Sergei Stolkov is a faithful officer, though his deepest desires go against the Doctrine. A captain with the invading Coalition forces, he believes that self-sacrifice is the most heroic act and his own needs are only valid if they serve the state.
Mike, an operative planted within Cirokko’s rebels, has been ordered to seduce Sergei and pry from him the Coalition’s military secrets. His mission is a success, but as he captures Sergei’s heart, Mike is tempted by his own charade and falls in love.
When the hostile natives of the planet Cirokko make their move, all seems lost. Can Mike and Sergei survive when the Coalition’s internal affairs division takes an interest in what happened in the dusty mountains of Zasidka Pass…?
Trigger warning: rape. Lots of.
Skimming Dark Edge of Honor I get the impression that if Aleksandr Voinov or Rhianon Etzweiler ever discovers WH40K they would be writing slash fanfic of it in a hot minute, which by itself would be nothing special. Unfortunately, I also get the impression that they would be writing rapetastic slash where every Space Marine rapes a recruit and every Chaplain rapes a battle-brother and the ten thousand psychics sacrificed to the Emperor every day are, in fact, sent to be ravaged by his rotting cadaverous penis. And possibly the Custodes. Or maybe the Custodes rape the Emperor’s rotting cadaver, I don’t know. And Slaanesh would turn out to have a tender side. While filling Khorne’s every orifice with tentacles to atone for having touched Nurgle inappropriately.
Yeah, this is that kind of book.
When I started looking through this turd of a book, I was willing to dismiss it as lulzy and relatively harmless–if you can call rapeathon M/M “erotica” that–and review it in that spirit. But I came upon this little gem:
I’m not denying that the Soviet/Afghan war (a period I’ve been fascinated by for way longer that 2005, when I started work on “Special Forces”) was a huge influence on this book.
I’d have lobed to do a proper historical novel about it all, but then I/we realised that basically the “Afghans” don’t get a voice. They are really just the pawns being moved around – and I didn’t really want to exclude the indigenous people – it’s their planet/culture that’s getting ravaged, so I thought it was unethical do with Afghanistan without Afghans.
So, please keep that in mind every time you see me quote this book’s (many, many) references to “natives.” Or “hostile natives” even. Thinking about it, it’s rather gross, isn’t it?
Carina Press helpfully includes a word count with the book, so the very first page will put you instantly in a state of abject terror and despair:
I skimmed the fuck out of the book, in other words. Mostly the sex scenes. And since the first half comprises mostly of sex scenes…
Dark-skinned, black-haired and whipcord lean, Herschel melded into the native populace like hundred-proof alcohol in orange juice.
Ah, there’s that word again. Native. It crops up a lot throughout the text; in fact, it seems to be the only word ever used to refer to the population of this planet. Who, let us not forget, are kind of based on Afghans, and who very certainly have dark skin and appear to be an analogue of Middle Easterners. Of this, more later.
And… like hundred-proof alcohol in orange juice? What the fuck kind of analogy is that?
Our two protagonists are barely distinguishable military dudes who are here to do… fuck if I know, actually. You are given a vague idea that there are two sides in a war, Doctrine and the other one. They are all very generic, there’s something called the “Intergalactic Peace League” which I surmise to be just as stupid as it sounds. Doctrine wants the planet Cirokko. Why? Who knows. It’s a little like the unobtinium in James Cameron’s Avatar. The evil humans want it. For what? No clue. It’s just there, they want it, the end. In just the same way we’re never given to understood just why Cirokko is a point of contention, why the non-Doctrine faction wants to sabotage the Doctrine, why anyone is doing anything. It’s an incoherent clusterfuck of unbelievable military gibberish and porn.
What kind of porn, you ask? The worst kind. The boring kind.
#1 He stepped closer. Their cocks touched, and their thighs and bellies and chests. Sergei took them both into one hand, stroking them in parallel, the arm around Mike tightening to keep him close.
