Reviews of three new books.

Gynomite: Fearless, Feminist Porn

Edited by Liz Belile

(New Mouth, 265 pages, $15)

Gynomite Party
Reading Frenzy
921 SW Oak St.,
7:30 pm Thursday, Dec. 7, $5

There's nothing quite so cringe-inducing as bad erotic fiction. Thus, it was with great trepidation that I greeted Gynomite, a new anthology of "fearless, feminist porn" from some mostly young, mostly Southern writers. Luckily the book, based on the spoken-word performances by a group of the same name, was a pleasant surprise, full of smart, funny and, yes, sometimes even arousing writing.

Like most anthologies, the quality of Gynomite is highly uneven. But editor Liz Belile was kind enough to organize the material roughly in descending order of quality so that if you stick to the first half of the book you're fine. The pieces range from the down-and-dirty to the humorous to the truly unusual, such as Sassy Johnson's "Fucked Up White Trash Porn Flick" series--detailing, among other things, dyke action at a monster truck show--and Michelle Glaw's Holly Hobbie fantasy, during which she shares her taste for huge strawberry Afros. Particularly fascinating is Melissa Hung's "Good Clean Fun," a piece that grapples with the stereotypes Hung encountered as an Asian-American woman working for a naked maid service. ("Do not call me Oriental," she writes. "I am not a rug or a salad.") There are revelations from older women, straight women, gay women and even women who don't like sex.

This is what feminist porn should be: something that doesn't follow the old boys' model of strip and wank, but rather gets inside women's heads, reveals true sexuality and, perhaps most importantly, doesn't take itself too seriously. Kathleen Hildenbrand

Salò or The 120 Days of Sodom

by Gary Indiana

(BFI Publishing, 96 pages, $12.95)


For the British Film Institute's "Modern Classics" paperback series--which assigns interesting authors to important films--Gary Indiana has crafted a long-form critique of Pier Paolo Pasolini's scandalous last film, Salò or the 120 Days of Sodom. This grueling, occasionally "pedantic cartoon" (as Indiana describes it) was Pasolini's finale before he was rather inconsiderately murdered; it transfers the Marquis de Sade's story to fascist Italy, where four libertines trap well-hung young things and subject them to rape, coprophagy and death.

As interpreted by Indiana, Salò (a) makes Pink Flamingos look like Lassie, (b) critiques consumerist culture and (c) repudiates Pasolini's prior work, which glorified the very youth Salò destroys. Indiana is an inspired choice for this material: He crafts a mean sentence, combining intellectual loft with sexual slang like a film professor trawling Internet porn (sample sentence: "Pasolini's faggotry gave his presence on the political scene a salient abrasiveness and force.").

But past the pithy sentences, the essay meanders. In the intro, Indiana contradicts himself (is Pasolini "deeply, seductively cryptic" or "not coded enough for the subtext to be at all ambiguous"?). There are loosely connected snippets on shock value, consumerism's assimilation of alternative culture and Pasolini's mid-life crisis. These observations come together when Indiana mounts a riveting scene-by-scene analysis/recap of the film--though it becomes more recap than analysis as it goes along, with the essay ending abruptly after describing the film's bloody close. Rereading the intro gives more shape to Indiana's assertions--but it could be argued that having to do so means he wasn't thorough in his work. Alexandra DuPont


by Lance Olsen

(Wordcraft of Oregon, 254 pages, $12)

Lance Olsen is a singularly oracular talent. In Freaknest, Olsen extrapolates upon the frighteningly possible near-future Earth he'd visited in earlier novels such as Time Famine and Tonguing the Zeitgeist: mega-merger corporations like Virgin-Disney gobble up entire nations, capitalism marches unchecked like a blitzkrieging Panzer unit, and the environment has been raped so ruthlessly that black clouds smother cities in a death veil.

Freaknest is set in and around London, a city so bleak with disease, poverty and pollution it makes the slums of Mexico City look like Shangri-La. A handful of prepubescent children, found chained in a filthy laboratory, are discovered to be subjects of an illicit experiment involving a form of human-nanomachine interface--a forced evolution which leapfrogs natural Darwinian mutation in favor of the corporate-sponsored quick fix. In their flight through London's grimy underworld, they run into more genetic freaks and filth than Dickens could have conjured. It isn't pretty, but it is evocative.

Alas, as with most science fiction, Olsen's more adept at concepts than characters: Most people we encounter are little more than excuses for Olsen to spout creatively mongrelized vernacular. He also has trouble with closure, as if once he's let the conceptual genie out of its bottle, he can't figure out how to wrap it up and stuff it back inside at book's end. But Olsen's hyperactive, verb-spiked writing style entices one to overlook his faults--and with a vision of tomorrow so intense, inventive and all-too-feasible, Freaknest is a cautionary tale from which we could all learn. If you're looking for sci-fi escapism, this ain't it. John Graham

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