Thursday, April 26, 2012

Fear the Fever – Hot Blood #7 (1996)

     Do erotica and horror go well together?  Should they?  I know that there has been a steady stream of sexuality in horror, but most of that seems to be there for the plausibility of having a moral to the slasher (sexual stalker) story.  It should appear valid on its face that we would not – if we have any interest in healthy psychosexual development – wed horror or terror to sexual arousal.  Because we can train ourselves to be aroused by things that just aren't right.
     Having written that little self-important cautionary note, I still went and read the seventh book in the Hot Blood Series, Fear the Fever (1996).  Not that I had ever heard of the series or read the other books.  I may be a fan of (well done) horror films, but I don't have much experience with the genre in short story or novel form.  Same with erotica; as a guy, I am much more acquainted with pornography.  Mind you, I don't mind pornography with a story (I think that there should be a reason for whatever is going on/being described/visually depicted, and that usually is accomplished by having some kind of plot-like element), but erotica seems to be of the mind to titillate without having the end purpose of serving as a masturbatory aid.  Who has time for that when there is so much in the realm of Literature I have yet to read?
     No, I went and had my library hunt this book down because Stephen Woodworth – author of the Violets series, starring Natalie Lindstrom – had a short story in it.  Same reason I went and read the book of zombie short stories back in December.  Sure, I could learn my lesson; read Woodworth's novels when they come out, avoid his short stories because I find the books (on the whole) lackluster.  But if I did that, how would I know what shape the erotic horror short story had been in 16 years ago?
     Like all of the short story anthologies I've seen, it was quite uneven.  The book opens with what is, effectively porn.  Porn with a story, sure, but porn.  Then it moved on to a werewolf sex story (where the werewolves were members of the undead, and that just pisses me off; I know there is a school of though that places them there, but I come from the D&D mold, and lycanthropes simply ain't undead...try turning one) which seemed to fit both the horror and erotica elements, but also fell short of explaining one key point.  Next was the story that drew me to the book, Woodworth's "Purple Hearts and Other Wounds".  Not great.  There are hints at what his writing style would become, sure, but it is too quick to move through its paces to develop any sense of dread or horror.  And Woodworth's Vietnam seemed to be one drawn from half-remembered scenes of Hamburger Hill (1987) or Platoon (1986) than any research on the war itself.
     From that point on there were some good stories sprinkled in with the bad.  Wendy Rathbone tried to turn the pain and struggle of a boy fighting his sexuality into entertainment (and it reads as unpleasantly as one would imagine).  Jack Ketchum and Edward Lee team up to write a story that would be a fitting episode for an erotic version of Creepshow (1982) or if Playboy TV did a version of Tales from the Darkside (1983-88).  It is also full of odd technical lingo (specific to fungi), which is infuriating because of the total disregard to actual functional biology.  John F.D. Taff plays with the idea of a magical tattoo in a story that really doesn't deliver.  He struggles with setting and characters – his forced imaginings of Bohemians feels worse than false, it feels like a purposeful lie.  And the moment that should be the most important, touching event in the story is glossed over in favor of moving the character to a sense of nothingness – he has no identity but wants to give his love to someone? – and then to being nothing.  This apparently is a problem for a lot of younger writers, but one that an editor should have caught and corrected.
     Lois Gresh doesn't bother to do any research on actual fetishists (she drew on her own, one-time experience with a man who professed a foot fetish) for her story, and it makes it unbelievable.  There are moments of decent erotica in it, but overall it is a disappointment.  Editor Jeff Gelb fills his story with interjections of music from the era in which he set it (why?) and doesn't bother to make any connective tissue between his long set-up and climax.  It is another story that plays false.
     "Two Hands are Better than One" by J.N. Williamson?  Here are my notes on it: Inarticulate writing meets...well, I don’t know what.  It reads a little like a masturbatory version of “Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment”.  It takes a long time to tell no story, and it isn’t ever erotic.  It is just kind of sad.
     James Crawford delivers a better than average piece with "Untamed Sex".  I wonder if this was pitched to The Outer Limits (1995-2002) when it was on Showtime but they turned it down because – well take your pick between hints of bestiality and budgetary concerns.  It works more as a Sci-Fi story (kind of rote, but not poorly done) than erotica or straight horror.  Unfortunately it is followed by Patricia D. Cacek's "Metalica", which was more disturbing than anything else.  I took it – hopefully quite wrongly – as a woman living out the fantasy of being raped by her father (or reliving the event) by use of a speculum.
     It gets worse with Tom Piccirilli's "Call It".  He has a problem with tense (I often do, but I try to find my errors before I think I'm finished with a piece), which is problematic for the reader.  What is the greater offense is that there is not point for the story, other than to give the writer a chance to have a character listen to two people fucking over the phone. It still gets worse.  Michael Garrett takes a tender subject and tries to make it shock-entertainment, this time a boy discovering something terrible about his parents.  But it is all narrated (with absence of the responses of the other person in the room) by a boy who can only refer to his father as "My Daddy".  The ending is a prime example of a cop-out of the worst order.
     Nat Gertler tries for horror-humor with sexual elements in "Restin' Piece".  I guess if I found any of it funny I would have liked the story more.  I also would have liked there to have been a reason why the character hearing the story had a reason to be buying drinks for the fellow telling it.  “Flesh and Blood” by Elsa Rutherford was predictable, jumped around for no reason, and had a real high creep factor at the end.  Alan Brennert's "Fantasies" felt undeveloped, and had a bad ending.
     That left “The Secret Shih Tan” by Graham Masterson.  This story was overtly moralistic and exceedingly unerotic – the sex scene felt like it had been imported from something else – but what hurt it most was the absolutely modern setting, coupled with the uncle’s acceptance of the requirements of the book in question.
     Now, I know that nobody else is going to take the time to track this book down.   Well, I suspect more than I know.  I would caution against it.  For the few decent stories, there is just too much crap to make it worthwhile.  Yes, I know that regular folks can just read the good and leave the bad alone (in which case it may make a pleasant diversion).  But taken as a whole, Fear the Fever just left me fearing another collection of erotic horror.

▸    “The Five Percent People” by Lucy Taylor
▸    “Feeding the Beast” by Bruce Jones
▸    “Purple Hearts and Other Wounds” by Stephen Woodworth
▸    “The Sinister Woods” by Wendy Rathbone
▸    “Love Letters from the Rainforest” by Jack Ketchum and Edward Lee
▸    “Orifice” by John F.D. Taff
▸    “Sole Man” by Lois Gresh
▸    “The Portrait” by Jeff Gelb
▸    “Two Hands Are Better Than One” by J.N. Williamson
▸    “Untamed Sex” by James Crawford
▸    “Metalica” by Patricia D. Cacek
▸    “Call It” by Tom Piccirilli
▸    “Daddy’s Dirty Books” by Michael Garrett
▸    “Restin’ Piece” by Nat Gertler
▸    “Flesh and Blood” by Elsa Rutherford
▸    “Fantasies” by Alan Brennert
▸    “The Secret Shih Tan” by Graham Masterson

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