Any novel that has the words “pleasure model” in the title could be automatically relegated to the category of “chick lit” or “erotic romance”. Despite this novel’s title, it is none of that. It is Speculative Science Fiction – and has nothing to do with household appliances. Ruuf Wangersen’s debut novel The Pleasure Model Repairman is a hypothesis of what could happen in a society where anything goes and everyone can freely indulge in their most extreme fantasies with robots, rather than humans. The theme of “the uprising of the robots”, as we have seen in the latest series of HBO’s Westworld, is becoming increasingly popular in Science Fiction, in parallel with the use of Artificial or Augmented Intelligence and robotics in the real world.
While this is a serious, primary theme in Wangersen’s book, as a whole the novel can be best described as fun to read. It’s a weird, surreal, rollicking, mad-as-a-banana, complicated, frenetically paced oddball of a novel. It’s freaky. I wondered at times what could possibly be going on in a writer’s head when he let loose with streams of words that have never before existed in English but, at the same time, have their own peculiar internal logic and discipline.
Violent delights, sudden endings
But, on a serious note: “Friar Lawrence”, in Act 2, Scene 6 of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, says the line that has become the essence of Westworld, and is also core to The Pleasure Model Repairman (TPMR):
“These sudden joys have sudden endings. [in Westworld, it is: “These violent delights have violent ends.”] They burn up in victory like fire and gunpowder. When they meet, as in a kiss, they explode. Too much honey is delicious, but it makes you sick to your stomach. Therefore, love each other in moderation. That is the key to long-lasting love. Too fast is as bad as too slow.”
In TPMR, it is indeed a case of too much delicious honey making you sick to your stomach. The pleasure model repairman of the title, “Garl Motts”, is a very good technician who works on pleasure model robots. This is far into the future where these robots are practically indistinguishable from humans. Their sole purpose is to give pleasure to their owners, whatever those pleasures may be. They are not, strictly speaking, sentient, can therefore be abused and broken, and then need to be repaired by the likes of Garl, from the company “Fant Fixers”. These “decs” or “enjoyment and hospitality model” robots – that Wangersen describes in so much detail you’d swear he was reading off a patent application – include predictable categories: “…cheerleaders, proball players, actors, idols, rockers, rappers, royals, pop stars, news anchors, supermodels, ‘beefcake’ and porn stars.” (p.66)
But having unlimited pleasures on tap is not a good thing. And while a turn of the screw (pardon the pun) is enough to fix a malfunctioning dec, Garl – or some part of him – is revolted by the whole business.
“One of my very first clients, way back when I was an FF [Fant Fixer] newb, was a grizzled old pimp who ran a stable of semiexotics and harbored a wide philosophic streak. He once asked what I thought had changed in the world since artificials came on the scene, not that either one of us knew what life was really like back in the days before plastic minds and Presumed Sentience. Still, it was an interesting question to ponder. I told him I thought decs took away any real meaning to the word inhibition. They weren’t human under the law, despite the presumption, so there weren’t any real limits to what you could or couldn’t do with them or to them. The darkest, dankest, most illicit and extreme fantasies could be acted out, and with the right kind of money, acted out over and over again. […]
Decs weren’t people, however real they might seem to be. They were fabricated, like appliances, the work of human hands…[…] I told the pimp I thought humans were emotional adolescents, in the main, and that our evolutionary progeny (if we were lucky enough to have any) would judge us as such. We were a world of cruel, needy and dangerous pricks. And it wasn’t that we’d regressed into that state, we’d always been that way, and had never grown out of it. We weren’t ready for zero inhibitions, I said.” (pp. 162, 163)
Rat City and the World According to Garl
Garl is a dull but likeable professional who lives in a scum-bucket netherzone called “Rat City”. He sticks to his employer’s mottoes: “Don’t converse, do the reverse; Don’t do more, effect restore; Don’t solve, resolve.” The novel is full of these slogans, product names and taglines that Wangersen came up with. With them, he creates a brightly coloured, cohesive setting. It’s like you’re walking through a busy street with signs flashing at you. And you might think he would slip up, but no, the references are systematic. Examples of clever wording are:
- “hizzerit” (he, she or it) – pronoun in a world where gender is immaterial
- “versailling” – high end interior design in a replica “Paris” far above Rat City where the poor people live
- “Redetroit”, “New Perdition” – Future cities
- “Booty Dharma” – chain of casino-strip clubs
- “plasticusimitatiophilia” – transformation of humans into decs through extreme body modification
- “Moreauvians” – ref. to “The Island of Doctor Moreau”, tranformations of humans into animal decs through extreme body modification
- “twitch world” – meat factories that grow living “headless, hoofless, hair-and-skinless” cattle parts, that, when the muscles get stimulated, go “twitch-twitch-twitch”
The style of TPMR
Now, fun freeflow descriptions notwithstanding, there is method to Wangersen’s madness. He is a fan of William Gibson, and so am I. In Gibson’s book, Distrust That Particular Flavor, a 2012 collection of his essays, some about writing, he describes his agony over learning to write an (any!) opening sentence. He wrote something in the style of J.B. Ballard. “I had no idea what my sentence meant, in terms of where any narrative might go, but I now know that was not a bad thing.” His next sentences read like writing by Alfred Bester or Samuel R. Delaney. “My wife parodied them all, not unkindly, as ‘His long green ears quivering, Fimo slipped from the rig.’ Today this reminds me that I was having trouble with character names. At one point I seriously considered borrowing them from products in the IKEA catalog.” (p.2)
Wangersen, like Gibson a “good reader” of SF, did likewise, kicking his novel off with:
Lust is the enemy. That was the rule. A pretty funny role when you find yourself in the lust business, but there you have it. Break it right down, it’s not even a rule. It’s more like some vague warning, some cautionary dictum. Like the easy-to-remember slogan of a corny Globo-Health abstinence initiative.”
