I read a guide to reviewing books recently. It said a reviewer should be impartial. I can see that point of view; the work should be judged on its own merit. However, it's impossible for me to pick up a book by M. Christian and not have expectations that are based on previous works I've read. So I guess it's only fair to begin this review with full disclosure: I'm a fan.
I'm torn over the idea of erotica as a distinct genre, and M. Christian's work is fuel for this internal debate. In The Hope of Cinnamon, a future society rescues gay victims from Nazi death camps and brings them forward in time to a sanctuary. Gen, one of the Helpers who works to integrate the Rescued into their new home finds out that few of the Rescued successfully survive the transition. He decides to travel back in time to experience the death camps for himself so that he will have a better understanding of why the Rescued fail to thrive in a society that fully accepts them. While this story does touch on sex and sexuality, it is a great example of speculative fiction that prompts further examination of our time and how current and future gay generations need to be aware of the history of gay culture and see it in proper historical perspective instead of viewing it, and judging, through hindsight.
As much as I hate the term coming-of-age tale, Utter West is a near-future story that shows a character coming of age, and more. Pony is the narrator's hero, the one who escaped their suburban hell and went beyond it to something wonderful and mystical - or so the narrator wants to believe. Unaware that he's destroying the beautiful myth that's grown around his disappearance, Pony comes back as an ordinary adult, prompting the narrator to break free and take the journey Pony failed to make into the beyond of the Utter West.
If noir is more your style, enjoy M. Christian's homage to Sunset Boulevard,
Hollywood Boulevard, or sink into the corner pocket of the night world of pool hustlers in The Hard Way. That Sweet Smell is really the scent of corruption, but keep telling yourself it's success, because in this story, that delusion is all the narrator has to cling to.
Moby is purely tall tale, told with the flair of real yarn-spinner. Could anyone stink that much, be that cussedly mean, or be that hung? It's all in the telling - joyously and outrageously over the top.
Or maybe you're in the mood for bittersweet romance and love. Flyboy is the soaring romance we all long for, crashed down to earth by the military's Don't Ask Don't Tell policy. And Love is a writer's story, about how much it means to us when our stories are wanted, and how hard it is to separate the pure love of acceptance from the physical.
And then there's horror. Friday Night at the Calvary Hotel is the hardest story to read in this collection for it's intense mix of sadism, masochism, religious imagery and sex. Stories like that cling to you long after you've put the book down. You decide if that's a good thing or a bad thing, but I like that. Suddenly, Last Thursday is horror of a different stripe - lush and gothic, where you might have to read a line several times before your brain accepts what it's telling you. That slow dawning of realization is delicious and shivery.
In the movie Sunset Boulevard, Joe Gillis says, "Sometimes it's interesting to see just how bad bad writing can be." Yes, but it's gratifying to see just how good good writing can be too. It's unfortunate that erotic writing has a reputation for bad writing, but sit down with this collection and let M. Christian change that prejudice.