Monday, October 08, 2007

From Richard Wheeler

Ed,

I've been puzzling for a long time about something for which I have no answer. Why are there porno-westerns, but not porno-mysteries, or porno-private eye novels, or porno-sci fi novels?

I'm not talking about the occasional erotic mystery or science fiction story. I am talking about formulaic porno-series, usually issuing once a month, that have become part of the western fiction scene since the 70s. I'm talking about Longarm and Jake Logan and a dozen imitators, which have six explicit sex scenes per novel and are intended for male readers. Most have been published by Berkley.

There are violent private eye series, such as Loren Estleman's, but I have never spotted porno-mysteries.

If other genres harbor this sort of porno-series, I am not aware of them. Why have there never been ongoing formulaic porno-mysteries, with the usual six sex scenes? I don't know the answer. To put it another way, why hasn't Berkley, the main purveyor of western porn, invaded any other genre with porno-series?

I sense that the steady output of porno-westerns (and some porno-violent westerns such as the Edge series) has been unique to the western field, and has gradually changed the readership of the genre over three decades, and I suspect it is one of several reasons genre westerns faded. Maybe someone better equipped than I to discuss the roots of popular literature will enlighten me.

Richard

Ed here: Well, I hope we get several responses to this because I have no wisdom to share. I've written so-called porno westerns and I've read a fair share of them. I see them as pretty much the same sort of pulp you found in Spicy Westerns back in the Thirties and as the linear descendents of all the soft-core Beacons and Midwoods of the Fifties and Sixties. Quick reads with some sex tossed in. It's interesting to note that the sex generally has no bearing on the plots freeing the writer to tell conventional old-fashioned pulp stories with lots of action played out against colorful settings. I've read some that would work very well with the sex scenes excised.

I'd disagree with you about them being one of the reasons the western genre failed. I pretty much hold to the contention (forget whose) that we've become so urbanized the Old West no longer holds mass appeal. The new version of 3:10 To Yuma has enough violence to satisfy Rambo fans. It's a long way from the Elmore Leonard story or the first movie. Again, I said I have no wisdom on the subject and I don't. These are just hunches and opinons.

As for why other genres don't have formulaic porn...good question. I do remember the 80s experiment with science fiction porn and it was hilarious. Is that a ray gun in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?

25 comments:

Bill Crider said...

There were a lot of porno spy series, starting with The Man from O.R.G.Y. and moving on to such stuff as The Coxeman, The Lady from L.U.S.T., and many others. In science fiction, there were the highly successful Gor books. So it's been done.

Bob Randisi said...

I agree with Bill, although I don't see the current crop of adult westers--Longarm, Logan, and my own Gunsmith--as "porn."

And it is ludicrous to ascribe the decline of the western to "adult" westerns. My theory is in line with Ed's. The further we get from the old west, the less people remember it, or want to read about it, or watch it. Maybe we should just come up with more western video games . . .

RJR

Juri said...

There have been some, western video and computer games, that is, such as Dead Red Revolver (or something to that effect). I've read (published actually) an article on that, but I'm no expert on games.

And there have been some porno mysteries series, as Bill points out, such as the Bill Lockwood books that I've heard were written by David Schow. Carter Brown was sexed up in the seventies, as was Henry Kane's Peter Chambers. I've taken a look at some of eighties' straight porn novels and many contain crime fiction elements.

dgb said...

Maybe the emphasis was put on westerns because they were seen by publishers as being books strictly for men, i.e. truck drivers, construction workers, etc. I don't suppose it would be the first time a publisher looked down on his audience and underestimated both its intelligence and taste.

Todd Mason said...

LONGARM continues to sell, the MAN FROM O.R.G.Y. apparently stopped selling, and GOR annoyed its publishers enough that its declining sales gave them an excuse. I fear that the worst possiblity that comes to mind is that in fields the publishers care about, the editors and publishers tend to shunt the cod-porn out the door, and in the fields they don't care about--note the current fad for sexualized horror adventure, in Hamilton's wake this time--it goes forth. But, then again, fairly explicit sex is "back" in the romance field, for those that care for that (among other sorts of romance fiction), and in the (re-)emerging "genre" of street lit (the children of Holloway House), and in the small but still-growing niche of no-bones-about it erotica above the counter.

