Celia's body is not her own, but even her conscious mind can barely tell the difference. Living on the cutting edge of bio-mechanical science was supposed to allow her to lead a normal life in a near-perfect copy of her physical self while awaiting a cure for a rare and deadly genetic disorder. But a bio-android isn't a real person. Not according to the protesters outside Celia's house, her coworkers, or even her wife. Not according to her own evolving view of herself. As she begins to strip away the human affectations and inhibitions programmed into her new body, the chasm between the warm pains of flesh-and-blood life and the chilly comfort of the machine begins to deepen. Love, passion, reality, and memory war within Celia's body until she must decide whether to betray old friends or new ones in the choice between human and machine.
Jennifer Pelland lives just outside Boston, sharing her home with an Andy and three cats. She’s been a published short fiction author since 2002, with stories appearing in such venues as Strange Horizons, Abyss and Apex, Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, Tales of the Unanticipated, and Apex Digest.
Good science fiction makes you think. Pulp science fiction entertains you. Great science fiction, on the other hand, makes you think while entertaining you. Such is the case with Machine by Jennifer Pelland.
The concept at the heart of the story is an interesting one, and even though it's been done before, it's never been done quite like this. In the not-too-distant future, science has managed to create entirely human-looking android bodies into which human thoughts and emotions can be copied. It's a technology that was designed for the benefit of terminally ill patients with incurable diseases, allowing them a chance to live while they wait for a cure, although it's starting to become something of a cosmetic procedure as well, despite the overwhelming political and religious objections.
The novel follows the story of Celia, a young woman with a rare genetic disease that's a low priority on the medical research front. She wakes up from the copy-over process, acting, feeling, and thinking exactly as she did in her old body. For her, there is no change, and no awareness of being different from what she was before. Unfortunately, her wife doesn't see it the same way, and Celia awakes to find herself divorced . . . alone . . . shunned by the woman she loves, who refused to cheat on the woman she loves with a soul-less copy.
D.B. Story's Fembot Chronicles, which I've reviewed her many times of the past few years, are some of my favourite stories to deal with the concept of mechanical beings and self-awareness. There, the focus on the story was on robots acquiring sentience, and fighting for rights they never had. Here, with Machine, the focus is instead on humans becoming something less-than-human in the transition, and fighting for the right to distinguish themselves from what they have lost.
On the one hand, it's a rather dark and disturbing reality with which we're presented, with Celia and her new found friends illegally modifying themselves to look less than human since society's rejection has made them feel less than human. It begins with Celia slicing open her finger to see the ceramic 'bone' beneath, and quickly progresses from there. Polished chrome skin, featureless mannequin-like bodies, and glowing eyes are the physical aspect, with the ability to suppress emotions, voluntarily go into lockdown, and play with the sensitivity of their pain/pleasure receptors is another. Like I said, it's almost heartbreaking to see the lengths to which they feel forced to modify themselves, even as we share in the exhilaration of freedoms and feelings otherwise impossible for the rest of humanity. The voluntary fetishization of their condition is oddly confusing, coming across as erotic and exciting when they fetishize one another, but disgusting and inexcusable when they play to human kinks.
As part of her exploration of what it means to be human, Jennifer does an amazing job of dealing with questions of sexuality and gender. Celia, as I mentioned previously, is a lesbian, although it's entirely inconsequential in the future presented. Other than one instance where another character reminds her that her marriage would once have been as controversial as her new body, her sexuality is a complete non-issue. Similarly, we get to explore some interesting ideas of gender through Celia's augmented friends, including one who can alter his gender at will to be male, female, or a combination of the two, and another who is entirely featureless and androgynous since, as it points out, robots do not have a gender.
If I were to voice one complaint, it would be over the ambiguity of the ending, but I realised that was intentional. Celia's fate is what we make of it, and that brings us right back to the concept of making you think while entertaining you. I realise I haven't done the story justice, but hopefully I've highlighted enough of the elements handled so masterfully by Celia that you'll want to give it a read.
I’ve been thinking about this for a while, and I’m still not quite sure what to say. Machine is a powerful exploration of body dysphoria, set in a world where your consciousness can be downloaded into a medical android body replacement, while your human body is cryo-frozen to prevent the progression of disease. It reflects on body dysphoria in general, of course, and it’s pretty inconclusive about the answer — should you modify, should you learn to live with it, how will people around you react…
There are parts of this which are frankly disturbing — the erotica parts didn’t interest me, obviously, but I actually found them actively discomforting even to skim past. That’s 100% intentional, and that’s obvious, so that’s not meant as a criticism. It’s just something you might want to bear in mind if you find the book interesting.
I found it difficult to believe in the central couple, whose separation sparks the whole plot. Rivka doesn’t seem like a great person, if she couldn’t even tell her wife that she wasn’t happy with the medical replacement body before she went through the whole procedure. Character-wise, no one really shines — even the main character’s closest friend and people who are sympathetic to her do stupid things which out her to the world (which is fairly anti-robot), things which I wouldn’t tolerate in a friend even in the less fraught environment nowadays for queer people.
It was interesting and powerful, but not something I was willingly emotionally involved in, or emotionally involved in for the reasons I’d usually enjoy. The ending… it was what I wanted, in a sense, but it felt like a cop-out as well. Consequences-be-gone.
Celia Krajewski is unsure of how long she has to live. None of us do, really, but for Celia the matter is a bit more pressing, as she's recently discovered she carries a gene for a rare mutation that will eventually destroy her mind. She has an out, though; she can place her body in statis, transferring her mind and personhood to a bioandroid body so that she can continue living until a cure is found.
