Unfortunately, I read a lot of bad books. What constitutes a “lot”? Honestly, with how short life could be, one bad book is one bad book too many but, intentionally, I read about twelve a year for Your Book is Why Daddy Drinks and Steampunk Erotica by Ora le Broq, the “book” we read for our Convolution 2013 con-recording, was no exception.
How bad is this book? Well…
Consider first the title. Most books have some sort of creative title, referencing either a theme, event, or character in the book. Steampunk Erotica doesn’t take this route, giving a genre rather than a typical book title, although the current theory is that, more than anything, the title is SEO (search-engine optimization). Because let’s face it: porn sells, and if you want someone who is into the steampunk movement/lifestyle to buy your porn you’re going to make it as easy to find as possible.
Then there’s the way the book is written. Now, any author worth their salt will agree with the sentiment that it’s just as important to use the right word as it is to use that word correctly. For instance, there’s a difference between a punch, a slap, and a rap although all three of them mean to strike someone. Something can be incredible, awesome, or amazing. A tragedy can be horrifying, dismaying, sickening or a mixture of all three. These examples show that words can be used interchangeably but impart different meanings despite each one of them being correctly used.
With that in mind, Ora le Broq doesn’t seem to know this lesson or, if she does, willfully chose to ignore it. For instance, we have this gem of “Her [another name for a cat] gobbled his finger to the first digit.” Now, she probably meant that the female character took his finger into her, perhaps quickly and eagerly, and wanted some creative way to express that. However, when I hear the word “gobbled” I think of someone hungrily eating something with quick, sharp bites (not something you want to have actually happen in sex) or a turkey.
Then there’s “Her [MEOW!] slobbered”, a line that stopped the podcast short and scarred some of the audience.
Slobber brings to mind a drooling child or Beethoven the big, shaggy dog whipping his head about and throwing saliva everywhere.
I think we can all agree that there are certain body parts that should never, ever slobber.
And that’s part of the craft of writing, knowing when to use and when NOT to use a particular word. Words are to an author like the colors of paint are to a painter; it’s important to use the right one rather than just slapping anything on the page/canvas.
Before I continue I should warn you that this review is going to feature some descriptions of the sex in this book which, while I’ll tone it down from what’s in the book, are going to be kind of explicit. I’ll put the rest of the review beneath a cut so you can’t skip it if badly-written and improbable sex isn’t your thing and just leave off with “TL;DR, this book is bad, it’s written as if the author were a thirteen year-old boy who had learned about sex by watching really bad Internet porn, and even at $.99 was too expensive for the quality of the content”.
In my opinion sex should never be this boring. So, here goes the cut and away we go…
Written like how a bad porn looks, the book opens up in what is supposedly a girl’s finishing school in Victorian England except the school girl uniform is straight out of a fetishists dream including stockings with garter and belt and a corset that might’ve been designed by Frederick’s of Hollywood (complete with see-through fabric). The scene is the main character, Mina, basically holding a contest of sorts to see which of her female classmates she’s going to sleep with by publicly masturbating in front of them and the last one of said classmates to spontaneously orgasm is the “winner”. That’s not to say that this chapter was only sex. Oh no. Mina is also a computer hacker (yes, a computer hacker in Victorian England) who hacks the school security computer (because Victorian finishing schools had networked security surveillance systems) to lock all the doors of the dormitory so their fun wouldn’t be interrupted.
No character building. No back story. No Victorian social mores for which the steampunk genre of fiction is known.
And thus the tone of the book is set. There is a plot of sorts. Mina’s parents are famous inventors of such things as computers, cybernetic prosthetics (I’m not joking , her father made a mechanical eye that plugs directly into the optical nerve), and weapons including repeating pistols and rifles (read machine guns), laser weapons, particle beam cannons and god damned force fields (I’m not making this up in the slightest). They are murdered by Baron von Vesey (despite being Scottish) who is a member of an alliance (not an “Alliance”, as Mina suggests when it finally comes up, but an “alliance” as another baddie named Natasha corrects) who has figured out that, using some sort of computer-generated tone, it is possible to use the eye pieces to control a person and turn them into a personality-less drone (because, as we all know, the optic nerve is so good at taking in auditory information…).
