Lex Brown, My Wet Hot Drone Summer, Badlands Unlimited, 2015.
The year is 2056. Hotshot lawyer Mia Garner needs a fresh start after dumping her cheating boyfriend. So she goes on a cross-country drive with Derek, her handsome tech stepbrother, to meet Xavier Céron, a mysterious CEO who wants to acquire the game-changing nanochip Derek invented. But when Céron’s sadistic plans for the chip are revealed, what—and who—is Mia willing to do to stop him?
“A sci-fi romp with sex acts stacked on top of each other in a sort of dripping post-modern parody.”
“A searing, sci-fi thriller with sex robots, pleasure machines and swingers…”—i-D magazine
Each novella in the New Lovers series is an independent story of about 12,000 – 18,000 words in length. My Wet Hot Drone Summer is a high stakes action-adventure thriller about sibling loyalty, robot studs, and drones that takes the reader to the edge of sexual possibility, making them reconsider what turns them on.
Set in the year 2056, My Wet Hot Drone Summer by Lex Brown follows Mia Garner and her stepbrother on a road trip across the United States. Mia is a hotshot lawyer who recently dumped her cheating boyfriend. She is working on a class action suit against the mayor of Miami for his attacks on civilians. Her stepbrother Derek is a brilliant computer programmer who has developed new technology to be used in conjunction with domestic drone flights. He plans a meet with Xavier Céron, a mysterious CEO, and sign a contract that will make him and his co-designer, Wes, into millionaires. In this near future, drones have become utterly integrated into domestic society—no one notices. But technological advancements collide with an encroaching global ecological catastrophe. Mia represents ordinary people in Miami, forced from their homes by rising sea levels. It is amid this catastrophe and a total surveillance culture that Ms. Brown weaves her tale of unbridled lusts, personal greed, and tangled alliances. Mia struggles to come to terms with her infatuation to her stepbrother. She channels this taboo lust into a raunchy affair with Wes. During their night of lovemaking, Mia feels she is being watched. Not to be outdone, Wes exploits Derek's crush on Mia and seduces him as well. Brown creates a scenario where everyone sleeps with everyone, but come morning, they have to face the consequences. During her journey, Mia meets Xavier at a cocktail mixer in Los Gatos, California. She also meets Evangeline Christmas, an heiress belonging to the Christ-mart retail chain. While the target of the satire should be obvious, it also shows Brown not taking the material too seriously. Some giggles are par for the course in a narrative this raunchy and lurid. Like any good grindhouse movie, Wet Hot Drone Summer doesn't take itself too seriously. Nothing would ruin the mood more than an overly serious and dour lecture on all the problems in the world. Mia acts as the conscience of the novel, but she isn't a humorless scold. Published by Badlands Unlimited, an imprint specializing in both erotica and art books, My Wet Hot Drone Summer aspires toward a literary raunchiness. Not without precedent, Bandlands Unlimited seeks to fill the niche in the erotica market once held by the legendary Olympia Press. Olympia Press, run by Maurice Girodias, printed the infamous Traveller's Companion books. Besides churning out raunchy titles, Olympia was also home to groundbreaking achievements like putting out works by William S. Burroughs, Samuel Beckett, Jean Genet, and other luminaries of the literary canon. If My Wet Hot Drone Summer is any indication of the quality Badlands Unlimited brings to the literary erotica market, then they are off to a great start. Brown's book does not belong in the same category as Fifty Shades of Grey and its countless imitators. This is socially relevant smut with characters possessing a realism and personal vulnerability. The sex is pure spectacle, but the story's spirit veers closer to the controversial film I Spit on Your Grave. - Karl Wolff
That which arouses must be visual. Not in the context of a subject literally seeing an object — though most porn, of course, is highly visual, as are pin-ups and erotic art and everything of that sort — but we must be able to imagine some kind of fantasy, a kind of fresco or trompe l’oeil of desire, whether it is provided in a consumable form or merely exists on the backs of our eyelids. Thus, the language of erotica must be oriented toward visuals: drawing an image of who fucks whom, and where, and how high the legs are lifted, and so forth.
This visual erotics is most exemplified in the purple prose language (lips red as cherries, breasts popping out of blouses) one associates with erotic novels, which immediately situate the reader in a voyeuristic space. To be aroused, the reader must see, in some way or another. In Lex Brown’s My Wet Hot Drone Summer, from Badlands Unlimited, our protagonist Mia Garner, dance-instructor turned attorney, is described as such:
Grinding to dance hall music, and swirling her hips from side to side for hours a day, attracted the attention of the men and more than a few women passing by the gym’s window. She was an expert with her body and used to people watching her use it. That was one of the things Will had always been attracted to in Mia. That, and her radiant brown skin, cute nose, full lips, and deep-set, molasses-dark eyes.
