Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Future dystopias have been a mainstay of science fiction since the beginning when H.G. Wells used the genre in an attempt to affect social change. Stephen Dedmans second novel, Foreign Bodies, falls neatly into the dystopic genre as Dedman extrapolates from some of the darker aspects of the American psyche to present a near future in which the homeless, or strippers, outnumber the citizens and the rise of hate groups has gone unchecked.
The novel opens with Mike Galloway, a naturalized Australian living in San Francisco, beginning a strange friendship with Swiftie, the young stripper who occasionally sleeps on his balcony. When Galloway invites Swiftie in one night, he suddenly finds himself in her body. The speed with which Galloway, now calling himself Theresa, acclimatizes to the changes in circumstances, identity and gender is amazing as he begins to discover what it really means to be a stripper.
Against this background, Dedman introduces several mysteries, beginning with the question of whom Galloways bodynapper really is and what his agenda is. The murders of several Asians takes center stage once one of Theresas clients confesses to the crime during a phone-sex interchange. Finally, and perhaps most perplexing, is Gary Donner, the white supremacist whose calls for a race war include extremely accurate predications concerning earthquakes for Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Dedmans portrayal of the American dark side is unnerving, especially since Dedman is an Australian. His depictions of how some Americans feel about foreigners raised the question of how foreigners view American society. In Dedmans portrayal, Americans do not care about the have-nots or foreigners. When the homeless become an election issue, he points out that it is because the people are afraid of the homeless, not because of any desire to help them. Minorities and foreigners, however, are generally portrayed as sympathetic and help anyone who needs their assistance.
Foreign Bodies is interesting and well written but not without its faults. Galloways ready acceptance of his bodys theft, while necessary for the plot, doesnt ring true. Neither does the rapidity with which he grows comfortable with Swifties body. Furthermore, although a stripper, Swiftie (and later Theresa) is a police informant. It becomes clear that Swifties leads are all good, but not detailed enough for the police to really use. Despite this, Swiftie/Theresas relationship with the police is such that they ask her advice, take her on raids, and share confidences with her.
As Theresa learns more and more about the white supremicists and the bodysnatcher, the novel becomes more and more complex and convoluted. Nevertheless, the reader never loses an understanding of who the essential characters are and their relationships to each other. Even when Dedman makes the reader question everything that has gone before, he does so without alienating the reader.
It is good to be able to state that Foreign Bodies is a worthy successor to The Art of Arrow-Cutting, Dedmans debut novel (1997). His characters are no less quirky or more mainstream than in his previous book and they provide an interesting outsiders look at American society at the end of the twentieth century.
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