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Alien Sex edited by Ellen Datlow

Alien Sex edited by Ellen Datlow has been republished by Open Road Media and marginally updated with an additional paragraph for the introduction and a little more contemporary information fleshing out the authors’ bios. It’s a bit of an old warhorse, an anthology of ten original and nine reprinted stories that first appeared in 1990. Such a gap in years makes me wonder whether it’s actually worth rescuing from the relative obscurity into which it had fallen. The title is self-explanatory. Whether directly or indirectly, it’s all about sex. But not, you understand, in a pornographic or, even, erotic sense. There’s no gratuitous titillation. What we actually get is rather more functional or allusive. This is not to deny different forms of activity are described. But this is not a “dangerous visions” type of book. Although one or two stories are reasonably strong meat, the intention is to deal with reactions to, or the context for, the activity which is often all too human.

“Her Furry Face” by Leigh Kennedy is a genuinely tragic story about a man who loses his way. You might always expect a student to be obsessed with work and not good with people but, when the studying is over and paid work begins, you hope for a transition into adulthood. Except this man has learned nothing useful about how to build and maintain relationships. In particular, he forgets the need for boundaries. More generally, the inevitable and callous racism is mentioned but, unfortunately, it fails to match Manrissa Man by Peter Van Greenaway which is the definitive approach to this trope, albeit without the sex. “War Bride” by Rick Wilber reminds me in spirit of William Tenn’s “The Liberation of Earth” but with a different slant, focussing rather on the desire of the alien Pashi to save just one or two of the Earthling “collaborators” — for entirely laudable reasons, of course. “How’s the Night Life On Cissalda?” by Harlan Ellison is slightly too long but nevertheless hilariously inventive. It should be required reading for everyone who wants to see how the world will end in a flood of joy and an excess of starvation. “The Jamesburg Incubus” by Scott Baker is also vastly amusing as our hero recovers from ingesting the radiation-soaked grain used to make the bread which then developed mould when lying uneaten in his refrigerator. Newly invigorated, he finds a remarkable new way in which he can spread himself around without appearing to stray (if you catch my meaning). It’s a very pleasing story of transition from a selfish man lost in his own fantasies to a well-balanced man with a strong marriage and exactly 2.4 offspring.

Ellen Datlow wondering how a couple can produce exactly 2.4 cildren

“Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex” by Larry Niven is a classic reprint, again dealing the physical problems should Superman and Lois Lane ever “get it on”. “The First Time” by K W Jeter is something extraordinary conjured out of the entirely ordinary desire of a father to introduce his son to the facts of life. That means a trip into town, a few beers to get up Dutch courage, then primal instinct takes over and the son ain’t no virgin no more. “The Jungle Rot Kid on the Nod” by Philip Jose Farmer shows the rawness of the 1960s, reinventing Tarzan in something approximating the style of William Burroughs as the Kid hangs loose, strung out on the best rot the jungle can provide. I’m not sure modern readers will understand where it’s coming from, but an oldie like me remembers reading it when it first came out. “Husbands” by Lisa Tuttle elegantly plays with the notion that biological sex may be binary, but gender is for each generation to define as it wishes. Who’s to say how a world might function if there was only one gender, or if we were to make the effort and define a third gender that everyone could accept. “When the Fathers Go” by Bruce McAllister is the fictional version of what it means to be married and have children. Of course, everyone lies about who they are. Sometimes, the lies are seductive and they lull us into love because we want to hear the truth in the words. Sometimes the lies are particularly convincing because they come from a telemanifestor and so everything we dream can seem real to us. Either way, we can tell ourselves we’re happy.

“Dancing Chickens” by Edward Bryant is a variation on the theme perhaps best captured in The Productions of Time by John Brunner and “Passengers” by Robert Silverberg where aliens jerk us around like puppets on a string. This story is slightly different from its forebears in its gay context and the more obvious physical cruelty in the sexual activity. “Roadside Rescue” by Pat Cadigan also parallels John Brunner’s novel with an alien working through an agent provocateur to get the sexual gratification it wants. The sting in the tail is, of course, the nonconsensual nature of this exchange. We humans lay down rules for those who engage in S&M. The submissiveness or domination is by agreement. This scenario is more spontaneous and, in its own way, a kind of rape. “Omnisexual” by Geoff Ryman is a fascinating story of how a man populates the world of his own imagination or, perhaps, it’s not his imagination. “All My Darling Daughters” by Connie Willis shows the possibility that abused daughters may escape the abuse if suitable surrogates can be found but, as between normally consenting teens, the arrival of surrogates might be a bit frustrating. “Arousal” by Richard Christian Matheson is a slightly weird story about an act of adultery, consensual in every way, but somehow unforgettable. “Scales” by Lewis Shiner takes us into the world of mythology and the possibility where, as Keats puts it,

“Her throat was serpent, but the words she spake
Came, as through bubbling honey, for Love’s sake”

“Saving the World at the New Moon Motel” by Roberta Lannes shows us you just can’t assume everything will be the same between different species but, if both parties are willing, it can be a wild ride. “And I Awoke and Found Me Here on the Cold Hill’s Side” by James Tiptree Jr. is one of these terrible warning stories in which Earthlings are cast as the primitives to be bought off by the aliens with trinkets and cheap geegaws. It shows us our ignorance condemns us to be screwed both metaphorically and physically if only we can get close enough to them. “Picture Planes” by Michaela Roessner demonstrates the universal desire of the battered spouse to escape the abusive partner. Finally, “Love and Sex Among the Invertebrates” by Pat Murphy leaves us with decisions made as to what should be the dominant species after we humans have bombed each other into oblivion. It’s an interestingly mechanical story.

Putting all this together, Alien Sex has some truly excellent stories, most of which have stood the test of time. The anthology shows that, when it comes to sex, the functional drive to procreate never goes out of fashion. Only our attitudes change and then only slowly. As a final thought, the fact I can recommend this anthology to contemporary readers is actually an accolade for Ellen Datlow. As an editor, she selected stories that avoided the obvious pitfalls inherent in the theme and still seem fresh today. She has impeccable taste!

For reviews of other books edited by Ellen Datlow, see:
The Best Horror of the Year: Volume One
The Best Horror of the Year: Volume Two
The Best Horror of the Year: Volume Three
The Best Horror of the Year: Volume Four
The Best Horror of the Year: Volume Five
Blood and other cravings
Lovecraft Unbound
Supernatural Noir

A copy of this ebook was sent to me for review.

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