July 11th, 2009


The LOLs

Sex is funny--few would dispute it. From the noises and contortions of the act itself, to the indignities and embarrassments we subject ourselves to in pursuit of it, there is plenty to laugh at in sex.

But is humor sexy? That's a harder sell. The essence of a lot of the best erotica is in the building of mood, of atmosphere; it casts a spell. The essence of most of the best humor is spell-breaking--exposing the undignified, the absurd, the pompous in what you had taken for granted the moment before.

On the other hand, there are fundamental kinships between humor and erotica. After all, in how many genres of literature is success describable in terms of a distinct physical reaction in the reader? And isn't pleasure of all kinds potentially sexy? Pleasure in food, pleasure in power, pleasure in a job well done.

Anyway, honestly, I don't really have a choice. On a very serious day, writing on a very serious subject, I can write maybe two pages without including a joke. Most days, even that is beyond me. There are, however, different kinds of humor.

In my naturalistic sex stories, by and large, the characters are in on the joke. Most of the humor in, say, This is Not A Story About Andrew or Four Condoms is the characters making jokes or the protagonist commenting on the situation. My goal, other than simply to entertain, is to make the characters more vivid and likable.

Ontological Engine used a different model. Though the characters do make jokes, most of the humor is stuff that the characters themselves don't think is very funny. Hopefully, they're wrong.

In Victim/Victorian I used humor to yet another purpose--the story plays with some potentially dark and heavy themes, most obviously incest and non-consensual sex. In a serious, realistic universe, I would feel like I had an obligation to deal with the serious, realistic effects such events have. The broad humor of the V/V series helped free me to include them as erotic and narrative devices. much like Elmer Fudd's shotgun is a very different kind of prop than an ostensibly similar weapon in a crime drama would be.

Can humor enhance a story's heat, or is it the kiss of death? What kinds of humor are incompatible with sexiness?
smut obama

They may not have invented the verbose subtitle, but they perfected it

The irony is: my mother spent my youth trying to press Victorian literature on me. She loves the dickens out of Dickens, she's nuts for Trollope, and she has shelves and shelves of little-known female novelists of the same era. I, of course, spent that period of my life with my nose buried in the usual juvie SF suspects.

And now here I am churning out fake Victorian lit. My influences are probably painfully obvious: There's a bunch of Conan Doyle in my nineteenth-century diction, and rather too much Wodehouse (who's substantially later, anyway). But mostly there's the numerous anonymous authors of The Pearl: A Magazine of Facetiae and Voluptuous Reading, that strange, funny, repetitive, wildly uneven condipendium of late-Victorian literary smut.

At a party a few years ago, a friend remarked, when the Pearl was being discussed, "Oh, it's fascinating stuff. But completely devoid of any actual eroticism." A couple of us there sort of blanched. "Um, yeah. Completely. No frantic masturbation sessions and lifelong favorite erotic images there, no-siree-bob."

These Victorians' sense of the taboo was completely different from ours. The stories in the Pearl are entirely casual about male bisexuality. Rape is not just eroticized; it's pretty much mandatory, in a rather appalling--albeit thoroughly stylized--way. A female character, no matter how debauched and hornrandy, must pretend to resist in her first sex scene with any new male partner. The ice having been broken, the sky is then the limit in their subsequent enthusiastic debauches.

At one point, a male character encourages the girl he's with to talk dirty while they're having sex. She responds: "Prick - cunt - fucking - belly - bottom!" Presumably all these terms were of similar obscenity to the author's ear.

I started writing pseudo-victorian porn with Victim/Victorian: City Manners. It was quite conciously both homage to and an expression of frustration with the peculiarities of sexuality in the Pearl and other Victorian smut. The tangled power dynamics in that story are my response to the strange expectations of that era.

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As the story expanded, these dominance games got even more recomplicated, which seemed to me to make it both funnier and hotter. Here's a bit from Chapter 3: Just Desserts:

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That language and that setting seems to exert a hold on many erotic writers.
British Lesbian author Oosh set her graceful and sly Pavlova's Bitches in that era, and Portland smut wunderkind Nicholas Urfe's sadly incomplete swashbuckler Indigo: The Swordsman's Tale: The Adventures of a Lady of Unnatural Appetites likewise has a nineteenth-century setting. Most importantly, of course, there is Circlet's own fabulous Like a Wisp of Steam, whch has been successful enough that rumor has them already planning two sequels.

What do you guys think? Is there something iresistably erotic about the nineteenth century? Is there another era being sadly neglected? Is it possible to read the line "prick - cunt - fucking - belly - bottom" without giggling?