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Sex in the System
Cecilia Tan
Thunder's Mouth Press, 283 pages

Sex in the System
Cecilia Tan
Cecilia Tan writes about her many passions, from erotic fantasy to baseball, from her home in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She is the author of Black Feathers and The Velderet, and has edited over forty anthologies for the publishing house she founded, Circlet Press. Her fiction has appeared in Ms. Magazine, Asimov's Science Fiction magazine, Best American Erotica, and many other places.

Cecilia Tan Website
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A review by Donna McMahon

Science fiction arose from a prudish tradition and, though sex scenes are now common, that sex often seems contemporary and far less considered than other aspects of science fictional worldbuilding. (I've never decided whether that reflects a tendency of SF writers to live in their heads, or the general conservatism of the publishing industry.) Meanwhile, the mainstream of erotic literature is sadly deficient in imagination and technological savvy.

My previous experience of SF books with "sex" in the title having been disappointing, I approached Sex in the System with caution and was pleasantly surprised. This is a sophisticated collection of erotic stories that explore the strange intersections between sex, culture and technology, both straight and gay.

All the stories in this anthology are good, and they are all very different, both in terms of style and subject matter. Some are very off the wall. I bet even Dan Savage hasn't encountered a Godzilla fetishist ("Love Will Tear Us Apart Again," John Bowker), nor have any of his fans succeeded in filming themselves in a sexual act and hacking it into a broadcast on the 80-foot-monster screen in Times Square ("The Show", M. Christian). And Paul Di Filippo's bawdy retelling of Pinocchio involving a malprogrammed sex doll, is not your standard F&SF fare ("Pinocchia").

But though the action may be outrageous, these are not emotionally or thematically shallow stories. "Remembrance" (Beth Bernobich), in which a woman has pre-recorded virtual sex with her lover who's living in orbit, is a sensitive study of love and grief.

I especially enjoyed "The Book Collector" (Sarah Micklem), about a computer tech working for a company that specializes in virtual porn which users can jack into with all their senses. Everything's right in this story from the cubicle frat culture of a young, mostly male computer company, to the period detail of 1492 London in the romantic scenario the protagonist is writing. Of course the character she creates is so vivid and attractive that she falls in love with him, and of course she can't keep him -- he's a commercial product for a client.

At the other end of the romance spectrum is the savage cynicism of "The Program" (G. Bonhomme). Gary, a perennial loser, signs up for the heavily advertised "Program" of cognitive-behavioural biofeedback therapy because he can see that graduates get all the hottest women. So there couldn't be a down side... could there?

I can think of few better Valentine's gifts for a bibliophile than Sex in the System.

Copyright © 2007 Donna McMahon

Donna McMahon discovered science fiction in high school and fandom in 1977, and never recovered. Dance of Knives, her first novel, was published by Tor in May, 2001, and her book reviews won an Aurora Award the same month. She likes to review books first as a reader (Was this a Good Read? Did I get my money's worth?) and second as a writer (What makes this book succeed/fail as a genre novel?). You can visit her website at

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