Category Archives: Words from Laura LaPlace

Stop calling it a “culture war,” call it what it actually is

So I saw another truly ridiculous piece of conservative outrage today, about the squawking, dishonestly named “One Million Moms” group (a proud owner of 3,000 Twitter followers) getting upset that gay people exist. The newest target of their ire is American Girl magazine, which had the temerity to feature an article about a pair of gay adoptive parents, without first seeking the permission of bigoted conservatives and ensuring that the language was appropriately fawning toward Conserva-Jesus and his well known hatred of gays. For the most part the Moms’ rhetoric is the usual claptrap, assuming that their appeasement is the sole purpose of every form of media, and getting arch that their imprimatur was neither sought out nor apparently thought about in the least, but one particular part of it, one specific, commonly used phrase, stuck in my head when I saw it:

1MM supports adoption and taking care of orphans as we are biblically instructed to do in Psalm 82:3, but American Girl could have focused the article on the child and not about the parents since it is a magazine for children. The magazine also could have chosen another child to write about and remained neutral in the culture war.

“Culture war.”

The phrase wouldn’t leave my brain after I’d read it. I couldn’t stop thinking about it, it seemed… wrong, somehow. Unfair. It didn’t gel, didn’t fit… and then I realized why:

You know who wants the most to not be in a culture war over homosexuality? Gay people.

If you focus on the actual words of the standard conservative rhetoric on this issue, and ignore the overall aggressive tone and outrage, you might get this idea that this “culture war” is something being inflicted upon them: they are desperate for people to “remain neutral,” when it comes to depictions of gay people. Show a happy gay family? Don’t do that, stay neutral! Gay parents in a canned spaghetti ad? No, stop, why would you do that? A Chick-Fil-A sponsors an LGBTQ film festival? Hey, nuh uh! Don’t turn chicken into a political battleground, that should be simple!

The behavior of the christian right is all about stopping things from being battlefields in this culture war over homosexuality, one gets the idea that they are beleaguered peacekeepers demanding neutrality, stepping in to deal with all these fires being started by the other side. But the truth is, as is usual for the christian right, the exact opposite. This culture war is not the gays’ to fight.

To the family in the American Girl article, this isn’t some fucking battle. They didn’t appear in the magazine to get conservative christians, nor did American Girl publish the article to attack anybody. They both did what they did for the reasons explained within the article; they did it because they were talking about the foster care system and that gay couple happened to be a (rather photogenic) part of that, and were passionate about it. They are an accurate reflection of the topic that was under discussion, and hence were included in an article attempting to portray that reality. What made it into a battle was a cadre of loudmouthed conservatives unable to separate their own personal offense at the existence of something they don’t like from the reasons that thing might exist in the first place. It’s a battle because a certain subset of conservatives are unable to see the rest of the world as anything other than a reaction to them, as a group.

What, you think we’d have these “culture wars” over homosexuality if gay people were simply left alone, with the same rights as anybody else? The objection being leveled by One Million Moms is that gay people are being depicted as existing, not that they’ve actually done something wrong. You think we’d have these pitched social issues over transgenderism if transgender people were just allowed to be the gender identity they identify with, with all that entails? You think any of this would be happening if the religious conservative movement in opposition to it stopped and let us see what happened without instigating any outrage?

Because that’s what a war is, you know. A war involves at least two sides in active disagreement, it is sustained by all the parties within it, not just one. If the anti-gay side just stopped here, though, there would be no war. Gay people just want to live their lives in peace, and if there had never been any homophobic cultural history here, there would be no culture war now, and certainly no bad feelings on the part of the gay community toward those that are seeking to oppress them now. This is a self inflicted war, begun and sustained by a group of people who simply will not let others live their own lives without their intervention.

There is a kind of war that is begun by one party in it and not the other, and is not sustained by mutual enmity, but rather one side’s insistence… but we call it something else and aren’t generally okay with what it is. That kind of war is called an invasion, and it’s characterized as an interaction between an aggressor and a defender. When was the last time you heard about an invasion, in which nobody would be harmed and no conflict would arise if it were to stop, and thought that the aggressor was in the right?

To be clear, I’m not talking about motivations here; it’s clear that the anti-gay side has a motivation for what they’re doing, it’s one they’ve made abundantly obvious. I don’t agree with it at all, I think it’s a completely unjustified motivation, but I cannot honestly deny that it exists, nor will I pretend that this invasion of theirs is happening out of baseless spite, because that would be untrue. It’s not just troublemaking, it is happening for a reason, even if it’s obviously a bad reason.

No, what I’m talking about here is a clear problem in the language surrounding this issue, the dishonest way that the religious right hopes to characterize the interactions at play. It’s not a “culture war” for any other party but the anti-gay side, and so for them to assert that other parties should “remain neutral,” attempts to apply a mindset about all this to people that do not share it; America Girl was not firing a salvo in any sort of war, they were reporting on an issue. That this got reinterpreted in its transmission to One Million Moms is not their fault, nor is it something they can control. The Moms’ seem to want to make others responsible for how they react to media in ways that the creators did not intend, and this is both arrogant in that it places the onus on everyone else to appease One Million Moms as a matter of course, and entirely misrepresentative of how that media was created in the first place. You cannot retroactively add a malevolent (from their perspective) motivation to a work, nor can you attempt to phrase it as “taking a side” in a culture war when your own objection betrays that you would find it impossible for them to do otherwise.

What was it that One Million Moms said in their article, again?

The magazine also could have chosen another child to write about and remained neutral in the culture war.

Uh huh. And what is their objection at all? Why, it’s that gay parents were depicted in American Girl! Which means that the Moms’ idea of winning would be the removal of gay people from the magazine…

Do you see the problem here? One Million Moms’ idea of neutrality is the same as their victory condition. For one to “remain neutral in the culture war,” one has to allow the anti-gay side to win. Anything else isn’t “remaining neutral,” it’s taking a stand against them.

Keeping this in mind, how dare One Million Moms attempt to turn this into an attack? How dare they classify this as a statement against them in the culture war when the way to remain neutral, to them, is to just give them what they want? That’s not remaining neutral! That’s explicitly endorsing their side exclusively! How self serving of them, to think that neutrality is just them winning!

I could go on, pointing out how hypocritical it is to assert that presenting a gay family isn’t “being neutral,” and yet doing exactly the same thing for their side is just fine, or I could ask why depicting a straight family should be the neutral baseline while depicting a gay family at all is inherently taking a side, but that’s not the point. The point is that this is, in no way, a culture war. This talk of neutrality is entirely misrepresentative, when the hidden premise of the “neutrality” being asked for is to unreservedly give one side whatever they want. It’s not a war when the sole goal of one side is “to live in peace,” and the other’s is “my god says you can’t do that.” It’s not a war when it’s the work of one party entirely and the grievance is the existence of the other side at all.

That’s the objection One Million Moms has, plainly: other people aren’t pretending that gay people do not exist. If they acknowledge that gay people do exist, a completely factual statement, then they aren’t being neutral to the Moms’ self-imposed culture thing. But that’s not a war, that’s a campaign of erasure kicked off with no input at all from the party being erased, and no real world reason that this erasure should happen. That’s a cultural pogrom, not a cultural war.

If gay people were just left alone then they wouldn’t cause any trouble. This isn’t a war for them, nobody asked their opinion of this supposedly pitched cultural battle they’re in and, frankly, they don’t want to be a part of it. You can trust me on that, because I fall under the LGBTQ umbrella (I won’t say where) and all I want to do is live unimpeded, not cause trouble for a group of conservatives I don’t even know. I wouldn’t even think of One Million Moms if they’d just stop insisting that we’re at war.

The framing of a “culture war” implies that both sides are taking shots at one another, but that’s not true. What’s really happening is that one side is taking all the shots, and the other side is just insisting that they should be allowed to live their lives without being killed by those shots. Those shots, by the way, have made very real casualties for the gay side, actual people who have died because of the right’s insistent stoking of cultural homophobia, but never for the opposition. We don’t even want anybody to be killed on the other side, on any side… we just want to be left alone.

Only one side is actually fighting here, so let’s not lie and call this a culture war. This is a cultural invasion, and there is no neutral ground for the invaders. They’ve seen the cultural landscape turn toward acceptance for the LGBTQ members of society, and so they are attempting to push their ways onto us under the guise that their victory condition is some kind of fair and neutral compromise. Such self serving rhetoric should not go unanswered.

Wars have combatants. This is nothing more than an attack on people who want nothing to do with it. Call it what it is, not what the anti-gay side would prefer because it makes them look better.

Request for marvel-pandas; NSFW Storytime: Domina Pact

So, a very kind reader of my first tentacle smut story wrote in asking for one of her own and, being an obliging sort, I said yes. The result, a week and a half later, is tonight’s offering, Domina Pact, a story of tentacles, Succubi, and hot kinky bondage. If you like it, please do leave feedback letting me know, since I thrive on things like that, and I guess I am now amenable to requests, at my discretion, so there’s that. Otherwise, enjoy!

*****

What happens when the people in your fantasies act on their own?

She had typed the same sentence too many times to count over the past few days, and as with all the others, this time she quickly deleted the words, shaking her head dismissively. How would one even go about asking that question? And who would respond?

It wasn’t as though there were a lot of people talking about the issue; her searching online had turned up nothing at all, as if she were the only person on Earth experiencing this. And what an experience it was!

She had no shame about it; at night she would turn the lights low, strip out of her clothes and close her eyes, letting her fingers wander over expanses of soft, pale skin, always ending up between her legs. It was a pleasant enough way to end the day, subsumed in sensual daydreams as she stroked herself to orgasm, and it was during this very routine that she first felt it.

She had wanted a man. Though perfectly able to find her pleasure in women, that day, a week ago, she had desired a masculine presence; strong muscles, a hard cock pressed against her, stubble scraping against her inner thighs…

… But that wasn’t what she had gotten.

Closing her eyes that night, she had begun conjuring a man, but what had walked out of her imagination had been a woman, all swinging hips and tall, lithe grace. Her eyes had refused to open, staying closed as though holding onto the fantasy, this mystery woman who stood before her and pulled her desires astray. The figment even seemed to smile when she tried, teeth like fangs glinting with pure danger.

She had wanted a man, and had gotten a woman, but that had not been the only way her plans had been deviated from that night. She had slipped into her bed dreaming of gentle love, of quiet orgasms filled with blushing heat and small, near imperceptible shudders. Instead, she had found herself… used. Taken and forced and ground beneath the heel of the mystery woman, all the while unable to just open her eyes… or to stop herself from coming.

Oh yes, her fingers hadn’t stopped working the entire time, driven on by some impulse beyond her understanding and, in the end, simple addiction to the sensations she produced. Absorbed into the most devious, sexual traps she could provide, left locked in her own head with a woman who knew her every weakness and was more than willing to exploit them, she brought herself to orgasm more times than she could count. She came. Teeth gritted, she came. Her inner self kneeling and subjugated, she came.

Bound and hurt to the point of tears, she came.

By the time it had ended, when her eyes had opened and her prurient hands had come back under her own control, the sheets beneath her had been soaked, sticky with her own perplexing arousal. She had sported a blush that had remained for hours at a time, furious and hot and nearly full-body, replete with a well earned sweat. Trembling, she had made her way to the bathroom to shower away… whatever had just happened.

The next night, she learned that this was to become her new routine.

Largely experimentally, she had slipped back into her bed that next day, and closed her eyes. Her fingers had begun to move almost immediately, unbuttoning her pants with impatient speed, working on automatic as they plunged below the waistband of her panties to the sound of clacking heels, growing steadily closer in her imagination.

The same woman smirked out from the dark of her mind.

From there, things had progressed much as they had the first time; the cruel figment of her imagination had stripped her and loomed over her, taunting in a voice like black silk and making her do the most degrading things… and all the while her fingers stroked herself to orgasm again and again.

It happened the next night too. And the night after that. And every night this week.

She couldn’t escape it. The woman in her mind had become the new master of her imagination, always lurking, ready to spring out from behind every unconnected thought. Whenever she returned home, the figment was waiting for her, ready to turn her nights into a sexual haze, filled with throbbing pleasure and, by the end, the ache of a body well used. She was, in every respect, the captive of her dreams, possessed of this strange secret that had her doubting her sanity at every turn, unable to tell anyone.

What would they think? What would she even say?

Please help, my imagination keeps taking sexual advantage of me!

Instead, she had turned to the internet for answers during the twilight hour before unseen pressures compelled her to her bedroom, where the phantasmal woman awaited her. But even there, her anonymity assured, she hesitated to type the words, as though actually presenting the thought to the world would confirm something sick about herself. It felt… wrong, and so she deleted the words and closed her laptop.

All that was left was the figment, demanding her presence in the bedroom.

Treacherously, she felt a trickle of wetness between her legs, thighs clasped tightly together at the very thought. Perhaps that was why she was reluctant to tell others of what was happening to her; perhaps she liked it too much, and feared that it might stop should she be compelled to get help?

She would go to the bedroom, she knew; her place on the bed, beneath the heel of her conceptual conqueror, held a sort of personal gravity, dragging her inexorably downward into the next humiliation. But such things could always be delayed, of course they could; there was so very much to be done, after all. What if she wanted to go clean herself up before descending into that maddening hall of pleasure once more?

Yes, that was it. She needed a shower first. That’s what she would do.

She walked down the hall on light, hesitant feet, peering into every corner and shadow, an odd sense of guilt pervading her, as though she was standing up a lover who could discover her escaping at any moment. As though there was something to fear in disappointing a woman who existed only within the confines of her mind.

She almost giggled at the notion, if it wasn’t so very plausible in the moment.

Turning the taps as high as they could go, she stood in the slowly warming bathroom, surrounded by cream coloured tiling, suffused by the warm light of a fading bulb. This was safe, this was comfortable…

… The woman wouldn’t find her here.

Stepping out of her clothes, she felt a sudden sensation of eyes at her back, strong enough to compel her to whirl around, discovering nothing but her own pale, frightened face looking back at her from the mirror. Her hands felt out for the rim of the counter, and she stared herself full in the eye, the corners of her mouth turning down; this was ridiculous. She was better than this, better than cowering at the contents of her own mind. There was nothing to fear, not really.

There couldn’t be…

Steam had begun billowing out over the top of the shower curtain, as good a signal as any to get in. Stepping under the water, she lifted her face to the stream, allowing the heat to hit her full on, blasting away the paranoia and nervousness that had pervaded her entire day up to this point. She had broken the cycle, stepped away from the routine that had come to define her week, if only in a small and momentary way. She would return to it in time, placing herself willingly back in the figment’s waiting arms, but for now, her life was her own, her choices under her own control.

The water caressed her body, clinging to the peaks of her breasts, running down the curves of her hips, and even this became strangely sensual in the shadow of the figment, the waiting pleasure to come. Once she was done here, she would return to the bedroom, to debase herself for the figment’s amusement; she could already feel the desire for it building in the back of her mind, unbidden and, in some respects, unwanted. She would go, and so there were parts of her- many of them between her legs- intent on recontextualizing even this act of defiance as something sexual, a kind of preparation for what was to come.

She wasn’t merely taking a shower, she was making her body presentable for the figment…

‘Nothing unusual here,’ She said, under her breath, the words barely perceptible even to herself over the sound of running water. Nevertheless, defiance edged her words, ‘Just taking a shower for nobody in particular…’

It was then that she heard it; heels, clacking against cream tiles.

She tensed immediately, ears reaching out for the sound, but it had faded before she could properly apprehend it. It could barely have been said to exist at all, potentially something akin to an auditory hallucination than a legitimate sound, but it was still enough to put a hostile slant on events. She realized, possibly for the first time, precisely how vulnerable a position she had put herself in; alone, naked, backed into a corner and surrounded by slick surfaces, with her sight blocked by curtains and walls, and her hearing dulled by the constant pound of the shower spray. Good thing…

Good thing there was nobody else in here, then.

But the sound resounded off of the walls regardless, loud enough this time to make her jump, squeaking with shock. This time she pulled back the shower curtain, eyes wide and heart pounding, fully expecting to see a figure in the room beyond, yet being met with nothing but steam and bathroom fixtures. Her reflection stared back at her through an inverse, mirror-world bathroom with its own steam fog, wide eyed and dishevelled, dripping water. Slowly, she watched herself relax.

Closing the curtain again, she took a moment to close her eyes and breathe deeply, to steady herself in the face of what were clearly hallucinations. Merely the stresses of a week on this perverse routine taking its toll on her nerves, making her jumpy and strained at every unexpected sound. She had to be hearing the house settling, the sounds turned relevant and threatening when refracted through the prism of her paranoia.

She had almost convinced herself of that by the time she opened her eyes, and saw a reflection that wasn’t her own staring back at her through the glass panel ahead of her. The figment smiled.

‘You’re standing me up,’ The reflection looked down her nose, her image knobbed and warped by the tiled texture of the glass, but immediately recognizable as the woman who had spent the week… It didn’t bear thinking about. ‘That’s not smart.’

