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Sex In The System: Stories Of Erotic Futures, Technological Stimulation, And The Sensual Life Of Machines

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Introduction by Cecilia Tan
‘The Future Of Sex: A Garden Of Unearthly Delights’ by Joe Haldeman
‘The Proof’ by Shariann Lewitt
‘The Book Collector’ by Sarah Micklem
‘Remembrance’ by Beth Bernobich
‘Poppet’ by Elspeth Potter
‘Caught By Skin’ by Steve Berman
‘Hot, Like Water’ by Lynne Jamneck
‘Value For O’ by Jennifer Stevenson
‘The Program’ by G Bonhomme
‘Pinocchia’ by Paul Di Filippo
‘Love Will Tear Us Apart Again’ by John Bowker
‘Softly, With A Big Stick’ Gavin J Grant
That Which does Not Kill Us by Scott Westerfeld
‘The Show’ by M Christian
‘More Than The Sum Of His Parts’ by Joe Haldeman

Rather than writing up my thoughts here I decided to turn in that long overdue review for SF Site. And it is up already:

Cecilia Tan is the founder of Circlet Press which bills itself as “the intersection of erotica and science fiction, fantasy, & futurism” so the subtitle of this anthology — “stories of erotic futures, technological stimulation, and the sensual life of machines” — isn’t surprising. Tan is obviously seeking a wider audience than usual with this anthology from Thunder’s Mouth Press and although she stumbles around rather aimlessly in her introduction the rationale behind the book is clear; she was after SF stories that “went straight to her groin,” that were “just plain hot.” There is a difference between dealing with sex and being sexy though.

That sounds negative and there are plenty of reasons to criticise the anthology but in the end, I found myself rather taken with Sex In The System. I will now be exploring some of Tan’s anthologies for her own press.

Written by Martin

2 November 2009 at 13:11

Posted in books, sf

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‘More Than The Sum Of His Parts’ by Joe Haldeman

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We began with Haldeman and so we end. This story was originally published in Playboy (the world’s sexiest magazine) but I first read it in another erotic SF anthology, Cybersex.

Dr Wilson Cheetham gets his nob (and most of the rest of him) burnt off in a high orbit steel manufacturing accident. Luckily, they can rebuild him:

Surprisingly, to me at least, the reconstruction of a penis is a fairly straightforward procedure, which they’ve had lots of practice. Men are forever sticking them in places they don’t belong.

The story takes the form of Cheetham’s recovery journal. They patch him up and he documents his progress, whilst at the same time concealing the full extent of the strength and dexterity of his new cybernetic limbs. There is no particular reason for this apart from the fact it will prove convenient to the plot later. Cheetham is a deeply unsympathetic character; pompous, pedantic, up-tight and anti-social. Despite this:

A pretty nurse who has been on this project since the beginning came into my room after dinner and proposed the obvious experiment. It was wildly successful.

He prefaces this diary entry with the words “Most interesting.” Cheetham is the sort of bloke you try to escape from at parties but his cyborg cock proves irresistible to women. Apparently what you look like and how you behaviour doesn’t matter if you can control your erections at will and simple stiffness guarantees female pleasure. Everything is going swimmingly until – whoops – he breaks someone’s spine during a bout of bionic sex. Things go a bit pear-shaped after that.

As you might have gathered, this is not an erotic story in any shape or form and Haldeman is clearly taking the piss. He should have gone further though. As it stands, it is a very limp piss-take which is about as clever and funny as the title.

Quality: **
Sexiness: *

Written by Martin

27 October 2009 at 21:35

‘Remembrance’ by Beth Bernobich

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One of the few stories in the anthology about love rather than just sex or infatuation. Kate and Jessica are in a long term relationship but Jessica’s employer is just about to post her to a new site. In space. So they kindly given them some experimental technology, a full body recorder* so that Jessica can share herself entirely with Kate.

As is foreshadowed rather too clearly by the relentlessly sombre tone, Jessica does not return from this assignment; her space station is blown up. (This war on terror worldframe is the least satisfying part of the story.) The final act deals with Kate setting aside her artificial memories in order to move. It is a mature, thoughtful story but also a rather boring one.

Quality: ***
Sexiness: **

* There must be a snappier name for this. They use squid in Strange Days but that is never going to catch on.

Written by Martin

27 October 2009 at 18:28

‘Caught By Skin’ by Steve Berman

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There is some skill here in the way the world is evoked through little touches rather than baldly stated. However, these little touches never cohere though and when Berman introduces a character who may or may not be a time traveller it all becomes too chaotic. It is also marked down for repeated (mis)use of the word chode.

