Get yourself some Sinful Pleasures today. You deserve them.
You should get to know the work of Sonni de Soto.
No no, you really should get to know the work of Sonni de Soto. Read on, read more, read everything you can with her name attached to it – including the brand new anthology of erotic short stories from Sinful Press, Sinful Pleasures. In her story in that collection, Sonni reminds us all that life is full of potential if we only dare to sense it, and that sometimes, words can build worlds, can build mindsets and mindscapes and bond us and bind us and make us new.
Kinksters one and all, I am delighted and honoured to share space in an anthology with Sonni de Soto, so here she is, in her own words.
Not About the Whips and Chains
Often, when we talk about kink, it’s always in context of certain acts and toys and roles. Images like whips and chains and spanking and bondage come to mind. We think of leather-clad Doms and collar-wearing subs.
And, while there’s nothing wrong with those images, that’s not what kink is.
Or at least not all it is.
While all those things are wonderful parts of the kink and fetish world, they are not what defines it. BDSM, for me, is a mindset, an approach to sex, love, relationships, and the wider world as a whole. It’s about looking at the world and seeing possibilities not everyone else does. We didn’t create power structures or bondage or crops; we simply see them as more than they are. We look at the everyday and glimpse the possibility of play within it. And that possibility of play can extend far beyond just the usual accoutrements; it can encompass just about anything. While we kinksters love our toys and games, no specific act or implement is necessary to do kink. All you really need is an open mind and a partner who’s just as eager to play.
In my new story, “On the Line,” in Sinful Press’s new anthology Sinful Pleasures, I wanted to explore that idea by making traditional play, as we’re used to seeing it, impossible. Hard to wield a whip or tie a rope when your characters are miles apart. But kink, even from other sides of a city, is always possible. When you think of BDSM as a mindset and not a set of materials, even when touch isn’t on the table, play still can be.
Dirty talk and phone sex often get a bad rep, seen as awkward or forced or corny, but they’re great ways to explore a partner’s fantasies, as well as your own, in a safe space with very few consequences. By constructing imaginary scenes with each other, you can learn how your partner likes to touch and be touched. You can learn what their favorite sex acts are or what they’ve always longed to try. You can discover limits or new possibilities that you never knew were there. And, particularly for those with less experience, it can be a way to foster intimacy and boost confidence, not to mention build anticipation.
And, of course, for kinksters, it’s always one helluva fun game to play!
For more from Sonni de Soto, check out her stories in the upcoming Sexy Librarian’s Dirty 30 Vol. 2, coming out later in July, Sexy Little Pages’ Goodbye Moderation: Gluttony, and Cleis Press’s Unspeakably Erotic: Lesbian Kink, available for pre-sale now.
“Imagine us,” her voice whispered in his ear. “Imagine us in your room. On your bed.”
Chris let out a sigh and tried. His mind focused, picturing her painted and so-mobile mouth forming her words. He imagined the familiar flush that always swept over her cheeks right before he took her mouth, that visible sign of her excitement that never failed to fuel his own.
And then there, in his room, on his bed, in his mind, like magic, she was laid seductive and stretched-out before him. His hands itched to grab the curves of her body. The swell of her sweeping hips. The pointed tips of her delectable breasts. The length of her long legs. The soft spread of sun-ripened skin, that always held the sweet scent of citrus, over the generous lushness of her body.
He could hear his own breath rasp as his mind transported her from her dorm room to the foot of his bed.
“Good,” he heard her coo in his ear. “Now that you have me there, whatever will you do with me?” Her mockingly naïve tone left him feeling provoked and promised.
“I want you naked.”
Sinful Press welcomes you to lose yourself in Sinful Pleasures.
Join us as we weave our way from mainstream erotic romance to surreal sex-filled dreamscapes and everything in between, created by some of the best new and established voices in the erotica genre.
Janine Ashbless, Ella Scandal, Sonni de Soto, Jo Henny Wolf, Lily Harlem, Lady Divine, Gail Williams, Samantha MacLeod, Tony Fyler, Ellie Barker, Lisa McCarthy
Sonni de Soto is a kinkster of color who is also an English major and graduated from the University of Minnesota. She also won the third place 2008 International Aeon Award story winner (Published in Albedo One Issue 38). Sonni has two BDSM erotica novels published, The Taming School with Sizzler Editions and Show Me, Sir with Sinful Press. She also has BDSM erotica short stories inRiverdale Ave Books’s First Annual Geeky Kink Anthology, The Sexy Librarian’s anthology For the Men (and the Women who Love Them), and Sexy Little Pages’ Sacred & Profane and soon Rule #34 anthologies,as well and several others.
Get yourself some Sinful Pleasures today. You deserve them.
Tony’s delighted, not to say amazed, to join a host of excellent erotica-writers in the new anthology of short stories from Sinful Press – Sinful Pleasures. As of today, you can download this hot anthology from Amazon, or go the old-fasioned route and buy the paperback, either from Amazon or direct from Sinful Press.
Although very much the rookie in the pack, Tony’s story, Lazy Sunday, appears alongside the work of established authors in the field, including Janine Ashbless. Needless to say, it’s a very different kind of fantasy to usual. Check it out.
There’ll also be a blog tour to support the launch of the anthology, so watch this space for details of one of the other stories in this incredible new collection of hot romance and breathtaking sex.
The fear is strong in this one, says Tony-wan Kenobi.
Shakespeare knew a thing or two about the human condition. Most of his tragedies are still popular today because they show the lives of individuals who have everything they could possibly need for happiness, but are undone by one central and eventually all-consuming flaw. Othello is undone by jealousy, Macbeth by ambition, Romeo and Juliet by the rashness of young love, Hamlet by indecision.
But for the ultimate popular tragedy of fear, we have to look not to Shakespeare but to Lucas, and the story of Anakin and Padme.
