Monday, January 19, 2015

Classic Soft-Core Erotica from Don Elliott

Reviewed by James L. Thane
Three out of five stars

As a young man in the late 1950s, Robert Silverberg was enjoying a rising career as a science fiction writer. Then, suddenly, the sci-fi market collapsed and Silverberg, like many of his counterparts, found himself facing serious financial difficulty. As a solution, and to keep the rent paid, Silverberg turned to writing soft-core erotica--books that seem pretty tame by the standards of 2015, but which were definitely pushing the envelope in the early 1960s.

Over the space of five years, working at a break-neck pace, Silverberg wrote 150 of these novels, under the pseudonym of Don Elliott. The standard formula demanded 50,000 words, and his efforts included such unforgettable masterpieces as Passion Patsy, Sin Hellion, and The Orgy Boys.

By 1964, the market for science fiction had improved once again, and "Don Elliott" retired so that Robert Silverberg could go back the work he really loved. Now, fifty years later, Stark House Mystery Classics has republished two of "Elliott's" books, including Lust Queen, which first appeared in 1961. Fifty-three years after that, the publisher included the book in a gift bag that I recently received at a convention, and naturally, I felt honor-bound to read and review it.

The book's protagonist is a young pulp-fiction writer named Joey Baldwin who, like Don Elliott, writes like mad, though Joey writes mostly detective stories. Like everyone who writes crime fiction, Joey is young, handsome, and incredibly sexy. He has a fantastically beautiful girlfriend named Lisa and they have mind-boggling sex on a regular basis, all of which is very tastefully described.

Joey gets a huge break when his agent brings him a new project. He's offered the chance to ghost write the autobiography of a famous Hollywood actress. The job could put Joey on Easy Street, relatively speaking, even though it would mean leaving Lisa in New York and living in a spartan hotel room in L.A. for a couple of months while he interviews the actress, Mona Thorne, and begins working on the book.

Joey takes the job with Lisa's blessing and flies to California. There he meets Mona Thorne who is fantastically beautiful and who insists that Joey should live, not in a spartan hotel room, but in her Hollywood mansion, which will facilitate their working together. Joey agrees and they spend his first afternoon in L.A., lounging around her pool while Mona displays her fantastically beautiful assets, her nipples "tipping sharply upward," and all that sort of thing.

After a great dinner at Mona's home, Joey goes to his room which, by some strange coincidence, connects with Mona's. Shortly after he turns out the lights, Mona slips into the room, slips out of her negligee, and climbs into Joey's bed. Joey can't imagine the thought of being unfaithful to Lisa, but he assumes that if he rejects Mona's advances, she might fire him from the project and his dreams of financial independence will go up in smoke.

Joey wrestles with this dilemma for a good five or ten seconds before concluding that sometimes a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do. He swallows his reservations and he and Mona have mind-boggling sex, all of which is very tastefully described. Over the course of the next couple of weeks, poor Joey finds himself becoming increasingly entangled in Mona's world. The work on the book goes well, and the sex is beyond belief, but Joey is increasingly troubled. Whatever will he do?

Lust Queen seems pretty dated now, and given the sort of thing one reads in even the tamest of books these days, it's hard to imagine that only fifty years ago, a novelist who dared to write scenes like these was pushing the boundaries and tempting a jail sentence. Certainly the book must have seemed a lot more titillating in 1961 than it does today; still, it's a fun read if you're in the mood for this sort of thing--a genuine blast from the past.

My Cod, What A Fish!

Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the WorldCod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World by Mark Kurlansky
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Are you prepared for the excitement of reading a review about a book about fish? Well, strap yourselves in for a wild ride, folks!*

Why write a book about cod? Why read it? Simple. Without you probably knowing it, cod has been one of the most important parts of our diets over the last thousand years. Without it, long distance sea exploration in medieval times (the era, not the ren fair) would've been just about impossible.

And now, ladies and gentlemen....THE MAJESTIC COD!


Okay, it looks more like this...


Not very majestic, but oh so important.

Cod is a particularly unique fish. It eats just about anything and spawns like crazy. It's the frickin' rabbit of the sea! A single cod (well, a single cod who has "coupled"...heehee...SEX!) can produce millions of eggs. Once full-grown, the cod has virtually no predators. And yet we still managed to nearly fish it into extinction.

Though he does spend some time on the history, a very interesting history indeed, much of Kurlansky's book is about how man recently almost wiped the cod off the face of the earth...or to be specific, netted it off the bottom of the ocean. Cod spends many of its pages devoted to the current crisis, looking at it from the variant points of view: fishermen, the governments controlling the waters and the catch, and the public's ravenous demand for this tasty dish.

Perhaps Cod won't appeal to everyone, but it is written with a sense of humor, gives tons of interesting facts (good pub quiz fodder!), includes recipes interspersed through out and, most importantly, it's short. My interest is probably stronger than most in that I was born and raised in Massachusetts, where Cape Cod has been vital to our way of life. Fish-n-chip shacks were in every little village, even out in the sticks where I lived (45 minutes away from the coast is considered "the sticks" in Massachusetts, and it feels like it, trust me). With the important fishing tradition of Gloucester and Maine, etc., so strongly engrained, most New Englanders grow up thinking of cod as a synonym for fish.

Cod is one of those books that most readers will pass up, but the few who do pick it up will be surprised at the high entertainment value and wealth of easily digestible knowledge to be obtained.

* Okay, so you didn't really need to strap yourselves in...this time! But you never know what's to come and hey, safety first kids, safety first!

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You Too Can Be A Chinese Lady!

The Joy Luck ClubThe Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Why read The Joy Luck Club? Because sometimes one needs to get in touch with his inner Chinese feminine side.


Amy Tan's most famous book offered ample opportunity in that regard. The JLC is all about the relationships between Chinese moms and their daughters.

Honestly, I picked this up as part of my studies into Chinese culture. My brother has been teaching English over there for a few years now and I plan on visiting one day. As per usual, I like to read up on a place before the trip. Some people say that spoils the surprise, but I feel like I get more out of the visit that way. There always seems to be plenty of surprises when you travel to the other side of the world, regardless of the prep work.

Was this useful for Chinese studies? Not 100%. The stories herein, which are no doubt heavily indebted to Tan's personal experiences, are not only fictional, but they're also about the Chinese-American experience. A good deal of the book takes place in the U.S. There are many old world/home land stories and Tan does an excellent job including and describing Chinese customs and traditions. It's just that most of the time they are tainted or at least touched by the hand of the West.

The relationships themselves and how they play out is, for the most part, satisfying. Emotions sometimes run high and occasionally over. There are laughs to be had in everyday misunderstandings. The characters may be foreign to me, but were nevertheless utterly relatable. After all, most everyone has a parent-child relationship to relate to. My own relationship with my mother was, for better or worse, close. I may not be a woman or Chinese, but that hardly matters, as nothing was lost in Tan's translation of the mother-child bond.

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