Richard S. Wheeler said...

I hope someone will further address my original question. Let me rephrase it this way: Walk into a mystery bookstore, or, say, a Borders with a vast mystery collection, and you will find no "adult" series at all.

Walk into, say, a Hastings with its large western bay, and you will discover a large part of that selection consists of long-term "adult" series and titles, still issuing at a profit month after month.

Why westerns? Why not mysteries? What separates westerns and their readers from mysteries and their readers? Why does Berkley not begin an "adult" mystery series in which the private eye gets bedded every thirty pages?

I'm hoping for some insights.

Todd Mason said...

Well, Richard, perhaps not clearly enough, I believe I have addressed your original question: perhaps publishers care too much about not alienating mystery readers, by and large, in a way that they don't care that much about the presumed tinier self-conscious western (or horror) audience. But, also addressing your question, as DGB notes, it's a field that is seen as male-skewing in a way that mystery and sf aren't; romance, which is seen as skewing female, also has lines of erotic material. Perhaps it's seen as easier to market such things to such "polarized" markets.

But there are certainly emerging S&M trends in fantasy (the Kushiel series comes to mind), and that field is also seen as at least leaning female.

James Reasoner said...

Editors have told me that in more than one instance, entire Western lines (including the traditional Westerns) would have been dropped by publishers if not for the income generated by the series Westerns. So if anything I believe they've contributed to the continued survival of the genre as a whole.

The first series I ever read that had sex scenes was the Nick Carter, Killmaster series, more than a decade before the Jake Logans first appeared. It ran for more than twenty years, so there was obviously a market for it. These days some of the series Western readers have told me that they read them not for the sex scenes but simply because they're plot-driven and have plenty of action other than the sex scenes.

And boy, I would have loved to have written for the Spicy pulps. I could have filled up entire issues under half a dozen pen-names -- and so could have a few other people I know.

Richard S. Wheeler said...

Thanks to all of you, and especially Todd Mason, for supplying some insights into this.

Aleks said...

What about the Tek Jansen Alpha Squad 7?

KCProgramr said...

Spider Robinson addressed this tangentially in an essay I read long ago. His idea was that science-fiction readers tend to want, well, science fiction. Why would they want to read about something as mundane as people having sex when they could be reading something interesting and provocative, like the problems of making a manned landing on Pluto? He also mentioned the tendency of sex to take over a story, so you end up with a sex story with some science fiction window dressing. (And he was just about that dismissive of the idea.)

So while there's science fiction that has some incidental sex, there's not much science-fiction porn. There seems to be an attitude among readers that if I want science fiction, then that's what I want; if I want porn, I'll go somewhere else.

Speculating, part of it may be the amount of exposition and backstory needed. If I set a story in Nevada in 1871, the reader has a pretty good idea about the setting and background--what people will be wearing, how they get from point A to point B, etc. If I put it in a deep-space colony ship, the science fiction fans immediately start asking questions about simulated gravity, propulsion systems, social hierarchies on board...and by the time you've gone through all that, you've lost the porn audience. Though in settings where the background can be assumed to be known--Star Trek, say--there's a thriving amount of fanfic.

0, 1. Just my two bits.

Matthew said...

I second the fanfic comment. Fantasy and sci fi porn is a saturated field, just not in bookstores.

If you doubt me, google your favorite Harry Potter or Star Trek characters names along with "slash."

*poster is not responsible for the mental health consequences of above advice*

mcSey said...

Two words:

Tentacle porn.

bearperney said...

There was one. Barbarella with Jane Fonda. I own the DVD. It was so good, no more were necessary. If you haven't seen it, please give it a look.

Anonymous said...

Samuel R. Delany wrote several published sf books that have to be called pornographic, such as the 1973 novel The Tides of Lust, which I saw at the time (see Wikipedia excerpt below).
"It is at this point [1973] that Delany begins dealing with sexual themes to an extent rarely equalled in serious writing. Dhalgren and Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand include several sexually explicit passages, and several of his books such as Equinox (originally published as The Tides of Lust, a title that Delany does not endorse), The Mad Man, Hogg and Phallos can be considered pornography, a term Delany himself endorses."