Screaming, she flailed backward, jamming the hot tap into her back, the pain dulled and inconsequential next to the shock that rippled through her. The reflection stepped forward, pulling itself out of the two-dimensional space inch by inch, the glass offering resistance, as if attempting to suck her back in. Nevertheless, the figment advanced, accruing reality moment by moment, dark eyes levelled ahead, exuding confidence.

‘I like my human girls wet, though. That’s thoughtful of you,’ The figment said, her voice a low sensual hum. ‘Never done this in a shower before… are you sure there’s enough room?’

Under normal circumstances it would have been ill-advised, but faced with a very real creature from her imagination, standing face to face, their breasts actually touching in the close quarters of the shower, panic made her both flighty and reckless. She threw herself through the shower curtain, feet skidding on the wet floor in her desperation to escape what was surely a clear sign of an ensuing mental breakdown. A laugh sounded from behind her as she cleared the bathroom door and made it out into the hallway, the plastic purr of the curtain parting as she took her first thudding steps forward, nude and dripping, crimson hair trailing behind her as she ran…

… The bathroom door clicked closed as her feet left the ground, a heavy weight encircling her waist as it hefted her up, effortlessly.

‘Oh, you want to do it in the bedroom? I’m game,’ The figment’s voice was suddenly behind her and below her, as the thing lifting her into the air elevated her above head height. The soft, wet pressure of a tongue started at the small of her back and moved, lapping up a rivulet of water as it ran down her skin. She shivered, and the figment continued, ‘Do let me lead the way.’

Stepping ahead of her, the figment finally afforded her a view of what had happened; the woman herself was naked too, making it easy to see the tentacle extending from her back to ensnare her prey, forcing her to follow behind the figment as she languidly headed for the bedroom, hips swaying in a way that, in another context, could be described as “luscious.”

Entering the room and conscientiously closing the door behind her, the figment deposited her prey onto the ground, the dark, pulsing tentacle adding an insistent downward pressure that forced the girl to her knees, almost bending double under the weight of it. Looking down at her, the intruder smiled.

‘There now, isn’t that better?’ The figment crooned, running one hand through her captive’s hair, fingers subsumed in the fiery red therein. Looking up, she regarded the creature truly for the first time, cataloguing as many distinct features as she could. What she saw was not human; though it took the shape of a beautiful woman, devoid of clothes, there were features on her that could not belong to a person.

Her skin, most obviously, was the lightest shade of blue, the colour almost imperceptible but certainly there. At her limbs it became darker, her arms from the elbows down the crushed velvet blue of a midnight sky, as were her legs up to the middle of the thigh. Like naturally occurring gloves and stockings, she thought, the idea almost making her giggle, only the lingering pressure of the tentacle around her waist reminding her of the gravity of her situation.

Oh yes, there were tentacles too, four of them that she could see, extending from the figment’s back; thick strands of muscle clad in the same deep, dark blue, their length allowing them to stretch to the far corners of the room, their tapered tips idly exploring, as if independent of their mistress’ whims.

And then there were the horns.

They curved around the contour of her head, rising to the surface of her deep black hair like ancient serpents rising from the sea. Like polished bones of purest ebony, they glinted in the light, the tips wickedly sharp but, ultimately, worthless as a form of weaponry; they terminated almost at the back of her head.

Even so, they gave a particular hint as to the nature of the creature before her.

‘Who are you?’ She asked of her captor in a tremulous voice, near breathlessly as the tentacle around her midriff squeezed, making it hard to draw a full breath. She felt herself shaking, head to toe, in the presence of an entity that radiated a strange kind of pressure, an aura of alien oddity, as though her very being stung at the forces of reality, made the world draw back from her infinitesimally.

‘Mmm, names are a difficult concept, my dear,’ The figment tapped its chin with a finger, and her captive could see the claws that tipped her nails. Eyes like midnight stared down at her, like tunnels into the sky, ‘True names are powerful things, for Succubi like me. They confer altogether too much control to those that hear them for me to just give mine out heedlessly, no matter how much I’m attracted to you.’

‘Fake names are good, though. Just call me Crona,’ She knelt beside the trapped woman then, running one of those claws down the terrified girl’s cheek. Biting her lip, Crona leaned in, putting her face beside her captive’s, blowing a stream of cool air into her ear, ‘I know your true name though, Taylor…’

She said another word then, breathed it so that it hung in the air, a little glowing glyph in deep, forest green, the lines of it waving and curling in on themselves. Taylor didn’t recognize the language, but the meaning of the word punched through her like a comet, known so deep in her being that the moment of hearing it stretched on into an eternity, endless time for her to comprehend the word, understand every inch of it, every pulsing node and thread of its history. The word became her, stamped over her soul.

Despite her bondage, Taylor’s body arched back, a shiver racing up her spine, embedding itself all the way through her. Her skin screamed with sensation, reaching out to every minute contact, the air against her, the carpet beneath her, her own hair as it brushed her back. Every muscle she had clenched.

In an instant, with the hearing of the word, Taylor went from zero to orgasm in a sixth of a second, body gripped with pleasure. Ecstasy ripped into her, tore out every cogent thought, left only Crona’s singular syllable lingering on her clit. Her pussy pulsed with it, wet walls closing on nothing, as her nipples hardened and her mouth opened in a wordless, mindless moan, a sound like pure sexuality. There was no stimulation, no fantasies, or fetishes, or kinks; Crona had just purred into her ear and turned her on, like flipping a switch. But there was no satisfaction to be found in it either, in this false climax, just a heightening of arousal that had been steadily building as her date with the figment, previously presumed to be merely another masturbation session, drew closer. Now her need spiked, her desire skyrocketed as her body shuddered and twitched through its empty orgasm.

She came down shaking, unexpectedly in Crona’s arms, the creature sighing with deep, full-body contentedness, as though drawing something truly edifying from her captive’s weird pleasure. When she let Taylor go, there was a distinct note of reluctance in her, that faded quickly as she got to her feet in a manner she had denied to Taylor herself, still pinned low by the unnatural strength of the binding tentacle.

‘Aren’t true names interesting?’ Crona stretched, lithe body moving like a marble sculpture come to life, though Taylor was unable to truly appreciate this, possessed as she was by echoes of what had just happened to her, aftershocks of pleasure that only made her want more. ‘The intention one has when they speak one very much determines the effect… and I’m sure you can tell from what happened to you how much I want you. Since I always get what I want, here we are. Now then…’

Her tentacles moved with purpose now, wrapping around Taylor’s arms and the insides of her knees, holding her still despite her growing need to struggle. Her arms were held straight out behind her back, pinioned there by a pair of tentacles working over one another in a complex network of overlapping strands, seemingly solely for Crona’s amusement alone. Escape would be impossible, though it didn’t stop Taylor from trying, muscles straining against the far greater strength of the Succubus; every inch of progress toward freedom she gained was quickly reversed by the dextrous lengths, heretofore unknown loops reaching out to grasp at her and pull her back into line. There were no weak points along the length of them, no place where the muscles ceased or thinned, no joints or bones to strike out at. Just pure, supernatural strength, penning her in.

Taylor’s knees were pulled apart as she knelt by yet more tentacles, spread nearly as wide as they could go by the unyielding pressure of Crona’s appendages, leaving the most delicate, sensitive parts of her exposed and vulnerable. The tentacle about her waist finally released her, but at the moment, that was no comfort.

Crona herself loomed above her, staring down with undisguised prurient interest, and Taylor found herself flinching away from the attention. Of course, if the being in her fantasies had always been Crona, her own independent entity, then she had clearly been spending a lot of time admiring Taylor’s body in the past, but that had always been from within the safe confines of her imagination. But now the Succubus was here in person, in the flesh, her deep, black eyes filled with the simplest of desires and levelled right at Taylor; the experience was totally different.

Within her mind, nothing overly harmful could have happened to Taylor. Out here in the real world, the situation was quite different.

‘W-what do you-?’ Taylor began to speak, her voice a nervous, stammering wreck, but she was quickly interrupted by a tentacle worming its way between her lips, sliding a ways over her tongue before stopping, filling her mouth. She groaned wordlessly in complaint, but could do little else.

‘No, no, I don’t need you to speak, girl,’ Crona said in a voice like honey. ‘I already know everything I need to about you. I’ve had a good week or so of hanging around in your head, seeing your ins and outs, prying into your deepest desires. It has been fun, but it’s time for me to move on.’

All four of Crona’s tentacles were engaged keeping Taylor pinned, and despite all that had happened, the human girl was still surprised to see a fifth peek out from behind the Succubus, between her legs and out, to sway in the air in front of Taylor’s face. As she watched, the tip developed a seam, splitting open in a disturbingly organic way, revealing a blue, wiggling tongue at its core. She gasped, and Crona smirked.

‘I’m nice, though. Don’t worry about that, pet,’ The Succubus purred, starlight eyes gleaming danger. ‘I’ll even give you a chance to give me what I want, after I’ve toyed with you for a while…’

The slowness with which the new tentacle moved was taunting, deliberate, serving to highlight just how powerless Taylor was. She had seen them move with lightning speed tonight, certainly fast enough to restrain her with ease; there was no need for it to go so painfully slow, but to remind Taylor that tonight she was the plaything of something far greater, much more so than she had ever been all the other nights.

It worked. As the tentacle trailed its leisurely way down, growing closer and closer, nearing her vulnerable body, Taylor whimpered and tried to back away, knowing not what its intentions were. There was nowhere to go, of course, with her lovingly bound body held perfectly in place, but fear did not bow to facts, and the primal instinct of survival at her core screamed for her to escape this utterly alien creature before it was too late.

She watched as, with unerring accuracy, the tongue-tipped tentacle slipped down between her legs and, with its very first contact on her body, touched itself to her clit. The thing was all point, and it flicked against her sensitive bud, applying itself more fully there, broad and flat as it licked across her singing nerves. Despite herself, defying the racing of her heart, Taylor moaned all too readily; her pussy had been drenched from the moment the Succubus had whispered her true name to her, and now it hungered for the stimulation the tentacle could provide.

Ashamed at how quickly she gave in to it, the echoes of need resounding through her slight frame, Taylor moved her hips, pressing down against the tongue. It responded in turn, twirling around her needy bud before slipping, for a scant few tantalizing moments, inside her, rapidly dripping with her juices. It retracted fast, the sudden emptiness causing Taylor to gasp, then growl at the lack of the sensation that the tongue had caused.

Pushing herself down, she tried to recapture it, but the nimble tentacle pulled away, actually dodging her, before darting back in to lash at her clit once more, and Taylor twitched with each tingling touch, unable to do more than feel the rippling pleasure that went through her like a shockwave. But each lick was only a second or two at a stretch, enough to make her want more, but not enough to get her any closer to satisfaction.

As the seconds ticked by into minutes, Taylor looked up, pleading silently with Crona with her eyes, wanting more but too embarrassed to ask, to name the arousal she was feeling, even if she could do so around the tentacle lodged in her mouth. One glance at the confident concentration on Crona’s face told her everything she needed to know: the Succubus was doing this deliberately.

Crona slowly ground her hips against the surface of the tongued tentacle where it had slipped between her legs, the movement seemingly instinctual as she toyed with Taylor, running the tip of the tongue up and down the woman’s swollen lips, teasing yet never slipping inside. She shivered in time with her own licking, each motion of her hips corresponding with another moan ripped from Taylor’s throat by the slick little muscle as it ran the length of her pussy. There was true excitement in the Succubus, real, primal gratification at seeing her human captive squirm.

And squirm she did. Taylor didn’t know how much time had passed since the intruder had begun edging her, but however much it was, it was too long. Each moment, bound by tentacles and licked just to the edge of orgasm without being allowed to fall over the precipice was like an eternity imprisoned in her own needy flesh, unable to escape the unfaltering sex impulses fed to her by the Succubus’ expert ministrations. Crona’s knowledge of Taylor’s body was truly supernatural, knowing the precise moment before climax finally took her, pulling away just as the tingling rush of it began to wash through her hips, leaving it to fade into disappointment.

It didn’t take long at all for her to break down under such pressure, whimpering more or less constantly around the tentacle in her mouth, the sound helpless and pathetic. A bright red flush coloured her face and was beginning to inch down the pale skin of her chest. Her cunt dripped freely, coating her thighs and the intrusive tentacle down below with her sticky arousal, the juices spread around as it continued its tireless assault. Breathing in harsh, shuddering breaths, Taylor felt her eyes blur with tears, the culmination of the alien, erotic stresses she had been put under finally spilling out; captured by a Succubus, shown that her own mind was subject to external forces more than willing to make her their plaything, and then robbed even of the ability to care about all of that in the face of persistent sexual denial, Taylor’s tears tracked down her cheeks, and still, all she wanted was to come.

Crona eyed the girl with a mercurial gaze, her true feelings impossible to read behind her studiously arranged features, like a beautiful sapphire mask. She walked, in long, languid steps, around Taylor to her bed, the same bed that she had forced its owner to degrade herself over and over, bound in mental chains, until it had become second nature. Her tentacles tensed as she did, dragging Taylor around, effortlessly, so that she was always facing the Succubus, still writhing in agonized pleasure as the tongue never ceased its work. Delicately, she perched herself on the end of the bed and took the human’s chin in her hand, raising her head with a gentle pressure that Taylor was too addled to deny.

‘I’ve been keeping you on edge for an hour now,’ Crona tilted her head, and for a moment pure, near demonic delight at the suffering in front of her was visible on her features, hinting at the ancient, boundlessly strange nature of the non-human creature. ‘And I can of course keep it up for as long as I desire. Do keep that in mind as I tell you this: make a pact with me, pet.’

The tentacle slid out of Taylor’s mouth then, leaving her to splutter in its absence for a moment before regaining her cool. She could feel a peculiar slickness on her tongue now that the tentacle was gone, and some of it had trickled down her chin when the thing had withdrawn, but with her arms still pinioned she had no way of wiping it off; instead she merely wondered what the substance was and, considering the inhuman nature of the creature who had delivered it to her, what effect it was having on her.

She certainly didn’t get this aroused, this easily…

But Crona was still regarding her, expectant, waiting for an answer to a question Taylor didn’t fully understand. She suspected, her mind reeling through everything she knew about the legends of Succubi, desperately searching for some piece of information to hook onto, that this vagueness was intentional, a way to manipulate her; she resolved not to fall for it.

‘A p-pact with a demon,’ She said, adding notes of challenge to her voice that were undercut both by the tremble in it, and the warning tentacle that wrapped around her throat, squeezing until there was more fear in her voice than defiance. Still, she managed to choke out, as Crona’s inscrutable gaze went right through her, ‘Doesn’t sound too smart.’

‘I am not a demon,’ Crona demurred, her face impassive. ‘I am a Succubus, and I beg to differ: making a pact with me will provide you heights of pleasure you can’t even imagine, pet.’

‘No… nnngh!’ Taylor shook her head, but her words were ripped from her as the tongue once again lashed her clit, somewhat punitively. Yet again she was given no more than the lightest touch, just enough to make her body react, needy flesh wanting more with no hope of getting it.

Crona sighed, ‘Very well. I don’t intend to leave without a pact, little girl. Not after spending so much time reading your fantasies. I know what you want, pet, and I can make you want what the pact can bring. So! Change of tack, I suppose.’

And with that, the Succubus disappeared over the rim of the bed, falling onto her back with her legs hanging over the edge. Without any apparent effort, the tentacles binding Taylor lifted her into the air, the bonds around her knees aligning the woman so that she was held sideways, parallel to the floor. Forced to bend at the knees, the tentacles at her arms extended further, trussing her by further binding her feet to her arm knots. Hog tied yet still struggling fruitlessly, Taylor was dragged up until she hovered over Crona’s recumbent body, those midnight eyes staring up at her, practically glowing with the assuredness of her dominance.

‘I will make you mine, pet. You will make a pact with me,’ Inhuman energies glinted like constellations in the Succubus’ eyes, impossible to assign an emotion to. For the first time, Taylor truly believed that it was within the power of this creature to make her agree, the endless depths of those eyes, once they had fully committed to a challenge, offering a glimpse at the true extent of the world beyond Taylor’s understanding. There was nothing human in Crona, little that was recognizable, no way to gauge her… Just a mystery incarnate, a being with strength and power the likes of which Taylor could not hope to fight against. If anyone could make her submit, it was this creature with azure skin, this woman-shaped force of dominance.

‘I am a Succubus, pet. Wild magic incarnate, the sex impulse made flesh. You will not deny me… let me show you.’

With exquisite control, the tentacles lowered just enough for Crona to crane her neck and cover Taylor’s mouth with her own, her tongue forcing its way into the human woman’s mouth. Taylor squealed at the intrusion, but quickly lapsed into silence; the Succubus’ mouth tasted like nothing she had ever experienced for, but almost immediately she longed for more, the strange sweetness winding through her, filling her mouth as the creature binding her probed as far back as she could. When she disengaged, Taylor found herself arching forward to recapture Crona’s mouth instinctively, though the tentacles ensured that she would fail.

