I finished a famous science fiction novel a few months back. I didn’t read the novel per se, I checked out the audio book version of it from our local library and downloaded all nine, glorious hours of it onto my iPod. I listened to it every chance I got, and it became fuel: pulling me, driving me, through some of the more mundane tasks that define the duller side of mothering: laundry separating; toy de-cluttering; dishwasher emptying. It was wonderful! All this mommy productivity, while listening to a masterpiece. Listening and remaining a student of the craft of writing (without the mommy-guilt feeling of neglecting my family). Had I sat down, indulged, and actually READ the novel, my chores would very well have have piled up (and up and up...): old, food-crusted dishes (picture the picnic scenes from old Tom and Jerry cartoons) would’ve been toted off on the backs of marching ants, and the dirty laundry pile would’ve teetered, reached critical mass, and spontaneously combusted on one of those unbearable (gasp), unseasonably hot California afternoons last December.
So I listened to this novel; listened to it daily. Listened while doing what I call “mom chores,” and listened while jogging. When I drift back, I can easily remember one day in particular, when I was listening to it while on a jog along Surfer’s Point in Ventura. The words in my ears painting a cold, dirty-metal, futuristic atmosphere all around my head, filling my bouncing mind with big ideas while my eyes followed surfers in the sea. I remember being so drawn into the story that day that my jogging came to a stop on the Ventura Pier. I leaned my forearms on the weathered, wooden beams, looked across the ocean glistening below me, and just let my mind be fully taken. Taken over the water, over the surfers peppering the waves, over the fairgrounds, inland, over the freeway, and up over the grey dusty mountains. I actually felt the sensation of the story sweeping me away. Wow, I thought, when the chapter ended - to be that talented as an author. To be able to write stories with such fullness, such impetus, such waves of imaginative force.
So, what was the book!? What magic carpet story floated my brain on a nine hour audio vacation? This novel is not well known by its title, but the 1982 movie based upon it is regarded as one of the best science fiction films ever made. The book is Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick, and... the movie is the brooding, blue, smoky, pulsing "Blade Runner."
I’m sure most of you have seen, or at least heard of, the movie. I first saw the movie in college (on lazerdisc!), but that was college, Chico State no less, and if it was after class hours, chances are I wasn’t exactly paying close attention to anything except where my next drink was coming from. So, technically, I guess you could say I “recall” seeing the movie, but mostly I recalled Sean Young’s Rachel Rosen in a swirling cloud of sexy, mood-inducing blue smoke. So when I finished the book, I knew I’d want to see the movie again to do one of those analytical “book into movie” comparisons that visually-oriented literature lovers like myself get off on. However, and this surprised me, I wasn’t in any real rush to see the movie “again.”
Instead, I found myself taking my time with the book. Processing the book. And what kept coming up for me was how fascinated I am with the idea of the humanoid robot.
I am a huge scifi fan who grew up watching The Terminator, Westworld, and Total Recall with my older brother, and looked forward to Thanksgiving where every year we’d stuff ourselves with turkey, plop on the couch, and watch Twilight Zone marathons. I loved (and still love) the idea of humans growing in pods in "Body Snatchers" and “The Matrix;” I loved Sigourney Weaver kicking alien ass in “Alien;” and I loved Lukas Haas popping alien brains with grandma’s drawling records in “Mars Attacks” (spoilers).
I love nearly all scifi books and movies (except Star Trek, sorry Trekkies), but I seem to be particularly attracted to the idea of androids, and - more specifically - the idea of androids “going bad.” I love the concept of first creating, being in awe of, then using everything in your power to destroy a robot created in your own image.
For some reason, as I processed the novel I'd just finished, I began thinking about PMS (this might sound like a stretch, but trust me, it really fleshes out). I suffer from Hulk-like PMS nearly every 28 days. By suffer, I mean I hate my cyclic mood swings SO much, that I am optimistically looking forward to the golden years of menopause. When I’m in the tar pits of PMS I feel alien - outside myself - seething like a pent up, antagonistic viper. Out of this hormonal place of wrath I find myself creating drama with humans: Machine versus man (or in this case, WOman). This conflict is something I create and I fight with.