Anakin is a child of unparalleled destiny, the Star Wars equivalent of a ‘great man’ in Shakespeare, but in the three Star Wars prequels, we get to see the growth of the emotional cancer that will undo his life, the lives of everyone he loves, and the lives of half the galaxy to boot. A child of slavery, he has preternatural skills that see him rise from obscurity to become the favourite of first Qui-Gon Jinn, then Obi-Wan Kenobi in turn (and there are tragedies in turn to be written of the hubris of both men), but Anakin’s path is ultimately guided not by the two would-be father figures in his life, but by the exotic and the stabilising forces of its women. Apparently ‘begotten, not created,’ he has never had a father figure in his life until Qui-Gon takes him under his wing, but his mother, Shmi, has been all the stability and wisdom he knows. Then he meets Padme Amidala, and a whole other mystery of women is if not unlocked to him, then at least released, set free in his mind and body – an admiration of her beauty and her kindness, her cleverness in setting up doubles to fool potential assassins, and her strength of character. Like him, she’s come from almost nowhere to a position of greatness, and is determined to use it while she has it for the betterment of her people. Like him, she may well be out of her depth, but she tries. Every day, she makes the effort to engage in the politics her people need, in an attempt to outflank the forces of the Trade Federation and its encroachment on her planet. For her part, Padme sees a simplicity, a quiet honesty in the young Anakin that allows her to simply be Padme the girl, not Amidala the queen.
Anakin goes away from everything he’s known in life for two reasons. Firstly, the thrill of the wider universe, as most distinctly embodied by the glamour that is Padme. But secondly, to become a great man who can return and free his mother from her bondage. When that great hope is turned to ashes, we see the beginnings of the dark side that will eventually overwhelm these doomed lovers. No victory against others, no mastery of his emotions will ever bring his mother back, and something that is brittle inside Anakin begins to crack with the death of his mother. When a man holds great power in his hands, beware the influence of the mundane tragedies of life. The pain of his mother’s death in spite of his power and greatness, that equalising mortality that touches even him, becomes a flame, a cold flame of fear in the man destined to bring balance to the Force.
As time moves on and Anakin grows up, while Padme, to be fair, appears not to age at anything like the same rate, the two become close on a whole new level, the padawan learner who sees the quick way to do everything, who knows he has more power in him than those who try to teach him things, finding calm and quietness in the former queen, now an ambassador. When they reconnect, Padme still finds Anakin to have that simplicity that comes from easy prowess, and that and his increasing power call to her, despite the dangers of their love in a galaxy still sleepwalking into darkness. Love is forbidden to a Jedi for purely practical reasons – strong emotional attachments unbalance the judgment, and make us do the wrong things for the right reasons, and vice versa. But as love grows between Anakin and Padme, so too does the fear in his heart, fanned by the whispers of his friend, Chancellor Palpatine. As strong as his love is, one day, it will all be turned to excoriating pain by the death of Padme, and more than anything in the cosmos, Anakin fears that pain, that galaxy-consuming pain and loneliness that comes when those we love die and leave us behind.
The rest of the relationship between Padme and Anakin is almost a philosophical play, she telling him that yes, one day she’ll die, and so might he, but that’s how life works for every ordinary person – the point is to live and love each other while they’re here and, as it turns out, pass a legacy of love on to their children. But Anakin can’t be soothed by the platitudes that apply to ‘ordinary people’ because for over a decade, people have been telling him that he isn’t one of them, that he’s special, and especially powerful. There must be something he can do, there must be. Like Coriolanus, or Julius Caesar, or even Doctor Faustus, he becomes more and more obsessed with one goal – in his case defeating death, not (and here’s the irony of immature fear) especially for the sake of Padme, but to save himself from the wailing, soul-ripping pain and loneliness of the loss of her. He lost one woman who was his whole world when he was just a child. He will not lose another now he is a powerful man.
The irony bites through their lives, but in seeking to do whatever is necessary to keep her by his side, he becomes more and more a stranger to her, and the simplicity and honesty for which she loves him is snuffed out by secrecy and darkness and an increasing willingness to do unthinkable things. In his quest to keep her, he changes into a man she wouldn’t want to keep, and he loses her while she’s still alive, a fact which pushes him over the edge into the depths of the Dark Side, and, like any lover spurned, he rages at the cosmos for the wrongness of things. Far from getting roaringly drunk and falling into bed with the first warm body he finds though, Anakin goes the intense route, embarking on a killing spree that seals his fate, and ultimately seals his broken, burning body in the bio-suit that gives the galaxy the face of Darth Vader.
Padme gives birth to her two babies and then – in true Shakespearean style – dies immediately, her heart broken by the enormity of her love betrayed, and never mind the raising of the children.
Ultimately, Padme and Anakin are a couple destroyed by fear and insecurity, and by an unwillingness to live in the moment of their happiness by one partner. They’re an object lesson in enjoying the now, and in making the most of every moment of shared happiness, rather than dwelling on the pain that some potential ending down the line might bring. The ending will take care of itself, as and when and how it will. But if you’re lucky enough to find someone who loves you, love them back today in any way you can.
NB – avoid the killing spree if you can. Just a tip.
That’s the story of Wall-E and EVE, the story of a love between a good-‘hearted’ regular Joe, and the hottest, coolest, most ass-kicking environmentalist on the planet. Love, it tells us, is a matter of who you are, how you feel, what you share, and what you do when the chips are down, rather than what you look like or how high-falutin’ your job may be. It doesn’t matter if you’re rusty, with lappy caterpillar tracks and a squeak and a sense of purpose which others might see as pathetic and hopeless. Be you, live your truth, and love can find you.
Wall-E, for those who’ve never seen the movie, is a plucky, resilient trash-compacting robot, left alone on the planet that once was Earth, to tidy up the garbage heap it’s become by the time human beings leave it and head out to the stars. He’s the least considered, most forgotten janitor in the history of the world, but he doesn’t whinge, doesn’t wail about his lot in life – he does what he was built to do – searching the garbage, compacting what he can, making use of what’s around, playing with his buddy, a cockroach, and more or less filling his days with work and what could be described as a positive mental attitude. He’s been doing his job, uncomplaining, for 700 years by the time we meet him.
It’s only when Wall-E allows himself some chillaxing time at the end of a day that we see what’s really missing in his life – observing a view, or a movie, he’s come to understand the need for someone to share it with. Seven hundred years of thankless, relentless slog on a mostly barren planet has taught him loneliness.
