, a contemporary work of literary science fiction by Jeanette Winterson, follows a few different characters, all of whom are conflicted about and involved in the development of artificial intelligence technologies. Winterson follows Dr. Ry, a transgender physician who is falling in love with Victor Stein, a professor of artificial intelligence. Other characters include Ron Lord, a recent divorcé living with his mother who is determined to find success making sex dolls for lonely men around the world. Meanwhile, across the Atlantic Ocean in America, a cryogenics facility full of the soon-to-be-undead waits for technological advancements that will allow people to come back to life.
The novel begins in the voice of Dr. Ry, a transgender medic who goes by the name Mary for a portion of the novel. Born female, Dr. Ry is in the process of transitioning – she uses they/them pronouns, and has undergone top surgery. Dr. Ry meets Victor Stein, a prolific professor and public figure working on artificial intelligence when they begin to provide bodies for Stein to use in his underground experiments. Despite knowing in their heart that Victor Stein is not a safe person to love, Dr. Ry is drawn to him. They begin a strange romance.
Victor Stein is a tech giant known around the world for his role as a visionary for the future of eternal life. Stein is interested in bringing humans back from the dead – he explores this phenomenon through strange cryogenic experiments on dead bodies, and through emulation, a process that would allow the contents of human brains to be downloaded into AI systems. In this way, humans could live forever.
When Dr. Ry and Stein begin having sex, Stein is clear that he is not interested in men; instead, he says, he is interested in the in-betweenness of Dr. Ry's body. Dr. Ry describes themselves in these terms, saying, “I am liminal, cusping, in between, emerging, undecided, transitional, experimental, a start-up (or is it up-start?) in my own life.” In this way, Dr. Ry becomes another of Stein's experiments. Because Dr. Ry has been taking testosterone injections, their clitoris has become elongated – this fascinates Stein, and their sex life takes off. Despite their close relationship in the bedroom, however, Dr. Ry does not feel safe with their lover. They feel like a token, an idea the professor likes more than a real, struggling, and fully-fledged human.
Dr. Ry is also skeptical of Victor Stein's business partner, Ron Lord, a Welsh man recently divorced from his wife. While living in his mother's house, he began designing and selling sexbots, busty, artificially intelligent women to ship to lonely men around the world. Eventually, Ron Lord goes into business with an evangelical Christian who isn't interested in sexbots, but is interested in “bots for Jesus” – the pair makes millions off the combined cultural forces of religion and libido.
As the story goes on and Ry learns more about Stein's experiments, the ethics of his biotechnology become increasingly suspect. All the while, Winterson draws clear parallels between her contemporary novel on transgender experience and bioethics and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein
. She frequently quotes and references the classic gothic novel in the book, and the names – Mary/Ry, Stein, Ron Lord (Lord Byron) call back Shelley and her cohort during the summer of 1816 when she penned the novel.
Jeanette Winterson, from Manchester, UK, is a prolific author of many novels. She became famous for her first book, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit
, which she published at age 25. Since then, she has written many novels exploring societal convention, love, queerness, and more. She has won many awards, including Whitbread Prize, BAFTA Award, Lambda Literary Award, and has been honored for her life-long commitment to British arts. Frankissstein
, published in 2019, has been long-listed for the prestigious Booker Prize for Fiction.