Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Tuesday Review: Geek Love


Geek Love: An Anthology of Full Frontal Nerdity
Edited by Shanna Germain and Janine Ashbless
Stone Box Press, 2012
ISBN 978-1-939308-05-04

Good evening, everyone. My name is Lisabet, and I'm a geek.

Myopic as a mole, I started wearing glasses when I was seven, but, unaware of the physical requirements, I still wanted to be an astronaut. In junior high school, I won a state-wide televised science quiz show. In high school, the smartest guy in the class dumped me because he said I made him feel inadequate. For years I made my living designing and writing programs (and fixing mistakes in code written by others). Now I teach a new generation about software, trying to show them its magic – how pure ideas, expressed in a formal symbolism, are transformed into artifacts that change the world.

Shanna Germain and Janine Ashbless might very well have assembled their magnificent collection Geek Love especially for me. With more than 250 pages of erotic tales and artwork, the book celebrates the glories of nerditude in its many guises.

We geeks may not be famous or popular, or even socially accepted, but we're not going to remake ourselves just to fit in. We may prefer books to people upon occasion. We may be obsessed by numbers or machines. We enjoy playing games, both intellectual and carnal, and we're interested not just in reality but in possibility. And although I don't have any objective data to support this claim, my personal experience suggests there's a correlation between geekiness and kinkiness. Certainly the stories in Geek Love could be viewed as evidence for my theory.

The many dimensions of nerdity make Geek Love fabulously diverse, while still providing a general thematic unity.

Kristina Lloyd kicks off the book with “Black Gold”, an ironic tale set in a post-fossil-fuel civilization where coffee is forbidden but BDSM scenarios can be ordered off a menu more complicated than any Starbucks. Despite its hardcore action, the tale has a romantic slant that suggests some things may never change.

I've never had any personal interest in exploring the “furry” subculture, yet for some reason I found “Goodness, Her Tail”, by Camille Alexa, to be one of the most arousing stories in the book. Suzanne's mundane existence as an office girl is just a facade. She's only truly alive at night, when she dons her ears and whiskers and frolics in the park with her furry friends Mowse and Rattatle Pie. A glimpse of her co-worker Mellie's peachy-pink tail turns her world upside down, and may very well turn you on in the process.

Peter A. Smalley's “The Journey of Mary Freder” begins as a steampunk parody. In classic Victorian epistolary style, a brilliant and talented female lab assistant writes in her journal of her eagerness to prove herself to her illustrious mentor - Dr. Sextus Halifax, an expert on pneumatic processes and electrical phenomena “recently returned from a Continental sabbatical with that Teutonic colossus of science Herr Doktor Deitrich von Grossenschaft”. The story takes a darker turn as young Mary becomes obsessed with the well-oiled brass-and-clockwork female automaton that is Dr. Halifax's life work.

In “Raid Night”, by James L. Sutter, a woman's patience with her online-game-obsessed partner finally snaps, and she finds herself taking what she wants from him – to his surprise and ultimate delight.

M. Christian's affecting and insightful story “The Hope of Cinnamon” imagines an extra-dimensional world called Stonewall, where men are free to enjoy life and one another without fear or constraints. Gen is a Helper, dedicated to assisting the Rescued – gay men snatched from the nightmare persecution of Nazi Germany – in their adaptation to Stonewall society. His role requires him to be a mentor, a teacher, and when necessary, a lover. But Bissou, his latest client, has important lessons to teach him in return.

Electricby Wendy N. Wagner is a brief, vivid peek into the mind of celibate genius Nikolas Teslaa universe of passionate connections shot through with lightning.

Michael M. Jones conjures a geeky gal who inherits her crackpot uncle's hopelessly disordered comic books store in “The Secret Life of Ramona Lee”. Irene, a fugitive AI originally developed by the government, offers organizational assistance – incarnated as a curvy, blue-eyed brunette whom Ramona finds difficult to ignore.

The Ivory-Billed Woodpecker Is Extinct, by Bill Nobel, offers up a trio of bio-geeks: three horny academics crammed together in a bird watching blind seeking some evidence of a rare species. I won't mention the gender of the characters because, as in many of the well-warped tales in this volume, it hardly matters.

Shanna Germain's contribution to the collection is original, dark and haunting. One character in “Saving the World” is a transgendered amputee superhero rock star. The other is a craftsperson, a dominant, a lover, whose gender is never revealed. The action in this tale is hot violence laced with devotion. The language is lyrical, raw, and achingly beautiful:

The band behind her, they've got capes over their jeans and t-shirts. But no cape for her. It gets caught in her heels, she says, but you know it's because it covers too much of her. She likes to show off those hot-damn hips, that fine-as-rain-ass, those missing legs that end in something different every show.

Tonight they're steel filigree from her knees down; leaves and flowers and a hundred tiny metal creatures tucked into the empty spaces. She's got a thing for whimsy wrapped in an enigma tucked into a weapon. Her legs, her feet really, end in six-inch knifed heels that could kill a man. Probably have killed a man. I don't ask most times, because I don't need to know. Sometimes she tells me anyway. And that's when I have to buy a bottle of fine-ass whiskey and walk away from her, go down to the strip where the boys play ball in corner pockets and they're all-too-happy to wield a fist to a face, a paddle to a place where the ass meets the mind.
 
Downtime” by Tanya Korval would be at home in many contemporary erotica anthologies, but it fits in well enough here. A couple of young PC techs forced to work late, one a jealous dominant, the other a glutton for punishment, especially when exhibitionism is involved... use your imagination. They do.

