Navigating Rough Waters: A Beginner’s Guide to the Bd/Sm Scene Front Cover

Front cover for Navigating Rough Waters: A Beginner’s Guide to the Bd/Sm Scene

by Master Dragon
Published in 2010 by Seek Books

While there are many introductory BDSM books, there are scant few good introductory BDSM books. When I first began reading Navigating Rough Waters: A Beginner’s Guide to the Bd/Sm Scene, I had high hopes this might prove to be another book to add to the short list of books worth recommending to the novice.

This book has several things going for it. First, it was essentially self-published. Not only am I a fan of self-publishing, I hoped that a self-published effort would be free of the pervasive (and in my opinion ruinous) BDSM conceit where fictional scenes are interspersed throughout instructional text.  Also, I was unfamiliar with the author, publisher, and even the book prior to purchasing this.  Lacking any expectations about an author, publisher, or book frees a book from having to live up to (or live down) preconceived notions and allows the work to speak for itself.

As I began reading I appreciated that the book does not attempt to teach the novice about play styles and techniques. Instead, the author aims to give the BDSM novice advice on what to expect and be wary of in the BDSM community. Given the abundance of resources available to someone wanting to learn about play styles, this is a refreshing approach for an introductory BDSM book.

The best thing about the book is the author’s easygoing conversational writing style.  Unfortunately this also turns out to be the book’s Achilles heel for a couple of different reasons.

In conversations, there is a back and forth and feedback from the listener (reader).  When the listener doesn’t understand something, he has the opportunity to ask for clarification or further explanation. Unfortunately, an author does not have the benefit of this feedback.  Too often the book wanders aimlessly from one topic to another without really explaining any topic clearly. As an author Master Dragon often seems to assume that a reader will follow along with his explanations of terms and experiences when they are ambiguous. This assumption frustrates understanding.  I think it would be particularly frustrating for the novice reader for whom the book is supposedly written.

The other major problem with the author’s style is that he seems far too interested in puns and asides.  Anyone familiar with my writing might find it ironic that I would be critical of someone for excessive use of asides (I really am fighting the urge to add an aside here. Oops, too late.)  Unfortunately, Master Dragon often becomes so overly focused on the cleverness of his asides that he seems to forget his original point.

Another annoyance with the book is that its style is inconsistent.  While the author states in the book’s beginning that using a capital letter to begin a word is intended to add emphasis, he often adds emphasis with bolding, italics, quotation marks, and even capitalization of entire words.

Also puzzling are some of the words he chooses to use to describe common BDSM ideas. For example, instead of calling people who like to both bottom and top, “switches,” the author refers to them as “switchers.”  He also generally refers to BDSM as “Bd/Sm.”  To his credit, he does explain what he means by the term “Bd/Sm,” but he never explains why he uses this term instead of BDSM.  Maddeningly, he switches to the more standard usage of BDSM in the chapter “History” (and switches back to “Bd/Sm” afterwards).

In addition to the switching of terms mid-book, the “History” chapter seems to derail the book completely.  The history is jumbled, and seriously detracts from the book’s flow.  Master Dragon acknowledges his limited knowledge of BDSM history at the end of this chapter and even asks those with more knowledge to contact him should he produce a second edition of this book.  The book would be better off if the chapter were omitted entirely as it adds nothing to the book but confusion and is never referenced outside itself (save for a mention of its existence in the book’s introduction).

Another perplexing chapter in this book is the “Stories” chapter.  Its purpose is hinted at in the preceding pages and the chapter’s beginning, but is not ever fully explained. Presumably, the stories are included to illustrate some of the author’s points with real world examples. As nearly as I can surmise, these stories (save for the one written as an observation from the author) appear to be responses to questions he has asked the storytellers.  Unfortunately, he fails to share with us the question he asked each of these respondents, so the stories flail about with no context or apparent purpose.

As much as I really wanted to like this book and recommend it, I can’t. This is a book in desperate need of a diligent editor. While the author comes across like a nice guy who probably does have some useful advice for someone just beginning their exploration of BDSM, he is unable to get these points across on the page as the book meanders from topic to topic and fails to meaningfully convey much of any value.