Mike lost himself in the act of feeling. Eyes sliding shut, he clamped his teeth down on a moan. It came out anyway, a hiss on his exhale, forcing his eyes open again, staring into a gray gaze that felt aloof still. He tightened his grip on Sergei’s neck in gradual increments and leaned in, feeling the man’s breath against his skin like a caress. He could tell Sergei didn’t mind not kissing him, didn’t care, really, but Mike decided that doing this—and obviously, he was—required doing it thoroughly.
#2 Mike pressed his body against Sergei’s, hooking a leg over the man’s hip, pulling him closer. “Yeah, the good kind of pain.” He nipped at the man’s lower lip as he thrust his hips into Sergei’s. More than anything, he loved the way the man’s strength and power matched his, the potential existing along the fringes, there in a wispy, intangible way, for Sergei to completely overpower him and force him to submit. “Give me all of this,” he murmured, grabbing a handful of Sergei’s solid glut muscles.
And on and on it goes along this vein. I’m not even sure anyone could possibly fap to this, because it’s all so repetitious and banal, and interspersed by dreadful angst. Apparently these two are meant to be hardened killers and soldiers, but judging from their emotional states and maturity they’d be closer to highschool boys. Between the copypasta sex sessions, they have scintillating pseudo-philosophical discussions like “all politics are bad” and “war is bad” and “totalitarianism makes people sad.” Very deep. I get the impression the authors want this novel to be taken seriously, which is a little tough considering that the first half–48k words–contains about 12,000 words of painfully dull porn. We’re looking at 25% of the book first’s half. Oh, it tries so hard to be military SF, but the implied politics make no sense, all the military bits are idiotic, and the tech reads like something out of Star Wars except less consistent. We’re talking about a space civilization that’s still using palmpads and call porn “holo-porn” (do you see anyone calling porn today “cyber-porn” even though it’s watched online? Exactly). It makes WH40K look like solid, watertight hard SF.
Here’s a gem, though, and by gem I mean “a hardened dried-up turd nugget”:
He kept tight and steady, ignoring everything else, focusing now on just getting through this. He’d done it before—it wasn’t so bad. If this was what he had to do, he’d do it. He resisted each thrust, grimacing into the darkness with the strength it cost him, comparing in his mind. But it was no comparison. He’d really, once, believed this was sex. It wasn’t. It might feel like sex for the general, but as far as he was concerned, it wasn’t. Nothing could be further from it, he thought with grim irony, keeping his breaths level as he pushed back.
The feel of flesh against his, of fingers suddenly encircling his throat, jolted him out of his mental state of emotional distance. When that grip tightened, beginning to constrict his airflow, the surge of panic was instantaneous.
The general’s pace increased, each thrust more forceful, the impact of his hips against Sergei’s ass harsh. His pulse quickened, hammering against the man’s fingers. It seemed to make the general’s grip clamp down even harder.
Panic raced through his brain like a rat in a burning cage, frantic with fear. What if he kills me? What if I don’t get enough air and end up nothing but a vegetable? Sergei struggled. Little he could do in this position, fiendish as it was, short of throwing the man off—and that would be a challenge he wasn’t sure he’d be able to back up. There was still fear. Insubordination. The man could cook something up. He moved faster, too, hoping the general got off before he passed out. Close race.
Struggled, writhing, a sick parody of—no, he couldn’t even go there. Not now, not like this. The general’s grip tightened further. Sergei’s vision began to tunnel, graying out along the edges. Just as he was certain he would black out in another moment, the man stiffened, thrust once more and finally reached orgasm. Pulling out to splatter his semen all over Sergei’s back, ass, thighs.
Because it’s not a Voinov book, or an M/M clusterfuck, without rape. Sergei has, prior to this point, been coerced into sex by his superior. Though he is stated to enjoy it, he also finds it “disturbing” and realizes that he has “no choice” but to go along. All this culminates with the above. It’s worth noting that Sergei, prior to his encounter with Mike, has only ever known buttsex through the general’s rape, so he thought sex with a man is always going to be like that and wangst wangst wangst. It’s every loathsome little slash trope packed into one, with a bit of hurt/comfort drizzled on to boot because–naturally–in the aftermath of this choke-rape scene Sergei goes on to have tender, wonderful sex with Mike immediately. Ah, what can the healing power of cock not cure?
