Wordwooze Publishing, 2016
If you’re not one of the unfathomably wealthy elite, avoid the streets of San Francisco. They’re crawling with drug-addled, desperate people hustling to survive until their next Subsistence Allotment Check, people who’ll do anything to avoid being conscripted to serve in the endless Central American wars. People who will literally sell their bodies—an eye or a limb—for a temporary influx of cash. If you don’t have a steady job—and who does, in this era of chronic unemployment?—every day is a day on the edge.
This is the dreadful, hope-shattering world of M.Christian’s lesbian science fiction tale Bionic Lover—a world that’s chillingly vivid and unquestionably believable. Against this background, he gives us the story of the relationship between two women—shy, struggling artist Pell and streetwise, secretive Arc.
Pell first encounters Arc at a low-rent gallery where an acquaintance is showing his work. She’s fascinated by Arc’s magnificently crafted artificial eye:
Tourmaline, onyx, silver and gold, it was a masterpiece watch set in a crystal sphere, the iris a mandala of glowing gold. Her blinks were a camera shutter’s, as imagined by the archetypal Victorian engineer but built with surgical perfection not found anywhere in Pell’s knowledge. The woman’s left eye was jeweled and precise; clicking softly as the she looked around the gallery, as if the engineers who’d removed her original wet, gray-lensed eyeball had orchestrated a kind of music to go with their marvelous creation: a background tempo of perfect watch movements to accompanywhatever she saw through their marvelous and finely crafted sight.Click, click, click.An eye like that should have been in a museum, not mounted in a socket of simple human skin and bone, Pell had thought. It should have been in some other gallery, some better gallery, allowed only to look out at, to see other magnificent creations of skilled hands. Jare’s splashes of reds and blues, his shallow paintings were an insult to the real artistry of the woman’s eye.
Then she notices Arc’s real eye, surveying her, notes the other woman’s penetrating, intelligent gaze and her lean, powerful body. Soft, vague, suburb-raised Pell falls into a dream of lust—a dream that Arc fulfills with raw precision and just a hint of cruelty.
In the morning after their coupling, Arc is gone. But before long she reappears, seeking sanctuary in Pell’s apartment and in her arms. Each time the woman of the street shows up at Pell’s door and finds her way into the artist’s bed, she has traded another piece of herself for some new miracle of prosthetic technology.
Though Bionic Lover was originally published over fifteen years ago (as Speaking Parts, a more appropriate title in my opinion) , the tale is still fresh, its dystopian visions closer than ever to the current state of society. It is, quite simply, a gorgeous story—rich, dark and arousing, full of startling images and nuanced emotion. M.Christian is at his lyrical best here, using his breathless, flowing prose to bring his heroines to life.
The book is subtitled “An Erotic Lesbian Romance”, but don’t expect a facile happy ending. The bonds tying Pell and Arc to one another go beyond love—and certainly beyond lust. Pell is simultaneously fascinated and repelled by her lover’s increasingly artificial body. And Arc—well, we never truly understand who she is or what she wants, any more than Pell does. This enigmatic tale will leave you feeling unsettled yet uplifted—as do most serious works of art.
(I received a free copy of this book in return for an honest review.)