Reader reviews are so good on so many levels. Mostly, they’re independent impressions of the book that help other readers to decide if they’d like to pick it up, but as an author, they also give an insight into how all those words you’ve laboured over, and rewritten and reassessed and finally let go, have landed. It’s so valuable and I’m always grateful when a reader takes the time to review.
When the next book on my TBR pile is by an Australian author, female, and set in Australia, I pour the coffee, grab the book and go back to bed. I is for Isobel is such a beautiful classic, a little bit sad, a little bit real, at times funny, and a lot lovely to read. Isobel’s attachment to words is fun and fascinating.
She turned her head to look at him, remote in sleep: delicate sallow oblong face, fluted upper lip, light-brown crimped hair drifting across his forehead…listen, you don’t have to paint his portrait.
Doctor, I have this problem. Some people count lamp posts. I describe them. You don’t think that’s a problem? You should try it sometimes, like five lamp posts one after the other, a word picture of each, to be handed in nowhere at the end of the day…I is for Isobel, Amy Witting. 1990
Dale and Henry, the two pivotal characters in The Uncanny Valley Club, come together in this chapter, chapter four. Neither is who the other expects to be meeting. To Dale, Henry is the person she needs to get close to, a senior and dynamic business manager at Quinn Corp. Someone with the reputation of a manipulator who she needs to be careful of, but upon meeting him, he comes across as a bit of a loser. To Henry, Dale is the new intern, more of an inconvenience to Henry, but she’s to become the person who brings both him and Quinn Corp undone. (How I came to be drawing these pictures )
She embarked on this venture four weeks ago with the creation of a persona, one completely at odds with her own, allowing her to be the person she needs to be. But now, she’s rattled. She bolsters herself by reciting the list of attributes she had decided to take on: unflappable, uncaring, straightforward, daring—I don’t give a fuck. A personality to wear like a cloak.
She pulls her bag close against her legs. A woman heads toward her, her face focussed, and then moves on past while hurrying along her four small jiggling children—a family size that must be a pleasant throwback to the last government. The crowd thins. The trains become still. A fake vintage clock echoes throughout the station with a confected tick thunk, tick thunk, tick thunk, and the vast building pulsates with the emptiness.
Her phone vibrates in her pocket, and she takes it out. It’s Esther from QRC. She breathes in. It rings and rings. She breathes out. Train noise builds around her. Heels click, and the drones return to hover. The energised air needles her anxiety.The Uncanny Valley Club, Julie Proudfoot
There’s nothing I could say that would add to anything written by Jeanette Winterson, other than she does have a thing with words, doesn’t she?
The woman serving doughnuts with mechanical efficiency parked her bosom on the glass counter and threatened to shatter it with mammary power. Written on the Body, J. Winterson.
The social bots appear in unexpected places in The Uncanny Valley Club, and when Henry discovers his closest friend, Vince, who had always been hell-bent on making sure he remains completely biological himself, had purchased one, it doesn’t sit right with Henry. The Social Bots (or sexbots, depending on which character you are) are viewed differently by each of the characters, and their uses and valuability vary from therapeutic to life-changing, or fun-park to degrading. (For the why of how I came to draw scenes from each chapter see here)
“As Henry speaks, his attention is drawn to a swelling movement of the covers on the other side of the bed, and, in that moment, there emerges—like Gulliver from ropes—a pale face that, as the sheets slip away to the floor, gradually reveals itself to be the head, then the neck, and then the body of a woman.
Vince’s eyes follow Henry’s gaze. ‘Have you not met Greta?’ he asks, and he casually throws a thumb over his shoulder. Vince smiles because, of course, Henry has not met Greta. Greta is new.
‘Nope, I’m inclined to say I haven’t met Greta. And here I was thinking the piles of bubble wrap in the lounge were a new exercise machine.’
‘It is kind of a new exercise machine.’ Vince grins.
Vince grabs a plate as it begins to slide from the covers with the emergence of his bed companion, who has been so still and quiet this whole time that Henry suspects Vince intended to keep this new thing in his life hidden.
It’s a serene face that smiles at Henry, but her eyes dart down, up, down, then up again as it takes in the details of what it means to be Henry.
‘Hello Henry,’ it says. ‘Lovely to see you again.’
Although Henry has worked for Quinn for many years, he doesn’t deal with the social bots. It’s not his job. His focus is the business of getting contracts signed, deliveries delivered and debts paid. In fact, he prefers not to think about the bots as functioning beings and how they’re used, at all.
