OR: Peep Show #2

A magazine review that originally appeared in The Fix #4:-


Peep Show is a neatly produced booklet with nary a typo in sight and for its second issue increased to a welcome 118 pages, while retaining the old cover price. There’s a full colour front cover by David Ho, that suggests the type of salacious material to be found within, and if it doesn’t the equally striking back cover by Mike Bohatch certainly does.

The emphasis is on erotic horror, a brand name about which I have misgivings. Erotic implies sexual arousal, but surely for most of us any inclination toward that is dampened by the horror qualifier, or as I put it in a less eloquent moment, do even sad little horror wankers get hard ons when they know their willies are going to be chopped off? I prefer the term sex horror, which allows a wider scope and also circumvents the inevitable objection that (again, for most of us) sexual violence simply ain’t a turn on. Peep Show No. 1 suffered in this regard. Taken individually many of the stories were fine, but en masse I found them slightly unpalatable. While I regard sexual violence as an appropriate subject for horror fiction and certainly don’t want to get off on the misogyny riff beloved by PCer than thou critics (usually male), when a magazine has seven stories and all of them end with a woman getting fucked over in one way or another, it’s legitimate to ask questions about where it’s coming from, not least of which being do you really want to support this? If nothing else, boredom should be a consideration. Thankfully in No. 2 while, in the main, sexual encounters continue to end badly they do so with a more even handed approach vis-a-vis who’s the victim.

Leading off and easily the best thing here, though it’s hardly erotic or even really about sex, is ‘Holiday’, a taster from David J. Schow’s latest collection. Witty, and with plenty of prose pyrotechnics, it’s a story that continually wrong-foots the reader and pokes fun at gender stereotypes through the medium of a man having an intimate and unwelcome one to one with his buxom lady tattoo. Great stuff.

James McConnon’s ‘I Love to Watch You Cry’ is more typical of the material found in No. 1. It starts with the interesting premise of a man who, thanks to constant exposure to violent VR pornography, finds himself dysfunctional when the chance of a loving relationship with a real woman presents itself, but instead of exploring the psychology of this takes the easier option of ‘I became a sad rapo bastard’. To add indecision to banality, for the first couple of pages the writer seems uncertain if the story is to be told in the past or present tense. ‘Bad Habit II’ by Alex Severin reads like a toon version of the Marquis De Sade, complete with corrupt priest, a chorus line of debauched nuns and a demon whose fingers morph into penises (useful for satisfying all those nuns). The prose is a little overheated, but the end result is enjoyable if not taken seriously. It would have been more so if the writer didn’t appear to be taking it all very seriously indeed. Worst of all is ‘5:55’ by a writer answering to the name of Horns. Eliza dumps her boyfriend to seek out some funky girl on girl action, but new partner, the hot to trot Catehe, turns out to be a fluffer for her dad, who is none other than Old Nick himself. If Jerry Falwell lookalikes have sexual fantasies then this is probably it. Cheap and nasty, and that’s not a recommendation.

Most of the other stuff that’s on offer ranges from good to competent. ‘Jacks’, about a wannabe metal woman and her search for a mate, by Mehitobel Wilson, is the story that comes closest to delivering something genuinely erotic. It works because Wilson takes the time to get inside her character’s heads and build up some sexual chemistry between them, instead of going fast forward to full penetration and the money shot. For all its  bizarreness, the situation feels real, not the wank fantasy of some pre-pubescent boy with a thing about 7 of 9. Similarly, Ronald Damien Malfi’s ‘Method of Conception’, has its hero enjoying comparatively gentle bouts of sex with a strange young woman off the yatch that arrived unexpectedly in his harbour one night. It’s a pleasant enough read and ends with a revelation which, if telegraphed by the narrative, nonetheless has a satisfying gender reversal twist. Simon Logan and Robert Buckley turn in decent variations on necrophilia and vampires respectively, Logan’s ‘The Unbearable Honesty of Formaldehyde’ in particular coming at its subject from a compellingly oblique angle.

‘Caressed’ by David Cowdall is a finely observed story with convincing characterisation and dialogue but, in contrast to most of the other stories, little explicitness. Cowdall prefers a more cerebral approach, a telepath playing head games and adding another dimension to the fantasy lives of his victims. ‘Harder’ by Bev Vincent is a more routine piece, with a guy wreaking Poesque revenge on the girlfriend who makes him feel inadequate in bed, a by the numbers schlocker. And by way of afterglow there’s Christopher Fulbright’s ‘Full Moon Over Boulder’, a tale of true love among the werewolves, which has some strikingly grotesque imagery and an interesting narrative structure, but ultimately delivers nothing new and doesn’t convince with its amoral female lead, who’s willing to overlook that her boyfriend turns furry and eats people every time there’s a full moon because he’s such a good lay. Yeah, right!

So, Peep Show No. 2? Was it good for me? Well, it was a lot better than No. 1, and while I didn’t get a hard on I certainly didn’t roll over on my back and fall asleep afterwards either, but the magazine will need to work on its foreplay and general technique. A little less wham and bang, and a whole lot more reasons to say thank you maam, would be welcome.

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