Bad Boys Online
by Erin McCarthy, contemporary (2003)
Brava, $14.00, ISBN 0-7582-0593-7


Erin McCarthy is first winner of Kensington and Lori Foster's short story contest, where the winners are voted by the visitors to the website. My first thought was that if you ask Lori Foster fans to vote for the winners, the winners will most likely be writing stuff similar in tone and presentation style to what Ms Foster is writing. Erin McCarthy's anthology Bad Boys Online will not be changing this impression of mine. Unfortunately, it reminds me of Ms Foster's more annoying works: unrealistically sexually needy or try-too-hard heroines and their just as unconvincing male partners run amok in the three novellas in this compilation.

In Hard Drive, Kindra "She took a nice long luscious suck" Hill is hot hot hot but for some reason she can't meet the right guy other than Mack "different girlfriend every week" Stone, and Mack is not available because, well, just because. One day he sees her biting her lip and ooh-ooh-oohing in the office, peers over her shoulder, and reads aloud the fact that she's having cybersex ("I want to lick your nipples until you...")! I'm shocked. Which idiot will have cybersex in the office anyway? Office sex after the boss is gone (or with the boss, sometimes), I can believe, but cybersex in the office, that's a tough one. He tells her that he can show her that the real thing is better, and Erin, who has never had decent sex before despite being built like a hot momma, is more than willing to bite the meat, er, bait.

None of the characters seem real because Kindra is a little too sexually neurotic to be believed while Mack doesn't seem to have any character at all. Make Kindra behave like a twit (the sex is too good, so she can't really have any future with him - huh?) and Hard Drive ends up more like a hard sell.

Press Any Key is another "IT-friendly" short story, only this time the hero reminds me of the sad loser geek every high school has that hides in his Klingon-paraphernalia decorated bedroom and abuse his body in tragic ways to online porn. Ad-guy Jared "It popped up like a Star Wars lightsaber" Kinkaid is a strange guy that stays away from women because he apparently cannot control his hormonal overdrive when he's with them. Instead of prescribing estrogen jabs, co-worker Candy "Pink with white kittens" Appleton decides to sexually harrass him instead. She wears clothes that threaten to rip apart whenever she exhales too strongly and they have sex in the office. A silly conflict where a bad guy calls Candy a "dick-tease" tries to give this 1,001 Ways To Get Fired story some deeper meaning but fails miserably.

Ms McCarthy doesn't seem to know whether to make Candy a dick-tease or a sad neurotic trying too hard to seduce a man, she decides to make Candy a little of both, and Candy ends up just too bizarre for words. Jared, with his incessant thoughts of ripping off Candy's dress and giving it to her while she's talking to him about work, comes off like a monster timebomb waiting to explode. Of course, she's doing that tease act on him, but with him already on Monster Sexual Harrassment Mode even before she makes it clear to him that she's willing to play the game, Jared doesn't come off as any guy I'd like to read about having sex.

Sometimes it is best not to put too much meaning into what is essentially an unprofessional office fling between two dimbulbs unable to control themselves until the office after-hours.

The closing novella, User Friendly, provides conclusive evidence that while Ms McCarthy writes about IT and cybersex in her debut, she knows very little about running a web server. Caterer Halley Connors is horrified when her website is hacked and replaced with her head pasted on a topless model on the entrance page. What happens when your website is hacked? You'd call up your web host and demand that they make things right at once. That or you change hosts immediately, redirect the domain name, and reupload the backup files in your hard drive to the server of the new host. In the meantime while waiting for the domain redirection change to be updated on ISPs everywhere, you replace the hacked page with a suitable apology and explanation to the visitors as to why the webmistress has apparently taken an interest in caterer porn. And after all this is done, it's time to get that apology, compensation, whatever from the webhost for the lackadaisal security of the server that allows your website to be compromised.

But instead Halley apparently has to call up Evan Barrett, a computer guru who, as far as I can tell, has nothing to do whatsoever with the webhost. Evan, apparently, sets up the website for the Luddite Halley (I guess, since Halley says only Even knows the password), but shockingly, this so-called web guru lets the hacked page remain up even as he "tries to fix" the website and has sex with Halley in the meantime. All it takes is a simple phone call, but instead, Halley whines and agonizes over people seeing her head plastered on a topless woman even as Evan lusts after her and wonders whether the body under Halley's clothes is as hot as the topless model's. Um, that's romantic, really. Who cares about respecting the brain and all, when it's evident that nobody in this novella has any brainpower in the first place.

Seriously, if Evan is a web guru, I'm Bill Gates' mother.

And for someone who has experienced a healthy dose of what can happen when your embarrassing photos go up online, Halley happily lets herself to photographed while she's doing things to Evan. Any woman with half a brain will know never to let boyfriends take photos of one in a compromising position, but hey, we're talking about a story where a web guru stares at hours at a website, muttering about "fixing the site" and "taking revenge" instead of just moving the site and initiating chargebacks on Halley's credit card.

Silly people in a totally ridiculous story that makes no sense whatsoever to this webmistress all contribute to User Friendly being more like a Ninny Friendly.

From this book, Ms McCarthy's writing is serviceable and clean, even if the love scenes often dip into unintentionally hilarious phraseology at times. But it will take more than sex scenes to carry off plots that make no sense half the time starring characters that come off like stupid siblings of bad porn stars. In fact, the novellas of this book may as well be cable softporn stepchildren of The Red Shoe Diaries, only with even more implausible plots leading up to the eye-rolling "erotic" sex that is 99% of Bad Boys Online's raison d'etre.

Rating: 65


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