Death always demands payment, though, and Celia's attempt to cheat it comes with the cost of her marriage; her wife refuses to see Celia as the 'real' Celia, claiming that to be with her robotic body would amount to infidelity. This starts Celia questioning exactly how human her new self is. Eventually, she starts to hurt herself, to remind herself of her humanity. To her surprise, she finds that she starts to like the pain. And that she's not the only bioandroid who feels that way.
While the science fictional elements of Machine are absolutely essential parts of it, they are not the central focus of it; instead, Pelland wisely chooses to focus her story on Celia's attempts to retain a feeling of humanity as she starts to lose many of the relationships with others that define who we are; our romantic relationships, friendships, hobbies and career choices are so often a part of our self-definition that to be stripped of them can remove that feeling of humanity from any of us, if only momentarily; to be stripped in that way while inside a biomechanical body that only reinforces those feelings of nonhumanism.
Beyond the character study of Celia, Machine also has some interesting things to say about the interplay of individual rights and collective good. Given the subject matter of the book, it would be very easy to think of Machine as a book that would argue that individual rights are always paramount, and the first-person narration that Celia provides definitely seems to support that. “Body autonomy”, as it is phrased in the book, is understandably important for all the mechanical characters, and it is the realization that she lacks that that drives Celia to make some of the choises that she does in the course of the story. However, as first-person narrators are inherently unreliable, it's important to look beyond Celia's opinion and see what's actually happening. The reality that we can observe when we look beyond Celia is that all of the crises that Celia faces throughout the book stem from others using their own bodily autonomy – their 'free will', to use a somewhat loaded term – without regard to how those choices will impact others. The regularity with which that occurs doesn't seem to be coincidental, but rather seems to be a statement from the author on the need to balance one's own self-discovery and actualization with the knowledge of how that will affect others around them.
The human characters in Celia's story are fascinating and self-contradictory. Most of those that recognize that there is still humanity in her, or at least claim to, refuse ultimately to treat her as human, instead objectifying her and using her as a tool for their own ends. Within the moral framework of the story, this objectification is somewhat defensible – it could be argued, after all, that they're operating with the same desire for individualistic autonomy that Celia desires – but it is still ultimately counterproductive and serves only to increase Celia's feelings of separation and otherness from her new body.
Machine was, at times, a hard book to read. The emotional power of Pelland's writing left me breathless at a few points, and the depths that Celia is willing to go to prove her remaining humanity to herself will no doubt be shocking to some readers. The tragedy that sits at its core makes it a very rewarding read; Jennifer Pelland manages to put a very human and humanistic face on a subgenre that at times tries to flee from those descriptors.
(note: Apex Publications provided a copy of Machine for review).
The premise: ganked from BN.com: Celia's body is not her own, but even her conscious mind can barely tell the difference. Living on the cutting edge of biomechanical science was supposed to allow her to lead a normal life in a near-perfect copy of her physical self while awaiting a cure for a rare and deadly genetic disorder.
But a bioandroid isn't a real person. Not according to the protesters outside Celia's house, her coworkers, or even her wife. Not according to her own evolving view of herself. As she begins to strip away the human affectations and inhibitions programmed into her new body, the chasm between the warm pains of flesh-and-blood life and the chilly comfort of the machine begins to deepen. Love, passion, reality, and memory war within Celia's body until she must decide whether to betray old friends or new ones in the choice between human and machine.
"I'm not sure anyone else could take material like posthuman politics, kinky sex and body modification, and explicit metaphors for the abortion debate and euthanasia, and turn it all into a heartrending love story, but Jennifer Pelland nails the dismount every time." --NK Jemisin, Hugo-nominated author of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms
My Rating: Worth Reading, with Reservations
The book is chockfull of interesting, fascinating ideas and questions, and for that alone I'd recommend it. I'd also recommend it because Pelland is an up-and-coming talent, and while I'd admit to preferring her short fiction over this, I still can't wait to get my hands on whatever she publishes in the future, because her fiction is so idea-centric in a way that makes the reader really question the things they took for granted. She wants to make you uncomfortable and she wants you to think about why, and that's an awesome thing to have in science fiction. However, the reservation is because what makes the reader uncomfortable may be a trigger for some people, and while nothing was a trigger for me personally, I wasn't so invested in Celia's motivation that I was able to fully empathize with her actions. However, the book is a solid and fast read. Pelland's doing a lot with this book, some of which is successful, and some of which is almost there. For a reader who wants to check out her work, I would recommend starting with her short story collection Unwelcome Bodies, because you get a variety of stories that really showcases what Pelland is capable of. But despite my liking this a bit less than her short fiction, Pelland is a talent to watch, and I look forward to seeing what else she's got up her sleeve.
Also, on the plus side for this book, the heroine is a character of color (mixed race, if I recall) as well as a lesbian. So if you're wanting to read more speculative fiction that features one or both of those things, then you should definitely get your hands on this.
Spoilers, yay or nay?: Yay. This book has a lot of meat to its bones in terms of issues and execution of said issues, so if you want to remain spoiler-free, do not read the full review. The full review is at my blog, which is linked below, and as always, comments and discussion are most welcome.
_Machine_ is an engaging exploration of somataphobia, mostly that of main character Celia's hatred of her temporary "body" which she endeavors to variously "control," "punish," and annihilate when she learns that her wife rejects it. (Another, more generalized version of somataphobia, in which certain characters desire to permanently replace their bodies with immortal machinery that they consider "perfect" in comparison with the weakness and imperfection of their somatic bodies, is simply noted often, without exploration.) My problem with _Machine_, though, is that it couples a fantastic, logically impossible premise with an sfnal story. Fantasy can sometimes be meshed with sf, but not when the narrative style is that of non-playful straightforward psychological realism.
