(Prime Books, $12.95, 169 pages, paperback; 2002.)
In any anthology of short stories one expects a bit of variation in
standard, from Sublimely Good right through to the merely Pretty Good,
but this new collection of (mainly original) erotic-horror shorts shows
a far wider spread than most: from Pretty Damn' Fine to Absolutely Bloody
Awful What The Hell Can The Editor Have Been Thinking Of To Include
This Drek? The latter category contains not just one isolated turkey
The authors involved are Nancy Kilpatrick, Charlee Jacob, Jack Fisher,
E.C. McMullen Jr, Brian Knight, Rain Graves, Adam Pepper, Sephera Giron,
Nicholas Kaufmann, Gene O'Neill, Teri A. Jacobs, Thomas Deja, d.g.k.
goldberg, John Urbancik and Edo van Belkom.
Nancy Kilpatrick's "Metal Fatigue" is an interesting piece that could
perhaps be sf except that it's so engagingly hallucinatory that it might
be something else entirely dressed up in sf imagery. You may hate it
-- which is praise of the highest!
E.C. McMullen Jr's "Some People" is likewise sf, assuming you accept
cryptozoology as a science; although it's not in the slightest erotic,
despite being focused almost entirely on sex, this may be the standout
story in the book. Its conceit is that the krakens exist, and that their
reproductive cycle involves the parasitic use of host bodies, which
are devoured while still alive and functioning. The details of the sex
scenes in the story are as emetic in affect as you can imagine, yet
McMullen manages to convey that, while nauseating to us, these
events are nevertheless pretty all-fired erotic to their participants.
Nicholas Kaufmann's "V.I.P. Room" is, unlike the previous two discussed,
genuinely erotic in aspiration and result. A married man adores his
wife and they have an excellent sex life together, yet he yearns for
variety while yet remaining faithful to her. Such a dilemma seems solvable
through taking his wife to a high-priced orgy club, yet he makes the
mistake of becoming sexually obsessed with the woman who runs the club
... with doom as the end of the road.
Gene O'Neill's "When Legends Die" handles nicely the fact that the
incubus narrator initially doesn't know who -- what -- he is and only
slowly, along with the reader, finds out. The ending of the story is
a little predictable, but the unusual and unusually well depicted setting
makes up for that.
Teri A. Jacobs's "The False Face" overcomes slightly sloppy writing
to be interesting in its use of unfamiliar elements from oriental mythology
(they may, such is my ignorance, be in fact Jacobs's original inventions).
It's also a cat story, which adds to the appeal for felinophiles --
especially, as it happens, lesbian felinophiles!
d.g.k. goldberg's "Last Exit to Darlington" is a deliberately anti-erotic
story, like so much of the noir fiction which it very successfully emulates.
A good-time girl gets picked up by a fairly overt sexually psychopathic
serial killer and, while she is prepared, even eager, in a way to add
herself to his list of victims in that she will submit to all the sexual
humiliations he demands of her, she is not prepared to let the evening
end in his desired climax of her slaughter. This is quite a powerful
tale, and would belong creditably in any collection of modern noir.
John Urbancik's "The Painted Woman" is an oddity which well merits
reading, while Edo van Belkom's "The Uninvited" is, despite a troubling
and I'm sure unintentional slight aura of racism, a joke which is both
nicely executed and worth the execution; its mockery of the male obsession
with penis size is also amusing.
Don't let it be thought that all of the rest of the stories are dire:
some are perfectly adequate entertainments. But enough of them are so
worthless in both concept and realization that it's impossible to deduce
what process of editorial thought went into their selection; in general
it is these stories that are most riddled with the proofreading and
copy-editing gaffes that are commoner than they should be in the book
as a whole, suggesting that O'Rourke herself had little patience with
Of course, the problem with any such collection is that horror is almost
by definition detumescent if it's to be good horror, while erotica aspires
to exactly the opposite criterion. Most of the stories in Decadence
substitute masses of sex and, often, locker-room language for any attempt
at the genuinely erotic (when will practitioners of supposed erotica
learn that this discipline requires a more sensitive use of language
than virtually any other form of writing, rather than a coarsening?);
some resort to being about sex, substituting intellectual interest
for the attempt to kindle a hormonal blaze; and just one or two succeed
in uniting the two disparate literary forms. This is not overall a criticism;
it's what you expect when you pick up a book like this, even though
the marketing gurus of the publishing industry seem to think we're all
naive enough to buy such books hoping to get our rocks off and puke
simultaneously. However, it would have been nice if O'Rourke had selected
a higher proportion of stories that fueled both the imagination and
the intellect at the expense of those whose authors seem to think their
brief is satisfied by mere, terminally dull obscenity.
Still and all, the good stories in this anthology make up a sufficient
proportion of the whole that, taken in sum, Decadence is probably
worth your time.
Review by John Grant.