Alex Carrigan Reviews ‘Cyber Smut: A collection of short stories and poetry’ edited by Julianne Ingles

Cyber Smut: A Collection of Short Stories and Poetry
Published by Guts
Price $11.

In the second anthology from UK publisher Guts Publishing, ‘Cyber Smut: a collection of short stories and poetry’, brings together a series of speculative and realism-based literature that addresses, as editor Julianne Ingles writes in the collection’s introduction, ‘the struggle with the “unreal” world online and the desire to connect with the “real” physical world.’ The works in this collection seek to show how technology and the internet has affected us, ranging from probable scenarios, such as in Ingles’ ‘Dante’s Dream’ where a UK artist watches a gallery show in Chicago from her computer, to the more fantastic, such as ‘Self Service,’ Ross Baxter’s story about the unexpected romance between a grocery store stock boy and a newly sentient self-service checkout kiosk.

Despite the snicker-inducing title of the collection, ‘Cyber Smut’ isn’t interested in being purely erotic or smutty work. Many of the pieces in the collection address the ‘smut’ that comes from having a constant stream of information and media in our daily lives and how it changes the way we view our bodies and the bodies of those around us. In fact, many of the pieces in the collection read like the sort of tales that would have come about in the mid-20th Century when ‘The Twilight Zone’ and ‘The Outer Limits’ began to show some of our early fears and concerns about industrial and technological revolutions. While some, like Calum Walker’s ‘Purpose’ take a more Douglas Adams’ approach to sci-fi apocalyptic literature, others take a more tragic and darker approach.

This is best exemplified in pieces like Lydia Luke’s narrative poem ‘copper & lead’ and Rab Ferguson’s ‘The Call.’ In the former, a relationship is tracked in stages and moments as one person begins to slowly lose his flesh and humanity following his participation in a medical experiment, with the added subtext of the exploitation of the lower class and immigrant class in industrial settings. “The Call” plays on romantic tropes of lonely people reaching out to one another but shows how the separation and desire to act upon those desires can cost both persons the chance to truly meet and bond. These pieces are heartbreaking and play into the ideas of how much our humanity is lost or remains as we develop as a species.

Of course, while the fiction pieces are great at speculating, it’s the nonfiction pieces that provide a raw look at how technology and the internet have already affected its authors. Tamara MacLeod and Ellie Stewart both examine how the internet has altered romantic, sexual, and transactional relationships, with MacLeod’s ‘Cyberwhores_Sex_Robots_and_Aliens’ examining how sex workers have to adjust and potentially lose business with the rise of sex robots, while Stewart’s ‘Send Nudes’ looks at various anecdotes of her dating history, and how the use of technology aided or hindered the development.

These themes in the collection reach their apex in Aidan Martin’s ‘Groomed,’ an excerpt from his forthcoming memoir from Guts Publishing, ‘Euphoric Recall’. In it, Martin recounts the first time he, as a queer teenager, met an adult he met online for a hookup. The piece is deeply uncomfortable to read, but highlights how, even in the early days of the internet, it was easy for power dynamics to be manipulated and for vulnerable people to be unknowingly abused due to the obfuscation of information. It’s one of the final pieces in the collection and is a shocking reminder that there’s still plenty about technology that can be used to cause great harm to those who aren’t aware of its pitfalls.

While ‘Cyber Smut’ is a great collection with its fiction and nonfiction entries, at times, the poetry pieces in the collection fall a bit short. There are a few good poems throughout the collection, such as Drew Pisarra’s ‘Actinium,’ Q.M.’s ‘I Should Have Loved My Babe,’ and Lydia Hounat’s ‘Today is a good day to be alive.’ However, many of the poetry pieces don’t fit in with the collection as much as others as they don’t go as far with the premise as they could. The best poems are like the three mentioned previously, since these pieces play with the themes or romance and sex, communication, and distance.

‘Cyber Smut’ is an intelligent and imaginative collection of speculative literature that seeks to examine the various channels of communication we assign meaning to. The pieces that stand out are those that make the reader question how we communicate and how we could communicate with others. It asks the reader to think about how the lack of direct contact alters how we read each image and text, and asks the reader to consider whether they can cross the threshold to form deeper bonds, or whether they’ll go for the surface level smut and be left with that feeling of emptiness and exhaustion that comes from staring at a screen for too long.

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