The Tree

The tree was the heart of the Garden, thick roots stretching out in all directions from the base of its ancient trunk, beneath a vast umbrella of green shot through with rays of golden sunlight.

“It’s as old as the Garden,” Adam had told her when she had first discovered it. “I think the highest branches even touch Heaven, tickling my father’s feet.”

Lilith had laughed at the image this conjured, but there was something magnificent about the tree. The way it swayed and shushed in the gentle breeze was almost hypnotic, giving the impression that it was alive and dancing with joy.

“Do not eat the fruit,” he added, and had repeated often.

“Is it poisonous?” she asked once.

“It is forbidden.”

Forbidden – but why? The fruits were a rosy red. Apples, perhaps, or pomegranates. She had never seen one fall, or any less than perfectly ripe. They hung from the branches like temptation, sweet promises of something…

Of something divine.

Of something forbidden.

Lilith plucked one from its branch and breathed in its fruity aroma. Mango, perhaps.

“What are you doing, Lilith?” Adam asked, edging towards her.

She sighed inwardly. She had thought herself alone. “Have you ever tasted it?” she asked, offering it to him.

Adam shook his head, and made no move to take it. “What you have done cannot be undone.”

Lilith laughed. “And what have I done?” Keeping her eyes fixed on Adam’s, she bit into the sweet, ripe flesh of the fruit.

A pleasure so intense it threatened to tear her soul from her body, if that were possible, sent her spinning to the ground, convulsing with every beat of her heart, and simultaneously up into the air. She looked down upon her naked, writhing self as if she were a bird in the treetops, and watched her belly swell to unnatural proportions, until a monstrous creature burst out from between her legs.

Or perhaps not so monstrous, once Adam had washed the blood from the sleeping infant, a girl child that grew and aged until she was a blonde-haired woman.

“A daughter,” Lilith said in the silence of her aerial thoughts. “As I was once a daughter, sprung from a mother I never knew.” The veil of time had been lifted, and she saw them all, an endless chain of women drawn to the tree by their dissatisfaction with Adam.

Lilith opened her eyes as he lifted her into his arms. She lacked the strength to move more than her lips. “What is this place?” she whispered. “Who are you?”

“I am Adam, who was first. This Garden was made for me, a place for me to find happiness. Where everything is perfect, except…”

She would have laughed if she could. “Except for me?”

Adam sighed sadly. “No woman is perfect for me.”

“No, Adam, we have all been perfect. Every single one of us.”

“Us?”

“I see them all, and let me tell you now: Eve will be the last woman born in Eden. Do not let her eat the fruit, or you will face eternity alone.”

He lowered her to the barren ground carefully, his feet planted firmly in the Garden. “Farewell, Lilith,” he said, and closed the golden gate.

Lilith screamed as the light that had bathed her all her life was abruptly gone. In every direction she looked, all was cold and dark.

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The Wall

Lilith watched her man climb the slope below her. Like everything else in the Garden, Adam was imbued with vigour and beauty, and a hunger for him stirred within her.

A hunger laced with frustration. She lifted her gaze to the distant wall, and the mist-shrouded lands beyond. It looked dark and cold out there – frightening, almost.

Lilith often climbed to the summit to look out over the Garden, lush and familiar, a riot of vivid colours in bright contrast to the dull hostility beyond the encircling wall. To remind her that Eden was home. Safe, and abundant with delicious fruits and a rich variety of nuts.

Eden was everything, and yet Lilith longed for something else, something more. Increasingly she was tired of fulfilling the same role every day, subject to restrictions that made little sense to her.

It suffocated her. The wall was just the most visible aspect of her confinement. To be surrounded by such vibrancy, such an effusion of life, and yet be alone save for one man… Well, he was a good man, though stubborn as a rock and sorely lacking in imagination.

“Sometimes I see people out there,” Lilith said as he joined her.

Adam snorted. “Nonsense. The mist plays tricks.” He brushed her hair back from her cheek and kissed the corner of her eye.

She didn’t need to imagine his desire for her; it was quite evident. She knew what he would do next, because it was always the same. Before he could, she moved around and straddled him, and she pushed him down onto his back as she kissed him, attempting to rekindle the passion she had once felt.

Adam played along, but as usual he tried to roll them over. Even in sex he was stubborn and unimaginative.

