Burning Up
by Nina Bangs, Cheryl Holt, Kimberly Raye, and Patricia Ryan; assorted (2003)
St Martin's Griffin, $14.95, ISBN 0-312-31108-7

Oh goody, another "sexy" anthology. Let's cut to the chase: apart from Patricia Ryan's novella, this anthology is pretty much a tale of squealing blow-up dolls making dull rubbery thwacking sounds from the mechanical slapping of their artificial groins. Burning Up is more like a case of Boring Down. The characters here have sex, but I suspect that most of them are deranged children abandoned by their village idiot parents who felt embarrassed by their kids' lack of brainpower.

Nina Bangs kicks off the show with her Sailormoon-on-Vicodin novella, The Flame. Idiot Serenity So-Fine from 2700 time travels into the wrong year and ends up screwing the sculptor of the sculpture she is searching for her Galactic Museum of Erotic Art showcase. Apparently, in 2700, all women are lobotomized emotion-less robots. If they keep putting out stories like this, I won't be surprised. Serenity is an idiot, the wrestler-sculptor Justin Hill is all brawn and Fabio without the fabulous part, and this cartoon of a story is all about schooling lobotimized girlies in sex. Fans of Japanese schoolgirl porn anime may love this one. Me, call me Definitely Not-Amused.

Cheryl Holt's Regency-era novella The Wedding Night is a familiar American spunkette heroine wanting to seduce her husband-of-convenience. Lots of sex ensue, but frankly, Ellen Forster must be halfway to braindead herself to even want to touch the unpleasantly dissolute, drunk, and womanizing husband of hers. Stephen St John's middle name, I bet, is Syphilis. I know erotica is supposed to be sexy, but the hero is so unpleasant that I'm sure even the most die-hard necrophiliacs will feel squeamish at the idea of having sex with this guy. Why can't Ellen just get a nice lover on the side or something? Who says you must make yourself fall in love with the one you happen to marry in those Regency days? This novella is more like a tale of a delusional woman throwing herself at a slutty guy who doesn't even display any ounce of charm during the entire novella. Oh, Ellen, why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?

Kimberly Raye, like Nina Bangs, believes that literary irony, clearly a marvelous showcase of an author's ingenuity, is making a lobotimized heroine do sexy things. We've had neurotic frigids opening sex toy stores, accidental virgins writing sex manuals, and now, in Burn, Inc., frigid hag Gerry Baxter is at loss when her more adventurous business partner elopes, leaving Gerry to finish up an erotic fantasy movie by herself. Apparently now softporn cable films are supposed to have plot. What happened to the good old "strip, fake oral sex, fake lesbian scene, fake humping, fake money shot, repeat and rinse" formula? Our aspiring Marilyn Chambers calls up a friend for favor, and in some contrived mistaken identity scene, reenacts some third-rate Red Shoe Diaries episodes with a contractor. With depiction of female approaching the issue of sex the way the Gollum approaches the One Ring (who on earth wears statuettes of David around their necks - not counting those who really need psychiatric treatment?), this novella comes off more like an unfunny comedy gone awry than an erotic novella.

Hence, Patricia Ryan's familiar "Martyr Gets Laid" historical novella, Possessing Julia, being the best by virtue of causing me the least grief. Julia Hughes is a virgin widow with a child. The child's adopted. Our hero Clay Redmond knows his brother - Julia's late husband - was unable to get it on with Julia, so he believes that Julia is some slutty type. But Julia isn't slutty. She just needs to lose her virginity so that a zillionaire will marry her (believing her fertile) and then she can feed her auntie and her kiddie. See, she's just having sex to save the day! Be assured, readers, there's not one selfish bone in Julia's body. So the virtuous widow and the black sheep Clay proceed to do the kazoings and wa-hey, it's love. Still, this otherwise predictable novella features characters that are rather sane in comparison to the whackjob neurotic gruesome twosomes in each of the previous three novellas.

Burning Up costs $14.95 and still comes off like some rejected Red Shoe Diaries script. Something's burning up alright, and judging from the smell, it isn't the excitement from reading this limpid and ridiculously-plotted anthology that treats sex like something we should be gaping wide-eyed at instead of enjoying. Something is wrong when "erotic" turns out to be "desperately in need of a headcheck" instead.

Rating: 47

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