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This Book Would’ve been Better in the Whedonverse

July 28, 2010

Girl Parts
John M. Cusick
Candlewick Press
August 2010 $16.99 240 pages
YA- Age 14 and up

This was another Book Expo grab. Won’t be out for another couple of months… but I’ll be curious to see what others think. Especially Joss Whedon. Notions of women’s identity, sex, robot-vs-real… it’s full of themes that seem to haunt Whedon. Wonder what the creator of Dollhouse, Firefly’s Companions, and the BuffyBot would say about this book.

The basic premise… The book begins with parallel stories of David and Charlie. Both David, popular jock, and Charlie, shy loner, are diagnosed with disassociative disorder by their school shrink. The offered solution? Get a Companion, from Sakura Corporation. A perfectly beautiful, entirely lifelike robot girlfriend, programmed with an “Intimacy Clock” ticking down the correct amount of days spent chastely talking before you can go further.

David’s wealthy parents buy the robot for their son. Is she a sex bot? If she is, she has the morals of of a 50’s sitcom. Shaking hands is permitted in the first few days. Try anything else, and you get a jolt of electricity! Zorch!
Won’t spoil the plot… but will say… have you ever seen a novel, or a movie, where idealized, Utopian robots delivered by a megacorporation– work entirely as planned?

I wish I could illustrate Rose’s robot characterization with a clip of the BuffyBot from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The way Rose arrives, combining single-minded devotion with formality and wide-eyed innocence, reminded me of the way the BuffyBot’s diction set her apart from the real Buffy, where the artifice was intended to be funny.

Here, Rose the Robot Companion girl is intended to teach, I guess… anti-disassociation. Which reads like a moralized time-line and script for dating, running against the grain of so-called hook-up culture. I don’t disagree with that notion. I am all for preaching the message that a solid friendship is a good foundation for romance and sex.

I am just not entirely sure that the initial logic Cusick sets up works, internally. The quasi-futuristic small, wealthy suburb has both boys attending a school where they learn at their own pace, from computer modules… so they’re in school together, but plugged into classes via laptops, messaging on the Net in some kind of eerie study hall. There are school plays, and the kids party/booze/whatever in their free time. Is a perfect-chaste robo-girlfriend enough to run against that setup and teach emotional connection through return to chaster, slower morals? At times, Cusick seems to be skirting the idea that technology breeds disassociation, via the contrast between David, plugged in 24-7, and loner Charlie, whose botanist father lives in a house full of books, off the grid with its own generator. But… if that’s the dichotomy… how can you propose a girl-robot, as a solution? (Though with the emotional-advocate robot in mind, I feel I’m due a re-watching of Short Circuit.)
And, it brings me to my next Whedon element… the Companion. In his 2002 series Firefly, Whedon did an excellent job of setting up an internally consistent far-future culture, combining Asiatic elements with Wild West overtones. Companions were set up as similar to a geisha. Companions were cultured, graceful and attentive; as much about listening attentively and pouring tea as about carnal pleasure. Finding and relishing beauty in humanness, both the messy and the gorgeous, across however many worlds and planets. Inara Serra, Whedon’s companion character, would have been a better cure for disassociation than Rose the Robo-girl, however lifelike and beautiful Robot Rose could be, however unique her programming.  Besides, what do you really gain by connecting with a robot?

I think I didn’t so much review this book, as argue with it. Thanks for reading.

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