Jennifer Pelland's 'Captive Girl' is a slightly disturbing love story between a woman so integrated with machinery that she is effectively disabled and the scientist who needs her to be that way. 'Machine' echoes that, the story motivated by a woman becoming a machine, and her wife's refusal to accept her as one. The novel's protagonist, Celia, copes with the pain of this rejection by trying to become more of a machine, in a quest to transform away all remnants of her humanity.
The core of the story is the possibility of a person's mind being copied into a humanoid machine, primarily as a physical replacement for a body with a critical illness and that has been frozen awaiting a cure. In this case, Celia's body has been frozen indefinitely but she is copied into an artificial but almost identical copy of herself, to continue her married life until her body is cured and her mind can be copied back into her flesh.
The novel introduces a wide range of characters to explore different aspects and attitudes towards this possibility. One person desires the extended life an artificial body can provide, in order to live hundreds of years and see the exciting developments of the future. Another desires it for vanity - the ultimate in cosmetic surgery. Yet another represents the orthodox justification of a continued life with loved ones.
But it's as much about the negatives as the positives. Is it really possible to copy a human consciousness into a machine? Celia's wife, Rivka, is unable to accept as real a copy of her wife. Sometimes the copying process is defective, so that machine-copies have distinctly different personalities from their originals - and can such copies be truly regarded as copies? Or as entirely new people?
Then there are the humans who fetishise machine-copies, and humans with phobias about them. And how the machine-people confront their new reality as fundamentally non-human varies considerably too. Much of this echoes the reality of people in contemporary society who differ from society's norms. The novel's main story is set against a political backdrop that is a clear allegory of the U.S.'s neverending war on abortion clinics, and also of society's fear and confusion over gender identities - and the right of others to police the boundaries.
Despite all the not-so-subtle subtext, ultimately this is a human story about love and loss, with elements of a psychological thriller. The ending is good, though it leaves open many questions - but that's no bad thing.
I read Jennifer Pellands Unwelcome Bodies last year and thought it wa the best collection of short stories I had read in a long time. Machine is even better. It isn't just great science fiction it i great fiction full-stop.
It has love and what happens when love dies. How do you live with that pain. What does it mean to be human and what do you do when you can no longer cope with being human.
Celia is a bioandroid, a woman whose mind, loves and emotions are transferred to an artificial body. This is where things start to go wrong for her. How does she manage this change.
It is unsettling, thought-provoking, intelligent and all together the best book I have read so far this year.
One of the best things about living in the digital age is the greater opportunities it gives to new and innovative writers like Jennifer Pelland to showcase their work.
As with Unwelcome Bodies, Pelland is not afraid to visit the dark places in the human (or faux-human in this case) psyche, indeed one could argue that part of her even revels in it. Yet, if you look beyond Pelland's recurring themes of self-mutilation and sexual deviancy, you find a strong emotional core that holds the whole thing together.
I sincerely hope that Pelland's talents gets the recognition they deserve and that there are even more great works from her to come.