Dead Girls by Richard Calder
206 pages, St. Martin's Paperbacks, $4.99
Review score: ****1/2 out of *****

Science fiction is the mirror of our dreams and ambitions. In the early days when the Apollo rockets flew, science fiction reflected the dreams of space stations and colonies on the moon and mars. Science fiction reflected the belief that the future would be better, an open frontier. NASA's dreams of manned space flight have largely died and we live in an era of limits. Science fiction still offers the thread of hope, but it is woven in the dark matrix of the late twentieth century. Science fiction is no longer just the shallow juvenile fiction of Heinlein. As with all great literature, the best works of science fiction show humanity in all its complexity and some times the picture is dark. Such a work is Richard Calder's recent book "Dead Girls".

Richard Calder writes in a beautiful lyrical style. His story is set in a surrealistic world where nanomachines and nanotechology have advanced to the point where artificial life can be created. This power corrupts humanity and artificial humans are created as toys for human lust. Human fascination with sex, pain and death blooms in this dark world. Thai brothels have simulcra for all tastes, from the mildly sadistic fantasies of caned school girls, to the darker ones of Jack the Ripper.

A sexually transmitted virus crosses the barrier, from machine to humanity, and worms its way into the human genome. This virus infects the X chromosome of its host. Girls born with this chromosome go through genetic recombination at puberty and become Dolls, their flesh transformed by nanomachine created polymere, their minds transformed into a quantum matrix. When the city of London suffers an outbreak of the Doll Plague, the Human Front political party emerges and takes control of the government. The city is sealed off and only unwanted human refugees and the families of girls infected with the Doll gene remain in the city. Just as in the Warsaw getto, the girls undergoing the Doll transformation are rounded up and sacrificed to the darker sadistic lusts of humanity.

The central characters is this beautiful and dark story are Ignatz Zwakh, a child of a Serb refugee family and a girl, Primavera, who is infected with the Doll gene. Iggy falls in love with Primavera's transforming Doll beauty in middle school and escapes with her from the death that awaits her in London, as the Doll transformation takes hold. Iggy loves Primavera, but his love is shot through with an addition to Primavera's intoxicating sexuality. They are twined together, bound by Primavera's need for Iggy and his addiction to her. In this dark spiral they are forced to find the roots of the Doll plague and the nature of Dolls.

Dead Girls is a dark book, both because of the world it paints and the darkness it forces us to see in ourselves. Calder's writing is beautiful, but it takes patience to unravel. Dead Girls becames surrealistic and increasingly complicated as it moves towards its completion. Details are filled in only in outline, and the story rushes along, in some cases with nightmare intensity. Despite its dark nature, Dead Girls is a brilliant work and stands far above most popular fiction.

Ian Kaplan - 2/96

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