BOOK REVIEW: Justine by Marquis de Sade

Justine (Harper Perennial Forbidden Classics)Justine by Marquis de Sade
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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This is the story of a virtuous, and pretty, young woman who repeatedly falls prey to lecherous libertines. Over the course of the story, she is victimized by aristocrats, monks, and outlaws. The lead goes by the name Therese, though her given name was Justine. She is one of two sisters orphaned after their father ran afoul of a man by having an affair with said man’s wife. The story is set in France immediately before the Revolution, as it was written while de Sade was imprisoned in the Bastille in 1787.

As Therese is telling her tale of woe on the eve of her trial for murder and arson, one might question whether she is an unreliable narrator. In other words, was she as morally upright and steadfastly pious as she portrays, and were her sufferings truly through no fault of her own [beyond naïveté.] That level of complexity is beyond de Sade’s simple formulation. The lesson of his amorality tale is that Therese ends up in such a mess precisely because (by being so virtuous and pious) she fails to comply with what de Sade saw as the law of nature. His version of the law of nature is defined by the strong lording over the weak, and the ideal of “do unto others, before they can do unto you.”

What is the evidence for de Sade’s twisted amoral moral to the story? First, he includes a sister, Juliette, who follows the path of least resistance (accepting a life of vice) and ends up much better off. Second, all of the “villains” (though de Sade didn’t see them that way, I’m certain) are prone to Bond Villainesque exposition on this philosophy as justification for the vile acts they are perpetrating. This ham-handed approach can make for an annoying read. [However, if one is interested in the minutiae of the philosophy of libertinage, one may find some of the arguments interesting. While de Sade’s philosophy is rank and vile, it may have just been a wild pendulum swing from what was going on in the mainstream world at the time.]

While I certainly wouldn’t recommend the book as a treatise on ethics, morality, or philosophy, it’s an interesting story. I’ve only read one other book by this author (i.e. “120 Days of Sodom”) and can say that “Justine” is vastly better than that one.

I’d recommend it for those intrigued by the occasional amorality tale. It can’t be said to lack tension. Needless to say, it’s graphic in places, and not for readers of delicate sensibilities.

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BOOK REVIEW: Alien Sex Ed. Ellen Datlow

Alien Sex: 19 Tales by the Masters of Science Fiction and Dark FantasyAlien Sex: 19 Tales by the Masters of Science Fiction and Dark Fantasy by Ellen Datlow

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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Alien Sex is an anthology of 19 works of short fiction that revolve around sex, attempted sex, or sex-like behavior with non-human entities. While the title leads one to believe the book is specifically about sex with aliens from outer space, that’s not the case in all these stories. There are also stories where the object of affection is a lesser primate, an incubus, a new species, and a biologically-modeled robot. As one would expect with life forms from other worlds, the “sexual” act is not always what we would recognize as sex. (e.g. One planet’s whoopee might be another’s mundane act.) As a last warning about what the book is not, it’s not—on the whole—a collection of sci-fi erotica. A number of the stories probably wouldn’t be arousing to the freakiest of super-freak, and I can only assume weren’t meant to be.

While there’s a unifying theme, the works included cover a lot of ground in terms of style and format. It’s not even true to say it’s 19 short stories because there’s one poem and one chapter that reads more like an essay (i.e. lacks a narrative structure.) Some of the works are written in the language, tone, and style of erotica, but others aren’t. A few of them read like thinly veiled commentary on problems in the author’s own love life—i.e. cheating spouses, feeling a lack of attentiveness, or porn addiction. (Each work has a brief author commentary at the end, and a couple of the authors suggest that what was going on in their own life or those close to them shaped the idea.)

While the appeal of the works varied significantly, overall this was a fun and intriguing read. The works included are as follows:

1.) Her Furry Face by Leigh Kennedy
A primate handler who is in a waning marriage falls for one of his super-intelligent orangutan students.

