Kurt Christenson ** Timothy Mucci ** Johnny Gatts ** Brian Bannen ** Rick Lacy ** YOU!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Book Club- "Pleasure Model"

by Matt Haws

As a resident WC-er and lover of all things nerdy/cheesy, Mr. Jon G. recommended that I read “Pleasure Model,” by Christopher Rowley, a pulpy sci-fi noir male fantasy which somewhat resembles a novel, and give all of you the low-down.

Released by TOR Books as the flagship of their new “Heavy Metal Pulp” line, “Pleasure Model” promises “noir fiction with fantastic art featuring the themes, story lines, and graphic styles of Heavy Metal magazine.” Are you excited yet??

In the future, New York City is a dark, rainy cesspit crawling with intrigue. Rook Verner is a bad-ass not-fucking-around cop whose investigation into what seems like a routine homicide leads him down the rabbit hole of government conspiracy and turns him into Public Enemy #1. The only clue that might lead him to the truth is Plesur, a artificially engineered “Pleasure Model,” (hence the title!) a very expensive sex toy for the rich and powerful. Plesur features a perfect body that “works like triggers on the heterosexual male mind” but, on the downside, only possesses “the intelligence of a blueberry.” For some mysterious reason, every federally-owned robot with a big gun and government agent in an invisibility suit is desperate to kill poor Plesur, so Rook has to do everything he can to protect her like the bad-ass cop he is. But he wasn’t counting on falling in love!

Noir-ish character clichés abound, of course. Rook is the quintessential hardcore cop: ruggedly handsome, divorced, a loner who never lets anybody get too close, willing to cut through red tape and get the job done no matter who he pisses off. Plesur is the perfect damsel in distress: gorgeous, innocent, vulnerable. She’s the one ray of sunshine in Rook’s dark and gloomy life.

Early in the book we’re introduced to a woman with a dual personality - she’s simultaneously Mistress Julia, cold and confident dominatrix, and Angie, scared and vulnerable little girl. That conflict more or less characterizes every denizen of this noir world, all them doing their best to be hard, cynical, jaded urbanites who don’t give a damn, but gosh darn it if they aren’t all just hurting so much on the inside. It’s difficult and painful, but in the end they all have no choice but to speak in flippant, pithy one-liners just to survive in this messed-up world. The one exception is Plesur, whose simplicity and complete innocence (she’s designed to be a sex toy, and yet she’s a virgin) charms everybody around her, especially lonely, horny, yet too-principled-to-take-
advantage Rook.

The picture on the cover shows big robots and scantily clad sexy women, and in this respect the book certainly delivers what it promises. Gender roles are clear-cut and defined. Men are bad-asses, muscular and strong, and women, while bad-asses too, are all curvy, voluptuous vixens. Every page is charged with eroticism aimed at the male mind, and yet in such a simplistic and unsophisticated way that I imagine my heterosexual male friends would be more likely to laugh than get aroused by all this silliness. The single sex scene is surprisingly tame, as though written by or for somebody who has never actually had sex. In fact, the whole book seems like it was written to be marketed to somewhat intelligent, pretty shy, and very horny 13 year old boys, who are big on desire but vague on all the details.

The author has a few good ideas and a few interesting scenes. He clearly has a story he’s trying to tell, though in this installment (the first of a trilogy) very little of it gets told. Instead, I imagine an editor standing over his shoulder saying “Dumb it down! Make it sexier!” The prose style is so straightforward and simplistic that it seems only one small step above the “Clone Wars Adventures!” novels the targeted 13-year old boys were probably reading before they discovered this book. The “young adult novel” effect is not helped by the small pictures sprinkled through each chapter, which are pretty much superfluous and seem designed to try to trick kids into believing that they are reading something more like a comic book, as well as provide an excuse to draw cartoonishly large breasts and show off Rook in a variety of bad-ass poses. There is one set of pictures at the book’s climax that is kind of fun, if for no other reason for how over-the-top it is. Keep your eyes open for it! Overall, though, the pictures add nothing and I found myself ignoring them.

All that said, I actually liked the first half of the book more than expected, even enjoying the clichés for all their shallowness. After all, this is a genre that is defined by its clichés. Just how noir would we find it if Rook was a plain-looking, happily married cop with lots of friends who always toed the line? Not very much at all, thank you very much. The early chapters establish the setting with a good mix of general mood and specific details. I particularly liked Rook’s Nokia, a super smart-phone with an artificial intelligence that can do pretty much anything - which seems believable given all the crazy phones they keep coming out with each year.

Unfortunately, the book begins to stumble in its second half, feeling somewhat rushed and haphazard. Characters get killed off for no other reason than it seems like the author no longer knows what to do with them. Plot twists come so fast they are almost afterthoughts, as though the author is saying “Oh, by the way, I forgot to mention, but the intelligence upgrade also gives you superhuman reflexes. FYI.” The dialogue, which at the beginning seemed carefully crafted to be gritty noir cliché, becomes completely uninspired, and several lines turn downright comical. Of course, I have to share my favorites with all of you.

I actually almost completely passed over my first favorite line. I got bored and skipped over a couple of paragraphs, then forced myself to go back when I realized I had missed something and didn’t know what was going on anymore. I was rewarded for the effort with this wonderful line:

An obese lady in a red corduroy suit suddenly fell over, blocking an aisle.

Just give that one a second to sink in. It’s a delightful image.

Finally, at the end of the book, our heroes confront a key character who might actually have the answers to all the questions that have chased them through 238 pages and 21 chapters. Before he can reveal anything, though, his head explodes! This leads to the following brilliant exchange between Rook and his associate:

“No,” said Rook. “He must have had an explosive chip in his head.”

Nancy wiped at the gristle on her clothes. “That is some fucked up shit.”

Indeed, Nancy. Indeed.

In the end, I found the clumsiness and lack of pretension of “Pleasure Model” to be kind of endearing and fun. The book is just short enough to be an entertaining diversion without quite getting tedious. If you enjoy a cheesy romp through ham-handed futuristic noir, or if you are horny 13 year old boy looking for titillation, then this book is for you!



    (I had to).

  2. Why, thank you, Mr. Jon. And thanks for making me read that silly book!


  4. Yes, of course. That's what I MEANT. Obviously.

  5. Also, this review rocks. I love to image what noir/crime stories would be like if the cops were all happily married, go-lucky guys with nice upstanding friends.

    I can only imagine it'd read something like the Brady Bunch meets Mike Hammer.

  6. "Well, I suppose that I could let this traumatic experience turn me into a jaded asshole... but gee whiz, I think I'll just go home and kiss my wife instead."