‘Got you…’ There was a singsong lilt in the Succubus’ voice as she laid back against the sheets, body long and graceful and curving. She licked her lips, and Taylor’s eyes widened with desire, her heart racing, wanting nothing more than to lick them too. One hand trailed up, dark clawed fingers trailing up Taylor’s skin, the trussed woman twitching at the contact, until she stopped, and laid her palm flat against the human’s stomach.

When she smiled, Taylor could see the sharp, glittering points of a set of fangs.

More tentacles spiralled up Crona’s arm, issuing from behind her shoulder, racing up the bridge between their mistress and their prey and scattering when they finally reached her. Taylor found herself engulfed, tentacles moving up and down her naked form even as those that had already been there wrapped tighter, keeping her secure under the new onslaught.

One encircled her neck like a collar, the tip coming to rest right below her bottom lip, swishing lightly back and forth. Crona glared up at her, those fangs still on full display.

‘Now be a good little girl and suck me,’ The Succubus’ voice was liquid silk, and Taylor obediently opened her mouth, the tentacle’s tapered tip sliding between her lips. She could feel its smooth surface sliding along the skin of her neck as it moved deeper, stopping just before it hit the back of her throat. Knowing what was expected of her, Taylor sealed her lips around the tentacle’s shaft and, bobbing her head, took it the rest of the way, gagging on the tip of it. Tongue fluttering along the underside of the slick and twitching shaft, she was rewarded with a throaty moan from the creature below her, and a flexing of the other tentacles around her as Crona writhed in apparent pleasure.

‘Someone’s had practice… and I already know exactly how much, of course,’ She said, head tipped back as Taylor whimpered, her throat clenching around the tentacle as it moved. When she spoke again, it was at the tail end of a moan, ‘Well, obedient pets get rewarded…’

Some of the tentacles had slipped down the length of her body as she sucked at the one in her mouth, inching across her skin, and as Crona spoke one of them tensed at its tip, plunged itself deep into Taylor’s needy, dripping pussy, her spread thighs spasming at the suddenness of it all. Two more curled around her breasts, spiralling up from the base and squeezing all the way, blood rushing to the pink caps of her nipples just in time for the suckling ends to clamp over them, a pair of tongues swiping over the sensitive buds even as the rest of their length constricted, lifting her breasts up toward them. The third tongue-tipped tentacle worked likewise, returning to its work at her clit, so that Taylor found herself fucked and licked all at once, pleasure washing over her from multiple fronts at once.

She tried to scream, the sound stoppered by the tentacle in her mouth taking her throat, rendering the shrill sound into a gag, a wet choking as Crona shivered in pleasure at the feeling of her captive’s throat clenching around her. The other tentacles plunged on, fucking and licking and sucking, yet more probing and tickling every inch of Taylor’s bound form, causing the girl to squirm and writhe against her bonds and the caressing tentacles, her hips rolling to take as much of the ones fucking her as possible.

There was nothing else for it; she abandoned herself to the Succubus, to the pleasure of their sex, the helpless, shameful ecstasy of submitting to what was a superior being. Spreading her legs as wide as her bonds would allow, Taylor focused her energy on what she could control, fellating the tentacle in front of her, her tongue fluttering against the underside of its tip before it pushed to the back of her mouth. She still hadn’t come, still needed an orgasm, a need that had already been deep and nagging even before the Succubus had kissed her and made it so much worse. That kiss still echoed through her, lingered on Taylor’s lips, traced its way right down to her clit, making her pussy buzz with pure, unadulterated want.

There had been magic in that kiss, she knew, and in the face of it there was nothing to be done but surrender to that arcane sexuality.

Taylor felt herself near that precipice, growing closer and closer as her body became a writhing gangbang for tentacles, a Bacchanalian mass of twitching, pleasure-giving flesh. Her eyes widened, worry gnawing at her that, once again, Crona would deny her, withdrawing her tentacles at the last moment and leaving her wet and quivering, forced to service the tentacle in her mouth with no reward for herself.

‘You want it?’ Instead, Crona spoke, as her tentacles stoked the fire in Taylor’s loins to near unbearable heights, watching and feeling the girl tremble with barely suppressed climax. ‘You want to come for me, pet?’

There was only one possible answer, and Taylor nodded furiously, groaning the affirmative even gagged as she was, honesty vibrating in every molecule of her body. As she did, the tentacles redoubled their efforts, undulating as they plunged deep inside her at both ends, sucking harder at her nipples and laying a single, continuous lick to her clit.

Just a moment more, and she would come…

Suddenly, before Taylor could properly parse what was happening, the tentacles binding her ankles slipped away, releasing her to the tender embrace of gravity. Her bottom half descended rapidly, the tentacles knotted around her arms shifting as she fell so that she ended her fall upright, her knees hitting the bed at either side of Crona’s head. The motion must have been delightfully choreographed, because the Succubus waited not a moment before her own tongue replaced the tentacles that had been fucking her, lapping eagerly, hungrily at Taylor’s swollen cunt, finally bringing her over the edge and into orgasm.

She gasped, squealed around the tentacle still in her mouth, and Crona did likewise from below. Taylor’s pussy clenched down on the Succubus’ tongue as it slid inside, lapping at a sensitive spot that Taylor didn’t even know she had, her hips bucking as waves of pleasure crashed against the shores of her hips. At the same time, Crona moaned, long and hard, the vibrations ticking at Taylor’s petalled lips, and her tentacle retracted partway, the tip resting against the human’s tongue. It twitched, pulsed in Taylor’s mouth, and a spurt of warm, sweet liquid shot from it, the spasm repeating as her mouth filled with the creature’s strange orgasm, her come sticky as it pooled on Taylor’s tongue. She swallowed…

She swallowed it down, and…

All thought was erased, all hope of maintaining control evaporated, as her body lit up with pure, perfect, blazing sex impulses. In a single moment Taylor’s orgasm stretched from her hips to the far corners of her being, filling her up from head to toe. The bed sheets beneath her sent pleasure spiralling up her knees and calves, the tentacles, where they lay, were tiny localized climaxes on her skin, even the air felt rapturous as she moved against it.

Every muscle in her tensed so hard that they ached, as orgasm slammed through her body and she submissively swallowed every drop that filled her mouth, her tongue moving to lap it up. She came down slowly, nerves still arcing pleasure, insistent that Taylor be made to feel every seemingly endless wave of it, washing up and down her bedraggled, sensitive form.

Crona, for her part, licked and licked, tasting Taylor’s copious juices with obvious relish, tongue-fucking the girl until her senses returned to her and she whimpered in sudden oversensitivity, her clit aching at the rough scrape of the Succubus’ tongue on it. Taylor could feel the smirk on Crona’s face as she relaxed, laying her head back down on the bed, as her tentacles began to move once more.

‘There now…’ The Succubus rolled to one side, and her tentacles hefted the girl aloft and placed her, gently, on her back beside her. ‘You see what I can do? Make a pact with me, pet… be mine…’

There was a slithering chaos of motion all around her, as tentacles disengaged and moved, rearranging Taylor’s tired limbs to better suit Crona’s plans. Her arms were loosed from behind her back and drawn up, one at a time, above her head, where they were moored to her headboard by tentacles wrapping around the blackened metal, before going on to wrap around her wrists. Her ankles once again found themselves encircled, her legs spread wide as Crona moved up so that they could be face to face as tentacles began inching their way back into the space between Taylor’s legs.

Obviously, the Succubus had a thing for bondage.

Taylor could only watch, over the slopes and inclines of her body, as three thin tentacles twined together on their way toward her pussy. The shaft that resulted was thick and somewhat imposing, but by now she dripped freely down the cheeks of her ass, and it slid into her well-fucked hole with a minimum of resistance. But as the tentacles kept pushing, their girth only expanding the more of it she took, Taylor began to squirm, her cunt stretching to take the invasive length.

‘P-please…’ She stammered, finally free of the tentacle in her mouth, which had settled around her neck instead. The syrupy sweet taste of its come still lingered on her tongue, seeming to fizz as Taylor drew in air to speak. Ultimately though, she didn’t know what she was pleading for; any will she had to resist had been left behind somewhere between being edged for an hour and sucking off a tentacle… was she just begging for more? For mercy from a being who had her so completely in the palm of one blue-tinted hand?

… For the pact?

‘You’ll become mine, body and soul…’ Crona purred, pausing for a moment for Taylor to grunt as another few inches of tentacle pushed into her. Clawed fingers tracked across the prone woman’s chest, from one breast to another, pricking her skin along the way, ‘And in return, you get this every day. You get a body capable of handling everything I have to give you, can you imagine it?’

The Succubus’ horned head bobbed, her tongue sweeping around one tight, sensitive nipple, causing Taylor to arch her back, pushing herself into Crona’s mouth, feeling the sharpness of her fangs against her skin. They closed around her nipple, tugging upward before releasing, causing Taylor’s breast to bounce, and the girl herself to moan.

‘Can you imagine that what I’m doing to you now is me holding back?

Taylor could, she so could, and her mind raced to fill in the gaps, the results making her blush even harder than she had been, unconsciously grinding against the tentacles that had finally bottomed out, filling her so completely that it ached to move too far, the good kind of ache that made a body long for more. Like masturbating on a bruise.

‘Contract with me…’ The tentacle encircling her throat drew back, allowing its mistress’ mouth to travel along the line of Taylor’s neck, nipping with her teeth where she could find purchase. ‘All you have to do is say yes, speak the words…’

Taylor was losing ground fast, her mind unwilling to even consider being without these feelings in future. If she denied her, would Crona give up and leave? Or would she, as she had hinted at earlier, continue to toy with her until she gave up and made the pact?

Which one of those would be worse?

‘I… Oh, god…’ She began to say it, but trailed off as the tentacles all tightened or moved, rewarding her for her willingness. Crona smiled encouragingly, licked her way up Taylor’s throat to plant another intoxicating kiss on her lips. It strung something deep inside her, touched sexual places inside her very soul, and as the Succubus pulled away, even as Taylor realized there was magic in that kiss that was altering her mind, her body screamed for more.

‘Yes, that’s it, pet,’ Crona crooned. ‘Just a little more. Just tell me what I want to hear and I’ll give you something really good…’

Naked, vulnerable, spread open and used in every way possible by the probing limbs of the woman beside her, Taylor surrendered to the promise, closed her eyes, and opened her mouth to say the words.

‘I… mmm… I’ll ma-ake a pact with y-you,’ She said, tremulously, gasping at the end as the tentacles seemed to shiver inside her, finally fulfilled at hearing what Crona had wanted to hear all along. Fangs glittered in the curve of the Succubus grin.

‘Ah, there’s a good girl,’ A clawed finger fell to prick at the hollow of Taylor’s throat as the Succubus purred, seemingly drawing blood; instead of pain, however, there was but a strange tickle, racing to ring her neck before fading. Whatever had happened apparently delighted Crona, who planted a vibrant kiss on Taylor’s lips before pulling back and flexing her tentacles.

Suddenly, the tentacles that had entwined in order to stretch Taylor’s pussy began to separate, the dextrous tips unwinding to push out, pressing against increasingly sensitive spots within her with supernatural accuracy. She felt the warm, spurting pressure of the Succubus’ come from multiple sources at once, so much of it that it spilled out of her, slicking her thighs as the tentacle trunk fucked her hard and fast, bringing her over the edge into orgasm for the second time with ease.

And then, Crona whispered Taylor’s true name again, and the world blossomed into pure ecstasy.

She shuddered through it all, barely even aware of the Succubus watching her, lost in sensations deeper and more intense than anything Taylor could produce in her normal, dreadfully mundane sex life. If the pact she had just made meant experiencing these feelings again, and if refusing it meant losing this forever, then it had been a choice well made. She would never have forgiven herself, if she had felt her very soul have an orgasm, only to reject the chance to have it again.

She came down slowly, drifting back into her body from the infinite plane of sexual pleasure she had been occupying just moments ago, to discover the Succubus standing beside the bed, looking over her. The distance between them was somehow disappointing, for reasons Taylor couldn’t quite name.

‘The pact is made,’ Crona intoned, taking a moment to breathe deeply as her tentacles retracted, sliding back into her form and leaving Taylor free and unbound for the first time since the two of them had met. Stretching languorously, the Succubus grinned, ‘Thank you for that.’

‘So what happens now?’ There was a definite sense of apprehension in Taylor as she asked this, appropriately for a person who had just entered into an agreement with no understanding of the rules and upper bounds thereof. This wasn’t helped by Crona’s confused expression in response.

‘Why, whatever I like, pet,’ She said, laying one hand on Taylor’s breast, over her heart. ‘You’ve been given my mark, which will have certain benefits to you that you’ll no doubt discover over time. You belong to me now, I can compel your obedience when I wish, and I will be coming back to collect that obedience periodically.’

‘Coming back?’ Taylor asked, her limbs shaking so much she doubted they would support her if she tried to move. ‘You’re leaving?’

‘Oh yes, pet,’ The Succubus said, a tad mournfully. ‘I cannot persist in the human world for so long, I need to return home. But I’ll be back, and you had best be ready for me when I do. In the meantime, something to remember me by…’

In a whisper vibrating with lust, she spoke Taylor’s true name again, and watched the girl’s attention be swept away to some other place, some idyllic land within the essence of her being. Crona was more than familiar with that place; she was almost jealous of the human that was now hers. True names didn’t work when you spoke your own.

When Taylor came to, she was alone. Crickets chirped outside her window, an unwelcome intrusion of real life now that the supernatural had abandoned her. Her body was flushed with sweat, thighs and chin slick with the Succubus’ fluids, pangs of orgasm echoing through her still, fading by the moment until they disappeared entirely. And she was left alone, bereft, slammed back into normalcy with no means of chasing what she had lost.

But Crona had promised she would come back…

Unsteadily, Taylor stood, feeling a strange dissociation tug at the back of her mind, a sensation that she didn’t fully belong to herself anymore. She headed back toward the bathroom, to the shower she had abandoned half finished; pragmatically, her body was hot and sticky, needing cleaning, but a tiny, perverse part of her pointed out that it would be good to keep herself presentable in case Crona came back tonight, so…

The mirror caught her attention as she passed, still glossed in a sheen of condensation, and Taylor stopped to gaze into it at a woman changed, all the paranoia and self doubt leached out of her, replaced with a kind of thrumming satiation, a full body relaxation that had left her heavy-lidded and breathing deep. Something else had changed in her, something she couldn’t quite place, but she knew that Crona had the answer. All that mattered was waiting for her to show up. And she would return.

Taylor knew this, because around her neck there lay a mark, a complex, interweaving network of tattooed lines in the shape of tentacles that, and Taylor lifted her hair to check this, ringed her neck all the way around, printed onto her skin. A collar, a mark of ownership, daubed indelibly at her throat, the source of a leash that could be tightened whenever her owner wished.

Crona’s mark, painted on her pet’s body in the same light blue shade of the Succubus’ skin.

The breathtaking inanity of Jonathan Jones.

I feel I have to congratulate Mister Jonathan Jones; writing for the Guardian, he has managed to open a piece of literary criticism with the single worst statement that one could possibly do this with:

It does not matter to me if Terry Pratchett’s final novel is a worthy epitaph or not, or if he wanted it to be pulped by a steamroller. I have never read a single one of his books and I never plan to. Life’s too short.

It’s actually a tad impressive, the way Jones torpedoes his own credibility and ability to say anything meaningful or true in the following article in but three sentences. Most people have to work hard, over entire essays, to so completely disintegrate their chances of being taken seriously. Hats off, truly: the man has set a new benchmark in establishing the utter irrelevancy of a writer. Overblown hacks the world over will marvel at the speed at which Jones lowers himself to the puerile depths and say to themselves, “well, there’s no way I’m ever going to become that intellectually bankrupt that quickly, better throw in the towel.”

I make no secret of the fact that Terry Pratchett is my favorite author, one who I largely attribute my love of writing to, but I’m not saying this as a rabid Pratchett fan out to tear down someone impugning my golden idol, no. Though I’m certainly irritated to see such unkind words leveled at my literary hero, what makes me downright furious is the lax, comfortable position of ignorance in which Jones seems happy to play armchair auteur.

Is this what literary criticism has come to? Writers freely admitting that they’ve never read a single work of those they’ve deemed themselves fit to pass judgment on, proudly wallowing in their willful incomprehension, happy not to know and willing to continue not knowing under the delusion that they already know everything. “Life’s too short”? The man is a literary critic on a self-appointed quest to define what counts as literature and what doesn’t, and “life’s too short” to read a book? This self-styled judge of all that classifies as true written art dismisses the idea of having an informed opinion on a topic before speaking on it, yet has the gall to tell everyone else to “get real”?

The utter, depressing hubris Jones displays is what marks this tone-deaf piece of humble-bragging (let’s not forget that the thrust of this tripe is that Jones feels that the culture at large is celebrating popular mediocrity, while smart guys like him get to be the gatekeepers of True Literature, looking down on us plebs) as true pablum of the highest order, almost to the point of self-destruction. “Life’s too short” to know what you’re talking about apparently, but nevertheless we should all just “get real” and kowtow to Jonathan Jones’ clearly superior opinion; he doesn’t even need to have any experience with what he’s talking about to know better than everyone else, after all.

