Release Reviews: Built for Pleasure: Thursday Euclid

Built for Pleasure
Thursday Euclid
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Released November 21, 2016
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Retired military officer Malcolm Torvik runs a rehabilitation facility for malfunctioning pleasure cyborgs. When WLF-6759—Wolf—arrives at Reboot Camp, the former battle cyborg presents problems Malcolm’s never faced before. Most pleasure cyborgs are sensation junkies, constantly high on the chemicals sex releases into their bloodstream, but Wolf’s faulty refit means it’s spent a decade suffering through unwanted encounters—and sometimes fighting back despite the consequences.

At first Wolf’s rebellion frustrates Malcolm even as Wolf’s undeniable physical perfection draws him. Then Wolf’s unexpected vulnerability and need open a whole new dynamic between them, and Malcolm finds himself feeling far too much for something that isn’t even human. Or is it? Could Homo sapiens technica be just as human as Malcolm is? And if it is, what’s Malcolm supposed to do about it? Malcolm’s been alone for so long…. Is it possible he’s found love with a cyborg? How far will he go to ensure Wolf’s freedom? Malcolm knows what he must do—for both of them—but it might cost him much more than his comfortable life.

Because I’m such a fan of good science fiction, M/M romances set within a sci-fi story always pique my interest. My experiences, though, have been a mixed bag, leaning generally toward my being disappointed, usually because they tend to be missing my favorite part about good sci-fi: its ability to veil some real-life social or moral dilemma within an alternate reality as a commentary about our own. But I love science fiction, so when I read the blurb for Built for Pleasure, by Thursday Euclid, I had to give it a chance. And for a change, it was a chance worth taking.

Set at least a few centuries in the future, the novel centers around Malcolm Torvik, a retired military officer who runs a business for rehabilitating malfunctioning pleasure cyborgs. They are designed to receive hits of euphoric drugs to encourage them to stay submissive when ordered to perform sexually, but this often results in these cyborgs becoming junkies, hence the rehab. The arrival of WLF-6759, “Wolf”, presents Malcolm with a problem he hasn’t seen before. Ten years ago, Wolf’s cybernetics were refitted to convert him from a physically imposing beast of a battle cyborg into a pleasure cyborg, who is, of course, still a monstrous specimen of masculine power. But it didn’t work as planned, resulting in Wolf suffering a decade of unwanted encounters and sometimes reverting to its original programming to fight back. Wolf’s physical perfection is the first thing that attracts Malcolm, but the unexpected realization that maybe Wolf—and all cyborgs, by extension—is closer to being human than he realized creates a dilemma he had never imagined. And if he’s going to do something to right society’s impression that cyborgs are not people but things to be owned like property, he’ll have to decide if he can risk the cost.

The concept of machines and artificial intelligence being or becoming human is certainly not new in science fiction. It’s a rather easy place, in fact, for sci-fi to make the social commentaries I mentioned at the start of this review. Perhaps the difference in Built for Pleasure is the fact that the cyborgs in this story are, in fact, designated as a separate species of living beings, Homo sapiens technica. Originally created in a laboratory to be receptacles for mechanical enhancements to perform the dangerous tasks of terraforming and colonizing other planets, cyborgs are living beings designed to be servile and disposable. The rationalization, though, is that their enhancements make them too dangerous to be allowed any sort of freedom, so they are essentially mind-controlled slaves, in spite of the fact that cyborgs reproduce and are born the same way Homo sapiens sapiens are. 

That means all the attendant moral dilemmas about slavery and otherness are present in this novel. Once I realized where the story was going, my immediate reaction was that it wasn’t going to be long enough to deal with them adequately, and to some degree, I was correct. But where it ends works for the purposes of it being a romance as opposed to being a full sci-fi story. It’s worth noting, though, that if the author so desired, the story in this novel could easily be adapted to something much longer. I was pleasantly surprised, in fact, that this relatively short novel reads very much like the first third or so of the first novel of an epic space-opera series. From a sci-fi junkie like me, take that as a great compliment.

Beside the science-fiction goodness, there are also many parallels between the process Wolf goes through in the story and those found in a coming-of-age story. And the author does just as good a job with this facet as the sci-fi storytelling. The romantic aspect was also often touching and thought-provoking, as is often the case in bildungsromans, because there is a great deal of awkwardness on Wolf’s part. Cyborgs are programmed to believe they are not people but objects, so they (and “real” humans) refer to other cyborgs with words like “it” and “something” instead of the personal pronouns afforded to humans. They are also not designed for social interactions, a fact that the author reminds us directly and indirectly throughout our time in Wolf’s head. Perhaps the one complaint I have about the novel is that its constraints (mainly where it ends) prevents this story line from coming to quite as satisfactory of a conclusion as most romances do. While I understand why the novel ends where it does (continuing would have forced the story to be MUCH longer), an epilogue would certainly have been appreciated.

Overall, Built for Pleasure, is a fascinating read about topics that get quite ugly if you think about them too much. And like all of my favorite science fiction, this is largely the point. Unlike some of the other sci-fi romances I have read, the balance between staying true to the needs of both genres is as good as I’ve come across so far. This one is definitely worth the read.

The author generously provided me a complimentary copy of Built for Pleasure in exchange for this fair and honest review.
Thursday Euclid

Thursday Euclid is a 30-something queer trans man from Houston, Texas, who spends most of his time writing, playing computer games, or watching films and television of questionable quality. Two facts about Thursday: he spent the happiest night of his life in the pit at a Radiohead concert, and hot and sour soup is the easiest way to his heart. He is a rebel with many causes and a Rainbow Award winner.


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