The novel's foundational assumption is that Cartesian dualism-- the belief that "mind" exists apart from the "body"-- is literally true, when in fact the last half century of neuroscience has shown that consciousness ("mind") is in an artifact of the neurological processes of the brain and central nervous system (i.e., the body), and not an entity that can be neatly downloaded into a machine and then continue to function as a discrete entity quite apart from the processes that have been producing it. As I read _Machine_, I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. (Granted, I was a bit puzzled at the beginning when Celia woke from the transfer process and experienced no difficulty standing, walking, using her hands, etc., without training or practice of any kind.) We are told repeatedly that Celia's machine body is "simulating" the emotions and physical responses of a somatic body, but the more this was repeated to me, the harder it became for me to quash my need to question just what kind of "brain" a machine might have that it could reproduce consciousness and hormonal flows so seamlessly that Celia never ever perceived a difference between her somatic body and her "machine" body. Of course, our brains are creating bridges all the time in order to maintain a sense of seamless continuity and sensory construction of the world. But would a machine brain be able to do that, too? The narrative, in its constant invocation of Cartesian dualism, never once hints that anything quite that complex is involved in its "android" bodies and never admits that the mind is inseparable from the body that produces it. This is consistent with Celia's view, of course, in her desire to punish and control the body her wife has rejected. But given how often experts are allowed to speak their expertise in this novel, the absence of a more sophisticated view (one that acknowledges the obsolescence of Celia's belief in mind/body dualism) is glaring.
Whether you call it science fiction, or speculative fiction, or sociological fiction, or any other term, the genre field is about technological advances, but more importantly, what those changes in technology mean to us as humans. The best examples show us how people's lives are altered with this new leap in the sciences-- what about us changes, and what remains essentially the same. The humanity of the story is what truly matters.
In Machine, the humanity of the story is all, as it should be. Jennifer Pelland gives us a heart-rending tale of a life altered by a technological advance. When science can put our consciousness into a mechanical body, who would want to go back to their fleshly frame? When there are, in effect, two of you, which is the "real" one? Does that term have significance anymore? How would your loved ones react to your mind in a different shell?
These questions and more pop up in this masterful book. So many different viewpoints are shown as to what people would think about the technique, and what happens to those who undergo it. There are religious and ethical protesters, opportunists, fetishists, and others who are portrayed against the personal struggle of one woman to keep her identity and life together.
When, for medical reasons, the protagonist Celia Isoke Krajewski undergoes the procedure to put her fleshly body in stasis while she "lives" in a mechanical copy, she awakens to find that in the eyes of some, she is now a monster. Those now opposed to her include her nearest and dearest loved ones. She soon becomes an outcast, separated from all she has known. She finds unlikely allies in her struggle to understand who she now is and what that means.
The book realistically shows that although society changes in regard to some personal choices, people in the book continue to hold bigoted opinions about what others are doing with their bodies and selves. The characters are tolerant about their own choices, but demand that others submit to a different standard.
So we have a grand example of a book that examines what it is to be human when the boundaries of humanity are stretched and morphed into alternatives. Is it an evolution or an abomination? Machine will make you think and give you a new understanding about identity, gender, and beliefs.
When you have finished with Machine and want to read more by this talented author, get her book of stories, Unwelcome Bodies, with further explorations of identity and change.
If the author had set aside her ideology and just focused on story, this would be a five star book, but unfortunately, despite being hard to put down, the story suffers under the weight of the preachy tone. Questions could have been asked and left up to readers to decide how they come down on the issue. But that doesn't happen here enough. And that's too bad, because there's a rollicking good Science Fiction tale underneath, one I found it hard to tear my eyes away from. But just when I was getting wrapped up again, the sledgehammer slung through with another ideological sermon and ruined the moment. I dislike ideological blathering in the guise of fiction, whether the ideology matches my own or not. In spite of that, the book is a fascinating tale set in a fascinating, well built world with a well drawn lead and some nicely handled, though thinly drawn supporting characters. The plot and pacing are almost spot on, except for the above mentioned preaching issue. The book just carries you along, infusing you with a desire to find out what happens next. The tale of a woman diagnosed with a rare, bad version of Alzheimers who takes advantage of future tech to have her "brain and memories" transferred into a biorobotic body until a cure can be found, while he fleshly body lies in stasis, Machine asks some truly fascinating questions about science. How far should it go and at what cost? Just because we have the technology, does that make it right to use it? Are there other questions we should ask? It's compelling and emotional and fascinating. Too bad the ideological lectures got in the way. None of those political things is essential to the story which already has so many deep questions to ask and does just by its plot and circumstances. The politics distract focus and would not be missed if they weren't there. Still, Pelland shows great talent as a writer and storyteller and I have no problem understanding why it found a willing publisher. There were probably several.
It has been a week since I finished it and cannot get it out of my mind. This is such a fantastic book.
I've always been a huge sci-fi fan. Not so much the "Hark, an alien" type but more the "what if XYZ happens a hundred years from now." Realistic sci-fi for the lack of a better term (or is that an oxymoron?)
The book centers around the idea that the human thoughts and memories of a terminally ill patient can be transferred into a bio-android body. The body of the patient is then put into stasis pending the discovery of a cure. The bio-android body is an exact copy of the human and people cannot tell the difference between a human and a bio-android.
The protagonist is Celia, a woman who was recently put in a bio-android body. Instead of going home and living her life as before (probably the biggest selling point used by the bio-android industry) she finds everything turned upside down.
She struggles with the duality of her existance to such an extend that she decides to embrace the mechanical side of herself. The pain of everday existance becomes to much and she decides on a course of action which will purge her of the emotional pain assailing her.
We have all probably been at a stage where we wished we could turn our emotions off and from that perspective I had immense empathy with Celia and what she decides to do with her body.
The book is dark and different. The story grabs hold of you and refuses to let go. It is as if Celia, despite her actions to the contrary, wants to scream to the world that she is still human.