Quality: **
Sexiness: *

Written by Martin

25 October 2009 at 07:48

‘Hot, Like Water’ by Lynne Jamneck

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Late capitalism has got even later, water has become a precious commodity, our protagonist is Chief Superintendent at a water purification plant, she has a fetish for water, her newest member of staff has water for blood. Sexiness ensues.

It is a story that doesn’t mesh conceptually and the writing is also slightly off balance. Each mini-chapter is headed by a faux encyclopaedia entry. I find this device irritating at the best of times but Jamneck does a particularly poor job of mimicking a reference work:

From the Anglo-Saxon and low German root waeter, formerly an abundant substance on earth.
All known forms of life need water. Humans consume what is referred to as “drinking water” – water with qualities complementary to the human body. This natural resource has become scarce with the mounting world population, and its availability is the chief collective and economic concern.

The third sentences is particularly odd but it is all a bit off. The rest of the prose also falls into an uncanny valley which very nearly evokes the hardbitten, rough and ready style that is being aimed for but doesn’t quite.

Quality: **
Sexiness: ***

Written by Martin

24 October 2009 at 18:54

‘The Show’ by M Christian

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Oh, those New York hipsters:

Their first act of Awareness Terrorism – as they called it – had been to alter some dozen or so billboards throughout Manhattan, turning cigarette ads to GOT CANCER? After that, they’d placed OUT OF DISORDER stickers on hundreds of vending machines all over the island.

Woah. For their next act of mindblowing cultural subversion they decide to patch a live feed of them having sex into a giant screen in Times Square. But they chicken out. But in the course of chickening out they get turned on so have sex anyway. But what’s this? They accidently switched the camera on!

This story is as lame as its characters.

Quality: *
Sexiness: ***

Written by Martin

29 September 2009 at 08:22

Posted in sf, short stories

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‘The Program’ by G. Bonhomme

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This is the first story in the anthology that actually reads like a piece of erotica rather than a just story with some sex in it. This overdetermines the story but in a pretty successful manner. The program rewires men to make them better lovers. There is not a great deal of plausibility here but that is not the point and Bonhomme wrings a lot out of not very promising material.

Quality: ****
Sexiness: *****

I did make the mistake of flicking to the back to find out more about Bonhomme though. As an artist it is of course your prerogative to turn in a bio like this:

G. Bonhomme is a thorny rose.
G. Bonhomme dreams of world where all men are sisters.
G. Bonhomme disbelieves in heavier-than-air flight.
G. Bonhomme watches it snow.
G. Bonhomme hopes you are not too totally abandoned.

However, people are likely to think you are a bit of a nob.

Written by Martin

28 September 2009 at 23:30

Posted in sf, short stories

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‘Love Will Tear Us Apart Again’ by John Bowker

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It was always going to be unlikely that a story named after a Joy Division song was going to be particularly erotic. And so it proves. James has a Godzilla fetish; not in the sense he wants to fuck Godzilla, in the sense he wants to be Godzilla and lay waste to Toyko. Enter stage left an ex-girlfriend with a preposterous business model who allows him to realise his desire.

Quality: **
Sexiness: **

Written by Martin

27 September 2009 at 08:42

Posted in sf, short stories

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‘That Which Does Not Kill Us’ by Scott Westerfeld

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This is a story by Scott Westerfeld, the most significant writer in science fiction, but it is a long way from the young adult novels he is best known for these days.

There was something vulnerable in the sound, and Paul stopped. He’d feel foolish if he let this opportunity pass.
“Look, Eurisa,” he sais to the door. “After work. Do you want to have a drink?”

When you read a passage like this in a contemporary SF story you expect it do be subverted, you expect the predator to become the prey. In fact, with its overtones of horror I wouldn’t have been surprised if the object of desire to turn out to be a vampire (Westerfeld has form). Eurisa isn’t a vampire though, she is just undead; resurrected using future tech following a fatal car crash. Westerfeld subverts the expectation of the standard subversion and instead produces a queasy psychological profile of a man undone by his own issues.

Quality: ****
Sexiness: **

Written by Martin

26 September 2009 at 06:50

‘Value For O’ by Jennifer Stevenson

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“Okay. Here we go. Let’s say female orgasm is a fixed value, but the travel, the distance required to move from position one to orgasm, is variable. That’s our first unknown.”

Maths makes everything sexier. The story is told entirely in dialogue as a couple attempt to unravel the mystery of the female orgasm using an extended mathematical metaphor. Rather the disappointingly the answer turns out simply to be cunnilingus.

It’s not actually a science fiction story, it is instead one of those stories that creep in to SF anthologies from time to time purely on the strength of the fact they are likely to appeal. to science fiction readers. I also lied about maths making everything sexier so slightly marked down on that score but it is good, clean fun.

Quality: ***
Sexiness: ***

Written by Martin

23 September 2009 at 22:13

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