Sunday, August 8, 2010

REVIEW: Orgasmachine by Ian Watson

Orgasmachine by Ian Watson
Paperback: 192 pages
Publisher: NewCon Press (2 April 2010)
ISBN-10: 1907069151
ISBN-13: 978-1907069154
Copy: Bought online
Reviewer: Cara

Forget Stepford Wives; this goes way beyond anything seen in Stepford.

The Three Laws of Feministics:
  1. Your body is not your own; it belongs to another. Therefore you may not damage it nor, through inaction, allow it to be damaged.
  2. You must obey all orders given to you by your owner (or in cases of loss of ownership, by any man) even if such orders conflict with the First Law.
  3. You may not injure any man, nor through failure to comply with the Second Law, cause him displeasure and mental injury.
Women as chattels, as customised sex slaves; bodies freakishly modified to their owners’ dictates, personalities preset to order. Welcome to the world of the Orgasmachine.

But Jade and Mari escape their masters and dream of revenge, of revolution, of freedom.

Originally written in 1970, after Ian Watson spent three years living and teaching English in Japan, Orgasmachine was eventually published in 2010.

I must confess, I spent much of my time reading this book with my jaw hitting the floor! There were numerous exclamations of “WTF?” and at one point I considered abandoning Orgasmachine thinking it couldn’t get any more bizarre and extreme, but I continued on to the end and I am glad I did. Make no mistake, this is most definitely an adult novel as the sexual content is about as explicit as it gets. But if you are looking for titillation, this is not the book for you. Instead Ian Watson describes an overtly misogynistic society, where women are purely sex commodities, to be bought and discarded at will, used and abused in all manner of disturbing ways, and denied even the most basic of human rights.

Orgasmachine begins in an offshore island facility; here women are ‘grown’ in bottles, genetically modified to custom specifications, and, once they reach maturity, refined by plastic surgeon. Their personalities are developed according to their future owners requirements. Here we meet Jade, she of the giant cerulean eyes and the central character, who is leaving the island for the city, into the care of her owner. She makes her farewells to Hana, her closest friend, then her dormitory companions, all of whom will make the same journey across the water to the city beyond.
“Lili the hermaphrodite, Mari the girl with fur and claws, Sue and Susan the Siamese twins who live back to back like two playing cards, Una and Remi the twin lesbians almost narcissistic in their devotion to each other, and Cathy the executive girl, one of whose prosthetic breast conceals a drawer, empty now but intended for cigarettes or small cigars, while the other holds a rechargeable battery which makes her nipple glow red-hot for use as a lighter when the breast is squeezed.”
The introductory chapter gives us some idea of just how warped and bizarre this futuristic society is, yet we are lulled into a false sense of security as the girls harbour romantic notions of being wanted and cherished by their owners, having been created for these unknown men. Once in the city, we find that how these girls are treated is even more disturbing than their genetic modifications. The degree of cruelty and degradation experienced by Jade and her friends defies belief. Hana, the mute, sensitive girl with six breasts that lactate aphrodisiac milk, is taken to a ‘fuckeasy’ bar, where she is fitted with a brass collar and chain, then a brass chastity belt with a coin-operated unlocking mechanism… Mari, the tiger-girl is caged with wild animals… Jade is obliged to dress in the skin of a different girl each night. Just when you think it cannot get any worse, another depraved scenario is revealed and the horror is chilling. Orgasmachine describes the abyss of male sexual behaviour within a society that does not consider women to be of any value or worth. Women die and are replaced, they are discarded without a thought for their welfare, they are punished, mistreated, abused without consequence. This is the ultimate in misogyny and it is painful to read, knowing that in our own society today there are women who undergo similar treatment.

But there is hope. Towards the end of the book, when I was beginning to despair of the relentless cruelty, some of the women escape their sexual slavery and end up in a roller derby team. Here they find respite from the cruelty and degradation and instead have some degree of freedom and independence. It is here that the revolution begins. Mari, Carmen and Jade question the lives they have been forced to lead and rebel against the society that sanctions and legitimises the abuse of all women.

While reading Orgasmachine I thought about how women are treated in our own world; from the total oppression of the Taliban regime, the trafficking of East European women into UK brothels, the highly sexualised imagery prevalent in our media. Yes, Ian Watson’s vision of a future society was extreme to say the least, but is our own culture any better? We live in a society where girls aspire to be glamour models (with Jordan as their role model), where the newspapers are full of reports of rape and domestic violence, where women are stoned to death for alleged adultery. Sex is glamourised in the media, yet women are vilified for being single mothers. Double standards are everywhere – where is the outcry over the men who don’t take responsibility for their children, or the reluctance of men to frequent brothels where East European or Asian women are forced into prostitution? Orgasmachine is a very disturbing book that left me with a lot to think about in terms of the world I live in, and for that I think it was worth reading, bizarre and extreme as it was.

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