I can handle criticism of my favorite media, I really can; with Pratchett in particular I have some negative opinions of my own, specifically about his early work and aspects of his later books, I’m not averse to constructive criticism where it’s warranted at all. But what I can’t stand, what’s apt to make me livid, is obviously uninformed criticism of any kind. I’m of the opinion that if you’re going to say something, you owe it to yourself and all your listeners to know as much as you can about what you’re talking about, and you should be open about correcting your errors. Jones, by contrast, proudly proclaims his unwillingness to learn about the things he discusses, and closes himself off completely to the idea of ever correcting himself:

No offence, but Pratchett is so low on my list of books to read before I die that I would have to live a million years before getting round to him.

His petulance runs contrary to the spirit of journalism and, frankly, the spirit of literature itself, and the total lack of self-awareness with which Jones conducts himself is staggering: after smiling his way through his total dismissal of even the possibility of reading a Pratchett novel now or in future, Jones cluelessly extols the virtue of reading for experience, even going so far as to engage in self-deprecation for having missed the book that he approves of- presumably after having, you know, read it:

This summer I finally finished Mansfield Park. How had I managed not to read it up to now? It’s shameful. But at least now it’s part of my life. The structure of Jane Austen’s morally sombre plot, the restrained irony of her style, the sudden opening up of the book as it moves from Mansfield Park to Portsmouth and takes in the complex real social world of regency England – all that’s in me now. Great books become part of your experience. They enrich the very fabric of reality.

If great books become a part of your experience, if they’re so enriching, then doesn’t Jones owe it to himself to at least attempt to read books that are a part of as long and storied a career as Pratchett’s? Rather than, say, presupposing the perfect accuracy of his unthinking first impressions? How many hidden gems has Jones missed completely due to his blithe confidence in the conclusions he leaps to based on nothing? That’s what’s truly shameful.

It’s bad enough that Jones mistakes his uninformed, haughty ramblings for genuine writing, but he goes on in the most insultingly reductive manner possible, not only handwaving any possible disagreement with his airy ignorance as “mental laziness,” but deciding that Pratchett’s work is the entirety of his character:

Thus, if you judge by the emotional outpourings over their deaths, the greatest writers of recent times were Pratchett and Ray Bradbury.

Ah yes, because the only reason one might mourn an author is his work; the human being behind it factors in not a whit. Sadness is only a representation of the quality of Pratchett’s writing, and not at all due to the loss of an actual man who was, by all accounts, gregarious and kind and forward-thinking, easily worthy of instilling inspiration due to his genuine love of his craft, no matter your opinion of his writing… assuming you’re actually bothered to read any before rendering judgment.

I’ve already spent a thousand words on this intellectually bereft pile of nonsense, which is far more than it deserves, but it just makes me so mad to see self-assured cultural vultures like Jonathan Jones being given a platform, allowed to wallow in their ignorance and arrogance so totally that they develop the delusion of being empowered to dictate to everyone else what “real” literature is. As though he can just stomp his foot and demand the artistic canon mold itself to his petulant whim.

I am a fan of Terry Pratchett, and I’ll be composing a post on his last book once I’ve finished reading it I’m sure; it arrived on my doorstep earlier today and I found myself too nervous at the prospect of “New Pratchett writings” as a set dwindling with every word I read to actually crack it open. When I’ve finished The Shepherd’s Crown there will never be another new Pratchett work for me to read, the set will fall to zero, but in the meantime, I have one last question for Jonathan Jones:

But Terry Pratchett? Get real. It’s time we stopped this pretence that mediocrity is equal to genius.

How the hell would you know one way or another, Mister Jones?

NSFW Storytime- Mythos: Woodsong

Hi everyone! Do you like sexy stories? Supernatural creatures? Monster girls and eldritch guys getting their fuck on? Well, that’s what I’m doing now! Mythos is a kinda-sorta-continuity of short stories featuring… mythological creatures having sexytimes. Given this, obviously this is NSFW, so you’ve been warned, but otherwise… Enjoy!

***

1 Woodsong fin

The old men kept telling Arthur: don’t take anything from the forest.

There must have been a reason why, of course. Some wild animal from the time of the village’s settlement that menaced the hunters and woodcutters that tried to ply their trade within, or poison in the soil that leached up into the wood. But nobody knew now, or if they did, they weren’t telling a newcomer anything. Still, Arthur asked, when the opportunity arose, when he left his little cottage and met the people of the equally little hamlet; it was a piece of local arcana that he found quite interesting, in its own way. Folk tales fascinated him, uncovering the roots they had sprung from entertaining him for many an hour.

Too many of the people there were old men, alas, and though they knew the injunction by heart, they remained close-mouthed, unwilling to even attempt to discuss its source. The young men were less successful in hiding that they did know something, though they shared the silence of the old on the subject; Arthur could only tell they were holding back by the tightness of their smiles as they lied to him, their eagerness to avoid his eyes.

Their wives, though, were honest in their lack of knowledge. That was a piece of the puzzle that Arthur hadn’t fully understood yet.

In time, he had simply given up ever finding out from the horse’s mouth, deciding instead to simply look it up in the library the next time he ventured into town. Little Potter’s End was too small to have one of its own, it would have to wait until he had other business in the nearest hub of civilization.

Arthur had had no inkling of Potter’s End’s strange, folk tale prohibition on using the forest for anything when he had moved there, though; it had merely been a place for a man newly wizened by his fortieth birthday, and newly unattached following his equally ravaging divorce, to come to write in peace, among people who did not know him, and build on an incipient career in writing that had begun with one novel born in the ashes of his marriage. If the woods hadn’t come up almost immediately after he had arrived, the townspeople gravitating naturally to the first newcomer for a good long while, ready to share their advice for living here, he doubted he ever would have thought of it at all; it wasn’t as though he had any particular interest in denuding the forest of its resources, after all.

But his cottage backed onto the borders of the woods, after all, the closest of any home in all of Potter’s End. It made sense that these people would want to share whatever superstitious drive that made them obey the old command with him, when the forest would be such a relevant concern.

After the first month of living there, Arthur had simply put the secret wisdom out of his mind, and gotten down to work. The occasional squirrel aside, the forest remained well behaved, keeping just shy of his back garden and never encroaching further. He let it be, and by and large, it let him write.

That is, until his niece came to stay.

It had been her idea initially, spurred on by her mother’s- Arthur’s sister- insistence that she use the brief break in her university courses to get away and see more of the world than the little home town that all three of them had grown up in. An artist herself, they had all seen the potential in Arthur’s little home, the inspiration that tranquil surrounds could instil, and so she had asked, all gangly five foot eleven inches of her, if she could visit for a while.

He hadn’t minded in the least, since he quite liked the girl and her endless kind words about his work, but it hadn’t occurred to him for the longest time that she was a woodworker.

Oh, she was other things too- one could never rely on young Trish to apply herself to one medium for any length of time- but amidst all the painting and sculpting and sketching tools she had dumped on his doorstep that cold afternoon, there had apparently been a small set of woodworking tools, nestled deep in one of the many- many, many- canvas bags she used instead of real luggage. Arthur could hardly be blamed for forgetting that facet of his niece’s chosen career, given that that same career seemed to be mainly about collecting new facets.

But then, ultimately, he still rather did.

It didn’t come up for the longest time, of course; Arthur had agreed Trish could stay for a few weeks, and the majority of that time had been filled with a peaceful and highly productive artistic rapport. Trish had set up shop in the sun room, where a trio of angled windows took in the forest and sent dappled interplays of sunlight and shadows drifting strange patterns over the far wall for most of the day. Arthur enjoyed writing outside on his terrace, where the thoughtful scratching sounds of his niece’s sketching could waft through an open door and remind him that there was some other creative person around to take as an example, to work all the harder. It hadn’t always been that way; the people of Potter’s End were farmers mostly, not the kind who would indulge him in writing talk much of the time, nor even to particularly take kindly to it. Some were of the mind that one had to earn their way into living here by the sweat of their brow, such that the newcomer artist using their landscape to fuel his “soft” work would be unable to do so. Arthur had countered them by simply being relentlessly gregarious and accepting their particular ways of doing things out of hand; it was hard to remain distrustful of someone so open, and few here actually felt terribly committed to their preconceptions of him anyway.

By the time Trish had to leave, he was feeling very comfortable with his place in Potter’s End. Then she had given him the table.

It was a nice table, darkly varnished and cut in a way that accentuated the natural shape of the wood, the smooth and graceful curves of the flat piece she had used for the top. As it stood between them, Trish explained that she had made it herself, as thanks for letting her stay as long as he did. He could keep it by his chair on the terrace- it had been treated for protection from the weather- to put his coffee down on. He didn’t have anything out there for that, after all.

It was made, she had said, of wood from his very own forest.

A shock of cold went through Arthur like a lance before he had time to think about it, the reaction reflexive and, honestly, a tad overblown. There would certainly be disapproval if anyone in the village discovered the provenance of his new piece of furniture, but that could be solved by Arthur simply keeping quiet about the whole thing, perhaps suggesting instead that he had bought it in the city during his next visit. His neighbours would have no cause to think otherwise.

Still though… the forest was spoken of in such reverent tones, such insistence coloured the injunction against harming it, that Arthur knew the people here took it very seriously. They would know, said a low voice in the back of his brain, even if by some form of magic, they would know. The new arrival suddenly coming up with a piece of new wood furniture, they would know. They would see the lie, feel it in the deeply suspicious marrow of their bones, even if they never voiced it. The thought would lay in wait in their minds, percolate throughout the town without any interference from Arthur, and then one day, simply bob to the surface as a new fact that they all had to live with, made real by the passage of rumour, so intuitively true that it required no confirmation.

But there was nothing he could do about it now.

Arthur had taken one of the trees…

There was only one thing for it, really: he had seen Trish off, and then quietly moved the table indoors, into his bedroom where it could serve as a place for him to store things. Nobody could see it in there, there would be no foothold for the rumours to start, and hence, no trouble. It all seemed like such an easy solution, so long as he never had cause to invite one of the townsfolk into his bedroom.

Arthur had seen all the women that lived here. Where they weren’t married, they weren’t bedroom material for him.

That night, the forest began to sing.

If you have never heard such a song before, composed as it is of wind winding its way through intricately arrayed tree branches, of the swaying of ancient wood, of the bubbling of water and the endless rustle beneath the soil, know that it is both subtle and insistent. It is not enough to wake a dreaming sleeper, not at first, but in time the call slips beneath the surface of the mind, winds its roots into all the corners of the psyche. It makes its presence known.

And then, you will wake.

Arthur awoke much the same way, heeding the song as it tugged him up through layers of dream, up to the waking world with gentle insistence that would not be denied. It had help, in that regard: the table, the dead wood, remembered the song and murmured along as best it could, the sound hollow yet undeniably present.

Under normal circumstances Arthur was hardly a morning person, and was in fact functionally useless for the first half an hour after waking; it was as though he had not woken up at all. This time, he awoke fully in an instant, like the volunteer at the click of a hypnotist’s fingers. The melody of life and endless growth had suffused his house, thrumming through the sympathetic timber frame, though it was not off the wood itself and could not carry the tune; it vibrated still, low and weak but perceptible nonetheless.

Still, it was the dead wood which retained the bulk of Arthur’s attention.

He rose from his bed, dishevelled and wary, the sandy blond hair at the back of his head sticking straight up, and stared at the… husk across the room. The word had come to him seemingly without conscious thought in his part, insisted that it be used to describe the gift his niece had given him. Lifeless as it was, it still carried the song, adding its own distinct notes. It was certainly its own source of sound, something that Arthur considered warily as he approached it, crouching down to get a better look.

He prodded the wooden surface, felt the vibration of the sound through the cool hardness of it, the music travelling up his arm for a distance before dissipating.

But it wasn’t just the table; the song suffused the room, seemingly the whole house. The shock of hearing it began to work its way out of Arthur’s system, and he stopped to appreciate it for the first time; sweet and flowing, the notes composed of the voice of the earth itself, it was an endless, wandering melody, ponderous and enchanting. The burbling tenor of running water, the rhythmic grind of the soil, the reedy and strange sound of the trees… these were noises that Arthur knew in the depths of him, in his bones, wound around his mind in deep trenches of ancestral memory. They tracked down his spine, made the muscles in his calves flex, aching to walk, to move.

… Toward the forest.

As Arthur turned his head to pick up the source of the sound, he realized: it was coming from deep in the woods. How far was hard to say, given the way the sound filled the world like a gentle caress that made his heart skip a beat. But it was out there, in the haze of fog that had settled over the place in the night, filled with waving branches and thick, gnarled roots. In amongst the ancient trees, something was making that sound, and it waited for him.

Again, it was a thought that he hadn’t truly meant to think, but once it was in his head it refused to leave. It snagged at the rest of his thoughts, pulling them into line with the idea that this song, this night-time serenade, was personal to him. All of a sudden, the idea of merely ignoring it and going back to bed was an impossible fantasy, an unfulfilling relinquishing of the… opportunity that the woodland chorus was presenting him.

And it was an opportunity: a mysterious song of unknown origin and execution flitting through his house in the dead of night? Even if it just turned out to be a car radio out there in the wilds, it would still be a story to tell, albeit a more self-deprecating one than Arthur would have liked.

Without giving himself an opportunity to debate the idea with himself and potentially talk himself out of it, Arthur grabbed a pair of jeans and a long-sleeved shirt from his drawers and set about pulling them on, sparing a fortunate moment to glance in the mirror and realize the state of his hair. As the song flowed on, he dragged a comb through the tangle that had formed in his sleep, then went to find his shoes.

A light, chill breeze had settled over Potter’s End in the night, stirring the mist that lay at the edges of the forest as Arthur slipped out his back door and ventured out, crisp dead leaves crunching underfoot. Almost immediately his range of visibility shrank to almost nothing, grasping tree branches seemingly appearing from nowhere to tangle at his sleeves and snag his hair. To compensate, Arthur’s footsteps became tentative, shuffling to avoid tripping over outstretched roots; it was as though the forest had welcomed him inside, only to rebuff him, to hinder his forward progress in any way possible.

When one foot hit empty air and went slamming downward into the waters of a small creek, he almost gave up. But always, the music wrapped around his spine and drew him onward, through the fog, through the wooded claws and the strangeness of the night, toward what, he did not know.

Stumbling occasionally, eyes casting about through the murk for the source of the sound, Arthur walked onward, growing closer and more committed to his task the further in he drew. Like a leash tightening around his neck, a heady toxin running through his veins, a source of gravity beyond his power to resist, the song dragged at him, weighed upon his very being. It rose up from the stones and the grass and the roots, surrounded him, even in the fog he breathed, filled him up and set his mind to a single task.

And so he walked.

The interference seemed to grow thicker the further into the forest he drew, and this might have been the deepest into the woods he had ever gone; the borders between the endless growth and the village had been good territory for walking, but Arthur had never been able to gauge quite how large the woods actually was, and besides, his neighbours had seemed so wary about letting a newcomer venture into the trees too far on his lonesome. The soil seemed to give way entirely to gnarled and curving roots, knobbly and uneven beneath his feet. The trees seemed to reach in to grip him, branches growing thicker around head height to grab and claw at the important parts of him. The fog grew so thick that Arthur was barely able to see his own hand in front of his face.

And then, with a suddenness that made him trip and fall, the fog parted, the ground became unexpectedly even, and Arthur found himself sprawled in a clearing.

Moonlight flooded the surrounds, painting the dark earth beneath him a muted silver, dappled by the shadows of the partial leaf canopy above. It was, in fact, almost as bright as daylight, certainly light enough to see clearly that the fog had receded in a rough circle, stark lines of delineation between where it began and where it ended marking the boundaries of the clearing. Arthur stood at the edge of a rough circle, surrounded all around by roiling, thick clouds, tinted moonlight grey.

There, at the centre of it all, the source of the song, she stood.

Her eyes were closed, and for perhaps thirty seconds more she swayed in time with her rhythm, mouth open, throat undulating with a thousand different sounds, speaking the chorus of the wood into existence. She sung, a newly audible, sweetly human sound that formed the backbone of the music, and the land around her sprung to work at the sound, offering the other notes at her direction. She was the conductor of a profound natural symphony.

The light coloured her skin differently than daylight would have, and for a moment Arthur took it to be a trick of the light alone, but in time he realized: her skin was brown, mottled with prominent markings of green, licking up her flanks, curling vine-like around her thighs, over her breasts, up the sides of her face and into her hair. She stood naked, body gleaming and lithe in the monochrome rays of the moon, and among the large swathes of her skin that were visible to him, Arthur could see other colours, see them shifting; flecks of white, the yellow of pollen, rose red and deep violet and the amber of ripe peaches, tracing patterns across her flesh and vanishing, to be replaced with yet more colour. They were only the occasional interruption, but they were certainly there, and they certainly removed the possibility that she was just wearing body paint.

