Queerpunk, edited by Cecilia Tan and Kelly Kincaid

June 21st, 2010 by Oddmonster / 289 views

Title: Queerpunk
Editors: Cecilia Tan and Kelly Kincaid
Publisher: Circlet Press
Length: 76 pages
Buy this book: ebook

Blurb:

Queerpunk is an anthology by Circlet Press focusing on Queer sexuality in near-futuristic,cyberpunk environments.The collected stories confront the issues of living in such a technological, anonymous world in which the individual’s identity is constantly in flux.

Characters alter their physicality through the insertion of new technology in their flesh, or through customizable avatars that obscure
their ‘true’ identity. Queerpunk examines the ways in which the human body can be altered, if not transformed, by technology.

Review:

In the introduction, editor Kelly Kincaid poses the question, How does the anonymity of a cyberpunk setting help or hinder the expression of GLBTQ sexualities?

Well, despite the plethora of answers that could be explored there, that’s not really the question these authors actually set about answering. Instead, it’s fair to say they tackled Kincaid’s supposition that Human connection hinges on uncertain identities and sexual release is pursued through a new array of tools altogether, in a future not so distant from ours.

That statement holds true in some way for all these stories; the identities of the protagonists and the lovers they choose are fluid, concealed and malleable. Each time the couples meet, their coupling brings about a transformation in the identity of one or the other or both. In “The Real Thing”, the protagonists choose new avatars to represent them at each coupling, until finally showing each other their true biological selves. There’s an implicit message here that in the age of cyber-hookups, sexual release allows participants to step out from behind their shells and emerge into a space made safer by sex.

In Kal Cobalt’s “Rescue Wounds”, a customer decides to liberate his cybersex partner from a grapevine-like brothel, but has no idea what to do when he gets the guy home. Now, there’s nothing groundbreaking here on the queer sexuality front, but it’s a fascinating and emotionally charged contribution to cyberpunk’s meat vs. silicon, die-to-the-organic subgenre. There’s plenty of language about how the decay of the organic physical is simultaneously subverted and feared by profit-oriented governments and corporations.

The sex worker protagonist of the story is a veteran of a covert war between corporate factions, and his body and mind both have been used to deploy peculiarly plant-based weaponry against the enemy: “I was in a business meeting and then everyone was dying. Spikes bursting them from the inside, growing and growing.” He snorted. “Business warfare. Because money is life.”

Cobalt does a great job managing this theme–the brothel is imagined as a series of life-sustaining pods referred to as “grapevines”, and the protagonist is snipped from his cluster, leaving only sharp, dying stems that cut through bedsheets.

It’s a surprisingly moving and memorable story punctuated by very hot healing sex.

The second story is “Blindwire” by Eric Del Carlo: A super-soldier looking to blow off steam heads for a seamy urban underbelly, seeking–and finding–more than a simple, dangerous fuck. My favorite story in the collection and my favorite short story of the year so far. Del Carlo’s writing is both technically perfect and ornately detailed (“I pause at a kiosk and consume a substance passing—fairly successfully—for humus. I order a beer with it, Cyrillic on the label. The air is heavy. Worse is the weight of the urb above, a pressure that goes across the shoulders, like you’re supposed to carry the whole thing up a hill of skulls.”) and he sketches a full panorama of post-apocalypse warfare and the toll it takes on humans in surprisingly few words. A brisk, sharp, toothsome piece that does its job and does it well.

A close second for my favorite, “Upload” by Sunny Moraine, is the piece that’s doing the most work on actually addressing the issue of queer identities in cyberspace. In a stunning vision of cybersex reimagined, two women reunite and transcend and become, in coming, something truly beyond two women in love. Clever and visual and compelling. Like this:

She touched the console again, and the room exploded away from her like the ground from a missile. For a moment she couldn’t get her breath, though there wasn’t even any air to breathe where she was,because where she was now was not made up of Earth stuff. It wasn’t real at all in any practical sense of the word. But it felt very real, felt so real that the fact of it might cut her, and she gasped and clutched at nothing as raw data cycloned around her.

It had been a long time since she had logged on.

And it just gets better from there. Moraine manages to tackle questions of lesbian connection and empowerment, and how they change in the absence of physicality and organic connection. All in the middle of one truly hot sex scene.

“The Real Thing” by R. E. Bond is really the only misstep in the collection. I know this was one of Kassa’s favorites, but to me it read as a simple mishmash of Gibsonesque lingo and overly stylized conventions. Quite simply, this story tries too hard. A hacker and a corporate anti-hacker hook up online and fall in love, then things fall apart. I understand what the story was meant to be, but the execution falls short, and ultimately, says nothing new or compelling, for me.

And then there’s “Virgin” by Kannan Feng. My original notes read simply: Holy shit.

Seriously, that’s about all I could manage for close on a half hour. For sheer out-thinking of everyone here, Feng wins. The concept is simple: two crooks hole up in a hotel pod and pass the time having sex. Except,

I could feel his tongue moving around in the jack, into it and around it, and then the bastard set his teeth in the metal edge and pulled.

So, the whole concept of jacks for cyber-connections being embedded in a person’s skin, for ease of access, is not new at all, and dates back to either Gibson’s Neuromancer or the RPG Shadowrun (if you can pre-date those, please comment. I’d be very curious) but I’ve never seen them physically integrated into erotic play. And it works. It’s visceral and edgy and incredibly right. And if that’s really all the story does, it at least does it very, very well.

Overall, this is a tight and stylish collection of cyberpunk that presences LGBT pairings in what’s historically been a very het-dominated genre. That in and of itself is noteworthy, but otherwise it’s really only “Upload” that’s bringing gender commentary to the table. Now, that’s not to say that this isn’t also an important collection.

