Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Review Tuesday: The Bachelor Machine

The Bachelor Machine
By M. Christian

[Note: This review was originally written in 2009. I'm reposting it because there's a new edition of this wonderful book. ~ Lisabet]

Sex is all in the mind. This is what a medtech tells the young soldier whose lower half has been blasted away in "Skin-Effect", one of the nineteen stories in M.Christian's new collection of erotic science fiction, The Bachelor Machine. In the worlds of these tales, where bodies are augmented, re-engineered or just plain replaced, and mental experience includes fully immersive virtual realities and globally-networked vicarious orgies, the definition of "mind" and "body" becomes as slippery as arousal itself.

True to his reputation, M. Christian delivers an abundance of sweet, steamy, well-lubricated sex in these stories, plenty of succulent pussies, achingly hard cocks and explosive orgasms. In nearly every case, though, the true stimulus is not physical but rather an idea, a fantasy or a situation. In "State", for instance, a wonderfully ironic reversal of cyberpunk conventions, the protagonist, Fields, is turned on by the challenge of impersonating a sex robot: a blue-skinned, manga-eyed, perfectly proportioned Mitsui Class B Automaton. When a client asks for the house "specialty", for Field's it is not just a trick. It's a performance; it's Art. Christian skillfully leads the reader to wonder whether Fields would enjoy sex as a human nearly as much.

In the stunning "Everything but the Smell of Lilies", the author dares to speculate on the arousing aspects of necrophiliac fantasy – from the perspective of the corpse. The narrator of "Technophile" gets off imagining penetration by his lover's magnificently engineering artificial penis -- which in reality is non-functional due to low batteries. "Hackwork" is an original treatment of a BDSM threesome where the dom exercises his will over the submissive via telepresence, using the body and senses of a confused but vicariously aroused human "taxi" as an intermediary. In "Bluebelle", a futuristic cop melds with his smart, death-dealing aerial assault ship, imagining her as a big-bosomed blonde bombshell who rewards hims sexually for successful arrests. And the slyly playful "Butterflies$" offersa vivid account of virtual ravishment by a horde of Tinkerbelle's nasty cousins, from which the narrator awakens with joints aching, clit deliciously sore, and bank account empty.

The stories in The Bachelor Machine are emotionally ambiguous, like the future itself. Relatively few offer an unqualified happy ending. The two stories "Winged Memory" and "Eulogy" struck me as particularly poignant. In the former, a young drifter sells his memories, one by one, in order to spend time with the whore he loves. "Eulogy" chronicles the physical and emotional complexities of a romantic triangle after one of its members has died. M. Christian's self consciously ironic voice rings especially clearly in this story:

"Julie was never a big girl. She had this ... well, narrow presence. Lithe, like a sudden whisper in the middle of a conversation. There, I couldn't have been that upset. 'Sudden whisper in the middle of a conversation', that was more like the real Jeff Hook. Worldnet journalist, unsuccessful on-line novelist, and dweller in a scummy part of town."

Christian has a fondness for extended descriptions that spill out onto the page, phrase after phrase, studded with technojargon: microfilaments and nanotech receptors, biolights and polyplastics. This technique works better in some cases than in others. "The Bachelor Machine", the final tale in the collection, is one of his notable successes. His images of a worn-out, discarded sex robot, smelling of "mildew and fried circuits", her movements hesitant and out-of-synch due to misfiring motors and flakey circuits, rings heartbreakingly true, evoking both horror and pity. Pity, for a machine!

Then every now and then, the author will come out with a brief image that is almost a poem:

"It is drizzling, like static." (Everything but the Smell of Lilies)

My one complaint about The Bachelor Machine is that too many of the stories are set in the basically the same dystopic cyperpunk future: a world of ravaged cityscapes and rusting factories, poisoned air and capsule apartments, where everyone is desperate and everything is for sale, where advanced technology (usually from Japan, often illicit) can augment or erase your humanity. This is by now familiar territory, explored by William Gibson, Pat Cadigan and many others. A possible future, yes, but surely not the only future.

Perhaps this is M.Christian's personal vision. In The Bachelor Machine, though, it is a bit overwhelming. For that reason, I found the story "Sight", which focuses on the aesthetics of an alien species, very refreshing. "Sight" provides a different and more positive futurescape. (I also enjoyed its lustily romantic resolution.)

M. Christian is audacious. He is not afraid to speculate (what would it be like for two cyborgs to fuck?) or to push boundaries (is it child pornography if the subject is a mature woman with a synthetic body, engineered to look like a prepubescent girl?). His stories suggest that the sex drive is universal, independent of gender, race, species, or even the existence of a body. Where there is intelligence, there is the potential for arousal. Or, to quote the (patently female) cyborg in "Skin-Effect":

"Remember now... It's not the socket -- it's the software."

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