So too, did her horns.

They rose from the rear of her head, wavy and thick, lined and dark lengths of some impossibly old wood, disappearing into the woman’s mass of raven hair. Dotting the lower, outer edges of the horns were delicate, orderly lines of flowers; tiny white stars in the blackness of her features.

Her eyes slid open, revealing a colour like lilacs, and regarded Arthur with a momentary cool indifference that rapidly hardened. Her singing stopped, and seemed to ripple through the rest of the forest- her forest- leaving behind a span of almost studious silence, before the normal sounds of nature at night settled back in.

She glared at Arthur, advancing toward him on long, graceful legs, bare feet taking to the soil as though they had been born to it. She was tall, so tall, taller than Arthur even if he had been standing at his full height, rather than sprawled inelegantly upon the ground, and there was a sense of easy, obvious menace in how she loomed over him, expression unreadable, as though even naked and alone with him in the forest, he posed her no threat at all.

Behind him there was a crack of wood, as branches moved and shifted, forming a lattice of interlocked parts to seal Arthur in with her as she stopped, stood between his legs, and knelt down, still somehow towering over him. He tried to move, to scoot away and stand, to get to his feet somehow, but roots snagged at his sleeves and the legs of his pants, keeping him anchored in place as the woman crawled, slithered up his body in a manner both sensual and intimidating, her flawless form radiating eerie, ancient beauty, like nothing Arthur had ever experienced before.

Those bottomless pit eyes inspected him then, so close that Arthur could feel the strange coolness of her breath on his face, looking him up and down. A spark of approval lay deep in those eyes at the sight of him, hidden behind a cold, implacable hardness. Her lip almost curled up as, slowly, she raised her hands to his face. A full five fingers, had the left, but on the right… only four, a conspicuous, newly formed gap where her ring finger should have been.

In an instant, chill realization formed in the pit of his stomach. He knew why the old men told him not to take from the forest, what it was to cut into the trees of this nymph’s domain.

‘I’m sorry!’ He gasped, the words boiling up from inside him, and Arthur was surprised with the depth of feeling behind them. Regret bruised his soul, ached for the harm that had been inflicted upon something so rare, so precious, the sorrow at seeing a priceless work of art destroyed. He added, ‘It wasn’t me!’

She blinked then, the motes of colour swirling across her body turning momentarily a uniform yellow, the shade of fresh butter, and Arthur was left in no doubt that she was surprised. Her hair caught the moonlight as her head tilted, lilac eyes creasing at the edges in confusion; if she had understood his words, she didn’t exactly show it. She couldn’t be read like a human could.

Leaning in closer, the woman brought her face to Arthur’s, closing her eyes and craning her neck, her nose in the crook of his neck. He heard her inhale in short, sharp breaths, scenting him. The nearest of her horns bobbed into his view as she did so, close enough that Arthur could see each individual crease and whorl in the wood, even the pollen clustered at the centre of her flowers.

She licked him, then, wet tongue dragging the length of his throat, and Arthur gasped, unthinking. He found himself suddenly, sharply aware of the fact that, whatever she was doing, this being had the form of a woman, her naked appearance more than appreciable to his tastes. And she was straddling him.

For a moment she sat back up, looming over him with the moon haloed behind her, eyes glimmering with subtle light. Her body shone in kaleidoscope colours, the shifting patterns accentuating the shape of her musculature, the roundness of her hips and breasts, the delicate features of her face. Her horns stood framed in shadow, pointed and wicked, like some kind of forest demon come to life.

Then she dove upon Arthur and kissed him.

It was… chaste, in its way. It lasted a scant second, a mere brush of her lips against his, full of warmth, as her entire demeanour shifted. She lingered against him now, her body pressed against his, her nose inches from his own. One hand came up and, with surprising tenderness, stroked his cheek. Arthur certainly had little trouble reading her now.

She had been scenting him before, he suspected in some wordless part of his mind, searching him for the stain of injured wood, for the blood of her forest on his hands. It wasn’t there to find, of course; Arthur hadn’t gone into the woods with ill intent, hadn’t brought an axe to carve out that fateful gift that had led him here. In the crime that had struck up this song, that had called him here, he was entirely innocent.

Which raised an interesting question of its own: what did the wood nymph do to the innocent men that entered into her court?

Nails the colour of moss trailed a winding path down Arthur’s chest, and a few potential answers presented themselves in his mind. They slid down his side, long fingers encircling his wrist and pulling up, and he watched her move with mounting curiosity. She leaned in and prompted him to reach up, placing his palm at the curve of her ribcage, just below one heavy, beautiful breast, and guided him up.

Ah…

Without needing to think, Arthur took over for her, his palm sliding to cup the nymph’s breast, flesh soft and warm filling his hand. His eyes widened, as details that had completely escaped him during the earlier, aggressive part of their meeting swam into his view for the first time; the nymph had flowers for nipples, for one. The centre seemed human enough, a stiff and aching tip coloured the same deep earth tone as her base skin colour, but where an areola would normally be, there was a ring of petals, actually a shockingly deep purple, arrayed with the kind of effortless geometric perfection that only nature could produce. The nymph allowed Arthur to brush his thumb over them, watching them rise at his touch, only to adhere back to her skin moments later in its absence.

She shivered with pleasure at it, a blush the colour of an empty summer sky cresting her perfectly wrought cheeks as darts of dandelion white raced across her abdomen, her belly as it tightened, even between her legs. Arthur froze, his eyes like saucers as he regarded the creature astride him.

This wasn’t like anything he had ever done before. Not with some human woman, couched in some mundane setting, something he could probably find a partner to repeat the experience with any time he liked. No, now he had stepped completely out of the world he knew, been drawn to the heart of the forest, the centre of a world that even the people who lived here dared not enter, only to encounter something new, something worldview altering dwelling in her own private moon-drenched Eden.

… And she had chosen him.

He looked at her, truly looked, drank in her every detail; the vines that twined through her hair, the dappled green at her lips, like moss, even the pronounced curls of her eyelashes, looking for all the world like they could unfurl toward the sun once it had risen. She looked, truly, like a dream that he would soon wake up from, one that needed to be treasured while it was with him, learned by sight and touch and taste, so that when she eventually did fade away, he could carry her with him in his memory.

The nymph was, Arthur mused, a transitory experience in his life, and nothing more. After all, if such things were happening every day, all over the world, then surely they would be more commonly talked about. Instead, there was nothing, and so clearly, such meetings as this one were rare events indeed. Privileges, to be savoured.

He thought for a moment- just a scant moment, before his attentions were dragged back to the beautiful form atop him- of the men in the village, whose reactions all hinted at some additional knowledge of the forest and its secrets that they had never told Arthur. Reactions that their wives had not shared.

Perhaps the forest entertained visitors more often than one might initially suspect, from the talk of Potter’s End… but Arthur suspected that such events were one-time occurrences that left deep marks in those who were lucky enough to participate, those few who had been chosen, by this forest elemental, to touch a living myth, to take but a taste of the mystic before being returned to their mundane lives.

She smelled like damp earth and new flowers, as Arthur propped himself up on his elbows, determined to take in every moment of her, and placed his lips upon the fragile crest of her breast, taking that finely wrought nipple into his mouth. She sighed, she tasted like honey on his tongue, and her pleasure incited the forest to motion, a fresh, cold zephyr shaking the leaves on their branches as she leaned into his touch, sweet fingers curling into his hair. Her head tipped back, lilac eyes regarding the star-dotted heavens as the earthbound man circled her skin with his tongue, before planting a series of kisses up, across her collarbone, her neck, her chin, until finally he reached her mouth with his own.

That she tasted of mint there surprised Arthur for a moment, before he remembered that mint was a plant, and hence well within her jurisdiction as… whatever it turned out she actually was. In the end it hardly mattered; her kiss was intoxicating, her tongue in his mouth from the moment it began, hungry and sensual and elemental, giving herself to the moment with a wholehearted freedom that took Arthur aback. She held nothing back, even with a man like him, whom she had only met minutes earlier.

Perhaps there was little for her to hold back from; if her forest was as intricately linked to her as her missing finger suggested, then it was entirely possible that there were no other nymphs in the immediate area to catch wind, and it was hardly like Arthur was going to be sharing. The mechanics of her biology, her connection with the trees surrounding them, raised momentary questions that Arthur desperately wanted answered, but wouldn’t interrupt to pose to the nymph, assuming she could even speak his language.

He simply kissed her, basking in the warmth of her body, the gentle, insistent pressure of her breasts against his chest, the slow, rolling movements of her hips grinding his thighs. Her tongue licked his own, and when he closed his lips around it to suck, he drew a deep, throaty moan of satisfaction from her. One arm lay over his shoulder, crooked to draw him in to her, while the other strayed downward, over his chest before settling at the fly on his trousers.

Her eyes drifted like falling leaves, settling eventually on his face, her expression questioning. Her palm still lay flat against his crotch, and Arthur smiled, hoping it didn’t come across as emphatically as he was thinking, nodding encouragingly. Delicately, she reached inward with evergreen fingers, handling his fly like it was some alien device on its definite journey downward. A sharp inward breath, from both of them, marked the moment her fingers closed around his cock, and pulled it out into the open.

“Sultry” didn’t begin to describe the look in the nymph’s eyes, as they trailed upward after inspecting his member, soft hand pumping gently up and down the swelling shaft, expression burning with elemental passion. Her cheeks continued to blush a bright blue, as Arthur joined in, slipping one hand up between her legs, hoping as he did so that what he found there was analogous to a human’s.

There was a gasp, a soft purr from the girl, and Arthur found himself relieved as his fingers met soft, petalling lips and, after a moment of searching, a clit. The nymph leaned forward and laid her head against his chest as the two of them explored the other, her breathing laboured as her new paramour rounded her clit with his thumb, fingers extending lower to stroke the length of her pussy. She panted into his chest as he touched her, hips rocking, body squirming freely, her grip tightening on his cock as sensation washed over her.

There was a note of surprise in her features as he masturbated her, and Arthur began to suspect that, whoever else she had invited into her wooded halls, they hadn’t been quite as… giving, as he himself was willing to be. The idea perplexed him; who could be in the presence of such a rare creature as her, to be offered her sweet, supple body, and not want to prolong the experience, to share pleasure with her as fully as possible?

As he slid two fingers inside her, she shivered so delightfully against him, her whole body quaking with the most obvious, unrestrained of pleasures. In response, her hand left his shaft and ventured lower, cupping his balls, looking up at him as if to ask if this was okay with him. Arthur craned his neck, kissing her deeply, his answer silent yet clear, as she panted softly into his mouth, rocking her hips against his probing digits.

Gasping, trailing kisses over Arthur’s neck, the nymph rose up, away from his fingers, her own fingers encircling the base of his cock and positioning it, so her lusciously wet pussy could sink down on it all at once, taking the entire length in a single, confident fall. The two of them joined together in a spontaneous, throaty groan of completeness, voices entwined just as they were.

A moment of silence fell over them then, still and contemplative, as they simply absorbed their new state, drew it all in and etched it upon their memory as deeply as they could. The trees shook as the lightest of breezes wound its way through the forest, leaves trembling in concert with the woman atop him, the wind itself rising and ebbing with the rhythm of her breathing. A set of deep, warm reds and oranges radiated up her skin, inching across her body from her hips up, growing faster with every minute motion of her pussy, filled by his cock.

Her pleasure was the colour of autumn…

Small rolls of her hips gave way to larger motions, more expansive, with mounting urgency, as each new thrust of Arthur into her brought new heights of sensation. Strong, ochre tinted thighs lifted her delicate body upward, before allowing her to fall against him once more, taking him deep, deep as he could go, her slick inner walls clenching even at the base of his length, twitching and gripping so hard that Arthur growled, low and primal, each and every time. The sound simply rolled out of him, over and over; she was so tight, so hot and wet and burning with life atop him, he could hardly help it.

They kissed again, and her taste had changed, her tongue now hosting the sweetness of peaches as it licked along his own, and the strangeness of that fact electrified Arthur, excited him to the very depths of his being. He had the supernatural in his arms, could kiss a little bit of magic, and it roiled with auburn pleasure at his touch; the privilege of her moans, her wetness, the lust that glazed her eyes, was unparalleled. Once in a lifetime.

The boughs of the tree that supported them bent inward as she rode him, submerging them in shade and dappled moonlight, the clearing enclosing them in a singular, private moment. Her forest ensconced their lovemaking, and Arthur had to remind himself that it was all as much a part of her as the cunt tightly clasping his cock, the hardened nipple he reached down to lick, or the buttocks, firm and taut beneath his hands. The entire wood sussurated, rustled and whispered of its mistress’ ecstasy. Gaia’s chorus, celebrating the most elemental expression of life.

Arthur rolled his hips, feeling the evidence of the nymph’s arousal dripping down his shaft, plunging his erection into her to the root, yearning the warm feeling of her around him at every retraction. Breath laboured with exertion, his hand found the small of the woman’s back, pressed in so that she fell against him, no longer supporting her own weight but laying it all on him. She giggled, in the moment before he kissed her once more, longing for her taste, and the sound sent a hot flash scything through him, like a moment of pure summer penetrating his very being.

It was an addictive sound, sunlight in his veins, and Arthur committed himself, then and there, to seeing what other sounds he could get her to make.

With her body now atop him like this, Arthur placed his feet firmly against the soil- her soil- and raised himself at the hips, new leverage allowing him to take her harder, to dictate the pace of their fucking himself and, in doing so, to considerably increase it.

She gasped at the first thrust, so much harder, it was, than she had been expecting. He shot her a grin, wriggled his eyebrows suggestively, and continued; it was better this way, with her face next to his, and her soft, precious body laying on his chest. She carried the scent of flowers and damp soil, of growth and ancient wood, and this close it was all he could breathe. Their movements had left impressions in the dirt surrounding them, and it clung to them both equally, peppering the back of Arthur’s shirt and lending texture to the nymph’s thighs when he gripped them, feeling the very essence of nature pulse through every aspect of their sex.

And through it all, his hips scythed back and forth, with a speed borne of passion, magnified moment to moment by the lovely, lust-filled tenor of the moans he was eliciting from his newfound lover. The nymph spread her legs wider around him, granting him greater access to push deeper, move faster, pound into her harder. Panting with the effort of it, Arthur pushed on, feeling her muscles tighten, taut as bowstrings, her back arching her body into his. Moonlight glittered on her skin, illuminating reds and oranges and yellows, falling like leaves on the canvas of her body, faster, faster, as though they were caught in a gale, framed entirely within the nymph herself. Those warm embers even reached her eyes, desire flickering in them as she locked them to his, biting her lip as he fucked her.

Oh, yes

His teeth showed through his smile as he committed all his strength to one final push, watching the nymph tense and twitch, thighs flexing restlessly as the wet sounds of her arousal rose to join the chorus of panting and groaning that dominated Arthur’s hearing. Her voice rose, in pitch and volume, in concert with the tightness of her body, and she curled into his chest, shivering with lust as her breath caught in her throat.

Just a little more…

It had been brewing within her for a while, Arthur thought, but when it finally took her fully there could be no doubt. Her hands gripped at his shirt, fingers curling in the fabric. Her thighs suddenly clenched down, hard. Her back arched, the curve only growing deeper for a silent, spasming moment…

… And then she screamed.

Sitting bolt upright, simple gravity pulled her down fully onto his cock, the rippling tautness of her inner muscles keeping it there. The nymph’s head tilted back, her voice ringing loud and clear through the dark, howling her orgasm to the moon overhead. All at once, the fragments of hot colour that had been flitting aimlessly, excitedly, across her body darted inward, toward the point of their sexual union, collecting together before bursting outward in a unified wave of colour, a climactic sunrise daubed on her beautiful naked flesh. She trembled, absorbed in the peak of bliss, and all Arthur could do was watch, drinking in the work of art that was the nymph in orgasm.

She was glorious, revelling in her pleasure without reserve, and it spread outward from her like a ripple on tranquil waters, the ground beneath her blooming in lurid green life, a circle of pure springtime expanding further and further as she came. Grass grew tall, flowers bloomed, the trees above and around bearing fruit and blossoms in equal measure, a parade of muted colour in the moonlight. Wind stirred the new garden of paradise, caused the flowers to shudder in time with their mistress.

By the time she was finished, her body relaxed and sweating, the entirety of the clearing was alight with colour, daubed from end to end with new foliage, with petals, with acorns and berries and, at the centre of it all, the couple in their embrace. New buds grew quickly along the nymph’s horns, in her hair, and her body was tinted a uniform, sunset orange, slowly fading to her natural brown as the last vestiges of orgasm left her, tickling her nerves with dissolving, sea foam pleasure.

She moved slowly now, still panting with need, lilac eyes locked to his, pleading, needing what came next. To share in the feelings that Arthur had elicited in her. Her hips rolled, deliberate strokes designed to stimulate his shaft, to bring him to his own release, as they lay together in a silence broken only by their own breathing, and the susurrus of new plants swaying in the breeze. The nymph kissed Arthur when he finally came, her tongue twirling over his in time with the spurting hotness of his seed inside her, her buttocks tautening with delight at each new shot.

