Erotic Fantastic: The Best of Circlet Press 1992-2002
Science fiction and fantasy are genres in which writers are free to explore a broad range of ideas, pushing the edges of sociology and psychology to present readers with insightful social commentary and new ways of visualizing the universe and its denizens. Yet few writers in these genres have been able to find a place to publish their equally imaginative speculations about human sexual behavior and preferences. Mainstream erotica is dominated — if you will — by tired, formulaic plots and all-too-predictable settings and gender combinations. Thank heavens for Circlet Press, one of the few places where sex and speculative fiction have managed to, er, come together in unusual new ways.
Cecilia Tan started Circlet Press in 1992 to get her own science-fiction erotica out to readers. Somewhat to her surprise, her work was greeted enthusiastically at science fiction cons, and she was soon swamped with manuscripts sent in by similarly minded writers. Erotic Fantastic collects 23 of the best stories she’s published in ten years and serves as an excellent introduction to her press and to this specialized niche in speculative fiction.
The opening story, “Milagro,” eases the reader in with an almost disappointingly straightforward story of a boy and a girl whose shared interests are not quite enough. But then the anthology hits its stride with “Wilderland,” a story of wolf-identified virtual reality afficianoados that will make those who romanticize wolves squirm with ... whatever.
“State” offers a fascinating social twist on android sex, a theme taken up again in the psychologically redemptive “Like a Reflection in a Mirror with No Glass.” “Cyberfruit Swamp” and “Gone to the Spider Woman” both address the sexual possibilities of genetically manipulated and/or surgically altered humanity, as does the quietly disturbing “Anthem.” “The Jail of His Mind and the Songs Within” provides a gritty view of an overly controlled future, whereas “Day Journey, With Stories” has a lighter, almost steampunkish feel, despite its underlying suggestion of class oppression.
“The Specialist,” although science fiction, is similar in theme to The Kushiel Trilogy by Jacqueline Carey, tackling the needs and training of a masochist. “Soul of Light” is a “first time” story about characters featured again in the author’s Skolian Saga novel The Radiant Seas. “Burning Bridges” is a gay love story with a pyrokinetic edge, and “For the Mortals Among Us” tells the story of misunderstood girl with strong sexual empathy, although it ends with fantastic elements.
For fantasy fans, “The Bride’s Story” is a solemn look at marriage expectations for women in a patriarchal society, whereas “Heir Apparent” puts the power back into a woman’s hands as she engages in F-to-M gender-bending to secure the safety of her noble house. In contrast, “Someday My Prince Will Come” is a ribald look at male sexual dysfunction. Moving to urban fantasy, “Pipe Dreams” links an occult rocker and Mary Shelley across time in a creative pact.
Two stories address our love for cars, although “Autoerotic” takes the subject more literally than the vehicular voyeurism of “The Limo.” Another two stories deal with vampirism: “Shayna Maidel” is an absolutely delightful tale about a Jewish lesbian vampire and her in-laws, whereas “Consumption” is a more traditional gay vampire story in which a mortal man and a vampire dom fight over the same lover — it is notable especially for its last line. Finally, two stories in this collection defy easy categorization: “Temporary Insanity” is a wild ride through an erotica writer’s mind, and “Liquid Kitten” is a surreal dream of dominance.
Erotic Fantastic goes far beyond mainstream erotica anthologies in theme and imaginative range, offering stories that are not only titillating but often thought-provoking and insightful, as well. Experts say that the most important sexual organ is the mind, so brace yourself — your most important sexual organ is going to be stimulated in all sorts of new ways when you crack the covers of this excellent collection.