I said recently that I wanted to review more erotica, so when I saw this story I immediately thought it was about time to put my money where my mouth is. Because it's a stand-alone story published for free at an online venue, the time commitment is rather low and the quality of the writing and the presentation (lots of non-erotic artwork and a slick website design) is quite high. Indeed, Harlot is filled with a lot of great nonfiction work, and if this first venture into fiction is anything to go by, I'll gladly be tuning back in to see what they serve up. There's nothing specifically spec about the site, or its goals, but the story itself is decidedly near-future SF with a great aesthetic and I should probably just get to my review. Here we go!
|Art by Ben Passmore|
"Dream Command" by Benjanun Sriduangkaew (6748 words)
With erotica as with fiction in general, how successful a story is varies reader to reader largely based around what a person expects going into it. Some people I'm sure assume that erotica is just fluff that people should be ashamed to read, much less talk about. But writing good erotica is more complicated than writing good fiction, and writing good speculative erotica is more complicated still. Because while telling a story that is compelling, with characters that by necessity not only interest but seduce, a speculative erotica story must also build its world and set its rules as well as weave in its sexual content. Luckily for me, this story is a piece of good speculative erotica. The setting is near future SF with hints at massive global change and a military air that gives the characters an edge as well as complicates them. The main character, Lieutenant Sitiporn, is a soldier, forthright and with feelings for her superior officer, a general with her hand in a lot of political cookie jars. The story circles around power and harm, kink and excitement and purpose. The main character is given an assignment to observe an agent returned from a mission…damaged by her experiences.
I love that the story doesn't condemn the main character for her sexual attraction to her superior, and that it doesn't try to build those feelings into anything other than sex. Lt. Sitiporn is already married, after all, and committed to her wife, which is great and refreshing, and that sex is firmly separate from romantic love is something I like seeing. The story creates an impressive tense political and military situation, all the characters soldiers but not really doing much soldiering. The woman that Lt. Sitiporn is supposed to be observing has come a bit undone not just by her experiences abroad but by the treatment she receives upon her return. And that's how the story really drew me in, by the relationships drawn between the Lieutenant and the General, between the Colonel and the Lieutenant, between the Colonel and the General. The story explores rank and power, dominance and submission, in a way that's full of aching want and tension and layered need. These women live in a violent way and their sexual appetites are fierce, undeniable. It doesn't detract from the speculative elements at all, because in many ways treating them like sexless robots would be way more troubling. They are products of their situation, a regimented military mentality and lust for power and security.
[SPOILERS FROM HERE PROBABLY] In some ways it feels almost strange to say that a story that features kink and very non-flowery language concerning sex in general also makes a very subtle point at its end about power and about desire and need. By the end of the story there's a time jump and Lt. Sitiporn becomes Major Sitiporn and her relationships have changed with her rise in power. It frees her to take chances that she wouldn't have before, to leverage that power in ways that make a lot of sense militarily. And there the story closes the loop between sex and violence, sex and military, that power is something that's not about attraction, that war is not something about who has what resources necessarily. That power can be its own end and that sometimes that's not even the worst thing. It's a very interesting and satisfying ending, and the story throughout is well designed to tease and prepare for that final moment. Reading the story as it came out, in installments, also went to work into that idea, because the story is about frustrated desire, about power and who wields it. And it's sensual and rather sexy and brash and very good. It's just what I like to see in speculative erotica!