Friday, June 8, 2012

FFB: THE BEST AMERICAN EROTICA 1993 edited by Susie Bright (Simon and Schuster)

Contents, courtesy William Contento's Miscellaneous Anthologies site:
The Best American Erotica 1993 ed. Susan Bright (Simon & Schuster, 1993; S&S's paperback reprint: Touchstone Books 0-684-84514-8, Apr ’97, $17.95, 244pp, tp); (Contents from

· I Have Something for You · Blake C. Aarens · ss

· from Vox · Nicholson Baker · ex New York: Random House, 1992

· Horny · Greg Boyd · ss

· Belonging · Pat Califia · ss

· from “Citre et Trans” · Samuel R. Delany · ex Driftglass/Starshards, Grafton, 1993

· Milk · Michael Dorsey · ss

· Why · Bob Flanagan · ss

· Ninety-Three Million Miles Away · Barbara Gowdy · ss

· Serenade for Female with Fantasies · Ann Marie Mardith · ss

· Five Dimes · Melissa [Anita Melissa Mashman] · ss

· Rubenesque · Magenta Michaels · ss

· Needless to Say · Lisa Palac · ss

· Golden Boy · Carol Queen · ss

· from The Tale of the Body Thief · Anne Rice · ex New York: Knopf, 1992

· Brian’s Bedroom · Leigh Rutledge · ss

· Two at Once · Robert Silverberg · ss Penthouse Letters, 1992

· The Flood · Ronald Sukenick · ss

· Me and the Boys · Trish Thomas · ss

· Ellen, from Chicago · Pat Williams · ss

· Griffs, on a Rainy Sunday in L.A. · Carter Wilson · ss

This was the first of sexual-matters commentator and On Our Backs magazine all-but-co-founder Susie Bright's annual series, which would see fourteen more volumes before wrapping up with the 2008 volume (having skipped a year), the last volume both a best of its previous year and a survey of the best of the previous volumes. [***Not quite, as my late-night memory played me Bright notes in comments, below, the non-series-retrospective fiction in the last volume was original to the anthology...a tack taken by a number of the other "best-of" annuals, particularly but not exclusively in the erotica field.] (And On Our Backs was the first skin/sexuality magazine, or at least the first sustained one, to be aimed squarely at the lesbian reader, taking its title in gentle mockery of the DC-based feminist newspaper Off Our Backs.) The flood of annual and vaguely/possibly annual best-of volumes in the erotica field since 1993 owes something to the entry of Bright and S&S into virgin territory.

And this was a solid first go. The Anne Rice excerpt was about as unimpressive as all the Rice fiction I'd ever sampled (or have since), but the variety and grace (or its antithesis when desired) of the rest of the contents made for a memorable read, even with such stories as the Silverberg, an account of a not quite successful multipartner tryst, being wry or otherwise amusing even when not at all arousing...Bright was seeking a broad-spectrum approach, figuring the strength of her contributors' work would make for good reading even when the sexual exploration of a given piece might not do much for a given reader's libido...and that readers might be surprised to respond to a work where the passion in the telling transcended the lack of lust inspired by the type of sexual encounter described. I was already familiar with the work of Silverberg, Delany, Rice, and Sukenick as fiction-writers, and had heard of but not read Baker thus; Lisa Palac and Pat Califia I knew better for various sorts of nonfiction (Palac mostly from MaximumRocknRoll magazine), and Bob Flanagan as the subject of others' nonfiction (a man in constant pain from cystic fibrosis, he embraced and magnified his pain, became mildly famous as a "super-masochist" and explorer of the limits of that kind of lifestyle). The others were completely new to me; Gowdy and "Melissa" certainly made an impression, even if their work here wasn't up to the very best Bright would highlight in future volumes, such as William Harrison's gentle yet fervent "Two Cars in a Cornfield" (he of "Roller Ball Murder", the Esquire short story that is vastly better than either film made from it) or Clean Sheets and Slow Trains editor Susannah Indigo's several contributions. A. M. Homes and Dagoberto Gilb, Marge Piercy and Zane, Poppy Brite and Jerry Stahl, Chuck Palahniuk and Vaginal Cream Davis and Dorothy Allison and Cecelia Tan would appear in future volumes, and now Bright is back in the game, after a few years' interregnum, with her old friend Rachel Kramer Bussel, editing the Best Sex Writing annual. All to the good, because even the fine work of Bussel on her own or of Maxim Jakubowski, who edits both crime-fiction and erotica annuals for Robinson in the UK and (after the collapse of Carroll and Graf) Running Press in the US haven't lessened my feeling the absence the foremother of all the plethora of randy children (such annuals as the Best Women's Erotica, Best Lesbian Erotica, Best Gay Erotica, etc.) in the best-of series arena, which might or might not catch another inflow of intrigued readers in the afterglow of the most recent erotic-fiction bestsellers.

