. It’s another story that doesn’t really delve into SFF but I love this moment between these two men, in part because though short it captures such a depth to their relationship. Both of them are vulnerable to each other, and both of them react to that with varying levels of sarcasm and acidity. There is a push and pull here, an attraction and repulsion, that reads real to me. It pairs so well with the idea of eating human flesh, both men in some ways taking bites out of each other but the story makes the act more than banter or cattiness. There’s something lurking just below the surface here and the story does a lovely job exploring that. A great read!

“Library Dust” by Robert Brouhard

Another not-SFF story and another that uses humor to mix in with its eroticism, which is always nice, especially to lighten the mood after some heavier stuff. Here we find Vince, who works at a library in part because the dust makes people sneeze. And sneezing does it for him. It’s a quick, desperate sort of story and very nicely written to capture that urgency that Vince feels. Now, I’m a bit uncomfortable with how he’s kinda using other people to get off without their consent, but as this is a story about fetish I think it works, and it’s certainly a fun piece. Indeed.

“The Desperate Flesh” by Kelly Robson

This story is another that isn’t SFF but it’s rather distinct so far in that it’s not really about eroticism, either. It’s not about pleasure, exactly. It’s about being seen, about being visible and present. It’s about Margaret, a woman who is trying to keep a lesbian elderly care home open despite pressures from the city, and despite knowing that it’s likely a losing battle. She’s dealing with a quasi-uprising from her staff and those in her care, and she’s battling with her own conscious because she knows what’s right and doesn’t know what to do about it. But she’s also a dancer, and the story is very much about bodies, and about expression. It’s about using women’s bodies, which are so policed, to make a statement and to stand up. And while it’s not an incredibly erotic piece, it does showcase the use of nudity to resist and to rebel, and it makes for a compelling read!

"Somnophilia” by Gemma Files

This is a powerfully erotic story about power and control, about sleep and submission. It features a main character who exists in the second person and I like how that turns the story, how it places the reader into the role of this person, who agrees to go along with their partner, Lia, and explore the one way that she can fully enjoy and experience P in V sex. The story isn’t exactly SFF, though it does evoke a nice bit of myth in setting the scene, and the sex is hot and wow, just really wow. The framing is beautiful, making the reader feel this strange split between this act that you can’t remember and the act of the moment, the immediate pleasure of it. It really builds the eroticism of this act, the intimacy and the nearly magical quality of it. It’s an amazing story!

“Knitted, Knotted, Besotted” by Kaysee Renee Robichaud

This is a rather surprising SFF story that explores stitching and submission, community and desire. The story centers Dot, who at the beginning of the piece is discussion what drew them to sewing, and more specifically to the sewing of human flesh. It’s a striking fetish and one that involves both penetration and binding. Which makes it a rather good fit for the kind of BDSM that Dot engages in with her loves Jannel and Marco. As I read it, the story is a lot about desire and about this image of something severed being reattached. Which works to highlight the way that the characters fit together, as well, their lives being separate until they stitch them together, forming one object, one quilt-like relationship where they can all belong and grow together. And of course there’s a bit more going on in the story as well, which is throughout hot and showing characters enjoying each other at the same time as they enjoy the play of being together, of acting for an audience. Again this idea of being severed from the rest of the world comes as the first step to being stitched back up, different but not lesser than before. And the SFF element, when it comes, makes perfect sense, deepening the metaphor and twisting the kink in some interesting directions. It wasn’t anything I had expected but I like the addition, and what it brings to this idea of stitching people together. It’s a fun and sexy story that does go a bit deeper to make an excellent read!

“Dinner with Daniel Coletti” by Nathan Pettigrew

This story veers back away from SFF to showcase Christopher, a young man hoping to date Bethany. Or, well, already dating Bethany, but needing the approval of her father to make it so that she doesn’t have to sneak around so much. It’s another story that takes aim at being funny, presenting the faux-holiness of Bethany’s father with the definitely-not-Christian notion of public sex. And it’s a fun story for the most part. Indeed!

“The Stone Beast” by Darien Cox

This is a story that takes local folklore and twists it, as Remy tries to convince a group that he’s see the Stone Beast only to be laughed at. It’s a rather devastating blow to the bookish guy, in part because he’d hoped that being part of a group dedicated to the beast would give him some manner of belonging, and help him capture a bit of magic in a world that seems very mundane to him. He bites off a little more than he can chew, though, when he’s approached by Paul, a man his age who promises to show him the Beast’s lair. The story is hot and rather sweet, showing Remy at a place where he desperately wants something to break him out of his boredom with the world. For Paul it’s something else, a crushing loneliness that compels him, and yet both find in each other what they’re looking for, what they need. Of course, things aren’t quite so simple, and the story doesn’t exactly end on a happy note, except that there’s a lingering promise to it, that for all of Paul and Remy’s differences, their shared lacks will bring them back together. That for all the shock of that first meeting was intense, it was also addictive, and I like the way the heat and pleasure of the encounter bind the two men together. The prose is tight and the chemistry between the two men is undeniable. There’s not too much of a surprise (for anyone but Remy) when the twist comes, but it works quite well for the piece, remains sexy and fun even as it introduces just a hint of horror. It’s a fantastic story!

“Metal” by Lazuli Jones

This story finds Stella and Jihane having a bit of fun leading to a big step for Stella. It’s a story that’s very much against piercings and in some ways about augmentation, though not in a SFF way. It’s about adding something to a body to make it feel more, to make what Stella and Jihane have more intimate and more intense. It’s certainly a hot story, with some evocative and oh-my prose but it’s also about the trust between the characters and the tenderness of their desires embodied in the metal they use to open themselves up. So yeah, another scorcher!

