Justine is a high-priced hooker that is wired for a perverse but unique kind of thrill. Thanks to extensive implants and modifications (such as rerouting of arteries and internal oxygen tanks), she can have her throat slit by a client who can then fulfill necrophilic fantasies on a body that can wake up again, save them from criminal charges, and collect a hefty fee. In M. Christian's story "Everything But the Smell of Lilies," her pimp asks her to stage a distraction from a crime and act as a real victim, placing her in the hands of a paramedic with a taste for actual corpses. Suddenly, the difference between even a realistic simulation and the genuine article is brought into sharp focus. M. Christian relishes these kinds of subtle distinctions and moral conflicts, and they appear again and again in The Bachelor Machine, this widely published erotica author's first science fiction anthology.
In the last century, technology brought countless changes to human sexuality from the refinement of the vibrator to the invention of Viagra. Culturally, the ongoing revolution in the rights of women and gays in and out of the bedroom and the rise of the AIDS virus makes sex seem like at once a more wonderful and dangerous experience than ever before. It is surprising then that more science fiction writers do not speculate on the implications of tomorrow's technological and social innovations, but it is clear from The Bachelor Machine that Christian is not just well-traveled in this strange country but a native of the territory.
The author is not content to merely use the trappings of the genre to set up a cheap erotic thrill. Each story is relatively short, but the sex always relies on the technology and both exist to further the plot and development of character. In Christian's hands the kinkiest acts can be the sweetest, and the most vanilla of couplings can suddenly seem twisted."Eulogy" is set in a future where death is almost unheard of, and a consensual act of oral sex becomes repugnant when we learn that both partners are aware that the recipient of the act carries a rare and truly fatal sexually-transmitted disease.
The use of technology is equally deft. M. Christian clearly loves imagining new uses for implants, cybernetic augmentation, and wearable computing. In the haunting "Winged Memory," a prostitute wears 'whoreware,' which includes a bracelet that charges cash cards and eyewear that cycles from green to red when a client's time is up. Concepts like sexual orientation are turned on their ear in stories such as "Fully Accessorized, Baby," where two women make love with fully functional prosthetic penises and a cybernetic arm made of teak. Some partners lack gender entirely, as in the entirely cybernetic soldier and his equally machine partner who appear in "Skin-Effect."
The writing is at once skillfully sensual -- with sex that never becomes repetitive or boring -- and quick, direct, and razor-sharp enough to remind one of cyberpunk's finest moments. I never felt as though I was being lectured about the setting; instead we discover it directly through the eyes of each story's protagonist. Even the quickest and raunchiest of the stories resonate with deeper themes and subtle nuances that urge continued reflection and repeat readings. "Technophile" deserves to go down in history for bearing one of science fiction's immortal opening lines: "I almost lost my virginity at fifteen, but his batteries ran low;" it also displays both Christian's tender side and his sense of humor. This story concerns a young man who begins his first sexual explorations with a lover whose genitals are incompatible with the wiring in his home.
It is hard to pick out weaknesses in such a strong debut collection. A few stories suffer slightly from their brevity and would probably have been more effective as longer works. I also felt the collection was lacking in contextual information, such as a list of when and where stories first appeared in print; some are previously published and some appear here for the first time but there is no way to tell which is which. I'd also love it if the stories included some author's notes about the inspiration or ideas behind them, and the inclusion of the fascinating dialogue between Christian and Circlet Press' Cecilia Tan (an extra provided only to reviewers) would have further enhanced the volume.
The Bachelor Machine succeeds on every level as both erotica and speculative fiction; even the weakest entries entertain, shock, arouse, or amuse. If he continues writing in this vein, the author is sure to make waves within science fiction. With talent and vision to spare, M. Christian belongs on your reading list, too.