Cara Bruce, editor,
(Venus/Vixen, 2000)

Back in the days when the Internet was new -- or at least new to the part of the midwestern United States that I was in -- I got into a text-based role-playing game on AOL. It was loosely connected with a system by White Wolf called Vampire: The Masquerade.

Very few of the participants were there to play the game. Instead, it was dominated by a bunch of horny teenagers looking to escape their greasy, acne-ridden lives by acting scary and developing new and more disgusting ways to have textual sex or kill each other. There were long, involved postings of questionable quality that usually involved a lot of gothic dickwaving and repressed sexuality -- all of which reflected the users' immaturity and lack of real writing skills.

Viscera is a collection of short stories that, while reading them, made me long for the halcyon days of AOL.

Don't get me wrong. I understand provocative. I understand non-traditional. I understand dark. The stories in this collection could probably fall under any of these categories -- the problem arises from the authors' obvious-to-a-point-of-tranparent choice to consistently go for the shock value over any real content. Going for this gag factor, what they've ended up achieving is turning their work into whacking material for an aging and perverted slasher-movie crowd.

Think I'm being overly critical? The themes speak for themselves. From the very first story, titled "Pure Love," which depicts (surprise, surprise) a horny teenager with incestuous leanings who decapitates her captive lover, to the very last, "Cheng," a story of a sideshow gay midget who was born with two mouths and teaches a group of L.A. society boys what double-penetration really means -- the stories aren't even entertaining. They're seemingly intended to disgust and revile, and on that level, they succeed.

Freakshow it may be. Erotica, as it is touted, it is not.

In the promotional materials, the editor/publisher claims that this is a book that "breaks new ground in the fields of erotica." Instead, it's the oldest story in the world, one where the authors look for the most twisted thing he/she can imagine, and waits for a response to his/her theme. From The Canterbury Tales up through American Psycho, the same buttons are being pushed by authors who seem to think that a strong reaction based on disgust is equivocal to a strong reaction based on talent.

It fails, every time, and the stories in this collection are proof of that.

I could excuse the rather adolescent themes if the writing were good, but sadly, it isn't -- with some rare exceptions. Here and there, hidden within a writhing ball of crap (sometimes literally), a few authors rise to the top of the bowl. M. Christian's "The Bang Gang," a story of a gun-toting lesbian gang that serially hits bars with the intent of hooking people up, isn't bad. In fact, it's pretty good as far as characterization goes. I almost found myself liking it in places.

Sadly, it's out of place in this collection.

Viscera is a book that not only isn't worth the cover purchase price, but will probably end up costing more money than that when you hurl it through the nearest window. Save your money and go read a twisted Web site -- just do a search for "decapitation + erotica" and you'll probably return results of a higher quality.

And at least then, you can turn the computer off.

[ by Elizabeth Badurina ]

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