*I received a free ARC of this book via Rachel’s Random Resources blog tour. The decision to review and my opinions are my own.*
Blurb: Welcome to a world of four genders. A dystopian science fiction novel that explores the nature of gender and sexual conflict, in a future utopia engineered by the union.
Society has been revolutionised by gender control and the technologisation of man and woman. In a future where a biochemical weapon has removed the skins of the population, the rulers hunt for the beautiful ones, those men and women who still have skins.
The union is the new government, a faceless body of politicians who were behind the order to use the weapon that backfired on them, leaving them skinless. In the glass citadel, the new utopia, where the only surviving humans with skin are placed, they recreate the world of gender by offering humans four types of robot with which to have relationships.
All the humans are placed in relationships with machines, apart from Gerald, who appears to be a spy for the union and is filming the humans, and Elliott, a robot programmer.
The union watches it all, political voyeurs in a totalitarian state of enforced sexual ecstasies.
Humanity falls into four categories…
There is a whole lot to unpick in this novel.
It is listed as ‘erotic’ and ‘sci-fi’, but I would definitely add both apocalyptic-dystopian and horror to these descriptors.
This book is definitely not for those prudish about sex and strong language as it is stuffed full of extremely explicit both! Expect a profusion of c*cks and c*nts on every page and you won’t be far wrong.
The book begins with some chapters of clipped prose that reads almost like beat poetry (I was reminded of Ginsberg’s Howl), outlining the skinning and resultant death of most of humanity, and the construction of a glass city under constant surveillance for the few remaining unaffected humans.
What follows from this initial set-up is a series of repetitive vignettes introducing the respective human characters and their individually tailored sex-machine androids, and their sex with said androids. From here on in the novel is pretty much continuous sex of every shape and style, with an abundance of bodily fluids splattered like gore in a slasher flick.
As the story progresses and the characters devolve (or evolve?), the distinctions between the genders and even between the body parts, become increasingly blurred, and here we find the main theme underlying and underpinning the whole novel: barriers. Naturally, the ultimate barrier between ourselves and the outside world is the skin we inhabit, that holds us in.
Here we find an exploration of the erosion of this final line: the missing skin; the craving of skin; sharing skin; creating skin; tasting skin. There is an obsession with ‘skin’: their nutrition is provided by edible ‘skins’ of different flavours; the machines do not have skin; the humans crave the feel of skin; the machines and the Union want skin. The word ‘skin’ (and other words such as ‘electric’ and ‘pink’) is repeated so often that it begins to lose all meaning for the reader.
Likewise the sexual encounters may begin as erotic, but they progress into a dreamlike unreality, blurring the boundaries between human and machine to the point where the imagery is more horrific than titillating (penis cigar, crotch camera, oral clitorides, penii emerging from vaginal openings and vice versa, ejaculating ceilings… this list could go on and on!).
Even our expectations of sci-fi dystopian fiction are subverted in this examination of human sexuality and desire, boundaries and barriers, as the plot intrigue unfolds but ultimately does not have the impact on character development that we would generally anticipate. Likewise the initial introduction of the plan for breeding ‘Traditional Women’ is briefly revisited with a twist mid-plot, but then, unlike the characters, never reaches its climax. Everything begins and ends in the act of sex.
With all of this I haven’t even touched on the representation of gender politics, the inherent connection between food tastes and sex, the phallic symbolism, the question of which characters are ultimately the more ‘human’. A full thesis could merely scratch the surface of the symbolism within this text.
Android Love, Human Skin is a complex read with many layers. It could be mistaken for an explicit erotic novel, but this would be to miss the depths of philosophical and psychological analysis clearly explored and laid bare through the medium of the human body and the desire for contact with human skin.
Stuart looked at her; slender, large breasted, slim hipped, lean and full mouthed. Viola: his new machine. He remembered filling in the forms and lying until halfway through, disguising his real desires and knowing they were tricking him with their set of questions. Anger flooded into his weak chest as he recollected how he felt exploited by the questionnaire and had revealed what he really enjoyed in bed. He was honest in the second half and he got Viola. She was of course what he liked, an epicene woman with malleability hard wired into her genital brain.
– Richard Godwin, Android Love, Human Skin
Android Love, Human Skin is available on Amazon right now!