But loneliness is just another part of the job, and Wall-E powers up the next day and gets on with his work. In fact the movie takes great pains to show us that loneliness is by no means all that seven hundred years of cleaning up the crud left behind by an absentee humanity has taught him – in the great traditions of both Disney heroes like Dumbo, Pinocchio, Bambi and Baymax from Big Hero 6, and other unconventional film heroes like Number 5 in Short Circuit, ET and Chappie, we’re shown early on that he’s developed an insatiable curiosity, a taste for music, an understanding of kindness to other creatures, and a sense of stewardship that goes beyond emulation, both in terms of the giant skyscrapers he builds and of the world in general. When he finds what looks to be something entirely new – a living plant on the dead garbage-world – he doesn’t pluck it, doesn’t allow harm to come to it, but takes it and the soil in which it’s grown home in an old boot.
We’re also shown early on that Wall-E in himself and his curiosity is special, unique, the last of his kind – other Wall-E units are shown dotted about the cityscape, having stopped in their tracks one day. Wall-E, our Wall-E keeps on going, getting a daily solar recharge and going out to do his job, with the kind of chirpy (but not too chirpy) sticktoitiveness which the initial American audience, and then the audience around the world would be proud to think was an emulation of some of the best characteristics in humanity, contrasting sharply against many of the worst traits we have as a species, personified by the actual humans in the movie. This one little robot has kept on keeping on, powered by sunlight and that curiosity for new things, doing the jobs we never cared quite enough to do. That, in essence, is the ‘heart’ of Wall-E, the thing that deserves to find a companion to watch his love stories with.
None of that would matter of course if there wasn’t someone around to see the beauty of his heart. Enter EVE, a super-duper slick search and rescue droid, being sent out by ‘humanity’ to find signs of sustainable growth in Earth’s planetary soil.
Their relationship is built on a realistic, humanistic pathway – he first falls for her when he sees her free of the responsibilities of work, flying and effectively dancing like there’s nobody watching, and the beauty and expressive creativity of it enflames his curiosity about her. Slowly, they grow to accept each other’s presence on the planet, and some similarities emerge between them despite their technological differences – she, like him, giggles at the tickling presence of his cockroach friend in her systems. And when he saves her from a smogstorm and takes her home to his place, she gets to see everything he’s done, and he, like many guys trying to impress a girl throughout history, shows her his best treasures – the movie that he watches, the lighter that she instantly ignites, bringing a new flame to their relationship, the simple joy of popping bubble wrap and of dancing. His ingenuity impresses and his klutziness makes her laugh. But when he presents her with his ultimate prize, his plant in its boot, it rocks her world on a whole new level, and she shuts down. Then we see Wall-E the carer, keeping her dry and getting wet (and electrocuted) himself, taking her with him when he has to go somewhere, protecting her from future storms. All he knows is that she’s something absolutely special, and that he’d really like to hold her hand. That inspires him to keep her safe, and when she gets ‘EVEnapped’ by a spaceship, Wall-E the ultimate homebody doesn’t think twice before leaving his home and cockroach buddy behind, and clinging to the outside of a spaceship to be near her.
When they get to her home, the spaceship Axiom, their relationship goes through its mid-phase difficulty, but there’s a balance to it – she didn’t understand his world, but he kept her safe on it. He doesn’t understand hers either, and gets them both into monstrous amounts of trouble, but some robotic sense of loyalty, plus the mystery of what has happened to the ‘missing’ plant, leads her to keep him safe too, and his continuing sense of devotion, both to her and to the things that are important to her, breed in her a growing robotic ‘affection’ that sees them face down the threats of a system rigged to keep the status quo…quoing, and makes them fight, both side by side and separately, to expose the truth that Earth is once more capable of sustaining life, challenging and hard work though the revelation will be for the human crew of the Axiom, seven centuries into their ‘five year mission.’
They may be from different ends of the technological spectrum, but Wall-E’s curiosity, his sense of humour, his dedication to EVE and everything that matters tso her, extends a bridge between them, and Eve, to her credit as the ‘senior’ partner in their romance, appreciates the quirkiness of him. Sure, he’s dirty and from the wrong side of the tracks, but who else brings her bubble wrap and Christmas lights, who sings her silly songs and wants to hold her hand, and most of all, who will absolutely have her back against a system that tells her she’s defective just because she’s inconvenient? This story of robotic romance hits many very human beats, because stripped of its ecological theme (which incidentally is superbly delivered), and its metallic shells (and even really its notion of gender – we only really identify Wall-E as male and EVE as female because the names carry male and female connotations in our understanding), this is a story with which we can all fundamentally identify. Perhaps geeks identify with it more than most, feeling that we’ve all been in Wall-E’s caterpillar tracks, smitten from afar by the most amazing creature in creation, but really speaking, it’s the Prince and the Showgirl, or Aladdin, or Notting Hill, re-framed and delivered in a way that strips away the importance of wealth and takes that relationship back to what it really is – first love, playground love, love so pure and all-consuming that you’d follow the loved one through fire if they needed you to. The kind of love that childhood sweethearts are made of, if they ever find each other, and can appreciate each other for their individual strengths and quirks and oddness and love and loyalty, even when they drive each other crazy or…y’know…accidentally electrocute each other. Wall-E and EVE are a couple that probably grow old together, each doing their thing in their own way, and coming back together a little before shutdown each day, for a movie, and to share the new things they’ve experienced that day, and maybe even for a cockroach tickle, before powering down hand in hand, ready to reboot the next morning and do it all again. And that, when you get right down to it, is the stuff that Happily Ever Afters are made of.
Ahh, the Simpsons. America’s first family, they were teaching the world how to laugh at itself long before the Kardashians were a glint in a plastic surgeon’s eye, and despite being yellow, having a finger missing and being stuck with creepily Dorian Gray-style unaging children, they’re still more real than all the Real Housewives of wherever-the-hell-and-why-do-we-care.
