The New Worlds of Women - Cecilia Tan, Bernadette Lynn Bosky, Raven Kaldera, Renee M. Charles, Kitty Tsui, Linda Hooper, Jessy Luanni Wolf, Beverly Heinze, Shawn Dell, Judy T. Silver, Alayne Gelfand, Katya Andreevna
Erotic Science Fiction, this volume’s self-described genre (note that some of the stories are Fantasy), is an odd beast. It is really not easy to blend the erotic and the science-fictional in a way that does justice to both. Though "Gone to the Spider Woman" is written in such a way as to make its graphic sex scenes seem extraneous to a standard SF story (they’re not entirely, as becomes clear by the end), "Genus Olisbos" tips the balance entirely in the other direction, being porn which sets its imagination free from the over-familiar by supposing alien sex toys. The other stories feature the two elements in various proportions, but they rarely truly mesh.

"Crawl Back Inside You", an overly-earnest attempt at feminist myth, describes rituals that symbolize the stages and cycles of a woman’s life and incorporate lesbian lovemaking—at the same time the symbolism is literalized in the bodies of these women of the planet Venus. "Why the Sea Is Salty" uses the form, and largely the tone, of folktale-myth but the depiction of the psychology of the protagonist is a bit incongruous with the tone; this sort of individualization does not make a case for connecting the sea’s salt to the love of women, nor does that theme seem organically integrated into the story. (Other, more skilled writers have managed to incorporate modern notions about sex into neo-folktale, however—I recall a good story by Nisi Shawl.) By contrast, "The Annunciation", which the author’s profile describes as "the beginning of a longer work on a feminist messiah", is somehow almost convincing in representing being made love to by a spirit woman as a religious experience.

"The Gift of a Moonlight Magic Mermaid" and "Flying Dreams" are light entertainment, both marred by fetishizing depictions of black women (both compared to chocolate). The former is a pretty successful evocation of neo-pagan Goddess magic in a modern setting; the latter has a preposterous plot about an interplanetary fellowship of telepaths, and the sexual awakening of its pharmaceutically-repressed fundamentalist girl is too condescendingly written to be truly fun. "Goddess Love" is another magical intervention in the contemporary world, in which a woman in an abusive relationship comes to terms with her situation in a very compressed timeframe with the help of Durga; the explicit, extended sex involved in the encounter between woman and goddess seems gratuitous and unbalancing to the story. I can’t say much about "Honor Restored", which was so execrably written that I couldn’t read it.

There are only three stories here, in my opinion, which not only are actually science fiction but also have sex as an integral part of their theme. "The Garden" (terribly purple, alas) is about the ambiguous attraction of the forbidden and the "other", set in a society where men and women have lived strictly separate for centuries. In "Gone to the Spider Woman", a strangely made "nullion" human considers who could cherish her body. "None of the Above" is the best (as well as longest) story in the collection. It takes place at an uninhibited party, for well-chosen reasons. One character comments, "We used to think that sex is the most basic human drive, but the Hiyo have shown us it’s not... The drives for power and status are clearly more important..." There’s a good deal of reflection on power and status in this society sketched by incidental details in a way that feels realistic, and the way that status interacts with sexuality. But it’s the main character’s encounter with two truly alien Hiyo that catalyzes a series of self-discoveries and humanity-discoveries, ending the collection on an uplifting note.