The sci-fi is not so much sci-fi but more "What if". The technology is a mere prop to the intensely human story that the author tells. The author does not fall into the trap of trying to describe the technology and the science in detail. It is mentioned in passing and the author concentrates her efforts in telling a riveting story of a broken hearted woman.
...Machine focuses completely on impact on the individual. Pelland doesn't spend time on exploring the implications of developments in the novel to wider society beyond what is necessary for the development of her character, which some readers may find a weakness. Personally, I think Machine is a very good character study. Celia is a troubled individual and her story does not make for happy reading. It's at times disturbing, at time heartbreaking and always keeps the reader on their toes. The novel offers an aweful lot of questions for the reader to mull over. So many in fact that a couple of days since I finished it, I still haven't been able to pick my next read. Not many books manage to do that. It is probably not a book for everyone but as far as I'm concerned it is recommended reading.
WOW At this point I think I need to breathe and blink a coupe hundred times to stop the tears. What an amazing story. Cilia has a problem, well a few problems. one her body is in stasis because of a genetic disorder. two, her bioandroid body isn't good enough for her wife and three, she doesn't feel human anymore. This book is an intense ride through the rough and gritty reality of not fitting into your body. Now the book is all about bioandroids but the premise is one that runs through many peoples lives-what to do when your outsides and insides don't match. For Celia the answer is clear. change the outsides. But life intercepts her chances to be more machine and leaves her to make the hardest decision yet. to erase her machine mind so that her body in stasis never remembers what she did while a machine. We've all wondered "who am I" but never have we had the chance to try to match the viewable us with the us we feel we are like Celia does. Could you do it?
This is a very gritty, very creepy, extremely insightful book.
Is the self in the mind, in the soul, in the body, or in all of the above? Is a constructed body that is virtually identical to the original a place where the human psyche can feel at home?
Celia is inhabiting an android body that is virtually indistinguishable from the one in medical stasis, but while this seems like a perfect solution to the problem of deadly or debilitating diseases, as Celia discovers there are parts of society and the human psyche that cannot handle the difference.
This book handles the topics of dysmorphia and the tendency of us to think of our minds and bodies as separate entities so deftly that even though we are not living in the world Celia does, her turmoil feels very real.
An outstanding work that is very thought provoking, but not for the faint at heart.
Just got it on the basis of the ebook sample. Seems nicely creepy and depressing à la Octavia Butler. The author was just on sfsignal's podcast, but the interview mostly covered belly dancing.
Lesbian woman gets a new body, wife leaves, she starts taking herself apart.
28% - (kindle book has no page numbers) Io9 is going to rave about this.
56% - Oboy. (She doesn't shy away from the sex.)
90% - Ok, let's finish it. I think I can do 600 'units' an hour and there's 800 left.
All done. Very different from my usual reads. May be too 'squicky' or depressing for some people. Reader beware. I was just a little ansy 75% of the way through, but was fairly satisfied by the ending.
I'm conflicted about this book. It was entertaining, and I finished it, but it wasn't satisfying.
It attempts to explore an interesting issue, and does a good job with parts of it, but overall it feels like a thin excuse to write about robot sex. Some of the wording and "tech" talk feels childish, and some of the flat behavior of the characters enforces this.
I wanted to like this book more than I did, but it's just not quite there. There's a way to meld your sex scenes and behavior together with the plot so it doesn't feel like its the main purpose, but the author hasn't figured out how.
I am not sure how I can finish a book and be certain it’s not really my kind of book in some ways, yet be so blown away and impacted by it that at the same time it totally is–and I want to tell everyone to read it. But Machine by Jennifer Pelland proved that it’s possible.
Before I get too deep into this, I want to mention that strong content warnings would be appropriate for this book. Apex Book Company has not begun putting these onto their books yet (they are on all new stories in the magazine), so I especially want to mention explicit and graphic self-harm. I know that this can be very triggering for some people, especially in these difficult times. But this content is one of the elements that I connected strongly with. I suspect more content warnings are needed, but I am not sure how to phrase them. This is the one that was most in my realm of experience to be aware of.
Now, back to what made his book hit me so hard…
The writing is strong and compelling. I was pulled quickly into the complicated situation the MC is dealing and connected with her emotionally.
I’ve dealt with depression, health issues, a sense that my body is no longer familiar and is failing me. That sense of no longer knowing who I am and worrying about what makes me me. And also the need to reset and build new social relations because the current ones don’t fit anymore. All of these elements come through very well and I felt both echoes of my own past and the experiences of the MC because of the power of the writing.
The MC herself is an interesting character and the plot is driven by who she is and the choices she makes. Both world and character are realistic and consistent.
This is the kind of book that I keep thinking about long after I have read it and that my brain turns to with admiration and envy.
I also want to mention that despite all these dark topics, the book overall is enthusiastically and even joyously queer. While I am straight/cis, I really appreciated those elements.
All in all, this is a 5 star read. Highly recommended.
Woman gets a cybernetic body after being told that her organic one has to be put into stasis until the doctors find a cure for her deadly disease. All her memories and emotions are transferred.
Her wife promptly divorces her, she gets alienated at work and she immediately starts spiraling down into self-harm and depression. She finds a community of sad prostitution robots and starts to try and shut down her human emotions to feel less like a complete failure, but ends up in a spineless pile of self-loathing.
I really don't understand what the author aimed for here. There were a couple of sex scenes and the main character seemed weirdly into robots, but most of the sexual encounters were degrading and self-harming in a decidedly unsexy way.
This reads as one long rant about why we shouldn't transfer our memories into cybernetic bodies, as if that's a real thing that we have to worry about.
If I was into robots I certainly am not any longer.
I picked up Machine by Jennifer Pelland at the Broad Universe table in the Arisia 2014 dealer’s room. They obviously had a lot of books by female authors on display (which was very nice to see), so in order to choose what to buy I asked them for a book that a) had a female protagonist, and b) had no romance/romantic plot arc.