The Simpsons are successful for a three-fingered handful of reasons. They’re relentlessly inventive, with a townfull of characters to keep the plotting fresh and suggest plenty of real-world and pop culture pastiche. They’re rarely afraid to be funny, even at the expense of sacred cows, and perhaps most particularly, the emotions almost always feel real. They’re frequently undercut with comedy, but not where they need to stand. Bart and Lisa annoy the young bejesus out of each other, and aren’t afraid to fight like normal siblings do, but they’re also, ultimately, realistic as brother and sister, able to see their connection as sometimes more important than their differences. The relationships rarely descend into schmaltz except for the purposes of undercutting, but The Simpsons are not afraid to let emotion have its moments.
If that’s true of Bart and Lisa, it’s so much more the case with Marge and Homer, the mother and father of the brood. They are, if anything, the best televisual representation in generations of the difference between love and romance, the difference between being in love, all hearts and flowers and grand romantic gestures, and loving someone, patiently, through the ups and downs of life.
Let’s make no bones about this – Marge Bouvier was going places. She had the brains and, compared to her two sisters at least, she had the beauty and the joie de vivre in the Bouvier clan, however much she was scarred by her mother’s socially conservative (and, more to the point, socially accepted at the time) instructions to take all her negativity and doubt and push it deep down inside herself. She had just begun to find her voice as a student when she discovered Homer J Simpson. To be fair, even then, it was hardly love at first sight – at least not on Marge’s part. Despite agreeing to go to the prom with Homer, she went off with the slicker, more handsome Artie Ziff on the night. Only when Ziff proved himself to be a creep did Marge really see Homer, and when she did, she was impressed by the simplicity of his adoration and his need of her.
Homer J Simpson is a not wholly inaccurate distillation of white male American confidence and self-belief. He embodies the shortcut, the get-rich-quick, the half-assed at the expense of real applied effort, and he succeeds in spite of himself, a point that’s been made in the show’s universe more than once. He’s not afraid to try anything, and expects to be good at it irrespective of not having any experience, and he never does anything as much of a downer as ‘learning from his past.’ In one sense of course this can make him a wrong-headed, self-aggrandising, entitled boor of a man, and in his marriage to Marge, we’ve winced at his actions many times – from forgetting anniversaries to dashing the hopes of young daughter Lisa, to stealing the thunder of his diligent, artistic wife by suddenly becoming the infant terrible of the fashionable art scene, to getting the Simpsons deported from a couple of handfuls of countries, events, and holiday destinations.
But, and this is the important thing, his dunderheaded refusal to learn that he’s not the be-all and end-all is endearing to Marge, and to us, because it represents something positive at the core – the have-a-go, grab-life-by-the-throat spirit that says to each of us, yes, just maybe, we too can tour with a rock band, jump a gorge on a bike, become a famous artist, go into space or win the love of our life. Maybe we can’t, maybe we’ll fall flat on our face or fall painfully into the gorge – but we can’t know that for certain until we try. Homer’s winning of Marge, and their subsequent life together, is proof that there are no ‘leagues’ in love and attraction except the ones we construct in our own heads. Anything is possible if you let your heart speak through you.
That said, it’s also important that Homer’s brash self-centred stride through the world depends on everything being all right with Marge and the kids. He assumes it is until they forcibly tell him it isn’t, but if and when that happens, Homer always, always means well, and wants to fix it. That sense of the importance of having a happy wife, and kids that at least aren’t heartbroken goes through the flabby yellow core of Homer J Simpson, perhaps stemming from his own upbringing of heartbreak when his mother left, and the brusque wisdom of his dad. He takes it as a point of principle to do his best for Marge and the kids. Even at the expense of his hopes and dreams, Homer does the right thing – as when he had finally achieved his pin-money dream job, and then Maggie was announced. Homer felt the wrench of pride, certainly, but he ate it, grovelled to get his family-supporting job at the power plant back, and sentenced himself to a life of drudgery again, because of that fierce commitment to his wife and family. Yes, yes, a thousand times yes, he gets things wrong, he lets them down in his self-important, macho strides into the world, he makes Marge cringe sometimes in the execution of some hare-brained scheme or other. But that’s what she sees in him – that commitment to doing the right thing, and that absolute adoration of her.
Both the senior Simpsons in their time and their turn have felt the pull of temptation, the opportunity of another life, the hope for more with someone else than they have together. But both in their own way know that what they have together is strong, is special, and is worth sacrificing other dreams for. Homer’s goodness is simple, and in a complicated world, Marge responds to it. Marge’s kindness is pure, and Homer breathes it like he breathes oxygen. Ultimately, they’re in this world together for the long run, prepared to back each other even through their doubts, their dull patches, their fights and silences. Marge and Homer are a couple of genuine grown-ups, not afraid to still act like teenagers now and then. More than the laundry-white but other-judging Flanders and Lovejoys, and certainly more than the Van Houtens, who went the other way and found they didn’t have enough in common to weather the storms of mid-life opportunity, Marge and Homer are a functional, loving couple who will grow (at least in flash-forward) old together. They’re the epitome of long-term love in an uncertain TV world.
Most of us have been Ginny Weasley at some point in our lives. We’ve had that special person on the fringes of our world that makes us awestruck, about whom we bore the pants off everyone we know, but around whom we can’t speak a word, for fear they might actually…y’know…hear us or something.
Ginny, when we first meet her, is just ten, and is the shy girl who knows all about the wonder that is Harry Potter, so powerful even as a baby that he could defeat the greatest dark wizard of the age. When Harry becomes best friends with, of all people, her brother, Ginny is both delighted and mortified, in the way only the young can be. When the great Harry Potter talks to her like she’s a normal person, even an equal, Ginny runs away, unable to cope with the wow factor and the sudden pressure of having to speak to him. You wouldn’t, perhaps, think of them as a natural-born couple.
When Ginny starts her schooling at Hogwarts, Harry remains an object of amazement and wonder to her, and Ginny has a desperate journey – writing all her feelings down in the mysterious diary that answers back, which, in a cogent metaphor of false friendship, uses all her secrets against both her and Harry. When he and brother Ron rescue her from a basilisk, Ginny’s mortification actively increases – not only has her hero had to rescue her (way to go, Girl Power!), but she’s the one who actually put him in danger in the first place by telling the false friend diary all about him and his story.