Mia is highly aware of her image and the way people perceive her, a useful trait in the protagonist of an erotic novel. Her ability to maneuver her image is a key component of the plot, as when she seduces Wes, a sexy engineer:
She stretched her hands back and over her head as she pushed her butt into the air, making herself a temptation for the sexy stranger. [. . .] She turned her ass out for him to see, wanting him to.
To be seen is to present one’s self as an object of consumption, but to manipulate that way of seeing is pure power. That this manipulation happens to be overtly sexual is just a reminder that the visual and the erotic move hand in hand. Haven’t you ever watched someone go about some private business — innocuous, not even sordid — and felt like you, the penetrating viewer, were doing something dirty and wrong?
The premise of the novel is straightforward: Mia, an attorney, and her smokin’ hot stepbrother, Derek, are on a road trip to shadowy Cerón Solutions, headed by the enigmatic Xavier Cerón. Mia, who is working to fight police brutality in her native Miami, needs to acquire blackmail footage that she suspects Cerón holds. Derek is trying to sell the company a super-advanced chip that allows the beholder to see through walls, an entirely unprecedented development in surveillance.
For the last decade, the United States has conducted drone strikes in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, and Somalia. Though the U.S. drone strike program is intended to target and kill only identified militants, nearly 90 percent of people killed in drone strikes are civilians. There has been a large, public outcry against drone strikes since their inception during Bush’s presidency. Yet in recent years, and despite President Obama’s ramping up of drone strikes in the Middle East, drones — generally defined as unmanned aerial vehicles — have lost their negative connotation. With the development and popularity of smaller, friendlier UAVs, used for aerial photography, rapid deliveries, or other quotidian purposes, drones now have a reputation in public consciousness that belies their ongoing, fatal government use.
As one would expect, drones are present throughout the narrative of My Wet Hot Drone Summer, which takes place in a roughly augmented version of our near future. Given cute names like Birdies, Apples, and (the more sinister) AR4s, they’ve become a part of civilian life, silently recording everything. Predictably, these drones are generally under the control of mega-corporations . . . like Cerón Solutions. Money is power, and power must be omniscient. The device of an erotic novel — predictable in some ways, entirely permissive in others — and the tensions of greed, politics, and the camera combine in the book for a startlingly effective result. Using the cloak of the erotic novel, which historically has been seen as light entertainment and even farce, Brown’s discussion of body politics, privacy, and surveillance feels remarkably subversive — even as it remains in-your-face, as pornographic text tends to do.
Visibility, voyeurism, and surveillance fill the pages of Drone Summer. The characters, in fucking, conjure imaginary scenarios: in an early sex scene Mia imagines she’s being watched, and places her body in both line of sight and as viewer. Later, discussing the encounter:
“You really do like being watched, don’t you?”
“Someone’s always watching, aren’t they?”
He leaned in closer, “I can tell you’re getting turned on right now. There’s no one out here. You want to touch yourself while I watch?”
Like the porn trope of being walked in on, characters seeing characters caught in the act propels the plot forward; secrets are revealed and alliances are explained. The recorded scenes — redoubled in the literal text of the book, which has recorded everything — are reprised for political effect, as when Mia, forced to watch the video of another character getting pounded with a super high-tech pure wand, superimposes a narrated fantasy on top of the noiseless image, distracting the dastardly Cerón and stealing his security key.
This motif of an image, moderated through layers and through the web of drone technology that gives rise to such non-stop surveillance, culminates in the demonstration of Derek’s chip, the LRX. While Mia runs, jiggling, through the Cerón Solutions headquarters looking for the blackmail footage, Derek, Wes, and Cerón follow her progress on an AR4 drone, aided by the LRX chip, which can see through walls, barriers, and even clothes:
Her full breasts rose and fell with her heavy breathing. Her ass curved deliciously out as she pressed against a frosted glass door. The three men were silent, each getting harder watching Mia slamming her body against the jammed door, trying to heave it open. Her dark nipples were barely visible as a pixelated image on the screen. She turned around to try another door and Derek could make out the neatly cropped hair covering her pussy. If the camera focused in any closer, they’d be able to see her actual sex organs.
