Editor Shane Allison has picked seventeen hot tales (oh, come on, you knew there had to a cliché in this somehow) that focus on firefighters as objects of desire. From the romantic to the down-and-dirty stories, this book from Cleis Press continues their long-running series of erotica anthologies. Backdraft: Fireman Eroticauses a somewhat politically incorrect title but its contents are right on target.
Allison chooses stories from some familiar names among gay erotica writers. Veterans like Rob Rosen, Simon Sheppard, M. Christian, Shanna Germain, Neil Plakcy and Jeff Mann join newer authors such as Charles Harvey and Elazarus Wills. These authors generate a variety of voices, settings, and styles for the collection. Many of the pieces have a dark side, an element of true-to-life tragedy is laced into several of the tales. It’s a surprising touch, one that editor Allison should be commended for.
The collection’s opener, “Four-Alarm Fire,” is a strong piece from Rob Rosen. Quickly paced, with short dialogue that works well for the characters, Rosen’s fireman hints at a dark past and a tragedy that’s unvoiced. When asked about the scars on his back, this fireman points to his head and acknowledges that they only hurt “up here.” This is a nice nod to psychological issues that show some realism and depth.
“Safety Zone” from Elazarus Wills is a romantic tale in which a firefighter’s own house burns down. Like several of the stories in the book, this one has characters who are involved with/cheating on partners, another nod to the realism of gay sex. In the end, the two lovers end up fighting fires together, and the warm implication of happily ever after lifts the story.
Stephen Osborne’s story, “Unattainable” splashes cold water on his character, Bobby, who pines for fantasy firemen when real-life possibilities are already in his life. In a distinctly non-sexy encounter with a fireman, Bobby’s first sexual encounter ends badly: no tenderness, no whispered sweet nothings, and no orgasm. It’s a surprising choice for an erotica collection, but once again, adds that touch of realism for a distinctive voice.
One of the strongest pieces is “Smoke and Semen” from Jeff Mann. With its strong images of passion and love, Mann mixes firefighting, bears, and bondage into a bittersweet combination of erotic and mourning. The narrator ponders his current lover: “I’ve never told him about Aidan, about that passionate love affair fifteen years ago, about Adian’s beauty, sweetness, and submission. Nathan doesn’t need to know he lives in a shadow.” With vivid imagery and a controlled voice, Mann’s story is worthy of re-reading.
Another mournful story is “Holding Pattern” by Tom Cardamone. This narrator survived a plane hijacking and spends his days taking pills, watching television and waiting for a lover. After seeing a fellow passenger shot dead right next to him, this is a character who is broken and cold. Ko, his part-time lover who has another boyfriend, comes to him with food and touch, trying to warm something that can’t be touched again. “…the permanent passenger who had absorbed the blood of the dead and milled it into ash.” There is no hope for this couple yet the story works as poignant reminder of mortality.
Other stories are the more traditional, meet-em, suck-em and fuck-em kind of encounters. Short-term encounters between strangers, men cheating on their partners (both male and female), quickies. These work just fine within the theme; firefighters are an enticing masculine icon, and reading stories about their sex lives is fun. Both as text and subtext though, some of these tales warn readers of the dangers of fire, the embers that never cool, and the warmth that can turn to raw heat with passion. Be warned: this is a hot book, in more ways than one.
© 2008 Vincent Diamond. All rights reserved.