Them Silly Natives
Here’s the score. In the entire book, out of 96k words, there are 109 instances of the word “native” being used to refer to the indigenous population of the planet. There are 36 instances of “local” referring to the same. We have established that those native to Cirokko or however it’s spelled are dark-haired, dark-skinned, and thinly veiled analogues of Afghans. They wear “head shrouds.” What is the planet like, incidentally? Dusty. What’s the local culture like? We don’t know. What are the people like? The authors don’t care. About all we know is that they are primitive and being conquered by the Doctrine. At one point, they are referred to as “rabid mobs.” Aleksandr Voinov has once talked about writing the theme (lol) of “reverse racism.”
#1 Not that he didn’t sympathize with the mind-set of the locals. Some days, though, it seemed they had as much originality as they did road-building talent.
#2 One of the local dissidents fancied himself an avid photographer. He’d met the man months ago while taking shots of crucial geographic locations, under the pretext of photographing wildlife. Patel had the luxury of a quality printer capable of generating hard copies. Few people on this barren rock could make that claim. Technology was grotesquely scarce.
As you can see, their technology is meant to be primitive. So much that they use printers. To be sure, it’s hard to say that the armies’ tech is any better. Neither Voinov nor Etzweiler is what you would call remotely competent at world-building; in fact if you enter them into a contest of failing the hardest at world-building, this pair would take the gold cup without even trying. Everything is sketchy and vague. The tech level is uncertain, though we know they have intergalactic travel and have “palmpads” (a term that sounds quaintly archaic rather than futuristic, likely because neither author knows anything about current technology) while being unable to build anything that’s dust-proof, has air conditioning or any form of climate control, and having to try on “data chips” that can easily be damaged. However, we are still told that Cirokko has terrible tech. There appears to be nothing like an internet going on and the natives use printers, which “few on this barren rock can claim.”
Now, if you have had even half an education, you may notice that Patel is an Indian surname. A common one in fact. So either the authors changed their minds halfway and decided they wanted to turn Cirokko into an Indian analogue instead–which is unlikely; certainly the setting supports an Afghan analogue much more than an Indian one–or neither, in fact, has anything even faintly resembling half an education and both of them are honestly that ignorant.
Patel is also the only–count that, one–”native” with a name.
#3 Other guests joined them, and the natives served them many courses of food, invariably spicy and rich. [...] It was well past midnight when the host finally broke off the chat and had servants lead the guests to their quarters.
#4 Maps, highly sensitive orders printed on heavy stock with fancy letterhead, and even a few personal notes from local natives in a beautiful flowing script that looked almost artistic.
All others are either servants, random “dissidents,” or… whatever it is that they are, or do. None of them has a name, a face, a voice. No attention is given to their traditions or culture outside of this one allusion to “beautiful flowing script.” They are always either “locals” or “natives” or, puzzlingly and redundantly, “local natives.” They are essentially exotic backdrops who provide spice to Mike’s and Sergei’s torrid affair. They don’t do anything else. They certainly are never treated as though they were living, breathing people: the closest they come to this is existing as analogues for the military characters who are selected for their coloring to engage in the shittily named “CovOps” to blend with the natives.
Sergei rushed to one of the vehicles, grabbed a flashlight and switched it on, holding it against his chest. The white-blue beam tore shapes out of the darkness, moving almost too fast to track. Lizard. Huge, flying creatures, large enough to carry off men. Something—riders?—hunkered down on their backs. He heard the report of a high-powered sniper rifle, and others began shooting as well. More lights flared up, while the battalion scrambled to recover from the surprise.
The fact that they had riders only now sank in. Well, that answered the question about the response from the mountain-dwelling natives. These were the natives.