“Maps for a Worm” by Jason S. Ridler

Well okay then. I think this one might win the weirdest story of the collection award, at least so far. It flows in a stream of memories tinged with desire, a guilty conscience that slowly lets itself go. It’s a strange story but I’m not sure I’d call it SFF but for perhaps the framing of it, the narrator of the story speaking to a second-person you, who is something of a prisoner throughout. A prisoner to desires and to the need to conceal them. The narrator draws you back into the layers of desire, the map of it, and it’s a striking style and a sensual exploration, and it’s certainly worth checking out.

“Acts of Contrition” by Selena Kitt

So I’m probably not the right reader for this one. Content warning for sexual assault. Not SFF. Moving on.

“Prick and Persuasion” by Molly Tanzer

Well this is a sex scene that an English major can appreciate. It’s fun and funny, showcasing two people have a disagreement about literature and...coming to an understanding (I am so sorry). It’s light and it’s something of a relief given where it falls in the collection, irreverent and showing the characters teasing each other and letting their affections shine through. I definitely recommend giving it a read!

“Humiliation” by Lucien Soulban

This is a superhero story with a definite edge, where Stalwart, used to always triumphing easily over supervillains, finds that when Primacy immobilizes him with a control rob, he can’t escape. What follows is actually a very interesting depiction of the sexuality of a man who has grown incredibly bored with his situation. Stalwart is used to not really being able to lose. He’s too powerful, which means that he can’t really find someone to be his peer, much less to be able to dominate him, which is what he wants. The villains are all interested only in themselves, and it leaves the act of superheroing rather hollow for Stalwart. Sure, he gets endorsements and things like that, but it’s not what he wants. What he wants is something that only Primacy can give him, and the two set the stakes of their encounter early and rather consensually, which is nice. The story is, as one might guess from the title, about humiliation, but for Stalwart it’s also about being able to give up power and not have it be pretend, which turns out to be way more erotic than anything else that could have happened. It’s a great exploration of that aspect of being a character with superpowers that makes most interactions one sided, all about holding back to create an illusion. Here the illusion falls away, and yet everyone seeing it (and there is a large audience) creates one anyway, mistaking the encounter for something deeply wrong, missing the beauty of this moment between these two men. I’m a fan of superhero stories in general, and this captures that tone with a rather light touch, creating a world that is slight ridiculous but also hot and real and complex. I really liked this one!

“Mechanogenation” by Konstantine Paradias

Well this is definitely a SFF story, though I’m not sure entirely what to think about it. I mean, it’s fun and joyous and literally about a man fucking a sentient car-creature, so...I mean, it’s a little weird, I guess. But I like the way the story captures the feeling of being on the open road, of speeding, of feeling like the car is a bit in control. There’s a deep eroticism to it because it’s difficult to say who’s driving and who’s being driven, and in a way it doesn’t matter, because here is this melding of man and woman/car so that they are in essence the same, one. They move with a shared passion and with a shared body, and they move around spreading something as they go. It’s a very strange sort of tale but I’m okay with strange, and with this story I feel that it works. I mean, it’s certainly aware of its own oddness, what with how other drivers treat the man and car, so it’s got a sly humor to it even as it seems completely earnest in its eroticism. It’s just a lot of fun, really, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Another interesting and hot read!

“Please” by Cassandra Khaw

This is another fun story, here showing a couple having a bit of naughty fun before a get-together. It’s a short piece and centered entirely around permission, around the way the woman teases and plays with the man, the way that he reacts, begs, wants. The story is mostly dialogue, which is an interesting choice, and I like how it allows the characters’ personalities to shine through, both of them sarcastic and catty, both of them in a sort of struggle, a contest of wills, he hoping to allow him what he wants while she asserts herself, not giving in because he refuses to be forthright and say exactly what it is that he wants. And the ending is a nice moment, the imagery strong even using only what they say. Another fine story!

“The Things I Told the Cops After the Uprising (and a Few Things I Wish I’d Told Them” by D.F. Warrick

This is a story about bodies and about resistance. About revolution. Against institutions and against hate and against injustice, which can take many shapes. For Robin, part of the injustice is having a body that doesn’t suit her, and having to contend with the fear that it will never fit her, regardless of what she thinks or does. And yet she...not meets exactly...begins to directly experience a woman named Rissa. They fall into sync with each other and there is suddenly a protest. The story plays with structure and time, framing the narrative as Robin talking to the police after an event. An Uprising. And the implication, which I love, is that the Uprising is not only one of people fighting back against bigotry, against hate, but something more primal than that. That the feminine itself was breaking free. That gender was twisting loose from the shackles that people had put it in. That the definition of what a woman is slipped free enough that Robin felt suddenly something more than fear. Was able to feel in control and able to define herself. And it’s an incredibly powerful moment that really shines, that captures this feeling of change and potential that goes beyond protest. It is an Uprising, and one that the police will have no power to put down, because it’s coming at this level both within and beyond the physical. The character work is awesome and I love how Rissa is portrayed, as both flitting and eternal, like she’s always been in Robin’s life but also just arrived. And what they have together is intense and lasting, like it represents this huge shift that will no longer be contained or repressed. And it’s beautiful and you need to read the story. Go do!

“The Straw Man” by Jessica Freely

The last story of the collection brings the focus back to the strictly political, weaving a fanfiction surrounding the current Vice President, or at least a Vice President named Mike. It’s a wickedly funny story where the greatest sin is that it makes Mike and other Republican lawmakers seem to be acting against queer people because of a repressed queerness and self-loathing. Which...while it might be the case for some, I think simplifies things a bit too much. But the story works as a satire and a rather sharp denouncement of anti-queer politicians, and it’s pretty fun besides. A nice way to close things out!

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