My life in outer space

The Hormone Jungle – Robert Reed (1987)

The Hormone Jungle

‘TWO THOUSAND YEARS INTO THE FUTURE, YOU CAN CREATE A GENETICALLY-TAILORED LOVER, BUT SOME THINGS WILL NEVER CHANGE…

Steward is a freestater – a descendant of Amerindian warriors – sometime bodyguard and security advisor. Chiffon is an android Flower, a courtesan created to give pleasure, and yet she is far more than that. Trying to escape her crimelord master, Dirk, she enlists Steward’s help, in the steamy equatorial city of Brulé.

In a universe where humans are as altered as their terraformed planets and moons, Robert Reed’s thrilling yet thoughtful story plays itself out, against a richly-textured backdrop which is both colourful and totally believable.’

Blurb from the 1989 Orbit edition

Miss Luscious Chiffon is a Flower; a Flower being a sophisticated android designed specifically to give sexual pleasure. Chiffon is different in that the digitised consciousness of a dead woman has been downloaded into her.
She is bought by a crime-lord, Dirk, who is unaware of her previous ‘life’ or indeed that her very existence is part of a plan to rob Dirk of his fortune.
Chiffon boasts a formidable arsenal of chemical stimulants, some of which are transmitted by smell, some by her touch into another’s skin. Thus, Dirk is seduced, his trust is gained and Chiffon escapes with the contents of his safe.
Her escape plan goes awry and she ends up in a brothel-bar in the city of Brulé, somewhere on the equator of this future Earth, terraformed, weather-controlled and home to a variety of adapted humans from various parts of the Solar System.
Chiffon is rescued by Steward, a freestater, descendant of the American Indian tribes of North America, warrior and mercenary.
It’s a hi-tech multi-character narrative in which aspects of love, revenge and desire are examined from unusual and contrasting angles.
In a thread which interweaves with main plot we have Toby, an augmented human from Garden, a terraformed moon of Jupiter. Toby is a complex character, being the son of a moderate politician against whom he feel he has to rebel, for whatever reason. Since his father wishes to modify some of the more exclusionist policies of his hedonistic world, Toby becomes a fundamentalist. Matters are worsened by Toby’s involvement in the death of his father’s new wife, an important figure from a neighbouring moon, but considered by Toby to be an alien influence.
It is interesting to note that both Toby and Chiffon are seen to be victims at the start of the novel, but as we learn more, it becomes clear that things are not what they seem.
Chiffon and Toby never meet, but their actions have direct effects upon each other.
The central character, and the catalyst for the dramatic series of events in the novel is of course, Chiffon, and despite the superficially lightweight nature of what is, stylistically, a futuristic tale-noir, Reed forces us to ask questions about the nature of desire and love itself.
Chiffon is essentially a gangster’s moll. Dirk, the ‘Gang Boss’ is devastated by Chiffon’s treachery and cannot bring himself to believe that the ‘woman’ he loved had betrayed him. His hyper-masculine hit-man and second-in-command, Minus, is left to pick up the pieces and organise the search.
As a reader, one is also seduced, to a certain extent, by Chiffon’s charms, and questions are raised which can never be answered, such as how much of Steward’s feelings for Chiffon were drug-induced? Would he have done as much for her if she had never touched him? How much of the real Chiffon is from her previous life, and how much is design?
Reed has been criticised in some quarters for his rather woolly science, but for Reed that is never the issue. Like Dick, he uses Science Fiction as a way of exploring human characters and their fears and frailties. Unusually in SF, Reed has created a novel of fully-rounded characters who are products of their own histories, and although it is not his best work it stands out in 80s SF as a novel from a very individual voice.

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