They savoured the moment for a few seconds more, coupled and in close proximity, eyes closed and panting, roiling in the heat and wetness of their fading arousal. When they finally disengaged, it was with a shared rueful look, a simultaneous regret that it had to end at all. Arthur shivered as his cock slipped out of the nymph, feeling oddly bereft at the separation, as she stood up, running her hands through her hair.

On unsteady legs, Arthur stood too, brushing dirt from his pants and picking sticking seeds from his shirt. Unsure of what happened next, he simply went about the business of straightening himself out in silence, replacing his shrinking erection into his pants and, ultimately, shifting uncomfortably from foot to foot.

The nymph stretched, methodically and completely, each muscle in turn, before placing her attention back on Arthur. Smiling brightly, she covered the distance between them with deer-like strides and planted a kiss on his lips, fingers entwining in his hair as her tongue probed his mouth. When she pulled away, he was gasping for breath.

With a look of fondness on her face, and a wave of her hand, she turned her back to him, and began to walk.

Trees seemed to close in behind her, boughs and branches obscuring her for just a moment, but it was apparently enough time for her to vanish from Arthur’s sight. Spellbound, struck with a desperate desire to recapture the rarity of the moment, he followed, walking quietly through the shadow-lined forest, alone but for the buzz of insects, the croaking of the occasional frog.

He was almost unsurprised when the direction she had taken him deposited Arthur right back in his own backyard, where all this had began. He had a sneaking suspicion that it would have done that no matter what direction she had left him in.

This close to the town, even the animal sounds of the forest seemed distant, the trees behind him stark towers of wood with only blackness between them. The light of the moon no longer seemed so bright, was unable to penetrate so far into the forest that Arthur would have been comfortable venturing back into it. The message was clear: don’t try to find me again.

He was alone.

Arthur sighed. Walking back to his home, existing in that familiar space after all he had just seen and done seemed… hollow. Lonesome. What was he expected to do? Walk back through his front door, get back into bed and sleep the rest of the night? Pretend he hadn’t just met the nymph, hadn’t shared in that moon-soaked scene with her?

Just… be normal?

Shortly before a wave of bitterness at being discarded threatened to sour the experience he had just partaken in, he heard it. The woodsong curled out from the forest once more, sound like tendrils wrapping around him, the nymph’s voice rising cleanly through it all, supported by the symphonic arrangement of the sounds of her halls.

It was a different song from the summoning melody that had called Arthur to the centre of the woods before, and it had a different effect on him. The first song had roused him from slumber, but if anything, her second song was a lullaby, quickly subsuming Arthur in a drowsy haze. It called to him just as her first attempt, but the location was different; the first had attracted him to the forest, to her, but the second made the idea of his bed irresistible. His feet were moving toward it before he even consciously realized.

It was a short trip, buoyed by the beautiful sound of the nymph’s voice, and that little touch of caring from her, guiding him home and singing him to his rest, obliterated all misgivings about how quickly their liaison had ended. Perhaps, he considered briefly, this too was an element of the nymph-music in his mind, subtly manipulating him to positivity, but Arthur could hardly bring himself to care.

As he slipped back into the familiar comfort of his bed, not even bothering to change out of his dirtied clothes, Arthur knew this wouldn’t be the end of things. He had touched the unimaginable, spent time fucking in the moonlight with magic made flesh, and he couldn’t imagine simply returning to Potter’s End, to normality, after that. One didn’t leave gold behind for tin.

He slept, then, with the nymph’ voice caressing his ears through the night, and dreamt of creatures beyond mortal imagining.

Of meeting each and every one.

Criticising women is not misogyny.

So, I’d like to take a break from our scheduled programming to briefly (for me) talk about an article I came across during my rambling across the internet, and instantly disagreed with almost every point it raised. Since it references E.L James and criticism thereof, I feel like it falls directly into my wheelhouse.

In an article entitled “Women, know your place!” Tracy Kuhn considers criticism of E.L James and other female creators, and comes to the conclusion that such criticism comes from a desire to punish women with ambition, to put women in their place, rather than because we legitimately find reason to criticize. In support of this she presents a larger context, wherein men writing problematic things are given a pass, whereas women doing the same are not:

Meanwhile we carry on going to see films and read books and watch television programmes that subliminally give out really damaging messages about women and use rape scenes again and again to move a plot forward, but again, who cares about those? This way, with this easy, high profile target, we can all show how terribly clever and witty we all are. And if we feel a little bit uncomfortable as we walk away from the hashtag, casually alerting our children to the damage that online bullying can do, what of it? Serves her right. What on earth was she thinking??

There is a lot wrong with this argument. Before we get to the more feminism specific criticism it sort of fails as argumentation because Kuhn demands unreasonable standards, asserting that we can’t criticize women unless we’re criticizing every other problematic piece of media, as if there’s time in the day to do that. We have a limited time frame in which to write, we need to select our targets, and yes, I’ll admit, a millions-selling series delivering a saucy concept like BDSM to heretofore unheard of public acclaim is a tantalizing subject for review.

But we don’t criticize Fifty Shades because E.L James is a woman, and in order to assume that you’d need to disregard every word of the content that the critics write. We criticize- I criticize- Fifty Shades for the reasons stated in my recaps. Because it’s a high-profile piece of literature that brings my chosen kink to the forefront of public discourse, but does so in a way that reinforces harmful and misogynistic stereotypes, while also just being a plain old poorly written book, published in the shadow of a shady history of potential intellectual property theft and mercenary writing habits.

To be clear, misogyny is not gender segregated; women can regurgitate the same sexist talking points that men do, and it simply doesn’t do to give women a pass for that. How can someone claim to be feminist, claim to stand for equality among the genders, while simultaneously advocating for one gender to be treated with kid gloves when they say or do something that is problematic? If this same article had been written suggesting that men shouldn’t be criticized for saying and doing problematic things, the defect with the argument would be obvious.

In fact, rejecting the stated reasons for criticizing a piece of work in favor of asserting baselessly that it all comes from a place of sexism- while simultaneously recognizing that most of the people doing the criticism are women themselves- is kind of sexist in itself, suggesting that these people cannot be trusted to represent their own motivations for writing a given thing, effectively silencing their own voices in deference to shakily argued “feminism.” You can’t decry women’s voices being shouted down in public for their ambition, as Kuhn does, while simultaneously dismissing the voices of all the literary critic women discussing Grey to shove your words into their mouths. Imagine a male writer stepping in and saying essentially the same thing, that what all these women writers are trying to say is that women with ambition should “know their place,” and consider just how poorly that would come across.

The history of women’s discourse is littered with exactly these kinds of shenanigans; people (most often men) from all sides determined to speak for women who are themselves speaking out, to dictate their experiences to them without any basis for claiming that knowledge. We even have a goddamn word for it, in “mansplaining.” It doesn’t become less offensive when it’s one woman doing it to another, nor if she herself is motivated by a desire to protect what she perceives as victimized women; the name of the game is still autonomy and the right to represent our own experiences, and that’s still something Kuhn is taking away from us in her quest to reduce all of our writings to some sexist screeds demonizing women for getting ideas above their station.

And what is the end result Kuhn seems to want out of all this, anyway? I think it’s fair to say that it’s impossible to criticize every piece of problematic media equally, because there’s simply too much of it. That’s an unfortunate fact of the world we live in; sexist stuff penetrates a lot of layers of the culture, even unintentionally in cases where people plum don’t know any better. We can’t possibly go through every example of media with the same fine tooth comb we would want to, and if we can’t discuss specific media for fear of seeming like we’re picking on people for secret reasons by some who’re looking for reasons not to have the conversation at all, who have empowered themselves with sexism-detecting telepathy and will employ that to tell us other critics what we really think, then what can we do?

The answer is… not much of anything, really.

We simply cannot have a conversation about media if the criteria is this binary “criticize everything at once/you’re bigoted against the people you do criticize” that Kuhn seems to subscribe to. The nature of linear time forces us to pick and choose our targets, and frankly, despite my feelings for it I have to acknowledge that Fifty Shades is an excellent topic of discussion for so many reasons other than that it was written by a woman and enjoyed by other women. It represents a shift in the paradigm of publishing, being that it’s essentially a fan fiction that got repurposed. It brought fresh awareness of BDSM to the mainstream, where before such a conversation would be much harder to have. It normalized the idea of reading erotica, again, a facet of mainstream culture that had not been discussed so openly before Fifty Shades as after. Being as overtly sexualized as it is, it points a rather defined spotlight on prevalent attitudes toward sex, gender, kink and so on, within a context that people tend to get very recalcitrant about too. And frankly, as literature it’s jam packed with things to talk about, even if all of those do skew negative.

I might not like the book, but Fifty Shades is a special case, and there are so many reasons that it’s worthy of in depth examination as a cultural artifact beyond the fact that it’s the latest big thing in “chick lit.” It is, in fact, insulting both to E.L James and to the people writing about her work to insinuate that there’s no particular reason one might focus on this work other than the gender of the main audience, and that attitude betrays a startling lack of understanding of the circumstances surrounding the series, for someone who’s willing to make such declarative statements about the content both of the book itself, and the extended critique surrounding it.

It’s not as though it would be hard for Kuhn to find out this stuff; reading a few of those examples of “picking apart, sentence by sentence,” that she’s comfortable in dismissing as bullying, would give her ample reasons why Fifty Shades has been singled out for special treatment. It isn’t just that the writer is a woman that we do this; it’s that this series is a weird, unique chapter in the annals of romance publishing, the sort that only comes around every once in a while. Even disasters are worth dissecting, in cases like this one.

There is a point to be found in Kuhn’s piece that is worthy of consideration, in the idea that a successful woman deals with greater scrutiny and negativity than a man in a similar position, and I’m neither denying that that is true, nor attempting to make light of or dismiss it. It’s a great observation that needs to be discussed, certainly, and Kuhn does point out some of the ways that conversations on successful women differ from those of men in a very poignant, understated way. Unfortunately, in this case a cogent point is mired in terrible execution, loaded with so much accusatory ire toward those who dare say anything negative at all about successful women, that the positive is drowned out. At no point does Kuhn address the actual content of the criticisms being levied against James’ work, nor explain why they’re unearned or inapplicable; if she’d done that then she might have had a point. Instead, she just assumes the intentions of a bunch of people she’s never met, presupposing that there’s nothing cogent to be said against Fifty Shades in any of the criticisms, just unthinking misogyny, tarted up in a literary critique dress.

In her attempt to decry the silencing of women in broader media, Tracy Kuhn ends up attempting to silence a bunch of women in media. The irony is palpable, but I fear Kuhn may not be able to detect it, because you want to know the worst part?

This is how Kuhn ends her article:

Have a look at yourselves before you make that next witty comment. And be nicer to each other.

“Be Nice.” That age old silencing technique, leveled against women since time immemorial, is the coda to this supposedly feminist defense of women writers and their successes. Be nice, women who criticize the work of other women. You just sound so hysterical when you’re mad.

Ugh.

First Time by Abigail Barnette: a Review

So I was fortunate enough to be given an advance copy of First Time, a new sexy romance novel by Abigail Barnette (the pseudonym of the equally groovy Jenny Trout) to review here, and honestly? It couldn’t have come at a better time; this book is a breath of fresh air after what I’ve been reading for review here lately.

In many ways, First Time is something of a response to Fifty Shades; though it isn’t a kink book itself- though other works in Barnette’s name respond to that particular aspect of Fifty more explicitly- it is a romance novel set over a relatively short period of time, and an equally rapid burgeoning relationship, much like Fifty was. It’s also a dual perspective narrative set over two books (released simultaneously) from the points of view of both the lead characters; I’ll be reviewing Ian’s Story, the First Time story told from the perspective of its male lead, but I’ll certainly be picking up Penny’s Story when it is released for real on August 4th.

First Time is the story of Ian Pratchett, a man in his fifties, fresh from a divorce that still smarts, and his ensuing relationship with Penny Parker, a woman in her twenties that he meets on a blind date. Though they are in very different places in life, both want to start a family of their own, and as the two of them bond, Ian begins to suspect that he may have found the person to fulfill that life goal with.

To say any more would be to spoil the fun, since the relationship is the major content in a romance story, but if I had to describe First Time in a word, that word would be human. It’s a very human book, telling the story of a relationship that feels authentic and charming, with characters I actually enjoyed getting to know. It is- and I hesitate to continue bringing this up since I know that Jenny Trout dislikes it as much as I do- the polar opposite of Grey, and I can’t stress enough how nice that is to have.

So much of this story is blindingly positive representation; Barnette has knocked it out of the park in her writing on sex positivity, men, women, relationships, consent, and a series of other important concepts that, too often, our entertainment still gets so wrong. What I’ve reviewed so far on this blog has been little more than a laundry list of relationship mistakes, but this is the first review I’ve done of a work that only ever gets those things right, modelling a functional, healthy relationship devoid of the problematic gender or sex statements that dominate popular culture.

At so many points while reading First Time I stopped and nodded my head in approval, there’s so many small, incidental details between the central couple here that I just love: I love that Ian is sex positive without being sex addicted, or less than respectful of Penny. I love that Penny wants to take things slow, but this isn’t portrayed as a negative, nor is Ian portrayed as a slavering dog waiting to jump into her pants. I love that Barnette understands that “not having sex” doesn’t mean “not being sexual.” I love that Penny stops to ask Ian’s permission to do things to him during their first sexual encounter. I love the body positivity, the sex positivity, and the emotional honesty with which these characters conduct themselves. Boundaries are respected, consent is given, kink is mentioned but never engaged with and never treated as a negative because of that… every step of the way, the protagonists here act like mature, open people, and their growing bond is so much more enjoyable and engaging because of the responsible way they handle it.

Honestly, it’s such a relief to see that a person can write a book like this and still be a successful author, because after seeing what rises to the tops of the bestseller lists I was becoming more and more convinced that successful erotica needs to be written in accordance with some arcane, inhuman set of rules about relationships and sex that don’t match anything I know about how those work. To see that someone can write about actual humans and not weird aliens with strange expectations of others, beeping and booping their way through a pantomime of Hu-man courtship is just good, a relief to aspiring writers in this genre like me.

The pleasant characters and wonderful representations are bolstered by some damn solid writing; it’s not perfect, and at times feels like it’s sketching the characters too lightly, but it flows well and has a nice sense of personality to it. I haven’t read Penny’s Story yet, so it could be that this is just the way the books are written, but one gets a good idea of Ian’s character through his narration; it has a voice that’s humorously grumpy and cynical in places, yet has a strong backbone of positivity, an authentic feeling of enjoyment at the relationship that unfolds that carries one along. It’s easy to care about the protagonist, and much of that is down to the casual ease with which Barnette writes him.

It all proceeds at a good clip, rarely overstaying its welcome in any given scene or set piece, and it’s really nice to read a writer with a good grasp of rhythm and tone; after slogging through Grey and its painstakingly ruined writing, prose by someone who knows what they’re doing is almost a revelation. It works really well for the most part, excelling at humor and scenes where the characters fight- which are all presented in such a true to life fashion that it’s almost uncomfortable to watch these people bicker, at times- though it does falter during scenes that are supposed to be sad. Conceptually, Barnette knows what she’s doing, the actual sad moments are solid ideas, they’re just executed a tad too quickly for my taste, in language that doesn’t dig in its gut punch quite enough. A little more oomph, another draft or two, and those scenes could have been masterful (you’ll know them when you read them); as they stand, they’re merely adequate denouements to a couple of ongoing plot threads. They never felt unnecessary, just not living up to their potential, I suppose.

Look, ultimately what we have here is a very entertaining read by an author that clearly knows her genre well and has an interest in promoting some exceptional relationship practices too. Yes, there are some niggles that spoil some of the fun- in particular I think the ending felt slightly rushed and could have used maybe two or three more scenes to it- but I have a really hard time criticizing this one, because it’s just too damn pleasant otherwise. It’s a book that’ll make you smile, it’s super cute at times, real at others, and engaging throughout. I’d be remiss if I didn’t recommend it wholeheartedly. First Time will be released on August 4th through Amazon, and at that price, I can’t think of a single reason not to pick it up.

Also? It has the most references to octopi that I’ve ever seen in a romance novel. That should be enough of a selling point on its own.

Bye!

Grey: Fifty Shades as told by a Garbage-Person, Chapter 3 recap

Welcome back, dear readers. We return to Grey jogging and fantasizing about Ana some more, because that seems to be literally the only thing he’s capable of doing, and unfortunately, it’s exactly as objectifying as all the other times:

Last night I dreamed of her. Blue eyes, breathy voice…her sentences ending with “sir” as she knelt before me.