At a table with dozens of sci-fi and fantasy books by female authors… this was one of two that they pointed out to me which seemed to actually fit the bill. (They pointed out a few others as good but then said “oh, but the protagonist is male” or “oh, but there is some romance.”) The other book recommended was a friendship/ghost story that seemed to divide protagonist screen time between an adult woman and a young boy, which looked good but also wasn’t quite what I was looking for, and I’m not the biggest fan of ghost fiction anyway. Even Machine came with the qualifier that there were some sex scenes and the protagonist had a wife, but it was all lesbian and/or genderfluid and/or agender sex so at least there was LGBTQIAP+ representation and I wanted to buy something from them, so I took what I could get.
(But seriously, ladies! And male authors too! A few female protagonists in genre fiction without romance or sex, is that so much to ask?)
That said, Machine was pretty good. The premise was interesting, it felt like a realistic look at what life could be like 100 years down the line, and the writing was really solid. Also, I love seeing racial and sexual diversity in stories, especially diversity done well, which this definitely was, so that made me a very happy reader.
However, the book did have some shortcomings. It was a little on the politically preachy side, but the ending was completely at odds with the political statement the narrative was determined to shove down my throat. (Not to say that I disagreed with the statement; on the contrary, I agreed with the large majority of the views presented, but I’m not a big fan of novels being used as soapboxes.)
I also found Celia, the protagonist, to be… not as likable as I would have preferred. I could empathize with her, and she was relatable to a certain extent, but the narrative seemed to go back and forth on whether her agency and character development as a bioandroid was a good thing or not, and that didn’t have the greatest effect on how her actions and personality came across. The book also seemed to spend the entirety of the story trying to prove that mechanicals (bioandroids who wanted to take full advantage of being machines by altering themselves to be more machine-like) were not the disturbed and disgusting individuals society at large viewed them as, and the politics seemed to be supporting that too – but then the ending completely undermined the entire message and invalidated Celia’s entire character arc, and that was just incredibly perplexing to me. Why go to all that effort to make a statement if you’re just going to dismiss it at the end? It also brought up a lot of great aspects of its setting and then just sort of… left them hanging. I would have liked to see some kind of narrative conclusion or follow-up on at least a couple of those points.
Machine also had an antagonist problem in that all the people who Celia had to struggle against were incredibly flat almost to the point of being caricatures; I couldn’t take them seriously at all, and it was twice as bad because, whatever other flaws Celia and her fellow mechanicals and allies had, they felt like real people. It was kind of jarring to have amazing character writing on one side, and to have really boring and nonsensical character writing on the other. Celia’s boss especially kept doing unintelligent things without any motive presented behind them.
Celia’s wife had some similar problems; though her motives were given some attention and were relatively understandable, it made no sense to me whatsoever that she wouldn’t discuss her issues with Celia before they went forward with the bioandroid stuff. It completely invalidated the narrative’s attempt to show that they were once a loving couple because, like… if they were such a great couple, and were about to spend a ton of money on this operation, you’d think they’d be able to communicate with each other before passing the point of no return. I really dislike the “conflict due to communication failure” trope because how is the reader supposed to believe that two people love and trust each other if they don’t communicate with one another? It’s contrived, overdone, and more often than not, makes the character refusing to communicate look grossly unintelligent.
But like I said, the character writing on Celia and the other protagonists was great. With such a large cast and so little time to get each person’s character across, Pelland was able to write them really effectively. Yeah, Celia had her issues, but those were narrative consistency blips, not character writing ones. As little screen time as some of them got, they were all really well-rounded and sympathetic, and I was rooting for them all the way. (The character Gyne relied a bit too heavily on gay stereotypes for my preferences, but he had enough redeeming moments that I was able to mostly ignore it.)
All in all, I enjoyed reading Machine. Sure, the narrative had its rocky moments, but it was a good story in a good premise with some great protagonists backed by solid writing, and I had a good time plowing through it. I’d definitely recommend giving it a shot to anyone who likes sci-fi and cyborg stuff.
A thought-provoking read that goes down surprisingly well considering the main character's dark trajectory throughout the book. The premise of the bioandroids feels very current even more than a decade later, what with parallels with reproductive rights, gender-affirming care, and bodily autonomy. I found the characters a little hard to sympathize with, which may have been on purpose, but regardless, Celia's journey was compelling and took me in unexpected directions.
If you’re looking for a deeply probing investigation of transhumanist social and technological issues, then Machine is not for you.
On the other hand, this is a well-written, character-driven story. Jennifer Pelland has done a good job integrating recognizable trends into her future setting, while paralleling those advances with an American society still in the grips of Christian fundamentalism, particularly with regard to “the soul” and “life choices”.
A brief(ish) outline, (I don't think there are spoilers but tell me if you disagree):
After discovering that she has inherited a unique form of early onset Alzheimer’s, the lovely but tragically vulnerable, Celia Krejewski, sets out to save her life by putting her body into stasis until a cure can be found. The year is 2092 and any possible cure is still many years away. Faced with the imminent degradation of her brain, Celia opts for a “biomechanically engineered” solution, what amounts to a “courtesy body”: an outwardly perfect copy of herself that will be the vehicle for her consciousness until her organic body can be cured.
That’s the plan. However, when Celia awakes in her artificial body, the first thing she discovers is that she has been cruelly abandoned by her beloved wife, Rivka, who will not “cheat … by living with her machine copy”. Inevitably, and very quickly, Celia begins to fall apart.