Mina, in the course of an investigation into her parents’ deaths that takes all of her going to the baron’s estates in Scotland (a Scottish baron with the “von” familial honorific…), discovers not only that the baron killed her family but that the alliance’s goal is to use the eye pieces to create a drone army to take over the world in an effort to reduce individualism and “chaos” and bring about uniformity and “order”.
This book’s lack of a sense of time is apparent in that the Baron steals the eye-piece used to create the drones from Mina’s father and approximately 24-48 hours later has assembled enough eye-pieces to create an “army” of indeterminate size, not to mention rounding up all of these people and performing surgery on them. However, considering the author’s grasp of sexual biological response I’m going to guess le Broq’s understanding of anatomy is equally shaky.
Long story short, the baron is done away with in the lamest way possible, Natasha is captured after the drone army attack’s Mina’s family’s factory (a battle that features the particle beam weapon and force field and in which a dirigible “dogfight”, the lamest and most ponderous dogfight ever, takes place) Natasha’s twin sister Victoria escapes, and Mina rebuilds her family’s destroyed factory in a day.
Mina herself is apparently also a martial bad ass as her parents’ “shooting lessons” and “self-defense courses” allow her to be a veritable ninja. There is no point where anyone, in any way, gets the upper hand on her.
Then there’s the sex. This book has a lot of sex. Improbable sex, both from a realistic and biological stand point, sex scenes that are just shoe horned in with all the finesse of scratching the needle on a record.
First, every woman in this book is what is colloquially known as a “squirter”. Every woman. And not just a “squirt”, oh no, every woman, in the course of having sex, creates a deluge from between their thighs. They’re spraying, they’re gushing, they’re splashing, they’re expelling so much fluid that Kendra, one of our panelists, wondered how they didn’t turn into human raisins. Ed, another panelist and a college professor, attempted to find out how much water and other fluids a woman in this book would have to drink to not die of dehydration after a bout of enthusiastic lovemaking. He failed.
There’s straight sex, there’s lesbian sex (and every woman in this book is bi). There’s one-on-one sex and an orgy in a shower, a scene where two men stick both of their penises inside the vagina of a single woman without any build up, getting her ready for it, or even a “How do you do, sir?” and where soap is used for surprise anal without any prompting.
Soap should never, EVER, be used as a sexual lubricant. Guys, if you don’t know this, please, take my word for it and the women in your life can thank me later.
Hilariously, this book even features my often-used example of dialogue in bad pornography:
[Scene, a woman’s apartment. The woman, stacked with fake breasts, overly done up for just hanging about the house in too tight clothing, answers the door. Standing at the door is a generally handsome pizza delivery guy or a UPS worker. She invites him in.]
Guy: Is it hot in here?
Woman: It sure is. Why don’t you take off your pants to cool down?
THAT SCENE, ALMOST VERBATIM, IS THE LAST SEX SCENE IN THE BOOK.
Finally, this isn’t a “steampunk” book in any way, shape or form. Steampunk is a genre that features anachronistic technology that is accomplished using the technological knowledge of the time in a somewhat believable fashion (like building a steam-powered car for instance), Victorian social mores, often with an imperialistic slant, and, in some way, is about rejecting, rebelling, or fighting against something (hence the “punk” aspect of steampunk). This book’s only nominal nod to the actual, literature origin of the term is in the hamfisted cliché of the fascist attempts of the alliance to make everyone the same while Mina, brave, badly-written Mina, stands for individuality. That’s it. The only Victorian social mores to make an appearance are in the forms of very stereotypical and cliché characters who try to impose the most over-wrought social ideals on (of course) the women in this book. The “costuming” is straight out of what someone who’d heard about steampunk third-hand might think Victorian’s wore, the technology isn’t just improbable but impossible (we don’t even have laser pistols or particle beam weapons now) and the only steam that any of us could remember in the book was in the shower orgy.
My last criticism is that, quite honestly, I don’t believe that the author is female. I just can’t. I mean, I’ve read some fiction this year that was written by a female author that did nothing good for the imagery of women and this book is worse. Furthermore, the improbable nature of everything female in this book implies that either Ora le Broq has never had sex and all that she knows about sex is through watching pornography , doesn’t know how her own body works, that her body works in very atypical fashions, that she intentionally wrote this book to be like a bad porn film, or, more realistically, that Ora is actually a guy writing about his idea and ideal of what a woman should be like.
Do yourself a favor, skip anything by this author. The only good part of this book was the panel I was on talking about it.