This is, I think, the first time Grey has ever imagined the woman speaking, but of course the actual words she says aren’t important, only the token submission expressed at the end of her sentences. This is exactly what I mean, when I say that Grey’s really after a sex doll, not Ana herself; he doesn’t think about her character, just her body. Only ever her body. BDSM needs to be more personal than this, guys: if you don’t know a person well enough to properly monitor them in a scene, if you can’t gauge their reactions and predict what they would do under this or that stimulus, then how on Earth can they trust you to dominate them? How can you trust yourself? Grey doesn’t think about these things because they aren’t important to him, but a Safe, Sane and Consensual kink relationship must account for who both partners are as people.

This scene is also one paragraph long, which is troubling because it kinda shows how little planning and effort was put into the writing and editing of this piece. I’ve published books in the past, and my editor really did put my words through the wringer before handing them back to me, which is something I truly needed and which made my eventual novel so much better than it had been initially. I simply can’t square my image of the great editor I had with this idea that one could read over a single paragraph scene which contains absolutely no vital information and think “yeah, that’s acceptable.” My editor would have kicked my ass if I’d tried that; if there was any editing being done for this book at all, it was by someone profoundly lax.

Other evidence of this is that Christian’s back to just announcing what he’s feeling again:

The thought is disconcerting, so I ignore it and concentrate on pushing my body to its limits along the bank of the Willamette.

In the second scene- again, just a paragraph- Grey passes a coffee shop and wonders whether or not he should take Ana to one, completely bypassing the whole “will she go with me if I ask?” bit, not to mention the “will she actually be at the photoshoot?” part.

Maybe I should take her for coffee.
Like a date?
Well. No. Not a date. I laugh at the ridiculous thought. Just a chat—an interview of sorts.

Yes, taking a woman you’re interested in on a date? Sir, that is the height of madness! Interviewing her like an employer, gauging her suitability for what you have planned for her but will not even hint to her about? Perfectly normal!

The scene ends again, and I’m left wondering if this is at all what people want out of this novel; Grey takes the majority of the scene to set out that he’s going to eat and then shower. That literally takes up as much page real estate as “should I take the heroine out for coffee?” and I just cannot fucking fathom why that is. This is not the sorts of insight into the character that people want to read about, surely? E.L James will skip entire days worth of content where Christian obsesses over Ana, something that one could reasonably anticipate that the readers of this romance novel would want, but she’ll render his fucking breakfast habits with the same level of detail that she mentions the heroine in this scene?

What the fuck is wrong with this writer’s priorities?

Oh, and it’s not just the details and scene blocking that she sucks at, it’s also scene transitions too:

THERE’S A BRISK KNOCK on the door. I open it and Taylor stands on the threshold.

Really? This is supposed to hook me into the scene?

The big problem here is that every shred of plot-relevant information that was present in those previous two scenes could have been incorporated into this one in a way that easily enhances the characterization of Christian, without any major detriment to the flow of the piece: just have him come in from running- you don’t even have to say so, just say he’s out of breath- to find Taylor (his bodyguard, by the way) looking for him. In one single scene opening you’ve shown us what Grey was doing, gotten us to exactly the same place that James took two “scenes” to get to, and have laid easy groundwork for Christian to relate what he was thinking about on his run that held him up so long. In fact, you’ve now also made his internal turmoil more present in the narrative because you can show that he’s been out distracting himself with running so long that others have noticed and begun looking for him.

This has all been accomplished, by the way, without transforming the chapter into a jerky, stop-and-start abomination with a flow that’s dead in the water. You’d think that’d be important for a writer to consider.

Ugh. Anyway, it’s finally time for the photoshoot to happen, so the narrative wobbles vaguely that way. Can’t move too fast for the plot, after all; it’s so thin it might break its neck if we go too fast.

Room 601 is crowded with people, lights, and camera boxes, but I spot her immediately. She’s standing to the side. Her hair is loose: a lush, glossy mane that falls beneath her breasts. She’s wearing tight jeans and chucks with a short-sleeved navy jacket and a white T-shirt beneath. Are jeans and chucks her signature look? While not very convenient, they do flatter her shapely legs. Her eyes, disarming as ever, widen as I approach.

Yes, well, all women everywhere should be dressing in a manner that’s convenient for you, Christian. We wouldn’t want you to have to struggle for more than a second at a time in gaining access to their holes, after all. But hey, at least it makes a part of her body visually appealing to you, and really, isn’t that what all women should aspire to?

Christian briefly considers kissing Ana’s hand, but doesn’t, which is fortunate because if he did, he would most likely metamorphose, at a molecular level, into one of those fedora-wearing Nice Guys who call women “m’lady.” In fact I’m fairly certain the fedora would be another organ. Instead, he turns his attention to Kate, Ana’s friend from the first chapter who couldn’t make it to her interminable interview with Christian (lucky her!).

“Mr. Grey, this is Katherine Kavanagh,” she says. With reluctance I release her and turn to the persistent Miss Kavanagh. She’s tall, striking, and well groomed, like her father, but she has her mother’s eyes, and I have her to thank for my introduction to the delightful Miss Steele. That thought makes me feel a little more benevolent toward her.

So, like… Grey immediately seems to dislike Kate, the deliberate wording of “more benevolent” hinting that his initial reaction was negative, and this is an enormous problem that both books covering this period have, where every single woman that isn’t Ana is referred to by the narrative in strictly negative terms. I made mention of this in the last recap, but it bears further investigation since this is the first time another major- insofar as this book has major characters beyond Grey and Ana- female character, and the narration leans toward instant, baseless dislike. It’s not that these women are characterized negatively, though that would be a problem on its own; it’s that the writing asserts negative things about them without justification or even a reason to in the scene, aside from emphasizing the insanely jealous haze through which both of our protagonists conduct themselves.

This is lazy writing on its own, since simply demanding that the reader react negatively toward certain characters is unreasonable and dishonest to the story, but in this case it’s also lazy characterization, since this is really the extent of the effort put into making Ana seem at all palatable. Instead of constructing a character with interesting qualities who actually is a person worth liking who we want to know more about, E.L James commits to waging a prose war against every other female character in the piece, simply commanding us to dislike them via the bizarre, disjointed assumptions of the lead characters. Christian doesn’t like Kate, for no reason, and so we are supposed to be sealed off from liking Kate too, and thus forbidden from comparing her favorably to Ana.

Of course, the fact is that Kate is generally the superior character, exhibiting far more agency in her quest to get an interview and personal photo shoot with Christian than Ana does in the entire series, and all of Kate’s cool stuff happens before the book begins.

She has a firm, confident handshake, and I doubt she’s ever faced a day of hardship in her privileged life. I wonder why these women are friends. They have nothing in common.

Heh heh, you got all that from her handshake, did you? Or is this just more of your utterly baseless assumptions, that you’re going to stick to and let color your every interaction with this person for the rest of your dealings with her?

Seriously, I’m so tired, already, of Christian leaping to conclusions about people based on nothing at all, and then the book just sort of treating them as true despite getting no positive feedback regarding them. Let’s be clear here: he just met Kate, and yet somehow we’re supposed to take seriously his pronouncement that she has nothing in common with Ana, another woman whose interactions with him can be counted on one hand? More and more, this is beginning to read like an account written by an unreliable narrator, just petulantly demanding that we interpret events his way when it’s clear to see that they simply don’t match the tone he’s giving them; it’s kinda hilarious, since E.L James clearly was not going for that.

If she was going for anything at all; nothing in what I’ve read thus far indicates that she actually had any artistic intentions for this work, period.

Not to mention, of course, how completely unironically the billionaire who was adopted by rich parents accuses someone else of “never having faced a day of hardship.” Christian was adopted at four years old: when was the last time he ever had to do something particularly strenuous?

It’s round about now that Jose appears, our Jacob counterpart to Christian’s Edward, in the Twilight fan-fiction this entire boondoggle originally was, and this is literally the first set of lines that come out of his appearance:

“This is José Rodriguez, our photographer,” Anastasia says, and her face lights up as she introduces him.
Shit. Is this the boyfriend?
Rodriguez blooms under Ana’s sweet smile.
Are they fucking?

The only possible interaction that Christian seems to be able to envision for men and Ana is penises, slipping into wet holes. Every. Single. Man, that he has seen her with thus far, his only thought has been of sex. Are they having sex with her? Have they dared to touch Christian’s property?! What is the status of their penises, viz Ana’s vagina?

He needs to know right now, damn it!

Well, game on, kid.

So… is anyone else bothered by this? To my knowledge, Jose is the only person of color in the entire series, and Christian develops an immediate habit of calling him “kid,” and “boy.” I mean, that’s condescending enough just on its own, but when it’s applied to the only non-white cast member exclusively…

Christian immediately gets incredibly standoffish to Jose, and since we only have Christian’s point of view to tell us that Jose responds in kind, and I completely refuse to trust his view, all we can really be sure of is that Christian begins this meeting by being kind of an asshole. That he takes absolutely everything that Jose does as a “challenge” only shows that he’s interacting with the man in bad faith, based on suspicions that he has in his own mind that Jose is not party to, nor has he influenced them in any way. Christian is acting out his possessive fantasies regarding Ana, inflicting them on an unsuspecting world and, in the fine tradition of confirmation bias, spinning every reaction he gets to them as evidence that he is, in fact, right.

The man even takes the fucking stage lights turning on as some form of attack on him, seemingly.

Then we get some more insipid assumptions from the man of the hour:

As the glare recedes I search out the lovely Miss Steele. She’s standing at the back of the room, observing the proceedings. Does she always shy away like this? Maybe that’s why she and Kavanagh are friends; she’s content to be in the background and let Katherine take center stage.
Hmm…a natural submissive.

At least this time Christian prefaces his weird ruminations with a “maybe,” but you know what? This is so perfectly symptomatic of the sickness at the heart of this book, and it’s not the abuse, really, because it goes deeper than that. The true rot that’s corrupting this narrative at every turn is more fundamental: it’s a staunch refusal, on the part of each and every character, to actually communicate with one another.

I mean, I guess this is partially a symptom of the fact that the majority of these people are just meeting each other for the first time, but then again that hardly stops them from wanting to fuck each other senseless, so it’s not really an excuse. The problem is that these people lack the maturity and willingness to frankly discuss their desires in a productive way; instead they find themselves ruminating pointlessly on what they think might be going on in the other’s head, based on nothing, and working from that. It’s a book where a bunch of clueless assholes fire blindly into the night and hope a relationship emerges.

Open and clear communication is such a cornerstone of BDSM, but any communication is key to relationship building- how are you going to have a romance novel where none of the people involved interact with one another?- so it’s so very baffling to see such reluctance to do so baked into the characters at a fundamental level.Grey even goes out of his way to lie to Ana to obscure his interest in her, and from memory Ana is just as evasive regarding her interest in him; the two protagonists are just locked in these little boxes where they refuse to truthfully communicate any of their thoughts to the world at large, while simultaneously being angry or disappointed that everyone else doesn’t already know what they’re thinking. It’s a narrative-scale act of passive aggression that essentially leaves us reading about an echo chamber. Nobody can grow or evolve, because nobody is willing to begin the process of information exchange to allow that to happen.

Christian thinks that Ana is a “natural submissive,” because he won’t talk to her about what she likes and dislikes just in general, let alone sexually, and he refuses to consider any of the information he knows about her outside of the little prism through which he can interpret the world as he prefers to see it. She’s a natural submissive because he would like it if that were so, and he doesn’t know any better, and so he constructs an ad hoc rationalization of why she is that way, no need to consult reality to confirm or anything, it’s just so, now. Did we really need for this entire book to be written just so we can know that Christian Grey constructs elaborate fantasy scenarios in his head and then expects the rest of the world to conform to them absolutely? Is that truly the sort of insight that should have been granted into this character?

Christian’s presumptuousness is irritating enough on its own, but in this case it also refers back to this utter nonsense about dominants being able to sense what women are “naturally submissive” in a sexual sense just by looking at them, like it’s all just instant submission, just add dominant cock. It’s not only lazy kink writing- it’s basically telling the reader instead of showing, which is like a cardinal writing sin in general- it’s flat out dangerous in many ways, as it reinforces certain assumptions that newly kinky people- and a certain stripe of predatory dom- might have about the way kink operates, namely that who you are outside of the bedroom, hell, even just how you look, informs the role you were destined to play in kink.

A quick stroll through reality demonstrates that this is… nonsense. Some of the most assertive people I’ve ever known have been almost exclusively sexually submissive in the bedroom, and some of the quietest, least assertive people I know turn into dominant beasts behind closed doors. I am a quiet, shy person in my real life, but my kinky tastes run near exclusively dominant; Grey would have had exactly the same cues with me as he has with Ana, the same disinterest in being the center of attention, the same discomfort with prolonged eye contact in public and so on, only the conclusions he drew from it would be totally wrong, because you can’t determine a person’s sexual tastes from their non-sexual behavior. It’s simply not possible: sure, there’s probably plenty of people who are meek and also sexually submissive, but human experience is varied and strange, those two categories don’t actually connect in any real way. All this book is telling new kinksters is that the guy who wanders up to you at your first play gathering, or messages you through a kink site, and says you were “born to wear a collar,” or some shit, is saying a totally cogent thing and is fine to hang out with, when in reality that guy is at the very least insanely presumptuous, and at worst is being outright predatory.

You want to know the way you ascertain whether or not someone is sexually submissive? You ask them. Which, as we’ve already established, Christian will never do, because he’s too engaged with his fantasy Ana to care what real Ana thinks, and would rather railroad her into it without any prior hints that this is his intention.

This whole book is fucking garbage.

As if to illustrate my prior point perfectly, Christian proceeds to stare at Ana, having decided in his mind that if she breaks eye contact first it means she’s a submissive and is slavering over his wonderful trouser dachshund, and begins telepathically ordering her to do so. Becoming uncomfortable after being stared at by a creepy loon with presumably very intense telepathy eyes, Ana does break eye contact, and being that Christian has already decided what that means, without any consideration of possible alternatives, he smugly tells her “good girl” in his head.

Is this what other women find sexy in their men? That he’ll just imagine some potentially sexy things about them and then just get all silently smug without telling them about it? How is that satisfying?

The photo shoot ends literally one sentence after this with the most jarring transition I’ve ever read; Christian seriously is just like “and then we’re done,” and that’s that. My ladyfriend does professional photography, so I know it takes some time to get pictures taken like that, so I’m genuinely wondering how much time has passed in that exchange of a few sentences, and why James opted to not even intimate that anything had happened at all. I know I said earlier that she takes too much time discussing trivial bullshit and not enough focusing on things people might actually want to read but come on: a photo shoot with a pair of new characters is at least somewhat interesting. Christian eating breakfast alone is not.

Christian shakes hands with every new character- who we have heard literally nothing from since they were introduced, continuing with the theme of James just assuming that everyone has read the previous books and thus knows who these people are- and we get this lovely little tidbit about Jose:

“Thank you again, Mr. Grey.” Katherine surges forward and shakes my hand, followed by the photographer, who regards me with ill-concealed disapproval. His antagonism makes me smile.
Oh, man…you have no idea.

So, Christian thinks that Jose is interested in Ana, and proceeds to gloat about attempting to steal her away from him. All for the crime of daring to be interested in the same woman as a man he’s never met.

Charming.

Grey asks Ana to walk with him, and his continuing interest in her is noted as “surprising” her, which just goes to show that merely thinking a lot about a woman, and pulling out all the stops to present to her that you have no interest in her while attempting to see her more, doesn’t actually transmit an effective message to the woman in question. Demonstrating yet more skewed priorities, James proceeds to write Christian’s inconsequential dialogue to Taylor in full, while relegating his asking Ana out for coffee to a silent notation, despite it being the focus of the scene.

Her long lashes flicker over her eyes. “I have to drive everyone home,” she says with dismay.

The easily resolved nature of this excuse- how hard is it to give your keys to Kate, Ana?- and Christian’s untrustworthy narration combine to make me think that this “dismay” he’s detecting in her is anything but. More and more, this feels like the diary of a man attempting to get with a woman who is uncomfortable around him, while he’s unable to register that fact. And of course, Christian has all the money in the world with which to enforce his presence on the unfortunate young lady:

“Taylor,” I call after him, making her jump. I must make her nervous and I don’t know if this is good or bad. And she can’t stop fidgeting. Thinking about all the ways I could make her stop is distracting.

He doesn’t know if making her nervous is good or bad?

Well, let me clear that up, then. It’s. Fucking. BAD.

Maybe, in a specific BDSM context, making a woman nervous is a good thing. But Ana is not Christian’s sub. Ana does not even know that Christian is kinky, and Christian absolutely does not know if Ana is. From Ana’s perspective, Christian is just a guy; she does not have a relationship with him beyond a few meetings, they are not romantically or sexually involved in any way, nor does she have any indication that Christian is interested in these things. There is absolutely no sense in which making a woman in that position nervous around you is a good thing, something that Christian would know if he had any shred of empathy at all.

Ana accepts his invitation after Christian put pressure on her to do so by committing his staff to doing the thing that was preventing her from accepting right in front of her, and she trots off to deal with that. While Christian is waiting, we get some more nonsense ruminations:

What the hell am I going to say to her?
“How would you like to be my submissive?”
No. Steady, Grey. Let’s take this one stage at a time.