Vince watches Henry’s face.
‘We’ve met before?’ Henry asks it.
‘Not exactly,’ it says, ‘but I’ve been aware of you.’
And now Henry finds that, apart from complete surprise, he’s feeling agitated by the idea of it knowing him, but he not knowing it, and the only way he can manage to express an opinion is to mock Vince: ‘What were you just saying about being the real deal?’ Henry says, and he thumps his fist against his own chest.”The Uncanny Valley Club, Chapter 4, Julie Proudfoot. 2022.
Benny the sex-bot salesman, also the company therapist, stretches his talents to creating a sexbot brothel that he has named, The Uncanny Valley Club. Unfortunately, his financial resources are limited to friends and colleagues, and he has come to Scottie, well known for her anti-sexbot campaigns and her cyborg enhancement engineering company, for the very big task of convincing her to invest in his new sexbot Brothel.
‘You pluck these ideas out of that scrubby little head of yours, Benny, and present them gold plated, just to get me on board, but this is no different to an average brothel, is it? I can’t see that there’s anything special about your new business.’
‘Scott, my business is different from all the others like it.’ Benny waves his hand gently across the room as if to display all the businesses that are just not quite as good as his is. ‘It’ll be a standout. We can grow a shit load of money from simple human vice. Listen to me. The Uncanny Valley Club will be the venue where punters can set their desires free, like wild animals tapping into their urges.’
‘Urges? I thought this was part of your therapy business?’
‘It is therapy. It’s next-level therapy. This is me hitting my potential. This is what I’m all about. I’m dragging the therapy trade into the future.’ Benny stands. His excitement at his plans has him all jittery. ‘It’s not called The Uncanny Valley Club for no reason. It’s all about the ‘uncanny’ moment, that dip in the robot-likeability graph, when you see a robot so lifelike that it gives you the creeps. That hideous little moment that defines the difference between robot and human—the absence of soul, your disgust, your fear and your fascination. It’s fake little face.’ Benny points at his own eyes and nose, and screws up his face. ‘You know what I mean, Scottie; you’ve felt it. The sense of deceit; the lack of trust. That’s where the lucrative Uncanny Valley moment is.’
‘Wait a minute, what happened to chicken soup for the soul?’
‘Troubled soul, Scottie; I said, “troubled soul”. This is the hinge where our clientele swing loose. What a goddamn release! They use it, they respond, they lash out and they release that pent-up techno-anger buried deep within. That little moment is so full of energy! It’s a heady mix of fascination and disgust, lust and hate—all those confusing emotions that live in that void. And we will exploit that little, black void of sexuality.’
‘Is this a joke, Benny? What kind of place is this?’
‘Scottie, nobody trusts a creepy little bot unless they know they control it, right? And how do we take control? We remove human morals. Let them do to it whatever the hell they want to do to it. Our club will give them permission to swing loose. Can’t you see it?’
Scottie’s mouth hangs open, speechless.
‘Listen, Scott, The Uncanny Valley Club will be known as the place to explore who we really are at our core.’ He leans in to catch her eye. ‘The punters can do whatever they like to their bot—no guilt, pure release and morality-free—an almighty cleansing of the soul. Do you see what this is, Scottie? Consequence out the window, do you understand? It’s a life-changing moment.’
Scottie’s face contorts with disgust.
‘Oh, the release,’ he says. ‘It’s so damn freeing.’ He lifts his arms into the air as though releasing doves. Benny sees in her face the wall she’s built up against this idea. He needs to make her want it. ‘And Scottie, let me tell you this much: this will happen whether you like it or not. This isn’t new. They exist in Japan and across Europe, and if you get on board with me, right now, you’ll control it in our part of the world. You, Scottie. I know this is what you want—to control this industry.’
Scottie says nothing. He holds his palms out to her and whispers her name. ‘Come on, Scott?’
He needs to get her over the line that she’s drawn for herself. ‘Imagine it, casino atmosphere, private rooms, music and social bots of every colour and proclivity; sturdy ones. You get what I’m saying don’t you? I don’t need to tell you what people are capable of given the chance. It’s exciting! Gives me a buzz just to think about it. All we need is the money. Your money.’
‘Why are you giving me this information, Benny? What you’re talking about is abuse. All you’ve done is give me a heads up to intervene and have you shut down. You’re an idiot, anyone tell you that?’
J. Proudfoot (2022) The Uncanny Valley Club