Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Review Tuesday: Horrorsexual by M. Christian - #GayErotica #Horror #ReviewTuesday

Horrorsexual cover

Horrorsexual: The Queer Erotic Fright Fiction of M.Christian
Sizzler Editions, 2020

If anyone asked, you’d probably say that erotica has little in common with horror stories. After all, erotica is supposed to make you feel good, with steamy anticipatory tension, ecstatic crises and pleasantly sated endings. Horror, in contrast, is designed to produce discomfort. If the reader doesn’t feel queasy, unbalanced, disturbed or disgusted, the author hasn’t done his or her job.

Still, when you peer a bit closer, you’ll see the two genres share some characteristics. They both intend to excite the emotions. Both often use shock to their advantage – the most arousing sex tales are the ones that break taboos. Furthermore, sex on the edge, sex that pushes the limits of the acceptable, sex that’s so intense it breaks down barriers – the best and most memorable sex – can be truly scary. Sex strips us bare and makes us vulnerable, and being naked is dangerous.

Nobody appreciates the synergy between sex and horror better than M. Christian. He has been writing stories that are simultaneously thrilling and terrifying for decades. Horrorsexual collects some of the best of his work in the genre, focusing on tales involving gay men – or creatures that masquerade as such.

The eleven short stories in this collection are wonderfully varied. My two favorites, “That Sweet Smell” and “Friday Night at the Calvary Hotel”, illustrate the huge emotional and thematic range of this author. The former chronicles the complex relationship between JJ, a powerful columnist, king-of-the-city type, and his minion Sidney who both admires and hates him. The palpable menace in this tale made me shudder, though there’s very little overt violence and essentially no sex. That doesn’t matter; the tension between JJ and Sidney is sexual regardless. Their dominance/submissive dynamic is distilled in Sidney’s lighting of JJ’s cigarettes.

I looked at the end of the cigarette. Paper wrapped around tobacco. His strong fingers crushed the far end, making tiny flakes of brown stick out the front, towards me. My right hand was in my pants pocket, tight around my lighter. I fought the urge to pull it out, to push it towards him, to open it, flick alive a hot flame, and do it for him. I fought hard, trying to concentrate on anything except the cigarette or JJ's eyes.

I knew it, and he knew it: It wasn't just flame to tobacco. It was more than JJ's cigarette that was being pushed into my face. The place was cloudy with smoke; breathing in was like taking a drag. I could imagine the end of it in his mouth, lips around the paper, sucking in deep drags of smoke. The tip of his tongue resting on the warm end, just for a moment. Sometimes the smoke would be as warm as blood, like breathing in the essence of life. I didn't want to light it. I wanted to take it in my own mouth and draw it in deep, mix his warm smoke with my own blood, just for once taste the air that he breathed all the time.

Despite its lack of gore, this story is dark indeed.

Friday Night at the Calvary Hotel”, in contrast, has blood and pain, death and semen, yet the tone is almost uplifting. An impoverished and desperate man answers an ad seeking an accomplice in a crucifixion scene. In return for a large amount of money, he meets his nameless employer – young, handsome, cheerful, not at all what you’d expect from a lunatic – in a run-down hotel, and literally nails the other man to the cross he has constructed.

Though the setup is creepy, the purity of the stranger’s desire shines through.

There was a long—very long—minute, as he stared at what I'd made. "Something like that," he said, finally, turning his head slowly to look back over his shoulder at me, that wry little smile back on his lips.

"Ah," was all I could say, struck more stupid than usual.

"This is wonderful," he said, stepping up and running his hands over the smooth wood. "A perfect job."

I wanted to "aw shucks" and start in about the hours of sanding, the three coats of lacquer, the buffing. But then I remembered why he’d had me build it, and what he wanted to use it for.

He rubbed it a long time, like he was communing with it. Watching him stroke it, I noticed something about his hands. I asked, "Is this your (ahem) first time? I mean … doing this kind of thing?"

It took him a long minute to pull himself away. "Oh, no, not at all. It’s just something I developed—well, I guess you could say 'a taste for'—a long time ago. Every once in awhile I like to indulge myself, you know, when I can get away from the family business."

