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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.

Sex, manga and anime

March 19, 2011 1 comment

In Zero no Tsukaima, Tiffania worries about how much will show

Sex is a fact of life or, if you prefer it more direct: without sex, there is no life. Unless, of course, you happen to be one of those lucky creatures able to reproduce by parthenogenesis or one of the other less exciting methods. Then there can be lots of little yous running around without having to wait for partners to sober up enough to manage intercourse or recover from headaches. So, since we’re all genetically programmed to reproduce, we’re quite interested in the activity from a young age. That means speculating about what it’s going to be like when our bodies mature. In part, we satisfy this curiosity by watching the adults around us, and by studying images. When we finally make it into adulthood, we can access a different range of images. This either becomes sexually stimulating in its own right, or continues the process of education, showing us new things to dream about or try.

 

Authority figures attempt to set limits on what the images can show. There are streaks of puritanism in every culture. So, in Indonesia for example, the editor of Playboy was recently sent to jail for two years. He’s been branded a “moral terrorist” for publishing images of partly-clothed women. In other, more liberal societies, the line between the “acceptable” and pornography is drawn in different places with different consequences for those involved in distributing or possessing it. Even in the land of the First Amendment, the need to protect vulnerable children from exploitation overrides the right to publish or possess sexual images of minors.

 

That makes the phenomenon of both manga and anime very interesting since the way in which girls and women are drawn is often highly sexualised. This continues the traditional culture of Shunga, an erotic application of the ukiyo-e woodcut printing system. Now there are manga comics showing preteen girls engaging in sexual activity, sometimes with adults. Not much has changed over the centuries. Even more interesting is the way in which this form of depiction transfers into the real world. Fans call dressing as their heroes cosplay, and it’s common for people to meet and show off their latest creations. There’s also an increasingly brisk trade in the development of child stars or junior idols. Both prepubescent and teen girls are photographed and videoed wearing what some in the West would consider provocative clothing. There’s no actual nudity or “performance” involved, but even some Japanese government figures are beginning to worry that all this sexualised imagery of young girls may be passively encouraging paedophilia. But, despite conservative factions around the world pouring millions into research, hoping to find evidence to justify more laws to ban certain types of imagery, there’s been no success. No-one has proved a direct cause and effect between whatever is defined as “pornography” and unlawful sexual activity. People’s behaviour is shaped by their experiences while growing up in a culture, rather than by exposure to any one type of imagery.

Saito is given instruction on "appropriate" behaviour

 

So in most of the different genres of anime, we continue to see highly stereotyped behaviour. In this, one of the more interesting manga and anime series has been Zero no Tsukaima with the initial relationship between Louise and Saito playing out as a soft version of S&M. Louise literally treats Saito as if he was a dog, routinely beating and humiliating him. Yet Saito responds by protecting Louise and, eventually, overcomes his more general lustfulness to fall in love with her. Despite their declarations of love, nothing really changes. She remains pathologically jealous and he’s fixated by girls with big breasts. So we have episodes such as Miwaku no Joshi Furo in which the boys tunnel their way into the girls’ bathhouse to watch them “unprotected”. Similarly, in Yūwaku no Sunahama, Saito and Professor Osmond conspire to persuade the girls to wear Earth-style swimming costumes and then splash each other with water, supposedly as part of a purification ritual. Both episodes are classic voyeurism, allowing the boys and, later, the lascivious Professor, the chance to see the exposed girls. Saito, of course, gets a better view of all the girls with bigger breasts — a distraction that lands him in yet more trouble with Louise. So we share the opportunity vicariously, seeing detailed images of all the girls and their “curves” while the boys drool. When the plot is exposed in Yūwaku no Sunahama, the girls are more than happy to punish Saito with a little bondage, overpowering him and tying him to a rock.

 

In every way, the themes of this series pander to a whole range of different fantasies about sexual roles and the relationship between punishment, attraction and love. It also allows the artists the opportunity to show off their female creations wearing different layers of clothing and in different situations ranging from dominant warriors to tender lovers. The relationship between the intensely jealous Louise and her maid also offers Saito a “good cop, bad cop” scenario with the maid more obviously “loving” him, but being unable to do much about it because of her role. More generally, Saito’s fascination with breasts and roving eye also complicates the relationship between maid and mistress, given Louise’s lack of endowment. The popularity of the series is a testament to the scale of the market for soft BDSM and voyeurism. It also implicitly confirms that it’s socially acceptable for men to lust after young girls.

Alucard and Seras Victoria

 

Sadly the narrative of Zero no Tsukaima is a rather thin fantasy based on magic, elves and dragons. There’s not really enough substance to make it worth watching unless you are more into the imagery. This is not to say that manga and anime have not managed more sophisticated stories with the same sexualised approach. The big-breasted Seras Victoria in Hellsing fights alongside the vampire Alucard to keep Britain safe, while Witch Hunter Robin keeps Japan safe from the more dangerous people around her. Although the imagery is slightly less obvious, the theme of strong but vulnerable women fighting and finding love seems one of the primary reasons for the success of these series.

Robin and her fellow hunter go undercover

 

In all this, it’s fascinating to see a new ordinance in Tokyo which “bans” the sale of any manga showing violence or sexual content that would fall foul of the national criminal code. An empty political gesture since the penal code self-evidently already applies in Toyko. All it lacks is the will to enforce it. Move outside Japan and there have been prosecutions for distributing the more explicit manga. Yet Amazon continues to sell the books of photographs and DVDs showing young girls in scanty clothes and not quite provocative poses. I watch with interest to see how long this trade continues before adverse comments are made or legal action is taken.

 

Follow this link for a full review of either Witch Hunter Robin or Hellsing.

 

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