Sexbot the Book: Review and Interview
The novel Sexbot by Patrick Quinlan tells the story of scientist Susan Jones who develops sex robotics technology for Suncoast Cybernetics. After an “accidental” discovery that this technology could be used to grant immortality by uploading human minds into the body of a robot, Susan and her partner, Martin, have been doing secret experiments with chimps to prove the technology. But Suncoast CEO Howard Neale wants to keep the technology secret and so Susan and Martin become liabilities that need to be eliminated.
So naturally Suncoast sends their corporate assassins to take her out. In order to escape, Susan downloads her mind into the body of the latest experimental sexbot l=known only as “Nine”. The assassins find her empty human body, but she is already inside her new robotic body and escapes.
The story presents consists of a fast paced chase wherein Mr. Blue the assassin pursues Susan. It’s a pretty standard, fast paced, action story with the company trying to catch Susan, now in the form of a robot. It’s a crisply written action story mostly, with some violence and (of course) a romantic subplot.
What sets this book apart is the description of Susan’s experiences in her new body. As she struggles to control her own thoughts and her emotions which are in conflict with the sexbot’s programming and constant state of arousal, she also has to escape a series of deadly situations. I found the descriptions of this conflict to be interesting, and it seemed to be unexpectedly subtle for a book that had at first seemed to be a simple thriller with some robot sex thrown in.
When describing the mind transfer technology unfortunately the author chooses to invoke “quantum woo”, and I was left unconvinced that the system could work as described. The book might have been better leaving the operation of the mind transfer device to the reader’s imagination. But once I got past this, the rest of the book moved quickly. Overall, Sexbot is a fun quick read with some interesting ideas about mind uploading.
I got together with author, Patrick Quinlan to learn more about he got the idea for his book and his background as an author.
h+: You new book Sexbot features some transhumanist themes and elements. How did you first hear about these ideas and/or transhumanism more generally?
I have been toying around with these ideas for a long time, not necessarily writing about them, but thinking about them.
I remember when I was in high school, I was on the subway one day, on my way home from school, and I was reading The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Soon after Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect leave Earth, Arthur says something, and another character says to Ford Prefect, “Keep your monkey quiet.” Something along those lines.
Well, I don’t remember the exact line of dialogue, but I remember the moment, because my mind was blown. I thought, “Of course. To an advanced life form, we would seem almost no different from chimps and gorillas.” Basically, we’d be the ones wearing clothes.
I had never thought of it that way before.
Sometime later, probably in college, I watched 2001: A Space Odyssey I for the first time. Obviously, the whole point of the movie is that we are being led by a superior intelligence to a point where we transcend humanity.
As a young adult, I got into Buddhist, and then Hindu meditation. The Hindus have an important concept called atman, which is also referred to as “the self.” The idea is there is a “you” that goes around in your day-to-day life, hides behind masks, manipulates, gets its feelings hurt, hurts others, tries to come out on top, feels like a loser, loves apple pie, hates spinach. You get the idea. This version of you is said to taste the sweet and bitter fruits of life.
Then there’s the atman, which is also you. It is inside of you, changeless, ageless, eternal, wise, all loving, generous, empathetic, in touch with all knowledge. It could also be called your soul. It could also be called God. While you are out there, scratching and clawing, getting aggravated, feeling terrified, demolishing everything in your path, it doesn’t participate. It also doesn’t judge. It simply observes what you’re doing.
The goal of meditation, if there is one, is to get in touch with this transcendent aspect of yourself. I believe that at times, in a fleeting way, I have done exactly that, and it is a beautiful experience.
I guess that if we stripped away our apelike aspects, which includes our fears of scarcity, our bodies, and our tendency to violence (chimps, in particular, are very violent animals), what would be left is this atman.
h+: In the book you have a person upload into a new robotic body which it so happens is designed to be a sex robot or “sexbot”. Where did you hear about the idea of sexbots and what do you know about the real technology as it exists today? Japan seemingly is in the lead in this business currently.
I first heard about sexbots from a man on a train. I was taking the Amtrak from New York to Florida, and I ate lunch in the dining car with a Manhattan real estate developer, a very wealthy man. He was telling me about how the Japanese were very close to developing lifelike sex robots, and if they ever pulled it off, he was going to buy two or three of them.
Incidentally, he also told me he had invested more than $2 million in the process of having himself frozen when he dies. He felt that within 50 years, we will have the capability to upload our awareness into intelligent machines, and he would like to be around for that. Unfortunately, being in his 50s already, he’s unlikely to live that long naturally. So he plans to be frozen, and then re-animated when the technology of mind uploading has been developed.
In a sense, this stranger on a train gave me the broad outlines of the book over lunch. He didn’t pitch it in terms of “Let me tell you this great idea for a book.” He was just talking about the things he was into, and I decided it sounded like a book.
I did a fair amount of research into robotic technology, including sexbot technology, while writing the book. The Japanese are indeed the leaders in the field of creating human-like robots. A scientist named Hiroshi Ishiguro is at the cutting edge of this. I watched an interview with him once where he said that the Japanese believe anything can have a soul. So it’s no stretch for them to imagine and build robots that have this aspect of God or eternity within them, robots that are real people.