The Pornographer's Assistant” by A.C. Wise is another mesmerizing tale about the word made flesh. A robot amanuensis buried in a desert bunker awaits her long-dead master, whose tales of fleshly excess she used to transcribe. Instead, a desperate, broken girl finds her way to the pornographer's hidden lair and is healed by the power of the pen.

Craig Sorensen's “Opening Juicy Lucy” includes no robots or electronic marvels, just a geeky college guy who receives an unexpected and intimate request from the cheerleader queen he thought barely knew his name. Like most of Craig's stories, this one features complex and believable characters that make it a joy to read.

A.L. Auerbach conjures shades of Cthulhu with a lesbian slant in “A Great Old Time”. Fans of tentacles will not want to miss this story.

Binary – consisting of, indicating, or involving two” is Preston Avery's light-hearted evocation of horny gal with a head for math. She meets her match in a guy who can turn a computer programming assignment into a love – or lust – letter.

I read “Morphosis” by Jak Koke three times, and I still didn't fully understand it, at least at an intellectual level, but it moved me nevertheless. According to the author's notes, this story sprang to life fully formed from a dream. Given its shifting imagery and emotional nuances, I find this plausible.

Andrea Task contributes “Who Am I This Time?”, a definitely sexy power exchange tale influenced by “Choose Your Own Adventure”. The ties to the geek theme are less strong than in some other tales in the collection, but I'm certainly not going to complain about any well-written story featuring a D/s threesome.

Voyeuristic Beauty” by Elise Hepner puzzled me, mainly because I couldn't see thematic relevance in this re-telling of Sleeping Beauty from the perspective of an enchanted mirror that watches her over her hundred years of slumber. Nevertheless, I liked the deviations from the classic fairy tale. In this version, Aurora doesn't need to wait for her destined prince to enjoy the pleasures of the flesh.

J.A. Shirley's “Fuck the World” is a lot of fun, a conspiracy caper in which two female scientists posing as call girls infect the world's leaders with a virus intended to alter the course of history.

In “At the Faire”, Andrea Dale celebrates a rather neglected corner of nerdiness, namely historical reenactments and creative anachronism. As someone who has personally experienced the earthy influence of a Renaissance Faire, I strongly identified with her heroine, the lusty Mistress Maggie.

Janine Ashbless, like her co-editor Shanna Germain, slips to the darker side in her contribution “Grinding”, which relates a hapless gamer's encounter with an electronic succubus. I loved her opening:

Time was, when humans guarded their souls. They'd fence them about with prayer and rabbit's feet, with four-leafed clovers kept in a pocket or medallions of the saints. In those days, it was only when they slept, and their souls wandered away from their bodies, that I could find them and feed.

It's so much easier now.
Command Prompt” by Ed Grabianowski, provides an original take on BDSM and remote control. Harry Markov's “Pages and Playthings” envisions a book that actively alters the consciousness of the reader – and hence reality. “Player Characters” by Lucia Starkey offers new uses for dice. “Ho Pais Kalos” by Molly Tanzer is narrated by a sentient phallus from ancient Greece, who observes and ultimately participates in the unplanned coming together of two young men studying archeology. Alison Winchester's delightful “RJ-45” offers a wonderfully fresh voice, focusing in alternation upon a savvy female “code monkey” and a lowly IT support gal with a fondness for kink. “F-RPG” by Vivienne Ashe explores the multiple identities players build in role playing games, and the truths hidden beneath those choices.

I enjoyed all the tales above, but three stories in the latter part of the book particularly impressed me. Kirsty Logan brilliantly captures the loneliness of modern Tokyo in her gorgeous lesbian tale “The Purpose of Tongues”:

In the electric city of Akihabara, nothing has a taste. There are endless promises: girls dressed as maids offering tea and cream cakes, girls done up like cats offering bowls of flavored milk, girls plastic-wrapped and LED-eyed with lips like strawberries.

Girls, girls. All delicious. All tasteless.

Then there's Jesse Bullington's funny, insightful “Porn Enough at Last”, set in a post-apocalyptic future where people huddle in isolated bunkers, fearful of contamination, poring over censored hentai porn. The hero (or is it heroine? The author very cleverly avoids telling..) has artistic talent and spends his/her time restoring the pixellated dirty parts and selling the results. The creativity and craft in this story made me grin in admiration.

And the final tale in the collection, Sommer Marsden's “Magdalene”, left me close to tears. A genius misfit fashions the perfect robot companion, the ultimate love-doll, and accomplishes more than he knows. Magdalene must hide her feelings from her Sir, even when he decides to “put her to sleep” after getting involved with a human woman.

Normally, when I review an anthology, I'll mention half a dozen of my favorite stories. With Geek Love, I just couldn't choose. While some tales impressed me more than others, the collection as a whole left me with a feeling of awe.

Hence this lengthy review, which has already run to four pages – and I haven't even mentioned the cartoons, drawings, paintings and photos yet. Or the fact that this remarkable volume was funded by donations on Kickstarter, made by people who thought the world really needed some geek love.

I don't have space to say much about the artwork or the exquisite visual design – you'll have to buy the book and see for yourself. However, I did want to mention the extensive authors' and artists' notes that conclude the book. Many were as much fun to read as the stories themselves. I'm always curious to learn where other authors' stories come from. Geek Love allowed me to indulge that voyeuristic tendency.

In the author notes, a number of contributors said that they'd actually written their story years ago. These tales had been submitted and rejected multiple times, judged as just too weird for publication, until Geek Love came along – the perfect home for them. Like all of us nerds, scorned and ridiculed, dismissed as clumsy, queer or overly brainy, they were just waiting for the right audience – people who appreciate intelligence, unconventionality, and of course, sex.

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