When the “natives” aren’t busy being absolutely fucking useless and helpless, they go around riding what appears to be a rip-off from the rip-off that is Avatar. They honestly ride flying lizards. They are a combination of brown Middle Eastern backdrop and noble savages. We are talking about something that’s actually, honestly, worse than George R. R. Martin’s Dothraki, who at least speak, do things, and have names.
This is a casually, blithely racist book written by two casually, blithely racist authors who are more interested in churning out godawful fap material than not being offensive, probably because they were typing one-handed at the time much like Mark Millar and Frank Miller do when writing comic scripts. I would now like to kindly request that both writers eat shit and fucking choke.
Whores and Viragos
No shitty M/M erotica would be complete, of course, without misogyny. Some context: one of the writers, Etzweiler, has many feelings about girl characters. Speaking of her trunked novel:
The main reason I stopped [writing trunk novel]? A Mary-Sue lead for a main character. She is the one aspect that has, through the course of many drafts, remained relatively unchanged. Seriously. All the other characters have evolved, grown, shifted, in some way, even if seemingly minor or inconsequential. The result? I am stuck with a lady surrounded by interesting men. And which point of view do I struggle with? Yep, HERS.
Though I have plied it in humor, my greatest objection has always been the mere presence of the female lead in Twilight. From where I stand the entire series would be better were she not there at all.
I mean, it’s not just that she hates Bella. She even hates her own female character. And… well, pretty much anyone else’s for that matter:
And so the [trunk novel] of a Mary-Sue on a journey of self-discovery transforms into a dark tale of a man’s pain and healing.
And a generous heaping of m/m smut. Of course.
On the rare occasions when I read a het romance these days, I find the story limiting, the characters cramped. I cannot tell you how many books I’ve read over recent years, how many strong male characters I’ve enjoyed getting to know, only to be disappointed by their lust for a female lead, when the male supporting character had so much more potential. Was so much more intriguing.
C’est la vie. Men do this all the time, I think. For any number of reasons. Perhaps one day the stigma will fall away, be discarded by society as a whole. I find myself writing in order to facilitate just that.
So, apparently, she thinks all men secretly desire cock and women get in the way of that–aiding and abetting homophobia, as it were–by merely daring to exist. Not just men in fiction, mind, but men “in society” in general. Lesbian and bisexual women apparently don’t count. It’s the typical slasher mindset, reflected in sentiments like Sarah Monette’s: women are boring and narratively worthless and men’s stories are always more interesting, to the point that their pain and suffering make for inherently superior stories than ones of women finding strength and seizing power. Except that, even at her worst, Monette can write a bit better than this and has gone on to–here and there–write female characters that are apparently decent, though I still can’t get over her ravening horde of straight women who go around raping poor, innocent gay men.
It will surprise no one, I’m sure, when I tell you that in 96,000 words of Dick Edge of Horror there is only one woman character. The first time women are mentioned at all is:
Reminded him of the shoddy makeup he’d seen on some of the cheaper back-alley whores Pat had employed over the years of their acquaintance.
Yep. Classy. This remains the singular acknowledgement that women exist until:
Most women chose not to be soldiers; civilian workers existed in the Doctrine, but they were seen as outsiders, sometimes defective. The committee, viragos, Interior Revision—everybody was military, whether they fought, healed, maintained gear or protected installations. Only those who gave birth and raised and educated small children weren’t.
What the fuck is this. So, for some reason, the Doctrine is really sexist. And… everyone who gives birth and raises children is an outsider and seen as “defective.” The only women who do sign up for military action are called viragos. I… what? They can’t be cadets or captains or commanders, no. Viragos. What. The opposition, despite supposedly being more enlightened and totally okay with dicks in butts, has no women in its stupid “CovOps” unit.
The first actual female character appears at 61% through the book. The section in which she has a role totals at 930 words. She never appears again throughout, except as references by other characters.