“No,” Lilith said, resisting him. “Let’s do it this way.” She kissed him again, but his heart wasn’t in it, and she felt him wilting between them.

With a sigh, she relented. “Why?” she demanded. “Why must you always be on top? Do you have no desire for something new?”

Adam shrugged beneath her. Apologetic, and yet not. “I like what I like. And no, I like things the way they are. The way they’ve always been.” He pushed her off him and sat up. “Why can you never be content? Everything we could wish for is provided for us here.”

Lilith scowled. “Everything you could wish for.”

It was an old argument, and they were both sick of it. Adam pulled her close and tried to kiss her, but she flinched away angrily. “Why must I always be the one to yield? Do you care so little for my desires?”

“And do you care so little for what my father has created? He made this Garden with all its riches. He made you for me, to love me and to be loved by me. We have been happy here for years beyond count! Why must you now fight against it? How can you be so ungrateful?”

Lilith struggled to her feet. “Ungrateful? Yes, I suppose I am. Beautiful though the Garden is, I am weary of sharing it with you.”

“Lilith,” Adam said, reaching for her.

She wrenched her arm away. “Don’t touch me.”

“Your place is by my side, Lilith. If you deny that, another will take your place.”

Lilith laughed. “Another? Am I replaced so easily?” She looked out over the wall at the mist and gloom. There was freedom in that unknown – its sense of possibility was seductive. “Thank you,” she said, “for making the decision so simple.”

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Love of Machinery

I’m currently reading David Levy’s Love and Sex with Robots, a book that gets mentioned frequently in recent discussions about sexbots. The book spends a lot of time examining how and why we fall in love, and though I don’t always agree with its reasoning, it’s always thought-provoking.

My post yesterday was prompted by a couple of quotes in quick succession. The first by Sherry Turkle about humans forming relationships with computers:

The interactivity of the computer may make him feel less alone, even as he spends more and more of his time programming alone.

Now that, once upon a time, was me. Sometimes it still is. But it is wrong to think of the computer as an interactive partner. For the programmer, the computer is a tool that facilitates an activity. To be aware of the computer is to be distracted from the task. A good computer is one that does not demand interactivity.

Most dedicated programmers will master input from the keyboard, so that a key pressed or a word typed will eliminate the need to move the mouse around the screen and search through menus and click through dialog boxes. (Perhaps touch screens will change this, however.)

It’s a little like driving a car. There may be people who love cars and hate driving, but those who love driving are not interested in a car that demands attention. They want a car that makes driving natural and effortless.

The programmer loves programming. The driver loves driving. The computer and the car, if truly effective, are not so much objects of love as extensions of the self.

The second quote, in much the same vein but by Norman Holland, is:

When programming, the computer addicts are working with an ideal partner who understands them fully. They feel toward their machines as toward a true friend. This friend will not withdraw if a mistake is made. This friend will try to be an ever-faithful helpmate. And this friend is male.

This sounds more like the plot to Asimov’s Bicentennial Man – the endlessly loyal and caring robot and the human who must grow up to be independent (if I recall correctly). Otherwise it’s just a projection of the researcher’s own anthropomorphic fantasy. True friendships are built up out of shared passions, not quiet subservience. The computer may be loved – affectionately – but it is not a friend.

And: Huh? My computers have never had a gender before. I suppose if the computer is an extension of the self, then it will assume the gender of its user, but this is a very convoluted argument.

What then of the sexbot? It may be loved, but it can never be a friend. Though it may pretend, it lacks passion. And it is very demanding of interactivity. It is designed to be the centre of attention, and not an extension of the self.

And while it may be a tool, the only thing the sexbot facilitates is masturbation.

*

The assumption I’m making here of course is that the sexbot is non-sentient and unfeeling. A sexbot that acts non-sentient and unfeeling is of little interest (“in-sert tab in-to slot and en-gage thrus-ters”). No, the sexbot needs to seem intelligent and display emotions, but should it convince?

What if the sexbot were so artful that it could make you believe that it was evolved beyond its deterministic logic? That it loves you, and only you, and shares your joys and passions? What if the sexbot understood the human mind so well that it could seduce you into loving it?