It’s a mouthful, which at first looks confusing. Afterwards, when you’ve reached the end on p. 376 with your head swimming from the changes in the storyline and narrators, and plot surprises, you realize, well, darn it – lust was indeed the enemy. Look at the trouble it’s gotten poor old Garl into.
By that time, Garl is not Garl anymore. Garl is also “Ben Edgely”, resistance fighter extraordinaire, as well as the crazy, bucket-wielding preacher “Barker Rags”, as well as “Carlos Geir Quaternarian Breedlove” as well as…well. I’ll stop there.
Garl/Ben/Barker’s tale of misfortune (all because of that lust thing – a.k.a going “Samson Gorilla” on someone) is quite exciting and well visualized, particularly the part where he wanders around in the desert, until he had;
“…walked right out of the sole-less carcass of what used to be my left boot. If that’s not commitment, and when you get down to it, real devotion, then I don’t know what is. Hours later, when the right foot, imitating the bloody, blistered martyr of the left, followed its ascetic example and carriage sacrifice, and stepped out of its own useless cocoon, that dried and shredded chrysalis…”
He ends up in a public washroom along some desert highway, preaching to a bunch of “Moreauvians” who want to eat him.
The ending is a puzzle
I was fine with the change in perspective from first-person Garl, to third person Breedlove, to whatever – but the ending really confused me. Garl starts off talking about a particularly noticeable coffin-type box where the Rat City dwellers can quickly get some satisfaction, a “Torridreemz© vDrome hot box”, and ends up right back there, very much worse for wear. I am not going to spoil the ending for you, or explain the plot, by going into it further here.
Dialogue and characterization
Suffice to say, the end is either completely fitting – if you read carefully right from page one – or a complete cop-out, or the start of a sequel. If it is a cop-out, then it is like that scene from the TV show “Dallas” where Patrick Duffy, playing the dead “Bobby Ewing” steps out of the shower revealing that the entire previous series was just a dream. In this instance, where many of the concepts that Wangersen alludes to, are familiar SF ideas, but turned on their heads, I would tend to opt for the “completely fitting” theory. All the references are systematic. He plotted it all out with precision. (At one point I thought I detected a “loose end” but a couple of chapters later – tah dah! – neatly explained.) All the loose ends get connected.
Sex and sensuality
I am not a fan of sex in novels. I think its all rather boring and limited. But given the subject, Wangersen had to work that in, but he kept it mercifully brief and a tiny bit tongue-in-cheek. Gentle readers, despite the title, you can relax. He deals with all the unmentionables by using words you’ve never heard of, meaning that you have to use your imagination. It’s also about DNA-level love, which makes it tolerable.
Dialogue and characterization
Wangersen comes into his own when writing dialogue. He is also a screenplay writer, and you can see his deft touch in the repartee between characters. People do talk this way – shorthand-style, making assumptions. Here Garl is talking to his best girl bud, “Hana”, over beers after a life-changing fiasco:
‘That’s pretty much the plan.’
‘That’s the plan?’
‘That’s the plan.’
‘Here he sits, the man with the plan.’
‘I can handle this.’
‘You can handle this?’
‘Sure, you can.’
‘That’s what they all say, G. that’s what each and every one of them all say.’
Is the debut a success?
Is it worth reading? Yes, definitely. As I said, it is fun, fast-paced, never boring, and has an intriguing premise. This must have been some years in the making, it is so dense. It is quite an achievement for a debut. Who knows what the elusive and mysterious Wangersen will come up with next? Is it time for him to join the mainstream publishing world? No, and probably never if he keeps writing about this edgy subject. So thank you kindly to Montag Press for adding him to their stable.
The fact is, sex robots is the future – and they are already with us. Go Google it. Is the human race ready for a world of zero inhibitions? We’ll have to wait and see if Wangersen’s vision becomes reality.
About the author
Who is Ruuf Wangersen? There is very little about him on the Internet, other than the author blurb: “Ruuf Wangersen is a Seattle-based author, screenwriter and playwright. His dark comedy, Focus, about a consumer research group that can’t figure out the item it’s supposed to be focusing on was performed at The Flea Theater in New York. Ruuf penned the screenplays for Eldo, The Nether People and Ride Along. The Pleasure Model Repairman is his first book.” He did send me his photo but I was unable to ferret out more biographical details.