A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
We’ve got an interview and a half for you today on Vulpes Libris, as our resident posh gel (and congenitally Good Sort) Ticky Dogge-Hare talks to Electra Shepherd, author of Love Machine: a tale of love, sex and one big blue robot. Sensitive readers be warned: this feature contains swearing, adult references and some very disturbing imagery. And, on that note, we will now hand you over to Ticky and her characteristically direct line of questioning.
Darling, robot porn? I’m sorry, but… WTF?
Well, ‘robot porn’ is sort of a slang term. Like ‘mummy porn’, I guess, though I don’t like that term either. But as a matter of fact, what I’m writing isn’t porn at all. It’s erotic science fiction romantic comedy, but that’s not very easy to say. Even the acronym I’ve come up with, ERomSciCom, is a bit torturous. Hence, ‘robot porn’, which is much more succinct and recognisable. They’re sexy books about robots and human beings getting it on, though my future plans stretch to sexy aliens and virtual reality.
There’s a fundamental difference between porn and ERomSciCom, or any erotic romance, though: whilst they’re both sexually explicit, porn is about bodies, and erotica is about people. Erotic romance takes it one step further: it’s about people having emotions. (Or, in my case, people AND robots having emotions. And, of course, lots of sex.)
For example, there’s a key scene in my first book, LOVE MACHINE, where the human heroine and the robot hero have to build the hero a penis. Robot porn, if it really existed, would focus on the penis itself, and what it could do. (There are one or two interesting videos out there on the internet that have this as a theme. I wouldn’t possibly recommend you search for them.)
Whereas in my story, the focus is on what that penis can do, yeah, of course it is—but also what emotions it creates. How a creature would feel about having a brand-new appendage that has so much meaning attached to it. How, for the first time in his existence, he has to wear clothes and worry about getting himself caught in doors. How he feels about using it to give his partner, and himself, pleasure…and how it affects his self-image when it malfunctions. What it means for him to have a penis when he can’t father children, or be recognised as a male in human society.
Although possibly, Ticky, it occurs to me that your WTF is in relation not to the genre but to the sexy robots themselves. In which case, I posit to you: Data. David in Prometheus. And Optimus Prime. Are they, or are they not, sex on legs!?
(Optimus Prime? Really?)
Well, what I want to ask is whether getting oneself caught in doors is a common worry for men. I did ring up my dear friend Alex and ask him, but he just said “oh for fuck’s sake, Ticky,” and put the phone down. So I’m no wiser, really.
Now, this ERomSciCom (did I spell that right?)… am I right in thinking this is a fairly special interest sort of thing, away from the mass market? Or am I just horribly out of touch?
I’ve got to admit, Optimus Prime is not my ideal sexy robot, but that dude has to be hung. He probably gets stuck in lots and LOTS of doors. Also those newfangled Dyson hand drier things could be quite dangerous. Though if you are Optimus Prime you can just transform into a truck and use your winch or whatever to extricate yourself so he probably doesn’t worry about it too much.
I’m assuming your Alex can’t change into a truck. That’s probably why he wouldn’t answer the question.
Unlike worries about penises in doors which is pretty much universal, ERomSciCom is a specialised interest. There are quite a few publishers, particularly in America and particularly epublishers, who produce erotic science fiction romance. It’s not as big as erotic paranormal romance with vampires, werewolves, shape-shifters, fairies and demons; but it’s quite appealing to those of us who have wondered what R2D2 and C3PO got up to when the rest of the rebels weren’t around.
Darling, this is… it’s all terribly… well, frankly it’s a bit weird. So tell me, how on earth does one end up writing mechanoid filth?
Some years ago I was part of a collective (and often intoxicated) mind known as B.H. Dark, who produced an erotic science fiction romantic comedy novel called CLOSE ENCOUNTERS about humans being abducted by aliens in order to form an intergalactic porn empire. So I was already interested in the genre.
Basically I had an idea and tested it out on people in a bar by saying, ‘I’m thinking about writing a sexy book about a woman who falls in love with a big blue robot.’ Roughly 97% of my test subjects immediately snorted wine out of their noses with laughter so I figured I was on to a winner. Upon finishing it, I sent it to publishers and it was picked up by Ellora’s Cave, which is a big epublisher in the USA. The whole thing was so enjoyable that I’ve recently finished up a sequel and I’m planning another.
More robot penises, then. Jolly good. Look, I might regret this, but how do you do your research? I have this awful image of you being thrown out of Currys.
Well, I watched a Channel Four documentary about the sexbot industry but it was sort of gross. For one thing, there was this whole bit where they cleaned out a used female sexbot with a toilet brush and that was deeply unpleasant. So I decided to purge all of that from my memory and just work from pure fantasy, except for this theory of The Uncanny Valley, which is very interesting indeed.
I did go into a sex shop in Vancouver and spend some time gazing at blue dildoes. That didn’t really make it into the book, and it wasn’t at all necessary, but it was a pleasant way to spend ten minutes or so.
One last question, darling. What’s your prediction for the future of [consults notes again] ERomSciCom? Is it the next big deal, do you think? Fifty Shades of Brushed Steel sort of thing?
I don’t have to make a prediction because I know for a fact that it is going to be HUGE. See, this wild-eyed guy turned up in a time machine from the future and he told me that by 2014, everyone from Martin Amis to Zadie Smith will be writing erotic stories about robots. Then he told me which horse to back in the 2015 Grand National, and then we had sex and I conceived my own grandmother who is destined to save the world in the war against giant space ants.
Though I’m still not quite sure about the giant space ants. That last bit could have been a line to get me into bed.
Thank you, Electra darling, for speaking to us today. Just one little request. Next time you go to a bar to test out your plot ideas… please, please take me with you.
Monday: Hilary takes sneaky delight in Jay Rayner's bad days at the office in My Dining Hell.
Wednesday: Kate read Colm Toibin's Brooklyn on the way back from New York.
Friday: Diana Birchall, joining us from sunny Santa Monica (we hates her) gets stuck into Edith Sitwell’s classic English Eccentrics.