REVIEW: Body After Body by Briar Ripley Page

Three indentured, memory-wiped laborers at a crumbling storage facility make some unexpected discoveries about the genetically engineered mutant bodies they tend each day. Sex, drugs, violence, cannibalism, psychic powers, a catgirl (sort of)…Body After Body is the lurid, dreamlike, amoral queer/trans sci-fi trash literature at least four or five people have been waiting for.

Warnings: self harm, graphic violence, usage of drugs, cannibalism, depictions of transphobia

Category: M/F, M/M, F/F, ☿️

Body After Body is a science fiction novella inspired by the album Moon Colony Bloodbath by The Mountain Goats. It is a fascinating piece of queer writing and speculative sci-fi, chock full of interesting ideas and a surreal tonal quality. I will warn that the author uses the term transsexual for the characters in this book as well as in their author bio, rather than transgender, in case any readers find that upsetting.

This is a very surreal piece of writing. A lot of the prose feels like a dream, like a stream of consciousness that you can sink into as you read. The story follows the lives of a handful of worker drones in the far distant future who work at a facility that creates biologically engineered bodies for use in organ harvesting. These bodies are ostensibly supposed to be mindless, “alive” in technicality only. But after a strange accident at the facility, the bodies seem more and more to be aware, and cognizant. It’s a story that explores a lot of questions of personhood, the definition of life, the ethical practices of the medical industry. Its also a story that features almost exclusively trans characters, and it therefore also explores a lot of concepts of gender and the meaning of gender and its relation to bodies. Its a truly beautifully written piece of work.

The story moves from POV to POV amongst its cast, showcasing the experiences, the backgrounds, and the complex motivations of each of the characters. Its a very lovely exploration, allowing each of its characters to breath in a way that makes them feel real, and come alive. Their relationships are also lovingly explored, the ways they relate to each other, the feelings they hold. They all have been memory-wiped before becoming worker drones, and all given the names “John” or “Jenny”, so their interactions and experiences are veiled through this layer of pastlessness, like their personhoods have been removed from them, which gives them each a very unique voice. As their pasts are gradually explored or hinted at over the course of the story they seem to come alive even more, as they reclaim their identities. The nameless and presumed non-persons of the bodies they tend to are also a critical point of emotional storytelling; as one of these “bodies” wakes and begins to form bonds and relationships with the workers, there is more opportunity for all of the characters to come into themselves.

I will warn that since all of the characters in this story are trans, a lot of them have some amount of baggage around their gender tucked away in their pasts, and there are some flashback scenes to transphobic encounters that could be very distressing to read.

This is a fascinating bit of speculative sci-fi. It takes place in the far distant future, where most of humanity is now living on satellites rather than on the planet surface. The workers at the facilities, and the denizens of the remaining Earth cities tend to be the poor, marginalized, and disenfranchised. Worker-drones are given a very good job contract with housing, food, and most importantly expensive medical benefits, and as such attract poor, disabled, and transgender workers who wouldn’t otherwise have access to much needed medical services. Meanwhile there is a thriving industry in bio-engineered bodies grown in vats and harvested for parts used for medical procedures are well as trendy body-mods… or, on the black market, their blood can be used to create a potent drug. This book explores the back alleys and underground dive bars where drug pushers supply addicts as well as the established system of governmental control, and creates a compelling parallel between them.

This book features some very beautifully emotional scenes of a sexual nature. And not all of those emotions are positive ones- there are scenes that delve into the characters self loathing, into their confusion or their obsessions, as much as there are scenes that explore love and admiration and longing. All of the sex in this book feels as surreal and as organic as the rest of it. Sex is not a shocking or lurid thing in this narrative, so much as another normal facet of life for these characters. It is not sacred, it is mundane and it is messy and lovely. Aside from sex there are also scenes of gruesome sadism, cannibalism and consumption, blood drinking and pain. Its an abstract look at violence as sex and sex as violence all wrapped up in identity and relationship.

I absolutely adored this book, I think it is one of the most unique novels I have ever read. Its way of emotionally connecting to the reader through stream of consciousness and dreamlike sequences interspersed with gruesome violence is truly a fantastic feat. I highly recommend.

Have you read Body After Body? Let me know what YOU thought by leaving me a comment!

2 thoughts on “REVIEW: Body After Body by Briar Ripley Page

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