With these two stories as psychic anchors, the book ranges widely over the landscapes of lust and fear. “Suddenly, Last Thursday” is a eloquent, slow-building tale about cannibalism and madness. “Chickenhawk” offers a kinky revenge tale in which the protagonist, a thirty year old dwarf who can pass for fifteen, entraps then punishes the pedophiles who pick him up. “Whatever Happened To...” is kinkier still, featuring a consensual but extreme D/s relationship between two aged drag queens. In “Bitch”, a paunchy, middle-aged, worn-out queer nurses his bitter envy against the beautiful young men in the building across from his – the “peacocks” as he calls them – only to have his secret wish for their destruction come true. In the psychologically potent “Echoes”, a gay man trying to escape from his guilt about murdering his partner discovers that every new lover kisses, sucks cock or screws in exactly the same way as his dead ex. “Wet” and “Empty” are both vampire stories, though the vamps don’t follow Stoker’s rules. The moods of these two pieces are quite different, though both involve some disgustingly bloody and visceral scenes.

These are not simple stories, easy to untangle and assimilate. Sometimes I’d finish one, then immediately go back to read it a second time, to clarify the author’s thoughts or my own, or simply to revel again in the dark mood and evocative language. One story, “Counting”, a scifi tale set in horrific dystopia, I never did completely figure out. Nevertheless, it impressed me with its vivid descriptions of San Francisco after a total collapse of civilization:

My first month, and my first riot in the new place. I was caught outside, unable to recognize the neighborhood's tell-tales, the rhythm of the block: when the stores would be allowed to open, when the local Militia had to make its quota, and when the insane would be released from their camps to clean and scour the streets of anything valuable or edible.

I was walking back from work, head still in the maze of junctions, cross-connectors, light-boosts and mirror-boxes, trying to deduce a ghost echo in the inner-office trunk lines. I was too full of Mr. Buckner's system to notice the closed windows or the quiet. Running people are like smoke: a city-signal. Seeing them sprint past, chests rising, breath fogging the cool evening, looking behind as they ran, I turned as well. A wave rounded Market – a panicked sea of old Militia coats flapping, feet wrapped in threadbare carpets, eyes red and desperate. A thousand, probably much more, screaming and crying as only people can when they've tasted panic. I got no more than twenty feet before the wave broke over me.

A man, black but scarred from a fire so now a ghost of himself, struck back at me as he passed. From behind, a woman, cradling a ruined arm, pushed me. I didn't have their momentum, hadn't seen what they'd seen, what had triggered their panic. I was treading water, and was doomed to drown.

A pack of wild children, a tribe drawn out of the alleys and shadows by the smell of sickness and opportunity, was suddenly around me – hungry eyes appraising my clean clothes, my worth, and the contents of my worker's bag. A cramp in my side came on so suddenly that I thought for a fraction of a scream that they'd knifed me with a piece of glass, a rusty sliver of iron or steel. Meat for the Dark Markets, old clothes for the camps. My breath was glass knives. My eyes were tiny and wind-burned from the cool night. My feet smashed, broke with each clawing stride.

They were jaguars. They were leopards. They were animals born and bred on the streets. I was the sick one in the herd that day. They sensed I was going for the alley. Stupid. I was so stupid. I moved, like drying clay, so slow, and they were there, blocking me in, forcing me towards the alley, to bring me down – and slice my throat.

The one story that didn’t really work for me was “Matches”, a fantasy about dying, leaving your worn-out body behind, and finding your perfect match in heaven. When a shabby apartment building blows up due to a gas leak, the overweight, sad, disappointed loner in Apartment 1A, who hasn’t had a lover in years, is temporarily liberated from his miserable existence. Beautiful and free, he soars skyward toward his equally exquisite and well-hung mate – until he’s resuscitated and slams back into the broken shell of his earthly form. Though the end was genuinely painful, the premise struck me as silly.

Horrorsexual also includes excerpts from M. Christian’s three gay horror novels: Me 2, Finger’s Breadth and The Very Bloody Marys. I’ve read all three (you can find my review of Finger’s Breadth here), and they fit the theme of the collection, but novels and short stories are very different sorts of beast. The excerpts leave a lot of loose ends. Of course, I’m sure the author hopes you’ll be sufficiently intrigued to buy one or more of these titles.

Horrorsexual will arouse you, challenge you, maybe scare you a bit. It will definitely raise a few questions in your mind about the nature of sex and of reality. It’s not a book for everyone, but if you’re curious, open-minded and brave, I recommend it.

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