Cleis Press sent me a copy of Carnal Machines, edited by D.L. King, to review, and, I have to say, I am highly impressed by this collection of hot Steampunk Erotica.
I have to be honest and say that Steampunk was not a genre I had ventured into much in the past, even less so erotica in that genre, so I was keen to be exposed to what I considered to be, for me, virgin territory! Sure, I have read the entire collection of Sherlock Holmes stories, as well as a large number of other Victorian classics - and there are a LOT of those - so I have an impression of what to expect from fiction based in that period. I was, therefore, doubly interested to see how eroticists handled that era, bearing in mind the ubiqitous belief that the Victorian era was one of sexual repression and inhibition. The other aspect of the collection that intrigued me was the "Machines" part of the equation! There is something wanton and naughtily delicious about the thought of a machine that can satisfy our sexual cravings, removing the dependence on the time, mood, and capability of other humans, which I was looking forward to discovering in these stories!
Oh, dear! How naughty of me!!!
Carnal Machines is a collection of 14 short erotica stories, covering all aspects of the era popularized through the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Jules Verne and H.G Wells. Anyone who has seen the recent series of Doctor Who will appreciate the modern attempts to bring the Steampunk era back to life in the most inventive ways - and these stories are very inventive!
Like all good reviewers (so modest of me!), I started at the back of the book with The Succubus by Elizabeth Schechter. This delightful story had little to do with the occult, as the title seemed to indicate. It was, however, the start of a tantalizing and sensual ride through a varied range of stimulating, entertaining tales.
I read the tales in random fashion, enjoying each for its own unique take on the many and varied types of machinery invented for the purpose of satisfying our carnal needs. Some, like the ingenuous Dr. Mullaley, aren't content with just the one machine, inventing a whole series of devices designed to cure the ailments of those poor Victorian ladies whose husband's either have negelected or are not skilled enough to satisfy them! A common complaint, it seems, judging by the Doctor's over-filled appointment book! Other machines are designed to reduce men to that state of compliance and obedience wherein they are most amenable - another popular theme - while there are entertaining attempts at creating the perfect woman, a steamy oriental adventure in Hong Kong, a wonderfully ruthless Russian dominatrix, and yet more "fucking" machines! There's even a home visit by the venerable Doctor Watson!
I love this collection for its inventiveness alone, not to mention the wonderfully wanton feelings stirred up by the activities described. While some of the tales have the technological feel of Doctor Durand Durand's love machine in "Barbarella", the fun and ingenuity shine through to make this more than just a collection of erotica. It is Steampunk fiction at its best. My personal favourites are Dr. Mullaley's Cure by Delilah Devlin, and Deviant Devices by Kannan Feng, but there's enough here to satisfy every taste.
Carnal Machines, edited by D.L. King, with stories by Teresa Noelle Roberts, Janine Ashbless, Renee Michaels, Poe Von Page, Kannan Feng, Jay Lawrence, Delilah Devlin, Lisabet Sarai, Kathleen Bradean, Elias A. St. James, Essemoh Teepee, D.L. King, Tracey Shellito and Elizabeth Schechter.