Her first independent act is one of self-mutilation, in which she attempts to transpose her grief, which can only be a programmed response, into something physical. Glimpsing the machine is a way of proving this fact to herself, but the act of cutting the skin away on her finger triggers a safety program that “locks her down”. It is in this state of helpless bondage that Celia gains an insight into her true condition. After being admonished for her “accident”, she is then released back into her unsupported, human environment.
But Celia is now set upon a determined path to recapture the painlessness of lock-down, to strip away the programmed layers that hide the truth of what lies beneath her flawless and easily repaired skin. She is both a naive young woman throwing herself into a murky underworld of fetishist fantasy, and an AI striving for self-awareness by deconstructing a carefully contrived human-personality matrix. That this self-discovery is erotically charged only manages to convey the fact that self-determination can be a very slippery slope.
Celia’s journey ends as we knew it would, and it is the largely unsympathetic, secondary, character who gets to drive change (off stage), without her having taken, or even comprehended, Celia’s journey. This, I found disappointing. Otherwise, I enjoyed Machine, as the story of a displaced consciousness seeking to align its Cartesian duality.
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.
Excellent. I read this book about two months ago, and have been digesting it before reviewing it.
This story has stayed with me. Often, I will read (and enjoy) a book, but a month or two later it will have "faded"--vital parts of the story have just dropped out of my memory. I will REMEMBER liking it, but find that I cannot hold onto the details.
Machine is sticky.
Pelland's writing style is very straightforward, and she creates visceral images that have staying power. These are a few of the reasons this is a highly recommended read.
Another is that the story reminded me of something Octavia Butler might have written. I have never made this comparison before, and I do not do so lightly. Butler is my favorite author, because I loved her completely un-self-conscious delving into the body, sexuality, and the psyche. Pelland's book also has these qualities, which means that it is not a "pretty" read.
Celia, The main character has a rare disease that will ravage her body. But in this near-future world, exact replicas of a person's body can be made, and the personality (memories, etc.) downloaded to it. The copy can continue to "live" while the original remains in stasis, waiting for a cure.
Celia decides to use a mechanical body, but this decision is fraught with difficulty. Upon waking, Celia finds that her wife has left her--her wife is unable to continue a life without the "real" Celia. While dealing with her crumbling marriage, Celia feels increasingly disconnected from her mechanical body. She struggles with wanting to do things to her mechanical body that she would not due to her organic body. These and similar struggles force the reader to consider questions such as: What is the nature of 'self', and where does it reside? What does it mean to be a person? Also, anyone who has struggled with body dysmorphic disorder will find some of Celia's struggles uncomfortably familiar.
Important and current social issues provide an interesting backdrop--gay marriage, religious beliefs, the ability of the state to intervene in personal decisions.
This novel is not without imperfections. Had I been able to, I would have given it 4.5 stars instead of 5. The ending is unsatisfying and problematic, and feels abrupt, as though the author herself had to write it quickly.
If you want an excellent but sometimes uncomfortable read from a new voice (I promise, you'll be hearing more from her) I urge you to pick up this novel.
I entered the world of Machine with trepidation. I have enjoyed every short story I've ever read by Ms. Pelland, though "enjoy" is a subjective term when it come to one's reaction to a Jennifer Pelland tale. I only hoped it would be as good as the least of her shorter works. This book was better than them all! It was longer, the plot was multi-level, there was more development of the characters, it was an engaging tale of a woman trying to decide who and what she really is. But still, through it all, there was the sense of "things are not quite right, but I cannot say why they are so very wrong" and the appearance of the unbidden shudder that marks a reader as having enjoyed a Jennifer Pelland work.
The story is a fairly old one in the SciFi world- if you had an illness that there was no cure for, yet, would you be willing to put your body nice for a while, letting your mind carry on in a robotic body until your body is healed? What if you hate it? What if you like it so much you don't want to go back to the flesh body? And on & on. Ms. Pelland handles it superbly, showing the reader the conflict from a myriad of angles. The main character, Celia, has been placed in an exact copy of her physical body until a cure of her disease can be found. Unfortunately, Celia's wife hates Celia the bio-android, and wants her to go away, saying she will wait by the side of her love until the cure is found and they can be together once again. But, Celia cannot just turn everything off and, actually, doesn't really want to. In the course of trying to decide how she feels about herself, and her life, Celia meets a whole circus of characters that serve to make her look both more and less human at every turn. And then, and then, just when you think Celia's got it all under control, Ms. Pelland pulls all the rugs out from under everybody. And once again, I am left cursing the author far into the dark night as I shift through all the possible ways it could have turned out and wonder why I didn't even think once about the way it *did* end. Thanks, Jennifer, you have done it again.
I do have to add a note that increasingly as the story progressed I was reminded of Brian Evenson's _Last Days_. Both books deal, in their own way, with the eternal question "How far would you go, what would you be willing to do, to achieve complete perfect happiness?". Or, as my evil twin would put it, "Body Mods to get closer to the Gods? Cool idea, but kinda kinky".
This was strange enough to tempt me, despite the garish cover art. I should have judged "Machine" by its cover because while it presents some interesting questions, I was disappointed with ALL the answers. It's particularly annoying because the tone implies that the main character, Celia, is a liberal, open minded person. SHE certainly believes others are conservative. She is nothing but a sack of neurosis and guilt, so dependent on the wife that abandons her while she's being transfer to a bioandroid body as a five year old on her mother and so incapable of forming or maintaining other relationships that she should have in therapy BEFORE anything was done to her. It's unsurprising that she does not cope well to being abandoned and given a machine body since she was already a hot mess as a human, even if she could function as long as Rivka was around to hold her hand.
I watched her downward spiral in hope that she would find something fulfilling in life (or, really at some point, SOMEONE would have been a relief, considering it might have helped with the self-destructive urges/behaviour). Let's put it simply: I hoped in vain.