She’d been appointed virago before he left to serve the general, the dark gray fabric making her rich brown hair stand out more. The gray signified selflessness, all claims to individual desires gone. Alina’d never married, hadn’t borne children. Others appointed to the rank formally changed their names and enacted a living will to separate all personal relations before assuming the role. But she didn’t have to do that. And had been rewarded. The white highlights on her uniform, pinstripes along the seams of tunic and slacks, showed she’d achieved that ambition.
“You’re now…” He found it hard to get enough breath for more than a few words at a time. “…a Committee general?”
Her grip didn’t change, the smile only faded a little. Far be it from her to triumph over reaching the top. “It doesn’t matter to any of this, Sergei. You’ll receive the best care and heal in peace. You’ve done your duty.”
Alina snorted. “Enough of that. No need to thank me.” She straightened, gave his wrist another firm squeeze. “You’re my nephew. The son I never had.” She blinked away a faint glint of wetness. “Rest now. Don’t worry about a thing, you hear me? Except regaining your strength. I’ll come visit again very soon.”
Apart from this there are references to Sergei’s mother, who’s running ragged to find her son a wife. She has, naturally, no name. What we get then is a woman who has no personal life and takes no joy in her military achievement, and a fussy mother. Normally this wouldn’t be too remarkable, but in a wasteland devoid of anything but cock the utter absence of well-characterized, multi-dimensional women is more than a little conspicuous. As far as I can tell, Voinov’s Special Forces is similarly a sausage fest. Seeing as Voinov presents as male online and appears to be referred to by male pronouns, I’m going to be extra judgey about the misogyny. Voinov, darling, go suck on a pissfrappe. Internalized misogyny: bad. Misogynistic man: BURN IN THE FIRE OF A THOUSAND SUNS, YOU GOATFUCKING SHITSTICK.
At least the men are raping each other instead of women, which I suppose is something we can all be thankful for.
Who Reads and Loves This Shit?
A quick sampling of glowing, salivating reviews from Goodreads reveals a particular… tendency.
The top review has this to say:
Please note, this book book is not a light romance. It is a dark, gritty, military Sci-fi novel about war and soldiers. It contains scenes of dub-con, torture, violence and other various difficult scenes involving the main characters.
Please note that this warning comes at the very bottom of the review, which kind of defeats the point as a trigger warning. I’m having a grand old time laughing at the “dark, gritty, military sf novel” too because if this is dark gritty mature military SF, then Ciaphas Cain is the height of sophisticated grimdark–and it’s a parody series!
Also, “dub-con”? What the fuck is that? See, when consent is in doubt, sensible and decent human beings usually call it rape because, errr, that’s what it is. I don’t at all get people who insist on calling it “dub-con” or “non-con” or whatever. The word is rape, you ridiculous delusional fuckwads.
The writing is for the most part banally correct, in that it’s spelled correctly and grammatically sound, but every now and again you’d run into lines like
That tight ass was completely beyond words.
Their cocks touched, and their thighs and bellies and chests. Sergei took them both into one hand, stroking them in parallel,
The tension of arousal made for hard muscles and strength pitted against his, the sounds those of exertion, as silent as a kid jerking off under the covers.
“I see a man in chains. Like a beautiful wild creature caged, who can see freedom, smell the wild places on the breeze, but can’t reach them.”
Mike felt his heart physically skip a beat. The damned thing stopped, and kicked back into rhythm, and it hurt.
So yes, even at that level, it’s quite terrible.
Another impression I’ve gotten from this–apart from the misogyny and continuous, oblivious racism–is that the authors have a military fetish and that at least one of them buys into the whole “our soldiers are brave men who protect and serve” bullshit (because from their point of view, certainly the women don’t count). By itself, that’s nothing special, but given the context of this book (i.e. the racism), I end up finding it skeevy: the putting of soldiers on pedestals, the wholesale belief in “they’re protecting democracy and freedom” which anyone with half a milligram of sense knows is a sad, blatant lie.
And needless to say, the average game tie-in novel features far more literary worth and substance than this dreck. Less offensive, too.