2.) War Bride by Rick Wilbur
The world is going to end tomorrow unless you’ve been taken as a pet by one of the aliens.

3.) How’s the Night Life on Cissalda by Harlan Ellison
A man sent to investigate an alien race becomes inextricably sexually entangled with one of the aliens. Eventually, he’s forcibly separated from the alien—of a race that are apparently thin-skinned—and lives to see the descent of mankind.

4.) The Jamesburg Incubus by Scott Baker
A teacher in a Catholic school finds that he can make out-of-body nocturnal visits to some of his more attractive female students.

5.) Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex by Larry Niven
This reads more like an essay than a short story. The work delves into the physics of why sex with Superman would be fatal for Lois Lane.

6.) The First Time by K.W. Jeter
This is a variation on the old coming of age story in which a young man is taken to a brothel for his first sexual encounter. It’s just that this encounter is of the 3rd kind.

7.) The Jungle Rot Kid on the Nod by Philip José Farmer
The premise behind the story is what if William S. Burroughs (author of Naked Lunch) had written the Tarzan stories instead of Edgar Rice Burroughs. In essence, it’s a risqué take on Tarzan.

8.) Husbands by Lisa Tuttle
After the extinction of husbands, a woman develops a new species to serve the companion role.

9.) When the Fathers Go by Bruce McAllister
A husband confesses to his wife that while she was in stasis waiting for him to come back from interplanetary travel, he sired a child with an alien. Furthermore, the child is coming to live with them. But wait there’s more…

10.) Dancing Chickens by Edward Bryant
This story reads more like an overly elaborate joke than a short story. It begins with the question, “What do aliens want?” and ends with a pun punch line. That being said, the lead is an unappealing but intriguing character.

11.) Roadside Rescue by Pat Cadigan
A stranded motorist is made an indecent proposal by a chauffeur on behalf of his alien employer.

12.) Omnisexual by Geoff Ryman
This is about an intergalactic brothel, but it’s the story in the collection that reads most like literary fiction—meant in both the best and worst possible ways.

13.) All My Darling Daughters by Connie Willis
While there are several really good works in this anthology, I’d have to rank this as my favorite—if only by a narrow victory. A sassy, sexually-liberated co-ed has her sex life torn asunder when all the young men come back from break with little, furry creatures in their possession and no interest in the female student body. Besides a neat concept for a story (though it may be implying that men are overwhelmingly rapey), the author does a great job of character development making the lead character both interesting and likable, while juxtaposing her with her apparently goodie two-shoes roommate.

14.) Arousal by Richard Christian Matheson
A woman who cheats on her husband with a stranger is cursed with permanent post-coital euphoria that swamps all interest in her family and life in general.

15.) Scales by Lewis Shiner
A woman’s husband is having an affair with what she thinks is a student assistant, but who turns out to be a soul-sucking seductress from the netherworld.

16.) Saving the World at the New Moon Hotel by Roberta Lannes
A woman waiting for her spouse to meet her at a bar to apologize for his infidelities decides to get a little herself. The man she hooks up with turns out not to be a man at all.

17.) And I Awoke and Found Me Here on the Cold Hill’s Side James Tiptree, Jr.
An experienced man offers advice to a newbie to get away before he ends up seduced by the aliens. This story talks about sex, but is about something much broader.

18.) Picture Planes Michaela Roessner
This one is a poem about alien sex, rather than a story. It stands alone as the only non-prose entry.

19.) Love and Sex Among the Invertebrates Pat Murphy
In a post-apocalyptic world, a dying scientist–who no longer believes in science–creates robots capable of engaging in the act. The creatures she makes are based on a range of real animals which are written about interspersed with the story-line.

I’d recommend this book for those who enjoy science fiction. One need not be into erotica to enjoy the stories and, the more one is seeking erotica, the less appeal the book may have. It’s a collection of big name writers in science-fiction, and the anthology’s diversity makes it particularly interesting.

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