BOOK REVIEW: The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty by A.N. Roquelaure (a.k.a. Anne Rice)

The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty by A.N. Roquelaure
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Amazon page

 

This is a bawdy take on the tale of Sleeping Beauty—and, in particular, the aftermath of her rescue and awakening. There are many such adult-targeted books based on children’s fairy tales, but the reader should be particularly aware of the nature of this story because it’s fairly hard-core. Since one may associate the fairy tale with lighthearted stories, many readers won’t be ready for the wide-ranging sexual and sadistic activity that goes on in this book. If you’re a hard-core sado-masochist, you may object that this isn’t so intense in subject matter. That’s probably true for you, but for the run-of-the-mill reader, it’s pretty wild stuff. In essence, Sleeping Beauty enters into a finite period of sexual slavery (technically more sexual indentured servitude) in repayment for her rescue.

Part of the reason that there may be misunderstandings of what this book is, is how it’s been marketed. There was a cover blurb on the version I read that says “If you liked 50 Shades, you’ll love the sleeping beauty trilogy.” This statement is clearly meant to capitalize on the success of those books. While I haven’t read any of the “Fifty Shades” books, I doubt that the claim is true. This book is somewhere between “Fifty Shades” and the works of the Marquis de Sade. While E.L. James’ books work on a one-on-one dynamic that forms an S&M tinged romance, Roquelaure / Rice’s book is about sexual servitude of individuals who are essentially stabled in a more harem-like situation. While they are both books that revolve around the psychology of dominance and submission, the dynamic of the two is quite different. From what I’ve heard about James’s works, Rice’s book is probably better written and it may even be a bit more psychologically sophisticated. However, if you’re expecting that “mommy porn” dynamic in which a man who is extraordinary in every way (billionaire / 6-pack having / philanthropist / speaks ten languages fluently / and has a doctorate in quantum rocket dynamics) takes a mediocre woman merely because she completely submits to him, you’ll probably be disappointed.

Because people’s ideas of what’s hard-core varies, I’ll touch on that. There is a huge amount of bondage and physical punishment. There’s no gore, no breaking of skin, nor any permanent damage /disfigurement. There’s no horror aspect to the book. As far as sexual acts are concerned, they are both heterosexual and homosexual in nature. There are a finite number of options, and I think they’re pretty much all touched on at some point. There’s no bestiality, scat, nor pedophilia—so if those are your limits, you’re safe.

This book was clearly outlined and written with the intention of being a trilogy or multi-part work. That is to say, the story arc is not particularly satisfying as a stand-alone book. This may, in part, also be because of the lack of importance of story to hardcore erotic works, but I suspect that the author / publisher had a thick tome and needed some place to chop it into standard length books to maximize revenue. I probably won’t read the other books, in part because this trend toward putting out books that don’t stand alone as stories cheeses me off a bit. As you might expect, the ending feels abrupt and seems more about leaving the reader dissatisfied (i.e. wanting to read the rest) rather than leaving them satisfied (having seen the character grow and change.)

Instead of making an explicit statement of recommendation, I’ll say that if you read the review and are intrigued, give it a read. If you read the review and are disgusted, avoid it. It’s as simple as that.

View all my reviews

BOOK REVIEW: Submission by Marthe Blau

SubmissionSubmission by Marthe Blau
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Amazon page

 

This book describes the life-cycle of one woman’s submissive relationship with a dominant man. Her relationship with the man isn’t sexual in the conventional sense–though she participates in lots of sex and he commands her to engage in various sexual activities. It’s a relatively tame and more modern variant of the tale told in the famous “The Story of O” written by another Frenchwoman, Pauline Réage (a.k.a. Anne Desclos.)

While “Submission” is like any number of stories of submissive individuals being dominated by a dominant and / or sadistic partner, it does carve out a unique space. The female lead is a highly regarded lawyer who is married with a family. She isn’t on the weak side of some power dynamic (i.e. it’s not a secretary / boss or employee / employer kind of tale.) That’s not that different from “Story of O” in which the lead is a successful photographer, but it does add complexity to the lead’s motivation.

It also makes the story’s main question a little bit more intriguing. That question being, how long can the relationship go on with the demands on her becoming progressively more intense (re: degrading) while the intimacy of the relationship isn’t increasing as she’d like? This tension builds to a climax at a point where the man momentarily shifts from the cool dominant to an angry abusive.

It goes without saying that the book contains graphic sexual scenes and won’t be the cup of tea of puritans or those with delicate sensibilities. Included among acts described are bisexuality, public nudity, wearing of sex toys in public settings, and mostly mild sadism.

“Submission” is interesting both as a work of erotica and as a psychological sketch. There seem to be many books out there that tell similar stories, so it’s hard to place this one. I wouldn’t call it exceptional in any way, and I found “The Story of O” to be more intriguing and intense. That said, while I haven’t read the “50 Shades…” books, from what I heard about them, this one likely surpasses them in terms of writing and the building of characters of verisimilitude. [That said, the “50 Shades…” books have obviously been immensely popular for a reason, and that reason—near as I can tell—is they tap into a fantasy in which a man who is extraordinary in every way (genius-billionaire-playboy-philanthropist-with-six-pack-abs) falls for a woman who is mediocre in every way because she submits to his will. “Submission” won’t scratch that itch.]

