by Diana Laurence, paranormal (2006)
Living Beyond Reality Press, $3.99, ISBN 0-9778722-8-9
This particular collection of three short stories called Soulful Sex: The Paranormal Collection has an ongoing "paranormal" theme, which Ms Laurence apparently defines as ghosts as well as psychic abilities to distinguish this collection from her Soulful Sex: The Science Fiction Collection and Soulful Sex: The Fantasy Collection. I personally feel everything is more or less the same in one big of paranormal elements but that's just me, I suppose.
Harmless Pleasure is set on another world, where our heroine Peri of Qendoori is gifted with True Magic, which she uses to perform tricks with her cat Spiral in the constant festive environment of the Performer's Park in a place called Bathama. Even though she knows that True Magic is forbidden and the practitioners of True Magic will meet a painful fate at the hands of the law enforcers, Peri loves doing what she's doing. You be the judge whether she's a daredevil or a twit. If you ask me, the fact that Peri doesn't lie about her abilities because she is "incurably honest by nature" tips her towards the "Dumb, Dumb, Dumb" end of the scale. Needless to say, it doesn't take long before Yazid, an adviser of the ruler or Nirahd of this place, extends a personal invitation to Peri. His Glory wants an audience with Peri and Peri knows very well what happens to people who are "invited" to the Palace. The Great Nirahd, Nalif Abad Moridar, is predictably hunky and oh-so-cute, although rumors are rife about the things he did within the palace walls. He has a harem and a daily schedule of debauchery, but one shag from our amazing Peri and he's a new and reformed man.
I don't buy this story at all. In fact, Peri's first encounter with Nalif sees him drugging an unconscious woman to turn her into a sex-crazed woman so that he can couple with Miss Rophynol 2007 "violently". And Peri actually gets turned on by that. Then again, I am starting to believe that she's not right in the head (see her unwillingness to lie to avoid being taken to the palace) so I am not too agog with disbelief over this development. Harmless Pleasure is a rather insultingly simplistic story of how apparently true love can redeem a despicable debaucher. At least, I'm told that this is the case. I don't see it. Harmless Pleasures is more explicit than any of the author's previous stories I've read, but I don't know. I find Nalif and the skanky sex scenes he indulges in a jarring discordance with the concept of "Soulful Sex", which is about sex with an emotional bond. If Ms Laurence is experimenting on going into more detailed levels of kink in her stories, I must say this particular story doesn't succeed where I am concerned.
In Dead Man's Chest, heroine Monica Burnett collects pirate paraphernalia such as pirate hats, pirate books, and pirate movies. That's nothing wrong with that, of course, as long as Monica doesn't show signs of psychotic over-obsessiveness to the point of retreating from reality into their own dreamworld as most heroines with hobbies tend to do. Monica one day purchases a 17th century pirate chest belonging to one R Coppersword. After tinkering and cleaning the chest, she goes to sleep only to wake up to find Captain Rafe Coppersword in her house telling her that they're going to get naked and busy soon.
Monica decides that because Rafe hasn't made any move to rob or rape her, she can trust him and believe his story about being a ghost tha has been brought back to this time by her tinkering with the chest. She even starts to find him sexy. I have this feeling that Monica must be related somehow to Peri. Monica tells Rafe that she is no cheap floozy to be had just because he says so, but before you can blink, she's on her back and he's pushing his hand up her blouse. Naturally, Monica lets Rafe have his way with her, delighted that she's at least being ravished by an evil pirate. Oh dear, I think I can see the psychosis raging its ugly head in Monica already. Then she starts moaning that it's so sad that Rafe is a pirate because he will die and I sigh. These heroines, I tell you. They're all bananas in a bunch.
There's a twist of sorts in this story related to Rafe but at the end of the day, this is still a story of a tragic woman who has no life that she gives herself to a guy claiming to be a ghost barely an hour into their initial meeting because she has the hots for an idealistic movie-perfect version of pirates. Let me put it this way: change "pirates" to "Klingons" or "Clay Aiken" in the previous sentence and tell me if you still can't see how sad Monica is.
Finally, Conjugals is about the Conjugation Ritual of the race of people in the Orion Caste in some distant world. The Conjugation Ritual is described by the narrator of this story, Faedl of the House of Rendorian (the heroine), as the "spiritual joining of two unborns". Which is to say, your parents get you engaged to somebody else even before you are born. Of course, this happens in real life in the past when it comes to marriages of political or business advantages, but for the people in the Orion Caste (the highest caste in the society), the Conjugation is a divine ceremony, with the children actually having clear memories of being in what seems like a darkened room and making a spiritual connection with the one destined for them despite the fact that they were still in their mothers' wombs during the Conjugation Ritual.
Faedl's situation is an unconventional one, however. Unlike other conjugated children, she realizes that she has never seen the one destined for her (other conjugated children grow up together before they eventually get married once they're old enough). This is because her father was killed in a protest march held by Anti-Conjugal people that turned ugly. Her mother eventually married a man of a lower caste. It is a sad fact that her father was killed by his fellow Pro-Conjugal people when they mistook him for an Anti-Conjugal. Faedl's mother in her bitterness over her husband's death converted to the Anti-Conjugal side and since then Faedl was raised to believe that she had never been Conjugated. She is also told that the Conjugation Ritual is nothing more than an eugenics program conducted by the Orion Caste where magic is used to bond two people together regardless of their natural inclinations.Of course, destiny can't be fought and true love can't be denied.
Or is that so? The problem here is, Faedl meets her Conjugated and quickly declares that she loves him the most, he is the best, and her parents are meanies to keep them apart even as she hops into bed with him. Ms Laurence wants to tell me that Faedl made a choice and she chose love, but instead she ends up proving the Anti-Conjugals (who turn out to be selfish nasty people, especially Faedl's mother and stepfather) right because the only way to explain Faedl's instantaneous capitulation to the Woozy-Woozy True Love Forever nonsense is that there is some kind of spell at work here. The rushed conclusion ends up making this story a propaganda for eugenics even if Ms Laurence's intention is to make a statement about one having the choice to choose love over something else.
I find Conjugals the most interesting story of the three but when it could have become a fascinating story about free will versus expectations of family and society, Ms Laurence takes the easy way out by taking sides and turning the story from a beautiful shade of grey into an insultingly simplistic black and white story. The key failure to this story is the relationship between Faedl and her Conjugal, which needs to be portrayed convincingly as one that develops from their own free will as opposed to being due to some spell cast on them even before they were born. Ms Laurence spends nearly two-third of the story setting up the story and the rest of the story rushing towards a conclusion, so Faedl and her sweetheart have a romance that feels as real as a teenaged girl's fanfiction about her weekend love affair with Harry Potter. Conjugal is most likely doomed from its inception because the story is too large in scope to be contained within 40 or so pages.
Normally I enjoy this author's works, but all three stories in this collection are so flawed in one way or the other that they just don't do anything for me. I really wish Conjugals would have worked better because the set-up and the premise of the story are rife with possibilities. This one could have been so good, hence my disappointment at the horribly rushed pay-off. Hopefully Diana Laurence is just having an off-day with Soulful Sex: The Paranormal Collection because I do believe and support what she's trying to do. When I'm in danger of being sensitized to the apparently endless mechanical erotic romances out there, I'll need some Soulful Sex to get some Marvin Gaye style healing. Just not this particular book though, I'm afraid. It comes off too much like a failed experiment to emulate those mechanical erotic romances out there.
This book at Amazon.com
This book at Amazon UK
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