The character in the book, Number Nine, is the prototype for the ninth generation of Sexbots. In my mind, the book’s first generation of Sexbots is quite a bit more advanced and lifelike than what is available in real life today. The ninth generation, eight iterations and tens of millions of dollars in research later, is vastly more advanced than the first generation.
h+: I noted that some of Patrick’s other books were about demonic possession and in this story the uploaded person is merged with another personality, that of the sexbot itself. How does this idea of the permeability of personality and personhood inform your writing? It seems to be a repeated theme in several of your books at least.
In addition to the atman concept I talked about earlier, I have spent much of my life concerned or suspicious that some dark personality, or demon if you like, had attached itself to me when I was a young child. It’s a creepy feeling, to say the least. Even creepier, at least two self-appointed psychics have gone on record agreeing that this was, in fact, the case.
In some of my meditations, I have sensed the presence of a Medieval grim reaper figure, in a dark cloak, sitting in a chair with a small child on its lap.
Perhaps this is the flip side of the atman. Perhaps we all have light and dark within us, and maybe they’re even full-fledged beings with personalities. Would that be so unbelievable? It seems that for a long time we’ve had this concept of the angel sitting on one shoulder, and the devil sitting on the other shoulder, each whispering in our ear. It’s a bit of a cartoon nowadays, but maybe there’s something to it.
I think I wrote the Demon books to exorcise this part of me a little, get it on the page, and see if I became free of it. I’d say it is much less of an issue for me than it used to be.
h+: Why did you decide to write a book about mind uploading and transhumanism?
It was either that or a book about a retired female cop on the trail of a sex trafficker and possible serial killer. I’ll probably write that one next year.
I decided to write Sexbot instead because as I get older, I become more curious about the future. I believe that relatively soon, we will discover some things about the nature of reality that will shatter our sense of the world and our place in it.
What will we discover? That reality as we experience it is largely imaginary? That there is no such thing as time and everything happens at once? That we can travel across the universe using fractal geometry?
I don’t know. But thinking about possible futures is fun and I wanted to give it a try in novel form, despite my own obvious intellectual limits.
If I could live a thousand years, I would do it, mostly to see what happens.
h+: How did you get started as a writer?
I was a freshman in college, and I had a Composition 101 class with a sexy woman professor from England. She was probably 35. Her husband was away a lot, for whatever reason. And I had no idea what I was going to do. I didn’t expect to live very long, actually. I was in college on a scholarship, and I figured I would just drop out sooner or later. Who cares? Most of the kids there were from another planet. Or I was. They were all going to be something good and wonderful. Their mommies and daddies said so. I was going to be a skid row bum.
But I was a good looking kid. It was the only thing I had going for me. I had hair halfway down my back, and I used to work physical, grunt-labor jobs, so I was in good shape. And everybody, man, woman and beast, used to try to get a piece of me. They said I was like Jim Morrison, or the guy from INXS. This isn’t me telling stories. It’s just how it was. It’s been 25 years, and I’m ugly now, so there you go.
And this Comp 101 professor wanted to take me home. She kept inviting me to her house, saying things like, “Well, my husband is away in Europe this week.”
And maybe to soften me up, or groom me, or whatever, she would say things like, “I think you’re a wonderful writer. That 50-word essay you wrote about the clock ticking, and time lapsing away? It was brilliant. Let’s have dinner and drinks at my house and we’ll talk about writing.”
I was a kid. I didn’t know anything about writing. Except this nice woman said I was good at it. For some reason, I took that to heart. I started writing short stories. When I was 21, I sold one to a magazine. They paid me $90. And I thought: “Now I’m a writer.”
h+: Your book is well written and fast paced. Any advice for aspiring fiction writers and authors?
I’d be a fool to offer advice about the publishing industry itself. Everything is changing so fast, anything I say will be wrong by the time the words drop out of my mouth and hit the floor.
That said, for years I used to give weekend and evening seminars on the craft of writing, specifically writing tightly plotted suspense novels. I’m in the process of taking my various outlines, notes, cue cards, and scribbling from those days, and turning them into a book.
Then it’s done, it will be called How to Write a Thriller. How’s that for a creative title? With this book, I plan to divulge everything I know about writing. If readers check my website from time to time, eventually information about this book will appear.
All of that said, I believe the single most important thing for a writer is persistence. Much more important than how-to tips from me is dogged, relentless persistence. It makes all things possible. For motivation, read quotes from Winston Churchill.
h+: How much impact does your childhood, or personal life, have on your writing?
My father was a serious alcoholic, and not a cheerful one. When I was a child, everyday life was like welcome to the terror dome. So I got accustomed to high adrenaline situations. As life went on, I did many, many, many crazy things. When I started writing, I naturally gravitated toward pedal-to-the-metal, action-oriented, suspense thrillers.
I’ve traveled quite a bit, and nearly all of the settings in my novels are places I’ve been. I witnessed or participated in a fair amount of violence as a young person, and much of the violence in my books is at least partially based on that. Many of the characters are partially based on people I’ve met or known. At least some of the events in my books are exaggerated or idealized versions of events I participated in.
The paranoid, they’re-coming-to-get-you feeling in my novels is how I feel most of the time.
Come to think of it, I don’t really have much of an imagination.
Sexbot is available in paperback and eBook formats. Get your copy here.