God, yeah, why would you want to say that? That would be a frank and honest expression of your intentions toward her, how crazy would it be to do that?

I mean, I get it, that would be surprisingly blunt, but it’s not as if Christian isn’t trying to skip vital steps in the process of getting to know Ana before jumping into bed with her anyway. Hell, he’s planning to interview her and present her with a sex contract; simply asking is positively genteel next to that.

How long is Anastasia going to be? I check my watch. She must be negotiating the car swap with Katherine. Or she’s talking to Rodriguez, explaining that she’s just going for coffee to placate me and keep me sweet for the article. My thoughts darken. Maybe she’s kissing him good-bye.
Damn.
She emerges a moment later, and I’m pleased. She doesn’t look like she’s just been kissed.

Well, I mean, how would you know? She hasn’t set off the Kissing Flares or anything.

At the elevators I press the call button and almost immediately the doors open. A couple in a passionate embrace spring apart, embarrassed to be caught. Ignoring them, we step into the elevator, but I catch Anastasia’s impish smile.
As we travel to the first floor the atmosphere is thick with unfulfilled desire. And I don’t know if it’s emanating from the couple behind us or from me.

Hey, sometimes elevators just smell bad.

I’m relieved when the doors open again and I take her hand, which is cool and not clammy as expected. Perhaps I don’t affect her as much as I’d like. The thought is disheartening.

Dude, have a little care for the kind of effect you want to have on the woman, because when I see sweaty palms, I don’t think “gagging for the D.”

They head out to a coffee place, and for some reason every step of the journey is described to us, as well as Grey taking Ana’s coffee order, because we were all desperately wanting to see that happen from Christian’s point of view, obviously. She declines his offer to get her some food, so of course when he actually goes to order, this happens:

“I’ll have a coffee with steamed milk. English Breakfast tea. Teabag on the side. And a blueberry muffin.”
Anastasia might change her mind and eat.

It’s their first time out together, the first time they’re in a remotely equal position, and he’s already trying to control what she eats. Those who have read the other novels know that this is a recurring theme with some… interesting undertones that may or may not be intentional (Ana, who in this novel doesn’t eat much and is always being told to eat, is often the name given to sufferer’s personifications of anorexia) but it’s interesting to see it start out so damn early. For someone who constantly worries that Ana might not be into him, he sure has no qualms overreaching with her whenever possible, as if that’s likely to help.

For some reason the narration then decides to stop and render a one-sided conversation between the barista and a monosyllabic Grey in its entirety, and again, I’m utterly mystified as to this book’s sense of priorities; I’m fairly sure that people wanted to see more of Christian and Ana together, from his perspective, or perhaps relevant scenes from his life that inform who he is as a person, but I don’t recall any screaming outcry to know what, exactly, he talked about with the cashier in that one coffee shop scene. I don’t know why this gets special treatment- seriously, it’s just small talk- while the photo shoot, which could have been used to give some good insight into Christian around these new characters, went by at such a blisteringly fast pace.

This really does feel like E.L James stream of consciousness writing, without even a single editing pass before it hit shelves. She just writes whatever, and then I guess it’s in the book forever, now.

It also serves the purpose of making Christian look like a vicious ass who can’t interact with other human beings if he wants to do something else instead, and I doubt that was what was originally envisioned for this guy. But seriously, there’s no other way to take a man hissing at a barista who’s just wishing him a good time in the city, since he’s visiting. He’s just being horrible for no reason, without commentary on how uncool that is. It’s like they took the least important part of the book and turned it into an opportunity to make Christian look like more of a horrendous douche. Why would they do that?

And then they have tea, which is endlessly fascinating, I know.

As she tells me she likes her tea weak and black, for a moment I think she’s describing what she likes in a man.

That… that just sounds like she’s describing Urkel.

Christian decides to use this time to grill Ana further, as though he didn’t get enough information on her from the background check he ran, so he asks her if Jose is her boyfriend, and I’m starting to get kind of irritated that this keeps happening, because if Christian actually wanted to know, he could just ask her if she has a boyfriend in general, instead of going down this ridiculous checklist for every single man she knows. He could ask one question instead of asking fifteen million ones that signal his intentions even brighter than ever, but I think this is just down to E.L James not really having a handle on writing a smart character who probably would have picked that up on his own, and so she just cycles through the same three or four topics endlessly, in the process undercutting the very notion that Christian is smart.

She laughs. At me.
At me!
And I don’t know if it’s from relief or if she thinks I’m funny. It’s annoying.

Because nobody should take you anything but seriously, as you stalk women in hardware stores and try to send telepathic kink messages to them.

“The way you smiled at him, and he at you.” You have no idea, do you? The boy is smitten.

Whew! Get a load of that completely natural speech pattern from a 27 year old American dude! “And he at you,” because that’s totally what some guy from Detroit would say.

She eyes the blueberry muffin as I peel back the paper, and for a moment I imagine her on her knees beside me as I feed her, a morsel at a time. The thought is diverting—and arousing.

Okay… look, I shouldn’t have to say something this obvious, but muffins are not sexy food. They’re crumbly-ass stain nightmares that leave you all sticky when you eat them. I cannot imagine a less sexy scene than someone holding a rapidly disintegrating chunk of muffin out to someone else and watching them suffer under the deluge of crumbs and blueberry fragments as they attempt to eat it, and then presumably spend the next fifteen minutes picking muffin out of their hair and clothes.

No amount of collars or dirty talk could make that sexy.

Christian again asks if Paul from the last chapter is her boyfriend, and I don’t know what he hopes to accomplish with this. Is he hoping to catch Ana out in a lie, where she admits that actually yes, he is? Or does he just not remember something about the girl he has apparently spent the last day pining for relentlessly? What is actually the point of all these little digressions?

“I find you intimidating,” she says, and looks down, fidgeting once more with her fingers. On the one hand she’s so submissive, but on the other she’s…challenging.

Oh, that’s a good sign. I know that in Ana’s mind she’s super into him and so on, but that’s not something that Christian knows, or even suspect, given how much he bounces around and doubts himself in her presence. To him, this should be an absolute red flag that the way he’s acting around her is achieving precisely the opposite effect to the one he wants, this should prompt him to really reflect back on his actions and maybe change so that he can…

Yeah, okay. I could not get through that with a straight face. We all know that’s never going to happen:

“You should find me intimidating.”

‘Scuse me, bucko? She should? That’s what you want in your subs, is it? Intimidation?

Because that’s absolutely not what you should want in a submissive, least of all one that you’re only just getting to know, if she indeed turns out to be sexually submissive. Intimidation leads to fear of displeasing your dom, it leads to you not using your safe word even when you should. An intimidated sub won’t say a word her dom won’t like, she won’t give properly reflective reactions when she’s played with, she’ll persist with things that hurt her too much because she doesn’t want to displease the person she’s afraid of.

Moreover, as I’ve had to point out so many times in this damn entry, Ana is not his sub yet. Even if he wanted his subs to be intimidated, at this point she’s just a woman that he’s met a few times. Her being intimidated is literally the last thing that a person in Christian’s situation, wanting to get in her pants, should want. Unless he’s intimating that he wants her scared so that he can pressure her into sex later, which, I mean…

You don’t want her intimidated. You shouldn’t want anybody intimidated, frankly, but then…

Yeah. She should. There aren’t many people brave enough to tell me that I intimidate them.

So, this tells us two important things: the first is that Christian is a complete sociopath who actually wants people to be afraid of him. The second is that he takes a lack of overt acknowledgement that he does intimidate them as a sign that he does intimidate them, but they’re too afraid to say so… which makes him look like one of those internet tough guys obsessed with convincing himself that actually everyone secretly thinks of him as the tough dude he thinks of himself as.

“Yeah, everyone’s afraid of me, because I’m strong! Look at that guy, not in any way signalling that he’s intimidated… he so scurred!”

Ridiculous.

Grey goes on to begin grilling Ana about her family, for the most frustrating reason:

Of course I know all this from Welch’s background check, but it’s important to hear it from her.

No, if it was important to hear it from her, then you wouldn’t have run the background check at all; you would have just asked her in the process of getting to know her normally, like a respectful person would do. Unless you mean that it’s important to hear all this from her in the sense that you don’t want to let slip any information you couldn’t know on your own, and hence reveal that you’ve been spying on her, but in that case the move is so vile and calculating that it’s actually better to think that he’s just profoundly insensitive, an implication that is only confirmed by his next question:

“Your father?” I ask.
“My father died when I was a baby.”

Christian already knows this, since it showed up on the background check. What he doesn’t know is how Ana feels about it. But that’s sure not going to stop him from bringing it up like it’s nothing, no matter how traumatic or saddening it might be for Ana, because Ana’s feelings don’t actually matter to Christian, least of all when he’s trying to obscure the fact that he’s spied on her so she won’t get freaked out on him. I mean, he just says this, busts out this incredibly loaded question when he wants Ana to like him, when one could reasonably assume that she would have some very complicated feelings on the issue…

“I don’t remember him,” she says, dragging me back to the now. Her expression is clear and bright, and I know that Raymond Steele has been a good father to this girl.

Oh, okay then. Never mind. I guess it would be too much to ask for Ana to have nuanced feelings on anything, especially when there’s Christian Grey to moon over.

Hey, you know what we haven’t had for a while? Mindless sexist pablum!

She’s one of the few women I’ve met who can sit in silence. Which is great, but not what I want at the moment.

God, ’cause those women, always being such huge chatterboxes, am I right? Just yak yak yak, eh Christian? Good thing you know how to put a stop to that, eh? Eh? Eh?

And it’s with great pleasure and a smirk that I remind her that she’s interviewed me already. “I can recollect some quite probing questions.”
Yes. You asked me if I was gay.

Oh, you don’t like probing questions do you, Christian? Like, say, asking someone about their father when you already know they’re dead?

Or are we just talking about the sort of probing questions that let you continue to assert your Manly Manliness credentials to the reader over and over in the most homophobic way possible?

She straightens her shoulders. “Tell me about your parents,” she demands, in an attempt to divert the conversation from her family. I don’t like talking about mine, so I give her the bare details.

Oh, she should probably just run a background check on you then.

Christian goes over the single sentence version of who his family is, and the one sided nature of this “interview,” continues to irritate me. Ana mentions her aspirations to travel to England one day, citing all the famous authors that came from there but also never once venturing outside of the literature one might find on a high school reading list to do so, and Christian yet again assumes that the entirety of British literature can be boiled down to the romances… although I will grudgingly admit that he’s aided in this notion by Ana’s list, in a way.

Here’s the proof I needed. She’s an incurable romantic, like her mother—and this isn’t going to work. To add insult to injury, she looks at her watch. She’s done.

The man acts like his time is the most important asset in the world, and yet someone else merely being aware of how they’re spending theirs is an insult to him. If they don’t want exactly the same coldly sexual relationship with him that he wants with them, if he finds them fuckable but they want romance instead of on call booty calls, this is an injury, in his mind. Ugh.

Despite having apparently made up his mind that Ana isn’t into what he wants from her, that “this isn’t going to work,” he continues to act as though he’s totally going to ask her out anyway, as though the last few moments of his train of thought never happened.

Hi, I’m Christian Grey! Lemme bondage you!

Maybe this could work.
“Do you always wear jeans?” I ask.
“Mostly,” she says, and it’s two strikes against her: incurable romantic who only wears jeans…I like my women in skirts. I like them accessible.

What is Ana thinking, not having her holes open for your use 24/7! What a notion, that she might have dressed herself this morning without consideration of what Christian Grey likes, since she absolutely knows nothing of his sexual interest in her! How crazy, to think that a person might change according to circumstance, so that if you ever became her dom you might be able to request that she wear dresses for that purpose!

Nope! People are static, they only ever do what they’re doing at precisely this second and nothing more,, ever! Don’t you feel bad for people sitting on toilets, knowing they’ll be trapped there forever?

“Do you have a girlfriend?” she asks out of the blue, and it’s the third strike. I’m out of this fledgling deal. She wants romance, and I can’t offer her that.

Well, come on man, what the fuck did you want her to say? “Do you have a sex slave?” What fucking other expression of sexual interest could she have used that wouldn’t have come across as presumptuous and inappropriate for the public street the two of you are now walking on?

So fucking sorry for you, that she didn’t read your mind and know exactly what you wanted in order to tailor the perfect response. Jesus, how rough.

And then something dumb happens, which I’ve been led to believe comes directly from Twilight in some respect, which makes it dumb squared:

Stricken with a frown, she turns abruptly and stumbles into the road.
“Shit, Ana!” I shout, tugging her toward me to stop her from falling in the path of an idiot cyclist who’s flying the wrong way up the street. All of a sudden she’s in my arms clutching my biceps, staring up at me.

That single sentence, from the quotation marks onward, constitutes the entirety of this near-bike collision thing. Big moments in this book go by so fast, and with so little fanfare that it’s hard to care about anything. Christian describes this careless cyclist in the same flat, monotone prose as he described his breakfast earlier in the chapter, and the whole concept is discarded a moment later and never mentioned again. This is clearly supposed to be some big dramatic thing, hell, it’s the biggest moment of action so far in the entire novel, but the language remains utterly flat. I think it’s James’ writing style in general; her weird stream of consciousness narration might work for fan fiction- mildly, since I don’t actually buy the idea that this would be acceptable in a derivative work either- but in an actual narrative it’s so disjointed and lacking in rhythm that it’s hard to build up much excitement for what’s going on, or even to become invested at all.

Christian holds Ana to him as a means of saving her, and clearly James is going for a big romantic heart-thumper, but the writing so lacks any form of recognizable pattern that I can’t get a hold on how its supposed to be read. It just comes across as dispassionate as a shopping list, because the content is not the only thing that determines the tone, in writing. Execution matters, and it really feels like that was an afterthought here. It’s like James just thinks if she writes about a romantic thing, it will be romantic no matter how she actually writes it.

Anyway, the guy could go in for a kiss, but:

No. No. No. Don’t do this, Grey.
She’s not the girl for you.
She wants hearts and flowers, and you don’t do that shit.

I’ll be blunt: I don’t buy this excuse. I do not buy it one bit.

What this is, isn’t some dark brooding loner pushing her away for her own good, no matter how Christian wants to characterize it as that. He’s not fucking Batman, the Joker isn’t going to pop up and beat Ana to death with a crowbar if he takes her to a restaurant (though… god, actually, that would make a better book…)

Save us from the bad book, Mistah J!

No, the real problem here is that Christian is entirely unwilling to even attempt a compromise with Ana. He suspects that she wants “hearts and flowers,” as he puts it, and maybe he’s right, but relationships are not a zero-sum game. One person getting what they want does not preclude the other from getting theirs too, and I pretty much think Christian knows that. He just doesn’t want to try to make Ana happy on her own terms, only on his, and nothing else.

It’s a complete double standard, of course, since he was quite happy to attempt to bring her around to the kind of relationship he wanted with her, even if she needed some convincing. But the moment she might want something that deviates from his own desires it’s time to back away, as though even meeting her half way and attempting to like her as a person, as a romantic partner, is too much effort. If he can’t be getting what he wants whenever he wants then he’s out, and worse, he’s then going to try and recast his own failure of character as some kind of heroic act of charity. Anything to keep himself a legend in his own mind.

What an ugly, ugly human being. And there are people who find him attractive?

He has the opportunity to kiss her but doesn’t, because that would entail some effort on his part that a girl might actually consent to, and Ana gets depressed. Completing his little suffering waif routine at not getting exactly what he wants, Christian warns her away from him, saying he’s “not the person for her.”

Ana is angry at this, which is sort of inexplicable if you’ve read the other book and know that her own thoughts during the whole cafe scene essentially ran along the lines of “golly gee, shucks, I’m so ordinary, he couldn’t possibly be interested in a shy, shy, and shy girl like me!” Isolated to Christians POV alone you kinda get the idea that she might have noticed his attraction to her, but both accounts taken together show that, for the majority of the story thus far, neither of them have been aware that the other is interested, making Ana’s anger at his rejection really weird. She’s mad at him for not immediately intuiting her own attraction and acting on it, as though he’s obligated to do so because she wants him.

I dunno, people don’t react like normal human beings in these books. It’s like E.L James is an alien who learned all she knows about romance from dour movies. Like, why would Ana not expect Christian to have telepathy?

… And… wait. He seems to think she does too, after that thing at the photo shoot. That’s… coincidental.

Is… Is E.L James an alien?

Well, this is where the chapter ends, dear reader: Ana storms off in a huff, and Christian characteristically cannot communicate his regrets at rejecting her like a normal human being. It’s essentially two more paragraphs of stammering, and then a chapter break. I don’t recall if this is the scene that leads to Ana having a weeping fit in a parking lot, or if that’s some other one, but it’s not like that’s not equally ridiculous, either way.

Join me next time, you weirdos, as I explore a chapter even lighter on actual content than this one!