Sunday, January 10, 2016

Review of 'Skin Effect' by M. Christian

The nine stories in this intriguing, highly-imaginative, occasionally maddening collection have a deeply personal feel to them. These are not easy, breezy reads: these stories require that readers take a journey—and the road is not always direct or level or smooth. A bit of effort is required—and sometimes, more than a single reading. But, in the end, the reader is richly rewarded with beauty and enlightenment.  

This isn’t ‘hard’ sci-fi or conventional genre erotica, but, indeed, something quite extraordinary: less Frankenstein’s monster genre hybrid than the precocious love child of an optimistic speculative fiction (Heinlein, Bradbury, Asimov) and a mature, deeply self-aware  literary sensualism. If it must be classified, then I would suggest a brand new subgenre: call it  ‘techno-sexual.’

And what do we find in this brave, sometimes bewildering new world? Trans-humanism that does not—cannot—forget its humanity. Awesome technical capability with the aura of magic, though, in the end, it cannot assuage our deepest longings, our atavistic thirst for mystery.  Hyper-connectedness that cannot sate our hunger to touch, and feel, and remember, as in this extended excerpt from The Subsequent State:

“Now kiss your Goddess—” she said, but as she did, her voice throaty and hoarse, she did not finish, if there was anything she’d been intending to speak, because without thought, without any feeling, without anything but a need to touch her, this special woman who smelled of nothing but herself and the earth, who’d opened her life and her arms for him—for the first and only time in his life—he pulled himself up the sheets, rubbing his almost painfully erect penis along the fabric and kissed her gently, reverently, on that small, intimate, spot.

No spark, no burst, no roar, no scream, no stars tumbling down from heaven, no cracks yawning open from below, no sulfur, no pain, no suffering, no tears from Jesus, no slap from God: there was just the music of her, the throaty, deep, and glorious sound of her pleasure as it rolled and surged through her body, arching and pulling her hands away from her clitoris and nipple to grip, grab, and almost tear at the sheets.

When she calmed, when it had passed to gentle heaves and quakes, Josh pulled himself up and moved—patiently, slowly, naturally—up her full body to where he could wrap his arms around her, her breasts moving against his chest, to where he could look down into her eyes, still unfocused and distant from her release. There, in the slightly remote starlight of her eyes, he saw her seeing him: with nothing but affection, caring, welcome . . . and love.

The writing can be dense, knotty, sometimes overlong to a point where potential dramatic impact is diluted, the final ironic twists coming too little and just a bit too late to dazzle. Yet, the collection does have its share of truly amazing moments, inspired imagining, sparks of the ingenious. Prêt-à-Porter tells a marvelous tale of a futuristic garment that—virtually miraculously—adjusts to the desires and moods of its wearer. The Bell House Invitation  brilliantly takes the ideas of collective consciousness and cyber-community to their logical—and, perhaps, a tad disturbing—extremes. The Potter’s Wheel and [Title Forgotten] imagine worlds in which connectedness makes us omniscient yet utterly incapable of knowing our deepest selves.  

Enthusiastically recommended!

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