The other characters were no better. Rivka was, quite simply, a bitch, dropping the person she had committed FOR LIFE like she was nothing. Sure, she compartmentalizes and decides that android!Celia isn't real Celia, but she's nonetheless a sentient being with Celia's memories and someone she promised flesh!Celia she would support. I would have understood moving out and limiting contact, even easing her out of her life, but dropping someone who's gone through a medical procedure to be able to stay with YOU? Her continuing insistence that it was the right thing to do just sealed the deal for me.
The androids all seemed depressed, except the ones who had asked for the procedure and were media whores. I suppose the ones who were happy and living fulfilling lives just never needed some kind of support android group? It makes no sense. I'd sign up tomorrow to become an android but I would certainly want to TALK to people about what it's like (and not because I would be eager to join their prostitution ring!)
The technology described is certainly interesting, but not having read in the genre, I don't dare judge how creative it is. Story wise, didn't work at all for me and I probably would have dropped it if I hadn't been cooking a major dinner when I put the audiobook on.
After reading her collection of short stories, ‘Unwelcome Bodies’, I just knew I had to get my hands on everything Jennifer Pelland has written, and ‘Machine’ did not disappoint. It was spectacular. Celia is a human who opts to have a copy of her mind and memories placed into a bioandroid while her body remains in stasis until a cure for her disease can be found. At the beginning of the novel, Celia awakens from her procedure in her new bioandroid body with some unexpected news, her wife Rivka has left her, unable to live with what she considers a copy of her wife. Reeling from this news Celia attempts to get used to her new life without Rivka but ultimately struggles to do so as she feels alienated by her job and the world around her. Celia hurts herself physically to test the limits of her new body and tries to avoid scrutiny of her therapist. Eventually in an attempt to meet new people, Celia finds herself in a virturoom where she meets a man who calls himself ‘The Mechanic.’ Her meeting with the Mechanic eventually leads Celia to a new group of bioandroids many of which have made adjustments to their new bodies to be more mechanical. Many of these new bioandroids are prostitutes and Celia finds friendship with them that she begins to prefer over the friendship of ‘fleshies’ like Trini.
This book is so good in that it really made me think about what it means to be human. The more time Celia spent in her bioandroid body, the more mechanical she wanted to become. She no longer defined herself as human and truly struggled with the idea of whether or not she ever wanted to go back into her physical body. There are so many political and moral stances taken on bioandroids in this book that it is hard not to sit back and wonder exactly what you would have done in Celia’s place. I couldn’t help but think of ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?’ by Phillip K. Dick (as well as the movie based on it, Bladerunner) because it had posed similar questions about humanity to me. Overall, ‘Machine’ is a phenomenal story. I will say just as a note that there is a lot of sexual material in this book, but it is important to the story. Like ‘Unwelcome Bodies’ this book is disturbing, but it is disturbing in a very good way. I absolutely loved it, and I definitely find it to be one of the best books about bioandroid/human relationships that I have come across. I loved Jennifer Pelland’s work, and fans of her short story collection will absolutely love this as well.
I really really hated the end of this book. More passionately than I hated the epilogue of the Harry Potter books, and that's saying something. But then it occurred to me that the reason I was so angry about it was because I was so invested in Cecilia's personality and story.
I was curious along with her about her new body, and angry about her wife's abandonment, and I could see why she was disenchanted with trying to pretend to be human when she had an option.
Cecilia gets an android replacement body while her bio body is on ice awaiting treatment for a neurological disease. Sadly, when she wakes up, her wife has freaked out and left. Cecilia is left alone, or to the tender mercies of a psychiatrist, to work out who she is all over again, the way many people do after a failed marriage. Cecilia's case is just a bit more complicated.
Cecilia finds a group of other bioandroids who are transhumanist, in a way. They all fit along a continuum of modification. Some are a little tweaked, and some no longer appear human. Each of them is searching for the body that reflects their new understanding of their other-humanity.
I was mesmerized by the inventive writing and thought about what a person could or would turn off. One of the first things Cecilia selects is a tweak called "stoneface". If she had that turned on, she did not have to express her emotions involuntarily. I can only dream of being able to control my involuntary crying in some situations. I would feel so much more powerful and confident if I could get rid of that. She still felt everything behind her stoneface, until she selected other tweaks to give her detachment. She could turn her pain on and off, her voluntary motion. Cecilia had power over her body that I think many of us dream of. It was amazing.
This book is very tightly focused on Cecilia's experiences. It's not about culture or society or the bigger issues, it's very much about this one person's experience. I applaud the narrow focus that allows Pelland to explore so much.
Read if: You are interested in exploring the slightly gnostic themes of body independence. You are fine reading about dirty robot sex.
Skip if: You want a wider picture. You are not going to be ok with dirty robot sex.
Also read: Fool's War, by Sarah Zettel, for a view of bodies and consciousness back the other way.
This is a highly recommended psychological ride with plenty of intelligent commentary on the world. It is an intense character study of a protagonist who must struggle through the raging political battleground of the body after choosing to put her mind inside an android body until a cure is found for her original body's rare disease, rather than waiting it out in stasis inside.
The author pays careful attention to all the threads of the narrative from start to end, and provides emotional weight, consequence, and both a gripping realism and uncomfortable horror. All the promises set up are fulfilled by the end, in one way or another.
While keeping smart attention to the progress of the character and her narrative, the sci-element is used to speak to a lot of serious issues. The story doesn't shy away from the heavy shit that is involved with people and politics trying to control what they're uncomfortable with, as we get suicide, self-mutilation, degradation, loss of self, depression, both sides of the coin trying to use victims for their own purposes and beliefs, etc.
One aspect I thought especially well-done was the protagonist's confusion about her own identity during the time she spends in her android body. The situations she found herself in, and the choices she had to manage, were terrifying, but built up to at a careful pace that leant the story power.
