Gavin Atlas has a talent for combining hot sex with love stories that range from sweet ("Fair Trade") to poignant ("Daddies in Damian") to gruffly affectionate ("He Could Stop Traffic"). It would be easy to mistake this anthology for a simple collection of short erotic pieces. But even his raciest stories are seldom just about sex: his characters have complex relationships which shift as they struggle to reach their goals.
"Welcome to Fair Warning"--the only story in the anthology that could be categorized as strictly erotica--has a Twilight Zone-style twist ending whose eerieness adds depth to its scorching surface sensuality.
In terms of my favorites, "Welcome to Fair Warning" is tied for first place with the comedically-evil "Revenge as an Art Form," wherein a manipulative user finally gets what he deserves and revenge proves to be very sweet indeed.
I also loved "And Brawley Threads the Needle," the story of a young gay tennis player who must find a way to deal with his anger at being outed against his will in order to win a college championship. Like most of Atlas' stories, there's more going on than a simple erotic relationship. Brawley suffers through shame, fear, and abuse when he's outed for his sexual preferences, while Brawley's lover struggles both with a fear of being outed himself and his desire to help Brawley transcend the aftermath of his unwanted outing.
My favorite couple in the anthology are Wayne and Andy from "Fair Trade." Andy is a young man caught between his family's unethical business practices and Wayne, the gentle cacao farmer who he loves.
"Daddies in Damian" had me on the edge of my seat--it's the story of a young bottom who's being imprisoned by the owners of an erotic website, who force him to have sex while they film it. The villains are evil in a creepy way, and it's in question all the way to the end whether or not Damian will escape.
But the story that really showcases Atlas' talent as a writer is "Engine of Repression," a compelling scifi story in which a young man works out his conflicted feelings about sex and his guilt about how his being gay affected his beloved mother through high-tech dream therapy. Wow. Complex-worldbuilding, intense emotional trauma, and believable character growth crammed into a mere 20 pages.
Yes, these stories are all explicitly sexy. But they're not just good for sex--they're good stories in their own right. Atlas is a versatile writer who knows how to use his characters' suffering to illustrate the very human struggle to come to terms with one's difference in a society that fears deviance from the "norm," no matter how minor.