So, in the past few days, I’ve been seeing a lot of people asking whether or not Strain is for them, because they want to read it but they’re not certain about the content. So I thought I would try to clear up some of the questions.
I’m not really giving any spoilers here; all this information is available in shorthand form in the Warnings and Additional Details tabs of the Strain listing at Riptide Publishing. Definitely check it out.
Even so, I’m going to put this beneath a cut.
What is Strain?
Strain is a post-apocalyptic male/male erotic romance. I call it an erotic romance because a lot of the development of the relationship happens through sex (more on that later.) I guess you could call it dystopian, in that the world of this future is pretty ugly, but we’re not talking about institutionalized dystopia like The Hunger Games. There are ragged bands of survivors scattered throughout the country and they have to do some pretty ugly things to survive sometimes.
Post-apocalyptic? So it’s sci-fi?
No, not really. The world of Strain is set about 100 years in the future. Obviously that means there will have been some changes in technology, but since society has collapsed, including the power grid and public services, the technology is fairly irrelevant. The driving plot point is based on the notion that we have developed some pretty sophisticated viral engineering, but other than that, aside from occasionally seeing references to different fuel sources, you really wouldn’t be able to tell much is different from this world.
Is it dark and gritty?
In a word: yes. The entire book is based upon a “fuck or die” premise, which is inherently a situation of dubious consent because “or die” isn’t much of a choice. In fact, the “or die” option is taken off the table at one point, so this story is really dub-con bordering on non-con.
Non-con? You mean rape?
Yes, technically I would have to call it that. But it’s not that clear-cut. Let’s say you push someone out the window of a building into a river far below. Pushing someone out a window is a heinous thing, it would hurt the person you’re pushing, and you would never consider doing it, right? But what if the building was on fire, and the person in question has explicitly stated he doesn’t want to die, but can’t make he can’t make himself jump? There comes a point where the characters face that sort of scenario.
I’ve heard something about multiple partners? Is it menage?
No, not at all. The multiple partners are a necessity of the situation, and a necessity both main characters are grateful to do away with when it’s declared safe to do so.
What’s this about humiliation kink?
Yes, there is some humiliation play, though it’s not between Darius and Rhys, the protagonists. It takes place between other characters. Rhys does, however, have a kink for rough, painful, forcible sex. Rape fantasy, in other words. There is also occasional use of recreational drugs and some other potentially disturbing content. Again, read the warnings over at Riptide and heed them.
I read the excerpt over at Riptide or Goodreads. This sounds like a cheesy reason to force a character into having lots of sex.
Well, on the surface it would seem that way. Rhys has been exposed to a lethal virus. The only way to counter-act it is to expose him to another strain of the same virus that (hopefully) will help him develop antibodies to the deadly strain of the virus. The only way he can contract the life-saving strain is via sex (again, read the excerpt at Riptide if you want more context.)
Sounds a little ridiculous, doesn’t it? Just a vehicle to make the characters fuck.
But…no. It isn’t. Honestly, if you followed my Dragon Age fanwritings back in the day, you knew that my typical approach was to take an implausible sexual situation and make it work. This scenario that drives the story allowed me to get into a lot of deeper themes. What would a person do to survive? What would a person do to save someone they care about? When the world is no longer black and white, can an inexcusable act become excusable? What does a person do when the horrible messages they have received all their life have crippled them to the point where they can’t allow the very things they want? What if fluid exchange in MSM–a thing usually perceived as being potentially deadly–actually was a life-giving (or at least, life-saving) force, the way it so often is portrayed in M/F sexual situations?
So, is Strain for you? Only you can say. It’s on the borderline, and it’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea and I’m not going to try to encourage someone who knows it won’t work for them to give it a try. So pay attention to the warnings. If you’re on the borderline, look at this points and consider them carefully.