The book is short, clocking in at a less than 220 pages. It does have a discernible plot, though it’s more character-centric. A little more depth with the lead character and her dominant could be interesting. As it is the reader is left to draw many conclusions about the characters’ motivations—which, admittedly, has its advantages.

If you know what you are getting into, I’d recommend this book.

View all my reviews

BOOK REVIEW: Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller

Tropic of CancerTropic of Cancer by Henry Miller
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Amazon page

 

This, Henry Miller’s first novel, is about a young man living a bohemian life in Paris in the late 1920’s. It reads autobiographically. It’s often said that literary fiction downplays story in favor of character development. This isn’t necessarily true today, but it seems to be the case with this 1934 novel. There’s not much story—though a little one is packed in at the very end. The book does illuminate the lead character, but the reaction that character evokes is neither love nor hate but more of an “ewww” of disgust. Put another way, he’s like a Chuck Palahniuk anti-hero (e.g. think of Victor from “Choke”), but without out the quirky humor to make him amusing and interesting. This will make more sense in the next paragraph.

This book is often classified as erotica, but many readers might not find it to be erotic. Like a shock-jock, Miller chooses the most vulgar term to stun rather than using descriptive language to arouse. The lead (and other characters) spends a lot of time in bed with prostitutes, but at the same time he’s sleeping on the couch of some acquaintance or grumbling that he can’t afford a sandwich. Lest one think I’m hammering the book because of gratuitous sex, let me say that it’s not the sex that I find dismaying but a guy whose priorities are so askew of Maslow’s hierarchy as to make one wonder if he’s of the same species. There’s an uncanny valley with this character, only not with respect to facial appearance. All of that would be fine if the character experienced change over the course of the book, but the character neither grows nor is destroyed. I should also point out that I like Palahniuk’s anti-hero stories, but Miller takes himself too seriously to be fun, and I think that fun is the only way such a character makes for appealing reading.

So far I’ve made this book sound horrible, but I didn’t savage it with a sour rating. Ergo, there must be some redeeming value. There is. Miller’s use of language is intermittently gorgeous. He gets in these streams of consciousness in which poetry infuses into his prose. During these times, the story—such as it is—disappears even further into the hinterland, but the words can spark. Maybe Miller should’ve forgotten the hype that the novel is the ultimate literary art form and devoted his efforts to poetry.

I offer a qualified recommendation of the book. If you’re a reader of erotica and heard that this was a classic of that genre, then pursue it with caution. However, if you love words artfully twisted into little flashes of light, maybe you should check it out.

It goes without saying that there’s graphic content, but there are other reasons readers might be sensitive to this book. Not that I encourage avoiding a book because a character makes one feel ill-at-ease. (On the contrary, I frequently encourage it.) If a lead who comes off as simultaneously lusting after and despising women is a trigger for you, be forewarned this is such a character. (Note: He may also be anti-semitic, racist, and homophobic as well, but those elements aren’t explored in great detail. It could well be that the character doesn’t like humans in general. Maybe he was supposed to be a robot after all [hence the uncanny valley] and in that case I recant this review.)

View all my reviews

BOOK REVIEW: Fanny Hill by John Cleland

Fanny Hill, or Memoirs of a Woman of PleasureFanny Hill, or Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure by John Cleland
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Amazon page

 

Many people know this as the first English-language pornographic novel. It remains one of the most widely banned books in English (thus, my need to read it), though by today’s standards its 1740’s style isn’t exactly explicit in language—avoiding vulgar terms in favor of neutral terms used in double entendre. It is graphic, however, and sex is central throughout. (Fun Fact: As with many of the works of the Marquis de Sade, this book was written while the author was in prison–though in Cleland’s case it was debtor’s prison.) It’s the story of a young woman of “loose morals”—both professionally and as an amateur, if you will. The story is told through letters to another woman in which Frances Hill explains how she ended up leading the life she did.

As with de Sade’s “Justine,” the inciting incident is that Hill becomes an orphan—though in this case her parents succumb to small-pox. Also, like Justine, Hill starts out naïve, and is taken advantage of by unsavory characters. This shouldn’t suggest that the character and story are completely the same. [Note: this book was written several decades before de Sade’s.] Hill is neither as relentlessly virtuous nor as relentlessly victimized as is Justine. At various points, she has agency in her decisions, while agency is at best an illusion for Justine. Hill even develops a love interest in the book in the form of a young lawyer named Charles who is soon separated from her (providing an engine for the continuation of the story.) Furthermore, she ultimately finds herself in the hands of a man who does her a fair turn, rather than twisting her misfortune to his desires (as all the men and many of the women do in Justine’s life.)

As one might expect of a novel written in the middle of the 18th century, the prose is purple. Also, as mentioned, it’s not for those with delicate sensibilities as sex is a fixture throughout. It’s interesting to read what the state of erotic literature was in the 18th century. If you’re curious about what that first porn novel was like, I’d recommend this book—as long as you are neither a prude nor incapable of deciphering the purple prose of that era.

View all my reviews

BOOK REVIEW: Justine by Marquis de Sade

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

Amazon page

 

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.

View all my reviews

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

Amazon page

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.

View all my reviews