Anonymous said...

Sex in science fiction was tried back in the sixties and seventies. The characters would frequently exclaim "Fuck!" and then demonstrate they knew the definition of the word -- several definitions, in fact.

But as the ancient Babylonian proverb goes, "Science fiction is the literature of ideas." Not sweaty grunts. Ideas.

At any rate, sex in sci-fi proved to be a passing fad. Maybe it's that, even with the new found prominence and respectability of the genre, science fiction writers still can't get laid, and they just don't want to talk about it any more.

Anonymous said...

I can't remember the titles, I'm afraid, but I remember finding SF porn back in the seventies. The scene involving an uh..."gifted" alien and anal sex with an unwilling female crew member remains burned into my brain to this day. I really should get therapy...

Paul Wartenberg said...

There were, and are, some porn-scifi, but they are usually books written by mainstream authors and are usually plot-driven rather than sex-driven the way the porn-westerns are.

I think the biggest reason there is no scifi porn is that science fiction (actually science fantasy) deals with aliens, alien cultures, alien physiology in which what is acceptable sexuality becomes, well, impossible to depict. How can you depict what it's like to have sex with an insectoid that wields two dragonfly dongs (and five fly vaginas)? How can you accurately depict sex in zero-g (answer: wear helmets and shoulder pads from all the head/wall/floor bumping)? Wanna know how Klingons have sex? They throw furniture. That's all you *wanna* know about Klingons having sex...

The closest we can get to scifi porn is via the adult x-rated comic books. Any written scifi porn series is going to be so difficult to pull off.

Anonymous said...

There is a porno sci-fi movie; Flesh Gordon, quite hysterically funny in its day; "A monsters work is never done" and the Penisauruses, " Yes, your ass holiness"

Anonymous said...

Might want to also consider some of the slightly above average work on ASSTR.org, which would require some digging, but you can find sci-fi porn.

Sam said...

Back in 1975, there was a paperback that made the rounds in my junior high called "Yolanda the Space Sexologist". It was one of those cheap paperbacks with the garish cover of big-breasted astronaut in the clutches of terrifying alien beast. Yolanda practiced her scientific skills on some far and exotic planet with alien males and females, to what end I never found out since I never actually read the whole thing; the "good" pages were conveniently dog-eared. However, over 30 years later, I'd have to say that was the absolute filthiest thing I've ever read in my life. If you ever find a copy, enjoy.

C. A. Bridges said...

Depending on your definition of porn, I'd suggest:

Godbody by Theodore Sturgeon
About 5 years of Philip Jose Farmer's output (Flesh, A Feast Unknown, etc)
Spider Robinson's Callahan's Lady series
Just about everything from Norman Spinrad
And there was a horribly so-overdone-it's-funny sex-drenched fantasy novel that I'll have to look up involving witches, princesses, and lots of protuding penises, not always limited to one per creature.

Ray Foster said...

When it comes to mystery or thrillers and sex - Peter Cheyney and Mickey Spillane come to mind.
I've only used one sex scene in a Western but it was part of the story - and I closed the bedroom door and left the rest to the imagination.
On the whole sex scenes bore me and distract from the action.

rpjlu60 said...

Could it not be said that the introduction of explicit sexual references are nothing more than an act of pandering to the basest senses of the reader for the purpose of monetary gain, i. e., sales of the product.
I fear that authors in this age feel that such action is necessary because it disguises the real fact that they are unable to weave a story that will grip the imagination of the target audience. This is true of all the genre, not only that of printed novels.
This entry is precipitated by my introduction the "The Trailsman" which was a major disappointment. I have read the works of Bret Harte, Zane Grey and yes, even the loquacious and repetitive Louis L'Amour because I have been traveling for the past three years and derived enjoyment from having been in the areas they write about. It helps to paint the mental picture of the yarn they spin. They are far more enjoyable than the "western porn" such as "The Trailman"
Maybe, just maybe, I can find a western writer that deals with Texas in a decent manner.

Michael said...

If you want to read a sci-fi porn trilogy, then check out the Sexual Universe!