So, again, when I sat down a few months back to write down my reaction to P.K. Dick’s “Androids,” yes I wrote about Deckard’s motivation; yes I asked myself what Mercerism really was; and yes I questioned if Dick invented the work “chickenhead” before it was ever used in a rap song (I still need to Google that one). But then my text trailed off into a story idea about robots, females, men, and periods.
So for my second blog post, I thought I'd show you that story idea. Let me know what you think:
“So, here is an idea that could really take off - provided we can pull off the android part in the near future: female android replacements that husbands can rent for the seven to ten days their wives are menstruating.
The humanoid could be available for rent, and be “clothed” in a skin (color, texture that is specific to age) that is representative of the female it is (temporarily) replacing. The android replacement (replicant) could be wigged, contact-lensed, and dressed in wardrobe nearly identical to the menstruating female it is standing in for (for the next five to seven days). There would be a warehouse, and in the warehouse there would be sleek android skeletons of all female sizes hanging like organized wind chimes on hangers, waiting for their next “assignment.” Your bedraggled husband would buy you a carton of chocolate ice cream and say he’s “just going to the gym to work out.” What he’s really doing is looking to rent an even-keeled, less temperamental replacement. He pulls up to the facility in his gym clothes with a few photographs of you, and one of your favorite outfits in a bag in his hands.
Your husband (or boyfriend) would be nervous, excited, hopeful. He’d be planning for your next cycle, getting all necessary ducks in a row so when you begin to show signs of instability, he gives you the knockout pill the agency has provided, drives you in, and executes the swap. The men using the agency’s services hope to experience a more laid back, “Island style” month next cycle, with your rosy, yet slightly squeaky, stand-in. So with a few pictures of you for the agency’s reference, your husband/boyfriend enters the building, is greeted by the receptionist who gives him an “I understand,” empathic welcoming, and shows him into an appointment room. Your husband/boyfriend would then be seen by a match-up specialist who would talk to him like a cool, business-like therapist, hearing his plight, promising a perfect solution that is “hanging...ready...and just there, right in the other room!).
So the android “customizing specialist” takes your husband’s pictures of you and slowly feeds them into a machine which will, in turn, make a 3-D representation of you in believable, full color glory (much like the building of Kelly LeBrock in Weird Science, and the building of the robotic grandma in Bradbury’s episode of the Twilight Zone,”I Sing the Body Electric”).
So there you’d be - the “Mike Teavee” Wonkavision version of you - scanned in and represented on the screen of the 3-D printer, awaiting your husband’s approval. If hubby/boyfriend puts his thumb up and approves the image, the specialist would then hit PRINT and viola! A zip-up “skin suit” complete with your stray hairs, your moles, birthmarks, would slowly reel out of the machine, and ooze, three-dimentional, on the sterile floor in a wrinkled mass while your husband/boyfriend stares at it, transfixed.
The future is NOW, this is science FICTION! “You” are there, on the floor. “You” are wrinkled, and “you” are destined to be hung on a clothes hanger, steamed, smoothed, and brought to your new, state-of-the-art, mechanical skeleton.
Your husband/boyfriend follows the technician to the inventory room, watching the skin suit sway on the hanger, still not quite grasping what has just happened. He is led into INVENTORY where he gasps, in awe, at the sheer number of android skeletons dangling on efficient conveyor belts, categorized by height, like futuristic dry cleaners for skin bags coming to re-claim their clean skeletons . The technician enters your weight and height into the computer and shortly after, the conveyor is moving swiftly, bodies swinging forward in an organized, propelled conga line, until the one that will soon be “you” stops at the place where your husband/boyfriend stands waiting. The technician lifts the titanium skeleton off of the conveyor using an articulating forklift that inserts gently, carefully, into the clothes hanger-type hardware that holds the silver skeleton until it is needed. The skin suit is then zipped on, a master switch is flipped, and your husband watches, once again in awe and excitement, as “you,” through the magic of the “Calmer Copy” company, meet his wide-eyed gaze with your believable, special-ordered eyes.”