It’s not really until The Order of the Phoenix that Ginny Weasley and Harry Potter begin to seem like there might be something to them beyond her devastating girlish pre-and-early teen crush. After seeing something of the world, Ginny grows up a little, getting a non-Harry boyfriend, which allows her for the first time to talk to him as an equal. Where (to be fair, following her mother’s example) Ginny has always been one thing to her brothers – spirited and a devil with a bat-bogey charm, as is almost demanded of her by little sisters of brothers throughout the ages – and another thing entirely to Harry, in The Order of the Phoenix, while still too young to be allowed into the Order’s meetings, she’s able to be in a room with Harry without blushing and running away. In fact, it’s there that we get the first sense of Ginny having that most crucial of equalities, the equality of anger, when she tears the increasingly reclusive Harry a new one for having neither the balls nor the gumption to confide in her, given her history of being possessed by Voldemort and his fear that he too has been a vessel of the Dark Lord, used to attack her father. It’s in the quiet honesty of their shared emotions about that fear – the fear of being forced to do something against their will, of possibly hurting someone that they care about because they weren’t strong enough to fight off their attacker – that something new begins to form between Harry Potter and Ginny Weasley, something not born of legends or objective adoration, but born of the bond of survivors. Make no mistake, the violation of them both by Voldemort has an analogue right there in the non-wizarding world, though it’s one that might spoil readers’ enjoyment of the books and movies. The idea of an adult using their bodies for his own ends, and of the inherent violation, the misplaced guilt, the sense of isolation, of believing no-one will want or need them around any more, is true, and real, and horrifying, and Harry and Ginny begin to bond over their ability to share those emotions, those feelings with each other, when they can’t make anyone who hasn’t been in that situation understand how it feels.
As Order of the Phoenix goes on, Ginny comes more and more out of her shell – giving Dumbledore’s Army its name, and showing a rare perspicacity in its choice: “It’s their greatest fear,” she remarks, cutting to the heart of the opposition’s weakness. She also surprises everyone, and impresses Harry, with some of her spellcasting prowess.
But none of this explains why Harry and Ginny end up as lovers, as partners, and as parents. That’s relatively simple, though. Apart from their bonding over what Voldemort has done to them, Ginny is removed enough from the strum und drang of Harry’s seven year fight against the Dark Lord that, when he needs a place of calm, of quiet, of simple understanding and acceptance, it’s not Hermione he turns to. Not Luna. Not anyone, but Ginny, who doesn’t demand explanations, who isn’t complicated by the fight, who knows the burden he carries, and only asks to share it for as long as she can, to lighten his life and bring his smile back to him. Peculiarly, by books six and seven, it’s Ginny Weasley who understands Harry Potter best of all, Ginny who sees beyond the hype he never asked for, and the name he makes for himself, beyond the aloof isolationism and the sense of responsibility, who sees Harry as just Harry, and knows what he needs. She never tries to push herself into the centre of the action, never becomes something else for Harry to feel he has to worry about, but she’s more than ready, come the Battle of Hogwarts, to do her last full measure of devotion in the fight. She has that simplicity of approach – some things must be fought, and she will fight them as she can. She’s invested in his battle, but separate from it too, the place in a crowded, complicated wizarding world where the would-be auror can find peace and an equal, a force of nature who’s always been there, but who stepped out of the crowd to change his world.
In him, she sees not Harry Potter the legend of her childhood, not the rock star wizard, but the man who does what he thinks is right, even when it’s so hard than any reasonable man would fail or buckle, would take the easy path. In a very real sense, it’s Ginny Weasley who shows us as readers or viewers the moral of the Harry Potter stories. She sees the boy become the man who does the right thing, not the easy thing, and loves him for it. And we love them both right back as a result.
This world is divided many different ways on any given day, but one of the axes around which it splits turns forty this year.
That axis is The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and it divides people as much today as it did four decades ago on its initial release. It divides them into – if you’ll pardon the parlance of audience partici…pation – Virgins and Sluts. The Sluts are easy to spot – they’re the ones who go to every screening they can, who cosplay characters from the movie, jump up at appointed times and dance in the aisles or on stages, and who come equipped to the movie with a whole range of props, to interact with the on-screen action in real time.
The Virgins…well, the Virgins are those who either haven’t seen the movie yet, or have seen it, and insist, as a friend of mine did this week, that ‘it’s just a bad movie. I don’t understand what all the fuss is about.’
Let’s see what the fuss is about, shall we?
Firstly, a note of honesty – yes, if you just sit home alone and watch The Rocky Horror Picture Show on your TV, it’s probably a bit of a lame experience. Yes, it’s still got some great actors in it – Susan Sarandon, Barry Bostwick, Charles Gray, Tim Curry, Patricia Quinn…erm…Christopher Biggins… and yes it’s a love letter to the great sci-fi B-movies from the 30s-70s, but the plot is mayhem, the narratorial intrusion is probably the antithesis of good storyteling, the pace is slack, the conclusion insane, and if you’re not particularly broad-minded, there’s every chance that what was intended as a tribute-cum-parody of those great movies might insult your sensibilities with its gender-ambiguity, its transvestitism, and its camp-as-Christmas shenanigans. Seen alone, there’s every chance you’ll miss the point of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and remain a Virgin for the rest of your life.
There’s a cure for that.
Shared Memories Like most cures for virginity, the clue is in the company you keep.
First of all, don’t see Rocky Horror on your own. See it with friends. Will that make the movie better? Doesn’t it make most things better?
Apart from anything else, see it in company and whatever your reaction to it is, it’ll be a reaction shared, and that’s the beginning of a memory. And if you want to know what the fuss is about when it comes to Rocky Horror, that’s the essence of the answer – shared memories of the experience, whether those memories are of running round collecting all your props and sequinning your Columbia cosplay or trying to find a basque at short notice, or whether they’re just of watching all the people do their thing, and trying to catch up with the audience participation. Even if you watch it at home with someone else, you can swap questioning eye-rolls about what the point of that line was, and suddenly you’re building a memory of that moment.
