This is the revised second edition of Gary Wolf's first novel, originally published in 2003.
Imagine a society without gender roles, and even without gender itself. This is the emerging reality in the world of the early 2040s.
Harris, a talented but despondent software engineer, spends his free time chasing the latest rage in consciousness-expansion. His mundane life takes an unexpected turn when he lands a high position at the BrainHost company, located at the pinnacle of world culture, the CityTech urban agglomeration.
Harris discovers that in CityTech, romance is being replaced by the “coital matrix,” where every stage of the process is preplanned and engineered. Meanwhile, BrainHost and others are experimenting with the implantation of male and female sexual organs inside the body of a single person, while eliminating all external traces of gender. This self-contained human, the Embracer, is seen by its creators as the panacea of humanity.
Alternately repelled and enticed by the new order, Harris is drawn into the maelstrom. He eventually becomes a leading advocate. But then he must confront a beautiful young woman who aims to sabotage the mighty CityTech…
He resolved to probe Harris’s mind. “Tell me something,” he said, calmly and soothingly. “As a scientist, what precisely is your objection to the natural, God-given manner of reproduction?”
Harris’s ego was awakened by this appeal to his professional opinion. “First of all, as a scientist, I view reality as it is, empirically, with no set of a priori assumptions. Therefore, the term God-given has no relevance for me. Second, if we were all bound by natural processes, we would still be living in caves. All of civilization is nothing more than one long struggle to overcome natural processes, to bestow upon the human race more and more freedom, the freedom to shape our world in the most beneficial way possible.”
Forrester wondered whether these words were original, or something Nice was preaching at the Dome. He countered: “Yes, I suppose that in my own work I’ve battled numerous natural processes. But surely you would admit that even when fighting against them, we usually bend and adapt, channeling the forces we find in a productive manner. We thin out the herd, reroute the river, fertilize the soil. In each case, nature is harnessed and put to better use, but not negated. In medicine, we amputate only in the most extreme cases.”
Harris waited patiently before responding. “I agree completely. Although it may not seem that way right now, that’s exactly what we’re doing here. We’re using the existing reproductive system as a jumping-off point. Look,” he said emphatically, pressing his fingertips together, “the sexual act as we have known it is the last activity to be civilized, to be humanized. In its natural form, it’s the equivalent of you and I getting on our hands and knees, sticking our heads in a trough, and chomping on our food like a horse. But of course we don’t do that. We sit at a table with plates and silverware. It’s the same idea with the coital matrix. The act of intercourse is still performed, just as the food is still eaten at the table. But it has been rerouted, to use your term.”
Harris forged ahead, encouraged by Forrester’s feigned look of interest. “Sex has been made simple and accessible for millions of individuals who previously experienced it as a minefield. They were forced to pursue relations fraught with deception, domination, abuse; a litany of social ills in their most concentrated form. The result: agony, frustration, hatred, broken lives, loneliness. Not to mention the special problems of women, reduced to the level of beasts of burden, brutalized even in the best of cases. All the sensitivity training in the world couldn’t fix that. No, the act itself had to be altered. Using the coital matrix, the woman becomes a full partner—no fear, no domination. And the man, too, is liberated from the onerous pressure to subdue the woman. In short, everyone can now concentrate on one thing, their pleasure. What could be better than that?”
The question was fielded by Forrester’s face, but his mind was busy analyzing Harris’s features. He noticed that the heliovision expert possessed only a handful of facial expressions, corresponding to several emotional states. Never was a rogue eyebrow raised, nor was there any idiosyncratic curvature of the mouth, and no depth in the eyes. It was as if the head were simply an elaborate calculator, accompanied by several dials indicating its current status, such as temperature or percent of capacity used. In these circumstances, any attempt at argument was futile. Could such a person, reasoned Forrester, have any grasp of love, intimacy, passion? Of truths self-evident across all of time, down to the Division? Perhaps others in CityTech were not beyond the pale, but Harris and his Dome cohorts had crossed the point of no return, at least no return by means of mere discussion.