Is that really the goal of the sexbot? Or is its goal merely to act sufficiently human and interested that you can suspend disbelief and enjoy the fantasy of being loved? Much as escorts pretend to be interested in their clients, and the clients allow themselves to believe it for a few hours of pleasure.

What is better: an honest fantasy of love, or true love founded on deceit?

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Machinery of Love

Is it possible to love a machine? I don’t mean sexually or romantically – we’ll come back to that later.

I have for many years (over sixteen) had a love affair of sorts with Apple computers. My first was a clamshell iBook, and since then I have had three MacBook Pros and one Mac Pro. They’re aesthetically perfect, engineered to last, have a UNIX-type operating system and… they’re not Windows PCs. I’m an enthusiastic programmer, and UNIX systems are wonderfully free and flexible in comparison to Windows.

For me, the Mac has aesthetics, familiarity, and even a friendly personality. As a concept, it’s easy to love.

But what if I walk into a shop and there are, say, a hundred Macs of various types laid out waiting to be admired? Do I love all of them? Well, yes, because it’s the concept I love rather than an individual instance. The concept is special, the instances are not.

On the other hand, if I buy one and take it home, it becomes special. Special because it is mine, because I am the one who controls it and has the administrator’s password, because I customise it, choose the desktop background, fill the hard drive with my music, install all the applications I need… It has a value now beyond what its identical brothers in the shop have.

Specialness is important. We desire what is special. This is a very possessive form of love.

We treasure the special things we possess and guard them jealously. We lust for the special things we don’t possess. Especially beautiful women. Especially wealthy men. State-of-the-art automotive engineering. Ferrari and Helen of Troy. Rolls Royce and Cleopatra.

What then of sexbots? And, no, I’m still not talking about sex and romance. But make ‘her’ aesthetically beautiful, and engineered to perfection, and programmed to interact in a very user-friendly way, then as a machine it would be difficult not to admire her.

But to go further and make her your possession, obedient to you and only you, with eye colour and hair style and so on and so forth all chosen by you, her clothes bought for her by you, her likes and skills and all her preferences carefully selected by you… why, then she is special.

She is yours. How can you not love her? (At least until a new model comes out.)

It’s not about sex or romance – at least, not necessarily – but it is about admiration and affection and possessing something special.

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Romantic Love

“Why do people prioritise romantic love,” I often see aromantic people ask, “as if all other forms of love are inferior?”

As if romantic love were ever a plain choice and not a sledgehammer of narcotics and stimulants triggered by arbitrary factors – or perhaps that is new relationship energy (NRE) and not the same as that true romantic love that can develop between life-long partners.

Or perhaps that is wrong again. Is the deep and abiding love between life-long partners based purely on affection and familiarity – attachment, if you will, and friendship – and nothing actually to do with romantic love?

Romantic love is such an intangible thing. At its best, it’s drowning in someone’s eyes, endorphins flooding the bloodstream; it’s holding on to someone and wanting never to let go; it’s finding everything about someone beautiful and fascinating; it’s about being willing to do absolutely anything, no matter how embarrassing or dangerous, just to get one smile from the beloved.

At the beginning, romantic love is powerful. The euphoria can last for hours, or days, or months, but as the years go by it diminishes to a mere echo. Instead of a conflagration, it is a flame. Tended well, fed regularly with chocolates and flowers and I love yous, it becomes a hearth fire, but these coded romantic gestures are not the conflagration that is yearned for.

When even sex is coded as romantic, then sexual desire is taken as proof of romantic love – and lack of sexual desire taken as proof that love is no longer.

Romantic love is irrational. It can’t be controlled. That’s why it’s called ‘falling in love’ – because it’s a loss of control. And because it can’t be controlled, what’s to stop the beloved falling for someone else?

If falling in love is like the discovery of sunshine after darkness what could be worse than having your beloved banish you once again to darkness?

No wonder romantic love is so possessive, and so fraught with insecurity and jealousy.

It isn’t love at all.

It’s fire.

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Alyth: Author on Fire

I started this blog on WordPress.com in November 2012, moving over from Goodreads, and decided to experiment with blog-based fiction. In a series of posts, I wrote about my friend Alyth, a beautiful and passionate girl who believes herself to be a witch, and her boyfriend to be a werewolf.