Vive La Revolution Secondly, part of the point of what’s already in the script of The Rocky Horror Picture Show is revolution. It slams the cultural clichés of all those marvelous B-movies right into the culture of permissiveness and what were in the 70s thought of as ‘alternative sexualities’ – yes, really, still. There was something shocking about a sweet, white-bread all-American couple running into a proud alien transvestite omnisexual and seeing them succumb to his way of life by expanding their own. But by making up your own interactions – whether they’re the time-honoured audience participations or not – you can engage with a meta-film experience (yes, really, I just said that), stepping outside the boundaries of dialogue. Everyone likes a good shout at the TV now and again, but you’re rarely allowed to do it in a movie theatre. Both the structure and the history of Rocky Horror allows you to do that – you get to heckle a movie screen, in an atmosphere where it’s perfectly acceptable and where – it’s unlikely after forty years, but you never know – your interjection might even make people laugh if they’ve never heard it before, might even begin to be a part of a local ‘accepted’ call-back, and from there, make it into the worldwide anti-script that is the Rocky Horror audience participation ritual.
Permission To Be Silly, Freedom To Be Yourself More than anything else though, Rocky Horror gives a whole group of grown-ups who should know better, but frankly don’t, permission to be incredibly silly in a supportive group environment. Given that the movie first came out in 1975, these are the people, more than any other, who invented live cosplay at screenings, so before you sneer, kindly straighten your bow-tie and doff your fez in their direction. Rocky Horror is a movie, yes, but as Roger Ebert said of it when he initially reviewed it, it’s actually more of an ongoing cultural tradition. It fed into spirits like Mardi Gras and Pride; the Sluts who dressed as Rocky Horror characters were likely to support people’s sexualities and lifestyles in the real world once they’d grown to love Tim Curry’s strutting self-proclaiming Sweet Transvestite, who was as keen to make himself a man for frankly anal funfests as he was to deflower the sweetest American virgin in Sarandon’s Janet. While the message of the movie may well be that self-indulgent hedonism can go too far – after all, there’s murder and cannibalism later on, and the eventual twist is that Frankie’s gone too far and must be punished – from the 70s right through to the modern day, Rocky Horror has been providing geeks and Sluts with not only shared experiences, but a shared environment to be incredibly silly in public, and to be themselves, with whatever kind of strut they choose, empowered by the characters acting out the script on screen, and loved unconditionally by the audience subverting the bejesus out of it in movie theatres.
Don’t Dream It, Be It Ultimately, no-one’s going to convince you to ‘stop worrying and love Rocky Horror.’ Certainly, you shouldn’t do it just cos all the cool kids do. But don’t watch it alone and expect to get the best out of it. That’s like watching Doctor Who with the sound off and no subtitles – sure, you’ll still see what’s on the screen and be able to get the gist (Rocky Horror could never be accused of any crime so monstrous as subtlety when it comes to its core themes), but don’t just watch it – be a part of it if you ever want to experience what the fuss is all about. Go along to a screening. Do some research first if you want, though that’s not necessary – most Rocky Horror fans are beautifully gentle with Virgins. Give yourself over to absolute pleasure, absolute silliness, absolute freedom, and see if there’s not an extra sweetness in your strut on the way back home.
Tony continues his journey through the I, Davros series…
The original idea of I, Davros was taken from a blend of two ideas – showing the life and career of one of Doctor Who’s greatest and most psychologically fascinating villains up to the point at which we first met him in Genesis of the Daleks, and giving the context of his rise to power in a style similar to the Robert Graves epic (or rather, its BBC adaptation), I, Claudius.
In studying the great rulers of history, their connections to other people will either have been a strength to them or a weakness, and I, Davros follows the I, Claudius route fairly faithfully as far as that’s concerned. In I, Claudius, the wives and mothers of the emperors are notoriously painted as interfering, homicidal or lustful to the point of almost toppling the empire. In I, Davros, there are three women throughout the course of his life who either support or threaten Davros’ career. His mother, the thoroughly twisted Calcula, was his most adoring exponent. His sister Yarvell was frightened by the turn of his mind and found herself on the opposite side of the ideological fence from him, with horrifying consequences.
Meet Shan – the third woman in Davros’ life.
Corruption finds Davros an older man, his career In the Scientific Corps progressing with unparalleled clarity and focus – he has become its leader, and has devised, almost to order of necessity, devices to help make Kaled victory a certainty, to extend lives, to target Thal physiology and biology… and to experiment with the effects of radiation on the Kaled genome, to extrapolate the species to its final logical form. If Calcula was interfering and Yarvell was perversely homicidal, it would be entirely wrong to think of Shan as lustful. In fact, neither she nor Davros appear to give much thought to the needs of the body – but she is an excellent scientist, and they work closely together, so it is perhaps forgiveable that non-scientists begin to look at them as a potential couple despite their age difference. It’s a point unsentimentally made that Skaro is a planet in need of breeders and for some time the idea of a marriage between the two scientists is mooted. We can only imagine what would have happened to Dalek history had such an alliance taken place. Would Davros have been saved from his own arrogance, from the direction in which the Daleks would eventually be developed, had he become a husband and a father? Would the ruthless demands and conclusions of science been softened by the compromises that marriage demands or the glow of self-renewal of seeing his own child, made in his own image, on his knee?
Possibly, but possibly not – Shan is actually instrumental in pointing out a vital component that pushes Davros in the direction he eventually takes. But whether love would have blossomed between the two to dull the edge of his scientific urgency becomes spectacularly and horrifyingly irrelevant for two reasons. Firstly the adamantine strength of will that Davros has displayed throughout the series, from his teenage determination to decide his own destiny in Innocence to the furious need to rise above mediocrity whatever the cost in Purity, surfaces again, and he decides their respective fates for them.
And then we hear the moment every fan knows about. The moment Davros becomes Davros. The attack that renders him blind, immobile, dependent forever on his life support system, his microphones and sensors. And, kept alive by systems, most of which he devised, everyone expects Davros to take his own life.
