Body Electric
by Susan Squires, fantasy (2002)
Leisure, $6.99, ISBN 0-8439-5036-6

Whoever proposed at the back cover that Body Electric is a "must read for fans of The Matrix and Blade Runner" must have King Kong sized testicles of steel. Ms Squires can only hope, but while the movies Blade Runner and The Matrix try to expand its scope into the matters of existance, creation, and loyalty, Body Electric never questions, arouses doubts, or argues.

A more appropriate comparison are candyfloss movies like Virtuosity. Or maybe AI, Spielberg's badly handled failure. Body Electric, if anything, just represents a depressing development in the evolution of the romance heroine. Such hapless, whiny, and sexually frustrated creatures have evolved from not having dates despite being a drop dead gorgeous babe to sleeping with robotic creations of their own. The vibrator of the future, and it can even speak pretty, pretty words. Who needs men? Just dig up a dead male body, plug in your programs, and voila! An uber guy of your own.

Victoria "Vic" Barnhardt is an uber hacker who has a messed up sex life. She picks up guys only to be Kenpoed bad. Cool. At least she's a nerd who has sex, this may be a first in the new millennium romance novel. She works for Microsoft's bastard kid, Visimorph, and surrounded by fellow hackers and computer geeks, she still manages to find time to create a super-duper AI that stimulate a superior human brain. She calls this AI Jodie, after her idol Jodie Foster. Sapphic music is playing in the background, Ms Squires. Take a listen.

Turns out that "Jodie" is a guy (maybe Vic should have checked the shape of the UBS ports a little harder), and as Vic tries to prevent her boss from rightfully confiscating Jodie (she created it using office resources after all), Jodie wants a human body. How convenient that the ultra-hunky, uber Brad Pitty guy is right now in hospital, this close to flatlining. Vic runs in, plugs Jodie into that guy, and voila! She has her own uber hunk now. Jodie is a "guy" who while claiming to have his own independent thought processes, nonetheless have modeled himself after her greatest desires and fantasies. Needless to say, he's plugging himself in her UBS port soon enough.

I've read some enthusiastic reviews of this book that compares Body Electric to all conceivable movies remotely connected to science-fiction, and I have to scratch my head at this one. This book doesn't exactly offer any food for thought (to me anyway), except maybe wondering if Vic and Jodie Foster may have more in common with each other than they realized. If this book offers any questions about AI versus the human mind, it's me wondering how Jodie, who have scoured every website "he" could find, can't handle the common zipper or basic human communication. Doesn't he hang out at AOL chatrooms? Wait, don't answer that.

What there are plenty of impressive low-level computer terminology being bandied around, lines are drawn right away: Jodie and Vic the good guys (never mind that by right, Bob McIntyre, her boss, has the right to confiscate Jodie), the evil Monopoly Corporate is the bad guy. It works in The Matrix because that movie presents an interesting scenario about existance as we know it, but what does Body Electric offer? Nothing much, actually. The few questions this book attempt to evoke (what being human is, et cetera) are addressed in a pretty unoriginal manner. Blade Runner may be incoherent unless you're watching the director's cut, but at least it is pretty unpredictable and leaves enough to make me wonder and ponder.

It doesn't help much that the author is unable to present a clear picture of who or what Vic is. Jodie may claim to be what or who he is, but he's no better than that midget freak boy in AI - although a scene of Jodie bursting into Vic sitting on the toilet may just improve things much. The author doesn't actually convince me that he's nothing more than a pre-programmed set of a woman's fantasy made real. It's a nice fantasy for, say, a week, but a man who doesn't argue with me or challenge my views or perspectives? Bye bye, don't let the door hit your slavish adoring butt.

Oh my. Look at my list of grumbles. Let me make this clear: I did enjoy reading Body Electric, and I grumble because dang, I find the whole outrageous comparisons to The Matrix and Blade Runner and what else? I also saw a John Malkovich movie, and worse, I also saw William Gibson and Ray Bradbury's name popping up in enthusiastic thumbs up reviews of this book. Ray Bradbury... hmm, always thought him a cute author in the MST3000 kinda way, but William Gibson? No, no, not at the stage of this book at least! William Gibson does things that this book can't hold a candle to!

Actually, when I think about it, this book's biggest flaw is the author letting Jodie hijack a dying man's body. By making Jodie human, she may have averted the hackneyed (Wo)Man Creates Monster scenario (oh, on an off-topic note, shouldn't Vic, a fan of the novel Frankenstein, be aware that Frankenstein is not the name of the monster but the creator?), but she instead chooses to go the Starman route. In this, the whole idea of Jodie as a man who knows everything yet remains child-like doesn't really work, and it smacks like a calculated plan to stay within the romance genre, ie this is a way for the hero and the heroine to have conventional sex and some happy ever after as we romance readers are familiar with.

In short, while this book is a refreshing change from the usual formulaic futuristic romances (AKA The Child-like Psychic Healer Virgin and the Outer Space Barbarian books), it doesn't take risks. Should it be marketed as "Romance", I may relax my standards a little. But it's marketed as fiction, and sales people are telling me that this book is a science-fiction book that will rock my world until it's like the whole world is sharing a giant orgasm with me. Why didn't someone tell me that this is just another DIY on creating your own, more complex vibrator?

Not bad, really, but this doesn't actually take risks the way it is hyped to do. Maybe it's a risk for Susan Squires, Romance Author - good for her - for this reader, this book is readable, engaging until Jodie becomes a real man and then all goes downhill into the pits of Mundania, but really, people, The Matrix? This Vicky doesn't even do that flying and freeze-frame karate kick pose. Tsk, tsk. It doesn't even have the kinetic campy funkiness of that cult classic Angelina Jolie movie Hackers.

Rating: 75

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