The narrator is myself, a university lecturer, and Alyth is a student whose older sister is a close friend of mine, and the blog posts are my accounts of our meetings. Her story, for the most part, is told to me by Alyth herself, so that I can only guess at whether there is any truth to it – and as a scientist I am disinclined to believe in the supernatural.

As the story developed, it turned dark in places, and erotic and even explicit in others, and what started as a slightly tongue-in-cheek story about a hot alpha werewolf boyfriend evolved into a story about lesbian vampires (go figure). Once I felt the story had come to an end, I turned the bulk of it into a novelette and published it on Amazon as Alyth: Witch on Fire – which, if nothing else, has a pretty hot cover.

Cover of Francis James Franklin's short story Alyth: Witch on Fire

Libraries are dangerous places – for a witch.

Young, free and far from home, Alyth has set out this year on a voyage of self-discovery. After cheating on her werewolf boyfriend with an incubus, she is driven into the arms of her lesbian best friend Tina. When Alyth goes in search of the vampire Carmilla one day, an enigmatic librarian called Lily shows her just how dangerous stories can be.

Erotic and explicit, Alyth’s misadventures have only just begun.

(You can buy it if you like, but the complete story is free on my blog.)

I’m talking about it today because I just noticed a review left recently. A one-star review – how delightful! (I’m happy to get any reviews so this really isn’t a complaint.) Here is the entire review:

When you have some unidentified man narrating and leaving out all the personal feelings, you get very poor erotica. I became turned off almost immediately. Unfortunately it just got worse.

It’s interesting how much this short review implies about reader expectations: that a narrator should be immersed in the action, rather than displaced from it; that a story should be shown, not told; even that personal feelings are essential. I dare say every good advice on storytelling agrees, and that Alyth: Witch on Fire fails each point.

But it was fun to write, and I will forever be fond of my friend Alyth.

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I Like It Hard – A publishing anniversary!

Cover of I Like It Hard by Francis James FranklinMy novelette, I Like It Hard, was published by Less Than Three Press (who are currently having a sale to celebrate Pride month) this day last year.

After her brother Dan loses in the final of the XXX-rated Reality TV show I Like It Hard, Helen Arnold finds new purpose in life: enter the show herself—and win.

But no amount of training or advice from Dan and his lovers can fully prepare her for naked interviews, two weeks in a porn-studio villa, and weeks of nerve- wracking live sex shows—all while dealing with the capricious nature of the judges, who wield absolute power over the show and its contestants.

Being both bisexual and aromantic, Helen is used to dealing with people who don’t like or approve of her—and she’s never been the type to back down when life gets hard.

Excerpt

“Oh,” my mother said when I told her the news, her neutral response spoken through lips twisted with unconcealed distaste. “Well done.” My father mumbled agreement. Clearly, both were still distressed that I was taking part in the competition at all, and despite their words, they were disappointed I hadn’t been kicked out.

Not that they had been one hundred percent behind Dan, but their complaints then had been more about his dragging them into the media spotlight. Which they were used to by now, really, so that wasn’t so much an issue. With me, it boiled down to my being a woman. My poor Mum. She had triumphed in her acceptance of Dan being gay, and had even at times shown a reluctant pride in seeing him on television, but I baffled her. In her mind, my bisexuality was a phase, my aromanticism was just a fancy way of saying I hadn’t met the right man, and my determination to follow in my brother’s footsteps was pure perversity to spite her.

“I don’t know why you feel you need to do this,” my mum said, not for the first time. I think I must have heard it at least once every week since I had started my training in earnest. “You’re such a smart girl. You should get yourself a normal job, find a nice young man, get married.” Thus proving that she never listened to a word I said.

Dan grinned at my scowl. “Yeah, Sis. You know what, we should post a video of you on YouTube, standing in front of a blackboard and writing fancy equations. Then you turn round, look at the camera, and say, ‘I like it hard!’”

I chuckled at this. “Do you think I could make a career in naked accountancy? ‘All figures exposed — except the real ones.’ How’s that for a slogan?”

Mum glared at both of us. “This isn’t a laughing matter! No one will ever take you seriously if you do this. And no man will ever love you. They’ll see you as a slut to be used and discarded.”

Yes, my mum called me a slut. While pretending not to, but still. Sighing, I looked at Dan. “Let’s go. This girl needs to train hard if she’s ever going to be as big a slut as you.”

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