But Davros lives. What’s more, with a perversity of fate, he becomes the Kaled most likely to die of old age, protected from the ravages of time and decay by the systems of his chair. What’s more, this is the moment that Davros psychologically becomes the creature we know – freed from the understanding of the Kaled as a physical creature, and thinking now purely in terms of the purity of their DNA, he will distinguish himself from those around him as they disappoint his understanding of the race’s potential. In terms of Corruption, it’s a theme that permeates throughout this episode – the corruption of ideologies, from winning the war through strength to achieving a peace through diplomacy, a fatal corruption as Davros sees it which dooms any connection he might have made with Shan. The corruption of politicians in the case of the Supremo and the Council, the uncovering of which which allows Davros at the end of this episode to essentially render the Supremo nothing but a figurehead for the power bloc that the Scientific Elite has become. The corruption of Davros’ body of course during the attack that puts him in his chair, a Hitler parallel of significant power – the Kaleds, so intent on the purity and superiority of their race, will be all but led by a crippled scientist very far from their ideal of Kaled perfection (just as Hitler – a small, dark-haired, dark-eyed Austrian – led a government based on the purity of the blond-haired, blue-eyed, German supermen). But mostly, the corruption here deals with that separation of ideas – Kaled purity at a genetic level, and its degeneration over the recent decades of the war, leading to Davros’ research to find the ultimate form of their species. Corruption, while it preserves the purity of the genome, has always been an idea that Davros could understand, but now, with the corruption of his own physical form and the clarity of purpose that gives him, he begins to turn his researches furiously in that direction – research with newborns, research with embryos, to essentially speed up the ‘corruption’ of the Kaled form into its ultimate version, to achieve the salvation of the species while there is still time.
Corruption – volume three of the I, Davros story arc, written by Lance Parkin, delivers two of the most pivotal moments in the development of the Kaled scientist into the monster we know from Genesis of the Daleks and subsequent stories. It is essentially the last chance of Fate, the possibility that Davros could be saved from the destiny his arrogance, his scientific determination and his ideological obsession will lead him to. And once that possibility is gone, it shows us the moment of no return, the moment when Jekyll drinks his potion or Frankenstein throws his switch – the moment when man becomes monster. In terms of the I, Davros storyline, it’s in Corruption that the balance shifts from explaining what he was like before we knew him to his emergence as the villain we know. But it will still take one more hour to get from Davros’ rebirth to his self-renewal as father of the Daleks.
The concept of The Four Doctors is pretty much everything Day of the Doctor could have been, and most of the things it wasn’t. Proper argumentative Doctors together, like the original Three Doctors, barely letting up for a second, and yet when they do, working together to save everyone – and probably, when all is said and done, the universe – from the Big Bad, and from themselves.
Given the freedom Titan Comics has these days to use him, and the nature of the plot developments in issue #2, one thing that strikes you immediately is that there’s no Ninth Doctor involvement in this story. There was too much going on in the first issue to notice his absence, but given the nature of the threat that dogs the Doctors through much of this second issue, his absence becomes more noticeable, especially as the threat seems to specifically target post-Time War Doctors. There’s just the faintest whiff of Tom Baker in The Five Doctors about the fact that, for no especially identifiable reason, this is actually The Four Doctors, rather than The Five Doctors…erm…II.
But it’s remarkable how quickly you get the hell over that – the pacing of this issue and this story so far would outrun a Dalek ray in a straight line. There’s a little Gabby Gonzalez artwork to get through as a soft opening (with which you’ll be familiar if you’ve been following the Tenth Doctor’s comic-book adventures. If not, just go with it, he travels with an artist now) and then bang! The verbal sparring while dealing with a terrifying threat made more terrifying by the freedom of comic-book art than they managed to be on TV – and they managed pretty well there!
There’s a lot of running and banter and bile-spitting here, with the kind of edge that ‘Sandshoes and Grandpa’ never really mustered – there’s a lovely Spice Girls moment which hopefully I haven’t just ruined for you. The barbs are sharper from writer Paul Cornell than they ever were in Moffat’s TV version of the multi-Doctor phenomenon (I can hear the cries now – Cornell for Showrunner!…Hmm, actually, not a bad plan), and the combination of his acid wit, (most frequently vented through the natural conduit that is the Twelfth Doctor, but occasionally, just for the look of the thing and the fightback, distributed Bugs Bunny and the Bow-Tie boy), and Neil Edwards’ great gift for spatial artwork allows for some superb moments, not least of which is a journey through a couple of Tardis console rooms, and possibly the best ever comeback to what is now a time-honoured gag. Edwards’ Twelfth Doctor is a little less realistic than some that have appeared in the latest incarnation’s dedicated comics, but again, the combination of the gorgeous broader visuals – from Paris to Tardises, to space, to a planet of apparently forgettable provenance – and the pace and wit of the dialogue means you can pretty much forgive him for being less than pin-point in the capturing of the Twelfth Doctor’s face.
The action of the first half of this issue is frenetic – hence the running – as the three post-Time-War Doctors try to outpace the Big, Scary Monsters trying to erase them from existence. But when Clara sentences them to some ‘Me Time’ – something akin to the Tower of London scene in Day of the Doctor – the three behave in a way that’s entirely believable for each of them at once, and ultimately, as we all knew they would, go running into trouble on the world of the great First Doctor enemies enjoying a heck of a renaissance in recent years. The cliff-hanger is surprisingly downbeat, like the pushing of a plunger that will, somewhere down the line, cause a big, big explosion, but which has yet to deliver its full impact. But the combination of these three Doctors – the War Doctor’s at least visually absent from this issue – remains satisfying in a way that Day of the Doctor, for all its brilliant moments, wasn’t. John Hurt’s War Doctor was a scarred, tired man, wanting the war to be over, with no stomach for the acid that, for instance, the inheritor of his ‘Older Doctor’ mantle is. Bringing the Twelfth Doctor into the multi-Doctor mix gives it a bite that wasn’t possible on the fiftieth anniversary, when all was celebration of the show’s history and legacy. This is a more combustible, more daring and frankly more fun mixture of the three Doctor-personalities, and again, much of that is down to Paul Cornell’s way with a witty line and his knowledge of Who old and new. The storyline promises much in the way of cataclysm and devastation, though much of the actual plot development in this issue is done as the Doctor would probably expect – on the run. The pace is still fast and furious, but here, there’s excellent, rich Doctor-chocolate in terms of character development. Two issues in, this is still a must-buy. Grab your sandshoes and Bugs Bunny your butt to your comic store now. Your future self is really going to kick you if you miss it.
