In a world of a not too distant future, Visimorph monopolizes the computer software industry by replacing all of the world's operating systems with PuppetMaster, a system that insures fat profits for owner Bob McIntire. Every time he issues an upgrade, customers must repurchase their current software or risk not being able to function in society. McIntire draws upon the greatest talents in the industry, including Vic Barhardt, a hacker he rescued from prison. Vic turns her gift for hacking into security systems impregnable against hackers like herself.
Using Visimorph resources, Vic creates program, a form of Artificial Intelligence, that she calls Jodie. Vic dreams of imbuing the program with the gifts of femininity without the cultural hassles. Vic feels uncomfortable with her own femininity, disguising her looks with asexual attire so that she might be taken seriously in the computer world. Only late at night in a dangerous world of anonymous sex does Vic indulge her feminine needs, and then only with a mask of leather and control.
Then late one night, a miracle occurs. The breath of life transforms Vic's code to a sentient being. As Jodie grows, the AI takes space on the latest Visimorph's server Neuromancer. Soon Jodie expands across other servers as well, including libraries, AT&T, even the IRS. But fragmentation brings about corruption in Jodie's programs. In addition, Jodie declares himself to be male. When McIntire comes to realize that Vic has been working on an AI, he makes plans to use the code for his own purpose.
Author Susan Squires plays marvelous word games in BODY ELECTRIC, drawing from classical literature and contemporary science fiction to create a dazzling world of possibility. The dangers suggested by Hal in 2001 A SPACE ODYESSY, echoes from Ray Bradbury or William Gibson remind readers of the dangers inherent in a highly technological society. But beyond the fight between the controllers of the world like Bob McIntire and everyman, Squires strikes at the heart of the challenges to women, from issues of femininity to the need to connect to someone. Vic, a woman of intelligence and beauty who denies her femininity, learns to treasure it when the mask is suddenly ripped away by events beyond her control. Jodie's struggle with emotion and a desire to become something "more" adds dynamic tension as well.
Rich in nuance, BODY ELECTRIC is one of those rare novels that readers may read for simple entertainment, or for much, much more as it explores questions of sentience, humanity, and self-identity. I confess to wishing BODY ELECTRIC had been on my graduate reading list rather than William Gibson, although Squires gives me a new appreciation for his novels! An electrifying novel that belongs on everyone's keeper shelf, BODY ELECTRIC earns the WordWeaving Award for Excellence.