One of the elements I found most disturbing, and realistic, was how much pressure the protagonist got from political bullies (realistically, from both the religious and the not-religious) that her choices meant she did not have a right to exist, that she didn't have a soul or was somehow ruining "normal" life for them.
Pelland keeps the narrative very personal and conflicting for the character throughout, which makes it especially heart-rending as the character struggles to handle stark betrayals and misunderstandings from her wife, her boss, her colleagues, from all sorts. It spoke volumes to the necessity of providing community and understanding to those in transitional and/or troubled periods in their life. It also spoke to how much people think they should be able to control others.
I can hardly wait to read Pelland's short story anthology.
Sometime in the future, anyone suffering from an incurable illness can be frozen until a cure is found. To enable them to carry on living in the meantime, a clone is created which looks, acts and feels just like the person it is emulating. Machine is a study of what happens when Celia undergoes this procedure and how she copes with the resulting issues.
I found the basic plot of Machine very interesting and it was a new idea to me, so credit to Pelland for imagining something that could technically become reality one day. There were other interesting ideas in the book, the networking glasses and the tweaks the clones had done to name two. I found Pelland's writing style to be clear and easy to read. The cast of characters was varied and included some clever ones as well as a few duds.
Unfortunately, the biggest dud was Celia, who we spend the entire novel with. The best word to describe her is pathetic, although one of Google's definitions for the word is "arousing pity" and she certainly didn't do that. However, the second definition is "miserably inadequate" and that hits the mark perfectly. Celia whines constantly and considering she has a job that requires intelligence, she is dumb beyond belief at times. Having such a soppy protagonist made Machine hard going for me.
Not content with making the main character so annoying, Pelland manages to trump her with Celia's best friend (Triny I think) although thankfully she doesn't feature much. How anyone could be friends with her is a mystery, as she is as irritating as Celia is pathetic and twice as dumb. I almost wrote to Pelland asking her to rewrite Machine with myself as a character so I could track Triny down and punch her.
For a story about freezing humans, creating clones, lost love, androids creatively modifying themselves, protests against the clones and wacky robot sex, I found Machine dragged in places when it should have been exciting. Perhaps it was because Celia depressed me so much. To sum it all up, Machine is well written with some great ideas but just too annoying to be enjoyable.
I first met Jennifer Pelland two years ago. Her collection of short stories, Unwelcome Bodies, had recently come out and her brilliant and depressing stories were just what I needed to read at that time. So when I saw her first novel was coming out, I knew I had to get it.
Machine is a breathtaking achievement. One sits in awe at the imagination and psychological detail that has gone into the creation of the world of this story. It's nearly a century in the future and those with currently incurable medical conditions can have their consciousness transferred to "bioandroids." To the person involved it feels perfectly naturally (almost) but to everyone else it's a matter of some controversy. Celia, the main character of the story, awakes to find that her wife has left her.
Protesters claim that that such constructs are an abomination since the soul cannot be transferred to a machine. Others find the possibility of machine existence positively exciting. Celia falls in with a group of rogue "mechanicals" (please don't call them "bot brains") who have started "tweaking" their artificial constructs to make them increasingly different from their human originals.
Pelland fully explores the ramifications of such a technological change, from just how far a mechanical is willing to tweak him or herself from the human form. Some have left humanity behind. Others earn money as "love dolls," knowing they can turn off their capacity to be affected by the depravities of their well-paying clients. And some see themselves as the next stage of humanity.
This is a rich, imaginative book that was hard to put down (and is definitely not for kids). It deserves a wide readership and Pelland deserves a place on your "must read" list.
Jennifer Pelland's first novel follows Celia, a woman recently diagnosed with a virulent early-onset form of Alzheimer's Disease. In a procedure evidently established, yet still highly controversial, Celia has her consciousness transferred into a bioandroid - an exact copy of her human body, so that she can continue to live and create memories while her biological body is put in stasis to await a cure.
What happens from there is the meat of this book. Celia's wife divorces her, unable to fathom cheating on her "real" spouse in stasis, the pain of this rejection, the tensions with co-workers (the good sometimes as hard to deal with as the bad), and the reality that life as a machine is not the same as being biological drives Celia to establish herself more and more as a mechanical, and to differentiate herself from humankind.
Celia's pain, dilemmas and ultimate solutions are well drawn and her decisions, even her weirder ones, very understandable in context. The ending, while apparently unpopular with a lot of readers who otherwise liked the book, felt very appropriate and logical to me, and emotionally satisfying as well.
In full disclosure, I knew Jennifer in college, and we were friendly, though not close friends. I've been following her writing career with interest. If you think Machine sounds interesting, but aren't ready to jump in to a full-length novel, she has a previous book of short-stories, which gives a good taste of her style and interests.
The good: I was really hooked by an excerpt I saw from the opening of this. I loved the concept of it, the whole idea of if you put your mind and memories into another body, is it still you? There were lovely touches of technology and a good use of psychology. It questions the whole idea of identity, of soul and self, of sexual identity, and how much influence our body has on our mental state. A stark reflection of current society where so many people attempt to conform to the advertised 'ideal', often resorting to extreme surgery or damaging cosmetic procedures to achieve it.
The bad: About halfway through the story, I felt it began to drag a bit. It didn't seem to be going anywhere particularly fast, and I wasn't really feeling the emotional impact that Celia was going through as I felt I should have. Her confusion came across well but the tension was just lacking for me.
In sum: This was more of a thought-provoking story than an adventure. It was different and well-written but slightly missed the mark for me. The romance played a very small part overall (I know it isn't listed as a romance, but there is a romantic element in it with Celia grieving over her wife's divorce), and the erotica elements were probably too few for fans of the genre. While I'd read another title by this author, I'm not sure I'd recommend it to my sfr loving friends.