Stripped down by the drone camera, Mia becomes a purely visual object, arousing the three men who see her without touching her. It’s reminiscent, uncomfortably, of the way media makes a spectacle of the black woman’s body. But this, like many other instances of redoubling in the book, is also Mia’s moment of triumph — in using herself as a bait, she’s also able to discover the location of the blackmail footage.
Sight, and recording of sight, are the twin threads that link the wet hot erotics of Drone Summer to its explicit political message. It is the seeing of a thing that brings Mia to Cerón Solutions; it too is the seeing of a thing that allows her to take down Xavier Cerón and leave him gloriously zip-tied and ball-busted in his own headquarters, in a pulpy scene that’s a mix between auteur film and torture porn. Yet just as endless clips of police brutality or violence viewed through bodycams begins to feel useless as the evidence piles up without due change; just as Mia’s efforts for justice only succeed in her translation of sight to action, Drone Summer declares: we have seen enough. Now bear witness. -
In Lex Brown’s book My Wet Hot Drone Summer, #4 in the Badlands Unlimited New Lovers series (Hyperallergic previously reviewed #1–3), the artist/writer looks at a world not unlike our own, where sex, surveillance, and loss of privacy are intertwined in a commodified world of power dynamics ruled by a fictional corporation by the name of Céron Solutions. The premise is somewhat simple: A lawyer named Mia breaks up with her cheating boyfriend William, then decides to road-trip with her hot stepbrother Derek from the East Coast to Cerón’s headquarters somewhere in Silicon Valley, where Derek is planning to sell a nanochip that will completely change the way corporate America collects data and information about all people. On the way, they pick up Wes, a mysteriously super-hot dude with a gigantic dick. What ensues is a strangely tantalizing journey that explores sexuality and power dynamics.
This is queer erotica. Sexual attraction happens between basically any willing parties, regardless of gender. Sadly, no threesomes are present — unless you count getting off to watching surveillance footage of two people doing it as a way to distract someone. Part of what makes the sex feel supercharged is the use of the Xeron, a vaginal stimulator dildotron that enhances orgasms by 1 million percent. (Brown told me that this was actually based off of the Zeron, a technology created at MIT.) Manufactured by Cerón Solutions, which is owned by the ultimate M-A-N, Cerón, the Xeron is another method of masculine corporate control over the female body, particularly its pleasure principle. Cerón controls the Xeron when a woman is using it, both making her the object of his gaze and controlling her pleasure. And it’s not just pleasure he’s interested in being in charge of: “Cerón has a massive file of surveillance footage that he is threatening to use as blackmail against me and hundreds of other Americans,” Mia says, at a moment when it’s becoming evident that she must find a way to outsmart him.
Often, this sort of overly obvious discussion about corporate control can feel redundant or just depressing, like when we read about it online, as in the NSA halting Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which previously allowed for random information collecting via phone records. But in Brown’s book, the discussion about anti-surveillance activists defeating corporate control is strangely sexy.
There are also, of course, parallels throughout with the cultishly popular ’80s film Wet Hot American Summer, about a group of teens at summer camp in 1981. In the film, summer is over but there’s a lot more that needs to be resolved, and in the meantime camp director Beth is falling for an astrophysics professor who is trying to save the camp from a piece of NASA equipment that’s falling from space. Similarly, in My Wet Hot Drone Summer, Mia is trying to save the world from the powers of the nanochip that Derek, who is not-so-secretly in love with her, created as a way to earn some real, much-deserved money. Derek’s struggle also points to an issue that members of the creative working class always grapple with: how to make a living in a society that doesn’t value cultural capital or the arts unless they are made profitable or marketable in a mainstream way.
The book is hard to put down, in large part due to the realistic sex scenes, which are especially hot if you’re into a variety of gendered sexual expressions. The great range of sexually heightened situations leads one to further engage with a story that’s very relevant to the times we live in. Brown writes in a believable way about the corporate workplace and the large number of seemingly superfluous people who seem to not really do anything, while also making a lot of money.
To further emphasize the book’s sexualized nature, each chapter begins with a delightful little erotic drawing, like in chapter 6, which has a group of strange curved little hairy dicks in a downward spiral maze. The drawings further illuminate the erotic content of the book, which incorporates sex as a nexus of the power dynamics. Ultimately, those who want to save the world must figure out a way to sexually dominate the weaker ones, or otherwise gain power through their sexuality.
Brown’s novel is both engaging and creepily accurate, particularly in its depiction of the power dynamics employed by surveillance culture, and the ways that surveillance functions as control.
In this dick-filled, pussy-and-ass-fucking escapade, the reader is ultimately left wondering: Who’s the bottom bitch now?! -