For more of today's book selections, please see Patti Abbott's blog.


Susie Bright said...

Hi Todd... thanks for your indepth look at BAE, I really appreciated it. A couple corrections:

- BAE 2008 is a collection of both original stories, brand new to anyone's eyes, and my favorites from the tenure of the series. Half and half.

- You're right about OOB's lesbian POV, but in addition, it was the first all-women produced (artists, editors, designers, publishers) erotic magazine of any kind. Nor has there been another one to follow it.

You may also enjoy or critique a couple anthologies I put together for Chronicle Books: "X-An Erotic Treasury" and "Bitten" a collection of gothic erotic lit fic.

Again, thank you so much for your careful reading!

Susie Bright

K. A. Laity said...

Wow, my head snapped back when I saw Bob Flanagan on the ToC. If only all collections were this inclusive and imaginative in their scope.

Todd Mason said...

Thanks for the correction and expansions, Susie! Your annual was always both adventurous and good fun, and I hope you continue to collaborate with Bussel on the BEST SEX WRITING volumes going forward, unless that's moving in the BEST AMERICAN Houghton-Mifflin/O. HENRY AWARDS mode toward Bussel as series editor with different guest editors for every volume. I certainly have picked up BITTEN, and it's in the TBR stack (when do stacks become mounds) and will look for X.

Indeed, Kate...I certainly hadn't realized how much Flanagan had written throughout his life...and even though Jakubowski's bug-crushing crime-fiction and erotica annuals are diverse (and he's had the good taste to pick up one of your stories for a recent volume of the latter), the range that SB covered in her annual has rarely been matched, in erotica or among other sorts of best-of...Judith Merril's sf & fantasy volumes in their last years, and to some extent Harry Harrison and Brian Aldiss's likewise, and the too-quickly gone BEACON BEST series strike me as their only true peers, though BEST NON-REQUIRED READING does what it can...

Susie Bright said...

Hey, my new BFFs,

Kate, Bob came to SF with his oxygen tank to perform his short story in BAE and I will NEVER forget it... we had all the contributors at Slim's Nightclub and it was electrifying. Miss him so much. No one could talk about pain rage and pleasure like Mr. Flanagan...

Todd, I'm kinda crazy about short story collections... could you spell out the titles you're talking about, edited by Merril, Harrison, and Aldiss? I'm going to go look for all of them!

Rachel KB has been doing Best Sex Writing for a few years, and yes-- the "guest editor" changes every year. I loved doing it, she did all the HARD part of finding a great number of stories and then we debated the cream of the crop.

Love, Susie

Todd Mason said...

I'd seen Bussel had a co-editor credited on some, but hadn't picked them all up yet. I can only imagine the presence of Flanagan, willing to share thus up to near the end...

And, certainly...the Judith Merril anthology started as SF: The Year's Greatest Science Fiction & Fantasy in the 1956 volume published by Dell in paperback (they would do all the series) and initially by the small Gnome Press in hardcover (then S&S, then eventually Dell's hardcover arm Delacorte)...I read the 10th Annual first, from 1965, at the height of Merril's eclecticism, in 1978, and reviewed it here for the "forgotten" books roundelay...Harry Harrison and Brian Aldiss were co-editors of their trimmer but still-eclectic best-of annuals, such as the 1971-fiction volume published in 1972, which was the first I read in my father's copy a couple of years later. Harrison (who is dealing with serious illness now) and Aldiss put together their annual for Berkley and Putnam in the US and Sphere (and then Orbit) in the UK from 1968-1976. The paperback editions of the Merril and the Harrison/Aldiss are still pretty easily obtained online these days...

And the Beacon Best series and the Non-Required were briefly cited/portrayed here.

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