I don’t read science fiction novels as often as I used to, but some book premises are so wacky that you just gotta see whether the author can pull them off. Such is the case with Eve by Aurelio O’Brien, a bizarre story about an outdated robot and his owner, lost amid a Huxlean culture in the distant future. In the 31st century, death is an anachronism, and bio-engineered “creature comforts” dominate the world, functioning solely to keep humans (a.k.a. “Randoms” since they weren’t technologically programmed or engineered) in an eternal state of bliss. Machines are an anachronism — mankind has engineered biomass servants that exist solely to please itself. Things are so perfect that the meaningfulness of life itself has gone sour. Penster (a relic robot) and Govil (his ancient owner) have become so alienated by their amazingly lifeless world of living matter that, as an act of resistance, they team up to create something “random” again from recycled biomass — setting out to construct a deliberately average woman, whom they term Eve. And once a new “random” is created, it threatens the system, because unlike the rest of humanity, she hasn’t been sterilized to control overpopulation.
I hope my plot description hasn’t lost you. The story is clever, but complicated, and it takes a lot of exposition — albeit humorous — for O’Brien to build to his world of living commodity fetishes. At the center is GenieCorp — a 31st century corporation that has taken control of the world — which manufactures strange devices out of biomass, servicing all human desires with freakish living creatures. For example, “Snakelights” are literally snakes with lights in their bodies rather than the Black & Decker tools we know so well, and “VolksvaagenBugs” are insectoid carriers with seats embedded in the thorax. There are plenty of these puns on commercial culture throughout the book — indeed, encountering ServAnts and AlarmCocks and other animated commodities is half the fun of the book. They make Eve at once unique, witty, and a lot of fun to read. It’s almost cartoony in its outrageous humor — something like Futurama or The Jetsons as told by a mutation between David Cronenberg and Aldous Huxley. His writing is not composed as artfully as a Mark Leyner or a Philip K. Dick, but O’Brien’s postmodern science fiction is deftly imagined and he manages to generate one hell of an entertaining satire on consumer culture with Eve.
The book has some weaknesses: Eve gets off to a slow start because O’Brien’s 31st century world is so intricately designed. The use of an emotionless robot narrator generates some droll humor at times (“Upon returning home, Eve made a beeline for the bathroom and sealed herself in. She sat in there for 00:56:02 and cried.”) At times, the punning goes over-the-top so much that it wears thin. But the silliness of the world makes it all the more fascinating to a reader like me, who loves mutants. However, the book’s major weakness is a reliance on the shopworn “Adam & Eve” conceit (that the title makes explicit), considered by many to be one of the biggest cliches of the science fiction genre. Couple that with the Pygmalion plot and you might start to think that the narrative could use a little more cleverness to match the book’s imaginative universe. But O’Brien — whose background, incidentally, is in animation — is careful not to give plot itself much dramatic weight. He’s really just borrowing the structure to play out his imagination and generate a never-ending series of witty barbs at modern culture. And the creativity that’s evident everywhere in O’Brien’s hilarious satire of consumer culture makes it a terrific read.
Visit evethenovel.com for a battery of animated illustrations of the best of his Creature Comforts and a far better description of the plot than I can muster. (Be sure to click on the “Lick-n-Span” image — it’s what won me over when I first encountered the website). If you’re looking for a good laugh, and you enjoy light SF, I think you’ll really like this book. It’s a wonderful critique of the suburbanite’s American dream, shot through the lens of its most hedonistic desires. Available in paperback, hardcover, and e-book editions from the author’s website, AuthorHouse.com, or amazon.com.