With his military service behind him, Malcolm Torvik has settled into the business of repairing and retraining pleasure cyborgs. It’s relatively easy work and despite his family’s wealth, Malcolm enjoys earning enough to support himself. And then Malcolm is asked to retrain a cyborg with a violent past and too many owners for comfort. Wolf is far from ordinary and so too are the challenges he brings to Malcolm’s workshop. Originally intended for the military, Wolf was taken as a teen and converted into a pleasure cyborg. The end result is a creation with incredible strength, ill working implants, and an all too human countenance.
As Malcolm spends time with Wolf, he realizes that he is not dealing with a machine, but a man and one who feels pain, fear, and joy. This forces Malcolm to confront all of his preconceived notions regarding cyborgs and his own part in their enslavement. As Malcolm and Wolf begin to explore the nature of their relationship, they must decide if they will accept the roles they have been given, or risk everything to try and change the world.
My review of Built for Pleasure happens to coincide with my recent obsession with HBO’s Westworld, which made for a delightful irony. Both the book and the show do an excellent job of questioning what it means to be human and the terrible things we do to those we see as less than human. And as our dependence on technology grows and advances in robotics and AI are rapidly progressing, I think the questions are becoming something more than fodder for sci-fi novels. Built for Pleasure looks at a world in which cyborgs have evolved as an extension of humanity. They are born human, but require extensive mechanical and technological implants to survive. As a result, people have come to view them as slaves, conveniently forgetting they are simply another species of humanity.
When we meet Malcolm, he is not cruel, but he is far from enlightened. Wolf is just another project to be completed and when Malcolm realizes the depth of the cyborg’s intelligence and emotion, his reactions are believable, though not always admirable. Wolf was hard to know and part of this stems from pacing issues I’ll discuss later. But essentially he has no sense of self and we aren’t really given a chance to know who he is, which hampers the romantic aspect of the book.
Despite all the great questions Built for Pleasure raises, I struggled to enjoy the novel as a whole. The plot is uneven and moves far too quickly for realism. And while the characters undergo dramatic personality evolutions that are explained, they fail to achieve realistic depth. The sex scenes often feel empty and void of real connection between the characters and, as a result, they come off as awkward. While we are given information regarding both Wolf and Malcolm, neither of them read as particularly complete and it was hard to invest in the story as a result.
Built for Pleasure has a great concept and brings up serious questions about the line between human and machine. But it falls short with regards to creating significant characters and plot/pacing that makes sense. This issues with this book has are not small, but I think readers who enjoy science fiction and thinking about big picture questions will find something of value in Built for Pleasure.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.