Forrester realized that Harris was leaning toward him, waiting for an answer. “Yes, yes, that’s quite interesting. So far you’re rerouting nature. But what about the embracers? That’s a different kettle of fish.”
Harris pressed his fingertips together with new vigor. “This is something, Dr. Forrester, that you, as a surgeon and medical researcher, can appreciate. It’s all about choice. That is, choosing one’s path in life, choosing to be liberated. You, doctor, liberate people from disease. We also liberate them from a disease of sorts, or, more accurately, from a burden that stands in the way of their spiritual growth. We’re rerouting in the extreme: transforming an oppressive yoke into a tool for the ultimate liberation of humanity. In one fell swoop, the artful combination of heliovision, surgery, and the Dome are united to burst asunder all the chains. It is something that the ancient Greeks must have projected in their wildest fantasies.”
Forrester concealed a shiver of disgust. He braced himself for the philosophical underpinnings of the cult of the Dome.
“What is it, doctor, that philosophers, gurus, and other spiritually-inclined individuals have been pursuing since day one? A perfect intellectual state, a perfect peace, a harmony that is undisturbed by any external force. The problem is, what to do with the body. There are two alternatives: neutralize it, or harness it. We have chosen the latter. Instead of being a source of friction, the sexual act will now serve the individual, existing solely for the individual’s benefit. Instead of the tragic split between the sexes—an inherently divisive and eternal source of strife—the individual can channel all sides of this explosive impulse to an exclusively personal benefit, and precisely in the manner that most appeals to that individual. By contrast, when there is a clash of desires and egos, the drives are frittered away on senseless warfare. What’s more, people waste half their lives trying to make themselves sexually attractive. We believe, doctor, that world peace begins within each and every one of us. You are in favor of peace, Dr. Forrester, aren’t you?”
The surgeon could no longer contain himself. “What about love?” he shouted, his face distended from the sudden release of repressed emotion. “Doesn’t that mean anything to you?”
Harris seized the opportunity provided by the outburst to grab the moral high ground. With perfect calm, he responded. “Like peace, love also begins within us. We must love ourselves in order to be capable of including others in a zone of love that radiates outward from the heart. If that heart is not whole and not satisfied within itself, then it will revert to deception, abuse, and all the other ills. It will exploit others to serve itself, to satisfy its unattained craving. But when two harmonious and satisfied hearts meet, the encounter begins on an equal footing, to everyone’s benefit. The motivation for exploitation has been eliminated. This is what happens when two embracers meet. So to answer your question, doctor, we seek to attain a higher, perfected form of love.”
A knot of tension had formed in Forrester’s gut. He was eating himself alive. This conversation was similar to one he had experienced numerous times in a recurring nightmare. He had felt deep within his soul that one day, it would really take place. There was nowhere to go, nowhere to hide, and no arguments to be made. As he observed Harris, the brain surgeon thought to himself: What could possibly move this man to reconsider his beliefs? He has been extracted from the world, from civilization. He has no god, no love, no wife, no children, no law, no binding ethical code, no roots, no history, no art, no culture. He is alienated from all that has sustained mankind throughout the generations. There is no argument to be made because there is no point of attack nor common ground. The only possibility, and a slim one at that, would be to tempt him with a more enticing form of pleasure.
Gary Wolf is the author of futuristic novels that portray worlds in which multiculturalism and political correctness have run amok. From 2000 to 2006 Wolf lived in Paris, during which time he witnessed the breathtaking collapse of traditional European culture. Against the backdrop of the city's aesthetic and historical splendor, he observed the unraveling of Western civilization under the weight of multiculturalism, deconstructionism, the "root causes" mantra, moral equivalence, and self-hatred. His reaction was to author a trilogy that confronts this process and its derivatives. Using the genre of speculative fiction, he wrote three futuristic novels that tackle different aspects of the contemporary malaise: "Workshop of the Second Self" -- dumbing down, reverse discrimination, and the victim industry; "Alternating Worlds" -- multiculturalism; "The Embracer" -- gender confusion. In early 2009, Wolf completed another futuristic novel, "The Kicker of St. John’s Wood," a literary journey into the depths of the American national psyche in the twenty-first century.