Both “Rescue Wounds” and “Virgin” contribute important ideas to the cyberpunk conversation, especially the latter, and its idea that the conduits for information flow, themselves pieces of cold steel in warm flesh, can provide a pleasure unrelated to their function, unrelated to their ability to provide connection to other individuals in a disembodied plane. The jacks provide an entirely different type of connection in and of themselves.

There’s nothing groundbreaking here in terms of specifically LGBTQ identity, as that portion of the proceedings has been pushed away in order to favor a corporately dystopian future that falls into the same traps as the present. For instance, in “Rescue Wounds” piece, the protagonist comments, “Good thing boring through ethercons made me hard and whore lenses were too dumbtech to know the difference.”

Someone please show me what ground’s being broken with that sentence, because otherwise, I’m just going back to my good old-fashioned internet porn.

Additionally, the collection provides some unintended gender commentary in the things that aren’t made explicit; cyberpunk, as a genre, has historically been not just het, but male-dominated het. And that skew remains firmly in place in this collection. Five stories and only one features female protagonists. I mention this not as any type of condemnation, but just to presence it as part of a larger ongoing conversation about making women visible in the SciFi/Fantasy space.

Overall, I really, really enjoyed this collection. On its cyberpunk merits alone it’s an important work, and a couple of the stories have important things to say; about the genre, about women’s sexuality, about the dialogue between organic decay and the resilience of a meat-free silicon-based future. One of the stories is incredibly beautiful. But none of them really address the question Kincaid posed to her writers. None of them explore the repercussions of what it means to belong to the LGBTQ tribe in a cyberpunk locale. But that definitely shouldn’t stop you from grabbing a copy of this anthology.

Posted in 4 stars, Anthology, Erotica, Fiction, Gay, Lesbian, Queer, Ratings, Reviews, Science Fiction

9 Responses


  • Kassa says:

    Fantastic review. I love how you question whether or not the stories are new for the genre then new for LGBTQ. One of the biggest missteps in Circlet anthologies (in my opinion) are that the lengthy introductions have nothing to do with the themes of the stories themselves. In fact, I often skip them since they seem to be overly reaching and lack any real connection to the anthology.

    I really enjoyed how you took the introduction and asked whether each story offered something unique and whether it answered the set forth question.

    As for the last story, I totally agree. Hot! It reminded me of Gibson (who I obviously enjoy) and for erotica, simply works. I think the anthology is more erotica within the framework of cyberpunk rather than the other way around but very enjoyable.

    I wish I wrote reviews like you, so articulate and intelligent.

  • Oddmonster says:

    Hey, thanks. Coming from someone who writes as well as you do (the line about tying their dicks together and throwing them overboard made me sporfle like a mad thing) I’m all kinds of chuffed at your comment.

    This is the first Circlet antho I’ve read or reviewed, but I do have to say I’ll be trying to yoink them off the review pile whenever I see them next. The writing was really, really above average for this genre, and that in itself made it, I think, a little bit easier to read them both for pleasure but also with an eye to what they were actually doing as stories.

    I did wonder about the introduction; it set this huge lofty goal and then all the authors in the collection ran screaming from it. Okay then. Little bit of a disconnect there.

    Also, what I didn’t mention in the review was that the pdf I received had messed up internal links. Not, possibly, the best advertisement for a cyberpunk collection.

    I did really like this collection, though. I’m curious, especially as you like Gibson: what did you think of “Blindwire”?

    • Kassa says:

      The writing is above average on Circlet Anthologies and I generally enjoy them. If you see a past anthology I’ve reviewed that you’d like to do a competing review (so to speak) feel free to ask!

      As for Blindwire, I really enjoyed reading the story but it’s one I’ve read several times. In fact the assassin kick in cyberpunk is one I like a lot so from start to finish I kept thinking how hot it was but like an old friend you know exactly what’s coming. Not the exact story mind you, but the general thrust.

      That’s kind of why I liked the twist in The Real Thing. It felt new for me and not something I’d read before. I didn’t see the end coming (though I should have) but it shows how I got into the story and ignored everything else.

  • Oddmonster says:

    That’s very interesting, because in Real Thing, I saw the twist barreling down the pike towards me from very early on, but in Blindwire it really took my breath away. Likewise, Upload and Virgin. I always get all swoony when stories are able to genuinely surprise me.

    I’d love to do something like maybe a review of an antho in conversation form. That might be wicked fun. PM me through my journal if you’re interested. I think it could be kind of a kick to do. :)

  • Cecilia Tan says:

    ooh, damn it, now you made me go back and look… (“Also, what I didn’t mention in the review was that the pdf I received had messed up internal links. Not, possibly, the best advertisement for a cyberpunk collection.”)

    Hm. I checked the Table of Contents links (which are the only links in it… unless there’s something I don’t know about…) in both Adobe Reader and Mac “Preview” and they work perfectly. Can you describe the error you get and what device & software you were using to read it? If there’s a bug I can kill, I want a fighting chance to track it down.

    And I’m glad you liked the book!

  • Oddmonster says:

    Cecilia, I really, really liked the book. You guys have some really talented contributors.

    The error I ran into was with the Table of Contents links linking to one page into the story in question, so for instance the Blindwire link goes to the second page of the story. I’m using Mac Preview.

    And okay, how amusing would it be to find that I’m using the software wrong or something and thus basically have zero business reviewing cyberpunk at all…

    Thanks very much for getting in touch!

  • [...] has been reviewed at Three Dollar Bill reviews who call it “a tight and stylish collection of cyberpunk that presences LGBT pairings in [...]

  • Kannan Feng says:

    Hello!

    Thank you so much for the kind words. Virgin was a really, really fun story to write.


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