The odd couple is a great recipe for geek-heaven. Arguably it’s the relationship between the Doctor and all his companions, it’s the relationship between Kirk and Spock, and while there were frequently more of them than the classic two, it was the relationship that underpinned The Avengers. It also worked in harder core cop shows like The Persuaders, The Sweeney, the Professionals, and the all-time classic, Starsky and that singer-guy.
But if you were a British teen in the mid-80s, there was only one odd couple cop show you cared about – and that was Dempsey and Makepeace.
Dempsey and Makepeace had everything – kicking 80s theme tune, London backdrop in the mid-80s, when the city was where every kid who wasn’t there wanted to be, cool New York guy Dempsey, played by easy on the damned eye Michael Brandon, ice hot posh girl Harriet Makepeace, known gloriously as Harry and played by Glynis Barber (then riding high on the back of her role as Soolin in Blake’s 7 and eponymous hero Jane in a show that dabbled with combining live action and early CGI), preposterous plots with just enough taking it seriously from the two leads to convince you they were realistic, and a love story that gave no quarter and didn’t stop either of the central characters from being able to kick your ass if you got out of line. It was like smashing Starsky and Hutch’s equality of partnership together with the coolness of the Avengers’ women like Kathy Gale or Emma Peel, and for the first time, being in a decade where that equality of lead status was acceptable without being played for cute.
While set in contemporary London, and somewhat fetishizing the city as the place where all things were possible, it still, in its day, carried a note of fantasy, showing British police carrying guns, which elevated it from standard British police fare to special unit status, immediately putting it in the category of shows like The Persuaders and The Avengers. But there was far less whimsicality in Dempsey and Makepeace’s special unit, SI 10, than was allowed in those other shows – they carried guns and got involved in demented situations, but they were always, by the standards of their predecessors, comparatively believable and played for real, more likely to deal with drug smugglers and financial swindles than megalomaniacs intent on taking over the world.
The dialogue too was a cut above some of those other Brit fantasy shows, the writers basing their work more in character than cheesy lines and plot developments – that was what made Dempsey and Makepeace quite so hard to quantify: it sat between the hard-as-nails British cop shows The Sweeney and The Professionals and those more fantastical shows, The Avengers and The Persuaders. But always, if given a choice, it fell on the hard-as-nails side of the coin.
What Dempsey and Makepeace had above all the shows of its ilk that came before (and arguably after it) though was chemistry. That was because there had never been an odd couple cop show where the cops were destined to fall in love – the very same year in the US, Bruce Willis and Cybil Shepherd were beginning the same journey in Moonlighting, but with more comedy and a heaping helping of cheese which was denied the comparatively gritty British offering. The chemistry factor was brand new in the arena, almost by necessity – there was never any special chemistry in The Avengers, and it would have been unthinkable for broadcast in the 70s had the Starsky and Hutch bromance become anything more, but this was the 80s, and Harry Makepeace could more than hold her own with the boys (in fact, in the very first episode, she entirely flummoxes Dempsey), so it was suddenly the right time for an odd couple cop show that could become an odd couple romance, while still delivering all the villain-kicking and villain-shooting action a nation of crime-geeks demanded and giving 80s girls a role model, albeit one with a silver spoon in her mouth.
Unlike the Moonlighting vibe, Dempsey and Makepeace’s romance was played in a typically British fashion – understated, quite frustrated and never entirely resolved, though the final season saw them getting closer and closer to some resolution of their feelings. But in many ways, the show delivered an archetype for crime shows and crime novels for the next thirty years and counting, where police business and personal emotions are mixed and twisted, duty and passion fighting for control in a situation made impossible by convention and rules, but impossible to ignore by the dictates of the heart. The chemistry at the heart of the show eventually developed into a real-life romance between Brandon and Johns, and on into a marriage which continues to this day.
The legacy of Dempsey and Makepeace is a peculiar one – from the dawn of the 80s, British drama had begun to show working policewomen as heroes – in 1980, the BBC launched Juliet Bravo with Stephanie Turner as Inspector Jean Darblay, who was followed in the same show by Anna Carteret as Inspector Kate Longton, both fighting a combination of crime and the residue of 70s male chauvinism. The show ran until 1985, and while important in its own right, there was a degree of rural charm to the whole thing, set as it was in Lancashire in the north of England. During the same period, ITV, the UK’s commercial channel, was running The Gentle Touch, a much edgier, London-set show, with Jill Gascoine making UK TV history as the first woman to headline a British police drama, as Detective Inspector Maggie Forbes. Both shows had ended the first wave of female cop shows in the UK by 1985 (while in the US, Cagney and Lacey was hitting its stride as a more straightforward ‘female Starsky and Hutch’ take on the situation). Dempsey and Makepeace picked up one half of the baton, with Jill Gascoine continuing to run with the other half in a follow-up show called C.A.T.S Eyes, launched the same year. C.A.T.S Eyes took the idea of female empowerment forward in a mostly female environment (the show was set in a secret unit, fronted by an all-female detective agency, and actually had more in common with Charlie’s Angels than The Gentle Touch). Dempsey and Makepeace took the mantle of ‘woman kicking ass in a world that men still think is their own’ and turned it into something intensely watchable, establishing Makepeace as being able to more than handle herself, without in any real way diminishing Dempsey’s skills or his ability to likewise look after himself. If the first half of the decade had been about policewomen fighting to be taken seriously in British society and culture, Dempsey and Makepeace was an olive branch that said ‘We’ll still kick your ass if we need to. But if we don’t need to, we can work with you.’ It set the seal on more equal partnerships between men and women in police procedurals for at least three decades to come, and rewrote a formula which is still paying writers dividends today.